Monday, May 24, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 28: April 1982

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

Batman #346

"Half a Hero..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Two-Face escapes from Arkham Asylum using a special silver dollar that hypnotizes the guards. Commissioner Gordon is exhausted and Bruce Wayne tries some tough love to get Lucius Fox to solve business problems on his own. Dick Grayson's love life is not going well since Dala dumped him, but Bruce Wayne's romance with Vickie Vale is hot and heavy. Batman tracks Two-Face to a halfway house in a rundown part of Gotham, fights off the villain's goons, and barely escapes death from traps Two-Face set up inside the building. Batman confronts Two-Face and handcuffs him, only to discover that Two-Face is actually a beautiful blonde in disguise. Her attack on the Caped Crusader is aided by nerve gas that knocks him out cold. Elsewhere, Commissioner Gordon hands in his badge and gun to new Mayor Hamilton Hill. After Gordon leaves, Boss Thorne introduces a man named Pauling as the new commissioner.

Jack: On the one hand, Conway's numerous subplots keep things interesting and make for a good continuity from one issue to another. On the other hand, they don't leave much room for the main story, which is basically Batman finding Two-Face with no effort and then being gassed. The art is pretty good, but Chiaramonte's inks over Newton's pencils aren't as impressive as those of Adkins. The scene on the cover isn't half as interesting when it happens inside (see what I did there?).

Peter: Two-Face is one of my favorite of the Rogues' Gallery, so just about any adventure starring the poor man's Joker is alright by me, but there really isn't much plot to this story yet. I just hope this isn't one of those two-parters that resolves itself quickly in a two-panel finale. At least this time we get reasoning for why Two-fer has his trademarked silver dollar with him in the pen (unlike that loony story months back where one of the Rogues had a Batman stand-up in his cell). I had to check GCD to make sure we hadn't seen Margo before and I'm still not sure. The "Commissioner Gordon No More" and "Vicki Vale Might Spill the Beans" subplots are actually more intriguing than the main event this issue.

"In the Land of the Dead!"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Pablo Marcos

Catwoman awakens to find herself being carried off the train by two goons. She is making short work of them when she is suddenly captured by her own cat o'nine tails, wielded by Sergeant Stuart. Stuart explains that Selina's father killed his father years before, when his father was working for the Nazis. The sergeant thinks a diamond was hidden in one of the train cars, so he has been kidnapping and inspecting them to try to find it. The train cars are kidnapped by sending them into an underground tunnel and then projecting a hologram that fools observers. Stuart finds the diamond, which has etched upon it the formula for the hydrogen bomb. He plans to take it to Germany and start the Fourth Reich! Catwoman foils his nefarious plot and saves the day. Unfortunately, Stuart is killed by the very train he thought would be his ticket to stardom.

Jack: This seven-page story has about 25 pages worth of plot! Jones introduces concepts so quickly that it's hard to keep up, but the story is very entertaining and I enjoyed the art, for the most part. Catwoman's vintage costume looks great but isn't very practical. When she's fighting the goons, she kicks one and I thought the colorist made a mistake--but no, her legs really are bare under that skirt!

Peter: Holy cow, this Catwoman tale is a whole lot of complicatin'. I had to read it a couple times and I'm still not sure what the heck it was all about. "My dad etched the entire formula for an H-Bomb on a teensy-weensy diamond and then put it on the collar of a (coincidence... only coincidence) cat but he got killed by your dad and now I'm going to see Germany rise again through the Fourth Reich but first I'm gonna tie you to the railroad tracks and..." Sheesh. At one point, Catwoman thinks: "Well, Selina, old girl... you do get mixed up with goofballs." I love love love Bruce Jones (and you can tell him I said so) but this is close to the bottom of the Jones-career-quality-meter. Great art, though.

The Brave and the Bold #185

"The Falcon's Lair!"
Story by Don Kraar
Art by Adrian Gonzales & Mike DeCarlo

The Penguin is back with a plan to replace wealthy Hamilton Mellor with a robot who will do the bad guy's bidding. While Batman is out on patrol, he is joined by Green Arrow, who is visiting Gotham City. Batman talks Arrow into taking his place at Mellor's 40th birthday party, a medieval-themed bash where the Penguin manages to capture Green Arrow after distracting him with a robot Black Canary.

