Monday, January 18, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 19: July 1981

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

Batman #337

"Where Walks a Snowman"
Story by Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Steve Mitchell

One winter's evening in Gotham City, police are engaged in a standoff with a heavily-armed thief who has barricaded himself inside a sporting goods store. Batman appears and disarms the man, who is petrified that he will end up like his partner, Jackie, who was frozen to death like a human icicle. The thief explains that he and Jackie were robbing the store when they came upon a human snowman who was doing the same thing and who did not appreciate their interference.

Batman races back to Bruce Wayne's penthouse, where a party is in progress. One of the guests is a famous skier named Klaus Kristin. The next day, the snowman breaks into a jewelry store and steals precious jewels. Meanwhile, Batman investigates Kristin's apartment and finds his diary. Back at home, Bruce Wayne reads the book and learns that Kristin's mother was lost in the Himalayas in 1954 and ended up spending a passionate night with a Yeti. Bruce deduces that Kristin is headed for an Austrian ski resort, so the Dark Knight flies to Europe and leaves a note for Kristin in his room telling him to meet Batman at midnight on the slopes.

Recalling Rogers's work
At the stroke of midnight, Batman waits atop the slope on skis and the snowman attacks! While chasing Batman, the snowman explains that he steals because he needs money to travel most of the time in order to stay in cold climates. Batman causes the snowman to fall to his death (?) from a cliff and wonders if Kristin wanted to die.

Jack: I can only imagine what Peter will say, but I enjoyed this story. The art by Garcia-Lopez and Mitchell is superb and in spots reminded me of the great work Marshall Rogers did several years before on this strip. Of course it's silly that the abominable snowman has to go around robbing stores to get money to fly to chilly climes but, for some reason, I got pulled into the tale of Kristin's mother getting busy with the Yeti and Batman battling her monstrous son on the slopes.

Peter: "Where Walks a Snowman" is one dumb comic book story. Coincidence department: Bruce Wayne just happens to be playing host to the guy who just happens to be the newest super-villain in town. That would never happen, right? Batman stumbles across a frozen corpse and slushy footprints and mutters "Dear lord in heaven, what new form of villainy am I dealing with?" How come Mr. Freeze doesn't come to mind? And Gordon exclaiming that he's seen a lot of gruesome stuff in his career, but the human Popsicle takes the cake? This guy has led a sheltered career. But the biggest howler (literally) would have to be Kristin's mother's confession that she made whoopee with a Yeti and never knew the difference. How does that happen? Best dialogue of the issue is Krazy Kristin's exclamation to Bats: "Call me by my father's name! Call me snowman!" Never fear, Yeti followers, as Snowman will return in Detective #522.

"Murder on the Midway"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Larry Mahlstedt

Robin has traveled to Florida, where the Hills Circus is spending the winter, and after less than a day in the Sunshine State he has to investigate "Murder on the Midway"! He recalls arriving that morning, looking for a position as an aerialist, reconnecting with his friend Waldo the Clown, and meeting the other members of the circus. Among those performers is Cleveland Brand, who replaced his brother Boston as Deadman when the original performer was killed. While Dick is practicing on the trapeze, another clown, Jo-Jo Jones is shot and killed. Waldo is arrested on suspicion of murder, but Robin lurks at night and catches Lourna Hill, the circus owner, who may be guilty of murder!

Jack: Larry Mahlstedt, a new arrival at DC, gives a different look to Don Newton's pencils, one that I think works better on some pages than on others. The story itself is a tad confusing, and I had to go back over it a couple of times to try to figure out what Robin was doing at the circus. That said, stories where the Boy Wonder is at the big top and gets near a trapeze tend to be good ones; I read a fairly recent arc last year in the Wal-Mart 100-pagers where Nightwing got involved with a circus, and it was terrific. It's too bad this story had to be cut in half, but I'm looking forward to part two!

Peter: It's been a long, long time since I liked a back-up over the lead and I think I can tell you without checking my notes that's never happened in the case of the Robin strip. But put a competent team in charge of even the worst tripe and the material can become mighty tasty. Gerry manages to keep my interest and pique my curiosity. No way kindly Waldo pulled the trigger. That noir splash of Robin is poster-worthy, compliments of the fine talents of Messrs. Newton and Mahlstedt. 

The Brave and the Bold #176

"The Delta Connection!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Jim Aparo

When a safecracker named Albert Cowper is murdered, Batman is called to the scene and notices a strange mark on the dead man's chin: a triangle in a circle. Batman returns home and changes out of his cape and cowl to welcome a visit from Selina Kyle, who asks Bruce Wayne to get a message to Batman that Selina's sister, Felicia, is in a Louisiana prison. Selina heard that a hired killer is going to pose as a guard to murder Felicia!

Meanwhile, in the Louisiana bayou, a local man and his elderly mother take in a stranger on a rainy night. The local prison has had a jailbreak and Felicia Kyle is one of the escaped cons. She stopped by the man's home and stole some clothes earlier in the day. The two men head out to look for her, rifles in hand, and they witness her burying her prison uniform and running off. She trips and falls right next to the Swamp Thing, who was depressed and trying to take root, so when the men come after her, Swampy tries to protect her.

Batman happens to fly over in the Whirly-bat, but a stray shot from one of the men's rifles damages a blade and the Caped Crusader plummets into the mire. Swamp Thing saves Felicia but gets knocked out by the falling Whirly-bat; while he's out cold, he recalls his origin and the death of his wife, Linda. Batman pries the machine off of Swamp Thing and finds Felicia, who is dead from a broken neck. Swamp Thing wakes up confused, thinks Felicia is Linda, and he and Batman fight until the muck man comes to his senses. Swampy wanders off and sees Felicia's ghost, who gives him a clue: the word "Delta." What is "The Delta Connection"? Batman and Swamp Thing track the murderer to a houseboat and make quick work of the villain inside: the Gotham crime boss who killed Felicia because she knew where he had hidden stolen jewels in the bayou. The delta was his fraternity ring, which left a mark on Cowper's chin when the boss punched him.

Jack: It's a good thing Jim Aparo drew this story; in lesser hands, it would be a mess. There are too many coincidences and it's not clear why Batman is so interested in solving the murder of a safecracker. He just happens to fly over the right part of the bayou when Felicia is running from the killer and the brief fight between the Dark Knight and Swamp Thing is one of those mistaken identity situations that were so prevalent in Marvel Team-Up--just an excuse to see two heroes fight. Still, Swamp Thing is an improvement over last issue's partner, Lois Lane. An interesting note from editor Paul Levitz on the letters page: he writes that DC considers Batman stories before Julie Schwartz took over in 1964 to be adventures of the Earth-2 Batman. I always thought Earth-2 stories ended when the new Flash debuted in 1956. I think Levitz may be off here--if what he says is correct, the first years of the JLA featured the Earth-Two Batman.

Peter: There's a whole lot of boring expository in the last couple pages but at least we get some Swamp Thing, a character I've always liked, teamed up with the Dark Knight. Martin Pasko would become the initial writer of the rebooted Swamp Thing book, Saga of the... in mid-1982, before Alan Moore took over the following year and turned the title into a comic book institution. At this point in his career, between Wrightson and Moore, poor Swampy was meandering through the muck. Oddly enough, this is the first and only appearance of Felicia Kyle, Selina's sister. Gorgeous Kaluta cover, by the way.

Sadly, not the real
Queen Elizabeth!
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis and Inspector Boches of Scotland Yard enlist the aid of Shakespearean actor Lionel Burbage to prevent the Queen of England from being kidnapped. The crime appears to take place but it turns out the queen was really Nemesis's gal-pal Valerie in a disguise supplied by Nemesis.

Jack: I was glad to see Valerie get some action after she followed Nemesis all the way to England. It had seemed like she just sat around the hotel room all day waiting for him to take her to a show after he spent the daylight hours fighting crime. 

Peter: If you're thinking the title, "Endgame," could be the bearing of good news, forget it. This series has a loooooooong way to go and there's no use masking my disdain for both script and art. It never gets any better. Yes, I swear I read the thing, but I can find no more useful synonyms for sleep-inducing.


Detective Comics #504

"The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The Joker has escaped (yet again) from Arkham and the first stop on his "Welcome Back" tour is the toymaker who's devised lots of cunning little tricks for the lunatic's latest escapade. Toys in hand, the Master of Mirth ventilates poor Papetto and hoofs it, leaving a trail of mud for his old nemesis, the Dark Knight, to easily follow. With a hostile mayoral candidate spotlighting every move Batman makes, the need to capture the Joker becomes even more urgent.

