Monday, June 7, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 29: May 1982

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

Batman #347

"The Shadow of the Batman"
Story by Roger Slifer
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Pablo Marcos

In a run-down apartment somewhere in Gotham City, two young men discuss the possibility of robbing a bank. One insists it's risk-free, while the other isn't so sure and relates an incredible story about Batman single-handedly foiling a prison break by tracking the escaped convicts through a dark wood and picking them off one by one.

The young man who wants to rob the bank thinks the crime will be without victims, so the other young man tells another story, this time about how Batman defeated an arsonist who was burning down buildings to try to draw attention to the plight of those living in the ghetto. His insistence that the crimes were without victims had tragic consequences.

In the end, the young risk-taker is convinced of the error of his ways and decides to scan the want ads for an honest job.

Jack: "The Shadow of the Batman" is my kind of story, with two long flashbacks that highlight different aspects of what makes the series work. The first is a moody tale set in the woods, allowing Von Eeden and Marcos to create the sort of atmosphere we love to see in Dark Knight adventures. The second hearkens back to stories from the early 1970s, with misguided people trying to change a bad situation and not caring who gets hurt. I love these stories about average people and the panel reproduced here is either an intentional homage to the work of Adams and Giordano or else an example of Big Neal stopping by an artist's drawing board to help out.

Peter: "The Shadow of the Batman" (which would, a decade later, become the fourth monthly starring the Dark Knight) sees the continuity and two-parters we've all enjoyed come to a screeching halt. The story is maudlin fluff, containing no vitamins or minerals, and quickly forgotten. Obviously, the deadline got to Gerry and he needed a rest, thus this one-and-done. The two-parters will resume in a couple issues. I will say, though, that I really liked the Von Eeden/Marcos art. Von Eeden has a dark, noirish look to his work that's perfectly suited to the subject. While doing a bit of research on the artist, I was not surprised to learn that Frank Miller had wanted Von Eeden to pencil the "Year One" arc in 1987. 

"The Nervous Nephew"
"The Impossible Murder!"
"The Nervous Nephew"
Stories by Robin Snyder
Art by Trevor Van Eeden & Larry Mahlstedt

In these three, two-page "Just-A-Moment Mystery" segments, Batman solves "The Impossible Murder," Bruce Wayne identifies a fraudulent "Artifact," and Alfred demonstrates that "The Nervous Nephew" has good reason for jitters, since he committed murder and tried to make it look like suicide.

Jack: I don't know why Dick Giordano thought two-page mysteries would be successful, but they're too short to amount to anything. The art is decent, though, and I'm happy to see Trevor Von Eeden doing more work on the Batman books.

Also notable is this ad, found among the others on one of the multi-ad pages.

Peter: These "minute mysteries" were all a waste of time. In fact, the final one, "The Nervous Nephew," seems to be missing a page since the climax is... anti-climactic. Still, if Dick Giordano wanted to replace Nemesis with "Minute Mysteries" over at Brave and the Bold, I would have no complaint whatsoever.

Detective Comics #514

Story by Len Wein
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

The Batman is chasing psychopath Maxie Zeus (who believes he's a God) and his henchmen through a blinding snowstorm in the wilderness hills outside Gotham. The Batmobile crashes and our hero is injured, passing out in the snow.

A big bear of a man named "Haven!" picks up Batman and takes him to his cabin in the woods, tending to the Caped Crusader's wounds and making him a fresh pot of hot vegetable soup. Aaaah! Just the ticket! Meanwhile, Zeus and his men have run into a snowbank and abandon their ride to look for more appropriate shelter.

The mountain man tells his new friend that he's abandoned the vicious alleys of the city and fled to live amongst his friends, the whippoorwills and squirrels, never to return to the jungles of civilization. Batman scoffs and explains that someone has to clean up the rubbish. With that he heads back out into the snow, exhausted and wounded, to search for Maxie. He quickly runs afoul of a bear protecting its den. Batman is able to fight off the huge beast but the battle takes its toll and he collapses... into the arms of Haven, who drags him back to the cabin.

Alas, when they arrive, they discover they have visitors. Zeus decides that the Batman and Haven should not be shot to death but, rather, should fight each other like Roman gladiators. Haven refuses, explaining that he will never raise his hand to a man again. Zeus gets pissed, grabbing one of Haven's little winged friends out of the air and squashing the bird in his hand. That awakens the ire hidden deep down in the heart of Haven and he advances on Zeus but is shot down by the villain's cronies. 

