Matches Malone is one of my favourite DC characters. He’s brash, badly-dressed, surly and smart, and there’s some excellent fan-fiction written about him. He’s also not, strictly speaking, a character in his own right – for most of his existence in comicbooks, Matches is one of Bruce Wayne’s undercover personas.
I’ve been collecting issues where Matches appears; I don’t have all of them yet, but my collection is growing and it’s always fun to visit a new comic shop to see if they have any back-issues that are on my list. I haven’t started to hunt them down online, although it might be faster and easier, there’s just something extremely satifying about flipping through dozens or hundreds of issues searching for that very specific one.
In the first ever installment of our new Matches Malone feature, here for our viewing pleasure we have the very first appearance of Matches Malone. Batman 242 is from June 1972, with a story by Denny O’Neil and art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano
In our first introduction to Matches, Batman is preparing to fight an all out battle to the death with Ra’s Al Ghul and he wants to enlist Matches’ aid. I love their dialogue and how unafraid Matches is, and of course we see his trademark one-thumb match light up too. (Remember, click to embiggen, ‘escape’ to get back out again)
Chasing him into the kitchen, Batman and Matches scuffle and a shot is fired off-page. All we see is a shocked chef saying “He’s dead!” Later that day, Matches rescues a Doctor Blaine from a mysterious assailant called Lo Ling, and Batman asks Blaine to join their fight against Ra’s.
I don’t know what I would do on the receiving end of that threat – never getting a minute’s peace from Batman sounds a bit appealing! But the Ra’s part would be no fun. Lo Ling returns and throws a knife, hitting home right in Batman’s chest, and Matches jumps into the fray, pulling a gun and knocking the slide projector off its table.
I love the reveal! Was Matches really Batman all along? No – turns out that’s who was killed in the kitchen! Batman doesn’t seem very upset about having inadvertently caused the man’s death. Batman pursues Lo Ling and manages to save his life, thus gaining his service against Ra’s, and tells him to return a week later for further instructions. Here’s the last page of the story, it just feels so classic and perfect!
This first appearance really encompasses everything I enjoy about Matches Malone issues – we have Batman doing surprise undercover work, witty dialogue, and exciting fight scenes. We even get to see Batman deface an innocent slide-projection screen! What happens in the next issue? Can Batman beat Ra’s with some “silly gadgets” and three men? Find out next time we have a Matches Malone special!