If you’re like me you may remember a particularly annoying aspect of 90s comic books: There was never a catch-up page. I recall multiple times I’d pick up a book off a rack in Boscovs or Walgreens (you know, when comic books were actually sold in things called department stores) and I’d have NO idea what was going on.

Now, I do remember that most of the times I was befuddled by things like, “When did we get a female Doctor Octopus?” or “When did Jean and Cyclops get married?” – things that would have been made better with context, but could be figured out easily on one’s own, or didn’t really change up the status quo.

But now and then one would find an issue like Detective Comics #624 and just have no frickin’ idea as to what the Hell is going on…at least not until reading it four or five times as if trying to discover all the clues to a heinous crime.

The cover to my copy of Detective Comics #624

Detective Comics #624 is split into two storylines which alternate every few pages throughout the book. The one that starts on Page 1 is, well, let’s wait on that one. I understand the one that kicks of on Page 4 way better.

Things open with radio personality Jack Hemp explaining to his listeners (and us readers) that there is a man running around Gotham claiming to be Batman and slicing up people. Dubbed the Batmaniac, we transition to an older woman named Dr. Quigley who shuts off the radio as Batman arrives. The World’s Greatest Detective believes Quigley knows where the Batmaniac is, as he is a former patient of hers.

Quigley claims that his whereabouts are unknown to her, but they both feel she’s guilty of some of his blood for clearing him for release while still unwell. She then vents on Batman, saying he’s just as guilty as she is for inspiring such violence, but Batman counters that in a world without him the Batmaniac would have just picked someone else to copy.

With Quigley’s admission that the killer is who Batman expects, he radios Commissioner Gordon with the information and stakes out an area he suspects Batmaniac – real name Clyde Harris – will next target.

In that exact area a couple is walking hand in hand, when Harris reveals himself, brandishing a giant knife. When he accuses the couple of being sinful they ask him who he is, to which he replies, “I’m Batman.”

Not a smart thing to claim when the real Batman is crouched right above you.

The two briefly try to out-“I’m Batman” each other before the Dark Knight finally drops him. As Gordon questions Batman on how he knew to find Harris, the Bat explains that he used detective work. While that should be an insult to every cop there, they don’t seem to have been listening so Gordon takes the opportunity to chastise his men for jumping to conclusions instead of doing their jobs.

That evening Jack Hemp puts the final nail in the Batmaniac story, turning his attention to the idea of taxing anti-abortion religious groups that act like PAC groups (thank for bringing that up, 1991). While Hemp broadcasts Bruce Wayne and Alfred put their own nail in the coffin of a separate issue, which I’ll get into shortly.

Now, that story probably sounds like your average Batman tale. And it is. But what threw my head for a loop for my first few attempts to read through Detective Comics #624 was how the issue starts off.

Page 1 begins with young blond Dr. Madeline Le May and old bearded Dr. Henderson observing someone named Simon Petrarch through the window of a padded cell. Dr. Le May wants to try and help Petrarch by, you know, doing her job but Henderson says that some things are beyond their ability.

Suddenly the Batmobile, which now sports the slobbering biological head of a hound, shows up outside Arkham Asylum and howls.

Yep, if you were confused as to who any of these characters are a howling living Batmobile sporting the head of the wrong species should have helped redirect your confusion. What makes things even better is that the howling causes Petrarch to transform into some sort of demonic Batman. And don’t think Man-Bat, I mean he is wearing a Batman suit but it is much more pointy and bat-like. Petrarch Batman turns into a ghost, dissolves through Arkham’s ceiling, and rides off with the Batmobile while Le May looks on with deep concern.

Meanwhile, someone called Jane Jones has performed a demonic ritual and called upon the services of a dark pantheon of gods. She feels she has lived her life plain, boring, and without a reason to live (maybe “Changing Out Of That Burlap Sack” would have been a good First Step before “Demon Summoning”) and begs to be given something so she “knows what it is to be alive.”

Of course, as dark gods are want to, they grant her request by transforming plain Jane into a bloodthirsty anthropomorphic Catwoman and then they inhabit her form. Her dark hair becomes blond, she grows cat ears and orange tigerish fur, whiskers appear, her eyes become grin and slitted, her nails become talons, and for some reason she has red lipstick. Oh, and because no self-respecting pantheon of dark gods would be seen in a burlap sack her clothes become a bikini set, a cape, thigh high boots, and a single arm cover. All of which is leather and studded with small spikes. of course. Oh, and let’s not forget the whip she now sports.

Eager to get her murder on Jane is lead off to find Batman.

In the sewers of Gotham Petrarch Batman is riding the – well, it is no longer a car but more of a Bathound – when he/they are ambushed by Jane. She slices up the Bathound and captures Batman in her whip. She kisses him, sucking out the soul of Petrarch as a butterfly. She’s about to eat it when…hold on, I have a prefab joke for this one;

She used to be a demon-possessed super villain, until she took an arrow to the neck.