Batman comes to the rescue, defeating a goon dressed as a knight on horseback, and the two heroes fend off the Penguin's secret weapon, a killer falcon! The Penguin is marched off to prison, muttering "There will be another day."

Jack: "The Falcon's Lair!" is competent, but that's all. The art is pretty good, the plot is pretty good, but it leads nowhere. Green Arrow says he's in Gotham looking for a good time, and the Penguin's nose seems to be getting longer and longer with age. 

Peter: I'm not sure what the Penguin's plot was or why he needed these elaborate automatons. "The Falcon's Lair!" is like so many of these B+B one -and-dones: a decent time-waster, but nothing resembling brain food. 

"Triple Threat"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

A meeting of crime bosses is taking place at the Houston estate of Jay Kingston, where lions freely roam the grounds. The crooks agree to come up with plans to kill Nemesis, and the person whose plan works will be the new head of the Council. Nemesis infiltrates the meeting in disguise but is tripped up when he fails to utter a secret code word. He runs out of the house, unaware that lions prowl outside!

Jack: Another bad entry in the Nemesis series, with another cliffhanger and poor artwork. How many more episodes do we have to suffer through?

Peter: So much of this episode's running time is devoted to reminding us of what has happened in past installments that there's no real advancing of the plot line. It's all "mumble mumble mumble we have to kill Nemesis..." I do have to admit to laughing out loud at the scene where Kingston asks the members to give their code name and Nemesis guesses wrong "... er...Scotch!" Genuinely funny! But the most exciting moment this issue is the full-page ad announcing the return of Swamp Thing! Hey, Jack, no one will notice if we dump Brave and the Bold and substitute Saga of Swamp Thing! Whattya think?

Detective Comics #513

"...Is Better Than None!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Alfred and Robin are very worried about the Batman. He hasn't been seen for a week and that's just not normal. Vicki Vale shows up at the door to tell Alfred she knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, so "what are you going to do about it, servant guy?" Alfred mumbles and tries to come up with a good one-line comeback.

Meanwhile, Boss Thorne's puppet, Peter Pauling, has been installed by the new mayor as police commissioner after Gordon had his little snit, and holds his first news conference, commenting to reporters that he believes the Batman's disappearance is a publicity stunt and when he pokes his sharp ears back up, he'll be treated like the vigilante he is. 

Cut to: Gotham Park, where Jim Gordon is sitting on a bench, talking to daughter Babs and generally feeling sorry for himself (which is a character trait we haven't seen before from the usually steadfast JG, so we know his soul is troubled). Babs gives him a verbal slap in the face and tells him to man up. Jim just feeds the pigeons and sighs. 

So, eight pages in we finally get to our titular hero, who's been captured and held in a glass prison by his old friend, Harvey Dent, who makes a lot of threats and then tosses his two-faced coin in the air, landing (for the seventh time) on the clean side. Batman will live another day. But Two-fer has something big up his sleeve in the meantime. He's been gathering up the worst-smelling of Gotham's ex-cons and a crew of well-dressed assassins (the yin and yang of organized crime) to... steal the platinum and gold records from the walls of the Duo Records building (actually the famous Capitol Records in Hollywood)! Robin hears the "all hands on deck" over the police band and foils the robbery. Two-Face escapes the Boy Wonder's ire and heads back to the halfway house where Bats is being kept. With the aid of a bed spring, a plastic tray, and some chewing gum, Batman is able to loosen a "steam-pipe joint" (whatever that is), which melts a plastic food tray into a mask perfectly resembling Two-Face. The resulting charade screws with Harvey's head and he releases the Dark Knight from his prison. Bats KOs Harvey and calls the troops. Later at the penthouse, Bruce tells Robin and Alfred that it's time to head back to the Stately Manor.

There are many logic problems in "...Is Better Than None!" but I'll go over the most glaring. Two-Face assembles the most deadly group of killers ever in a funny book and then utilizes them to steal gold and platinum records (which, for those wondering, are not made of those precious metals but are actually colored plastic)? A bit, um, anti-climactic, no? Taking a page from the book of his TV peers, Two-fer locks Batman in a glass cell but doesn't think to unmask him or even take his utility belt off (he does empty the belt and leave it on his sworn enemy, perhaps after a clean-sided coin toss). 

