Monday, June 29, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 5: May 1980

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

Batman #323

"Shadow of the Cat!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick & Bob Smith

Batman pays a visit to Selina Kyle, planning to arrest her for robbing the Riverside Museum, but she denies any involvement and escapes. Bruce Wayne reports to the office and meets his new redheaded secretary, Caroline Crown; he is surprised when Catwoman appears to ask for his help, still pleading innocence. After she escapes again, Batman heads to Riverside Museum after dark to look for clues. He finds a piece of thread snagged on an exhibit case.

Catwoman visits a pawnbroker named Pinch to interrogate him, while Lucius Fox deals with his irate teenaged son at home. Batman studies the thread under a microscope in the Batcave and thinks he's onto something; Catwoman visits a warehouse at the waterfront after dark. During her exploration, she nearly sets off an old booby trap but is saved by the sudden appearance of Batman. After a brief set-to, she gets woozy and accidentally sets off that same booby trap, releasing poison gas. Batman uses his handy gas filter to save them both.

Batman and Catwoman are about to have a deep conversation about her health problems when they fall through a trap door and are caught in a giant, sticky web. From above, Cat-Man cackles gleefully about having trapped the two of them in his cat's cradle! To be continued!

Jack: I know that Peter prefers his Bat-Tales on the gritty side, but I thought "Shadow of the Cat!" was delightful. Once again, Len Wein is setting subplots in motion (the scene with Lucius Fox, for instance) and juggling various plot threads before weaving them together at the end. I love a good cliffhanger and I love seeing Catwoman in her vintage costume. Novick and Smith contribute classic '70s Bat-art, even though it's 1980, and the whole thing is enjoyable. I was not bothered by the romance between Selina and Bruce this time out, though I have to question why he knows she's Catwoman but she doesn't know he's Batman.

And starring...
Corporate Merchandise Man!
Peter: Cat-Man? Have I been asleep and awoke in a garden of kitsch? Len better be ready with a whole lot of 'splainin' next issue, as it seems there are a boatload of coincidences going on. At this point, we have to surmise that Cat-Man (I just love typing that) is Selina's GP, right? He's the one that told her the only cure for her malady (which is...?) is an ultra-rare super-hard-to-find herb that no one, I mean no one, can get their hands on, even if they went down to the Gotham Museum and stole it from the rare, exotic herb display. Wouldn't it have just been easier to throw in the towel (a towel we know is going to be thrown eventually anyway!) and 'fess that this Bruce & Selina Dating Game stuff is just not conducive to a playboy hero? The fact that Bruce knows Selina is Catwoman but Selina doesn't know about Bruce is quite confusing and I must confess that my wall is full of sticky notes to keep me abreast of the situation. I had to laugh when Bats sees Cat-Man towering above him and exclaims, "I should have known!" Well, why would you? The guy hasn't made an appearance since 'tec #318 way back in 1963. Getting back to my opening comment, can we all just stand back and revel in the sight of a man dressed as a cat with comicdom's laziest logo on his chest? Love the highly un-PC moment when Bruce does a double-take and asks his new secretary, Caroline Crown, where his usual frowzy old maid is and, by the way, "if there's anything I can do to make you feel at home..." wink wink! Despite (or because of) the dangerously high level of cheese in this story, I can't help but give this one two paws up.

The Brave and the Bold #162

"Operation: Time Bomb"
Story by Bill Kelley
Art by Jim Aparo

Autumn 1944, and the Iron Major plans to pull off "Operation: Time Bomb" to blow up the Allied invaders in Western France with booby-trapped tanks. In London, Bruce Wayne's friend Alan Davies suspects sabotage at a munitions depot and is killed; Batman parachutes into France on the trail of the saboteurs and meets up with Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.

Leaving the soldiers to deal with a Nazi attack, Batman locates the saboteurs' hideout but is unable to glean any useful information. The Iron Major learns that Sgt. Rock is nearby and Batman figures out that the tanks are rigged. He heads off to a fortress and finds the Iron Major plotting and planning, but one swipe of that iron hand and the Dark Knight is down for the count.

Just as the Iron Major is about to unmask Batman, Easy Co. bursts in and saves the day. Rock and the Iron Major trade blows until the sergeant and Batman make a last-second escape before the whole place blows sky high. In the rubble, Rock finds an iron hand and wonders if the Major escaped once again.

