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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

ISB Mystery Theater: Batman #440

Or: The Purloined Letter


The odd things that you can stumble across while working in a comic book store are not necessarily limited to the people who come in looking for back issues of Purgatori.

I figure that it happens in most businesses that deal with second-hand merchandise, but occasionally we'll run across something we didn't bargain for when we got the comics. Personally, I'm pretty fond of the time MG3 was processing a box of comics, and ran across what was described in The Blues Brothers as "One prophylactic... soiled."

Okay, I don't think it was actually soiled, but it's a jarring enough sight nonetheless, which led MG3 to pull a a double-take and then utter the classic phrase:

"Hey... I found a little goodie."

It still happens every now and then. Nothing quite as shocking as that, but no less bizarre. A couple weeks ago, MG3--who's apparently a magnet for this sort of thing--found some guy's vacation photos tucked into an issue of Firestorm and hung a few of them up around the store. I forget the name we settled on for him, but apparently he liked two things: Firestorm, and Ice Fishing.

Which leads us to today's adventure with Batman #440. But first, a little background.

Not exactly Dark Knight.
A relic from October of 1989, this is the first installment of the five-part "A Lonely Place of Dying," the story that introduces Tim Drake as the new Robin. The whole shebang's written by Marv "The Wolfman" Wolfman, and it runs through Batman and New Titans.

The story revolves around a mystery villain (Two-Face), Batman curling up in a fetal position and biting his bedsheets, and Starfire hopping out of the shower to answer the door for young Tim Drake, which never gets mentioned in that kid's list of "defining moments." It's not great, but it kicks off a pretty pivotal story for Batman, and it does have that pretty Jim Aparo artwork. Dr. Kunka and I were talking about Aparo last week, and he mentioned that whenever Aparo draws Batman punch somebody, they look like they may never walk again. There's an uppercut on page 18 that backs up that theory.

The copy I found today had a folded piece of paper tucked in the bag along with it that fell out when I pulled out the comic. Thanks to the magic of Scott, you can take a look for yourself (click if you need to enlarge):
What the heck is DNIF?
As near as I can figure, there are two principal players in our story: Kevin and Reb. Reb, aside from being a fan of sailboat stationery, is late in sending Kevin his copy of Batman #440, which--with comics dated about two months ahead due to an old newsstand tradition--puts this letter about a month after the publication. Presumably, Kevin can't go get a copy for himself for some reason, and relies on Reb--who appears to be in the Air Force, despite not having flown a jet in a while--to mail him his copies.

That, my friends, is just enough information to send my head spinning with more questions. Why does Kevin need Reb to send him an issue of Batman? Why hasn't Reb flown in a while? What's DNIF?

There's so many things I have questions about. The letter seems far more formal than anything I'd write while sending a friend a comic, and Matt P. thinks that "Reb" could be short for "Rebecca," which could add another layer to the story. Me, I favor it being short for "Rebel," a jet-jockeyin' badass who still takes time to send his buddy Batman's latest adventures--albiet a little late.

To make matters even stranger, the collection we got the comic in was dropped off by someone from the Library, since they never sell comics at used book sales. At one point in time, this comic mattered--however little--two two people, and yet it's been donated to a library and passed on to a comic book store, where it can now be yours for a quarter. There's got to be a story behind it somewhere.

But I don't know it, and I want to. So Kevin and Reb, if you guys are out there, drop a line. Otherwise, this thing's gonna drive me crazy.

6 Comments:

Anonymous dr. kunka said...

Have you ever checked out "Found" magazine? http://www.foundmagazine.com
This would be perfect for that magazine.

I have some Air Force students--I'll ask them today what "DNIF" means. It would be cool if it meant something like "Do not inform family."

10/12/2005 7:50 AM

 
Anonymous Adrian said...

It's a document of the touching love affair between Hal Jordan and BeaucoupKevin!

10/12/2005 10:43 AM

 
Anonymous dr. kunka said...

DNIF means "duty not involving flying."

10/12/2005 11:12 AM

 
Anonymous Lorene said...

DNIF means "duty not involving flying."

Which only adds to the mystery. Why was Reb bumped down to DNIF? Did he have a mental breakdown while in the cockpit? Did he have a dogfight with a MiG and have his best buddy Goose have to eject, which led to his death?

The questions!

By the way, I vote for Reb being a guy -'Reuben'?- mainly because a Rebecca would only be flying cargo planes for the Air Force, and I can't see why that task would get bumped to DNIF. (The Air Force didn't allow woman to enlist in combat flying until 1993.)

10/12/2005 12:31 PM

 
Anonymous Libby_by_Debs said...

I'm definitely voting for mental break down in the cock pit. It's the most interesting.

Or...maybe the whole letter is code for something else and sliding notes into comic books was a form of communication amongst spies. "The thunderbirds are performing" totally sounds like a code phrase. (And made me wonder if he meant some real squad or he'd just been watching too much supermarionation. Thunderbirds are go!)

10/12/2005 12:37 PM

 
Anonymous lorene said...

Thunderbirds are go!

Oh, thank God! I thought it was just me. For that brief moment, all I could imagine was Gerry Anderson leaning over some cardboard puppet theater, re-enacting an episode. Then I got to thinking maybe that's why Reb hadn't been flying for a while- mental breakdown when he realized he wasn't Scott Tracy. Then I wondered if Reb meant The Fabulous Thunderbirds, which is completely different.

Then I pondered whether or not I thought about stuff too much.

10/13/2005 10:03 PM

 

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