Monday, August 10, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 8: August 1980

The Dark Knight in the 1980s

Batman #326

"This Way Lies Madness!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Selina Kyle tells Bruce Wayne she's leaving Gotham City, and he's bummed out about it. That night, while out on patrol, Batman encounters a man on a motorcycle who has just robbed a jewelry shop. Instead of making a getaway, the man fights back and succeeds in escaping, but not before Batman recognizes him as "Mad Dog" Markham, a prisoner in Arkham Asylum!

Batman visits Commissioner Gordon, who calls the asylum's director and is reassured that all is well. The next morning, Shank Taylor, a prisoner at Gotham's jail, is just nuts enough to be transferred to Arkham. Coincidentally, Bruce Wayne fails to show up for work. The prisoner is taken to see the head of the asylum, who reveals himself to be Professor Milo, whose bowl cut is particularly scary.

Jack: This seems like a story designed to set up another story, since nothing much happens in its 17 pages. The departure of Selina Kyle is schmaltzy and there is a fairly irritating portrayal of a Jewish shop owner that verges on parody: "'Vhat do you vant from a poor old merchant?'" The fight with the man on the motorcycle takes up five pages and is featured on the cover, yet it's little more than a distraction. It is strongly suggested that Shank Taylor is Batman in disguise, but hopefully next issue will give us a good explanation for why the Caped Crusader feels the need to sneak into Arkham Asylum under cover. We see the head of the loony bin only from behind or in shadow until the last panel, when his face and identity are revealed, and I must admit I thought it would be the Joker.

Peter: I'll blame inker McLaughlin for the irritating artwork, since Novick is usually on the money. A lot of the panels look like the sub-par work generally done on the "Robin" strip. The script is not much better, rattling off all the usual beats we've come to expect from a Wein Batman. All that mystery leading up to the reveal of... wow!...Professor Milo. Be still my beating heart!

The Brave and the Bold #165

"Prescription for Tragedy!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Batman intercepts drug smugglers driving a milk truck and, just as one of their compatriots is about to shoot the Dark Knight in the back, Man-Bat swoops in to the rescue. He disappears just as quickly and returns home, resuming human form, where he and his wife agonize over their daughter's medical condition.

Batman deduces that Man-Bat may have taken a few vials of a drug that induces sleep, unaware that it may be contaminated. Man-Bat and his wife receive a visit from creepy Dr. Lucerne, who counsels that their baby's failure to fall asleep could be fatal. Batman appears in just in the nick of time and prevents the drug from being administered; Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat) is upset but Batman says there's no time to explain the "Prescription for Tragedy!"

Batman chases Lucerne but is in turn chased by Man-Bat; during a brief fight, Batman manages to explain about the contaminated medicine. Together, they track down and stop the crooked doctor, who had been importing illegal drugs from South America. Man-Bat hears Commissioner Gordon tell Batman that less than half of the drug vials were contaminated, leading him to vow that he will hold the Caped Crusader responsible if his daughter dies.

Jack: Pasko does a nice job of plotting here, writing a story that focuses on Batman but also weaving in Man-Bat more organically than we're used to in the one-shot team-up tales. The inevitable misunderstanding that leads to a fight could have been avoided had Batman taken a few moments to explain to Kirk Langstrom what he was doing; instead, the explanation follows soon after in the middle of a fight between the good guys. Still, the danger is real and it is handled with sensitivity. I also like the fact that the subplot of Man-Bat's baby isn't wrapped up in this issue and that the story ends with Man-Bat not forgiving Batman.

Peter: I rather enjoyed this installment of DC Team-Up; the Newton/Adkins art is dynamite. Show me where to sign to have the team do the art for all four titles. I have the usual nits to pick, the usual hmmmms that go along with a story about a guy in a suit who has the uncanny ability to add 2+2 to equal the solution every time. I've not read Brave and the Bold pre-1980, so forgive me if I insult any B'n'B fanatics here but this comic sure smells like Marvel Team-Up. We get the initial meeting between heroes, then the obligatory fisticuffs over a misunderstanding (which could have been straightened out with a sixty-second conversation but, for dramatics' sake, we get the obligatory "I don't have time to explain so let's fight!"), and then the duo reunite for a good old fashioned villain ass-whuppin'. Was I napping when we were told that Batman has his own doctor and that this guy knows the secret? Here I thought Alfred was the guy always mending Master Bruce.

