Monday, August 16, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 34: October 1982

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

Batman #352

"The Killer Sky!"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Kupperberg
Art by Don Newton & John Calnan

Commissioner Gordon lies in a hospital bed, badly beaten by a crooked cop, with his daughter Barbara and his partner Jason Bard watching over him. The new mayor and the cop responsible show up and threaten more beatings unless Gordon drops his investigation. Batman intervenes and promises to help Gordon and Bard find proof in order to remove Mayor Hill from office.

Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic, a zeppelin pulls a submarine out of the water and flies away with it! At Wayne Manor, Christopher Chance is finished impersonating Bruce Wayne, while in Gotham, Vicki Vale sees Boss Thorne visit her editor, after which her editor commits suicide.

That night, Vicki joins Bruce on a luxury liner for a fireworks display, but when the zeppelin passes by and starts to levitate a battleship, Batman swings into action and climbs aboard the airship. He tries to dismantle it but is knocked off by goons working for its commander, who calls himself Colonel Blimp. Batman survives the fall and staggers home, where he quickly recovers and is joined by the Boy Wonder as they set out in the Batmobile to find the blimp. A land mine destroys their vehicle, so they don't know that Colonel Blimp is nearby, hiding in an old hangar and promising to make fools pay!

Peter: The Jules Verne plot is rather clunky (Colonel Blimp??!!), as is the awkward exposition when any of the subplots raise their tired heads ("We know it was their political machine that set up Hill's opponent Reeves with those phony photographs of you during the election to discredit the opposition and insure their winning"--whew! I need a breath and a comma or three!), but what really sinks this turkey is the awful artwork. I've seen great Don Newton work before, so I'll lay the blame squarely at the feet of inker John Calnan. 

I love how depressed Vicki gets after watching her crooked boss blow his brains out. A couple of gin and tonics and Bruce Wayne on her arm, and no problem. Though it might look like Colonel Blimpie is a sign of the times (Disgraced Nazi? Crazed Russkie?), the second part of this loser will show otherwise. And someone please tell me what the hell Vicki Vale is wearing. Was this around the time that Dan Haggerty was influencing women's fashion?

Jack: It doesn't get much worse than this, does it? The heavy Calnan inks destroy most of Don Newton's pencils and make this look like a 23-page backup feature. Nothing much happens in this "book-length thriller" and I was dreading the "to be continued" at the end that promises more of Colonel Blimp. At least they got Jim Aparo to draw a good cover, which reminds me of a cover by Neal Adams from Batman 219 (February 1970).

Detective Comics #519

"...Like a Dreadnought in the Sky!"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Kupperberg
Art by Don Newton & John Calnan

While Batman searches for Colonel Blimp, Robin plays a hunch and flies to the Arctic in the Batplane, where he stumbles on the missing battleship and submarine. Once Robin wakes up the slumbering sailors and motivates them, they ready their weapons for a Blimp return. Once the bad guys arrive and exit the zeppelin, the sailors surround them and take them prisoner.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Colonel Blimp discovers his Arctic retreat has been captured just as the Dark Knight boards the villain's balloon. Blimp gets the drop on the Caped Crusader and holds our hero at gunpoint long enough to explain his origin. You see, Blimp's father was a Navy man who believed in the dirigible project of the 1930s, only to be cast away and disregarded by his superiors. The scorn was too much for Daddy Blimp and he "died a broken man." Showing that he is a true superhero, Batman does not fall asleep during the oratory but, in fact, works out a very clever plan to get himself out of this jam. Bats uses a cylinder of hydrogen to ignite Blimp's cigarette and the distraction allows him to deliver a left uppercut to the 10th-tier villain's jaw, thus making the skies safe again.

