Monday, June 15, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 4: April 1980

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

Batman #322

"Chaos--Coming and Going!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick & Vince Colletta

As Selina Kyle pages through her scrapbook, an early morning delivery van for the Gotham Guardian is attacked by Captain Boomerang, who announces that the tabloid's owner owes him one million dollars and has 24 hours to pay up. Batman shows up for a quick fight but Boomy escapes and Bats heads home to tell Alfred he doesn't need any help from the Flash to defeat the baddie from Central City.

Selina Kyle has bad news from the doctor: she has a rare disease that will kill her in less than a month, and the only cure came from herbs whose secret has been lost since the fall of Ancient Egypt. By an astounding coincidence, the Egyptian exhibit at Gotham's Riverside Museum features old jars that contain mysterious herbs! Captain Boomerang pays a visit to Gregorian Falstaff, the corpulent owner of the Guardian, who profited from a stock sale that wiped out Boomy's investments.

Batman again makes the scene and Captain Boomerang knocks him out with some well-thrown objects, then straps the Dark Knight to a rocket-powered boomerang that gets launched into space before it blows up. Fortunately, Batman extricated himself right before liftoff and quickly defeats the future Suicide Squad mainstay. Meanwhile, back at the museum, it looks like Catwoman is stealing the Egyptian urn containing the rare herbs!

Jack: "Chaos--Coming and Going!" is a fun story, in which Len Wein juggles two plots by weaving them in between each other. First, there's the main event: a visit to Gotham by the classic Silver Age Flash nemesis, Captain Boomerang. His reason for coming to Gotham seems far-fetched, but he has a cool costume and a fun gimmick. The Australian slang is overdone but the rocket boomerang sequence continues Wein's nod to comics of a past era, along with the TV show. Second, and more interesting, is the Selina Kyle story, where she learns that she is near death and decides to return to her super-villain ways to try to save herself. Wein is using techniques learned at Marvel to create a story arc that extends beyond a single issue, and it succeeds in creating suspense and making the reader look forward to the next installment. It's not as extreme as the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby habit of starting and ending stories halfway through an issue, but it's not quite what we're used to at DC.

Peter: Well, the good news is that we don't have to worry about any more of this "Domestic Bliss starring Bruce and Selina" nonsense any more, even if we had to sit through some dreadful soap opera crap to get there. What are the odds in Vegas that the doctor was looking at the wrong X-rays? That he has a grudge against the museum and is using Selina to destroy its reputation? That we'll never find out why Selina isn't really dying? If it wasn't a scheme by the doc, then holy coincidence, Len Wein, what are the odds the museum Selina is wandering through has exactly the right herbs to save her life?

The blarney that comes out of Captain Boomerang's mouth is annoying as all hell. What the heck does "cobber" mean and why does he seem to use it as verb, noun, adjective, and past participle all in the same sentence? I liked Boomy's Dumberang, even if the execution needs a little work (a death trap that actually releases its own captive... interesting), as does the explanation of how Batman's arms didn't melt from the jet flames. For those not up on Captain Boomerang (I'm raising my hand as I search Wiki), his first appearance was in Flash #117 (December 1960) and he would later become a member of the infamous Suicide Squad.

The Brave and the Bold #161

"A Tale of Two Heroes"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Aparo

A serial killer is loose in Gotham! Commissioner Gordon has summoned Batman to police HQ but, on the way, Batman is zapped by a beam of radiation and suddenly switches places with Adam Strange! On planet Rann, Adam Strange's wife Alanna and his father-in-law Sardath tell Batman that they brought him there to save Adam from being found guilty of a murder he didn't commit. Meanwhile, on planet Earth, Adam Strange helps Commissioner Gordon try to catch the serial killer.

Batman investigates and catches the real killer, while Adam does the same on Earth. Two problems solved, Batman and Adam Strange are zapped back to their own planets.

Jack: I like Adam Strange, but it doesn't seem necessary for his close family members to send him to Earth and have him switch places with Batman just to solve a crime that is, in the end, pretty easy to unravel. Batman figures out that someone else's fingerprints are on the ray gun that caused a murder. Case closed. Adam Strange couldn't have done that? And Adam Strange zips down to the docks, where he finds a tattoo parlor and catches the killer about to knife someone. Isn't that what Batman does on a nightly basis? What's really troubling is that Alanna thought it was okay to zoom Batman across the vastness of space without bothering to ask. Weren't he and Adam Strange in the Justice League together? Common courtesy, people! One thing I can't get enough of is Jim Aparo's art, which is particularly striking this time out. As Peter noted before, his work really looks like that of Neal Adams!