With a little bit of detective work (after all, the Joker wants our hero to find him), the Caped Crusader tracks the Joker to an abandoned ice cream factory on the outskirts of Gotham. There, the Batman walks unwittingly into his arch-enemy's new "rumpus room," filled with deadly toys with only one aim: kill the Batman! So this is the master plan! But the coolest hero who ever walked the Earth scratches his noggin and comes up with a solution: turn the toys against each other. With his weapons disarmed, the Joker is helpless against a torrential downpour of rocky road ice cream, engineered by the Dark Knight.

The Joker escapes from Arkham and no one thinks to call Gordon?! That has to be the most unbelievable element in an entertaining (but disposable) adventure. Like a lot of Gerry Conway's scripts lately, "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!" feels heavily influenced by the 1960s TV show. Lots of outlandish props (toys that seem to be able to zero in on our hero despite being nothing but... toys) and locations (an ice cream factory that looks like an amusement park and, magically, still has a lot of ice cream stored in one of its vats!), along with cringing one-liners that would have felt very comfortable coming from the lips of Cesar Romero. The only hint that the Joker is a certified dangerous loon is the murder of the toymaker in the opening. Even the Batman has a smile or two in the finale.

Jack: Following another stellar Starlin cover, "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!" is thoroughly enjoyable and will be one of my best stories of the year. The opening sequence, where we don't see the Joker's face, is well done, but I was wondering where the stripes went that are usually on the Joker's pants! I like the little in-jokes (Levitz Town, Finger Alley) and the fact that the henchmen are named Mickey and Donald, and the big finish, with Batman battling the deadly toys, is quite satisfying. The art looks like the work of Neal Adams in spots (a good thing) and the finish, where Joker is covered in ice cream, is perfect.

"A Day in the Life of a Cop"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Commissioner Gordon suspects that one of his cops, Dave Larsen, whom he's known all his life, may be on the payroll of a notorious drug dealer in Gotham named "Sunshine." When both Larsen and Gordon are nabbed and threatened with death by Sunshine, Gordon manages to escape but the bent cop goes up in smoke.

One gargantuan cliche from page one to nine, this interminably long and boring "Tale of Gotham City" wears out its welcome by the second panel, when we're introduced to the obligatory jive-talkin', mo-fo black drug dealer, Sunshine. Paul Kupperberg was obviously dining on a steady feed of Starsky and Hutch and Baretta reruns rather than getting out and drawing inspiration from the city around him. How in the heck did Larsen escape suspicion living in a ritzy apartment (and dressing in lounge wear that Bruce Wayne would be proud to don), especially if Gordon was so close to this second-generation cop? The only event in this mess that elicits surprise in this reader was the fact that Larsen went out as a coward, rather than changing 180 degrees in one panel and laying down on the bomb to save lives. If Gotham City's untold stories involve many more like "A Day in the Life of a Cop," I'd say it's not an odyssey worth exploring.

Jack: A straightforward backup feature; nothing special. The black characters are stereotypical, demonstrating that--even in 1981, after Black Panther and Black Lightning--comics had a long way to go in their depiction of minorities. The artwork is more Giella than Delbo and looks very much like something from a 1960s' DC comic.

Andru & Giordano
The Best of DC #14

"This One'll Kill You, Batman!"
(Reprinted from Batman #260, February 1975)

"Half an Evil"
(Reprinted from Batman #234, August 1971)

"The Malay Penguin!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #473, November 1977)

"Riddler on the Move!"
(Reprinted from Batman #263, May 1975)

"The Curious Case of the Catwoman's Coincidences!"
(Reprinted from Batman #266, August 1975)

A special reprinting of five "classic" tales of the Rogues' Gallery, all presented in teensy-weensy digest format.

Jack: The size of the digest may be small, but the contents are mighty! Five above-average stories feature the Joker, Two Face, the Penguin, the Riddler, and the Catwoman. Looking back at my reviews of the stories when they first appeared, I see that I liked the Penguin story the best, surely due to the team of Englehart, Rogers, and Austin. The Two Face story had great Adams and Giordano art, and the other three were by Novick (two) and Chua (one). The constant is Dick Giordano, who inked four out of five selections. That's fitting, since he's taking over the job of editing the Bat titles we read each month.

The Andru/Giordano cover is eye-catching, but what I liked best about this digest was the new material: five, one-page origin stories of the five villains, all drawn by Denys Cowan and Giordano. Cowan was new at DC but will figure in the Batman saga later on. The quickie origins are neat, especially the one for Catwoman, which we've reproduced here.

Next Week!

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