This month’s featured crossover is a story titled “War Crimes,” and took place in the pages of Batman and Detective Comics. This was a short four issue follow-up to the much larger Batman family crossover “War Games.” All you really need to know about “War Games” is that Stephanie Brown, in trying to impress Batman, starts one of his plans for dealing with the gangs in Gotham. Things go horribly wrong when the main guy that will assume control doesn’t show up, because that main guy is really going to be Bruce Wayne in his Matches Malone persona. So, things go crazy with Black Mask taking over, and in the end he kills Stephanie Brown. This is the fallout from that, since neither of the main titles dealt with it right after the story finished.
Issues: Detective Comics #809-810, Batman #643-644
Writers: Andersen Gabrych and Bill Willingham
Artists: Pete Woods and Giuseppe Camuncoli
The story begins with Batman interrogating a female named Alex about the location of a meeting. On the talk show, “Taking Sides with Arturo,” Arturo’s guest is a man named Aaron Black, who leads the “Campaign for Culpability.” The campaign’s mission is to bring those responsible for the gang wars to justice. Not only Black Mask, but also Batman and Commissioner Akins. Aaron Black said one of the things that led him to create this movement was learning the truth about Stephanie Brown. Black reveals to the audience that Brown was Spoiler and the latest of the Robins, and isn’t the first of the Robins to die. He also notes that he’s heard that Brown was in stable condition when she was taken to the clinic. So, who’s responsible for her death? Black Mask or Batman for taking her to a Leslie Thompkins’ clinic and not a hospital. Batman’s tip on Black Mask’s meeting turned up nothing, but back at the cave, someone sent a VHS tape containing Arturo’s show. Batman is wondering who leaked Stephanie Brown’s identity. Batman goes to visit Leslie Thompkins, but finds that she’s left her clinic. A nurse there tells him that Thompkins and another doctor, Vera, were having arguments regarding Stephanie Brown. Batman goes to Vera’s house to get Stephanie’s medical file, but finds Vera dead, and pinned to the wall with batarangs. The word “snitch” is written around her. Batman reads Stephanie’s file, and finds that she was stable when she was admitted, but the last few pages are missing. He goes to Thompkin’s residence, but everything is gone. Batman goes back to Vera’s place and cleans up the crime scene so he’s not implicated by it. After Aaron Black’s memorial service for the gang war victims, Batman confronts him. Before able to talk to him, the Joker surprises them.
Batman says he’s going to kill the Joker, but the real Batman shows up. Batman takes down the Joker and chases after the imposter. Batman finds that the imposter is really Black Mask. They fight, but Black Mask got away after hitting Batman with gas. After some time investigating in the Bat-cave, Batman finds that there are discrepancies in what medications the clinic says it used during the gang war, and what it ordered to restock. The discrepancy was that they were not as low on some medications as they claimed to be as evidenced by what they ordered. The exact amount is what should have been used on Stephanie, but apparently wasn’t. So, Batman comes to the conclusion that someone intentionally withheld treatment from Stephanie. Arturo gets in trouble with his boss because Aaron Black is appearing on another news program. Black is unhappy because he thinks Arturo is working with Black Mask. Aaron Black goes on to accuse Batman, or Batmen because he always knew there were more, tried to kill him. And there hasn’t been any indictments regarding the gang wars because the people responsible for it all profited. Batman beats up a room full of thugs, and listens to their conversations on recording devices. He’s beginning to suspect who is responsible.
Batman leaves flowers for Stephanie at the memorial, and talks with Alfred about what was in the recordings from the bar fight. The only thing in the transmissions was that Black Mask was peeved that Aaron Black had appeared on Chen’s news program. Batman finds Chen, and gets her to tell him where Aaron Black is hiding. Batman finds him, and reveals that Aaron Black is actually the Cluemaster, Stephanie’s father. Cluemaster talks about what he went through to survive his stint with the Suicide Squad, to come home to his daughter, only to find that she’s dead. Cluemaster denies sending the tape to Batman, and wants to find out where Leslie Thompkins is as well. Batman defends her medical skills, but Cluemaster says Stephanie’s mom has some information to the contrary. Stephanie’s mother, Crystal Brown, goes on Arturo’s show, to talk about her daughter’s death, but he’s only interested in trying to get Batman’s identity out of her. Black Mask, disguised as Batman, attacks them. Batman saves them, and stops Black Mask from burning the missing pages from Stephanie’s medical file (thought I’m not sure exactly who had them). Black Mask escapes, and Batman comes back to the studio to find that Crystal Brown has torn up Stephanie’s missing records, because knowing who to blame isn’t going to change anything. Joker ambushes Black Mask, and shoots him. Joker is unhappy Black Mask took his job of killing Robins.
Batman stops Black Mask and Joker from killing each, and has them both arrested. The police say they’re going to arrest Batman, too, but he threatens them, so they don’t. The Joker is sent back to Arkham. Black Mask escapes after killing some guards. Arturo was arrested after a video was sent in showing that he was working with Black Mask. Batman thanks Chen for her cooperation by getting her a Sunday news show, with Superman as her first guest. Finally, Batman takes a trip to Africa to find Leslie Thompkins, who’s at a Doctors Without Borders camp. It’s revealed that Leslie intentionally withheld treatment from Stephanie in order to kill her. She tells Batman that she hoped that if Stephanie died, then no one else would follow in her footsteps. She want’s Batman to finish her off. Batman says she’ll have to deal with absolution herself, because he doesn’t associate with murderers. He leaves telling her to never return to America.
This story is not viewed favorably by many people. Stephanie’s death was something that was a thorn in many people’s side the entire time she was dead. Most notably, fans wanted to know why there wasn’t a memorial set up for Stephanie in the Bat-cave like there had been for Jason Todd. Personally, I never liked what was done with Leslie Thompkins. It’s not believable that the character would knowingly cause the death of anyone, let alone someone within the Bat-family. Fortunately, that was all retconned when Chuck Dixon returned for his brief stint with Robin. (Of course, Dixon changed many things because he didn’t want to accept that the book wasn’t exactly where he left it.) They changed the story so that Leslie didn’t kill Stephanie, but in fact faked her death. She hid this from Bruce because she didn’t want him putting Stephanie in danger again. Also, I didn’t really like the way Bill Willingham wrote Batman. He writes Batman as enjoying the violence too much. It just doesn’t make any sense.