Monday, November 2, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 14: February 1981

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

Batman #332 

"The Lazarus Affair
Chapter One: Fallout!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

As a prisoner escapes by raft from the remote Infinity Island, he is unaware that his every move is being monitored by video. Meanwhile, Robin walks out on Batman in a snit, upset that the Dark Knight is shacking up with Talia al Ghul. Bruce Wayne has another big problem: Gregorian Falstaff is trying to ruin Wayne Enterprises! Realizing that Caroline Crown, Bruce's new secretary, has been feeding information secretly to his corpulent rival, Batman rushes to the Wayne Enterprises office, only to learn that Caroline is doing Falstaff's bidding because he has kidnapped her daughter Elizabeth.

Worse yet, a giant, bald Mutate menaces Caroline and requires Batman's attention! Batman is knocked out. Elsewhere in Gotham, Robin saves a mugging victim and decides he needs someone else to talk to beside his pal Bruce. Bruce visits Lucius, who is still in the hospital, then Caroline, who explains more about the blackmail, and finally Falstaff himself, who reveals that he's bought up the mortgages on Wayne's properties in Asia. Back at the Batcave, Talia kisses Bruce and thinks she puts him to sleep with a lipstick sedative. Robin spills his guts to Selina Kyle and Batman--who was not asleep after all--follows Talia to Falstaff's office.

Falstaff unleashes a squad of giant mutates on the Caped Crusader, but our hero knocks them out, one and all. Unable to escape, Falstaff hides behind little Elizabeth Crown and is about to shoot Batman with a ray gun when Talia tackles him, causing the tubby bad guy to be enveloped by a big bubble that appears to eliminate him. Batman gives Talia a big thank-you kiss just as Robin and Catwoman arrive, too late to save the day but not too late to feel jealous! Back in the ocean, the prisoner on a raft is enveloped by a big red bubble that resembles the one that enveloped Falstaff.

Jack: "Fallout!" is billed as "Chapter One" of something called "The Lazarus Affair" and, though the title had me hoping for some Ra's al Ghul, Batman's arch enemy (well, one of them) is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we experience Marv Wolfman trying to knit together all of the subplots that have been set in motion over the course of the last several issues. It's a bit dizzying. Novick and McLaughlin don't do Wolfman any favors with their mediocre art, and the back and forth from one plot thread to another every couple of pages means that none of the stories seem particularly notable. Particularly odd is the giant bubble that appears from nowhere to envelop Falstaff, a villain who has had a big buildup and then fizzles. Hopefully, Marv will eventually explain what he was up to and whether some other nefarious character was behind his actions.

Peter: So, let me get this straight. The Boy Wonder doesn’t trust Talia so he runs to Selina Kyle? That makes a hell of a lot of sense. Though I think this first chapter of “The Lazarus Whatever” is weak, I like the threads that Marv dangles to keep our interest in the next chapter. What’s up with the guy in the raft and the big red ball? Is it a variant of the yellow orb that ate Falstaff? And there’s a villain who would never make it past the PC censors these days. A morbidly obese man who revels in his weight and isn’t seen without a turkey leg in his fat paw. Oh, and if you want to know what damage the wrong inker can inflict on a penciller, you have no further to look than at the special coverage of Best of DC Digest #9, which features Irv Novick assisted by a competent inker.

"Cat's Paw!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Don Newton & Steve Mitchell

Catwoman's interrogation of a thug leads her to break up a robbery at a chemical warehouse, where she follows one of the criminals straight to the office of Gregorian Falstaff's second-in-command, Karlyle Kruggerand, who has a new boss now that Falstaff is dead. She trails Kruggerand to a power station, where he plans to steal electricity to create more mutates. Catwoman succeeds in stopping the plan, but wonders if her suspicions about Talia are due to jealousy. She does not realize Talia is watching from the shadows.

Jack: It's interesting how this backup story furthers the action that was begun in the lead story but leaves Batman out of the picture. Catwoman tells a crook that she has reformed, but I suspect that has more to do with love than honor. As usual, Newton's pencils outshine those of Novick, although Mitchell's inks are not as strong as those of Adkins in 'Tec.

Peter: I like the fact that the Catwoman back-up is an offshoot of the main story (with better art, as well), but I’m confused as to where it falls in the chronology. Does Catwoman live through all this intrigue just before Robin bursts in on her, while she’s lounging half-nekkid on her bed, with news about Talia? But, good story or no, make no bones about it, I am firmly in the Catwoman=villain camp. We’ve got enough cowled female heroes running around the DC Universe without transforming members of the Rogues’ Gallery into good Samaritans. 

