Monday, October 19, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 13: January 1981

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

The Brave and the Bold #170

"...If Justice Be Blind!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jim Aparo

A man is shot to death on the steps of Police Headquarters! Batman visits Commissioner Gordon and says that this man is the fourth victim of a hired killer named Danny Krebs. He also mentions that Nemesis is in Gotham and there's a price on his head. Are the two things connected? Batman goes looking for Krebs and finds Nemesis, holding a .45 and standing over a dead man.

Nemesis reveals that he's looking for the Head and that the same killer must be behind the four murders, since he's having men who could give Nemesis clues to the Head's whereabouts rubbed out. Agreeing to work together, Batman and Nemesis quickly locate Krebs but fail to keep him from being eliminated by a sniper. The duo go to the Batcave and decide to look for Dr. Von Riebling, the ex-Nazi responsible for brainwashing Nemesis's brother and causing him to murder Ben Marshall, who had supported Batman years before.

Nemesis impersonates Von Riebling's brother at an auction of WWII memorabilia and hooks up with a crook named Krispen, who takes him to see the elderly Nazi. Von Riebling sees right through Nemesis's disguise, however, and escapes before he can be captured. Days later, the Head has Ben Marshall's widow kidnapped and offers to spare her life if Nemesis surrenders. Nemesis agrees and discovers that the Head is a crime boss who is confined to an iron lung and who blames Marshall for his fate. Batman saves the day and Nemesis does the right thing and avoids murdering the Head. However, Von Riebling kills the incapacitated crime boss and then keels over dead himself.

Jack: "...If Justice Be Blind!" is way too long, at 25 pages, and seems very padded. After a few weak backup stories, I don't think Nemesis was ready to team up with the Dark Knight. Aparo's art is by the numbers and contains no surprises. Burkett's story isn't surprising either, with a few fistfights and the usual rises and falls of suspense necessary to stretch a story to this length. I was hoping this might be the big finish for Nemesis, but the coming attractions tell us that he'll be back next issue, again in his rightful place in the back of the book.

Peter: Giving us a 25-page epic co-starring a "hero" who's only been around a few months seems a bit of a force-feed but, for the most part, "...If Justice Be Blind!" is a success. Could be the pulpy elements (Nazis, quick-change make-up kits, a mob boss stuck in an iron lung...) or maybe just Aparo's snazzy graphics. I love a boss nicknamed "the Head" because it leads to dialogue like "He could be traced back to the Head!" There's also a quick appearance of what we used to call the "Marvel Misunderstanding" when our two protagonists duke it out for three panels before saner heads prevail. Hopefully, now that Nemesis has seen his brother's killer meet justice, he can get onto other, more interesting, exploits.

Detective Comics #498

"Night of the Savage"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Since no reader who has a life will remember a fourth-tier villain named Blockbuster, we're treated to a short prologue featuring Batman and Commissioner Gordon searching the "ice floes" off Gotham for the aforementioned bad guy, who had been tussling with the Dark Knight and who sunk below the murky depths. Satisfied that Blockbuster is dead, the two men head back to Gotham, not noticing the figure who pulls himself up onto the shores somewhere near West Virginia, droning "Find Batman, kill Batman!" Blockbuster (a/k/a Mark Desmond) is a childlike creature (imagine, oh I don't know, a salmon-colored Hulk in every way possible), who finds his way to nearby Bleak Rock and interrupts a beatdown on a man named Willie Macon.

Turns out Macon has run afoul of a local mobster (yes, even the small towns of the DC Universe have mafia dons!), "Boss" Dooley, who's running for president of the miner's union in Bleak Rock. Macon is so grateful for Blockbuster's intervention that he takes him home and makes him part of the family. Months later, a string of "smash and grabs" catches the attention of the Caped Crusader, who decides, out of the blue, that the culprit must be the believed-dead Blockbuster. Luckily, our hero is able to interrupt one of these heists in person, at a Gotham electronics store, and nabs the perp, a strongman named Ajax. In another of those strange, true-to-life coincidences, Batman's attention is drawn to a nearby TV set, which is running the news of a "reform committee" formed to run against "Boss" Dooley. There, in the background of the photo shown, is Blockbuster!

Bats hops in the Batmobile and heads to Bleak Rock to investigate but runs into the strong arm of "Boss" Dooley, whose men get the drop on a heretofore undroppable Batman. Dooley and his men throw Bats down a mine shaft, unaware that Macon and his new Lennie are working overtime. As the Batman's body drops, Macon orders Blockbuster to catch him and, as he lies inert in the big man's arms, he does not hear the menacing drone of "Find Batman, kill Batman!"

Peter: A very disappointing and weakly scripted episode, "Night of the Savage" comes off as bad as one of Len's or Marv's latest. To start with, we're handed a bottom-rung villain (I had to look him up in Wikipedia to discover I'd already written about him years ago in Batman #309), a monster who has no real purpose other than to elicit the semi-sympathy of the reader (much like the Hulk or Steinbeck's Lennie) and fill pages. The plot, David v. Goliath, is stale and the action is paltry. The string of coincidences is laughable but consistent with funny book scripting. There is only one villain to concentrate on at one time, so it's no wonder Batman just happens to be thinking of Blockbuster when he shows up. Why in the world would Bats connect a string of store robberies to a guy he thought was long dead? The robberies themselves make no sense. Why would this Ajax guy enter a store when it's filled with customers, destroy merchandise, and then hope to escape without being ID'd? The whopper, of course, is seeing Blockbuster's pic on TV moments after establishing that the giant was not responsible for the "smash and grabs!" Thank goodness that TV set was tuned in to the right station. Gerry, you're capable of so much better.

