Monday, July 13, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 6: June 1980

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

Batman #324

"The Cat Who Would Be King!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick & Bob Smith

Batman and Catwoman are trapped in Cat-Man's web of adhesive cables! With the press of a button, the feline fiend sets the cables in motion and flees, leaving the duo to be torn to shreds! Fortunately, Batman is able to cut himself free and rescue Catwoman, carrying her unconscious form back to the Batcave to recuperate.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon is called to the scene of a jewel heist, where he recognizes the modus operandi of "Kid Gloves" McConnell, who is supposed to be incarcerated at Arkham Asylum.

In the Batcave, Batman has found soil on Cat-Man's boot from the Ionian Islands, and he and Catwoman set off in the Batplane to track him down and locate the Egyptian herbs Catwoman needs to save her life. Using her feminine wiles in a bar on the Greek coast, Catwoman learns that the islands in question are owned by shipping magnate Andros Akropolis, who also happens to collect rare Egyptian artifacts.

Cat-Man and Akropolis head for the island and discuss their deal, in which Cat-Man will trade the artifacts for the deed to the island, which he plans to set up as a haven for criminals on the lam, for a hefty fee. Akropolis is in the process of double-crossing Cat-Man when Batman and Catwoman intervene. Akropolis points out that he can do what he wants with his own island and then departs by boat. Cat-Man attacks Catwoman but is killed when a geyser erupts. Unfortunately, the geyser also destroys the life-saving herbs.

A few days later, Bruce Wayne visits Selina Kyle at Gotham Community Hospital and is delighted to find her disease in remission, apparently due to the seemingly magical properties of a piece of Cat-Man's cloak she grabbed as he was killed.

Jack: I feel cheated by the sudden cure of Selina's disease. Len Wein has done an end run around the very situation he set up in the previous issues by making the Egyptian herbs less important. It seems like Akropolis didn't want what was in the urns anyway--he just wanted the urns! So why couldn't Cat-Man just dump out the contents to give to Selina and go on his merry way? I did not understand how the death trap at the beginning worked, either. Batman and Catwoman's clothes were stuck to the strands of the cat's cradle, and when the strands started to move it would rip them to pieces? That's not one of the better zany Bat-devices we've seen.

Peter: These villains have to get wise. No matter what highfalutin' (and doubtless, very expensive) traps they set for the Dark Knight, he always finds some way out. Amazing that Batman has enough strength in his arms to throw a grown woman across a room from a sitting stance. That would take some serious reps. Bats tosses an obviously-nekkid Selina her duds while she's lying in bed and the babe says, "Something tells me I've been lucky in more ways than one!" That might have been a subtle sexual innuendo that Len managed to sneak past the Comics Czar. I thought this issue's adventure was enjoyable and the reveal (that Cat-Man's cloak saved Cat-Woman) was a good one, but I've had enough of the lightweight fare and I'm ready for some heavier material. Do I have to wait until 1986?

Jim Aparo
The Brave and the Bold #163

"Oil, Oil... Nowhere!"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Dick Giordano

Crooks trying to hijack an oil tanker don't anticipate a visit from Batman, who thwarts their plans. Bruce Wayne hurries to an ecology seminar, where he meets Senator Hargrave, who criticizes Bruce for being friends with Batman, a "'blasted vigilante.'" Across town, in Suicide Slum, Jefferson Pierce witnesses another attempt at hijacking an oil tanker and gets involved as Black Lightning, but this time his heroics inadvertently cause the death of an old woman.

Batman and Black Lightning both begin searching for the site where stolen oil tankers are being hidden, and both heroes meet at a construction site between Gotham City and Metropolis, where they are forced to battle a crew of men with rifles. The mastermind behind the oil thefts turns out to be Senator Hargrave, who plans to use his stolen oil to take over the Arab oil fields and Make America Great Again. Hargrave threatens to blow up an oil tank but a well-timed punch by Black Lightning puts an end to his dream.

Jack: "Oil, Oil... Nowhere!" does a good job of setting up parallel investigations by its two heroes before having them converge at the climax and it foregoes any needless misunderstandings that find the good guys fighting each other. It's a bit of a shock to see how little has changed from 1980 to today, what with Black Lightning living in a slum and the crazed politician complaining that America has become weak. What is different is that I doubt we'd see such an overtly political story in a superhero comic of today.

Peter: Here's a story that's uniquely 1980 (Bats makes a crack about stealing gas on an "odd-numbered day in an even-numbered truck"--you young folk out there can Google that one) and yet, scarily, of this time (lunatic "patriot" decides he knows what's good for America and it includes violence). Though the foundation is weak (way too many cutesy one-liners), "Oil, Oil..." is a solid action thriller with some gorgeous art by Dick Giordano (very reminiscent of Frank Miller in spots). A toss-away title like B&B isn't supposed to be this good.

