Monday, August 30, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 35: November 1982


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

Batman #353

"Last Laugh"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dan Adkins

The Joker demonstrates his crazy malice by killing one of his associates at the start of a meeting where he announces a new scheme. Meanwhile, Batman grabs Arthur Reeves off the street and brings him back to the Batcave for some harsh interrogation that ends with Reeves confessing that Boss Thorne gave him the doctored photos of Bruce Wayne. Batman promises Jim Gordon that he'll look into the matter.

Vicki Vale covers the timed destruction of historic Gotham Central Station, but the planned explosions fail to go off because the Joker pilfered the computer that was supposed to trigger them. Batman quickly tracks the Clown Prince of Crime to a spot across the river in Jersey, but the Joker gets the upper hand and, next thing we know, the Dark Knight is lashed to the side of a cliff that the Joker is about to demolish to reveal a giant sculpture of his own face. Fortunately, Batman escapes, foils the Joker's plot, and watches as the giant Joker face stone sculpture collapses into the river.

Peter: Not a bad little yarn but I'd have preferred Gerry leave the soap opera subplots out just this once and allow the Joker a little more space. I'm not sure why the glorious Batman/'tec crossovers ended but hopefully they'll return soon. Yes, there's a hint here of what's to come in this month's 'tec but it's not like the Part 1/Part 2 we were getting so used to. The art is passable but not spectacular.

Jack: I was very impressed with the return of Garcia-Lopez, possibly because Dan Adkins is a talented inker. We've seen him do wonders with Don Newton's pencils. It's funny that the same Joker who was anxious to team up with Batman just last month in The Brave and the Bold is now back to being a dangerous lunatic who tries to kill our hero. It doesn't bother me, though, since I'm happy to see the Joker in any setting. By the way, Garcia-Lopez's Vicki Vale is probably the most attractive version we've seen lately.

"'The Sting'--Batman Style"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Don Newton & Dennis Jensen

Robin feels good about his work to raise money to fight juvenile delinquency, but when the cash is stolen from the Gotham Boys League headquarters, he learns that the men who were in charge of the collection are con artists. Robin sets out to recover the money but gets some unexpected help from Batman, disguised as Matches Malone, who cons the con artists. Robin dresses up as Batman to try to trick the crooks but ends up learning a lesson from his partner.

Peter: I thought this was bad bad bad. The script is convoluted and dopey, the dialogue is pretty silly (although I laughed out loud when Robin warned: "Gape in awe, spawn of evil!"), and the art is too heavily inked. After a brief respite, we seem to be back to uniformly weak back-ups.

Jack: Once again, Don Newton's art doesn't look as good without Dan Adkins inking. In the panel reproduced here, I thought Bruce was having dinner with a gal pal until I realized it was the Boy Wonder. I can't imagine who thought having Robin dress up as Batman was a good idea.

Detective Comics #520

"The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Fearing for his own sanity, "Boss" Thorne" hires the paranormal investigator known as Doctor Thirteen when the ghost of Hugo Strange shows up at the Thorne residence. Meanwhile, Batman visits his would-be assassin, Deadshot (see Detective #518), to glean any info he can on the man who hired the killer. Deadshot whispers something in the Dark Knight's ear and Batman breaks the villain out of jail. Deadshot tells Bats that he was hired by Thorne and new police commissioner Peter Pauling to kill Bruce Wayne.

Doctor Thirteen visits Greytowers, Hugo Strange's last residence, and stumbles on Strange's mad scientist lab. Out of the shadows emerges Strange's ghost. Batman takes a drugged Deadshot back to the Batcave and learns from the local news that he's now "public enemy no. 1."

"The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne" is a confusing mess, one that will have the average reader rushing to Google searches and Wikipedia pages. Why is Hugo Strange's ghost wearing Batman's costume on the cover and splash? Later, when the spook confronts Thirteen, he's not wearing a cape and cowl (in fact, he's not wearing anything). Is this some plot device that will be explained in the conclusion next month? One can only hope. I still chuckle at the thought that Vicki Vale, who loves Bruce Wayne with all her heart, can't recognize half of the guy's face sticking out of Batman's mask. That's just dumb. I do like the Doc 13 character but then I've always liked supernatural dicks; anytime the supernatural can be dragged into these superhero strips, I'm game. But I'm 99.9% sure this will all be explained away rationally.