Jack: I know it's rare, but I completely disagree with you. I liked the touch of humor when the beachcombers first come upon the body of Blockbuster washed up on the sand, and I was genuinely surprised when the smash-and-grabber turned out not to be Blockbuster. I felt nostalgia at the scene in the record store (remember those?) and liked the giant record player whose arm Batman uses to knock out Ajax. There's continuity as well, with Batman still recovering from his gunshot wound, and a good cliffhanger that makes me want to read the next story. Best of all is the usual superb art by Newton and Adkins. I thoroughly enjoyed this story!

"The Tightening Web!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Rotting in a stinking cell for at least ten minutes, Babs Gordon gets some good news: thanks to the fact that she's an ex-politician and the daughter of a police commissioner, bail has been granted and she is remanded to the custody of her Pop. Knowing that, if she sees trial, she'll have to spill her guts on what she does to get her kit off at night or face perjury charges, Babs gets into her tight spandex and swings over to assistant D.A. Dover's office to listen in on some secret conversations. Babs learns that the prosecution has gotten hold of a document with Barbara Gordon's signature, an order for the same poison that killed Congressman Scanlon. The only way Ms. Gordon's sig could be on that paper is if her personal assistant, Doreen Gray, snuck into a pile of Babs's personal correspondence! Batgirl wings her way over to Doreen's flat, just as the woman is having a conversation with her blackmailer. Doreen explains to Batgirl that her brother is in prison and if she frames Barbara Gordon, the man will go free. Just then, three goons enter the apartment, clock Batgirl, and kidnap both women.

Peter: "The Tightening Web" is the exact opposite of "Night of the Savage": an enjoyable (though, admittedly, 100% predictable) story with barely professional graphics. This whole "Babs Gordon: Murderess" arc is a nod to 1940s crime radio dramas (at least, I think it is), with pertinent plot points being delivered at just the right moments and peril popping up approximately every three minutes. I'm certainly not saying that this Batgirl strip is award-worthy, but it's readable and, compared to the tripe being foisted in the Batman title, pleasurable.

Jack: Again, we disagree! I thought this was bottom-of-the barrel stuff, not just in terms of the art. Delbo and Giella's work recalls the worst of Heck and Calnan and I could not work up the slightest interest in the story. And I like Batgirl!

Batman #331

"Closed Circuit!"
Story by Marv Wolfman & Michael Fleisher
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

Who is the shadowy figure skulking around Gotham and killing criminals by electrocuting them with his gloved hands? Even though the victims were on Death Row, they were released on technicalities and found death outside the prison walls. Batman catches up with the vigilante but falls victim to one of his electric hands. Meanwhile Dick Grayson is nagging Bruce Wayne to chat about the young man's decision to drop out of college. Bruce is too busy, so Robin follows the trial of the wayward son of Lucius Fox in order to find out what's really going on.

Batman intercepts the shadowy figure once again and discovers that he calls himself the Electrocutioner; back at Bruce Wayne's office, the millionaire playboy sees a newspaper headline announcing that he is a slumlord. Batman runs into the Electrocutioner again as the vigilante attempts to kill another Death Row inmate let out on a technicality, but the bad guy's attempt to make a "Closed Circuit!" and destroy Batman ends in him being knocked out a window and landing in the water below. At home, Batman discovers that Talia al'Ghul wants to move in with him. The mere idea makes Robin split the scene.

The grown-ups argue about silly stuff
while the babe stands by, dressed in her nightgown.

Jack: A poor effort all around, which is a shame after the terrific Aparo cover. The Electrocutioner never seems particularly menacing, and Batman somehow knows where he will be at all times. We never get an explanation of why this villain wants to right the wrongs of the court system, and the constant interruptions with subplots are annoying. Novick's art is not at its strongest with McLaughlin inking.

Peter: I think the real story here, one neglected by Marv and Mike, is how every crook on Death Row seems to be released on a technicality. That's a story Mike Fleisher would normally explore: the villain who's initiating the con's release so he can fry him. The Electrocutioner (or Electroutioner if you believe the cover blurb) is a fourth-tier amalgam of Marvel's Punisher and Electro, hardly worth the paper he's printed on. I clap my hands courteously for the editors of DC who decided to inject continuity into their strips by introducing those "background sub-plots" that Marvel made famous in the 1970s, but I'd applaud vigorously if the threads were of substance. The similarities between Lucius's problems with his son and that of Bruce and Dick are delivered with the subtlety of a jack-hammer. The dialogue is atrocious (Innocent Bystander: Eeeek! His hands are crackling with electricity! Batman: You don't know the half of it, lady!) and the art, as we've noted before, is not up to the quality of Detective. It's only right that the final page twist is right out of the blue and designed to initiate tension between Bats and Robin for a few issues. Despite the pedigrees of all involved, this is amateur hour.

"Wolf in the Fold"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Don Newton & Steve Mitchell

Batman impersonates a cop named Al Nelson in order to track down a "Wolf in the Fold," an undercover cop named Mark Rearden who has not been seen in days. Commissioner Gordon sees right through the disguise and together they track down the crooked cop.

Jack: It's striking how much better Dan Adkins is at inking Don Newton's pencils. Newton is still the most exciting artist drawing the Dark Knight at this point (Aparo is solid and reliable but his work is rarely unpredictable), and even a throwaway story like this one has moments of excitement almost solely due to the illustrations. The plot is uninspired.

Peter: Though I wouldn't classify it as art, "Wolf in the Fold" is much better than the opener, especially in the art department. I'm not sure why Bats felt the need to keep the Commish out of the loop, but the panel where he slips up and mentions Gordon's cabin is a hoot. World's greatest detective?

Next Week...
You wanted it...
You screamed for it...
Now you're gonna get it!
Corben Color!

No comments: