Batman / Punisher: Lake of Fire
Writer: Dennis O'Neil
Artists: Barry Kitson and James Pascoe
By Michael David Sims
With crap like Batman/Punisher: Lake of Fire being published, it's a miracle the comic book industry didn't completely collapse before the end of the 20th century. With no redeeming value, I'm left to wonder why I should even bother reviewing it. Not that I dislike writing reviews of inferior products; it's that this is so bad that I don't even want to draw attention to its existence. If you missed it in 1994, there's no reason to go look for it a decade late. This isn't wine or cheese; it hasn't aged well. (Fact of the matter, it was never worth consumption in the first place.)
Sadly, this much hyped and long-sought crossover wasn't merely a bomb because the story is incoherent and the art is... well, the art was par for the time (RE: crap). What makes this crossover hardly worth the $4.95 cover price is that it didn't feature Batman.
I know what you're saying. Yes the title of this book is Batman/Punisher: Lake of Fire, but it didn't feature the real Batman.
For those of you who were unfortunate enough to have been reading the various Batman books in the early 90s, you'll recall that Bruce Wayne was no longer under the cape and cowl having been broken by Bane. In his stead was John Paul Valley, better known as Azrael. Much like Jason Todd the second Robin Valley was brash and acted without forethought. He was needlessly violent and, frankly, not a worthy heir to the Batman throne. No one ever truly believed he would permanently replace Bruce Wayne, but the short time he spent behind the mask was forgettable and regrettable.
So it shouldn't have been a surprise that this book was both forgettable and regrettable.
Basically and I'm going to recap this as quickly as I can The Punisher has traced his longtime nemesis Jigsaw to Gotham City. Why he's there, Castle does not know. But if Jigsaw is in Gotham, he must be up to something. So while the skull-clad psychopath is off chasing the New York mobster, Batman is dreaming about the tormented souls that will forever burn in Hell and how they deserve the endless pain they've brought upon themselves. In fact, that's how the book begins, with Batman's nightmare and unintelligible self-ramblings. (Never does writer Dennis O'Neil bother to explain why he's having these visions or who St. Dumas is. It's just erroneously assumed that all readers of this crossover are also readers of Batman, and will understand the nature of Azrael's nightmares.)
As it turns out, Jigsaw's plan is as ill-conceived as this plot. He plans to use a new rocket fuel (one that makes water flammable) to destroy both the old and new Gotham Reservoirs. With them gone, his construction company will be right there to start the clean-up and rebuilding process at any price he commands. If the city doesn't comply, it will go thirsty. (Never mind the obvious. Never mind that Gothamites could and would simply drink, you know, other beverages to quench their thirst. I guess Jigsaw's never heard of milk... or orange juice... or soda... or beer... or even bottled water.)
Despite the fact that he's tailed Jigsaw to the scummy city, Castle never actually learns of his plan. In fact, Batman only learns of it by sheer luck and inevitably halts the explosive water one second One second! before it incinerates Gotham. It's so clichιd it hurts.
Upon finding Jigsaw, Castle recites some stupid one-liners, thus giving the larger of the two men time to fight back. After a quick bout of fisticuffs, The Punisher tosses Jigsaw from the roof, but he's saved by a conveniently nearby Batman. And, like his predecessor, Valley won't let anyone die not even criminals. Instead, he ties the mobster up and leaves him for the police. Before the police can arrive, however, Jigsaw is freed by his (until now) mysterious partner: The Joker. (By the way, all we get of The Joker is one and a half pages. Yay pointless cameos!)
Then, as all crossovers must, the two heroes square off for no other reason than the fact that The Punisher kills people and Batman dislikes that. (Never mind that Castle, you know, killed no one throughout this book.) Of course the fight ends in a draw Heaven forbid one of them actually win and the two title characters unceremoniously part ways... and then Azrael yells at no one... again.