Monday, March 15, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 23: November 1981

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

Batman #341

"The Ghost of Wayne Mansion"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

A kid enters Wayne Manor on a dare and runs out in terror, claiming that it's haunted by a ghost! The police decide to investigate and, since the old home of Bruce Wayne is now run by the Gotham Historical Society, Commissioner Gordon ignores Bruce Wayne's refusal to permit a search and gets permission anyway.

Meanwhile, a mysterious man attends a meeting of Gotham's movers and shakers to announce that one of the candidates running for mayor is in his pocket and had better win.

Batman rushes to Wayne Manor, concerned that the search will reveal the Batcave and blow his cover. Commissioner Gordon has enlisted the services of Dr. Thirteen, noted ghost-breaker, to look for "The Ghost of Wayne Mansion," but Batman foils the search and convinces Gordon to let him conduct it alone. In the Batcave, Batman discovers Man-Bat, who seems out of control, and Dr. Thirteen soon finds Man-Bat standing over the Caped Crusader.

Jack: So is it Wayne Manor or Wayne Mansion? It depends on what page you're reading. My default is Manor, mainly because I hear William Dozier's voice in my head intoning "Stately Wayne Manor." The writing in this story is shaky and it's not clear why the cops would care if a kid trespassing on Bruce Wayne's property said it was haunted. Doesn't Gordon have bigger fish to fry? Dr. Thirteen had been popping up at DC on and off for three decades, but he doesn't have much to do in this story. The new Batcave, which is under the Wayne Foundation building, sports the giant trophies: big playing card, giant penny, dinosaur. Wasn't it about time to Marie Kondo those items?

Time for Alfred to load up the Batmobile
and make a trip to Goodwill.

Peter: Thank goodness Gerry decided to make this more than just another "ghost in Wayne Manor" story. I swear we've seen that one a dozen times before. Since Man-Bat is one of my favorite villains/heroes of the 1970s, the wade through the silly Scooby-Doo territory was worth it. But the meat on the bone doesn't arrive until next issue. Better be good. The Irv/Frank team continue to churn out so-so graphics; their Batman and Man-Bat are well-drawn but the support crew--not so much.

"Murder Will Out"
Story by Robin Snyder
Art by Adrian Gonzales

Lucille Sawyer is stabbed in the back with a pair of scissors while sitting at her desk. Batman interviews the suspects and quickly determines that the killer was her husband, Ronald.

Jack: A two-page whodunit called a "Just a Moment Mystery," "Murder Will Out" demonstrates that sometimes ads are not the worst thing to be found in a comic book. I had to read the darn thing three times to figure out what happened and it still doesn't make much sense.

"Night of the Coven"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Mike DeCarlo

"Um, no, sorry, I think I'll wait for the next truck."
One night, out in the Virginia countryside, Robin tackles a mysterious figure in a purple-hooded outfit and takes his place in order to infiltrate a coven of witches. He discovers that they are about to sacrifice a young woman! Thinking back to how he got there, Robin recalls saying goodbye to his friends at the carnival and hitching a ride with a spooky truck driver named Sharkey. Robin noticed a devil tattoo on the man's hand and followed him after being dropped off; the Teen Wonder discovered that this was the "Night of the Coven" and he intended to foil their plans. Before he can do so, he is conked on the head from behind.

Jack: By default, this is the best story in this issue, though that's not saying much. Poor Trevor von Eeden's name is misspelled in the credits as "Eden"; his art is decent but nothing special. The story is one we've read many times before. 

Peter: Not much to say about the lightweight two-page whodunit other than to note that Robin Snyder would go on to publish one of the best fanzines no one's ever seen, Robin Snyder's History of Comics, a little zine that ran for twenty years and is now very rare and valuable. The info inside was also valuable, running the gamut from checklists to interviews to columns by comics royalty. Snyder really should collect the whole thing between covers. I liked the Robin back-up, perhaps because this latest incarnation has a bit more edge to it than those old Boy Wonder quickies (y'know, where our favorite sidekick would search of all of Hooterville for Mrs. Davis's missing laundry?), and I like this Von Eeden cat (even if his style is muzzled a bit by DeCarlo's inks). I won't resort to cliches and say I'm dying to read Part Two of "Night of the Coven," but I won't mind finding out what's next.

The Brave and the Bold #180

"The Scepter of the Dragon God!"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Jim Aparo

A new museum exhibit of artifacts from Japan includes a mysterious rod and some Samurai armor. When the rod begins to glow, the armor comes to life and a night watchman is killed. Batman happens on the scene and knocks out the Samurai, only to find the armor empty! The curator informs Batman that it looks like the ancient Dragon Wizard has been revived and is on the loose.

