Monday, September 21, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 11: November 1980

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

Batman #329

"Twice Dies the Batman"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick

Batman's review of Dr. Eckhart's patient files is interrupted when a crook throws a grenade and blows up the doctor's office. Batman's visit to the morgue is likewise ended when the place bursts into flame! After telling Alfred what he suspects, Batman sets out to prove his suspicions correct. Elsewhere, Carl Ternion's visit to Gilda Stevens ends suddenly when he feels his surgically-repaired face collapsing; he rushes out and is revealed to be none other than Two-Face!

Batman searches the mansion of the late Anton Karoselle and then visits Gilda, requesting that she aid him in getting help for her former husband, Harvey Dent, a/k/a Two-Face. Karoselle killed Dave Stevens, who was married to Gilda. This made Gilda unhappy, so Two-Face had Eckhart remake his own face so he could get back with Gilda in the guise of Ternion and cheer her up.

Suddenly, Two-Face sees Gilda abducted by Boss Maroni, the crook who turned Harvey Dent into Two-Face in the first place. Two-Face recalls discovering that Anton Karoselle and Boss Maroni were the same person, so he realizes that this new Maroni is really Batman in disguise. Two-Face has Batman dead to rights but Gilda shows up and implores him to be merciful. Two-Face relents and is taken back to Arkham Asylum for more rehab.

Novick's moon reflects Dent's inner turmoil
Jack: Well that was sure confusing! It took me two reads to figure out who killed who and why and I'm still not certain I have it all straight. Still, I like Novick's art more than usual in "Twice Dies the Batman!" and I love to see Two-Face pop up again. Batman is awfully lenient with Two-Face, who murdered a couple of people last issue--the Dark Knight basically says that Dent is just a troubled, misunderstood fella who needs some more time with the kindly docs at the asylum. I predict that will be about as effective as it is with every other Bat-villain. The Aparo cover is a stunner!

Peter: There's such a monumental difference in quality, in both art and script, between this month's Detective and Batman. "Twice Dies the Batman" is neither entertaining nor engaging and the art is awful. Harvey has to be the dumbest guy on the planet, falling for the Faux Maroni trick. Even the average-aged reader of Batman, an eight-year-old, figured out the ruse the second it was hatched. I love the Rogue's Gallery, but this story perfectly demonstrates what's wrong with the current roster of writers and how they use that gallery. I'd rather see a 17-page story dedicated to Bats explaining how he hides his ears under those realistic masks he uses.

"The Case of the Hijacked Heart!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Rich Buckler & Frank McLaughlin

Things are heating up at Gotham General Hospital ever since a crook named Razor Reynolds was admitted for a heart transplant. Batman and Robin fight off a pair of hit men disguised as orderlies, while Reynolds entertains two visitors: a nattily-dressed crook named Cardona and Pamela Reynolds, Razor's daughter. The Dynamic Duo must race to the airport when the new heart arrives, since a trio of crooks tries to steal it or to destroy it. The heart is delivered safely and Pamela is unmasked as the person who tried to stop the transplant. Apparently, Razor wasn't very nice to her mother.

That's gotta hurt!
Jack: The most interesting thing about "The Case of the Hijacked Heart!" is the continuity that exists between it and the main story in this issue and the previous issue. Mary Ann, the bag lady whom Batman had taken to the hospital in last issue's lead story, was revisited in this issue's lead story, and she becomes a major supporting character in the backup, since a doctor complains to Robin that Batman never visited her. Of course, the Caped Crusader swoops in with flowers at the last minute, but I was pleased to see that the stories had some relationship to each other and this was not just another lousy story about Robin solving a meaningless crime while away at college. The main plot line, involving Razor, is uninspired, though, and Buckler's art is not as good as I remember from his time at Marvel.

Peter: Rich Buckler must have gotten one look at what Frank McLaughlin did to his work and headed to the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. Some of Buckler's talent shows through (although that splash of Batman's impossibly high kick is not one of Rich's highlights), but it's mostly bland and lifeless. Dr.  Phillips's tirade about Batman's negligence in visiting Mary Ann seems a bit random and obviously meant only to provide a payoff panel. More interesting is fan Mark Young's list of the best Batman stories of the 1970s in the "Bat Signals" column.

Detective Comics #496

"Murder on the Mystery Ship!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Hollywood bigwig John Carlinger is holding an "Exposition of Horror" aboard the luxury liner, the Varania III. One of the main exhibits is an exact replica of the dressing room once used by famed horror actor Basil Karlo, who eventually became rogue's gallery villain Clayface. Karlo, relaxing in his room at Arkham, gets wind of the expo and has quite a violent reaction to the fact that he was not invited.