Detective Comics #493

"Riddles in the Dark"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The Riddler's back! The question is: what's his game? Batman reports to the scene of a B+E in progress and finds a dummy with a "question mark" for a face and a riddle pinned to its chest. "Why is a cook's brain like an overwound clock?" The Dark Knight Defender spends quite a long time pondering this puzzle until Alfred butts in and informs Bruce that this is a riddle from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, a quiz that has no answer. Still, Batman uses his computer brain to come up with an answer and speeds out to a small airfield just in time to see the Riddler's plane take off. The Prince of Puzzles can't help himself and tosses a riddle out of the plane for Bats to latch onto.

Having deduced from the riddle that his old foe is heading for Houston, Batman hops aboard the Batplane and gives chase, actually beating the Riddler to the airport. As he is tussling with E. Nigma and his boys, a red hooded figure enters the fray. Luckily for our hero, the new guy is friendly and very agile but, unfortunately, the Riddler gets away. Batman has a sitdown with the new kid and learns that his moniker is "The Swashbuckler" and that he's the nephew of an old JLA ally, the Vigilante (not to be confused with the Vigilante who will pop up in DC a few years later in answer to Marvel's Punisher); the daintily-clad hero is Houston's answer to Batman. Well, hmmm, thinks the Bat (but keeps it to himself), but he does need a guide around this new jungle, so they decide to join forces and capture the Riddler. The villain, we learn, is planning to rob a millionaire of his solid gold sphinx statue and, as usual, can't help but give his nemesis a few clues in the form of brain-teasers. The Caped Crusader is much smarter than his old foe and he and the Swashbuckler slap cuffs on Nigma once again.

Peter: An entertaining read, to be sure, but like most of these DC Bat-comics, nothing much of importance goes down. I love how Gordon tells Bats that there are just too many exits out of Gotham for the Riddler to take advantage of, so it's up to Batman to find the criminal. That's logic. When tasked with coming up with a new superhero, Burkett, Newton, and Adkins come up with a red Iron Fist, a hero so startlingly bland that he never appeared in a funny book again. Or else Houston became crime-free and the guy hung up his leotards. The script may be yesterday's news but the art is definitely eye-catching. Noirish and atmospheric, the way a Dark Knight should be lit. Have a look at the climactic panels when the millionaire is revealed to be the dark detective. You can clearly see the bottom of Bats's face mask. That's a detail I love, even while thinking "How could the Riddler be fooled by a rubber mask?"

Jack: A fan of the Riddler since the Frank Gorshin days, I'm always happy to see this bad guy make an appearance. With a classic super-villain and appearances by both the Whirlybat and the Batplane in this story, Detective seems to have traded places with Batman for a month, since that title's August 1980 story is more crime-oriented and this one is more fun. Good catch on the Iron Fist resemblance, Peter--Swashbuckler was not annoying but I guess he didn't make much of an impression. And I, like you, am really getting used to the Newton/Adkins art team.

"The Face of Humanity!"
Story by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

The JLA's resident android (don't all supergroups have one?), the Red Tornado, sets down in a ghetto and saves an old woman (heretofore known as "Mama") from a mugging. Mama invites the Tornado back to her apartment, where she lectures him on the facts of life in the ghetto. Naively, the hero asks, "Why do you live this way?" Mama takes the Tornado to a church for a sermon, but a very well-dressed African-American breaks in to let the congregation know he's Mr. Kool and this church belongs to him now. Everybody out! Mama rips Kool a new one and the jiveass mofo respects her "spirit." He lets them keep the church and Red Tornado spins away into the sky, knowing more about these humans than he ever did before.

Peter: Man, this script smells like Moench or Mantlo. Though the races have (obviously) never gotten the hang of living together, this script seems so mid-1970s Falcon... schmaltzy, with lots of ill-advised beats. Take Mr. Kool... please. The guy's wearing what appears to be hand-me-downs from Baretta, but his getup also (inexplicably) has some kind of gold fastener holding it together. The chic pimp hat, complete with feather, nicely accents the ensemble. Stuff like this does not age well. It comes off like a white guy insisting he knows all there is to know about the black experience.

Let's address the elephant in the room. Which "android with a heart" came first? Vision or Red Tomato? Wiki tells us the Tornado arrived in JLA #64 (August 1968), while Marvel's version arrived two months later. So, I'd rule this a coincidence. Of course, we know that Roy Thomas's creation won the battle in the long run.

Jack: Being more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan, I always liked the Red Tornado, especially since he was such a central part of the Justice League in the late '60s and '70s. I thought this story was quite enjoyable, even though it has dated badly. Let's just say the creators' hearts are in the right place and leave it at that.

