Monday, August 2, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 33: September 1982


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

Colon & Giordano
Batman #351

"What Stalks the Gotham Night?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga

Sporting fangs and drooling blood, Batman watches as the similarly befanged Dick Grayson nearly puts the bite on Vicki Vale until he is distracted by the shadow of the bat. The Dark Knight grabs his youthful ward and heads back to the Batcave, unaware that Alfred is entertaining a visitor named Christopher Chance, a/k/a The Human Target, who has mastered a pretty fair Bruce Wayne impersonation calculated to trick Ms. Vale.

In the Batcave, Batman straps Dick to a table to keep him from attacking, while Alfred telephones Father Green for help. Elsewhere in Gotham, the newly-minted private investigation team of Jason Bard and former Commissioner Gordon confront a sleazy photographer for information about a particular photograph.

Father Green gets to the Batcave and tells Batman that he needs blood from the original vampiri to save himself and Dick, so off goes the Batmobile to Dala's mansion. Bats and Green locate the vampiri in an old church, beat him up, and get the necessary blood. Meanwhile, Vicki Vale discovers that her file on Bruce Wayne has been stolen and Boss Thorne shows Deadshot the photo proving that Wayne and Batman are one and the same. Deadshot vows to go get him!

Peter: Except for a rushed finish (where Gerry feels the need to wrap everything up in four panels), I really enjoyed this deadly dumb three-parter. Yes, a comic story can be inane (remember, I'm a big fan of Werewolf by Night), as long as it's entertaining and the art is decent. Because it's an iconic character like Batman, we're never really worried about the outcome, but the supernatural element throws in a monkey wrench we're not used to.  Jack and I disagree about the effectiveness of Colan's art on Batman but I still think the guy is aces. Better him than Frank Robbins.

Jack: I'm a big fan of Colan--I just don't think most of his art on Batman so far in the '80s is up to the level of what he did at Marvel in the '60s and '70s. It also seems to depend on who he has as an inker. I'm impressed with Tony DeZuniga's work this issue, though the story leaves a lot to be desired. It's not clear exactly how much control Batman has over himself while he's sporting fangs; perhaps we're supposed to get that he's struggling to maintain control, kind of like Man Bat. In any case, I was disappointed that the supernatural element of having Batman and Robin turn into vampires was solved so quickly by a priest who just happens to know how to whip up a batch of curative formula. I would've liked to know more about how Dala's brother became the first vampiri.

"Gentlemen Defer Blondes"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Adrian Gonzales

Catwoman quickly escapes death and discovers that the man who was threatening her is an FBI agent. He explains that Candy robbed a bank to pay her husband's gambling debts and was killed when she wouldn't turn over the money. Catwoman agrees to impersonate Candy once again, going to the bank to open a safe deposit box that turns out to be empty. Candy's hubby killed her and took the money, but Catwoman locates him at the racetrack and the cash spills out on the track, where it and Roscoe are trampled by horses.

Peter: With the loss of Von Eeden on visuals, I'm finding this back-up to be a chore again. Bruce Jones's pedestrian crime plot goes nowhere slowly.

Jack: Agreed. A promising first half ends poorly with silly coincidences and goofy action. Catwoman somehow manages to change from her Candy disguise into her purple costume within moments while inside a bank vault with people outside. The art by Adrian Gonzales is about midway between that of Colan on the Batman story and that of Spiegle on Nemesis--not great, but not horrible.

Detective Comics #518

"The Millionaire Contract"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Art by Don Newton & Bruce Patterson

Batman is resting up after being transformed back into human form following last issue's embarrassing exploits as a vampire. Meanwhile, upstairs in Wayne Manor, the Human Target is disguised as Bruce Wayne (compliments of Alfred) in order to fool Vicki Vale. As chronicled in the last 75 issues, Vicki is convinced that Bruce and the Dark Knight are one and the same. Alfred is determined to put the girl on the wrong track.

Batman's sleep is disturbed by a call from the Gotham prison warden, explaining that Deadshot has escaped from stir and may be out looking for the Caped Crusader. Bats hits the road in search of clues. At that moment, Human Target/Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale head out for a dinner date at the Crystal Ballroom, unaware that Deadshot has been hired by Gotham City's brand-new crooked mayor, Hamilton Hill, to kill Bruce Wayne. Hamilton has gotten hold of the Vicki shots and is also convinced that Wayne and Batman are the same dude. Deadshot heads for the Crystal Ballroom.

He and the real Batman arrive at the same moment and engage in fisticuffs while Christopher Chance (Human Target) gets Vicki Vale to safety. With the help of Chance, Batman puts an end to Deadshot's brief reign of terror and leaves Vicki wondering if she's made a damn fool mistake. Batman thanks "Bruce" and assures him they'll see each other soon.

Peter: Weak, weak, weak. There is way too much going on here for my tastes and so much of it is inconsequential. It's as if Gerry reached the same conclusion I had (albeit five or six issues later than I did) that this whole "Is Batman really Bruce Wayne?" subplot was going nowhere slowly. The action is mediocre. The only high points were the casting of shade on the priest who saved the dynamic duo (what's he up to? and does he now know who Batman really is as well?) from vampirism and Gordon's beating by bad beat cops. These new subplots are vastly more interesting than the Vicki Vale nonsense. But that may change down the road.

Jack: I agree that the end of the Vicki Vale subplot is welcome. I did have to laugh when Alfred referred to her as "Miss Vicki," since I wondered if Conway and Levitz were recalling Tiny Tim's 17-year-old bride. I prefer the Newton/Patterson art to the Colan/DeZuniga art, but not by much. Deadshot still doesn't have much of a personality and reminds me of Deathlok.