Co-starring Georgie Jessel as the brilliant commander

Not that Gerry fills in many of the particulars, but just how fast is this zeppelin? How far is it to the Arctic from Gotham? You see where I'm going with this? I realize there are at least three zeps (one is blown up by Blimpie early in the story), but the balloon carrying all that extra weight has to fly quite a ways (and then back again!) to drop its load. Off the top of my head (wink wink), I'd say that the maximum speed of a zep is 84 mph and the distance between Gotham and the Arctic is 2600 miles. To paraphrase one of Gerry's lines in this installment, the logic is as slippery as "a fat man on a banana peel!"

Colonel Blimp's origin is so maudlin and threadbare, you can almost imagine Gerry throwing up his arms and saying "Screw it! The story's a dog anyway. This character will never be used again (and he was right) so why should I bother brainstorming?" So the Navy guys on the frozen battleship had to have the Boy Wonder arrive to remind them they had big guns aboard and could defend themselves? Doesn't give you much confidence in the Earth-1 militia, does it? All around, the Colonel Blimpie saga is a 40-page wet noodle.

Jack: Another nice cover by Aparo tricks kids into buying this off the newsstand, only to get home and discover it contains 17 more pages of Colonel Blimp! Gerry must really have loved Led Zeppelin to come up with this ridiculous premise. Len Wein is credited as the editor of this story, and I hope his tenure improves starting next issue. At least Newton's art looks better than in Batman. I don't know why Gerry decided to name his villain after a British film character, but he shouldn't have bothered.

"...When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground!"
Story by Barbara Randall
Art by Trevor von Eeden & Rodin Rodriguez

Batgirl squelches the computer crime of the Velvet Tiger but the Tiger's brother, Ward, aids in her getaway. Frustrated, Babs hopes she'll get another crack at the villainess soon. She will.

Peter: I liked "When Velvet Paws...," while admitting the lack of a cohesive story and general confusion. There's too little space to breathe. The Velvet Tiger is an edgy character, not quite full-on insane like the Joker but still a bit unhinged. She doesn't really present much of a threat in the few panels she's presented in but you get the feeling there's something exciting to be done with the Tiger. The art is rough, vivid here and scratchy there, but I prefer it to the drab and lifeless doodles we got in the Blimpie arc. 

Jack: The story is unfocused and the art is uneven but, yes, it's better than Col. Blimp. The other good thing about this Batgirl backup is that it kept the lead story from being longer.

The Brave and the Bold #191

"Only Angels Have Wings"
Story by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn
Art by Jim Aparo

What's a Batman to think when the Joker murders the Penguin on live TV? The Clown Prince of Crime summons the Dark Knight to his side and insists he was framed; the old adversaries are forced to team up to find the Penguin's killer. The funeral is being held at St. Vitus Cathedral and, wouldn't you know it, the Joker exposes the very-much alive Penguin, who is masquerading as a nun. He had planned to kidnap a cardinal for ransom, but his plot is foiled by the very un-Dynamic Duo, and the Joker helps Batman put the Feathered Fiend behind bars.

Peter: This is really dumb, juvenile material. It's a lucky thing DC decided to develop multiple universes as there's no way you can convince me this is the same Joker who threw a wheelchair-bound man into a shark tank or would soon paralyze Barbara Gordon. This is the Adam West-Universe Joker and Penguin. Not my cup of tea. A story that sees Batman team up with a loon who has murdered dozens is of no interest to me, sorry.

Peter's next car
Jack: Peter! Lighten up! Look closely at the flower in my button-hole and... oh, never mind. I thought this story was a lot of fun, easily the best so far this month after the two-parter with Colonel Blimp and the weak Batgirl entry. I have no problem with the Joker of the '70s who had his own comic and was an anti-hero of sorts; I'm just happy to see two classic villains after all of the second-tier bad guys we've had to put up with in recent issues. I admit that Batman was not at his best in this story; it strains credulity to think he'd try to pick the lock on the trunk of a car and not notice it's the Joker's car, or that he would fail to appreciate that the Penguin's corpse in the funeral home was a wax dummy, but I don't care. With the great Aparo art, I really got a kick out of "Only Angels Have Wings."