The assassins and stinky ex-cons are put out of commission by one (admittedly angry) teenager and rounded up by the cops. A bit anti-climactic, no? (And speaking of stinky, special thanks to Messrs. Newton and Chiaramonte for always avoiding that corner of Bats's cell where the loo is stashed.) Bats takes a plastic tray and fashions an extraordinary replica of Two-fer's face with a bit of steam, a mask that even fools the sane Robin. That's going beyond the far-fetched, I would say. Laughably, the tray is perfectly colored to match all the greens of Harvey's face and the whites of his teeth. When designing the glass prison, Harvey musta ignored the fact that a "steam-pipe joint" in the hands of the world's greatest detective might be dangerous. But my biggest complaint about this two-parter is that there's a massive build-up to nothing. Gerry should be able to perform a lot more miracles with 34 pages of build-up than a silly heist and a very easy turning of the tables by the Dark Knight. Alfred doesn't even think to let his master know that Vicki is hot on the trail of his alter ego, fergoshsakes. I do like the subtle warning that Hugo Strange is back.

Jack: I was also intrigued by Boss Thorne's being haunted by the ghost of Hugo Strange, mainly because it reminds me of one of the best periods of Batman in the 1970s. One problem with a story like this is that we all know Batman isn't dead, so Robin's concern about that at the outset creates no suspense. As I was reading this story, I started to wonder where Two-Face gets his clothes. Newton and Chiaramonte do a great job of depicting the ugly side of Two-Face's visage and the return to Wayne Manor promised at the end sounds good, but it's troubling that the subplots are more interesting than the main story.

"Duel With Demons!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

"To Babs! With all my love!"
Babs Gordon is attacked by the biker gang, the Demon Riders, who destroyed her apartment last issue, but a little faux-fainting spell catches the macho Black Sabbath fans off-guard and Babs escapes. She gets up to the rooftop and changes into her Bat-duds, swooping down for some good old fisticuffs. At one point, she's knocked on her shapely behind and a strange man emerges from the shadows and saves her. With her second wind, Babs puts the bikers in the dirt. 

Peter: More awful stuff from Cary Burkett, our resident series hack. I had to guffaw and chuckle at the thought balloon over Batbabe's head after she vanquishes the bikers: "In many ways, this has been one of my most important victories!" Really? You mean saving the world from the Annihilator a few issues ago was an easier task than defeating Ozzy, Tony, Bill, and Geezer? The most unusual thing this issue is that Batgirl stands over a corpse and promises that the cops are on the way to "put the cuffs on these hoods."

Jack: I thought the head biker looked dead, too, but Batgirl's remark made me question what I saw. Bab's fake faint at the beginning depends on an assumption that the biker will be chivalrous, does it not? Kind of a tough assumption to make. This Delbo/Giella art is tough to take but still beats the work of Dan Spiegle.

Next Week...
A Whole Lotta Poe
Goin' On!


andydecker said...

"Saga of the Swamp Thing"? Don't toy with us :-) Of course you would have to wade through 19 often sluggish issues before it gets better. (I kid of course, some of Pasko's writing was at least okay.)

For a flagship character Conway's Batman is not very exciting. One would think editorial would request the best game from their writers in this case. On the other hand it really was a more relaxed approach back then. No frenzied cross-overs every year, no constant resurrection, no 50 bucks for 12 issues. Newsstand comics were really a different kind of beast.

I like the little things. Like the newspaper counting Batman's appearances or Gordon feeding the pigeons.You are right. The subplots are more interesting than the villains of the week.

John said...

The "extreme makeover" of Batman's face into Two-Face with the vapor coming out of a pipe (???) has to be in the 5 stupidest, most ridiculous resolutions in Batman's history.
Two-Face's thugs don't seem deadly or killers to me. Batman in the first part and Robin in the second, both beat them up single handedly without a sweat.
Also, in Batman 346 I hate that Bruce behaves like a complete a..hole to one of his very few friends in life, Lucius. I mean I know it's a cover act but a bond issue by Gotham Federal Bank is not that trivial....