Jack: Jim Aparo's art is as smooth and slick as I've seen it, so this story is a visual feast from start to finish. Bill Kelley's script also avoids the pitfall we so often see in the team-up books, that of two characters going off on separate adventures and hooking up at the end. Here, Batman and Rock work together seamlessly and neither's mission would succeed without the other. I have no problem with Batman in 1944, since he was actually in comics at that time. The only odd thing is that his look is vintage 1980, not at all the Batman of 1944.

Peter: First off, I have to say that I could never get with these "Batman in World War II "stories, as they make no sense whatsoever, no matter how many times you try to explain to me the "displaced time" theory or give me the "comics are fantasy so just shut up and enjoy" argument. The "present time" story lines we are reading are clearly set in, for example, 1980. Certain fads are commented on, presidents are name-dropped, etc. Obviously, Batman fighting a battle with Sgt. Rock (and don't even get me started on how the heck Bats got to the area where he met up with the Sarge) makes no... sense... whatsoever. That would make him at least 65 years old when he's macking on his latest secretary. Hell, he's fighting guys who have giant nuclear-powered boomerangs, so there must be a handy time machine around when you need a plot device. The only plus to this disposable tale is the return of the Iron Major and his deadly steel right paw.

Andru & Giordano
Detective Comics #490

"Requiem for a Martyr!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Gotham is about to be the home of worldwide peace talks and so becomes the target of terrorism. The committee is composed of men of the cloth, all hoping their agreements will lead to detente throughout the world. One man who does not share those sentiments is the Sensei, so he's gone to quite a lot of trouble to make sure the mansion the men are meeting in is destroyed. With well-placed explosives, Sensei means to set off a chain reaction resulting in a massive earthquake.

Luckily, Batman gets wind of the plot and takes action. Being a hero is certainly no easy task and the Dark Knight is shot at, his arm is severely damaged, and his helicopter is shot down by the police. But, eventually, he makes his way to the estate where he finds an ally waiting for him... Ra's al Ghul! Together, the odd couple rescue the men of peace, but the earthquake goes on as scheduled and it appears that both Sensei and Ra's are killed in the massive explosion.

Peter: There's a lot of hooey going on in "Requiem for a Martyr!" In the first place, there has to be an easier way to kill a room full of men than an earthquake. What if the fissure went south instead of north? Was there a back-up plan? Seeding the clouds until the estate was flooded? When Bats discovers he can't stop the explosion, he jumps in his Whirlybat and heads for the mansion. Gordon is told by one of his men that an "aircraft is approaching and it looks like Batman." Gordon says he can't take chances and orders the copter shot down. Really? That quickly? Gordon doesn't for a second consider that there might be something in the wind (or under the ground)? This is called "lazy writing." Denny just wanted to get to the (literally) explosive finale and whatever it took to get there was fine. Same goes for Batman's disabling injury. He can barely move that arm (he claims to have torn a tendon), but we all know he'll be just fine next issue. At least the artwork is still solid.

Jack: Despite my delight at the appearance of the Whirlybat, I too was troubled by Gordon's order to shoot down Batman. If someone could radio Gordon that Batman was approaching, why couldn't Batman have radioed ahead that he was on his way? Or told them to clear out the place? Why did he have to rush there unannounced? The story's narrative is thin and it's padded out to get to 22 pages, but I liked seeing Ra's al Ghul and Talia at the end.

"Hip ball change... take that!"
"Dance of Death!"
Story by Mike Barr
Art by John Calnan & Joe Giella

Someone is out to kill famed ballet star Charles Rey. Could it be his son or daughter, both of whom have inherited his ballet talents and both of whom hate their father beyond words? Babs Gordon a/k/a "The Dominoed Daredoll" a/k/a Batgirl puts on her deerstalker hat to investigate and eventually smokes out the would-be assassin.

Peter: "Dance of Death" is harmless nonsense. Could I take a regular diet of this stuff? Probably not, so I hope the scripts become a bit more substantive. I do like when Batgirl discovers Charles's son, Philipe is the bad guy and he attempts to assault her via his killer plie At least that's something new.

Jack: Calnan and Giella do not make a good art combo and the story was a dud. For once, the most likely suspect turns out to be guilty. I was figuring on the sister for the culprit.

Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by George Tuska & Bob Smith

A woman gets stuck in a snowbank late at night and becomes worried when a shadowy character emerges from the haze. But all is well when she discovers it's only one of Gotham's Finest here to help.

Peter: My synopsis is actually more words than "Encounter" contains. It's only three pages, but that's a good thing since it doesn't give George Tuska much time to lay waste to the panels. This "Tales of Gotham City" feature continues to be inconsequential and a waste of space.

