Review by Ian Keogh
This 1996 paperback works well as a taut Batman thriller despite spreading over multiple titles back in the day under multiple creative hands.
Alan Grant and Vince Giarrano’s opening chapter sets the scene well, establishing the danger and easy transmission of the Apocalypse virus, along with Batman’s desperate, and ultimately futile race against time to prevent widespread infection in Gotham. What keeps Contagion very readable, though, is the linear nature of the overall story. Many different creators are involved, and there is the occasional flashback, but the story runs from A to B with very few detours. Some characters might step more into the spotlight if the chapter originally ran in their title, but the flow isn’t ever greatly interrupted.
Even the constant change of artists doesn’t greatly impact, although Kelley Jones then moving into his increasingly stylised phase, stands out as a cut above (sample spread left). Some of the art isn’t especially appealing today, with Vince Giarrano (sample right), Barry Kitson and Jim Balent very much nailed to an era of 1990s excess.
Batman hopes at first that the single carrier can be prevented from spreading the disease, which comes to be known as the Clench, after which there’s a hunt for the few people who’ve contracted it and survived. The outbreak is at first confined to a controlled enclave inhabited by the super rich, but when news spreads, Gotham erupts, and it’s all set against a backdrop of villains wanting to exploit the situation and a corrupt police force ineffective. Latterly, there’s also a more personal reason for Batman needing an antidote.
Azrael has long been expunged from Batman continuity, so some parts featuring him and the Order of St Dumas may puzzle readers who weren’t around at the time, but the idea of a long-lived secret society should register. This still reads very well, presumably why a bulkier edition under the Contagion title was issued in 2016. It includes extra material, primarily a teaming with Deadman, but also restores a Hitman chapter by Garth Ennis and John McCrea to the main story.