Peter: Not much of a team-up here. Brave and the Bold seems to have the same problem that plagued Marvel Team-Up (aside from the mediocre scripts, that is): the one-and-done syndrome. How is it that Batman clears one team-up adventure when another is about to take place. Wouldn't it be great if, as he was about to pull Supergirl's fat out of the fire last issue, he was teleported to Rann and Supergirl died a horrible death? I suppose Adam Strange could have helped her just as efficiently as he nabbed Jack the Ripper II where Bats had no luck. World's Greatest Detective, my eye.

DC Special Series #21:
Super-Star Holiday Special

"Wanted: Santa Claus--Dead or Alive!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Frank Miller & Steve Mitchell

It's a typical Christmas Eve in Gotham. Someone stole the star from the Nativity in the street and, rather than unwrapping packages with Robin (hey, you in the front, stop that snickering), the Dark Knight has to spend the night investigating why thug Matty Lasko has a boat parked in Gotham harbor. If Matty needs a boat, some Gotham citizen will be out some green. After a bit of convincing, Lasko admits that the boat is for his old cellmate, Boomer Katz, who's now working part-time down at Lee's department store as a Santa Claus. Bats wings it down to Lee's but, meanwhile, we get the skinny. Seems Boomer has been coerced by a gang of thugs, led by Fats Morgan, to disarm Lee's security system, but he can't find it in his heart to do the bad deed on Christmas Eve. So the gang uses Boomer to gain access through the front door after closing time. Boomer panics once the hoods are in and takes flight but takes a bullet while scampering. Outside the store, Batman hears the gunfire and busts in, taking down Fats's gang and preventing a big-time robbery. But where's Boomer? The poor schmuck makes it out the exit only to be brought up short by the lookout man, who holds a gun to the Santa's head. Thanks to the Nativity star, which has magically returned, Batman rescues Boomer and watches as the star ascends into the sky.

Peter: Just three months after Frank Miller had taken over writing and art chores on Daredevil over at Marvel, he honeymooned on this Batman story, his first stab at the Dark Knight. The art is vintage Miller; that is, his heroes are fabulous, his humans a little less so (has Miller ever drawn a gorgeous woman?). But that only makes us thank our lucky Nativity stars that this strip features a guy in a Bat-suit. The script is not much to talk about and that finale is a bit muddled; I can't figure out where Boomer and his captor are hiding that Bats can't see them (inside the Nativity?). All in all, though, not a bad read. The issue also contains Christmas-themed stories starring Jonah Hex, the three horror hosts, Sgt. Rock, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Oddly enough, several of them rely on the Christmas star as their "twist," but how much of a surprise is it by the fifth story?

Jack: It's funny that Frank Miller's first attempt at a Batman story is one where Denny O'Neil's script is more impressive than Miller's art. I like a good Christmas comic book story, especially one with a small, supernatural tinge (here, the star appears out of nowhere to show Batman the way and just as quickly disappears), so I enjoyed it, but Miller's work looks like bargain-basement Walt Simonson to me.

Andru & Giordano
Detective Comics #489

"Creatures of the Night!"
Story by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Irv Novick & Vince Colletta

The Batman is puzzled as to why a famous magician such as Moon the Mystic would be wasting his time unfolding his act at a dive nightclub in Gotham. As he swings in to have a look, he hears a woman scream and enters an alleyway to investigate. A frantic redhead, clearly in shock, points to the body of her friend attacked, the girl explains, by a vampire! Arriving moments later is the aforementioned Moon the Mystic, accompanied by his "loyal servant," Ivorn, who explains to the Dark Knight that the famous Moon the Mystic has been trailing this vampire-killer across the States.

As is his wont, the Batman scoffs and informs Moon that he should leave the crime-fighting to the professionals (you know, like masked vigilantes?) and stay out of his way. The next night, our cowled crime fighter is alerted by police that another girl has been brutally murdered and drained of blood; Bats is able to corner the assailant in a dark alley but the fiend, who definitely resembles one of those classic bloodsuckers, manages to get away. Suspicious, Batman attends Moon's next show, dressed as the mysterious "Matches" Malone, and sees something that provides the final piece to the puzzle.

