Review by Ian Keogh
Contagion was originally issued as a mid-1990s crossover spreading over titles connected to Batman. The resulting 1996 graphic novel was a tight thriller that still reads well, even if some of the artwork is very much of its time. This edition restores a missing Hitman chapter by Garth Ennis and John McCrea, and continues following the cast after the title story is complete. The first is welcome, the second not as much, although it bridges the gap between this content and the next major crossover in Legacy.
The title story still reads well because it’s largely linear. Batman learns that an extremely contagious and fatal disease has been loosed, and someone who’s contracted it is on their way to Gotham. A taut opening chapter from Alan Grant and Vince Giarrano is a desperate race to identify and isolate the person, doomed to failure. Thereafter, no matter which of several writers takes over, they stick to the main plot, which develops into a hunt for the few people who’ve survived the virus, the inevitable spread, and the social eruption as news leaks out. Batman, Azrael, Catwoman and Robin seek to put things right against a backdrop of political corruption and villains, primarily Poison Ivy, attempting to exploit the situation to their own ends.
Kelley Jones is by some distance the most distinctive artist on both title story and following material (sample art left), then really into his stylised phase of Batman with extremely long and upward pointing ears, and shadows predominant. McCrea also stands out, drawing a great diseased monster and his chunky rendering now looking even better when ranked alongside the 1990s excesses of some other artists. Tommy Lee Edwards is also good.
Content not in the 1996 collection begins with Robin dealing with an insane Maxie Zeus. Chuck Dixon drops classical references, and there’s something to Frank Fosco’s cartooning, but nothing is memorable. ‘The Deadman Connection’ by Doug Moench and Jones runs over four chapters, Jones’ Deadman as quirky as his Batman, more skeletal than usual. It’s hokey, old-fashioned mystery adventure, complete with a crook having a map tattooed on his body in case he forgets Machu Pichu. Given the unusual locations, Jones holds his end up, but Moench’s lengthy pontifications on the morality of possessing bodies, ghosts and reincarnation isn’t entertaining.
It seems at first as if that’s also the case for Alan Grant and Dave Taylor’s closing three-parter, which begins with Batman having hallucinogenic encounters with assorted villains, but it develops into a more imaginative nightmare. Taylor’s alternate Batman forms resonate, and he puts great effort into other spooky locations (sample art right). The final two chapters are very good, but they’re the only additional material that is, so this ranks below the taut 1996 edition. Following story Legacy also comes in two versions.