Monday, March 29, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 24: December 1981 + The Best of 1981


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

Denys Cowan & Dick Giordano
Batman #342

"Requiem for a Hero"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

When Dr. Thirteen discovers Man-Bat attacking Batman in the old Batcave below Wayne Manor, the ghost breaker bonks Man-Bat in the head with his trusty sonar gun, only to find himself attacked in return. Batman uses the sonar gun like a siren at a rock concert and Man-Bat flies off to parts unknown. Dr. Thirteen is rushed to the hospital, where Commissioner Gordon loses his cool with Batman because he received a nasty letter.

Bruce Wayne gets bad news from Lucius Fox about Poison Ivy's bid to take over Wayne Foundation, while Boss Thorne stews about the fact that his favorite mayoral candidate is trailing in the polls. He sees an image of Hugo Strange, a man he killed, and wonders why. Bruce Wayne visits the home of Man-Bat's alter-ego, Kirk Langstrom, in Crime Alley; his wife provides a capsule summary of the history of Man-Bat and reports that hubby went nuts a week before when he overdosed on bat-gland serum.

That night, Batman explores the network of caves around the old Batcave and finds Man-Bat; they fight for a while and Batman gives Man-Bat an antidote that doesn't seem to work, so the hero/villain flies off deeper into the cave.

A surprisingly nice panel in a poorly-drawn story.

Peter: Aside from the overlong and clunky expository, I thought "Requiem for a Hero" was an enthralling thriller. That happens when you've got a great villain and Man-Bat, ambiguous as his status is, makes for a great villain. Glad that Gerry didn't feel the need to wrap the saga up with another miracle cure. Let's just let it hang out there for a while; that way we don't have to read yet another excuse for why Langstrom went bad again. I'd have liked this one even more if the art didn't smell like the salmon you found in your fridge after three weeks. And let's hear it for the superhero's best friend: amnesia! Didn't see that one coming, did we kids? I love Gordon's temper flare: "Blasted caped menace!" indeed!

Jack: Where's Gene Colan? Novick and McLaughlin's artwork this issue is sub-par, even for them, and it detracts from the enjoyment of the story. There are a bunch of subplots interweaving here, and that's a plus, because the main story is a dud. Man-Bat took too much Bat-gland and went off the deep end. Didn't his wife think to let anyone know? And why are they living in Crime Alley, which is now a slum? I'm looking forward to Colan's return next issue.

"Burn, Robin, Burn"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Frank Chiaramonte

The devil-worshipers have Robin tied upside-down to a cross and are about to sacrifice a somnolent blonde, but the Teen Wonder manages to rock and roll his way to freedom, steal the truck from the leader of the coven, and take off down the highway with blondie.

Peter: Beating the odds, "Burn, Robin, Burn" (with soundtrack courtesy of Silver Convention) is even better than its opening chapter last issue. That's due 75% to this Von Eeden kid, whose new inker, Frank Chiaramonte, allows his Gene Colan-influenced style to breathe and soar. The plot and outcome could have been stronger but I like this darker-edged Boy Wonder.

Jack: It's definitely better than the Batman story that leads off this issue, but for an eight-page backup story, not much happens. I'm getting a little tired of the Dynamic Duo escaping from being tied up by the old trick of tensing their muscles when the knots are being tied. Wouldn't someone catch on to that? The Von Eeden/Chiaramonte art is not bad but the reproduction could be better.

The Brave and the Bold #181

"Time, See What's Become of Me..."
Story by Alan Brennert
Art by Jim Aparo

Batman has trailed drug kingpin Thomas Kurland to San Francisco, where the crook has turned his heroin business over to his son. The Dark Knight sees the costumed hero known as Hawk attack Kurland on a rooftop in order to break up a drug deal; in the melee that follows, Kurland falls to his death and Hawk, reverted to his alter-ego of Hank Hall, flees, fearing that Batman will arrest him for causing Kurland's death. Batman knows that the drug dealer's father will want to kill Hawk, but can one hero locate the other in time to save him?

Hawk's brother Don, also known as Dove, laments the loss of idealism from the 1960s and the rise of selfishness in the 1980s. Both brothers are trapped in their 1960s' personas: one angry and volatile, the other gentle and less volatile. Hawk sets out to track down Kurland senior, while Batman locates Dove and they track Hawk, who has been captured by Kurland's men and taken to his boat in the Bay. The unseen being that gave Hawk and Dove their powers chooses this moment to strip them of those powers, arguing that they need to mature quite a bit but, with Batman's help, the now-civilian siblings manage to defeat Kurland and plan to sit down together for a long heart-to-heart chat.

