Monday, January 4, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 18: June 1981

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

Batman #336

"While the Bat's Away..."
Story by Bob Rozakis & Roy Thomas
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Frank McLaughlin

Where is Batman? The Caped Crusader hasn't been heard from in weeks and third-tier villains like the Bouncer and the Spellbinder are running wild in Gotham City. A crook who calls himself the Monarch of Menace claims to have Batman locked up, so the other bad guys are tithing to him. Suddenly, Batman returns, surprising Alfred in the Batcave but providing no explanation for his absence.

Batman gets back to work, stopping a robbery by the Cluemaster and overhearing another bunch of crooks mention the Monarch of Menace. Soon, Batman begins to edge back into the public view and foils a robbery attempt by the Spellbinder. The Monarch of Menace tells a group of grade-Z baddies that he plans to execute Batman tonight, but one of them turns out the be the Dark Knight himself, wearing a disguise. Batman beats up several crooks who don't run away first, then he faces down the Monarch of Menace, whose attempt to throttle Batman fails miserably. Commissioner Gordon is relieved to have his favorite crime fighter back in town!

Jack: If this wasn't scripted by Roy Thomas, it would qualify as a bomb. Roy has a history of digging up obscure characters from the past, but the villains he revives in this story should've stayed obscure. It's fine to dig up a forgotten character if you have something to do with him (like Marv Wolfman did with the Psycho-Pirate in Crisis on Infinite Earths), but "While the Bat's Away..." merely throws a bunch of boring villains at the reader for no good reason. Batman's disappearance is never explained, so it becomes frustrating that everyone is so worried about him. The art is good but not up to the level of Newton or Aparo. 

Peter: After a long and fruitful career at Marvel, wherein he became one of the most respected writers and editors in the business, and almost single-handedly created the sword-and-sorcery funny book, Roy Thomas arrives at DC for a very short, three-year scripting stint (before once again returning to Marvel) and an even briefer run on Batman (actually this is the only issue Roy scripts and he'll pop in only to handle plot assists a few times). It's an old and sordid story (and one that isn't all that relevant except to throw barbs again), but the reason Roy left Marvel was Jim Shooter. Soon, just about every reasonable creator would follow Thomas out the door. It's too early to tell if Rascally Roy has a handle on DC's most famous character (Superman? Puh-leaze!), and this first installment is "plotted" by Bob Rozakis, but I was a big fan of Roy's 1960s and '70s Marvel work, so he's got a really long leash as far as I'm concerned. One thing that has definitely improved is the artwork. With Garcia-Lopez joining the Bat-title team, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to turn these pages. There is one big boner that sticks out like... a big boner. Alfred mentions that he really shouldn't have hung out in Europe so long and that Master Bruce obviously needed him home, but it was Bats/Wayne who stayed and Alfie who hopped that early plane back in 'tec #502. An editor who wasn't heading out the door (exit Paul Levitz, enter Dick Giordano) probably would have caught that one.

The Brave and the Bold #175

"The Heart of the Monster"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Jim Aparo

Batman discovers Superman villain Metallo on the roof of the Gotham City branch of S.T.A.R. Labs and the two have a knock-down, drag-out fight that ends (temporarily) when Metallo bathes Batman in Kryptonite rays from his chest gizmo. The next day, Lois Lane arrives at Bruce Wayne's office, looking to get in touch with Batman. It seems John Crenshaw, a fugitive from justice, wants to give himself up to the authorities in exchange for protection from Metallo.

That night, Batman shows up at Lois's hotel room and, when she keeps a midnight appointment to meet Crenshaw down by the docks, Metallo grabs Crenshaw and Batman is waiting for him. Batman and Metallo resume their fight, but this time Metallo knocks out Batman and takes off with him on his hovercraft thingy. Batman wakes up in Metallo's hideout, where the cyborg explains that his robot body is leaking radiation that is harming his human bits and he needs Crenshaw to fix him up.

Left alone, Batman unties his bonds. Meanwhile, Lois tracks Metallo to S.T.A.R. Labs and Batman finds himself fighting and defeating a giant robot at the same location, while Crenshaw works to repair Metallo and Lois pokes around. Batman surprises Metallo and is being killed by Kryptonite rays when Lois swings in from above and kicks Metallo in the head. Fortunately, Crenshaw rigged up Metallo's repaired suit to malfunction, and everyone is saved.

Jack: Even a super-villain like Metallo should know not to trust a crooked scientist! "The Heart of the Monster" is a fairly entertaining 17-page story that features excellent art by the reliable Jim Aparo and a nonsensical effort to shoehorn Lois Lane into a team-up with Batman. I know Lois is an independent woman, but wouldn't it make more sense to enlist the aid of Superman in dealing with Metallo? Batman basically gets his rear end kicked throughout the story by the cyborg. I had to resort to Wikipedia a couple of times when reading this one--first to refresh myself on Metallo and second to figure out why S.T.A.R. Labs is in Gotham City. Mission accomplished!

Peter: Say what you will about Marvel but I don't think they'd have ever scraped the bottom of the barrel with a "Hulk and Betty Brant" team-up. Of what use is Lois in this match-up? Eye candy is about it. The script is clunky, boring, and expository and some of the sentences don't exactly flow off the characters' tongues ("Do you see this glow? It's from a defect in my robot body that caused a radiation leak from my uranium heart that's eating away at my brain!"). All this information and yet Paul Kupperberg can't give us a *(Metallo stutters due to his radioactive brain leak). At least the "Next Issue" blurb gives me hope that we'll be back on track.