Jack: I don't care for Tuska's work either, but the ending was unexpected. I did not suspect it was a policeman!

"The Deadly Answers!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Alex Saviuk & John Calnan

Dick Grayson's gal-pal Jennifer is in tears when she busts into his dorm room. She has to take her Physiology test a second time!!! Seems that her teacher, Professor Milton, has discovered that some enterprising individual stole the answers to the first test and sold them to some of his students. All must pay for the sins of the few. Jennifer is distraught (suicide is discussed) and Dick, thinking selfishly, reflects how bored he's been lately and how a good cheating scandal might just get his adrenaline flowing. Meanwhile, Dick notices that a strange man in black has been following him and Jennifer all over campus. Who is this strange man (to be continued)? Robin sets a trap for the evil test cheater guy and lands... Professor Milton, who didn't get that promotion and is now in hock. Poor guy needed the dough and what's the big deal? Robin smiles as Milton is led off in chains and Jennifer is happy as a just-groomed poodle.

Peter: Well, if you can't dazzle us with brilliance... fill the pages with goofy crap that will at least raise a couple of smiles on the reader's face. My favorite moment is when Robin is closing in on the nefarious test answer criminal and he's foiled by a couple of dopey students who are tracking the thief as well. They show up with guns drawn! This is one serious campus. As dumb as this script is, I have to say I found it more enjoyable than the main event this issue.

Jack: I didn't, and enough John Calnan already! He penciled the Batgirl story and inked this one. I had to chuckle when the villain read my mind and told Robin that he was "'stooping awfully low'" by getting involved in a cheating scandal.

"Lightning Strikes Out!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Pat Broderick & Frank McLaughlin

Ex-athlete, now high school basketball coach, Jefferson Pierce investigates the disappearance of one of his students. Luckily, when he's not coaching, he's Black Lightning, a cool-as-a-cucumber mofo who fights crime in the ghetto and tries to elevate the spirits of the poor, so he can use his super powers (something about channeling his inner energy) to rescue the kidnapped youth from a burning building. Unfortunately, while initiating the escape, BL uses his powers to turn on the sprinkler system and accidentally electrocutes himself! He and the student are still trapped as our story ends.

Peter: I have no previous encounters with the fifth-tier hero known as Black Lightning, so I had to do a deep Wiki-dive. All I really needed to know could be summed up in two words: Tony Isabella. Yep, Tony "Make Mine a XXL with Anchovies and extra pepperoni" Isabella is the creator of Black Lightning. I obviously haven't read Isabella's Black Lightning series (which ran for 11 issues in 1977-78) but, based on the Wiki description, it's probably every bit as awful as Marty Pasko's version, which is jam-packed with what I'd call "white/black language." You know, like: "'Be cool, m'man--an jus' lemme get down wit' muh electric boogie! Else we ain't gonna be nuthin' but Kentucky fried turkeys!'" I'm not sure that African-Americans ever talked like that; they might have, but if you're a publisher wouldn't you have someone other than a honky write this stuff just to give you a bit of credibility? I will say that I'm intrigued by the supporting cast, in particular a group of Haitians that may be on BL's side but don't act like it. As for the character himself, Black Lightning is nothing more than Sam Wilson or T'Challa, a warrior of the ghetto; hardly anything startling or inventive going on here. Recently, Isabella stirred up quite a fuss when DC made some changes to the character, using some non-Code approved language to get his point across.

Jack: I remember buying Black Lightning back in the '70s and thinking it wasn't much good. While it's hard to read the Black speech cliches in this story, after a while they get piled so high that it becomes campy and entertaining. I like Pat Broderick's art style and was grateful to have Frank McLaughlin inking rather than Calnan again. The cliff hanger at the end makes it look like the hero is dead. Is that so? Tune in next time!

Next Week...
Even Dracula digs
The Crimson Chronicles!


turafish said...

I'm loving these Batman recaps! Especially reliving the handful of issues I actually owned in the early 80s. Thankfully, Cat Man was not included in that small collection. Yeesh.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Joe! Glad you're enjoying our posts!

John said...

I disagree with Peter about Brave and the Bold #162 (Operation: Time Bomb). There were 3 Batman titles at the time and it would be impossible to have interesting stories every issue in all the titles regarding the same contemporary 80's world. Brave & the Bold could have served as a platform to change the scenery and try some Elseworlds tales like this 1944 story.
As you have noticed, stories-issues back then were mostly one-shots anyway so why not mix it up a little with one of the 3 titles.