Detective Comics #499

"Allies in the Shadows"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

Just as the Hulk Blockbuster is about to decorate the mine shaft with Batman’s blood and guts, bad guy “Boss” Dooley detonates a boatload of dynamite and brings the shaft down around the mine workers. Blockbuster’s best friend, Willie Macon, is seriously injured and so the big guy puts aside his dislike of the Dark Knight and helps him dig a hole to freedom (luckily, the Caped Crusader has brought along some of his Bat-TNT, which helps immeasurably). Meanwhile, up top, Macon’s young daughter overhears Dooley and his stooges discussing their options and is captured by the evil union man. When the final man is rescued, Batman and Blockbuster hear a small girl screaming and watch in horror as Dooley throws the little moppet into his Caddy and makes tracks. In a miniature edition of Brave and the Bold, Bats and Blockhead become “Allies in the Shadows,” saving the girl and bringing Dooley in to face the music.

Ya put yer right foot in...
This is basically a variation of that classic episode of Gunsmoke where Festus is courting the mine’s secretary and happens to overhear a plot to kill Matthew and gets tossed into a shaft filled with rattlers. He’s bitten several times but manages to tap out “Help Me, Matthew” in Morse code on the mine’s sewer pipes. But enough about that. This here second part of the Blockbuster blockbuster is as corny, disposable, and un-Conway-ish as the first episode, but I give Gerry a little credit in that his hands are tied. The Rogues’ Gallery is consigned to the pages of Batman and Gerry’s left to fend with crooked union men and fifth-tier bad guys. Luckily, right after the anniversary issue next time out, things are going to change.

Jack: Instead of turning into a Blockbuster vs. Batman fight, this story takes a different approach and investigates corruption at a West Virginia mine. The story succeeds in large part because it humanizes the villain and also because of the terrific art by Newton and Adkins. The panel where Batman attempts to lift the beam resembles the work of Neal Adams. I think this is an excellent story with Batman facing real danger for a change. And I love Aparo's cover!

"Chains of Guilt!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo and Joe Giella

How can Barbara Gordon prove she’s innocent of Congressman Scanlon’s murder if her alter ego, Batgirl, can’t stay out of trouble? She ponders this as two hoods dump her in the bay and she has to pull off some impressive yoga moves to break out of her chains. Once free, she must rescue Doreen and then get to the court, pronto. She does both in record time and delivers evidence to the judge of Randall Borowitz’s guilt in the slaying. Scanlon had discovered that Borowitz was embezzling funds and was silenced before he could go public. The day saved, Batgirl changes into Babs Gordon and enters the courtroom an innocent woman. 

Peter: Thankfully, the final chapter of this long and tedious soap opera is delivered with all the requisite bells and whistles (read that as Delbo and Giella), fulfilling its duty of wasting eight pages of back-up. But for the art, “Chains of Guilt!” isn’t horrible; it’s just generic and lazy, a basement this series has never been able to climb itself out of. But, hey, at least it’s not Robin, right?

Jack: After some initial excitement in the underwater sequence, this back-up story falls back into the usual cliched and rather dull formula of Batgirl solving the mystery and cracking the case in a corny courtroom scene. Delbo and Giella's art reminds me of some of the most bland DC art from the 1960s. 

The Brave and the Bold #171

"A Cannon for Batman"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

At a charity auction, Bruce Wayne buys a small chest that was once owned by Martha Jennings, "the Florence Nightingale of the Civil War." At home, Bruce discovers a secret compartment that reveals a Civil War campaign patch with an image that looks just like the Bat symbol! He seeks out his old friend, Professor Carter Nichols, who uses hypnosis to send Bruce back to 1862.

Seeing Martha Jennings under attack by a trio of rebel soldiers, Bruce rips off his shirt to intervene as Batman but is beaten to the punch by Scalphunter, a white man raised by Indians. The heroes team up and accompany Martha on her journey to take medical supplies to Union soldiers. They witness the Second Battle of Bull Run and intercept rebel soldiers sneaking up on Martha's camp. Batman is captured and tied to "A Cannon for Batman," but all works out when he escapes and he, Scalphunter, and Martha beat up the rebel soldiers. Martha fingers the emblem on Batman's brawny chest and he realizes how that Bat signal campaign patch came to be, just before he wakes up back in the present.

Commissioner Dolan
as Prof. Nichols!

Jack: Sometimes, we just need to check our brains at the door and accept that comics are just plain fun. That was my reaction to this story, which makes very little sense but which led me to Google Scalphunter and Professor Carter Nichols. The Indian started out in 1977 but the professor goes way back to the Golden Age and has continued to appear in DC stories to this very day. It's amusing to see Bruce Wayne with a crush on a woman long dead, and even more amusing to see him use hypnosis to travel back in time. But if the whole thing happens only in his mind, why is the campaign patch a real thing? Riddle me that, Peter!

"Oh, Batman..."

 Well, Jack... I’m not a big fan of these “Elseworlds”-type funny book stories, as you know, and “A Cannon for Batman” is a good example of why. If Bats could go back in time (even through a “hypnotic illusion”) and change the course of history (which he certainly does, as that patch in the box implies), then the first think in his brain would be: that alley right after the theater show. Having said all that, I did enjoy “Cannon,” mostly for the spectacular art and for Gerry’s characterization of Martha Jennings as a tough Civil War broad. I love that fabulous smirk our hero gives Martha when she’s dressing him down about always “interfering.” 

As for Scalphunter, even this comic book zombie couldn’t place the name, so I had to do a little research. The character headlined Weird Western Tales from issue 39 (April 1977) to 70 (August 1980), the title’s final issue, but for a one-shot in 2010. Gerry Conway obviously had a soft spot for Scalphunter, since he also scripted the WWT series. The most fascinating trivia might be that his co-creator (with Joe Orlando) was Sergio Aragones and that Scalphunter was actually the “grown-up kidnapped son of Matt Savage, Trail Boss" (as per the GCD), a series that ran in DC’s Western Stories title back in the 1950s! That’s the kind of deep-diving into comics history Roy Thomas used to pull off at Marvel.

"Double or Nothing"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

In disguise (as usual), Nemesis cleans up at a Vegas casino and is trailed by goons who want their money back. A quick change helps him get away, and he muses about how he still intends to work to balance the scales of justice even though he has already caught the killer whose foul deed inspired him to fight crime. Seeking to confront the crooked casino's owner, he heads back to the tables in a new disguise and encounters a woman with a bomb! She wants to blow up the owner for ruining her father, but Nemesis intervenes and keeps her from killing a large number of people. They escape together and she bandages his gunshot wound, only to have casino goons approach with guns drawn.

"Double or Nothing"
Jack: Returning to the back of the book where he belongs, Nemesis delivers the unwelcome news that his quest to stamp out crime is just beginning. "Double or Nothing" features more below-average art by Dan Spiegle and a run of the mill story that would feel right at home as a back-up in an early '40s (or late '30s) DC comic. Too bad it's 1981 and we've come to expect more from the writers and artists. Well, I have, at least. A quick look at the GCD tells me that this series continues for almost two more years, so I'd better save up my adjectives.

Peter: Oh, Jack, what have you gotten us into? This Nemesis series started out okay and has headed South fast. The story meanders. The art is the pits. Check out that final panel of the three stooge gunmen. One looks like Redford, one Mike Avallone, and the other Curly Joe (an actual Stooge!). On page four, Nemesis looks like he's nursing a toothache. But the pinnacle would have to be our hero disguised as Tony Orlando on the splash. Nemesis reminds me of the kind of back-up you use a plunger on.

Best of DC #9

(Reprinted from Detective Comics #444)

"Break-In at the Big House"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #445)

"Slaughter in Silver"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #446)

"Enter: The Creeper"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #447)

"Bedlam Beneath the Big Top!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #448)

"Angel--or Devil?"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano)
(Reprinted from Batman #216, November 1969)

"Angel--or Devil?"
In late 1979, DC decided to dabble in the digest reprint format, issuing two teensy titles: The Best of DC (which lasted 71 issues) and DC Special Blue Ribbon (24 issues), packed with classic and not-so-classic stories from their most popular books. Oddly enough, Batman was the focus of only five Best of and not one single issue of Blue Ribbon.

In the only new (to us) story, "Angel--or Devil," Batman comes to the rescue of a pretty young blonde being harassed by two thugs. The blonde interferes and one of the hoods gets the drop on the Dark Knight. Nursing a bruised noggin, Bats heads back to Wayne Manor but, coincidentally, sees the blonde hoofing a ride on the highway. He stops, lets her in, and asks her where she's going. Surprisingly, the girl replies, "Wayne Manor!" Through some gentle interrogation. Batman learns the girl's name is Daphne and she's Alfred's niece, in town with her father in a stage production of Romeo and Juliet.