I've stated several times before that Alfredo Alcala is my favorite 1970s funny book artist but AlAl and Don Newton is not a match made in heaven. The human characters are stiff and lifeless (just look at that panel of Doc 13 reprinted here... is it just me or is the man having a bad comb-over day?) and there's just no energy in the action scenes. That's the most ho-hum Batmobile we've seen in a while.

Jack: The opening pages are great, with Strange in the Batman suit turning up at Thorne's front door, but they don't go anywhere. I like seeing Doctor Thirteen again, but Conway keeps getting sidetracked with subplots. I thought Alcala made Newton look very good, for the most part, but you're right about some of the panels.

"The Cat and the Conover Caper!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Gil Kane

Selina Kyle runs into an old friend in the subway, a reformed con named Louie Conover, a man who once worked for the Catwoman. When Louie acts strangely, Selina changes into her Catwoman costume and follows the man, hoping he hasn't fallen into his old bad habits again. Alas, Louie meets up with another man and the two break into a video game manufacturing company. Turns out the man is there to steal the plans for a new video game that's destined to be "bigger than Pac-Man and Space Invaders put together!" Catwoman makes her presence known about five seconds before the cops arrive. Louis had called them. Cats sighs happily and invites Louie to coffee.

Peter: "The Cat and the Conover Caper!" is another perfectly-average (that's 2.0 stars) Bob Rozakis script with some so-so Gil Kane art. Usually, the name Gil Kane pushes all my buttons but this has "rush job" stamped all over it.  Enough with this Good Selina crap. Time to welcome back the villainess

Jack: I'm a lifelong fan of Gil Kane and put him in my top tier of DC artists, but this looks like he drew it holding the pencil in his toes. Some of the classic Kane angles are present but for the most part the art looks terrible. The plot is a throwaway. Catwoman, like Joker, is better as a villain than a hero.

The Brave and the Bold #192 

"You Can't Take the Boy Out of Smallville..."
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Aparo

When crooks rob Superman's charity fund, Batman tracks them down and sends a signal to Superman so he can join in the capture. Just as Superman appears, he is bathed in a strange glow and replaced by Superboy, who helps Batman mop up but then questions who the Dark Knight is and how the year can be 1982. It seems Superman has been sent back to 1967 and Superboy has been sent forward to the present; a barrier prevents either from returning to their proper time.

Batman and Superboy follow the trail of electronics until they locate the penthouse hideout of I.Q., a villain who sent Superman back in time to prevent him from interfering with sunspots that will make I.Q.'s "solar-charged brain the most brilliant in all creation." I.Q. did not realize that the same person can't be in the same place twice, so sending Superman back to 1967 meant that Superboy would catapult forward to 1982. Batman takes care of I.Q. while Superboy disperses the solar flares; this removes the time barrier and allows Superboy and Superman to return to their correct years.

Peter: This is the equivalent of a 17-page Hostess Twinkie ad. It's a quintessential DC hero funny book story, complete with confusing mythos and head-scratching science (so the bad guy created some kind of outer space tidal wave so that his powers would be multiplied, right?). To give you an idea how ignorant I am of the DC Universe outside of the Dark Knight, I had no idea until now that Superman and Superboy were the same person! As much as I turn my nose up at this kind of stuff, I have to admit this was goofy fun. I liked how Bats patiently taught Superkid what was right and wrong about using his super-powers.

Jack: If it weren't for the "super" artwork of Jim Aparo, this would be an awfully long 17 pages of super nonsense to slog through. As it is, it's breezy and goes by fast, with nary an iota of danger, menace, or suspense. There's no good reason for Batman to summon Superman from Metropolis to Gotham City to help round up a few small-time crooks, but it provides an excuse for the obligatory team up. It's puzzling how the most powerful man on Earth, who can travel back and forth through time at will, can be sent 15 years into the past by a silly villain with a confusing scheme. It's even more puzzling that the same villain, who seems to be a brilliant scientist, wouldn't realize that Superboy would replace Superman. Don't even get me started on readers who didn't know Superboy was Superman as a boy. It said it right on the cover of his comics!

"Operation: Overkill"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis takes the place of a bad actor named Peter Downs, who just happens to be the boyfriend of Ms. Scarfield, the last member of the Council. She remains mum about her criminal dealings so, to learn more about "Operation: Overkill," Nemesis plants a bug in her limo. He tracks her to a meeting of crime bosses from across the country and hears her outline a terrible plan.

Peter: "Operation: Overkill" is so blessedly short, it almost acts as an epilogue to next issue's double-sized stick of dynamite, the series conclusion featuring Batman himself. The "Nemesis" series has been so forgettable that I really can't recall (irony!) what the hero's mission was in the first place. Burkett pocketed an easy ten bucks with this script; half of it is Shakespeare quotes.

Jack: I admit it--I want to know what the terrible plan is that Ms. Scarfield outlined for the crime bosses. It's so bad that Nemesis will need to team up with Batman next issue! This is Dan Spiegle's swan song on the series, and good riddance. This is some of the worst art I've seen in the 1980s.

The Best of DC #30

"The Stage is Set... for Murder!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #425, July 1972)

"The Assassin-Express Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano
(Reprinted from Action Comics #419, December 1972)

"The Magical Mystery Mirror"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #444, January 1975)

"The Riddle of the Unseen Man!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #201, November 1953)

"A Burial for Batgirl!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #400, June 1970)

"Midnight is the Dying Hour!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #401, July 1970)

"The Three Feats of Peril!"
Story by Bill Woolfolk
Art by Leonard Starr
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #209, July 1954)

"Case of the Dead-On Target!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #435, July 1973)

"The Man with 20 Lives"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #227, January 1956)

"The Ocean Pest!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Certa
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #222, August 1955)

"Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman"
(Reprinted from Batman #225, September 1970)

"The Assassin-Express Contract!"
Peter: The digest-sized 30th issue of The Best of DC offers up a series of reprints from Detective Comics (and, oddly, one each from Action and Batman), all in super-tiny format. Five of the eleven stories here are new to us. First up is "The Assassin-Express Contract," wherein Christopher Chance, the Human Target, is hired by a dimwit who has mistakenly taken out a contract on a competitor. There's no way to contact the assassin to call off the deal, so Chance must board a train disguised as the mark. I love the Infantino-Giordano art and the story makes me nostalgic for the 1970s, when every superhero comic story was engaging, intelligent, and entertaining. See what nostalgia does to you?

Our old friend, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, host of the popular Impossible... But True! show, discovers he's got an invisible stalker in "The Riddle of the Unseen Man!" As usual for this strip, Roy is given an impossible situation (invisible man) and manages to produce a very logical explanation (electronic radio interference or some such). Now, the expository doesn't always work (there's a gimmick with a typewriter that still doesn't make sense to me), but there's a goofy air to the whole package (including the sharp Moreira art) that can't help but make even an anti-DC curmudgeon like myself smile from ear to ear. Jack, can we forget the '80s and go back to the '50s? Pretty please?

Equally as much fun is "The Three Feats of Peril," starring Mysto, Magician Detective. The plot is a bit confusing (Mysto investigates the death of his friend and mentor, the Great Zambesi, and must perform the "three impossible feats" Zambesi had perfected, in order to smoke out the killer) and the climactic reveal is predictable, but I had a whale of a good time with this disposable fluff. The art is the usual great stuff from Leonard Starr. In the useless trivia department: did you know that Captain America and Bucky were terrorized by a stage magician (who doubled as a Japanese spy) named Mysto in the 1940s?

Detective John Jones (aka J'onn J'onnz, Martian Manhunter) is tasked with putting cracks in the alibi of a hood who's committed murder. Lucky for the D.A. that Martians can look into the human brain and "retrace thought processes." J'onnz stalks the killer until the man confesses. "The Man with 20 Lives" rates three out of four yawns and lulled me to sleep with its boring Joe Certa art.

