Sequels are a fact of life in entertainment, especially in comic books. Think of all the stories you’ve read in places like Narnia, Westeros, Hogwarts, Baker Street, Oz, Mars, etc. Think of all those stories that added new characters, new ideas, and new dimensions to worlds that you thought you already knew. Sequels don’t have to be a bad thing, especially when those stories are well written, well drawn, well colored, and well paced.
In comics that’s especially true. Think about how many stories we got as direct or indirect sequels to stories as big as Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, and The Infinity Gauntlet, or as small as God Loves, Man Kills. These stories continue to spread their ideas into new stories, sometimes they infect them with brilliant inspiration. Other stories are infected to the point that they should be scourged by fire out of existence.
And then there’s Legacy and what could have been.
At the end of Contagion, Batman and his allies were able to breathe a sigh of relief when an eleventh-hour cure for the virus known as Ebola Gulf A was found. Thanks to the former substitute dark knight Azrael, Gotham City was saved and those that survived (including the third Robin, Tim Drake) lived to see another day. The story ended on a happier note with Robin and Catwoman teaming up to get the cure to a Gotham neighborhood and promised a newer, possibly more virtuous path for the femme fatale thief.
Her story would lead into a journey for an artifact called the Wheel of Plagues and into dealing with Indiana Jones style thrills and dangers, before being stopped by a mysterious group. Catwoman’s story would be paused in her book and lead into a new story.
It should come as no shock that Contagion got a sequel. Given the impact that the Apocalypse Virus made on Gotham City, it was inevitable that the filovirus would eventually make its return to the pages of Batman. With the memory of Contagion fresh in reader’s minds, it made sense to have the virus come back with a vengeance even after a cure had been found. One has to question why it was such a short time – four months to be exact – before they brought the virus back into play.
In Legacy, the reader is treated to a new mutated form of the Clench. It not only threatens to take the survivors of the previous outbreak but threatens to take the rest of Gotham to Hell with it. The search for another cure leads Batman, Nightwing, and Robin to Africa where they also have to go through mazes to find what they’re looking for. Only to be met with the same mysterious force that stopped Catwoman in her tracks: the League of Shadows and easy contender for top-three Bat Villain Ra’s Al Ghul.
The revelation that the criminal mastermind Ra’s Al Ghul was behind the development of the Clench brings the story to a whole new level that the Order of St. Dumas could never have offered. With the weaponized virus in the possession of the immortal Malthusian and his plan to cleanse the world of the majority of its human population never seemed to be so close at hand as in Legacy. But that threat was about to be compounded with the revelation of the Demon’s ally.
Just when Batman and company thought having to deal with someone that Batman says makes the Joker look like a minor nuisance, here comes the man who has allied with Ra’s in the form of Bane.
Think about this for a moment: you have the alliance of one of Batman’s long-time adversaries with the man who broke the Bat and they have control of a viral weapon that nearly devastated a city and they plan to unleash a new strain on the entire world. Let that sink in for a moment.
By the way, Catwoman’s escape from the League of Shadows is an afterthought, and she doesn’t get to join in Batman’s crusade against this threat.
This story now goes from being just a sequel to Contagion to becoming a sequel to Knightfall as well. It’s no wonder this story wasn’t just called Relapse, there’s so much more going on here: the continued rivalry between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul, Bruce’s first encounter with Bane since the night the latter broke Batman’s back, and having to deal with a virus that nearly put the third Robin Tim Drake on his deathbed. All three of these factors combined in a chase to keep this troika from unleashing death across the world. There’s a lot of storyline coming together in what should have been one of the crown jewels in Chuck Dixon’s Batman run.
It wasn’t, but it’s not a bad story by any means. The chase leads Batman and his allies to places like Paris, Edinburgh, and Calcutta with a final battle in Gotham. This should have been a tense story with high stakes.
The story just didn’t live up to the tag line. Just as Contagion didn’t live up to “There is no cure,” Legacy didn’t live up to “The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been as Batman and his outnumbered forces race to solve a riddle from the distant past that threatens to erase all of mankind’s tomorrow.”
The reason why is elementary and lies in the first tag line, “There is no cure.” But there was a cure, and that’s the problem. Imagine for a moment that Azrael doesn’t find a cure for the Clench. Imagine that Gotham is ready to submit to their fate. But all of a sudden, the virus dissipates. The virus is rendered inert, those that were suffering with it get a stay of execution and those who were threated with catching it can breathe a sigh of relief. What happened?
In the penultimate issue of Contagion, the leader of the Order of St. Dumas said that the sin-cleanser was not ready. What if the virus was designed to take out a population of the Icelandic fishing village but was not ready to take out an entire city? What if the virus burned itself out because time had expired?
What if Batman and his allies realize that they caught a lucky break and the next time could be the last, the one that puts Gotham in its grave. What if that realization and the level of urgency carried over to Legacy and truly made this a graver threat than Batman had ever faced? Batman facing a brilliant criminal mastermind he’s barely defeated in the past, a villain that soundly defeated him, and a villain that was only stopped because time expired.
That would make for a better story, that would make for a thrilling “will they, or won’t they?” Yes, Batman would of course come out triumphant in the end like he did at the end of Legacy. It would have turned the heat up to high and see our heroes really struggle and finally get a hard-earned win against forces that have put them through Hell.
That’s not the story we got. It’s not a bad story, and it’s worth reading, but it could have been so much better. This story was what it shouldn’t have been, a cure for a virus that should have raged. This virus was born inert and robbed of promise.