Monday, May 10, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 27: March 1982


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


Batman #345

"Calling Doctor Death"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

A new villain known as Doctor Death has a particularly nasty way of getting rid of a stool pigeon named Keswick: he exposes him to killer dust! Commissioner Gordon summons Batman to look at the body, but the Dark Knight is happy to switch to his fancy duds and attend a swanky party as Bruce Wayne. His youthful ward Dick Grayson attends as well, with his foxy new gal-pal Dala, but when they go out to the balcony, Dick is exposed to the same dust that killed Keswick!

Batman and Robin track down Keswick's killer and head for Relief Island, where they go "Calling Doctor Death," but instead of the scientist they are met by some kung fu fighters, who manage to get the best of the Dynamic Duo. When they awake, Batman and Robin find themselves suspended below Gotham River Bridge, with Doctor Death seated below to explain that they are about to meet certain doom!

Peter: More excitement from Messrs. Conway, Colan, and Janson. The plot is strictly pulp, but that's not a detriment if it's enthralling and the pace is breakneck. The climax comes off like one from Jack's favorite show of all time, The Dreaded Adam West Thingie, with Doctor Death (love that Robin notes that the moniker could use a little work) looking on as Bats and Robin dangle under the bridge. I assume the Doc will say something along the lines of "I wish I could stay and watch as you die, Batbrain, but I must..." at the onset of 'tec #512 (I haven't peeked), like most of the TV villains. If I have one major complaint, it's that Gerry spends no time building this villain up. We hardly meet him in his "civilian clothes" before we're expected to gasp in awe at the reveal.

What's not mentioned here or in the follow-up is that the very same Doctor Death had appeared previously in Detective, way back in 1939. This appearance is obviously geared to the 45th anniversary celebration of the title. In "Batman Meets Doctor Death" ('tec #29, July 1939), Doctor Death is not wheelchair-bound, but his dastardly plot, to infect all of Gotham with a toxin derived from "pollen," is intact. In the original, the Doc perishes in a lab fire and Batman snickers a final "Death... to Doctor Death!" So, more of a remake than sequel, yes? Amazing how much more violent these Bat-titles were 45 years before.

Jack: Thanks for the cool research! I really enjoyed this story for the very reasons you surmised. I love a good cliffhanger ending! Holy Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Batman! Conway has now hit his groove and is juggling multiple subplots efficiently. My only gripe is that Colan and Janson's people are not very well-drawn. They still do a great job on the action scenes and anything shadowy, but the faces of Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale could have used some more work.

"Terror Train!"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Pablo Marcos

Speeding away from Gotham on a train, Selina Kyle awakens from a nightmare to find herself held up at gunpoint and propositioned by a police detective who wants her to help solve the mysterious disappearance of two trains. It seems the locomotives passed through a tunnel and vanished, but both later showed up at their destination fully intact. Selina agrees to help and boards the next "Terror Train!" dressed as Catwoman. It passes through the tunnel and suddenly she sees a ghost and finds herself hanging from a noose!

Peter: "Terror Train!" is a lot of fun. Probably has to do with the writer, who was fresh off an amazing run with Warren and on his way to reinvigorating the horror and science fiction comics genre with Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds for Pacific, and superhero comics with his run on Hulk in the 2000s. The guy just knew how to write, no matter what the subject. The ghost train is a pretty spooky concept, but that voice Catwoman hears in the final panels seems to point to less-than-supernatural forces at work. The Catwoman solo series is obviously DC's attempt to transform our former dastardly villainess into a heroine, a morphing that see-saws to this day.

Jack: The story starts out with a page of dynamite art that beats anything Colan and Janson did in this issue's lead story, but the rest of this seven-pager fails to live up to the dream-sequence opening. Still, Peter and I both are enjoying anything Trevor Von Eeden does at this point in the Batman backups, and a new series starring Catwoman is a welcome change after months of Batgirl and Robin (and Nemesis, God forbid).

The Brave and the Bold #184

"The Batman's Last Christmas!"
Story by Mike Barr
Art by Jim Aparo

It may be Christmastime in Gotham, but all is far from merry for the Caped Crusader after he discovers that some old records kept by a mob accountant implicate the late Thomas Wayne in helping to bankroll a gangster! The Huntress was lonely at the holiday season on Earth Two and so she transports to Earth One to spend some time with Bruce. Together, they investigate the mystery of Thomas Wayne's apparent ties to organized crime.