Two murders later, Karlo is boarding a speedboat and heading for the Varania III. Also aboard, unbeknownst to Karlo, is Bruce Wayne, who has already had to dump his duds in a hallway and swoop in as Batman (not sure where that bat rope is attached in the splash, but I'll forgive poetic license) to save a gorgeous starlet from a falling statue of Godzilla. Karlo enters Carlinger's suite and the two have a tussle. Thirty minutes later, Clayface is taking shots at the guests with his shotgun. Bruce, sweet-talking yet another starlet, must don his duds and return as the Dark Knight (wouldn't an intrepid detective be able to look at the guest list and put two and two together at some point?). Batman tries to apprehend Clayface before he lets go another load of buckshot but, instead, the fiend tosses a canister of napalm into the pool. Batman must dive in to rescue the pretty redhead who's about to be toasted.

We love the cheesecake!

The rescue provides Bats with a vital clue in the "case" (would you really call this a "case"?) and he heads down to Auditorium C, where actor Stacy Darnell is presenting a slideshow for the brand-new horror hit, Fog From Beyond. Sure enough, Clayface has targeted Darnell for death and Batman arrives just in time to save him. But this latest attack provides all the clues our hero needs to catch the villain. He rushes to John Carlinger's suite and arrests him for the murder of... Basil Karlo! Yep, Carlinger has been masquerading as Clayface and committing murder to prevent an audit of his finances (don't ask). Once again, the Dark Knight has saved lives and also lost one of his most dreaded enemies. I'd call that a good day.

Peter: As with most of Michael Fleisher's work, this is a fabulously fun adventure, one more violent than we're used to, with a few question marks thrown in for good measure. One: why would Bruce Wayne be wasting his time at an "Exposition of Horror" instead of hanging around Gotham waiting for the return of Catwoman or the Penguin's latest caper? And, as noted, wouldn't the presence of Batman aboard a yacht of, at most, a couple of hundred people, be a field day for the Joker's scouts? "Hey, boss, Batman was spotted on a boat last night. Should I get you the manifest?" But, most of all, the great Clayface is dispatched in such an offhand way. Are we to believe this Hollywood guy is a match for a shotgun-toting psychopath who's just busted out of Arkham? And how about that "cell" in Arkham? No restraints while Nurse Betty is feeding Basil and handing him his morning paper? The whole history of Karlo and the various incarnations of Clayface is a nightmare of distortion and just plain ignoring the stories that came before. Karlo will return and I can't wait to see how he rises from the dead.

Never mind and forget I ever said anything. "Murder on the Mystery Ship!" is the most fun I've had reading a Batman story since... well, I don't have time to go back through the Batman in the 1970s posts, so let's just say "a long time!" The Newton/Adkins art just keeps getting better; the Hollywood starlets are pure cheesecake. Who do I write to to get Mike Fleisher assigned to this title? And I'll also thank the powers-that-be for returning this title to regular size. No more crappy back-ups. Well, we'll see...

Jack: I knew I would like this story when I saw the mention of Alfred Hitchcock among the masters of horror. I would sign up for this Exposition! I agree with you that security at Arkham Asylum seems to be lacking. First Two-Face escapes, now Clayface. Are there any other Faces locked up in there? Rod Stewart or Ron Wood, perhaps? I love that Karlo loses his temper because he wasn't invited to a horror film convention. This story could be redone today with so many people. Jamie Lee Curtis goes nuts at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Con?

"Stealer of Souls!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Bob Smith

A new jive-ass villain in town, Dr. Voodoo, has a mofo power that no other houngan possesses: this cat can turn the living into zombies with just a voodoo chant. No messy corpses rising from the grave, this dude can make Aunt Irma ransack the local diamond exchange. And that's exactly what he does, zombifying hundreds and transforming them into his band of zombie-thieves. Luckily, as the building is being robbed, Babs Gordon is out for one of her lunchtime walks and answers the call from an elderly gentleman who failed to heed the call of Dr. Voodoo, thanks to a broken hearing aid. The Dark Knight Damsel is doing fine until Dr. Voodoo cleans her clock with a filing cabinet.

Working a clue, Batgirl tracks Dr. Voodoo to his warehouse hideout, where she nips his Soul-Stealing powers in the bud by hiring Jeff the gas station guy to sit outside the warehouse and play Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" at 100 decibels. The racket causes Voodoo's hold on his own men to evaporate but, just as Bat-Female is about to put the cuffs on, Voodoo escapes, vowing vengeance at a later date. In a sub-plot, DA Charles Turner is trying to prove that Barbara Gordon is a murderess and Babs may have found herself a new late-night companion in Jim, father of psychosomatically-paralyzed little Tracy.

Peter: Again, we've got one of these evil geniuses thinking low. Dr. Voodoo has an incredible power he could rule the world with and what does he do? Rob diamond exchanges. With his incantations, he could take over the mind of the weak and stupid and become president of the United States and commit much bigger crimes. Wait... you don't think? As dumb as "Stealer of Souls!" may be, at least it's entertaining. Dr. Voodoo is obviously a (very late) riff on Marvel's Brother Voodoo, and that sure beats the usual kidnappers, pyromaniacs, and child-hobblers we've been party to in this strip in the recent past. As for the sub-plots, I assume that Babs's newfound love has something to do with her new status of murderess. Only time will tell, but most of these sub-plots end up plowing the same old fields and never grow anything worth picking.