"The Man in Black Wears Green!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Charles Nicholas & Vince Colletta

Robin finally uncovers the secret identity of the man in black who has been following Dick Grayson around campus. He's a bodyguard hired by one of the Wayne Foundation lawyers, worried that Dick, as Bruce's only heir, might come to harm. It works out in the end and all concerned have a large larf.

Peter: Well, I guess all those months of waiting and hoping the man in black would be as cool a reveal as Gwen Stacy's clone turn out to be for naught. Pretty lazy if you ask me. Let's not dwell on the hackneyed script or amateurish visuals, let's talk about the horrific clothing options our characters take this issue. Dick looks like Vic Morrow in a jungle flick, while Jen looks like she threw her office dress over her workout leotard. I know Jack Harris, Charlie Nicholas, and Vinnie Colletta sunk all they had into their respective jobs this issue, but is it asking too much for our favorite teens to be a little more hip?

Jack: This is a terrible story with wooden art. This seems to happen with most issues of Detective: off to a good start, then a gradual decline in the backup stories. And since when did Robin drive the Batmobile? Where's his motorcycle?

"The 18-Wheel War Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Giordano & Steve Mitchell

The Human Target, aka Christopher Chance, is a bit of a mercenary, but in a strange way: he hires himself out to stand in front of assassins' bullets. This time he's hired by lovely Jody Ann Cole, owner of a big-rig business, whose brother was recently murdered. She wants Chance to impersonate her brother to fool his killers into thinking he survived the burning wreckage. Chance does so and, in the end, discovers it was a rival trucking company that ordered the hit.

Peter: I've come to the startling discovery that very few of these backups are worth the paper they're printed on (the same could be said for most of the lead stories as well), but I kinda sorta liked this Human Target tale, despite its predictability and its seesaw artwork (Jody looks pretty fine in most of the strip, but her face melts in the penultimate panel. Ya gotta love the genuine Eye-talian dialect that Luigi, who seems to be Alfred to Chance's Batman, spouts: "Let'a the lady finish her'a snack first. See a' if I care!" Raise your hand if you knew that The Human Target actually made it to the small screen, albeit for only seven episodes, in 1990 starring Rick Springfield! Must see TV.

Jack: I did not know that! I recall him from the stories in the '70s but I don't recall that he was worth much attention. Wein is a better writer than Harris, so there is some structure to the story and an exciting sequence with a runaway truck, but the art is surprisingly poor. I will never be able to figure out how much a penciler does and how much an inker does, or if it varies depending on who the artists are. I think Giordano did some of the best work of the 1970s as inker for Neal Adams, and what we've seen so far from Steve Mitchell has not been great, so perhaps Dick dashed this off in a hurry and Steve didn't do much to help.

"Flames of Fear!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Barbara Gordon becomes involved in a heated political argument with one of her colleagues about a historical theater marked for urban development. Barbara promises to have a look at the building but, when she gets there, she discovers that a neighboring building is on fire. Swiftly changing into Batgirl, Babs apprehends two men running from the scene, armed with handguns. A man screams that his daughter is still trapped inside the burning building; the little girl, Babs discovers, who was abducted by Cormorant and used as bait to kill Batgirl. The girl, claims her father, has "hysterical paralysis" and the blame belongs squarely on our heroine's shoulders. Wracked with guilt, Babs heads into the building and manages to bring the girl out unharmed. But who started the fire, and why?

Peter: After an upswing in quality last issue, we're back to the dregs of Delbo/Giella and a meandering story that doesn't seem to find its way. It's obviously the beginning of a multi-part story; I'm just not sure I'm interested enough to care. I'll hold back on my suspicions of what's going on with the condemned theater and the burning building, since I don't want to spoil anything. I'll give Burkett some rope, though, since he was the author of last issue's well-written double-feature.

Jack: I thought this was a solid story with a hint of mystery left open at the end. The art seems a bit more Giella than Delbo, but what really struck me is the inherent sexism: Batgirl keeps getting injured and, at one point, thinks she should have gone on a diet. I've never seen Batman say that. Oh, and what's with the goofy monikers? She's referred to as the Darknight Daredoll and the Brave Maid.

