Monday, September 13, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 36: December 1982 + the Best of 1982


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

Giffen & Giordano
Batman #354

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Commissioner Pauling has canceled Batman's special duty status and issued an order for the police to shoot to kill when they see the Dark Knight. Batman pays a visit to Pauling and Mayor Hill, hoping they'll admit their guilt, but instead they trip an alarm and, when Batman swings off, police open fire and one trigger-happy cop succeeds in shooting Batman in the back. Batman disappears before the police can find where he fell.

Meanwhile, Doctor Thirteen shows Boss Thorne all of the clever tricks that made it seem like he was being haunted by the ghost of Hugo Strange. At the Batcave, Alfred is dealing with Deadshot, who is being kept in a cell, when Batman stumbles in and collapses from his gunshot wound. Vicki Vale receives a threatening phone call from a woman who tells her to stay away from Bruce Wayne.

Boss Thorne is convinced that Pauling and Hill are trying to drive him crazy by creating the fake ghost of Hugo Strange. Batman shows up and remains silent while Thorne babbles about the plot to have the Caped Crusader killed. A fire erupts and Boss Thorne's house is engulfed in flames; Batman stays to help manage the fire while Thorne flees. Back at City Hall, Hill and Pauling confer with McClosky, the cop who shot Batman, until Boss Thorne arrives and threatens them with a gun. Gunfire erupts and Pauling and McClosky are killed. Batman arrives, silent once again, and Mayor Hill says he'll reinstate his status as a special deputy.

And why was Batman silent? Because he wasn't Batman at all, but rather Robin, dressed in the Bat suit and substituting for the real Batman, who is recovering from a gunshot wound. It turns out Boss Thorne is not dead and is headed for a long stay in prison. So who is the man riding around in the back of a limo? He looks just like Hugo Strange!

Peter: I really wanted this one to be stellar but that didn't happen. There's a whole lot going on in this issue and yet it feels like nothing happens. I was hoping that the big showdown at the end would signal an end to this dreary "bad politics" thread that's been permeating the Bat-titles for months, but Thorne, McClosky, and Hill are all still standing so I assume we'll be subjected to yet more criminal activities from the Gotham government before the inevitable cleansing. The "ghost of Hugo Strange" thread was a red herring (or was it?) and all that clunky expository near the climax seemed more like recap. The scene of Bats getting shot in the back by a scummy cop and then getting up and making it back to the Batcave tests the boundaries of believability, but it's a funny book, right? The Newton/Alcala art is great, though--much better than last time out.

Jack: I was intrigued by the Bat-logo on the cover. It's highly unusual for DC to allow an artist to mess with the classic logo like this, but Giffen and Giordano alter it by having Batman's fists raised and his cape surrounding the picture below the logo. I wish the 23 pages inside were as interesting. As usual, Conway goes from subplot to subplot without ever making the main story thread seem worth the trouble. I often feel stupid when reading these comics because, even though I read them and pay close attention, I often feel like I missed something or can't remember how we got where we are. This issue starts out with Batman being called an outlaw. When did that happen? Looking back at Peter's summary of the last issue of Detective, I see that this issue was set up there, but it didn't make a lasting impression.


Detective Comics #521

"Cat Tale"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Sal Trapiani

Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) has made a very important discovery about herself since she moved out of Gotham City months ago: she cannot live without Bruce Wayne. When she gets the 411 that Vicki Vale has been horning in on her man while she's vacationing, Selina makes a phone call to Vale and tells her to keep her claws off Bruce Wayne!

Batman is kept busy rescuing an innocent kidnapping victim in the subway tunnels. The girl had been snapped up by a young gang of Gotham hoods looking to avenge Batman's cleansing of their turf. Bats makes quick work of the youths and returns the pretty miss to her boring life above ground.

Very soon afterward, Catwoman makes an unannounced visit to Vicki Vale's apartment in order to show her she's serious about her threat. When Vicki protests, the feline villainess whips out her cat o' nine tails and gives the reporter a good thrashing. The next day, Vicki calls on Bruce at the Wayne Foundation and tells him all about her late-night visitor. Bruce assures Vicki that she's the one for him and Selina is strictly old news, unaware that Catwoman is on the next rooftop, eavesdropping.