Just before dawn, Batman fends off the vampire, who's just about to put the bite on a scantily-drawn femme, and unmasks him as... surprise, surprise, surprise... Moon the Mystic! Inquiring as to why a famous magician should suddenly take up murder and exsanguination as a hobby, Moon exclaims, "Call me by my true name... Lord of the Undead!" As the befuddled Bats readies his Bat-cellphone to call for the men in white uniforms, "loyal servant" Ivorn explains that his "poor, sweet Moon" suffered a mental breakdown six months before and now suffers from a split personality. When Batman asks what triggered the magician's downfall, Ivorn sighs and opines it might be due to Moon's discovery that his "loyal servant" was really a vampire. Ivorn turns into a bat and flies away.

Peter: Well, I didn't see that climax coming and that alone raises this above a "dreadful" rating. Way too many Scooby-Doo antics in "Creatures of the Night!" for my taste and it's amazing how many lovely ladies are walking Gotham's streets in the middle of the night when there's a vampire-killer on the loose. Ivorn's comments about his "sweet Moon" add a bit of a code-approved wink-wink to the proceedings. Batman seems a tad too stiff in his proclamations that the killer is really flesh and blood, since we all know he's faced legitimately supernatural (or medically quasi-supernatural) forces in the past. The art here is spotty; Bats himself always looks good but the supporting cast looks like they were bussed in from Gold Key.

Jack: That title made me wonder if DeMatteis was giving a sly nod to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Novick is solid, as usual, and Colletta's inks make the whole package look good. I was happy to see a vampire pop up in a Batman story but sorry it wasn't our old pal Man-Bat. The supernatural ending is fun.

"When the Inmates Run the Madhouse!"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

There's a riot goin' on at Gotham Pen and the only man the inmates will discuss terms with is Commissioner Gordon. Batman's best buddy goes in, expecting to save the day, but discovers that the riot was a ruse perpetrated by Charlie Morgan, whose brother died years ago in a shootout with patrolman Gordon. Morgan couldn't care less about the inmates; he wants revenge! Luckily, Gordon has been briefed on the intricacies of Gotham's new security system and eventually gets the upper hand on Morgan and restores calm to the Pen.

Peter: Though it's little more than a patchwork of hundreds of stories we've read before and the odds of Morgan setting up such a monumental trap are minuscule, "When the Inmates Run the Madhouse!" is certainly more enjoyable than last issue's "Tales of Gotham City." The art is about par for these back-ups.

Jack: Steve Mitchell's inks over Novick's pencils don't yield as good a result as those of Colletta in the first story, which makes me wonder how much blame to assign to Mitchell for the lackluster work by Frank Miller on the Christmas story we discussed this month. Super-Gordon is astoundingly good with his fists for a man of a certain age--he single-handedly bests a number of buff convicts.

"The Mind Warp Mystery"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Don Heck & Vince Colletta

Batgirl and Robin team up in the "novel-length thriller," "The Mind Warp Mystery." The less-than-dynamic duo are aiding Commissioner Gordon in breaking up the notorious Gotham/Carthage drug ring when Gordon's inside man in the ring is tossed from a high-rise window. Though Robin catches him (in a superhuman display of strength), the man dies of a gunshot and the only witness is in shock, with memory loss. "No problem," exclaims Robin, "there's this professor I... er, that is, that Dick Grayson knows of at his college who's working on a miracle memory drug!" Gordon tosses the witness into a helicopter, which crash lands at Hudson U. in a very suspicious manner, and hands him over to Professor Theel, genius inventor of the memory drug. Unfortunately, the only witness to the murder of an undercover cop may have been allergic to the serum and keels over dead. Back to the drawing board for Gordon, Babs, and Dick.

Well... erm... yeah...
if you say so
A month later, Dick is watching reruns of Batman '66 in his college dorm when he notices a mini bat-signal in the sky and traces it to a desolate road and Commissioner Gordon's auto. Gordon explains that his daughter is missing and, oh by the way, Robin, she's Batgirl. Days before, the Commish had shown up to lunch with Babs and she treated him like a stranger. Now she's vanished into thin air and Gordon is afraid that something bad might have happened. Robin spends approximately "the next half hour" and finds Barbara on the college campus (ostensibly, the only place Gordon didn't look), but she gives him the cold shoulder as well. Knowing he'll have to shock her back to reality, Robin rips open Babs's purse and shows her the Batgirl costume. After several stammered "I seem to recall"s, Batgirl is back to fighting crime (thank goodness all that special training came back to her just... like... that!).