Captain Compass is hired by a chap named Walters to aid him in his search for a huge cache of pirate's treasure lying on the bottom of the ocean in a sunken ship. Compass very quickly suspects that there's a criminal element at work on his ship and his suspicions become reality when the divers come up with a chest full of eighth century gold coins, all matching each other perfectly! Oh, wipe that confused look off your face. Didn't they teach you in history class that eighth century gold coins were etched by hand and no two coins are identical? Turns out the man who hired Compass has been melting down stolen gold and placing it in the hull of a ship they put at the bottom of the sea! "The Ocean Pest" has one of the more elaborate funny book plots I've seen and it manages to pull the feat off in only six pages. Captain Mark Compass had a very long run throughout several titles (his debut landed in Star Spangled Comics #83, August 1948), which only goes to show that back in the 1940s, any character could have a long run in the comics.

Aparo's back cover
Jack: This is a fun collection of stories with great front and back covers by Jim Aparo. We have the benefit of reading the stories online, so we don't have to squint to make out the words in the digest format. I enjoyed "The Assassin-Express Contract!" too and am always happy to see quality Infantino art with the usual great inks by Giordano, who is one of the unsung heroes of DC. By the way, this was the first appearance of the Human Target! "The Riddle of the Unseen Man!" is done in the classic early '50s style, where mysterious events are all explained away by dubious science. There is more of the same faith in science on display in "The Three Feats of Peril," which has clear, straightforward storytelling to go with the crisp art. I suspect we're tiring of the Gerry Conway/Marvel Comic style of storytelling, where the main thread of plot is constantly interrupted by subplots and no storyline ever quite ends. I always liked the Martian Manhunter and the Red Tornado in the '60s/'70s Justice League of America, so I was happy to read "The Man with 20 Lives," and I agree that "The Ocean Pest!" packed a lot of plot into six short pages.

Next Month....
Wrightson to
the Wrescue!


andydecker said...

You left the best part of Batman 353 out. The preview of "Masters of the Universe" by Kupperberg and Swan. Now this is a Hostess Twinkiw ad. Superman gets dragged into this mess. At the time DC did quite a few of these previews, but few are as bad as this.

Dr. Thirteen is one of these characters that don't make sense in the DC context. In a cosmos with the Phantom Stranger, the Demon or the Spectre he will always be an idiot, regardless of his achievements.

The sub-plots on Batman are disappointingly dull. This is by far not Gerry's best work.

Peter Enfantino said...


My bad. I actually thought the Masters of the Universe insert WAS a Twinkie ad!
Couldn't agree with you more on the sub-plots. The sub-plots on General Hospital were more interesting and original. How many months until Miller shows up?

John Scoleri said...

I believe that MOTU preview was the widest DC ever did — showing up in 16 titles in November 1982 (also including Detective 520) leading into the three-issue limited series they would publish. And by the time of the preview, Superman had already encountered He-Man back in July in DC Comics Presents 47. Personally, I enjoyed DC's take on it. But that could just be the Twinkies talking...

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% about Dr. 13. He’s HILARIOUSLY ridiculous in the early issues of THE PHANTOM STRANGER, constantly trying to prove the Stranger’s a fraud, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, issue after issue. And he’s so over the top about it, shaking his fists, his face contorted with rage as he screams, ‘One of these days I’ll expose you for the fake you really are! Your cheap magician’s tricks don’t fool ME!!’ Etc. This just after witnessing the Stranger clearly using his mystical powers to SAVE some innocent from the Forces of Evil. You end each story thinking, ‘Jeez, what is this guy’s problem?’

And I agree with Peter — I’m not a fan of Alcala’s inks over Newton’s pencils. Alcala was an excellent artist on his own, and he was good paired up with some other artists, but he smothers Newton on these Bat-books. The finished product looks fine, technically — it just doesn’t look much like Don Newton. I think every single issue by this team is a somewhat tragic missed opportunity. I’d much rather they’d been inked by Adkins, or Chiaramonte, or Bob Smith.