I bought these issues at the Batman sale. This story deals in drug use and the fall out. This is a live review with my thoughts as I read.
OLDER SPOILER AHEAD
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #16
Batman tries and fails to save a little girl that was kidnapped. She drowns while he struggles to move the boulders keeping him from reaching her. Devastated he goes to inform her father of her death which doesn't go as bad as you think. The father--Dr. Porter--takes it well saying it's probably better this way. Batman takes it far more to heart than the casualness of her own father. Turns out the girl was captured to get her old mans' work with designer drugs. The pills are meant to make the human body perform superhuman feats. Batman rejects the offer of using the pills to return to the cave to train. Only Batman finds himself frustrated with his limits as he's not able to lift the weights and actually injures himself trying.
Eventually he turns to the father who rather smugly hands him over the pills saying he knew Batman would return. He revels in the new power laughing as he beats on the kidnappers.
Overall: Modern Batman stories will make you question why Batman didn't do a number of things but having him be human makes these stories interesting. His desperation after losing a child makes Bruce do something he normally wouldn't. I do think the portrayal of the father is ridiculous. Maybe he'll be a user too but he doesn't care that his daughter died. He comes off as a pusher that leers at Batman to come for a hit. I would have liked to see him acting more uncertain since this makes him look like a straight up villain. He might be but a little uncertainty would have worked better.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #17
Dressed in a disguise Bruce beats up crooks for information taking far too much glee in doing so. I'm not sure which is worse: Bruce laughing or threating to cramming something in one of the thugs openings. At home a disapproving Alfred reminds him those men did nothing illegal recently. The pills Bruce takes were supposed to take away his need to work out. Only Bruce keeps going back to lifting weights not so much as glancing at paper work. Apparently Bruce has been using for three months. Interesting he's also stopped acting as Batman when he goes out at night something Alfred sees proof Bruce knows taking drugs is wrong. They argue with Alfred deciding to walk away since he's had enough of the bullshit he's receiving.
Dr. Porter is happy to see Batman again and introduces him to a general. Seeing Bruce squirm for the pills is very, very uncomfortable. Porter is such a smug bastard there's no doubt he's an ass that needs to get taken down. The slickness, the mockery and way he's manipulating Batman made my skin crawl. Sending Batman after people ripping him off then going after the men that kidnapped the girl Sissy because their out on bail. To the shock of no one it turns out the general and Porter are intentionally using Batman. Outside our hero threatens to take a mans' head off only holds off once he learns the guy is the generals' son. The general wants his own kid out of sight and Batman doesn't see why that is as the guy seems normal to him.
Gordon notices some changes. Since Gordon is a threat to their operation the general and Porter tell Batman he has to earn the pills by going after his friend.
Overall: There's some odd dialogue here with Batman asking Timmy if he's the generals' son with Timmy stating he's a junior like his dad. Uh, that's what he asked and figured out. A simple yes or no would feel more natural especially since Batman acts crazy. I really liked seeing Batman tossing a refrigerator instead of trying to chase the fleeing killers. I had to stop reading in places because the sleazy manipulations Porter puts on Batman are disgusting. Alfred has quit after Bruce's behavior and this take place before any of the Robins come around (D.A. Dent is mentioned) meaning he's all by himself. The one time he tries to reach out Gordon shuts him down saying it'd work better if they keep their relationship professional.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #18
I can't wait to see Batman beat the ever loving hell out of Porter who keeps playing dumb to make him repeatedly ask for the pills. They feed him more BS on why their the good guys and Gordon needs to go. Tracking his friend down Batman explains the situation (sort of.) It's hard for him to keep it together as he starts to go into withdraw. Deciding to deal with Porter and the general himself which goes well until Porter drops off the pills to buy their freedom. After they escape Bruce slowly realizes what he's become and is seized with self loathing. He does the intelligent thing of calling Alfred soon after.
The desperation in Bruces' call and his desire to be locked away in the mansion for a month is heartbreaking. Naturally Alfred is moved to readily agree until the moment comes to shut the entrance of the cave. Of course there's no arguing with Bruce so Alfred suffers as he listens at the intercom ten days later. He wants to comfort his surrogate son but can not making the withdraw torturous for him too.
While this is going on Porter and the general have decided to use Timothy as their new test subject. Timothy has fallen for a woman which likely won't end well given the drugs their pumping into him. The general seems to be just as great a dad as Porter was as he doesn't seem to care for his sons' safety and thinks he was "a sissy" because he never dated before. The only thing he does worry about is that Timothy will get a disease from her since she's from a different race. Porter manages to become more detestable as he thinks they can use the lady to their advantage. As the days progress they show Tim how little he matters while Alfred wants to bring Bruce out twenty five days in. As expected Timothy has changed from the sweet guy to a tough brute and his girlfriend doesn't like the new him. She says she doesn't want to see Tim again but Porter evilly promises he will.
As soon as Porter finishes with the surgery the general shoots his son to test the process. Timothy can't feel pain anymore and he can hardly be hurt by bullets. After thirty one days Bruce comes out from the cave, apparently wearing nothing but his suit the entire time. Timothys' transformation as a monster is complete as his girlfriend doesn't want to be with him. The general orders his son to kill her which he does. Bruce suits up to go after the bad guys and it's been awhile since I read anyone deserving Batmans' fury as much as these guys.