"Dead Man's Bluff!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Blaine Sheffield's wife intervenes and prevents the Butcher from killing Nemesis. Nemesis fights back and the Butcher makes a run for it; Mrs. Sheffield tips Nemesis off to her husband's location, so Nemesis disguises himself as the Butcher and tricks Sheffield into a confession. Mrs. Sheffield isn't thrilled that her hubby will have to turn state's evidence. 

Peter: What little action this chapter of "Nemesis" contains is ground to a halt by some really clunky expository in its mid-section. Jack and I berate the art of Dan Spiegle on a bi-weekly basis but this chapter might contain Spiegle's all-time worst art. Characters' features and faces are indistinguishable from each other. It's a foggy mess.

Jack: Hang in there--only one more issue of Spiegle's art before the big finale, which Aparo draws. The best thing about this story, other than the fact that it only runs six pages, is the lettering on the title, presumably by Adam Kubert.

von Eeden
Batman Annual #8

"The Messiah of the Crimson Sun"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Trevor von Eeden

Every man, woman, and child in Shinn Corners dies a horrible death, their skin fried right off the bone. But who is at the bottom of this act of terrorism? It's the creepy robed figure identifying himself as the Messiah of the Crimson Sun (as opposed to the Mauve Sun or Alabaster Sun). With the aid of an army general, Batman sends Robin deep undercover into the Crimson Sun cult. 

At the same time, Batman discovers that the Messiah's plan is to poison Gotham's water supply with the same toxin that killed the population of Shinn Corners. The Dark Knight busts into the water purification plant and engages in fisticuffs with the Messiah's henchmen. The numbers vastly favor the Crimson Cult and it seems as though Batman will fail. One of the thugs opens the water valve and is about to dump the poison into the pipes when shots ring out and the man is dead. Batman looks up to discover that his savior, and the savior of Gotham, is none other than Talia Al Ghul!

Bats snickers and tells Talia he knew who was behind the whole plot in the first place, since the thugs wore the trademarked logo of Ra's Al Ghul on their outfits. Bats thanks his ex-girlfriend (who clearly still holds a torch for our hero, incessantly referring to Bats as "Beloved") and she agrees to assist him in taking down her father. But Ra's has blasted off in a rocket ship to a floating space station just outside Earth's atmosphere, with Robin as an uninvited guest.

Bats looks to the general once more and borrows a space shuttle to attempt a Boy Wonder rescue. With the aid of Talia, Bats sneaks onto the space station and confronts Ra's, who explains his complicated plot to destroy Earth (something about cleansing the world with the aid of the sun). Bats and his long-time enemy duke it out for over an hour while Talia rescues Robin; they both scurry to the room where the two foes are having their workout and Talia tries to talk her father out of his evil plan. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the general has decided the time has come to blast the space station to smithereens, whether Bats and Robin have escaped or not. The missiles hit their target and the station begins to break apart. Ra's hops in an emergency evacuation vehicle and speeds away but Batman, showing more than just a little bit of his precognitive power, had monkeyed with the controls of the vehicle and sends Ra's hurtling towards the sun. Back on Earth, Talia calls off the wedding plans. "Oh well," sighs the Caped Crusader, "there's always Vicki Vale!"

 A big disappointment, considering this is the first Batman Annual since 1964. If you're going to offer up (what the splash claims to be) the "longest single adventure ever of the dread Batman," you better make sure you've got a solid plot and a story that will hold the reader's attention for 40+ pages. "The Messiah of the Crimson Sun" does not contain either. It's a bloated, nonsensical mess. I'm not sure why Ra's decided he had to set up this elaborate con with the Crimson Sun cult. Why bother with the subterfuge when the truth will come out eventually and, it seems, the whole idea was to force a showdown with his wanna-be son-in-law?