Jack: Peter, you know it's not Ozzy but rather Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" that is broadcast from Jeff's van. Shame on you for trying to mislead your reader. I'm bummed that Black Lightning is gone as a Detective backup strip (he won't reappear at DC till 1983), but at least we get some jive-talkin' characters in his place. The art by Delbo and Smith is inconsistent, but I also enjoyed this story and thought it was better than recent Batgirl efforts.

The Brave and the Bold #168

"Shackles of the Mind!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jim Aparo

Batman has to make short work of some crooks in an alley when he sees the Bat Signal. He reports to Commissioner Gordon, who tells him that a master thief has stolen the Regency Diamond, which was protected by serious levels of security. Back at Stately Wayne Manor, Bruce sees a TV news report saying that Batman will appear at a charity event. Green Arrow pops by to tell Bruce that he's the one who set it up in order to support escape artist Samson Citadel, a young black man whom Arrow rescued from a life of crime on the streets.

Bruce agrees but tells Arrow that the archer will have to patrol Gotham City while Batman is at the event. They head out to make the rounds in the Batmobile and stop some crooks, but Arrow is surprised when one of the baddies escapes from his special handcuff arrow. Realizing that it looks bad for his buddy Samson, Oliver Queen tells Batman that he wants to investigate and bring the young man in if he is guilty.

Batman follows a clue to the Magician's Club, where he discovers that the man behind all of the crime is the Great Rhinehart, a famous hypnotist, who has been mesmerizing people to do his bidding, including Samson. He locks Batman in a box and drops him in a tank filled with piranhas. Across town, Green Arrow's chat with Samson is interrupted when the young man gets a phone call that triggers hypnosis and causes him to brain Arrow. Queen gives chase and Samson reaches Rhinehart, who tells him to shoot the archer. The young man's decency wins out, and as Rhinehart makes a run for it he is captured by the Caped Crusader, who explains how he cleverly escaped being a fish dinner.

Jack: Other than making Green Arrow a bit too flip and corny, the way we often see Robin behave, Cary Burkett supplies a terrific script that is filled with excitement. Jim Aparo's art is flawless; he drew all three covers this month plus this interior story and all are outstanding. I'm somewhat surprised at all of the Black characters in the Batman comics lately, since I associate that more with DC in the early 1970s than the early 1980s. Still, I like it, and I think Burkett does a fine job of merging the two super heroes here without resorting to the usual parallel plot lines that eventually converge.

Peter: Fairly routine adventure this time out, compared to the first-rate thrillers we've been getting in this title lately, but then I don't remember the Green Arrow of this era being very readable. The Batman's great escape from the piranha tank stretches credibility, but why argue? Jim Aparo's stuff remains dazzling.

"Swift Wing of Recompense"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis is in disguise as he corners a crook in an alley and learns that Jack Vanders has hooked up with the Kingston Mob and is engaged in some sort of nefarious activity in Houston, Texas. Concerned that the same mob was somehow responsible for his brother becoming a killer, Nemesis journeys to the Lone Star State, where he learns that the mob is running drugs across the Mexican border. During his investigation, Nemesis also learns that his brother was brainwashed by the mob. He gets himself a ride on a drug-smuggling plane, but when his disguise goes bad he has to bail out before the plane crashes.

Jack: It's funny that such a dreadful story bears such a serious title as "Swift Wings of Recompense." One might think Doug Moench was visiting from Warren and graced DC with this absurd title. Spiegle's art is at least as bad as ever, if not worse, and the gadgets Nemesis invents for his own use are outlandish, including his special makeup thingy that melts off of his face when he releases a gas. It's especially ludicrous when he's in the plane and turbulence accidentally jostles his gizmo, releasing the gas and revealing his identity at a most inopportune time. With the disappearance of the backup strips from Detective, Nemesis officially grabs the title of worst monthly series.

Peter: Nemesis meets up with what could be the dumbest gang of hoods in DC history. Our hero is fighting in a black turtleneck with a yellow logo (of the scales of justice) emblazoned on his breast (in a Halloween mask resembling a Neanderthal Man, no less!), but these guys have no idea who he is until he exits stage left and one of the dopes finds a "little model of the scales of justice" lying on the ground. "Hey!" says the dope, "I've heard of a guy who uses this as a symbol!" Sheesh! Any interesting developments in the case of Craig Tresser are almost muted by the truly wretched art of Dan Spiegle.

Next Week...
The Moenchest of the Moench


andydecker said...

I had forgotten how weak most of the Bat books were at the time. It seemed such an exciting time at DC with the input of the Marvel guys and new or improved books. New Teen Titans, Camelot 3000, the new Swamp Thing, Omega Men. But what should have been the flagship books deliver tired stories with often barely competent art. I know that Novick and McLaughlin are there to stay for the forseeable future, but month after month Newton and Aparo leave them behind in the dust.

One should think that DC would have done everything to give their A books a much needed boost.

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, you’re right. New Teen Titans was the smash hit at that point.