Monday, May 18, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 2: February 1980

The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #320

"The Curse of the Inquisitor!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick & Bob Smith

A strange double murder in Spain intrigues Batman, who heads off to Europe to investigate the deaths of two priests: one covered in bronze and the other found hanging in a meat locker. Arriving in a small town in the foothills, Bruce Wayne happens upon Cardinal Ramirez, preaching outdoors about the sin of modern life, and Father Pinto, a younger priest who believes that one cannot turn back the clock. That night, as Batman approaches the priest's residence, he is shot at with a bolt from a crossbow. In trying to chase the shooter, he comes upon two men with guns and, after knocking them down, they reveal that they are policemen protecting Father Pinto.

Batman visits the young priest, who is shot with a crossbow just as he is about to tell Batman his suspicions regarding the murders. The Dark Knight again gives chase and finds himself in an old chapel, where a dwarf with a crossbow takes shots at him and where he meets a hooded man who calls himself the Inquisitor. Batman narrowly escapes being impaled by spikes when he falls through a trap door; he manages to knock out the crossbow-wielding dwarf before he falls victim to "The Curse of the Inquisitor!" and races to the police station, where he learns that Lt. Sanchez is not around.

A pose like one Frank Robbins might draw!
On a hunch, Batman heads for the nearest bank, where it so happens that Lt. Sanchez, dressed in a monk's robe, is about to lock a young priest in the vault, where he will suffocate. Batman appears and explains that Lt. Sanchez is the Inquisitor, and that his murders represent manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins: bronze for pride, the food locker for gluttony and, just now, the bank vault for greed. A pitched battle ensues until the dwarf with the crossbow accidentally shoots his master, the Inquisitor, in the back. Batman visits Cardinal Ramirez and breaks the news about Lt. Sanchez, who happens to be the cardinal's son.

JS: A fairly run-of-the-mill issue of Batman, with some fun elements, such as the dwarf and the trap door, and a fair amount of nonsense. I could not figure out how Batman knew it was time to head to the bank until I realized he must have cracked the code of the Seven Deadly Sins and determined that the next one in line was greed. Good thing there was only one bank in the area, or things could've gone horribly wrong. A note in the letters column of Batman 325 says that the cover was bought by Julius Schwartz and held until it was needed. It's dated 1972, so I have to wonder: did Berni draw a cover with a crossbow-wielding dwarf and, eight years later, Denny O'Neil took a look at it and wrote a story around it? Or did Denny write a story with a crossbow-wielding dwarf and Julie just happened to find a cover that fit? My money is on the first scenario.

PE: There are some interesting tidbits thrown into this story (the crossbow-bearing dwarf, for one), but not enough to keep my interest. The Inquisitor feels like yet another one of those disposable, shudder-pulp-inspired villains that pop up for an issue or two and then disappear without leaving a trace in the reader's memory. Same with the script; Lt. Sanchez certainly goes to a lot of trouble to get his point across, and I'm really not sure what the point was in the first place. The art is inconsistent. Bruce/Bats looks like he's on a crash diet in the panel on page three and I can't tell the difference between Bruce and Father Pinto, other than the clerical collar.

The Brave and the Bold #159

"The Crystal Armageddon!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Jim Aparo

Professor Elias Hatter has whipped up a formula that turns anything it touches into glass: water, land, animals, humans, even, ostensibly, glass! When Hatter's brother is kidnapped and the Professor disappears, Ra's al Ghul reaches out to Batman and convinces him they should partner up to find the egghead before the potion can be put to use in a dastardly way.

Before the pair (now joined by Talia, daughter of Ra's and ex-squeeze of Batman) can hit the road, Ra's dies. Talia explains that her old man does that now and then and must be brought to the Lazarus Pit for regeneration. Meanwhile, Hatter finds his brother in the clutches of the League of Assassins aboard a ship just outside Hong Kong. A brawl ensues and Hatter's brother is killed; despondent, the professor wanders the streets of Hong Kong before deciding this would be a good time for the world to end. He heads back to the ship belonging to the League.

Ra's reborn, the villain and his wary partner arrive in Hong Kong and defeat the League of Assassins aboard the boat. Batman confronts Hatter and asks him to surrender the formula. The Professor, instead, douses himself with the liquid, giving everything around him a shiny finish. The Dark Knight barely makes it off the ship just in time and must swim to shore when ex-partner Ra's zooms away in his biplane, swearing he'll be back to kill the Batman someday.

PE: All-in-all, an exciting, well-written adventure featuring two very unlikely compadres, but I'd have preferred a little more time with these guys. Seventeen pages just wasn't enough to give weight to the "Crystal Armageddon" that could have befallen the world. And I'm a bit confused as to why the glass stopped spreading so fast when Hatter assured us his baby would enfold the world. Jim Aparo gives us dynamic, well-choreographed scenes (Novick and Smith could learn a few tricks from Jim), very much inspired by Neal Adams, I'd lay money. As with the glass formula outcome, I remain a bit hazy as to the relationship between Ra's and the League of Assassins. Maybe I need to do a little homework, but isn't Ghul the Big Kahuna of the League? Couldn't he simply get on the horn and tell his guys to stand down? I'm sure someone out there can fill me in.

JS: I'm a little fuzzy on the League as well and vaguely recall it from the '70s as an unfocused concept. I think it's neat that Ra's knows Batman's secret identity and Bats is OK with that. Ra's is a great character and I also love the Aparo visuals; O'Neil's story (he wrote both comics this month) is solid. Happily, the gorgeous Talia remains tangentially involved.

Next Week...
At least one half of the crew
thinks this is a Warren classic!

1 comment:

John said...

I agree that the situation with the League of Assassins at the time of The Crystal Armageddon in The Brave and the Bold #159 was not clear. Darhk was the head of the organization when it was introduced. He died after kidnapping Talia and then the League had no leader. Sensei seemed to gain control of the League after Darhk, but I 'm not sure about that.
I had the impression there was a war between 2 different factions ( Sensei's faction and Ras Al Ghul's faction ). I mean the League was founded by Ras centuries ago, but Sensei and his apprentices were rebelling against Ras at that time.
I guess the writers were not focusing on the League of Assassins because they had more interesting topics like Kite-Man or Crazy Quilt...