"So, let's just stop here and I'll
let you know what's going on..."
The duo bump into Professor Theel on the street and he mistakenly lets on that he's responsible for Batgirl's memory loss, and he knows that Robin is Dick Grayson and that Batman is Bruce Wayne, and he's selling those secrets to the mafia, and then he'll show Gordon. Why is he pissed at the Commish? The whole death-of-a-witness sub-plot ends up costing him his government grant, so now he has to look elsewhere for funding. Suddenly, Robin puts his finger in the air and says he knows who the Gotham/Carthage drug-ring leader is and it's... Theel's assistant, Boyde!

Coincidentally, at that very moment, Boyde is holding a gun on Gordon, having just explained to his captive audience the exact same "Mind Warp Mystery" exposition that Robin explained to us. Batgirl and Robin arrive just as Boyde pulls the trigger and Batgirl's batarang knocks the bullet off course. Robin drops the dealer with a right cross but, unfortunately, they discover the thug's errant bullet found its way to Professor Theel. But, hey, that means the secret of the Bat-trio dies with him, right?

Peter: A wild and wacky divergence from everyday life, "The Mind Warp Mystery" is everything you want in a dumb funny book strip. There are, seemingly, mind-numbing expositions and coincidences on every page and that only ramps up my enjoyment. Yes, at its core, it's just another mindless adventure with all-too-obvious twists (raise your hand, you in the front, who didn't see the reveal of Professor Theel coming a mile away), but sometimes that's just what's needed. Call me a nut. The art, by Heck and Colletta, is actually decent (but then, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, Don Heck had gotten a handle on what makes Batgirl tick in the 1970s), certainly a cut above most of the support strips.

Jack: That title cinches it--these are Rocky Horror references! This story is better than the recent Robin and Batgirl solo efforts in Detective and the art is classic Heck, reasonably well inked by Colletta, who is getting a workout this month. By the way, do the DC writers have a file of nicknames for members of the Batman family? Robin is the Teen Wonder and Batgirl is the Daughter of Darkness. One good thing is that Barbara Gordon has long red hair, just like Batgirl. It always bothered me that Babs on TV had a pixie cut while Batgirl had long hair. Of course, we boys all preferred her in costume on that motorcycle. What were we talking about again?

"Computer Crisis"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Alex Saviuk & Vince Colletta

Atom, putting voice to Peter
On monitor duty inside the JLA satellite's computer, Ray Palmer, a/k/a the Atom, comes face to face with a Dahrlu, one of those pesky half-Flash/half-Hawkman microscopic organisms trapped within the same computer system. Just as Atom seems to have matters under control, a horde of Dharlus attacks.

Peter: At five pages, this strip barely passes as a story and it's confusing to anyone who doesn't remember the issue that the Dharlu was introduced* (*JLA #130!-editor) but, for what it is, it's enjoyable and the art is bearable (though, when all you have to do is draw panel after panel of a red and blue costume, how could you go wrong?). Atom will be another one-and-done, with Black Lightning taking over the slot for the majority of the larger sized 'tecs from here on out.

Jack: I wasn't really clear on what happened at the end--does Atom release the Dharlus from the computer and they head off into outer space? In any case, it's fun and short. I need Atom to fix some things on my laptop. I've noticed that some of the fan-turned-pros, like Bob Rozakis, don't quite have the knack for writing stories with much depth. I wonder if that will change.

"The Bogus Butlers"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Jose Delbo & Bob Smith

Alfred is making Batman scrapbooks when he runs across an item in (ostensibly) that morning's newspaper, detailing how Bats busted him in a "Bad Butlers" ring. Choosing not to pick up a phone and ask his employer just what's going on, Mr. Pennyworth exits the mansion and investigates on his own.