The Dark Knight gets that "you wouldn't like me mad" look on his face and takes the henchmen down, one by one. Zeus escapes into the wild but runs afoul of the same bear Batman encountered. Bats, not one for leaving even a scoundrel like Zeus to die, scares off the bear with a Bat-Bear-Pellet and ties up all the baddies. He then tends to the dying Haven with some comforting words and Robert Louis Stevenson poetry before burying his corpse a while later.

"Maudlin" seems to be the word for this month's Bats-solo outings (we'll have to wait and see how B+B fares) and "Haven!" might be the maudlinest of the pair. I knew we were in for trouble when Len dedicated the story to the inspiration derived from Dan Fogelberg's "Netherlands." Funny, I thought this was more ripped off from Grizzly Adams than from a JD Souther wanna-be. The plot has no flow and everything seems contrived to work up to that faux-sentimental climax. Haven's steadfast stance against violence lasts approximately six panels before he's apparently going to stove in Zeus's head for killing Tweetie. And what was the point of the six-panel "Meanwhile, back at Wayne Foundation..." other than to emphasize how dangerous this mission is and to reveal that Alfred worries about Master Bruce now and then? That interlude features some gawdawful dialogue from Alfred as well: "Every night Bruce Wayne goes out there among the shadows and the filth, stalking the animals who stalk the innocent and in my heart, I know there will be one night when he will not come home." This just occurred to Al? At least the art is nice to look at.

Jack: Agreed, but I still miss those Adkins inks over Newton's pencils. Chiaramonte just doesn't quite finish them off as well. Haven reminded me of Kwai Chang Caine with his pledge of non-violence until someone pushed him just a bit too far. And isn't it a good thing Bruce Wayne is loaded? Another Batmobile bites the dust. Those things can't be cheap to replace.

"Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Charlene, the Snake-Woman down at the Gotham City carnival, has become possessed by Lady Viper, Queen of the Serpents! Her first act of villainy, after killing the carnival barker that is, is to steal the famous snake idol of ancient Babylon from collector Alan Trotter. With the trinket in her scaly hands, Lady Viper can become... well, we don't know yet. Meanwhile, investigating the barker's murder, Batgirl inadvertently steps into the crosshairs and forked tongue of Lady Viper!

Peter: This was one dopey story, but I enjoyed the heck out of it, perhaps because the plot seems like such a goof. I'm not sure that Cary Burkett was winking at his audience while penning the oddball script since most of the Burkett scripts we've read so far have been dreadful (Nemesis, take a bow). This one's dreadful in a fun way, though. I like when our heroes come up against a force that has to be supernatural. Lady Viper is clearly not wearing a snake tail costume over her shapely torso. That is a giant snake tail. Ostensibly, we'll get the backstory of this serpent chick next issue. And one more time... that splash brings up the question: what is the end of that Batgirl-rope attached to? The Empire State Building?

Jack: It's a shame the Delbo/Giella art is so hard to take that it detracts from some potentially good moments in this story. I like the supernatural element but the whole thing is told so poorly it's hard to find much to praise.


The Brave and the Bold #186

"The Treasure of the Hawk-God's Tomb!"
Story by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn
Art by Jim Aparo

"The Treasure of the Hawk-God's Tomb!" has disappeared, so Batman and Hawkman interrogate small-time crook Pinky Maxwell in an attempt to find out where the sarcophagus disappeared to on its way to a new exhibit at the museum. As Carter Hall, Hawkman visits Royce Atherton, a shady dealer in ancient artifacts, and gets invited to an auction of rare objects.

Realizing that one of the objects set to be auctioned off is the statue at the top of the Gotham Eagle newspaper building, Batman and Hawkman rush to check that it's still there and run into Anton Lamont, the Fadeaway Man, who uses his magical conjure cloak to grab the eagle and disappear! The next night, Carter Hall attends the auction and the Fadeaway Man makes an appearance, but Batman also appears and prevents any precious items from being auctioned off. The Fadeaway Man thinks he's gotten away with plenty of loot by hiding in the museum, but Hawkman surprises him and, aided by the Dark Knight, he captures Lamont and rescues the sarcophagus.