Yep, just moments before Jane is about to eat Petrarch’s soul a crossbow bolt thunks into her neck, dropping the woman limp to the floor (which makes me wonder why dark pantheons always prioritize “matching leather bikini set” above things like “invulnerability” when creating their avatars). This arrow was fired by a BatGirl/Woman, who immediately reveals herself to be Dr. Le May. Concerned for Petrarch she’s been following him around.

Batman, however, is really a demonic possessor and Petrarch is gone and he is solely in charge of this body now (although I’m sure the courts system might say otherwise). Grabbing Le May and claiming his victory for human form Batman is interrupted by Petrarch’s soul, which has switched from butterfly form to angry man form (possibly something he should have done sooner?). Batman and Petrarch’s soul get into a battle which leaves Petrarch victorious (?) but dead, and Le May cries over Petrarch’s body knowing he is at peace.

Worst. State-Assigned Doctor. Ever.

Now, if you started reading into that with no context whatsoever you’d be a little befuddled as well, right?

Well, that’s not quite all of Detective Comics #624. Tucked into the center of the book, hidden with a full-page ad and given absolutely no context or special significance, is one page I missed on my first readings. These five panels are about cartoonist Fred and jerk-ass editor Tod. You see, Fred is drawing a comic book about a demonic Batman and issues of his comic book are showing up at the Batmaniac murder scenes. He feels guilty about possibly inspiring Batmaniac and has decided to end the run of the comic book.

Maybe this would have been helpful to have mentioned earlier in #624? Instead of confusing the Hell out of new readers trying to figure out who Simon Petrarch is? And if this is in fact a stand-alone story with no prior context this makes my confusion all the more frustrating, because the writers knew I’d have no way of knowing what was going on.

And remember how I said earlier that Bruce and Alfred put their own nail in the coffin of a separate issue at the end of their story? This is that issue. Bruce has been investigating the comic’s publisher and is happy when Alfred tells him the comic has been made a mini-series and will end. So, when Batman and Quigley have their exchange, why doesn’t one of them mention this other much more likely and violent source of inspiration? Because the only reason Fred knows the comics have been at the murder scenes is because Hemp said it on the radio, and if we know Quigley listens to Hemp so…my head hurts now.

So, even though the comic tries to touch on some heady points – the metaphor that Batman is Bruce Wayne’s demon, and the very 2012-timely idea that murderers will always find an excuse to do what they do – they are lost amongst the “What the what?” chaos is that is jumping from Petrarch and Wayne’s Batmen.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While some interesting points are made in the comic, it is not generally very good, and even a feline cat woman transformation isn’t enough to save it.

Now more than ever the “Batman comic inspired violence” theme should resonate. And perhaps if you go into this issue knowing the deal the idea comes across better. But I feel like it is wedged into what is already an overly-packed issue (with the Batman is Bruce Wayne’s own inner-demon meta-text adding to the weight), made doubly confusing for someone who doesn’t know what is going on. And, unfortunately, what the issue is overly-packed with is not that engrossing.

The Bruce Wayne Batman part of the story is pretty dry and straightforward, and never did I feel like Batman was truly in danger of Batmaniac, a name wasted on Clyde Harris. Honestly, the best part of the issue was listening to Batman explain all the detective work he did, because I feel that lately his status of “World’s Greatest Detective” has been overshadowed by his recent uptake of the “World’s Most Resilient Punching Bag” mantle. And while I liked this part of the story, let’s remember something; if the most interesting thing about your Batman story is when Batman talks about things he did off-panel you’re doing something wrong.

The Simon Petrarch Batman story was only slightly more interesting, mostly because it had the “What the Hell is going on?” factor. In general it had the unmistakable feel of the 90s “overly dramatic and hyper-violent” style. Nowadays I feel the same way about 90s storytelling as I do about the Adam West BATMAN series – it was enjoyed at the time of production, but now I can’t help but snicker at it (and before I get any angry Comments I grew up with Adam West as BATMAN and absolutely adore that series, but not as something I can take seriously).

The draw for most people here will be the Jane Jones Catwoman, and she appears inside pretty much as she appears on the cover. While we get some good views for a before/after comparison, the actual transformation is your typical “view from behind as a sudden flash outlines her” sort of deal. The fifteen panels she appears in are mostly sexy and well done, but a few are very awkward and messy (and her death stare is very disconcerting). There is a brief two-panel sequence where she transforms into an actual big cat to combat Bathound, but it is pretty crappy looking and the fight would have been better if she’d remained humanoid. Of course there is no nudity, but if you like dominatrix-style dressed cat women this comic has some good images for you.

Beyond the hard-core TF collector, however, there isn’t much about this book I can recommend. It’s been fun to hand to a couple DC-fanboys with the “Do you remember when Simon Petrarch was Batman?” challenge, but I don’t expect to be rereading this anytime soon. There are better comics with hybrid cat women. And there are better Batman comics. Without excelling in either area Detective Comics #624 is something of a dud.