Peter: The very definition of disposable. Bob Rozakis was given a deadline of twenty minutes from twenty minutes ago and this was the best he could come up with. I don't blame Bob for having to pump out quickies; I blame Jack for making me read them. I might sound like a broken record but nothing in this tale makes sense. "I'm sure Master Bruce has a perfectly logical explanation for this duplicity, but I'd rather solve this bafflement on my own!" exclaims the only butler in the world who never has time to clean anything. Wouldn't "Master Bruce" have contacted 'fred before he sat down to work on his clippings? And why do all "The Bogus Butlers" look like Alfred? None of this is explained!

Jack: How about the surprise ending where the bogus Alfred takes off his mask and is revealed to be Robin? Where did that come from? Like Commissioner Gordon in this month's Tales of Gotham City story, Alfred turns out to be a fighting machine when the chips are down. I recall in our journey through the '70s that some of the 100-pagers reprinted Alfred solo stories from the Golden Age, some of which featured the corpulent version of our favorite butler.

"Where Strike the Assassins"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The Batman uncovers a plot by the Sensei to... do something.

Peter: To be completely honest, I haven't been this confused since I rose from my coma to discover I'd agreed to take on Batman again. There's some kind of tenuous connection to the killing of Kathy Kane back in Detective #485 and the "coming next issue" blurb states that the Sensei are going after "the six most important lives on Earth" but, aside from that, I'm clueless as to what is going on in "Where Strikes the Assassins!" Jack?

Jack: Hey, I didn't sign up to summarize all the comics! Let's just say that Batman solves something and there's an Asian villain who's bald on top but having a party in back.

Peter: I will say, though, that no matter my problems with the plot (or lack thereof), I loved the Newton/Adkins artwork. It's got a creepy, Wrightson-esque vibe to it and the pair give Batman a truly menacing look. I still want to know how Bats manages to wear a phony face over that mask and not make it look a bit... odd.

Jack: I also enjoyed the quirky art style. This is a good story that could've been this issue's lead. It's unusual to see two Batman stories as bookends in the same issue. In the letters column, it says that Detective is the first DC Dollar Comic to go monthly and they're still ironing out the kinks and figuring out how to scare up enough new material to fill each issue. This one is the best we've read so far since 1980 began and it gives me hope for more good packages to come.


Peter: As is our wont around here, we present the annual circulation numbers for the three regular titles (along with the previous years' numbers so you can see how the comic world was faring); the figures published in 1980 actually reflect on how the title sold during the previous twelve months.

1979: 166,640
1978: 125,421
1977: 168,164
Brave and the Bold
1979: 153,034
1978: 121,563
1977: 149, 791
Detective Comics
1979: 79,872
1978: 129,792
1977: 125,743

Jack: Looks like the fans did not cotton to shelling out a buck for Detective. The other two comics had big jumps in '79.

Next Week...
Mike Ploog's audition for
Marvel's Frankenstein!


andydecker said...

I never was a fan of the Flash or his villains, and I can't stand Captain Boomerang. How do his gadgets work? Do the boomerangs grow in size or what? (I could have read it up, but couldn't muster the energy.) So this issue left me cold. The art is competent but boring, and why does Catwoman dress like it is 1955 again?

The circulation numbers are interesting as always. What was the problem with Detective? The high price or the mostly dull art and forgettable stories?

Mark Cannon said...

FYI, "Cobber" is an old (1930s-50s?) Australian slang term, meaning "friend", "comrade" or "mate" (the last has pretty much superseded it). As a child in the 1960s I'd occasionally hear it used by older folk, but it's now pretty much obsolete.

I've long wondered why some DC writers always used it in relation to Captain Boomerang; but then, American comics writers in general have long been pretty appalling in their misuse of non-USA slang. It certainly always made old Aussie comics fan wince and chuckle in equally measure!

Mark Cannon said...

Oh, and I forgot to add - RIP Denny O'Neill.

Peter Enfantino said...

Yes, indeed, RIP Denny. I wasn't in love with his early 80s work. We'll see what his later work looks like. But Denny makes the Comic Book Hall of Fame on "Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" alone!

I get using a slang term like "cobbler" when you have no idea what other Aussie slangs to use but when you use it as verb, adjective, and noun all in the same script, you lose me.

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, my cynical response is that circulation never had much to do with quality. I expect stores stocked fewer copies of the dollar comics and kids bought fewer of what was stocked. I know I did when I was a kid in the '70s. A dollar was a lot back then!