Monday, September 7, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 10: October 1980

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

The Brave and the Bold #167

"Ice Station Alpha!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Dave Cockrum & Dan Adkins

Nazis in Gotham City? It must be September 1944! The fiends are loading something from a lab onto a truck when Batman interrupts them and they end up being blown up with their own potato masher. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks land in Warsaw, Poland, and battle some more Nazis, trying to find out about a Nazi super weapon known as "Ice Station Alpha!" that is poised to be unleashed on the world in mere days.

As Batman learns that several Gotham labs have been looted and heads for Washington, D.C., to dig up information, the Blackhawks learn the location of the super weapon. Batman conducts a parallel investigation, and soon a test of Ice Station Alpha off the Gotham Coast succeeds, causing dozens of deaths and significant property damage. Batman enters the boxing ring to fight a Nazi heavyweight champ in order to get more information, just as the Blackhawks make their way through Austria in search of more details about the threat.

As midnight approaches, Nazis at the Arctic Circle ready their weapon for deployment, intent on destroying the American East Coast. Just in time, the Blackhawks and Batman arrive by plane and destroy Ice Station Alpha, saving humanity once again.

Jack: I love the Golden Age tribute art by Cockrum and Adkins and the story is fun, but the Blackhawks can be hard to take at times. Wolfman wisely goes very light on Chop Chop, the stereotypical Chinese character who, by 1980, was not someone who could be presented as he had been in the 1940s. Unfortunately, the writer leans heavily on Olaf, whose Scandinavian speech patterns are groan-worthy ("'Yumpin' Yiminy! They ban shootin' ice on us!'"). Still, the way Cockrum and Adkins draw Batman and Bruce Wayne is endearing and I enjoy it. This issue looks forward to one of the last issues of the series, where Catwoman guest-stars in another Golden Age story. I hope there are more of these in the interim.

Peter: I like Cockrum's art (there are some definite X-Men echoes here) except for one important detail: Bruce Wayne. I've never seen the millionaire playboy resembling Lyle Waggoner, but there he is in all his glory on page six. Or is he really Namor, as on page eleven? No matter, though, since Cockrum's take on Bats and Blackhawk is dynamic and the action panels are stuffed. Love that panel of Bats with the impossibly long ears; very noirish. I'll never understand these "classic tales of the early Batman" things--as much as I try to get lost in the story, my brain is constantly doing the math: hold on now, this is thirty years ago in our time but it's got to be in their time as well since WWII is in the background, but Jim Gordon looks like sixty-years plus Jim Gordon and does that mean Babs is still twenty-something and a prim and proper librarian riding around on her batcycle but, no, wait a second, I remember seeing her in go-go boots in the sixties and there's six-year old Robin... oh, my head hurts. But, though it's tough for me to put all that aside, Alistair Wolfman's "Ice Station Alpha!" is a really fun strip.

"A Name Writ in Blood!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Why does Tom Tresser now go by the name of Nemesis? It all began when he and his brother Craig were boys and they idolized their father's friend, Ben Marshall, an F.B.I. agent. Not surprisingly, when the boys grew up, they wanted to be agents as well, and went into the Bureau's training program. Craig was assigned to be a field agent and Tom was made an inventor. When Ben was to be promoted to head of the agency, Craig became insanely jealous and shot Ben to death. Knowing his family name was blackened forever, Tom chose to adopt the name Nemesis in order to continue Ben's work of seeking out justice.

Jack: "A Name Writ in Blood!" is not a bad origin story, but Dan Spiegle's art continues to be sub-par. I will be interested to find out what went wrong with Craig in future stories, but I wish they'd find someone else to draw the series.

Peter: Good solid origin story, much better than a back-up feature deserves. The mystery surrounding Craig's sudden 180 degree turn will, thankfully, be explained at a later date.  Love the fast-acting disguise gizmo, but does it clean the residue off your suit? If only editor Joe Orlando had seen fit to assign an able artist to "A Name Writ in Blood!"

Batman #328

"Double Jeopardy"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Once Carl Ternion has been acquitted of the murder of Anton Karoselle, why does he send a film to Batman in which he admits to having committed the murder? He knows he can't be tried twice for the same crime due to the principle of "Double Jeopardy," that's why! As Batman begins his investigation at the police department's records room, Ternion enjoys a romantic evening with Gilda, twice a widow, whose second husband was killed by the same Anton Karoselle. Why does Ternion think he needs to kill Batman in order to become her third spouse?