Andru & Giordano
Detective Comics #491

"The Riddle of the Golden Fleece"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Professor Price has invented a synthetic gold in his lab but, since the treasure was gained through a mistake, Price has no recipe. Bruce Wayne assures him he has the full resources of the Wayne Foundation to re-invent the synth-gold. At that moment, three masked thugs break in and spray Price and Wayne with a knockout gas, making good their escape with the roll of faux-gold. Luckily, Bruce saw them coming and popped some Bat-degassers in his nose. As soon as Price is out, Wayne changes duds and jumps out the window to catch the toughs. Bats knocks cold one of the men and unmasks him, recognizing him as Fred Britt, right-hand man to Maxie Zeus.

A gunman hidden in the bushes kills Britt and makes a getaway. Later, at Arkham, Maxie Zeus receives a visitor in the yard: Fred Britt. Zeus smells a rat, sucker-punches Britt, and escapes Arkham High-Risk Maximum Penitentiary through an open gate. The warden wastes no time scolding Batman for attempting the ruse and allowing Zeus to escape. Realizing Zeus is after the phony gold, Batman heads to the Wayne building and Professor Price, but when he gets there, the egghead tells him the roll of gold has been stolen and a roll of fake-fake-gold has taken its place. Putting two and two together (something I have yet to achieve with these comic books), Batman swings his way to Miss Prisset's School for Girls, where Maxie's daughter, Medea, is kept. There, he finds Maxie, about to hand over the fake-gold to Medea. Batman produces a lovely doll for Medea and then marches a willing Maxie back to prison. Later, he brings the synth-gold to Price and puts the strong-arm on Lt. O'Hara, the cop assigned to guard Price and, it turns out, Fred Britt's murderer and the gold thief.

Peter: There's a whole lot of complication' going on here and I had to re-read the darn thing before I could get a handle on what was happening. Why exactly does the Wayne Foundation open its pocketbook to fake gold? Perhaps Bruce could have given us the various uses the synth-stuff was good for. I do understand why total nut Maxie wants it. No insult intended for people out there with broken necks, but why would Maxie Zeus send Fred Britt out for a robbery when he's so easily recognized? Not many Gotham hoods lay their head down on their shoulder while they're doing their business, I'd wager. The Maxie Zeus/Medea sub-plot was a welcome one; it gave a human side to the loon. Though it's still not more than a one-and-done thriller, I'd say "The Riddle of the Golden Fleece" is among the best of Denny's Bat-scripts from the last couple years; it's also his swan-song, as he jumped ship and went to Marvel to write Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Iron Man. He'll return to DC in 1986 and take over editorship of all the Bats titles.

Jack: I like the '40s-influenced splash page with the giant villain toying with the tiny hero, but for the life of me I can't remember Maxie Zeus. It turns out he made a few appearances not long before this in Detective and, while I did read them, it's been seven years. A lot can happen in seven years. For instance, me reading about a zillion DC war comics...

"Fragrance of Death!"
Story by Mike Barr
Art by Dan Spiegle

Jason Bard relates the sad tale of his mother's murder at the hands of his father. Jason has spent years trying to track down the killer but, since his mom burnt all evidence of the man who used to beat her, he has only one clue to go on: his dad was allergic to roses. No problem since, just as Jason is going over his mother's file, one of Jason's squealers calls to let him know he has the 411 on a bad guy coming in from out of town who's allergic to roses! "I mean," thinks the private dick, "what are the odds that two itchy-nosed criminals live in the United States? This has to be my Pop!" Sure enough, after Jason sets a trap, he catches his dad but, in a struggle, the old man is killed. "Rose" is the last word Bard Sr. utters before shuffling off to another Infinite Earth. Sadly, Rose was Jason's mom's name.

Peter: "Fragrance of Death!" (actually, it smells more like...) is bottom-of-the-barrel drivel with more than one unintentionally hilarious scene. Before I get even more snarky, let's welcome back Jason Bard (last seen in 'tec #485) to the "Batman Family." Jason was the star of his own forgettable series in the early 1970s, overseen by the masters, Frank Robbins and Don Heck. Jason seemed to be heading into part-time beau to Batgirl status but maybe Babs's packed schedule wasn't permitting. Here, Jason has the edge on real-life detectives who have to study reams of paper to uncover a clue. In the DC Universe, all the character has to do is think about a certain case and, voila! the phone rings! Love the Riddler-esque suit Jason wears to the meeting. Very subtle.

Jack: Though I agree that the art is not top-notch, I thought this was an enjoyable origin story for Jason Bard. I've always been a sucker for DC "Secret Origins," so this is right up my alley.

"The Target of the Death-Dealer"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Alex Saviuk & Vince Colletta

A series of violent events rocks the Hudson University campus (the single most violent and dangerous college in American history) and Robin wonders if it's connected to the strange "man in black" who's been following him around. Alas, Robin, it's only a big-time gambler trying to scare a Hudson Hawks basketball player named Dex into shaving a few points in tonight's match-up with the Gotham Gorillas. Gambler corralled, the Boy Wonder turns his attention back to the mystery man.