Things look grim when Thomas Wayne's former accountant lets Batman look at some books that seem to confirm the financial misdeeds, and Batman is upset when a crook named "Spurs" Sanders plays an audio tape of Thomas Wayne agreeing to a crooked deal. Batman visits his father's grave and claims that this will be "The Batman's Last Christmas," since he can't keep fighting crime after what he has just learned. Fortunately, Batman deduces that Sanders faked the tape and Thomas Wayne was innocent. The cape and cowl go back on and the citizens of Gotham can enjoy their Christmas, safe in the knowledge that Batman will continue to protect them.

Jack: "The Batman's Last Christmas!" ticks all of my boxes: beautiful art by Jim Aparo, a story set at Christmas time, a visit from an Earth Two heroine, and a theme of redemption. Of course, I never thought Batman would give up fighting crime, but it was interesting to see him experience some anguish over the mistaken belief that his father was a crook. The Huntress is an interesting hero and one I don't recall much about. According to this story, her father was Bruce Wayne and her mother was Catwoman. She calls Earth One's Bruce "Uncle" to avoid confusion.

Peter: I'll give "The Batman's Last Christmas" a thumbs-up, solely for its awesome Aparo art, but the script stinks. It's convoluted and confusing, filled with huge coincidences and dopey melodrama. Worst of all, its centerpiece--"Batman NO MORE!!!!" lasts all of five panels. Even Spider-Man lasted longer than that. This Earth-1/Earth-2 stuff just gives me a headache. 

Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Barney the mechanic jostles Greyfox just enough to prevent a shot from his rifle from killing Nemesis. Having heard Barney yell, Nemesis escapes into an airplane hangar and rigs a plane to look like it blows up with him inside. Greyfox goes to investigate, allowing Nemesis to free Barney. Greyfox takes to the air in a helicopter with Barney's daughter as a hostage, but Barney shoots at the helicopter. The little girl falls out, Nemesis catches her, and the helicopter blows up, with Greyfox inside.

Jack: It's hard to believe, but "Outfoxed" is kind of exciting! The art remains atrocious, but the non-stop action in this segment is rather satisfying, as is the destruction of the nasty villain. The story ends oddly, with an extended quote from the Old Testament about getting one's just desserts. This has been a weird series all along.

Peter: Would we consider The Godfather a masterpiece had Richard Gere been cast as Michael Corleone? What about Gone With the Wind with Stan Laurel as Rhett Butler? A bit out there, I know, but I think it's fair when considering the quality of art we're expected to endure while reading Cary Burkett's scripts for Nemesis. I have to admit that "Outfoxed" was perhaps the best entry yet in the series, but there's not much of a yardstick to measure by, based on the previous 16 installments (and let's pause here to consider what we do for you, the reader; that's 136 pages of Dan Spiegle's atrocious doodlings). The story had a nice pace and a satisfying wrap-up. I just wish I had nicer things to say about the presentation.

Detective Comics #512

"The Fatal Prescription of Doctor Death!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Doctor Death and his cronies have left Batman and Robin hanging from Gotham River Bridge. Bad idea leaving the scene, since Bats manages to come up with a way to drop Robin into the river and dive after him. He immediately takes the Boy Wonder to Gotham General and meets there with Commissioner Gordon to strategize.

Meanwhile, Vicki Vale has been a naughty girl. Comparing pictures she's snapped of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, the ace photographer is convinced that the two men are one and the same. But what to do with the evidence? While developing pics from the party earlier in the evening (see Batman #345), she notices an odd blurring of Dick Grayson's new gal-pal, Dala. Something sinister is afoot.

Gordon has called the mayor to let him know that Doctor Death is demanding a ransom of one billion dollars or every man, woman, and child will die of his allergen. When the ransom is paid, the antidote will be sent. Time is ticking. But the brand new mayor, Hamilton Hill, does not barter with terrorists and hangs up on the good doctor. Batman heads to Dr. Hellfern/Death's palatial mansion on a hunch and finds the crazed medic in his study. The doc blasts Bats with a concentrated dose of the allergen, telling our hero that death is minutes away and heading for his waiting helicopter.

Since Mayor Hill refuses to pay the ransom, Death will take his noxious potion elsewhere and leave Gotham's corpses to the rats. The Dark Knight, slowed by the toxin, takes the heli down with a well-placed Batarang and sprays the Doctor with a dose of his own poison. Knowing he'll die horribly, Hellfern gives up the antidote and Bats quickly gets the serum and the bad guy to the hospital. Gotham is saved and only Doctor Death, who has developed an itchy rash from his poison, is complaining.