Batman's search for information continues as he questions a bag lady named Mary Ann, who promises to find out what she can. Batman explains to Alfred the story of how Ternion went after Karoselle and how Karoselle was accidentally killed; the Dark Knight suspects the death was not accidental. Back out on the street after dark, Batman stops two hoods from beating up Mary Ann and she is rushed to the hospital before she can tell Batman what she has learned. Batman interrogates one of the hoods and then follows him to Gotham Dam, where the crook reports to his boss, who is none other than Carl Ternion!

Ternion severs the Bat-rope with a bullet and Batman is nearly killed in a fall at the dam, but he escapes when Ternion allows water to rush in. Bruce Wayne's long day gets even longer when he returns to the office and encounters Lucius Fox, who attempts to resign for an unexplained reason. Instead, Bruce gives him paid leave and pumps up his ego. Later that evening, Ternion visits plastic surgeon Albert Ekhart and kills the physician, complaining that the doctor's work is fading and revealing himself to be one of Gilda's supposedly-dead husbands. When Ekhart's body is discovered, Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that he has figured out the killer's identity. But first, he will have to prevent Ternion from killing him in order to marry Gilda!

Jack: Kubert's cover doesn't work for me because I think the artist's strength is in people and faces and the four-part illustration doesn't allow him to focus on either. Novick and McLaughlin's interior art is adequate; Peter and I use a four-star rating system for all of the comics we read, and I put Novick squarely in the two-star category. Depending on the inker, his stories can sometimes rise to three stars, but McLaughlin doesn't accomplish that. Fortunately, Wolfman's story is complex and engaging and I'm looking forward to part two. Frankly, I have no idea why Ternion thinks he needs to kill Batman!

Peter: World's greatest detective? I don't think so. Unless I miss my guess, I know who our "mystery villain" is and so do a whole lot of other people, thanks to the clues dropped by writer Wolfman in "Double Jeopardy" (even the title is a clue). Although there's some cheating going on, I won't spoil anything. We'll discuss this more after the conclusion next issue. I will say that Marv's soap opera dialogue is awful (in particular, poor Gilda fares poorly). The art here is the pits and, like Jack, I blame inker McLaughlin. I've seen enough Novick art to know the guy is pretty good.

"A Tale of Time Past!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Don Newton & Kim DeMulder

Alfred tells Batman that he hears sounds coming from the wall in the Batcave and that it must be haunted. Batman knows better and races to the other side of the wall, where he finds Commissioner Gordon tied up in an old, unfinished subway tunnel. Gordon explains that, thirty-five years ago, when he first became a policeman, his boyhood friend Hank was killed by a man robbing his father's jewelry store. Gordon pursued the killer and arrested him, but the man went mad and the jewels were never found.

Now the criminal's son has surfaced, bent on avenging his father by killing Gordon and finding the jewels. Batman and Gordon track the man into the same abandoned subway tunnel and, in a repeat of "A Tale of Time Past!" he goes mad when captured. Batman finds the jewels and mails them to Gordon, finally closing a decades-old case.

Jack: The two stories in this issue of Batman give me great hope for the series with Marv Wolfman doing the writing. This eight-page backup is even better than the main story, in large part due to the art by Don Newton. I feel safe in saying that Peter and I are both very impressed with Newton's work so far in the 1980 comics, and I think he's second only to Aparo at this point as a Bat-illustrator.

Peter: Well, if Gordon is half the detective Batman is, he's just figured out his secret identity after Bats impetuously drives the Batmobile through the wall! Poor Dark Knight. Home after a hard half-finished case and all he wants is to put his boots up on the table and have a Bat-weiser and some caviar and what does he get? Alfred babbling about ghosts! But I thought this was a fun short and a perfect segue from the main story. Great art! What the heck are Newton & DeMulder doing on the back up? Promotion time.

Detective Comics #495

"Murder in Quicksilver"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Batman manages to save himself and Dr. Thorne (aka the Crime Doctor) from the explosion at the Monarch Drug Company, but the good doctor makes quick his exit stage right, leaving Batman worried that Thorne will reveal his secret identity to all manner of underworld thugs. Meanwhile, the bums what blew up the building report back to their boss... Sterling Silversmith! When the thugs brag that they killed the Batman, Silversmith confesses he was watching everything from his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud and saw the Bats fly away after the 'splosion. He shoots two of the three boneheads and turns his cane on the third, when the man blurts out that he has some very important info to impart. He overheard the Crime Doctor tell the Batman he knows who he really is under that cowl.

