Monday, October 5, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 12: December 1980 + The Best of 1980

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

Andru & Giordano
Batman #330

Story by Marv Wolfman 
Art by Irv Novick & Vince Colletta

Arch Skyler is out of appeals and will die in the electric chair tomorrow at dawn, so he issues an ultimatum: anyone who can kill Batman before Arch fries can have the ten million dollars in gold that the crook has stashed away. Bruce Wayne has his own concerns, visiting Lucius Fox in the hospital after Fox was mugged. As Batman heads out to investigate who attacked Fox, he becomes a "Target!" for every hood in Gotham trying to collect Skyler's bounty.

Batman refuses to go into hiding for twenty-four hours because he has learned that Lucius's son Tim has joined a gang and that gang has big plans for a job tonight. Batman manages to avoid being killed, with a little help from Talia al Ghul, and Robin wonders why Batman keeps trying to ditch him. Tim Fox visits his father and says that he's upset because he has learned that Bruce Wayne owns a bunch of tenements in the slums of Gotham. Meanwhile Batman retires to the abandoned Grosvenor's Island so that crooks can take shots at him without injuring innocent bystanders.

The Novick/Colletta Talia...
After he defeats all of the Grade Z villains trying to kill him, Batman returns to the offices of Wayne Foundation and stops the gang that Fox joined from blowing up the building. The next morning, Skyler walks his last mile to the hot seat, shocked that no one could kill Batman, even for a ten million dollar bounty.

Jack: I was looking forward to a full-length, 25-page Batman story, but this one is a letdown. The padding is terrible, with page after page of Batman fighting bad guys who clearly have no chance of ending his life. Wolfman gives one called the Cowboy a big buildup, but he's defeated by the Caped Crusader without much trouble. The subplots keep plodding along, with (finally) some clarity on what's been bugging Lucius Fox, but no details yet on what Falstaff is planning, other than a revelation that Bruce Wayne's secretary is feeding information to the corpulent crook. There's also the business of why Batman seems to be annoyed at Robin, who thinks it's because he dropped out of college. I expect these subplots will be played out for a while and wrapped up in future issues, but none of them is very compelling.

Peter: A bit of deception going on there on the cover, trying to make comic buyers believe the Black Widow has suddenly crossed over into the DC Universe. The Novick/Colletta Talia doesn't look anything like the Andru/Giordano depiction on the cover. More's the pity. Hard to believe Marv Wolfman scripted this issue's dreadful lump of sentences. There's no flow, the villains are weak (the Cowboy? Sheesh, Cliff Robertson's Shame was more menacing), the Robin drama is forced (Bats is acting like a petulant child), and the Lucius & Son sub-plot is worthy of General Hospital. Did I fall asleep when Dick announced he was quitting college? The art is the pits; really, really bad, guys. Joe Orlando musta been pissed when he got back from vacation and saw what Marv snuck to the printer. Hard to see any Novick in that Colletta mess. Maybe Fahrenheit 451 wasn't such a bad idea, after all.


Detective Comics #497

"Bad Night in Baja"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The FBI ask Batman to travel to Baja where a mobster, who goes by the moniker of the Squid, has stolen some top secret government documents detailing missile codes. Not good government security, that. Bats shoves Alfred into the sports car and heads down south, where he invades the Squid's mansion and steals back the attache case containing the missile codes. 

During the grand battle, the Dark Knight is winged and stumbles off to find shelter, doffing his costume and settling for the safer guise of Bruce Wayne. The millionaire playboy, still carrying the attache case filled with documents, stumbles into the Dolan Bar and collapses after ringing Alfred for help. The bar is filled with shady characters, including the bartender/owner, who sees the attache case as valuable and cracks it open. Recognizing the contents as government papers, the man stashes them in his apron, just as the Squid and his men bust through the door, looking for the Batman.

This is art!
Bruce manages to crawl out the back door and change into his Bat-costume, even as he's bleeding profusely. After a bit of a tussle, Bats uses a handy can of gasoline (the proprietor was planning on burning the building down!) to light up the night. Secret documents returned to the feds, Bruce and Alfred head back to Gotham.

Peter: Once again, I cannot emphasize enough how different the two Bat-titles are right now, with Batman an absolute dirge and Detective a joy to behold. The story, by Gerry Conway, is a fun piece of fiction, with lots of nuances and side alleys. If the whole package feels like The Spirit to you, there's good reason. The Dolan Hotel and the Squid are both references to the Eisner strip, as is the fabulous art (Waldo Pepper is another story altogether!). Just so that we don't miss all the references and the atmosphere, Gerry dedicates the story to Eisner on the splash. Though it seems there's a history to the Squid in the DC Universe, this is his first appearance. And a good one it is. He's a slimy mob boss with a lisp and a bad coif. The Newton/Adkins stuff remains dynamite; I can't put my finger on what it reminds me of. Maybe a middle ground between Mayerik and Wrightson? Give me more of this stuff!

Jack: I completely agree, Peter. This is an excellent story. The terrific opening sequence sets a gritty tone, and what follows doesn't let up on the excitement. DC at this point made no secret of the fact that Detective featured stories that were more slice-of-life, showcasing the Dark Knight's skills at solving crimes, while Batman focused more on the Rogue's Gallery of colorful villains. Right now, Detective is doing a better job of making its formula work, and the art by Newton and Adkins is a big part of that success.

"Barbara Gordon... Murderess!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Babs Gordon is a bit surprised to discover she's the number one suspect in the murder of Congressman Scanlan, once one of Barbara's fiercest political opponents. When she's questioned by hard-nosed detective Cameron, she's astonished to discover that her fingerprints were found on a medicine bottle found in Scanlan's home. The pill that killed Scanlan might have come from that container, according to Cameron. Turns out Cameron's 411 is being provided by assistant DA Charles Turner, who has a monstrous grudge against Commissioner Gordon and might be taking it out on Babs. As Barbara is awaiting dinner guests, she hears the doorbell ring and answers the door. It's Cameron, there to arrest her for the murder of Scanlan!

Peter: As dopey as all the subterfuge can be (I'm surprised Delbo didn't draw a Snidely Whiplash mustache on Turner), I have to say that this installment of Batgirl held my interest and, indeed, piqued said interest. That alone qualifies this chapter as a resounding success. Obviously, the "ill-tempered" Mr. Barton has something to do with what's going on and I suspect Babs's stalker, Mr. Bender, will either come to her rescue or sell her down the river. A lot of intriguing characters in this strip right now. And thank goodness the words are holding my interest, because this art sure isn't. Someone will have to explain that splash to me. Is the Darknight Damsel really flying on her Batcycle or are the buildings and gas pumps teensy?

Jack: I was not as impressed with this strip as you were, Peter. Giella's heavy inks recall his work in DC's Silver Age so much that some of the panels looked like Mike Sekowsky drew them. I guess Giella's inks were heavy on Sekowsky's work as well. The setup is decent in this story, but it goes on a bit too long to hold the reader's interest and there are too many soap opera moments for me, such as Babs Gordon's chat with her friend about how she was a tomboy and never got used to being found attractive by men.

Brave and the Bold #169

"Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Aparo

The cops are investigating the death of faith healer Raymond Marcy when gunfire erupts at the Marcy Temple. Batman arrives and fights the bad guys, but it's the sudden appearance of Zatanna that keeps a heroic young cop from being killed. Raymond's widow Angela appears and heals the wounded policeman, and Zatanna explains that she's a believer in the woman's powers. She doesn't appreciate Batman's investigation of Angela but agrees to participate to try to clear the woman's name.

They split up and Batman visits the temple, where he finds Angela's diary and learns that she seems to believe in her own powers. Zatanna finds a little boy who was healed by Angela but Batman suddenly shows up in the nick of time to save the boy from a car that is out of control. Bruce Wayne speaks with Jim Yost, the business manager for the Marcys, and his fingerprints reveal that he's actually a discredited doctor named Yoder whose son died after Marcy supposedly cured him. At the Marcy Temple, Zatanna encounters crooks intending to kidnap Angela, and both Batman and Zatanna are knocked unconscious. The crooks are led by a mobster named Steel Springer, who is angry because Raymond Marcy refused to heal him.

Springer tells Angela to cure him, but her touch fails to do the trick and one of Springer's goons shoots Jim Yoder as he bursts in to help. Batman arrives and he and Zatanna manage to save the day. As Yoder dies, he admits to having faked the faith healings. Springer crawls toward Marcy's tomb but dies of a heart attack. Batman and Zatanna encourage Angela to keep doing good works, just not as a faith healer.

Jack: The story's title, "Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death," refers to Angela Marcy, who at one point laments her failure to heal people. I am a long-time fan of Zatanna and I was taken aback by her change in costume. Where are the top hat and black, fishnet stockings? Now she looks like Wonder Girl! The story is a bit too complicated and Zatanna's spells are silly--she turns a car into a bunch of feathers, etc. Aparo's art is good, as always, but overall the story didn't seem compelling.

Peter: The story is a bit confusing and there are several questions that make my head hurt, but I was entertained. Now, those questions: Why would Batman doubt Angela Marcy's healing powers while Zatanna is hatching the impossible around him? What's in that magic ring belonging to Yoder that allows the crippled to be healed, but only for a while? Did Bats mean to scare Springer to death in the climax or was that just a bonus cupcake for the Dark Knight? Does Zatanna have to mentally form the words backwards in her head and then say them backwards, or does she just blab them? Zatanna is an intriguing character and I know nothing about her. Evidently, she's been around, since she knows all about Batman's alter ego. I liked the pairing a lot but I loved Jim Aparo's Adams-esque visuals.

"The Council Calls for Death"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

All of the top crime bosses come together for an emergency meeting of the Council called by Jay Kingston, who reports that Nemesis has caused a security breach. The Council was behind the brainwashing and death of Craig Tresser, and it appears that Nemesis successfully impersonated Kingston's butler and gained access to his most secret files. The Council are shocked to discover that nemesis was even sitting in on this meeting, disguised as Martin Brasser, head of security. Nemesis steals a helicopter and escapes, leaving the crime bosses to wonder just how much he knows.

Jack: Surprisingly good for a backup story, "The Council Calls for Death" managed to hold my interest despite the lack of much happening. It's basically a series of recaps setting up next issue's team-up between Batman and Nemesis, but Spiegle's art is better than we've come to expect, perhaps because he doesn't have to draw many figures in motion.

Yet another moonlighting Marvel star!
This time Wilson Fisk!
Peter: "The Council Calls for Death" is much better than the previous chapters of Nemesis; call me crazy, but I get the feeling Cary Burkett is striving for something a little headier than Robin and Black Lightning. Walt Simonson's "Manhunter" immediately comes to mind as far as funny book series go. But the obvious influence on "Nemesis" is the men's adventure novel; I got a real Executioner, Penetrator, Death Merchant, etc. vibe from this script, lacking only the finale where our hero blows the whole building and most of the crime family heads to smithereens. The final-panel twist is a good one, given away only due to the fact that the titular character had pulled a no-show thus far. Hell, even Dan Spiegle brings his A-game, reigning in the scratchy and delivering solid, decent work. I can't wait to see the panel that finally reveals where our hero keeps those "Scales of Justice" calling cards. Fanny pack?



Best Script: Cary Burkett, "Vengeance Trail/At War With General Scarr" (Detective Comics #492)
Best Art: Walt Simonson/Dick Giordano, "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!" (Batman #321)
Best All-Around Story: "Vengeance Trail/At War With General Scarr"
Worst Script: "Death Twenty Stories High" (Batman #325)
Worst Art: Jose Delbo/Bob Smith, "The Bogus Butlers" (Detective Comics #489)
Best Cover: Batman #321 ->

The Five Best Stories

1 "Vengeance Trail/At War With General Scarr"
2 "Bad Night in Baja" (Detective Comics #497)
3 "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!"
"Murder on the Mystery Ship" (Detective Comics #496)
5 "Explosion of the Soul" (Detective Comics #494)


Best Script: Gerry Conway, "Bad Night in Baja"
Best Art: Walt Simonson & Dick Giordano, "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!"
Best All-Around Story: "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!"
Worst Story: "Swift Wing of Recompense" (The Brave and the Bold 168)
Worst Art: Dan Spiegle, "Swift Wing of Recompense"
Best Cover: Batman 327>

The Five Best Stories

1 "Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker...!"
2 "The Crime Doctor Calls at Midnight!" (Detective Comics 494)
3 "Murder in Quicksilver" (Detective Comics 495)
4 "Murder on the Mystery Ship!"
5 "Bad Night in Baja"

Next Week...
So what makes Marvin different from
all the other Bog Beasts?

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