Peter: Though it doubtless will end up being something silly, the only reason for reading this strip right now is for the upcoming reveal. Who is the man in black? This ploy is very much like the tricks Marvel would play in their titles in the 1970s (remember the "Gwen clone in the shadows" teases three or four issues before the unveiling?) that kept readers shelling out those dimes and quarters. The Gambler (no, he looks nothing like Kenny Rogers) goes to some definite extremes in order to get what he wants. A lot of his terrorism hinges on the fact that certain folks will be right in a certain spot when he unleashes hell. Just like with the rest of the DC Universe scripts, questioning coincidences, even huge, makes no sense. But it's fun anyway. In the climactic chase scene, Robin gets his first career assist by passing the ball to Dex, who then nails the bad guy with a perfect bean.

Jack: The Saviuk/Colletta combo produces art that sometimes reminds me of the work of Kurt Schaffenberger, which is not a good thing. These Robin stories seem juvenile, don't they? I mean, more juvenile than the rest of what we're reading.

Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Pat Broderick & Frank McLaughlin

After being accidentally electrocuted last issue, Black Lightning comes to and saves Linc from certain death. Then it's back to tracking down the Haitians who want to sap his power. After an "exciting" chase, Lightning apprehends the super villain, Jacques Cravin (with the help of Cravin's big-hearted mother), and turns him over to the authorities. During the battle with Cravin, Lightning is shot (a mere flesh wound) and discovers his powers are gone. He looks on the bright side, that now he can go out on a date with a girl without worrying about frying her, and dunks that ball in the basket.

Peter: As I said in last issue's commentary, I have no history with this character (nor do I wish to wade through an Isabella-scripted series, thank you very much), so I'm totally lost when it comes to the loss of power. Lightning seems to know the second the bullet grazes him that he's lost his electricity-harnessing powers and he comments at the climax that the ability is lost forever. How does he know that? I'm not sure what's more annoying in "Short Circuit": the faux-black street lingo or Cravin's New Orleans contractions and language desecrations. "Ees zees dee way to da Meennee-Market?"

Jack: This was my favorite story in the issue. Both the setting and the art remind me of the early issues of Hero for Hire, and I found the street lingo less intrusive this time than last time. I did not expect to enjoy this story as much as I did.

"The Assassination of Batgirl!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

General Scarr has deemed that Batgirl must die for sticking her pretty little nose in where it doesn't belong. To that end, Scarr calls in the world's most dangerous assassin, the Cormorant (envision Dudley Do-Right with a frown), and demands "The Assassination of Batgirl!" Cormorant hangs a dummy of the "Darknight Maid" from a high-rise and waits for Babs to come running. When our heroine arrives and has a look at her scarecrow twin, Cormorant takes a shot, barely missing her. But this super hit-man has come prepared; he's got a young hostage and he tells Batgirl he's going to ventilate the girl unless she surrenders. When the cowled coquette comes out from hiding, Cormorant opens fire and Batgirl falls to her death. The End of Batgirl. Oh, no, that's next issue's story.

Peter: This is actually part one of a three-parter that continues in the next 'tec. Scarr and Cormorant are villains straight out of a Sgt. Rock war tale; both characters had extremely short careers. In another whopper of a coincidence, Scarr was born Anthony Scarano and his opening monologue is a bit confusing. To whit:

"For months, Batgirl has held her operations in Washington, D.C.--no threat to our objectives here! Therefore I have postponed our revenge for her past interferences in our campaigns! However, the reconnaissance of our field-captains indicates that she has shifted her headquarters back to Gotham City and there is no longer any need to delay that revenge!"

It's almost like he's saying "I'm postponing the revenge but it's going to go on as planned!" The Cormorant is a hoot (big red "C" on that Mounties hat just in case there's any doubt) and I hope we get to learn more about him next issue. This strip is as dumb as a one-sided seesaw (and the Delbo/Giella art is awful) but, God help me, it's a lot of fun.

Jack: I'm starting to worry about you, Peter. Maybe too many old horror comics have warped your brain? This story marks a new start for Batgirl, but the art isn't impressive. Another so-so issue of Detective.

Next Week...
Someone's Going to Pay...


andydecker said...

The best about Batman 324 is the cover. The story is a phoned in mess. The whole sickness plot didn't made any sense from the start, and the conclusion is laughable. Catwoman gets healed by magic. It is never a good thing if the hero says on the page "This is ridiculous." Seems Len Wein knew what he delivered. Most idiotic scene was that the stuff was hidden IN the geyser. It doesn't harm pottery, when it breaks out, but later rips Cat-Man into pieces? Sure.

I was highly critical back then of Bob Smith's inks on Colan's DC work, which I hated after the stellar work of Tom Palmer over at Marvel, but I am not convinced of it here either. I would not call Novick an A artist, he was competent but not exciting, but Smith makes him look even more dull.

The Black Lightning/Batman team-up is pretty good. B&B is a pretty good package for the time. A consistently good cover by Aparo, a line-up of seasoned writers. I am with you on your observation on politics in superhero comics. Lex Luthor, President, was a long time ago.

Jack Seabrook said...

I had forgotten that Lex Luthor was president in the DC Universe long before our current leader did his best to imitate a super-villain. Perhaps a careful study of what happened in DC comics over the years could help us predict what will happen in the real world. Peter and I are committed to continuing our research!