Silversmith tells his henchman that finding Thorne is Priority-1. The Crime Doc, by now, is disguised and at an airport waiting to hop a flight to anywhere. Alas, an elderly woman picks that very moment to launch into an acute myocardial infarction and the Doc, God love 'im, can't just let the gal die. After he saves her life, Silversmith's men swoop in and truck him over to 'smith's place. There, they beat the hell out of him, attempting to pull Batman's real identity out. Thorne refuses, citing patient/doctor privilege, and Silversmith admits the physician has him beat. He offers Thorne some wine and, like any really smart guy would do, he drinks it down. 'Smith allows how he poisoned it with mercury and the doc has ten minutes to live unless he gets to a hospital.

No hospital will be provided without Batman's unlisted phone and address. Just then, The Dark Knight bursts through a window and saves the day, taking out Silversmith and his knuckleheads and rushing Thorne to Gotham General Hospital. The doc explains that Batman has saved Thorne's life but, alas, his memory has been wiped out. Batman shakes his head at the lucky breaks he gets, even after forty years.

Peter: Yeah, raise your hand if you didn't see the "instant amnesia" coming there at the climax. For the most part, this is just your average competent funny book, with all the usual beats and coincidences. Nothing really happens of consequence, but spending fifteen minutes reading "Murder in Quicksilver" is preferable to, I don't know, pulling weeds. The art remains solid though, except for a rare ugly face when Silversmith's surviving hood magically becomes Mark Hamill with bad hair (above left).

Jack: Part two starts off with a bang and features more terrific art. The Crime Doctor is an interesting and morally complex character, whose respect for doctor-patient confidentiality prevents him from disclosing Batman's secret identity. Silversmith poses little threat and seems to be included just so the story can have a flashy villain. It's awfully convenient that Thorne loses his faculties at the end!

"Into the Fire!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Dan Spiegle

"Runner" Perkins is a numbers runner and he's just gotten to his apartment building to see that it's on fire. "Runner" slips past the firemen and police to make it into his apartment, where he grabs his mattress, filled with cash. Just "moments earlier," Perkins had been threatened by his boss, sensing that "Runner" has been skimming. As the apartment fills with smoke and fire climbs the walls, "Runner" tosses his mattress out the window and jumps, landing perfectly on his bed of dough. Alas, waiting for him is his boss, and the man thankfully takes the mattress off Perkins's hands.

Peter: The script for "Into the Fire!" is not bad (and it's mercifully short at four pages), but it's been cursed with the same ugly, scratchy art that has become synonymous with Dan Spiegle. That art distracts from the nice irony of the finale. Since this is the final issue of the large one-dollar, sixty-eight page format, "Tales of Gotham City" goes into the mothballs. Can't say I'll miss her.

Jack: I think this is an entertaining little four-pager with some surprises and an ironic ending. I'll miss these Tales of Gotham City.

"Bossman's Bane!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Frank Chiaramonte

Batgirl has been working extra hard, taking protection men off the street, but it seems like for every ten she nabs, twenty more take their place. What's a Darknight Damsel to do? Well, if you listen to her Pop, Commissioner Gordon, what she needs is a good, long vacation. But Batgirl has sworn to get the man behind all the scum on the street: mob boss Ray Beeler!

Babs does a little detective work and discovers that Beeler's right-hand man is a thug named "Shades" Cosgrove (nicknamed thus for his love of wearing, you got it, sunglasses!). She follows "Shades" to his apartment one night and then breaks in (in a sort of legal way, I guess) to get a gander at the little black book "Shades" uses to keep track of his accounts on the street. The hired gun wakes up and takes a shot at the sexy superhero, but the damage is done; Babs has feasted her photographic-memory-eyes on the book. She and Pop set "Shades" up with some marked dough, the hood gets nabbed with it, and off to the pen he goes. Batgirl, in her usual optimistic way, wonders how many Beelers there are still out on the streets.

Peter: It's hard to complain about the Delbo/Chiaramonte art after the strain my eyeballs went through with the Spiegle doodles but, I'm sorry, it's just bland. It just sits there. No dynamics, no flair. Batgirl's face looks impossibly long in some panels, but her head looks tiny in others. To be fair, though, I can understand what's being presented to me. Cary Burkett does just enough to fill ten pages and nothing more (well, he does manage to come up with a handful of really bad Bat-quips). I will say that the sub-plot, that someone has taken pics of Babs having coffee with some man and these pics incriminate her in a murder, is tantalizing. But then so was the man in black. And that ended up being as satisfying as a Best of Frank Robbins collection. The Batgirl strip will be the only one to survive the downsizing; hopefully, we'll get some interesting storylines, but I won't hold my breath.

