Monday, December 14, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 17: May 1981

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

The Brave & the Bold #174

"To Trap an Immortal"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Aparo

Batman and Green Lantern travel through space in a big bubble with the Guardian in order "To Trap an Immortal." They arrive on Maltus and Green Lantern reunites with his friend, the Old Timer, who had been stripped of his immortality after journeying across America with Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The group then travels to Oa, where they and the Guardians are quickly attacked by a giant green knight brought to life by Sinestro.

Batman uses good-old-fashioned trickery to defeat the knight and then sends Green Lantern off on a secret mission. The Old Timer tricks Sinestro into revealing himself and the villain attacks, drawing huge amounts of energy from the power battery. Green Lantern returns with all the members of the Green Lantern Corps and, when they overwhelm the power battery, Sinestro is defeated and reverts to his true form. The Guardians offer to make the Old Timer immortal again as a reward, but he declines their offer, happy to experience getting old.

Jack: I was happy to see the brief summary of the classic Green Lantern issues by O'Neil and Adams and I enjoyed the interplay between Green Lantern, Batman, and the Old Timer. Sinestro never seems to present much of a menace here, but the team-up succeeds because Batman and Green Lantern work together and use their respective strengths to beat the bad guy. Aparo's art here is outstanding, making it a most enjoyable 17 pages.

Peter: If I'm to be completely honest, there's way too much Green Lantern mythology and battery-powered mumbo-jumbo for my tastes. I can't make heads or tails of what's going on. DC sci-fi hero tales have never been a big draw for me and "To Trap an Immortal" is definitely way too complicated for my little brain. I can, however, appreciate good artwork when it's thrust before me and Jim Aparo makes even a bunch of green yo-yos look like a million bucks.

"Bishop's Sacrifice"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Held at gunpoint by an agent of Scotland Yard, Nemesis fails to talk himself out of trouble and must resort to his fists to make his escape. As Valerie arrives in England to help Nemesis defeat the Council, Nemesis disguises himself as a portly Britisher and gains entrance to the home of Mr. Chesterton, only to discover a plot to kidnap British notables, including the queen. He locates two of Chesterton's flunkies, who plan to kidnap a bishop, but when Nemesis realizes that the same duo have nabbed Valerie, he decides he must save her and forget about the bishop.

Jack: The Nemesis series seems to chug along from story to story without ever seeming to go anywhere. The art by Dan Spiegle is easily the worst we're seeing in any of the DC comics we're reading for this series. Still, "Bishop's Sacrifice" isn't awful--it's just not very good.

Peter: This is tedious, boring claptrap with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I find it hard to believe Cary Burkett was much more interested than I am. The fact that "Nemesis" lasted so long as a back-up in The Brave and the Bold is gobsmacking. Spiegle's character features are interchangeable, making it all the more difficult to figure out exactly what is going on from panel to panel. Well, that is, if I wanted to know.

Batman #335

"The Lazarus Affair, Chapter 4:
Ashes to Ashes!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

When Ra's al Ghul offers Batman a choice between immortality or death for him and his friends, Batman wisely chooses to obey Ra's al Ghul, even though Ra's knows he's lying. Ra's admits to the Caped Crusader that he was really after Bruce Wayne's vast wealth and Batman changes his tune and spurns Ra's's offer of immortality. The Mutates overwhelm Batman and, fortunately, Robin and the gang manage to escape from the clutches of other Mutates and race to Batman's aid.

Batman narrowly escapes being transformed into a Mutate himself and Ra's is captured. Al Ghul is upset that his daughter Talia prefers Batman over her father, but when sniveling assistant Saltzer shoots Ra's, family loyalty takes precedence and Talia is subjected to a refreshing dip in the Lazarus Pit, which saves her life. Instead of acting sensibly and carting Ra's back to the U.S. to face the authorities, Batman dismisses all of his friends and engages in a one-on-one fight with al Ghul. Ra's lands in the Lazarus Pit and emerges in terrible pain and on fire; further fighting ends with Ra's again dumped in the Pit. This causes the volcanoes of Infinity Island to erupt and destroy the land mass, but not before Batman and Talia escape by helicopter.

Back in Gotham City, Talia announces to Bruce Wayne that she wants to see what it's like to grow old and she wants to do it on her own. Dick Grayson is ready to reconcile with his old pal and the two head outside to enjoy the sun.

