Cover of Batman: Masque
It is an ongoing goal of this column (if indeed column is the appropriate word) to bring you, the reader, new and exciting or old and interesting finds in the comic world.
In the case of this article, we have one of the latter. Batman: Masque is a story printed in 1997 under DC Comics' Elseworlds imprint. Comics printed on the Elseworlds imprint were generally one-shot comics that took well-known superheroes out of their regular setting and placed them in alternate-reality type stories.
In Masque we are given a look at Gotham in 1890. In this reality, Bruce Wayne is still Batman and there are versions of Alfred, Chief O'Hara and Commissioner Gordon. Also surfacing as a main character in this tale is Harvey Dent, a star dancer in the Gotham Opera. In an even more unique twist, this tale combines the mythos of Batman with that of Gaston Leroux's classic novel The Phantom of the Opera, casting a well known character as the "Phantom" like character and letting the readers see what a meeting between the Opera Ghost and Batman would be like.
On the night the story begins, Batman is summond by Commissioner Gordon and is informed that three men have escaped from prison. While two have been caught, a third has taken to the rooftop and Batman is asked to pursue. He does and the fight eventually spills into the Opera House where a performance of Edgar Allan Poe's Masque of the Red Death is being performed with Harvey Dent as the star. When the fight between Batman and the criminal spills onto the stage, Harvey accidentally backs into the flame of a stage light and is set alight, hideously disfiguring him in a manner that comic readers associate with Harvey's criminal alter ego, Two-Face.
The same night, Bruce meets Laura Avian, the understudy for the female lead. The two fall in love and, as the love between them grows, horrible accidents begin to befall the cast of the play. And while you can probably guess who is behind them, this article will not give away any more details, just in case you chose to read it for yourself.
Admittedly, the story by Mike Grell is thin and under-developed. The book feels rushed and probably should have been allowed to be bigger than a monthly and more like a graphic novel. Still, the combination of Batman and Phantom is interesting and worth a read, especially if you are a fan of both characters. Also, the book takes another look at Bruce's relationship to Batman as, throughout the story, he struggles with feeling like he belongs in shadow but loves a woman who belongs in the spotlight. This is perhaps the strongest part of the story and is worth a look for those who have an interest in the psyche of heroes. For many it will probably be a "read and sell," but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a chance. It sells for fairly cheap on Amazon so, even if you read it and decide not to keep it, you won't have spent much.