When Daphne gets to the estate, a smitten Dick is only too happy to give the girl a tour of the house, including a look at the super-rare and ultra-valuable original manuscript of (surprise!) Romeo and Juliet! The hour grows late and the mansion grows quiet. All but a lone blonde mouse, who walks through the halls on a mission. The next morning, Alfred discovers a note from Daphne, explaining that she's gone to rehearsals and that he, Bruce, and Dick are all invited to the play. Oddly, the butler also finds candle drippings on the floor.

That night, while the play is in full swing, Daphne slips out the backstage door and heads to the empty Wayne Manor, where she lets herself in with a key made by her duplicitous "boyfriend," also one of the Shakespearean actors. She grabs the manuscript but is headed off at the pass by Uncle Alfred, who guessed something was up when his brother did not contact him when they came into town. Turns out the other Mr. Pennyworth is being held hostage by the two thugs and won't be released until Daphne gives up the Shakespeare MS. When it becomes evident that Alfred will not let her leave, Daphne pulls a gun and, in a scuffle, shoots her beloved uncle. Thinking him dead, Daphne grabs the rare book and heads back to the playhouse.

We come to find out that Daphne's torturers didn't trust her with a real gun and gave her a stage pistol loaded with blanks. Alfred is fine and follows his niece back to the theater, where he arrives just as the two hoods are going to murder his brother. With a bit of help from Batman, who's figured out what's going on, Alfred puts the kibosh on the attempted murder and enjoys a deserved reunion with his family.

Peter: Though there's really nothing to the script, "Angel--Or Devil?" is an enjoyable bit of fluff and certainly better and more entertaining than most of the scripts being passed off as "professional" at the onset of the '80s. There are not a lot of Caped Crusader appearances here (and zero Robin--a plus in my book) and some odd twists (Batman is pretty seriously hurt by a pile-driver delivered by a Shakespearean actor!), but the whole enchilada is tasty and leaves very little bitter aftertaste. It almost makes me want to do a deep dive on 1960s' Batman until I remember all those dreadful "Robin Dies at Dawn" and "Batman's Psychic Twin" fiascos and I come back to my senses. Novick and Giordano were a dynamite tandem back then, akin to the power duo of Newton and Adkins for consistent quality. This issue arrived just two months before the era we covered so immaculately and gracefully all those years ago and shortly after the TV show took its last bow. The look has late '60s all over it. Daphne has that long blonde hair that just screamed "Put flowers in me!" and purple polka-dot attire. Master Dick has definitely been blasting Led Zeppelin II in his room.

Jack: I love this period of Batman in the comics, probably because it was when I was first exposed to the character and to comics in general. The first comic I recall reading was The Brave and the Bold 78, from 1968. Novick's art was more dynamic than compared to what we're seeing in the early '80s, and Giordano was always a fantastic inker. The story was quite entertaining, though when Dick flipped up the Shakespeare bust to show Daphne something, I was worried that he was going to take her down to the Batcave! That bust opened the door to the Batpoles in the TV show, did it not?

Next Week...
Jack and Peter will sift through the rubble
and try to determine if Don McGregor
delivers passionate social relevance or
just more pretentious nonsense.


andydecker said...

I wanted to do some scathing remark how Novick couldn't draw a good-looking woman, his Talia is just awful, but what Newton delivers in "Cat's Paw" is even worse. His Catwoman is cringe-inducing, and the woman in the last panel must be Talia's granny.

The bubble is lifted right out of "The Prisoner", and Falstaff is a boring character. There are a lot of doppelgangers in the Marvel/DC universes, and Falstaff is the Midas clone. (And Midas wasn't great to begin with.)

While I think Wolfman's work on the title is third-rate, at least he tries to do a "thriller" with this four-parter.

It is nice to see that Garcia-Lopez has arrived. I wonder how B&B rated in the DC hierarchy. Marvel Team Up always seemed to be an inventory/try-out book, but B&B got the better artists.

Jack Seabrook said...

I can’t believe I didn’t think of The Prisoner! Thanks for pointing that out!

B Smith said...

Dawgnabbit - I was not aware of this site back when you were doing the Batman in the 70's run....s'pose eight years is a bit late to be adding comments?

PS Disagree most strongly with andydecker re Irv Novick's drawings of the fairer sex. It's all va-va-voom as far as I'm concerned - that Daphne's a real gear bit o'totty, gorblimey.

Jack Seabrook said...

Comments are welcome any time!