Jack: Aparo gives it his all, from a cover that will be in the running for best of 1982 to the gorgeous seventeen pages of interior art. Hawkman has always been a favorite of mine, mainly due to his cool costume and the history of great art by Joe Kubert, but the Fadeaway Man is an uninspiring villain. The new writing team of Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn do a better job than Cary Burkett, for example, but the story is nothing special. There are a couple of cute in-jokes at the bottom of page five, where the list of artifacts features an Egyptian sphinx statue owned by Jeanette Kahn and a window with text that reads, "Mishkin & Cohn, Attorneys at Law," but in-jokes do not a good story make.

Peter: I had to laugh when Hawkman hears from his -wheet!- winged friend that a "caped man" is stealing the Gotham Eagle and Hawks does an "Ah Ha! This sounds like the work of... The Fadeaway Man!" Who? Of all the "caped men" running and flying around in the DC Universe, he comes up with some eighth-tier villain, not seen since his one and only appearance in Detective #479? That Fadeaway Man? Great cameo by the Penguin who, I assume, is out on parole?

"In the Lion's Den!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Things look bad for Nemesis, as he lies badly wounded with a hungry lion approaching, but the crooks shine a searchlight down to look for him and shoot into the darkness, scaring the lion away. Nemesis manages to escape over the wall, steal a car, and drive off to safety, all while barely able to stay awake from his injury. The crooks hatch a new plan to go after Marjorie Marshall and get at Nemesis through her.

Jack: Were it not for the dreadful art and the need to come up with a cliffhanger each and every time that gets resolved in eight pages, this series might actually have a spark of interest. The crooks are pretty dumb, though--why have lions prowling the grounds if you're going to scare them off with searchlights and bullets?

Peter: The wheels are still spinning in the mud on this back-up but at least it's almost... readable... this time out. Burkett keeps his awful dialogue to the minimum "He got away!" and "We must defeat Nemesis!" and lets the action do the talking. I ain't saying I'd read this swill if I didn't have to, but it's about 4.6575839% more bearable than it was this time a year ago.


Peter: As is our wont around here, we present the annual circulation numbers for the three regular titles (along with the previous years' numbers, so you can see how the comic world was faring); the figures published in 1982 actually reflect on how the title sold during the previous twelve months. As you can see, both Batman and Brave lose a substantial amount of readers (15%) but, oddly, Detective seems to pick up a bunch of those lost souls.

Jack: Detective is still the worst seller of the three and probably increased sales by switching back from a dollar comic to a regular-priced one.


1981: 110,997
1980: 129,426
1979: 166,640

The Brave and the Bold

1981: 92,847
1980: 109,307
1979: 153,034

Detective Comics

1981: 85,567
1980: 64,762
1979: 79,872

Next Week...
It's that time again!!
"Warren Award for Most Pretentious Crap
of the Year goes to..."


Anonymous said...

BATMAN #347 was the comic that made me realize Trevor Von Eeden had really stepped up his game. I’d followed his work off and on since his debut on BLACK LIGHTNING #1, and his stuff had always seemed somewhat solid but undistinguished. But then he suddenly started doing stuff like this — his draftsmanship more stylish, his layouts more imaginative, his pages much more dynamic overall. Just a few months after this, he kicked things up a notch further on the amazing BATMAN ANNUAL #8, and did some truly distinctive artwork over the next few years, on WORLD’S FINEST, THE OUTSIDERS, THRILLER, and a terrific 4-issue GREEN ARROW mini-series.

I didn’t know that Trevor was Frank Miller’s original choice to draw YEAR ONE. But i have heard about another Trevor / Frank connection — if I’m not mistaken, Trevor dated colorist Lynn Varley before she and Frank became an ‘item’.


andydecker said...

It is a mystery that the bat-book with the best art had lost so many readers in two years. Aparo or Novick isn't even a contest. And while there were some bad stories in B&B, compared to the mostly lame efforts of the other two titles it wasn't that bad. So what was the problem? The readers were no longer interested in team-up books?

Considering that Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-in-One got cancelled in the same year as B&B I guess the time was up for the concept.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys. Andy, maybe it was the lack of continuing stories that did in B & B.

andydecker said...

"maybe it was the lack of continuing stories that did in B & B."

I never thought of that, but you are right. Considering that the team books with their never ending soap opera got more successful at the time. Batman (and Superman) needed a lot of work and a few years before they became more popular again.