Nemesis: feminist?
"Queen: En Prise!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis rescues Valerie and then gains the trust of a man from Scotland Yard by delivering a crook to him. Explaining that the logical result of the series of kidnappings must be the abduction of the Queen of England, Nemesis is surprised to find that the Bishop of Winchester has been returned safely home. A car chase follows and Nemesis and his Scotland Yard pal strategize about ending the kidnappers' plot.

Jack: Another stinker from Burkett and Spiegle, "Queen: En Prise!" just eats up eight pages without anything interesting happening. The art is as bad as ever. This issue's letters page includes missives from readers who seem to like this series, so maybe we're missing something.

Peter: I'm sorry, but I can't work up any enthusiasm for this series, which continues to be unreadable and directionless, Perhaps if the art was handled by someone a bit more... stylish... than Dan Spiegle I could fake it but, alas... I won't say Nemesis makes me pine for the days of a Robin back-up but Batgirl is looking pretty good right about now.

Jim Starlin
Detective Comics #503

"The 6 Days of the Scarecrow"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

While quashing what appears to be a typical heist in Gotham, Batman is shot with a mysterious dart by an unknown assailant. The next day, during a lunch with Commissioner Gordon, Bruce Wayne watches quizzically as Gordon and everyone around Wayne react in horror at his very presence. 

Meanwhile, the "unknown assailant," the Scarecrow is getting together a group of henchmen at a rural barn; there he shows off his new fear formula, a toxin that affects not the host but anyone within a few yards of the victim.

Back at stately Wayne Manor, Batman is taking liquid lunches, slid under his door by a petrified Alfred, who is told by his Master to give Dick Grayson a call and get him on the case. Dick, in turn, calls Batgirl and the duo head to New Jersey to hop in the Batmobile and drive to Gotham. On the way, the Batrobberyalarmsystemthingie vibrates and Robin informs Babs they have to make a pitstop at Gotham Trade Center, a fancy mall that's being taken over by.... suhprize, suhprize, suhprize... the Scarecrow and his men (no, I'm not going to go back into my theory that the Gotham villains belonged to a union that forbid any two super-baddies to terrorize at the same time)! Robin is hurt during the scuffle and the Scarecrow gets away. Babs grabs the kid and heads back to the lab (located where?), where the pair analyze Batman's mysterious dart, with the Dark Knight communicating with the kids on a video screen.

The clues lead Batgirl and Robin right to the farm where Scarecrow is hiding and the heroes are quickly ambushed and captured. Batman realizes that if you want a job done right, you gotta do it yerself, and hops into the "spare" Batmobile (the one with a "faulty transmission") to save his proteges' hide. The usual fisticuffs ensue but the titanic trio emerge triumphant and Jonathan Crane heads back to his room in Arkham.

Peter: The art for "6 Days of the Scarecrow" is gorgeous, as usual, when you've got Newton and Adkins manning the tiller, but I'm really disappointed with Gerry's script. The Scarecrow is one of my Top Ten favorite comic villains and he's wasted here with a plot that doesn't make much sense. Is it just the sight of Bats that drives people crazy or is there a scent, or what? I like the concept of the fear dart that works outside its host, but I need some rules. The villain's attack on the mall seems short-sighted. This poison could reduce all of Gotham to weak-kneed scaredy-cats, but he decides to knock off a Nordstrom's?  And how dumb is Bats that he couldn't figure out right from the get-go who was behind a formula that scares folks? At least we have the artwork to stare at. Page 21(->), in particular, really floated my Bat-boat. I can't leave without mentioning that Gerry was given the assignment to write the story based on Jim Starlin's stunning cover art, which may explain the paltry script.

Jack: I thought this was an excellent story and I agree with you that the cover is striking and unusual, while the interior art is outstanding. I also like the Scarecrow, but I thought this was a much better story than you did. It reminded me of something we'd read much closer to today, with more adult themes than we're seeing in the other two books we're reading. I was happy to see Robin and Batgirl along for the ride, but why would a guy who can come up with a universal antidote not make sure his back-up Batmobile's transmission is in good working order? When the writer has Batman mention the faulty transmission, one would think the car would break down, but it never comes into play.

Next Week...
Who is the half-nekkid
jungle chick known as


andydecker said...

Happy New Year to all! Nice to have you back.

While I had to grin about "Hulk and Betty Brant" - what an idea! - Lois had tradition. I will never understand how DC could pump out so many issues of "Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane" and staying sane, but she had some profile as the only non-powered heroine. So I guess it had to happen.

Roy Thomas' short career at DC is still kind of sad. Of course this is a matter of taste and perspective and I guess books like All-Star Squadron, JSA or Captain Carrot had its fans, but his work for DC is underwhelming. And he never seemed to got his sparkle back after this. I can't remember enjoying his work when he went back to Marvel, even his Conan just was competent at best.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy! I quit reading comics by 1980, so this is all new to me. I only returned as an adult, catching up on "big events" in the '90s and '00s and then getting sucked back into the vortex by Peter!

John said...

Regarding "The 6 Days of the Scarecrow" and the fear formula of Scarecrow I think what makes people scared is just the sight of the injected person or object. Except 2 cases where touch was involved (Gordon and a secretary at Wayne Foundation) all the other scares were by just looking at the injected person/object. There is still a huge difference in quality between Batman and Detective issues as you have mentioned many times in the past. This amazing Detective issue proves it one more time.
Finally I love the continuity pieces Conway throws regarding mayoral elections, candidates Reeves & Hill and everything around it. It's interesting to focus on something in Gotham other than Batman and police for a change.

Jack Seabrook said...

Agreed. Batman is in a slump right now!