It seems the Wizard was defeated in an epic battle in feudal Japan and "The Scepter of the Dragon God!" was broken into three parts and hidden in separate places. The Wizard now has one of the pieces and has flown off to find a second. That second piece is being auctioned off that night, and Lt. Jim Corrigan is in attendance to provide security. The Wizard shows up and Corrigan is quickly replaced by his alter-ego, the Spectre, who finds that the Wizard's powers are a match for his own.

The Wizard transports himself to Japan and grabs part three of the scepter; Batman and the Spectre are hot on his heels and an epic battle ensues. The Spectre comes close to being killed but a well-thrown Batarang disarms the Wizard and some liquid explosive ensures that the scepter is destroyed. The Wizard disintegrates and the day is saved, with the Spectre telling Batman that he owes him big time.

Peter: I love Batman! I love the Spectre! I love Jim Aparo! I love Michael Fleisher! Throw all the ingredients in the blender and you get a big honking success, right? Wrong. Fleisher must have been declawed at the end of the '70s; this has to be one of the tamest (and lamest) MF scripts I've read. It's also clearly too short. It tries to build a bit of suspense but by the time that rolls around it's time to put a bow on it. I'm still not sure exactly what the villain's plan was.

Jack: You're right that 19 pages isn't enough space to tell this story, but I don't think we should fault Fleisher--it probably should have been a two-parter. Aparo does a fine job drawing the Spectre and some of the panels in the final battle remind me of the late-'60s Spectre comics, especially the issues with early art by Neal Adams. Happily (and somewhat surprisingly), there is little to no awkward racism in the story (save the night watchman's use of "Jap") and, while the story does jump around a bit and rush toward a conclusion, I enjoyed seeing the Spectre once again.

"Be Still, My Trembling Heart!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis has locked himself in the bathroom! Valerie wonders why. She doesn't know it's because he's worked up about the gizmo wrapped around his chest that he can't remove and that could trigger a heart attack. Nemesis pressures a small-time crook to find out who designed the gizmo, but when our hero visits the home of the technical wizard he is caught in the act and the heart attack-inducing unit is triggered, leaving Nemesis writing on the floor.

Peter: Whenever "Batman reading time" rolls around, inexorably "Nemesis" is always the last box to check. I really hate this series and the art gives me a headache. That said, "Be Still..." at least has a tolerable script (compared to its preceding chapters) and a few high points. Ferinstance, I thought it very cool that Nemesis paid Roadrunner's debt for the info he provided rather than treat him like Batman would. That's gotta be good for an extra half-star, I guess.

Jack: I had a hard time getting over the first few pages where Nemesis locks himself in the bathroom and won't tell Valerie why. The small-time crook is named Roadrunner and is African-American, with the usual "pimp" getup of big hat and fancy clothes, but (fortunately) Burkett and Spiegle don't go too far down the road of caricature with him. It amazes me that the Nemesis series survived as long as it did when the stories and art were so pedestrian.

Detective Comics #508

"Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Batman appears at Selina Kyle's apartment, only to discover his sweetie is missing and her cats haven't been fed in days. The only clue is a pile of strange dust on the floor. Dust and cats in hand, the Dark Knight heads back to the Batcave for some milk and cat chow for his feline friends. Studying the dust under his microscope, our hero studies the musty material and deduces that his squeeze was kidnapped by an ancient mummy (no, seriously, he deduces that!). As Bruce Wayne, Batman visits the Gotham Metropolitan Museum and discovers that its chief Egyptologist, Gregory Griffin, is missing and his office is in a sad state of disarray. Investigating further, Bruce finds a hidden room with a photo of Selina Kyle adorning one wall. Stalker alert! Griffin's assistant tells Bruce that the woman in the photo is a dead ringer for the long-dead Queen Kara. Only one place to go, he tells Alfred, and that's Egypt!

Once there, Bruce affirms that both Selina and Griffin were seen by officials entering Cairo, but no other info is forthcoming. Batman heads out to one of the sphinxes and "instinctively knows" that Griffin is somewhere in the vicinity, but his thoughts are interrupted by a pack of jackals. Wisely, Batman crawls up the sphinx's face to avoid the nasty predators and accidentally opens a hidden door in one of the nostrils. The Caped Crusader slides down a chute and into a lit chamber. There, in the middle of the room, is Selina, dolled up in ancient Egyptian dress and in a deep sleep. Griffin enters the chamber and tells Batman that he's actually the reborn pharaoh (Khafre, Lord of the Nile), and he's about to put himself and Selina into an even deeper sleep for eternity.