"He With Secrets Fears the Sound..."
Story by Barbara Randall
Art by Trevor Von Eeden

Batgirl must contend with the Velvet Tiger, a villainess who has gotten her claws on a hacking device and intends to use it to extort dough out of big companies. 

Peter: The transfer of power from the Burkett/Delbo/Giella team to this issue's Randall/Von Eeden crew provides a startling contrast in styles. It's like DC finally acknowledged it wasn't the 1960s anymore. The script was written forty years ago but is obviously just as relevant today. I love Von Eeden's art, very dark and moody, and I can't wait to see him tackle a full-length Batman story next month in the Annual. Batgirl has never looked more menacing. The only thing I don't care for is Trevor's panel layout, which can be confusing at times. And, admit it, the artist has a ways to go before his rendition of Babs can be labeled "attractive." This was writer Barbara Randall's first credit (at the age of 22!), as well as the debut of Velvet Tiger, a character who never really hit the big time of villains.

Jack: I read this and wondered what the heck was going on. It seems like we've been dropped in the middle of a story. I wasn't as impressed with von Eeden's art as you were and I think it's because he's inking his own pencils here.

The Brave and the Bold #190

"Who Killed Adam Strange?"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Carmine Infantino & Sal Trapani

Adam Strange has not been seen on Earth for more than six months, so Batman travels 25 million miles by Zeta-Beam to solve the mystery of "Who Killed Adam Strange?" Arriving on the planet Rann, he finds the city of Ranagar besieged by aliens who use ray guns to turns the soldiers of Rann to water. Batman realizes that Adam can be brought back to life by transporting him to Earth, since he always appears on our planet just as he was when he left.

Batman brings Adam back to life and the duo return to Rann, where Batman quickly deduces the identity of Adam's killer. With Adam alive again, he and the Caped Crusader succeed in figuring out a way to defeat the alien invaders and the planet is saved.

Peter: Never mind my saying that DC realized they weren't stuck in the 1960s. "Who Killed Adam Strange?" is a prototypical 60s DC superhero strip: lots of indecipherable Earth1/Earth 2 gobbledygook and silly dialogue (that scene where Bats explains to Alanna about his parents is a gem of Velveeta proportions). Why do writers even attempt stories like this? No one believes Adam Strange is dead. Not even Batman. Look at how calm he is! I am the first to admit I am not the target audience here. I don't mind Carmine's art as long as it has nothing to do with Batman. His Dark Knight is tantamount to Adam West; again, not in my wheelhouse.

The classic Carmine Infantino/Wayne Boring pose
Jack: Adam Strange is one of those DC heroes I always wanted to like but never warmed up to. His costume is really cool but the science fiction aspects of his adventures were never very interesting. Fortunately, Sal Trapani's inks make this late example of Carmine Infantino's art look decent; the story passes by quickly and both the mystery and the alien invasion are resolved in short order. The whole thing is breezy and fun but not memorable.

"Murderer's Proxy!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

When Nemesis learns that crime boss Jay Kingston was killed, he assumes that rival crime boss Leonard Maddox ordered the hit. Nemesis dons a disguise and visits Maddox, accusing him of having Kingston killed; Maddox responds by hiring another killer to eliminate the man who murdered Kingston. Nemesis follows the new assassin and prevents the murder but is distracted by a woman's scream and ends up unconscious on the floor.

Jack: Not a bad episode of Nemesis (a low bar indeed), but I have to wonder at the hero's bag of tricks that allow him to change his face seemingly at will. He also gets plenty of mileage out of a "two-way trench-coat" that he can reverse. The terrible art by Spiegle looks good in comparison to an ad running this month; it's reproduced here for comparison.

Peter: I'm not sure which blow leveled at the "Dark Herald of Justice" is more potent: the one that puts him on the floor at the end of "Murderer's Proxy!" or the endless mountains of prose in all those captions. I wonder if Burkett got the word Nemesis was coming to an end (in #193) and just had so much more to give before the axe fell. I'm really going to miss this series.

Next Week...
Still licking their wounds from an All-Mayo Special,
the boys must contend with an entire issue devoted to...
Jose Gual?!


andydecker said...

The art in Batman #351 was okay. In this issue I liked the Colan/DeZuniga pairing. The Vicki/Dick scene was funny, despite her bad wig day. The story was so-so, but the Gordon subplot was interesting for one issue, while the vampire story was truly by the numbers. Why exactly did Dala stalk Dick in college again? I already have forgotten. Not that it is important.

The art for the back-story though, no. Just no. Why change artists in the midst of such a second-rate filler? The story was needlessly over-complicated and I didn't care any longer when Candy did what.

Deadshot, the deadly sharpshooter who never hits anything. One of those D villains who never worked for me. The running around in Wayne Manor reminded me of Clue: The Movie or better yet, its parody on Psych. Alfred running around, the priest running around, Dick running around, all meeting Chance. A pity that Wayne didn't meet Wayne. That Alfred never even got the idea to inform his boss about his plans is hilarious. Or just plain dumb. I wonder if Gerry's Justice League is that mediocre. One of the books I never read at the time as I thought it deadly dull.

If one thing is clear is that the Batman franchise desperately needed a creative boost at the time which never came.

andydecker said...

Bare Bones #6 is a great issue. Worth its money alone for the "Web Terror Stories" article. Highly recommended.

Peter Enfantino said...

Hey Andy!

Thanks for the shout-out re: Web Terror. If you liked that, you're probably going to like my breakdown of the eight wacky issues of Sure Fire Detective (featuring a few Harlan stories), coming up in the near future.