Jack: Not a bad story and better than average for Batgirl lately--she seems fated to clean up Gotham City's more run-of-the-mill crooks. There are a couple of panels that could be swipes of Gil Kane's work on this strip years earlier.

Story by J.M. DeMatteis
Art by Gerald Forton

Jeff Pierce (aka Black Lightning) is sponsoring the "Suicide Slum Olympics" in an effort to keep gangs off the streets and focused on more positive pastimes. Unfortunately, a gang of thugs breaks into the girls' locker room and holds a handful of female athletes hostage, asking for a million bucks and safe passage to Switzerland. Pierce becomes Black Lightning and, along with ace reporter Jimmy Olsen (who's been tapped as a judge at the Olympics), attempts to talk the hoods out. Any idea of a peaceful exit goes out the window, though, when the leader of the gang murders one of the girls and then threatens to toss himself out of a window. Black Lightning manages to keep the scum from killing himself and hands the gang over to the cops.

Peter: "Animals" is a powerful little strip and (as Jack says below) one that resonates forty years later. I'm not a far left kind of guy (and I usually try to stay away from anything that even smells faintly of politics), but the argument that the actions of these thugs was determined years before by the environment they grew up in leaves me shaking my head. I get that living and being raised in a slum can lead one to drastic measures (stealing groceries or robbing a gas station or even demanding a million dollars and a plane to Switzerland), but threatening a young girl with a knife and then murdering her? Forget it. That's an inherent evil, not a hungry man looking for his next meal. End of soapbox sermon. The story moved me, despite its flaws, and the absence of any white-suited jive-talkin' pimps is sheer bliss. In fact, author DeMatteis treats his African-American characters as people, rather than cliches. The Black Lightning series goes out on a high note.

Jack: First of all, if my neighborhood was known as Suicide Slum, I wouldn't be advertising that on banners! I was confused by the presence of Jimmy Olsen but pleased that he seemed more hard-boiled than usual. This strip seems creative and different to me, and it's sad to see how little has changed in the ensuing forty years. I like the storytelling style and the way the words and art work together without relying too much on captions or dialogue.

"The Gotham Connection"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Charles Nicholas & Vince Colletta

Poor Dick Grayson can't buy a break. His schoolwork is suffering because he's constantly out nabbing drug dealers, and the cops give the Boy Wonder no respect 'cuz the dealers he's nabbing are all small potatoes. Then there's the cameo of Jennifer, Dick's girlfriend who never spends any time with the kid (could that be because he dresses like Marshall Thompson in Daktari?) and is constantly ducking out of their trysts. Something's gotta give!

Peter: I'll tell you what's gotta give... me. Jack Harris seems to be going through the same old motions he goes through every month; there's not one iota of originality or imagination going on in "The Gotham Connection." And, seriously, not to beat a dead jackass, but what current fashion magazines were perused by Charles Nicholas? Fish & Game? Never mind the safari suit; how about the stunning yellow turtleneck under a blazing blue sports coat? Or the ensemble preferred by all drug dealers (looks like he left his bait and tackle on the next corner over). Sheesh, this is Grade-Z bad stuff. But look at the bright side... with "Robin" moving to Batman next month, the synopsis moves into Jack's court and he's so much more forgiving about this stuff than I am.

Jack: Again, this Robin story is better than usual, but this is the weakest strip in Detective. An ad says this is the last giant-sized issue and it's too bad we'll lose some of the backup series.

Next Week...
The boys unveil
another Sutton masterpiece!


Anonymous said...

Hello Jack & Peter,

I want to congratulate and thank you for all the content of your blog, but especially your Batman/Detective Comics reviews.
This summer I decided to start reading Batman/Detective Comics issues since 1969-1970 which is the starting point of the Bronze era (real Batman) and I used your blog reviews as a navigator in order to know which issues to avoid (mainly Frank Robbins' stuff).
I love your reviews, the snarky criticism, the jokes and especially the interplay you do sometimes. I was born in 1990, so for me it's the first time even looking at these issues and it's fascinating to me how much you can discover about that era by reading them.
I am in year 77 now so I have some time to catch up with you.
Congratulations again and thank you for your decision to do the 80's era too

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, John! We welcome any comments you may have as you make your way through the '70s and into the '80s.