Overall: The best part is the withdrawal stage where Alfreds' concern is mixed with the general/Porter using Timothy as their test subject. Neither cares what happens to Timothy just the results they can get. The worst part is the murder of a woman that the villains blame on her for being "so stand offish" for not wanting to have sex with him. I know it's to make them evil but it reinforces some of the worst victim blaming against women. Very disturbing stuff yet it's still done more tastefully than some comics now a days.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #19
Timothy isn't the only test subject anymore and our bad guys sic them all on a village. One of the drugged out killers even kills his own grandmother. The purpose of the battle? Nothing more than a test run to see how their soldiers worked. Six months have passed since Batman recovered from drug use and he's figured out where they went. I was right that Porter took drugs and it turns out he's been doing so since before his daughter died. It makes him smarter but also gets rid of "emotional inconveniences." Which does explain why he didn't seem to care that his kid died. This doesn't mean he's off the hook of course, he's done terrible things even before using Batman. Like drugging two students who suffered greatly, one even committing suicide.
Porter and the general hear that an American is coming from Gotham. The general thinks it's Batman and Porter doesn't believe it since he doubts Batman could recover from the drugs' influence. Just to be sure the general shoots the airplane out of the sky forcing Bruce and Alfred to bail out. They get separated and eventually they take Alfred to lure Batman out. Porter tempts him with strength enhancing drugs which he ignores to save his butler from sharks. Since he doesn't have shark repellant in this canon Bruce kicks one in the head.
I'm impressed with the storytelling in both the art and the script as he fights the shark.
Once done they go for a boat of bystanders. You know I'm doing a live review for this, writing my thoughts as I read this and I'm surprised Batman does mention the shark repellant. He bets the guys lives that they have it--they do. I'm not sure why he asked them in English when they didn't speak it before. Anyway they return to shore where Porter once again offers pills to finally receive a much deserved punch to the face. Not that he gets to celebrate long as Timothy returns the favor then gets the order to kill him.
Overall: The exchange over the recon pictures was a nice touch as Alfred reminds Bruce when he does jump in without looking. Then the panel of Bruce tossing him out the plane with the standard Alfred snark. I enjoyed the comment Bruce makes on only people that know Alfred can hear the fear in his voice when he makes certain dry comments. Is Alfred just there for moral support? According to this Bruce Wayne isn't that famous, at least not back then.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #20
Trying to stop Timothy from killing him Batman reveals he has information on his mother. This has been brought up a couple times before with Timothy mentioning it while Batman has said it was odds when talking about the generals' past. Given the mans' disregard for life and family I'll be very surprised if he didn't kill her.
Yep, Batman says that the police think it's the general. When asked by Porter if it's true he readily admits to it since he saw her as a weakling that was affecting their son. Batman quickly notices that Timothy can't be reasoned with and is now a killing machine. Going all out has no affect and only Porters' insistence keeps Batman alive. He continues to be a jackass despite previously getting punched in the face. Wanting to break him (comparing Batman willing unmasking himself to the loss of virginity, ew) they take him to a death trap. Porter wants to win by breaking Batman by giving him a means to escape by opening a door that's physically impossible to do. Unless he takes the drugs.
Batman is quick to point out that the pills alone won't be enough to do it as the cold will sap his strength and he'll need high protein food. Deciding to be fair for once Porter agree to the terms. Did I say fair? Nah, the pills are more addictive than the ones he took before. He has three days to escape. Although he doesn't know it Alfred did follow his orders and has escaped on a rowboat. Batman of course is working on his own plan with what he was given fighting against the temptation to use the drugs. Alfred gets a ride on a ship offering payment once they reach shore and asks to use the radio.
Panic begins to set in as Batman realizes it's now or never to take the pills as they need time to work. Then he remembers what he was like when he took them. Huh, it seems Alfred knows how to imitate Bruces' voice. Interesting. Things have turned sour in the partnership of Porter and the general. Since Porter is popping pills often he's seen as unreliable. The general wants his notes and is ready to hurt him to get them. I'm not saying how Bruce gets out but I think it's easy to guess. He gets to Porter after he told everything he knows about the formula then asks if Batman took the pills. Batman actually screws up after he gives his proof leading to Porter getting the pill and rewinding the tape to get Timothy to kill his father. That's the thing that snaps Timothy out of his haze. On the way Porter gloats that he'll win which doesn't affect Batman since he knows he took the pills.
Porter didn't escape, Gordon thinks he wasn't strong enough while Batman believes he wasn't smart enough. The doctor suffered for two days until he died. This doesn't make Batman happy since he still remembers Sissy dying and Timothys' ordeal.
Overall: I just realized Batman never stops the super soldiers, their just zombies without their orders. I wonder if the drug, which is never named in story, is connected to the Venom Bane uses. A bleak story in a lot of respects that's only true bright spots are Alfred, his bond with Bruce and Bruces' recovery. I think this is a good story just not an easy one to read through given the subject matter. It's easy to see why Denny O'Neal is one of the great Batman writers even if spots are dated. I wanted the bad guys to get what they deserved yet I didn't feel satisfied when they did because in the end the whole thing was tragic. Mainly for their kids although their fathers' deaths were karmic.