Peter: I really wanted to like "Time, See What's Become of Me...," even despite its pretentious Simon and Garfunkel swipe, but I just couldn't understand what the hell was going on. For the uninitiated, this has to be the most complicated funny book story ever written. I give Alan Brennert extra credit for roping me in to the enthralling narrative (especially the see-sawing of Hawk and what appears to be his slip into psychosis) and engaging plot despite being loaded down by a couple of relatively unknown characters. A little research informs me that the duo was created by Steves Ditko and Skeates (for Showcase #75 in 1968). Now, that's an odd couple.

Jack: My memory of Hawk and Dove is hazy; all I remember is that Steve Ditko drew them in the late '60s. This story suffers from the same thing that hurts a number of Brave and Bold stories: the need to explain to the readers who these guest stars are. In the case of Hawk and Dove, it's a complicated story that requires a fair amount of explanation, which takes up more time than it should. The characters themselves are cliches, down to Don's classic Ditko bow-tie, and the fact that they change back and forth from civilians to super-heroes seemingly without warning is unusual, but what's really strange is that when they change they retain their full outfits, ties included. The gorgeous Aparo art makes the story more enjoyable than it would be if it were drawn by Novick and McLaughlin.

Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis escapes death from the heart gizmo strapped to his chest and gives the doctor truth serum to make him reveal the location of the device's master control. In disguise as the doctor, Nemesis visits Solomon, who reveals the location; Nemesis knocks him out and dismantles the controls. Solomon finds Nemesis and sics his goon on our hero, who fights him off. Solomon flips the switch to trigger the heart attack machine, not realizing that Nemesis put one on Solomon while he slept. Luckily, Nemesis turned off his own just in time. Now Solomon is dead and Nemesis is out of danger.

Peter: Wash... rinse... repeat. There's not one aspect of "Heartbreak!" to change my mind that Nemesis is the worst DC series we've had to read. The pace is grueling, nothing much happens, and when something does happen it's usually something stupid and boring. I can't wait for this detritus to be cleared away.

Jack: I thought this entry was fairly exciting. I'm glad Nemesis finally got the heart attack machine off his chest. And how about Nemesis's blonde girlfriend? She pops in for a few panels to remind us that she barely knows Nemesis and isn't sure she should trust him. A little late for that, don't you think?

Detective Comics #509

"Nine Lives Has the Cat..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

The Cat-Man is back, looking for revenge against Catwoman for his untimely (but exaggerated) death and her appropriation of part of his costume. Even more complicated is the fact that pieces of the Cat-Man's uniform can grant nine lives (or something like that). The villain survived falling into a Sulphur pit (way back in Batman #324) but received a nasty scar resulting from his burns.

Now he's back to retrieve that piece of his mask, thinking the material will heal his wounds. Alas, it doesn't work that way and the news seems to push the poor dolt over the edge. He and Batman tussle onboard a ship and Cat-Man goes over into the drink, drowning. In romantic news, Selina has decided that her past as Catwoman has ruined any chance she has with Bruce Wayne, so she's going off to spend a bit of time alone.

A perfectly average funny book story with really good art, bits of great characterization, and some sappy soap opera melodrama. The Cat-Man is a more interesting character, with some intriguing rough edges, than he has any right to be. I haven't read those 1960s Batman stories that birthed the 7th-tier baddie but I assume his only real function was to serve as a yin to Catwoman's yang. I'd have preferred that this adventure be spread out over two issues, since CM shows up, attains his grail, and then quickly exits stage left. The sections devoted to the cat-and-mouse between him and Batman are the high points of "Nine Lives Has the Cat..." and the silly, Day of Our Lives nonsense between Selina and Bruce is almost stomach-turning. Having been in love with both Batman and Bruce Wayne, how can this female dolt not know he's one and the same guy? Seriously.

Jack: I assumed she did know, based on the way she acts in the story. We are starting to see Dick Giordano make readers buy both Batman and Detective to follow all of the plots and subplots; Dr. Thirteen wakes up from his coma and doesn't remember the events of Batman #342, and the coming attractions at the end of "Nine Lives" tell readers that the story is continued in Batman #343. I liked Cat-Man's subtle reference to Goldfinger when he had Batman tied spread-eagled to four stakes on the beach, though I wondered (for the umpteenth time) why the villain didn't kill the hero rather than put him in a death trap and leave the scene. It's funny how much the art affects the story--Newton & Adkins make this a thrilling tale.

"The Fires of Destruction!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

The Annihilator continues to draw Supergirl's energies (but not her powers, whatever the heck that means), but Batgirl gets a sudden brilliant idea and tosses a tear gas capsule at the big-brained baddie. The distraction causes him to loosen his grip and Batgirl steals Supergirl away, smartly using her as a shield against the Annihilator's finger blasts. Suddenly, the Annihilator begins to fade and he announces he's off to ponder his new energies (not powers), but that he'll be seeing the two costumed beauties again.

With a little down time, Batgirl decides this is a good time to introduce Supergirl to motor mechanic Jeff Cotton, who is, of course, smitten with the Super-blonde. Batgirl explains to her super-buddy that she needs to be able to hide her Batgalcycle at Jeff's without anyone knowing it. Before Jeff can protest, Supergirl takes it upon herself to dig a huge hole under the garage (wisely avoiding annoying distractions like sewer and gas lines) and, voila, instant Batgirl-Cave! Meanwhile, Annihilator is back at his lab, testing his energies (not powers). The girls use canny instincts (and the phone book) to track the evil genius, but one of his new strengths is precognition and he breaks out some heavy-duty fire-power to greet his vivacious visitors.

Another big-brain!
Peter: This series, which once was promising, gets dumber with each passing installment, and yet there's a twisted charm I can't deny. Highlights here have nothing to do with Brainiac Jr. but with Burkett's oddball detours. I get that Supergirl can drill a hole through the ground, and even out the sides smoothly, but I want to see the discarded panels where she takes the trip to Home Depot to buy the hydraulic lift, secret passage door, and Batchickcycle ramp. The whole building process takes up a whopping three panels. Then, the cherry on top is Batgirl's jealousy when Jeff tells Supergirl she's pretty keen ("It used to be me he complimented like that!"); this soap opera lunacy beats hell out of the Selina/Bruce/Batman tryst!

Jack: What a goofy story. It's like The Brave and the Bold with Batgirl and Supergirl instead of Batman and whoever. I can't believe this dopey tale is continued next issue!

                         THE BEST (AND WORST) OF 1981


Best Script: Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas, "A Man Called Mole!"
(Batman #340)
Best Art: Gene Colan, "A Man Called Mole!" 
Best All-Around Story: "A Man Called Mole!" 
Worst Script: Cary Burkett, the Nemesis series
Worst Art: Dan Spiegle, the Nemesis series
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

"A Man Called Mole!" 
2 "To Kill a Legend" (Detective #500)
3 "Who Dies For the Manikin?" (Detective #506)
4 "One of Us Is Not One of Us" (B&B #173)
5 "Murder on the Midway" (Batman #337)


Giordano, et al.
Best Script: Alan Brennert, "To Kill a Legend" (Detective #500)
Best Art: Dick Giordano, "To Kill a Legend"
Best All-Around Story: "To Kill a Legend"
Worst Script: Cary Burkett, "The Tightening Web! (Detective #498)
Worst Art: anything by Dan Spiegle
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Night of the Savage" (Detective #498)
2 "To Kill a Legend"
3 "Who Shot Mlle. Marie?" (Detective #502)
4 "The Joker's Rumpus Room Revenge!" (Detective #504)
5 "Dressed to Die!" (Detective #507)

Next Week...
We are not worthy!


andydecker said...

I never realized what a Lizard clone Man-Bat is. He mutates, his wife rings hands, Batman pours serum down his throat, Langstrom changes back. Vows never to become Man-Bat again. Till the next time.

The cave drawing is indeed way ahead of the rest of the issue. Really poor art. Newton is so much better. I have only the original issues, and I am amazed how bad the art reproduction is. Everything looks dark and muddy, the edges are blurred, it is a poor comic.

Today I rue that I gave Trevor von Eeden's series 'Thriller' away. It was different, which at the time I couldn't get into. The Robin story barely qualifies as a story, but there is an undeniabale energy which the rest so lacks.

The Catwoman of this time is as dull as is Poison Ivy.

Jack Seabrook said...

That's an interesting comparison between Man-Bat and the Lizard. As for the art reproduction, I guess one good thing about modern comics is the quality of the paper and the printing. They do look spectacular.

turafish said...

Andy, I never realized that Lizard comparison before! Great point!

Man-Bat was always a favorite of mine, and is definitely my favorite Lego Batman video game character.

John said...

My personal favourites from 81 were the nice thriller-mystery-noirs of Mlle. Marie and Manikin and the special 500th issue "To Kill a Legend".
However, since I ve already started reading the Doug Moench's run I think I prefer Moench from Conway. While Conway is a talented writer and he was the first to create interesting subplots within the main storylines of the Batman continuity, there are some cases like the amnesia lazy excuse in "Requiem for a Hero" when the writing reminds the old bad scripts before the 70s and Oneil-Adam's start.

Jack Seabrook said...

I will be surprised if Doug Moench does a good job on Batman after all of the terrible scripts we've read at Warren!