Jack: It wasn't awful, but it wasn't very good, either. "Ashes to Ashes!" wraps up this four-issue story arc by killing off Ra's al Ghul, though I'm sure he'll find a way to come back. I found it puzzling that Batman would prefer to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Ra's rather than just take him along for a plane ride and turn him in. Where's the sense in that? Doesn't Batman have enough scars and broken bones? Why would Robin agree to this? "Oh, OK, Batman, we'll just head home now. Have fun fighting the immortal nut!" Also, Robin, Catwoman, and company round up a bunch of Mutates and take them back to the U.S. for treatment before the island blows up. That was fortunate! Good thing they didn't say, "Hey, Mutates, we'll send someone for you real soon. We've gotta go!" I do hope things improve next issue; the editor writes in the letters column that Roy Thomas takes over as new writer.

Peter: Hard to believe four issues were dedicated to this cheesy, melodramatic dreck. There's no real plot; Ra's stays undercover for three issues to attain what? The island he was already using and Bruce Wayne couldn't be bothered to know about. The properties of the Lazarus Pit remain a mystery to me. Ra's mentions he lies down in the pit to be resurrected after every death, but a few seconds in and he's burning to a crisp. Yet Bats is stuffed into the pit for what seems to be the same amount of time and his cowl doesn't even singe. Perhaps there's a Lazarus Pit website I can google that will give me the full rules. This is Marv's final script for Batman and, after a one-issue fill-in by Bob Rozakis, Gerry Conway will come in to attempt a resuscitation. Hopefully, he'll use his skills as a storyteller, rather than the Lazarus Pit, to attempt that feat.

Detective Comics #502

"Who Shot Mlle. Marie?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton

As Julia and her sympathizers prepare to execute Alfred for the murder of Mlle. Marie, Batman works his way free from his bindings. After a brief tussle, Bats makes Julia promise not to kill Alfred until he comes back with proof of the butler's innocence. The Dark Knight heads to the Sûreté, where he speaks to top inspector Dupre. The officer's tips lead Batman to visit Marie's half-sister, now dying in the hospital, as Bruce Wayne. Mlle. Revel explains that Marie suspected one of her freedom fighters was actually a double-agent for the Nazis--a man named Roget, the man Revel suspects was her sister's assassin. Revel further confesses that she'd saved the bullet she pulled from Marie's shoulder in hopes that it could be matched to the assailant's gun.

Just as the woman finishes her story, bullets riddle the room. Bruce changes into something more comfortable and chases the gunman back to Revel's house, where he discovers Inspector Dupre searching for the bullet. Dupre explains that he knew the jig was up and it was only a matter of time before Marie gave him up as a turncoat, so he had to silence her. Another short scuffle ensues and the Batman makes short work of Dupre/Roget. Back at the barn where Alfred is about to meet his maker, the Dark Knight introduces his prisoner (and the gun that may have killed Marie) to Julia and her buddies. Julia asks the Caped Crusader why Alfred never defended himself against the accusations; a look of understanding passes between master and servant and Bats shakes his head: "'I don't know, Julia, and does it matter?'"

At the airport, Alfred thanks Jacques, Julia's foster father, for not spilling the secret that Alfred is actually Julia's father. He supported her for years, didn't want to disrupt her childhood by invading her life, and didn't know she existed until she was two years old (and a whole lot of other expository nonsense). Alfred and Lucius board the plane and take off, leaving the Batman behind to look on pensively.

Peter: There's a lot to like in "Who Shot Mlle. Marie," but I'll be the first to acknowledge there are logic holes large enough to comfortably house several troops of freedom fighters. The espionage and Roget reveal are handled well; there's a lot of suspense and action. We, of course, never fear for Alfred's life, nor do we suspect for even a nanosecond that maybe he put a bullet in his lover all those years ago. The art is dazzling; Newton's Batman is about as close as you'll get to Bernie Wrightson's and the support characters and background fill-ins (two aspects of the artwork that most of the Bats visualizers tend to ignore) have as much detail and care lavished on them as the foregrounds. 

But let's just talk about those plot holes and unanswered questions for a moment. Alfred comes off as supremely selfish, rather than a caring father from afar, for not owning up to his part in the making of little Julia. Are you telling me our trustworthy Alfred Pennyworth has been sending hush money overseas for thirty-five years instead of maybe asking Master Bruce if he can bring the tyke over for a better upbringing? It's obvious this girl has been one bitter fille all her life; possibly a little TLC was in order? And what's with Jacques standing around with his mouth shut while Julia gets ready to string her own Pop up for a murder Jacques knows he couldn't have committed? Perhaps the oddest bit about this story is the actual fate of Mlle. Marie, who got up in the middle of the night, mere hours after childbirth, and abandoned her newborn daughter to rejoin her fellow fighters. At least that's what I got from the narrative. And it's hinted at that the body may not have been Marie's. Might we learn that our favorite little machine-gun-toting spark plug survived and may well be the focus of some shocking expose down the road? 

Jack: I sure hope so! I found this two-part story to be a delightful surprise after having read so many DC War comics. Who would have expected Mlle. Marie to be referenced in Detective in 1981? I knew she wasn't dead! I love the speedy investigation by Batman and Bruce Wayne and was shocked to learn that Alfred fathered a daughter with Marie! Alfred, you dog! I'll bet Marie returns eventually.

"To Live a Nightmare!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Dr. Voodoo kidnaps darling little Tracy Dover and uses the moppet to lure Batgirl into a trap. But Babs has had enough of being afraid and overcomes her demons just in time to wallop the big, bad voodoo daddy and save the day.

Peter: I really liked the first chapter of this two-parter, but the conclusion is nothing more than a rushed wrap-up. The fear factor that held Babs/Batgirl in a tight vise last issue seems to have diminished to nothing more than a case of the shakes here. Biggest larf for me this issue was Babs's boss, Mr. Stein, pulling his gorgeous, red-headed employee into his office and explaining that he knows the trial may have put a dent in Barbara's schedule and a few essential items might be a tad late, but now is the time to batten down the hatches and get to work. That special report on the city's transit system is due this afternoon! Minutes after agreeing to the old man's request, Babs is back to swinging across town, Transit Report be damned! 

Jack: Cary Burkett's back-up stories this month are not impressive and show just how hard it must have been to pump out comic tales one after the other. Did the villain die in the fall? Batgirl doesn't seem too concerned. The art recalls Don Heck's work on Batgirl in the '70s in spots and the last two panels, where the little girl tells Batgirl all is well, reminded me of those Hostess ads that seem to appear in every DC comic around this time.


Peter: As is our wont around here, we present the annual circulation numbers for the three regular titles (along with the previous years' numbers, so you can see how the comic world was faring); the figures published in 1981 actually reflect on how the title sold during the previous twelve months.

Jack: I'll bet the numbers are so low for Detective because of the $1.00 cover price.


1980: 129,426
1979: 166,640
1978: 125,421

Brave and the Bold

1980: 109,307
1979: 153,034
1978: 121,563

Detective Comics

1980: 64,762
1979: 79,872
1978: 129,792

Next Week...
Skeates and Corben
Do Not Let Us Down!


andydecker said...

It is hard to believe that Batman sold twice as many issues as Detective. The only reason can be the price. The quality of the book is sad. Each writer of the time has done his share of duds, but Marv's work on the book was especially weak. Hard to believe that this is the same man who made "New Teen Titans" a bestseller.

Personally I am of the opinion that none of the other ex-Marvel writers who found a new home at DC at the time did outstanding work. Thomas and Moench were especially disappointing, Len Wein was at best okay.

Conway was the most dependable of the group. I wouldn't call his Bat books spectacular, but they held a certain level of quality.

Detective #502 is well done. Newton manages to draw around the absurdity of having Batman running around the French countryside. The whole story is hard to believe, in wartime someone is saving a bullet as a piece of evidence? Frankly this is as farfetched as some of Conway's Law&Order episodes much later. But the idea that Alfred has been the lover of Mme Marie is a nice one and a sign how much the content changed.

Jack Seabrook said...

Good point, Andy. There were definitely more--if not adult, then teenage--themes popping up. I think circulation numbers were tied to price and distribution rather than quality. I have a vague recollection that there were never as many of the dollar comics for sale where I bought them.

John said...

May I add a question about Batman #335 : How many dumps in the Lazarus Pit can cause the volcanoes of Infinity Island to erupt ?
I had heard about Teen Titans and the famous Deathstroke story so I expected better from Marv Wolfman too.
The Mlle Marie story was an enjoyable little spy thriller. I disagree with the Peter's point about Alfred. He may be presented as a calm and harmless butler but he has an espionage past in MI6, so a child far away could be in character.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. I had the same thought about Marv Wolfman. His Teen Titans stories are great but this Batman arc was disappointing.