Talia's emotional swings are annoying. She wants to kill her father. She doesn't want to kill her father. "He's out of control." "He's just misunderstood." And Robin's big role as infiltrator is a joke. He's brought before "the Messiah" disguised as the only survivor of the Shinn Corners massacre, Ra's unmasks, and Robin gulps. That's about it until the Boy Blunder shows up to watch Bats trade right crosses. The whole thing just feels like it was thrown together at the last second. That goes for the art as well. Trevor von Eeden can be very moody and atmospheric and the Batman is the perfect character to utilize that style. But I found there were far too many large panels of... nothing, really. Spaceships and posed bad guys. His version of the Dark Knight is pretty cool, reminding me of the 1940s version, but his non-cowled characters are stiff and interchangeable. I didn't dislike this as much as the two-parter in Batman and 'tec this month, but I wouldn't ever revisit it.

Jack: I disagree 100%! This is in the running for my best of 1982. Is this the same Trevor von Eeden who drew the Batgirl backup strip? This art is terrific! The page layouts are dynamic and, as I read this issue, I kept thinking that von Eeden's work is the link to the future, since Batman artists of the 2000s are drawing the Dark Knight in a similar fashion. The story has more adult themes than anything we read in the three regular monthly books, and I was not expecting Ra's al Ghul to be behind the plot. The story creates a real sense of urgency as the time ticks by. These are 42 thrilling pages!

Next Week...
Another masterpiece from 
Stenstrum and Corben!


andydecker said...

I never was a fan of Mike Barr. This is a tired version of Bond's Moonraker, and it does even make less sense. Von Eeden's art looks rushed, Talia is nearly unrecognizable, and Ras is a fashion victim. But von Eeden can draw a mean Batman and does interesting layouts.

Conway's Bat books still are mediocre to downright bad. Half of the books in the Coming Comics box were more interesting and often much better done.

John said...

I agree with Jack about the Batman Annual #8 "The Messiah of the Crimson Sun.
The art is fantastic and Batman's look is very similar to the 90s and 2000's Batman.
Also, I like that the feel and the images of this story are more adult-oriented and make you forget the typical "villain of the month" storylines of Conway.
Also, Talia's love/hate relationship with daddy has always been a tool to service the stories. This will never change.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys! As you can see from my opinion and Peter's, people vary wildly in their assessment of the annual.

Anonymous said...

I’m Team Trevor all the way on this one. Yeah, the story isn’t anything special, and pretty nonsensical the closer you look at it, but for me, it’s all about the art. This annual blew me away at the time and I still think it’s sensational. Soon after this, he did a terrific Green Arrow mini-series, inked by Giordano, and drew 3 or 4 really wild issues of WORLD’S FINEST (which maybe you guys might consider including in this here series — they DO feature Batman and they WERE published in the 80s…)


Jack Seabrook said...

b.t., I tried to get Peter to read World's Finest for this project but he turned me down flat. He loves Batman but not Superman! And he wouldn't go anywhere near the Justice League.

Yankee Cowboy said...

Darn! I love World's Finest from this era!

Yankee Cowboy said...

Oh, and what about the Outsiders? Does he turn his back on that group too???


Jack Seabrook said...

Peter told me "no Outsiders." Sorry!

Yankee Cowboy said...

Wow that’s surprising, as it’s the future Brave & the Bold mag basically.

Peter Enfantino said...

Yankee and BT-

Here's the dirt: we never covered those extra titles in our 1970s posts. I've never liked the kind of JLA/Legion of Super-Heroes cosmic nonsense that permeates B+B and Outsiders. Not sure why we decided to cover those last couple years of B+B but Outsiders was a deal breaker for me. I read the first batch of those back when they came out and was anything but impressed. I like to stick to the core Bat-titles. Now, when Legends of the Dark Knight shows up at the end of the decade, that'll be covered.

Yankee Cowboy said...

Ok it all makes sense now. Different strokes for different folks I guess. Well at least there's still some B&B writeups left to enjoy lol.