Peter: Great second-half to this thriller, though the climax is rushed and I doubt if everyone in Gotham could be injected with the antidote in a matter of hours. Actually, most of Doctor Death's prognoses on the amount of time his poison takes to work seem to be off a bit. Bats is blasted with a huge amount of the stuff in Death's library and still manages to crash the helicopter, KO Togo, and make it back to Gotham General without huffing and puffing. Gerry is keeping the sub-plots moving along, disposing of one and conjuring up another just like that. Other than the Ivy misfire, these have all been intriguing and a couple (like the new Vicki bombshell) are more interesting than the main plots. The art is top-notch, especially in the climactic fisticuffs. Hard to imagine that only a handful of months ago I couldn't foresee a time when I was eager to read 'tec and Batman, but Gerry and Gene have really upped the game.

Jack: You were right last time out--Dr. Death couldn't hang around the bridge to make sure Batman and Robin were dead. I was puzzled as to why Batman made that spectacular grab of Robin in mid-air, only to drop him in the river moments later. Why not just let him go and jump in after him from the start? I also was disappointed that Batman didn't wear his handy Bat-nose filter when he went to confront Dr. Death. Surely the great detective would've deduced that he'd be sprayed with infectious gas? 

"Riders in the Night!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

The Batgirl fights a violent motorcycle gang calling themselves "the Demon Riders," but they manage to get away by riding down a populated city sidewalk. An epiphany comes to Babs Gordon as she heads to the TV studio, where she's scheduled to be interviewed on the super-popular daytime show, Women's World Today. She'll use these vicious nomads as her topic of discussion! Bad idea, since Babs didn't know that the Demon Riders watch a lot of community service programming and don't like their gang name used in the derogative. Utilizing amazing detective skills, the hoods ride their hogs up to and into Barbara's apartment, destroying everything from her Welliver wide-tufted armchair to her complete collection of Mahavishnu Orchestra LPs. What's worse is that the thugs have stuck around and they intend to show Babs what they do to dames what talk.

Peter: Leave it to Cary Burkett to tackle one of the more sensitive issues of 1982: hippie biker gangs. Perhaps because of fuzzy legal areas, the lead hogman is not called Captain America. We've already established that Nemesis is the nadir of the then-current slate of back-ups; to paraphrase my old friend Johnny Mellencamp, "this ain't the bottom of the barrel, but we can see it from here." That final panel of the ragtag cycle gang, looking more like the extras from Friedkin's ill-fated Cruising, will invade my thoughts for weeks to come. Cavalier boots, Elvis's stolen belt buckle, and a Viking hat.  What would Fred Wertham have made of the subtle "third leg" hanging from blondie's crotch? And if you were Carlton the doorman, wouldn't you call the cops if your building was under siege?

Jack: Peter, as is often the case, your comments are more fun to read than this awful story. Delbo and Giella's art is just plain cheesy and looks like the worst of 1960s' DC comics. I never thought I'd write this, but Nemesis was not the worst story in the Batman titles this month.

Buckler & Giordano
The Best of DC #22

"Merry Christmas"
(from Batman #247, February 1973)

"A Christmas Peril!"
(from Batman #27, March 1945)

"Robin's (Very) White Christmas!"
(from The Batman Family #4, April 1976)

This 100-page digest collects reprints of stories with a Christmas theme, including tales starring the Teen Titans, Captain Marvel, Jr., the Sandman, and the Justice League of America. The three Batman reprints include two stories we've not seen before. "A Christmas Peril!" is a Golden Age treat with art by Jerry Robinson, while "Robin's (Very) White Christmas!" is a throwaway with art by Delbo & Colletta.

Next Week...
Ho...Ho... Horrifying!!


andydecker said...

Still not liking the art. Colan and Janson is also not a good team. Or is it the dull colouring? The art looks rushed, the faces not defined or just goofy, what is worse. Vicky Vale looks as if she is high or drunk all the time, and Bruce and Dick seem to be of the same age and look alike. Just look at the fourth page: Bruce or Dick?

Colan is a great artist, but he can't draw machines. His Batmobil looks as terrible as the Batcave.

But the story is nice. Conway made good use of the longer format. I almost forgot that it was Giordano who experimented with the unending crossover first. The circulation numbers will become interesting to see if it really worked.

Before DC Bruce Jones stopped at Marvel in '75 and wrote Red Sonja during the Marvel Feature Presents period. Not to forget his work on Savage Sword in the early 80s.

Von Eeden did a few nice layouts.

John said...

I agree completely with your comments about Doctor Death's 2 parts. Colan's art is as always amazing and these subplots are very promising about the near future stories.
Also am I the only one who mixes Doctor Death with the Crime Doctor ?

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys!