Monday, April 26, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 26: February 1982


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

Batman #344

"Monster, My Sweet!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Batman is exhausted from fighting crime and upset that he can't tell anyone about Poison Ivy's hypnotic takeover of the Wayne Foundation. Ivy is lounging in her greenhouse, beating up crooks and chatting with her assistant, Ivor. Councilman Reeves is getting ready to reveal Batman's secret identity to all of Gotham City! The papers are signed to turn over the Foundation to Ivy, but her triumph is short-lived when she starts seeing the Caped Crusader everywhere she goes.

Bruce Wayne runs into Vicki Vale, who is back from a long stint in Europe, and that evening at a press conference, Councilman Reeves reveals that Batman's secret identity is that of mob boss "Big Jack" Johnson! Robin surprises Alfred by returning unexpectedly to the Batcave, while Batman bursts into Poison Ivy's greenhouse, only to find himself under attack by Ivor, who has been transformed into a tree-monster. Batman wins the battle with a bit of help from Robin, who subdues Poison Ivy. Ivor spills the beans about how Ivy tricked Bruce Wayne into giving her control of his Foundation, and a crusading reporter reveals that Councilman Reeves's big revelation was a fake. Suddenly, things are looking pretty good for Batman!

Peter: Whole lot of stuff going on this issue and several subplots come to a head. Thank goodness the silly Poison Ivy arc is through--I couldn't take much more of that stumblebum excuse for why Bruce couldn't say the words he was thinking (how come his brain didn't sputter like his mouth?)--but it ended pretty great, with her Ivor the Plant Monster creation. Talk about a stitched-together Halloween costume! Vicki Vale is back after a disappearance (in comic years) of nearly two decades. What's the story on that? We'll have to learn together. Thankfully, Gerry has listened to me and gone full-out crossover, so we don't have long to find out about Vicki and the election news. Long live the Colan-Janson art and the longer stories.

Jack: "Monster, My Sweet!" is certainly long, at 27 pages, but it's not very good, nor is the Colan-Janson art anywhere near what we've come to expect. There are some very awkward panels along the way and I hope this doesn't signal more slapdash work to come. The story is all over the place, since Conway decides to wrap up some subplots and start some more. I was not clear as to why Ivy is seeing Batman everywhere. Is Batman really following her? Why? Bruce Wayne thinks about his "plan" at one point, but what is it? To drive Ivy crazy? Then he crashes through the glass roof of her greenhouse. Why? He didn't know Ivor was now a tree monster. In fact, Batman would have no way of knowing that Ivor would tell everyone about Ivy's actions and that they'd all be there to listen. Frankly, the whole thing makes little sense and is poor storytelling.

The Brave and the Bold #183

"The Death of Batman"
Story by Don Kraar
Art by Carmine Infantino & Mike DeCarlo

The Riddler is mysteriously let out of prison and invited to play a new game called "The Death of Batman." Ninety minutes later, acclaimed mystery writer H. Rutherford Creighton is kidnapped after giving a speech at a gathering of detective fiction fans. Batman has until dawn to solve the mystery of his abduction and save the writer's life. His partner? The Riddler, who is also receiving clues and instructions.

Together, the old enemies follow the clues and escape death several times until they locate Creighton, who reveals that he planned the entire escapade. He resents Batman for having taken his place as the world's greatest detective and wants the Dark Knight to join him in a fatal conflagration. Only the Riddler can save Batman from certain death!

Jack: After a terrific Aparo cover, I was all set not to like this story, mainly because I don't care for 1980s'-era Carmine Infantino artwork, but I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps Mike DeCarlo's inks softened some of the rough edges of the penciling, but these 19 pages were fun to look at. As for the story, I was also surprised. At first it seemed overly wordy, but the twists and turns drew me in and I enjoyed it quite a bit. For once, the unlikely pairing in The Brave and the Bold works well. Batman and the Riddler need each other to survive this night and to solve the mystery, and their relationship is one that is clearly longstanding and complicated. Writer Don Krarr seems to have gone by various names, including Don Kraar, Don Karr, and Donald Short, and (unless I'm mixing up people) he wrote both comics and academic tomes.

Peter: Lately, The Brave and the Bold has been a chore to wade through and this issue is no respite. Between the tiresome banter, lifeless one-liners, and 1960s'-era graphics, "The Death of Batman" was nearly the death of me. The denouement* (*outcome) was pr√©visible* (*predictable), the plot was artificiel* (*contrived), and team-up absurde* (*preposterous). 

"Fox and Hounds!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

While Greyfox the assassin tries to figure out how to locate Nemesis, our hero visits underworld stoolie Roadrunner and is suddenly attacked by goons. He knocks them all out and escapes. Meanwhile. Greyfox tracks down the helicopter Nemesis stole awhile back and pressures a mechanic to summon Nemesis to the airport, where Greyfox is waiting.

Peter: Boy, the black stereotypes these comic book writers were foisting on us even into the 1980s were nuts! Imagine a white character saying "Sweet Mama!" and not raising an eyebrow or three. The only supporting character in any of these titles who's African-American and doesn't get the Huggy Bear treatment is Lucius Fox. Actually, come to think of it, Lucius is the only regular black supporting character in the Bat-titles. Anyway, I swear I come to each new chapter of Nemesis hoping I'll find something new to talk about and every time I'm disappointed. 

Jack: Maybe we could talk about the way that this series just keeps going without ever getting anywhere. Nemesis visits Roadrunner wearing one of his false faces, but he also wears a shirt with the big scales of justice on the front, so Roadrunner knows who he is right away, as do the crooks who bust in. I guess the point is that no one ever sees his real face. Yet in the last panel, Nemesis's hair has suddenly changed from blonde to red. What gives?

Buckler & Giordano
Detective Comics #511

"The 'I' of the Beholder"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Batman and Robin have very little time to celebrate Hamilton Hill's come-from-behind victory over Arthur Reeves in the mayoral election before jumping into their next adventure. There's a brand new villain in Gotham who goes by the name of Mirage (good moniker this time out). With a special wrist gadget, Mirage can make his victims believe they're high atop a snowy peak or deep below the ocean depths. He's been pulling off high-stakes heists and getting away clean.

Back in town, Vicki Vale has snapped photos of the new kid in town, but the illusions she saw while under Mirage's influence do not translate to film. This raises her ire, but a day out with former flame Bruce Wayne calms her down a bit. But what is Vicki really playing at?

Meanwhile, the eternal student Dick Grayson is back at Gotham University, strolling the campus, when he literally runs into a stunning woman named Dala. Despite their age difference, Dala agrees to Dick's offer of a cup of coffee. Disgraced politico Arthur Reeves visits the den of the man who provided him the pics of Batman's "true identity" and watches in shock as the man in the shadows emerges to unmask himself as "Boss" Thorne, who tells Reeves the election went just as he had planned. 

Mirage shows up to a "Fall Swimwear Gala" celebration, hoping to score another payday. Robin arrives and fisticuffs ensue, but Mirage's illusions are too much for the "Teen Wonder" and he finds himself helpless, fighting off the tentacles of a giant octopus. Batman drives up just as the villain is exiting stage left and also finds himself lost in a dream world. Later, back at the Batcave, the dynamic duo brainstorm and decide that the 7th-tier bad guy's mental images are being created by a "combination of optical and audial stimulation." The Dark Knight quickly whips up a gadget he hopes will eliminate the audial side of the nightmares. 

That night, Mirage pulls an armored car heist, but Bats is waiting for him, earplug and all. The fight is going well for our hero until his earpiece is damaged in the brawl and he must fall back on his wits to save the day. The Dark Knight Detective cleans Mirage's clock and then, as Bruce Wayne, heads over to the Wayne Foundation board meeting, where he announces his resignation. The board is further shocked when Wayne offers up Lucius Fox as his replacement. 

Peter: With Colan/Jansen on one title and Newton/whoever on the other, DC has got its two main Bat-titles speeding along on the right the track. It seems like Gerry is loving these sub-plots and resigning himself to the fact that he has to pop in a villain now and then as well. Conway is especially adept at providing strong female characters who have a role in what's going on. They're not just the window dressing of the past. It's not readily apparent what Vicki is up to, but we know she knows Bruce is Batman (who doesn't at this point?), and new Dick love interest Dala will play a larger and more sinister part in the "Teen Wonder"'s future. 

The "Boss" Thorne reveal is cheezy; not sure how Reeves couldn't figure the man's true identity before, shadows or no. And let's see how long the "Bruce Wayne resigns" thread will go on. I think that one was played as many times as Spider-Man said "I quit!" When faced with a Batman who no longer sees his illusions, Mirage says something that caught my interest: "They never covered this at the academy!" A real nifty website called Batman Wiki informs me that Mirage attended the Academy of Crime! I'd love to see its "Hall of Academia!" How many successful graduates? Oh, and "Most Lackluster New Villain Design" this month goes, by default to Mirage.

Jack: Mirage isn't bad, as new villains go. It's been a problem for some time now that the new villains just don't seem memorable, which means that the writers have to keep going back to the tried and true baddies. Newton's art is excellent, as usual, and Detective as of 1982 is reliably better than Batman. I wondered what academy Mirage attended, so thanks for looking that up. One question: did anyone ever sell Grit? Or even see a copy? Those ads always intrigued me as a kid.

Next Week...
Corben Evermore!
Plus the best of 1973-74!

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