Batman objects, but Khafre/Griffin starts blasting with a "solar scepter" and Bats, afraid of igniting the musty old mummies in the chamber, surrenders to the nutty pharaoh. Khafre wraps Bats in mummy bandages and throws him into an open sarcophagus, muttering about the upcoming long sleep and Tanna leaves. As soon as Khafre lies down on his slab to get ready for the great beyond, Bats cuts through his bandaging and cleans the pharaoh's clock. Grabbing Selina, the Dark Knight Detective escapes through the hidden nostril but Khafre catches up to them and a scuffle ensues. Griffin loses his power medallion, which controls the killer jackals, and the beasts devour him before Batman's eyes. The next day, ready to leave, Selina tells Bruce they have to talk about their future.

And starring Alice Cooper as the Pharaoh
 "Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!" is a weak one-off with lots of vagaries, coincidences, and silly expository. I mentioned this when Bruce and Bats ended up in London at the same time and possibly when the both of them were spotted in Alaska during the "Moon of the Wolf II" story, but it bears mentioning again: just how stupid is the world around Bruce Wayne? Bruce hops a plane to Cairo and, voila, there's Batman. Never mind the dopey population, what about Selina? How could she, of all people, not put two and two together? And how did Griffin get Selina into Cairo without her scratching his eyes out? Was she drugged when they flew in? Some sloppy plotting here. I'm still enjoying the Newton/Adkins team very much; their work is starting to resemble that of Val Mayerik more and more each issue. I consider that a good thing, by the way.

Jack: Good art makes a shaky story so much easier to bear, doesn't it? The plot has holes bigger than the Sphinx's nostrils, but I so enjoy anything to do with Ancient Egypt that I didn't mind. Putting Batman on the Sphinx is a great idea visually, and Newton and Adkins keep the page designs interesting by varying the panel layouts. The shot of Batman bursting out of his wrappings in shadow on page 15 is especially cool. I also like the continuity we're seeing across the books and from issue to issue; Conway makes sure to remind us of the mayoral race in a brief sequence, which reminds us of the mysterious scene in Batman with the former Arkham inmate trying to fix the race.

Skeazy Jeff on his way to the
set of Insatiable.
"The Attack of the Annihilator!"
Story by Cary Burkett & Wendy Beraud
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Geologist Kenneth Anderson discovers a "completely unique specimen" of mineral and is blasting it with Proton/Photon/Whatzit rays. When the beam hits the surface, the rock emits some kind of sheer energy force, transforming Anderson into "The Annihilator!" Batgirl heads out to stop the evil genius, but he blasts her and she falls to her death... well, it would have been her death had not Supergirl been in the area. Supergirl gently sets Babs on a rooftop and heads back into the action, but the Annihilator has some kind of sheer energy force locked within him that saps the juices out of his enemies. Supergirl falls limp in the evil genius's arms. Could this be the end of Supergirl?

Peter: "The Attack of the Annihilator!" is truly awful stuff. Anderson falls victim not to a tiny piece of rock but to the oldest and most cliched origin in comic books: the experiment gone wrong! The low-budget result is a very big head (perhaps because the poor dope hasn't had the time to stop in at the local Villain Warehouse for a costume). I've hammered Delbo/Giella (and will continue to do so) but, great gosh almighty, does this art suck or what? Supergirl actually looks like she's on her way to the buffet in one panel and a victim of Anorexia in the next. And if I was Babs, I'd keep an eye on motorcycle whiz Jeff cuz he's starting to look a lot like some of those early '80s porn stars. There's a letter this issue from Fred Hembeck, who would become the Weird Al Yankovic of comic books very soon afterwards.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
came a little early in 1981.

Jack: It's tough to rate some of these backup stories fairly. Is this worse than the Nemesis story in The Brave and the Bold? Is the story worse? How about the art? I don't love what Delbo and Giella are doing, but it's definitely a step up from Spiegle's work. It's weird that Supergirl pops up in this story and Batgirl is relegated to a bystander role. The bad guy with the big head reminds me of a cover (I think from Action) in the late '60s when Superman's head got big and bald after his brain expanded. Those were the days.

Next Week...
Seven stories based on one painting!
Great idea or waste of paper?


Yankee Cowboy said...

Darn, I wish you both would have liked Batman #341 more, as it was only one of a handful or so Batman/Detective issues I owned as a youngster.

You're right though, the Ghost/Monster story had been done before- in DC #438 for one. That previous story was a somewhat important one in the canon I guess, but in my humble (and biased) opinion, it's not clearly superior to TGIWM.

Jack Seabrook said...

I completely understand how your love for a comic as a kid can color your opinion of it as an adult. Believe me, we all have our examples!

turafish said...

I almost spit water all over my phone with the captions on this post... Alice Cooper!!! Bwaahahaha! Well done again, men!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Joe!