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
& Dick Giordano
The Untold Legend of the Batman #2

"With Friends Like These..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jim Aparo

The Batman and Robin are searching the streets for clues to solve the mystery of the tattered Bat-costume Batman received in the mail. First, they stop in a seedy bar and interrogate "Snitch," one of the Dark Knight's informers. When Bats doesn't get the info he desires, he uses the lowlife as a punching bag until Robin steps in to calm him.

As they continue along on their trek, Robin thinks back to the time his parents were killed while performing their trapeze act. As young Dick Grayson, he overhears mobsters tell the circus owner that more violence will reign down on the show if they aren't paid. Batman arrives to take Dick under his wing, training him to be a fighting machine, and together they bring the thugs to justice.

Arriving back at the Batcave, the Dynamic Duo are greeted by Alfred Pennyworth and a tray of steaming Boeuf Bourguignon, complete with a side of creamy Potatoes Dauphinoise (hold the garlic and scallions) but, of course, the ungrateful heroes have no time to eat. Alfred, suddenly reminiscent, thinks back on the times he took out whole regiments of Nazis and then returned to England as a top star of the stage. Pennyworth promised his father (on the man's deathbed) that he'd give up these simple dreams of theater stardom and become a butler just like the old man. The rest is history. Bats, Robin, and Alfred then go over Batman's Rogue Gallery, trying to decide which one would send the suit in the mail, deciding in the end that there are just too many choices.

Magical memories over for the day, Robin tells Bats that they're getting nowhere hanging out in the Cave, so the kid hops in the Batmobile and fires up the engine. Hearing a mysterious "beep beep beep," the Boy Wonder leaps from the vehicle just as it blows. The only thing left is an ominous message to Batman, claiming responsibility for the bomb and that some bad events are coming down the pike.

Peter: Unlike the first issue, where Len decided to change several facets of the mythos, here he seems to be dictating to his secretary while lounging on the couch reading old issues of Detective Comics. Rather than Untold Legends, this one should be Re-Re-Re-Re-Told Legends. You have to laugh when Bats answers Alfred's question of "Any suspects?" by trotting out 8"x10"s of every foe he's ever fought! Why did this fluff warrant its own book? If you take out the flashbacks, there are essentially three or four pages of "original material" and, by the end of this chapter, nothing has happened!  If Len really wanted to write something about what we don't know, how about a mini-series about the guys who built the Batcave? Actually, two Batcaves now. That's a story I want to read. How could Bruce Wayne have built this massive underground structure without help or permits? I like to believe it was like the Egyptians: once the task was finished, Bruce had no alternative and those poor immigrant workers (paid 3.00 an hour!) are now part of the foundation.

Jack: Just as I was wondering if Robin ever drove the Batmobile, there he is on the cover doing just that! Aparo does nice work, as usual, especially with the vintage Batmobile, and there's a circular panel on page seven that evokes Golden Age layouts. While the sight of Alfred battling Nazis in WWII doesn't work for me (what about tubby Alfred from the early '40s?), I do like to see him up on a ladder dusting the Batcave's dinosaur. I also liked being reminded of the Joker/Red Hood story, one I vividly remember from a Giant issue circa 1970. I agree with you that this issue seems somewhat frivolous, but it was fun.

Next Week...


andydecker said...

I am not sure any longer, but is "Untold Legend" not one of the very first mini-series on the American market? In later years there were a lot of them, "X-Men vs Micronauts" and so on, but this must be a first. Sure it is half-heartly done with its re-telling of the origin, a thing which was normally seen in the regular series. Poor Tony Stark went from war to war in these things, from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan, but before Frank Miller Batman's origin chronology remained somewhat vague.

While you are right that these issues are very by the numbers, there are fun parts beside the excellent Aparo art. I like the Robin origin which has become so terribly dated. The mixture of boy scout adventure, oaths in dark caves and psychotic behavior is a riot. "You are a bachelor, Mr. Wayne, I can't let you adopt the boy", the judge says, "but legal guardian is okay." Holy child services, Robin. I seriously doubt that this still worked in 1980, but who knows. The Dick scenes are the same delight. He could cripple the bully with his hands tied back, but his secret identity forbids it. :-)

Simpler times indeed. I wonder if they are still allowed product placement in the books. A Dr. Pepper for Robin? Priceless.

Batman #326 has one the worst art jobs I have seen in this era of the book. Wein did a lot of great stories, but this is on autopilot. Levitz as an editor is not doing a good job here.

And I always wondered how they got the dinosaur in the cave. Tied to the fin on the roof of the Batmobile?

Jack Seabrook said...

Either they took it apart and put it back together, or they folded it down like putting a ship in a bottle!