Peter: Though, as with Batman #354, there's not a lot of meat on the bone, the "Catwoman turns bad" arc we all knew was coming delivers the goods. Selina's turnabout doesn't really make sense (she left Gotham of her own volition and when the cat's away...), but I'll chalk it up to Gerry insinuating that the girl's elevator doesn't go to the top floor. That little spark of insanity is what's been missing from the character since the writers decided the DC Universe needed one less female foe and one more hero with great breasts. A big bonus is the complete ignoring of all that ridiculous political evil that's been mucking up the pages. It's worth several pages of vacuous Vicki if we can be Hill and Thorne-free. The Novick/Trapiani art is perfectly average; not as good as the Alcala/Newton team nor as bad as Sparling, just enough style so as not to make you cringe.

Jack: I was cringing. I thought this was dreadful, though I had to admire the well-placed cat statute on page five that obscures Catwoman's naked rear end as she rushes from bed to bathroom. The urban street gang is just embarrassing. And since when has Bruce Wayne been in love with Vicki Vale? I thought he was a playboy!

"The High Tech Highwayman!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Trevor Von Eeden

Oliver Queen (aka the Green Arrow) is working on a piece for the Daily Star on computer hackers when, suddenly, he's the victim of one of the hackers himself! Riled up, Queen puts on his Arrow duds and investigates. But the hacker, calling himself Hi-Tek, is a lot smarter than our bowman and Green Arrow is set up to take the fall for the criminal's cyber-crime.

Peter: Not bad for a back-up. The art is snazzy and the plot (which reeks of the early 1980s) is typical for the time. Computers were all the rage, the new big thing, and cyber crime and hacking would become one of the most over-used plot threads in funny books as well as Hollywood flicks. I'm not versed on the Green Arrow character so I have no idea why he was once a playboy and is now just a regular Joe. Is it worth my time to fill in the blanks? 

Oddly enough, Green Arrow's arrival lands him on the cover, a feat unheralded (I think) since Bats arrived in Detective Comics. Has a back-up ever been awarded the prime cover illo on a Bats title? The Green Arrow feature will continue for the next four years in 'tec, surely one of the longest-running back-ups in the title's history.

Jack: Trevor von Eeden's art reminds me a bit of Aparo's and a bit of Mike Grell's. I really like it. Green Arrow is a breath of fresh air as a Detective backup. I've always liked Green Arrow, especially the Neal Adams-inspired version with the beard, so I'm looking forward to this series of stories.

The Brave and the Bold #193

"Those Who Live by the Sword...!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jim Aparo

When mashed terrorists blow up a statue of blind justice near the Washington Monument, Batman happens to be swinging by and knocks them out. He recalls being surprised earlier that day at Stately Wayne Manor by Nemesis, disguised as Alfred, who gave Bruce a note to give to Batman, summoning the Caped Crusader to the nation's capital that evening.

After dispatching with the terrorists, Batman made his way to the home of Marjorie Marshall, where Nemesis explained that the Criminal Council, led by Irene Scarfield, plans to use the terrorists as a cover to kill Senator Thomas "Longtom" White, who is sponsoring a big anti-crime bill in Congress. Batman and Nemesis rush to find the site of a delivery of weapons to the terrorists and meet Bloodclaw, a villain with long, steel fingernails. Nemesis succeeds in destroying the cache of weapons and Batman barely survives an encounter with Bloodclaw.

Batman follows Bloodclaw by means of a tracer planted by Nemesis, while Nemesis assumes the guise of Ms. Scarfield's boyfriend in order to keep an eye on the villainess. Nemesis trails Ms. Scarfield the next morning, while Batman searches for Bloodclaw. The bad guys plan to kill Longtom as his car crosses a bridge, but Batman finds Bloodclaw and, when the villain falls to his death off of the bridge, one part of the plan is neutralized. Nemesis takes care of the other part by boarding a helicopter that is laden with explosives, but when he is trapped inside he discovers that the only way to prevent Longtom's death is to crash the helicopter into the building where Ms. Scarfield is hiding.

Nemesis is killed in the crash and the scales of justice are finally in balance.

Peter: Undoubtedly the best chapter of Nemesis ever written, "Those Who Live..." has a depth missing from all the previous installments. Yeah, I could have done without the Macbeth quotations (really, Cary?) but Nemesis's death/sacrifice is handled well, devoid of the maudlin sentiments you'd usually find in that sort of thing. Genuinely a sad scene. But, hey, I've always been a glass-half-full type guy, so the event hammers home that I don't have to read any more badly illustrated adventures of this tenth-tier hero. It's all good.

Jack: One of the best covers of 1982 leads in to one of the best stories of 1982! Who would've thought that Cary Burkett, writer of so many terrible backup stories featuring Nemesis, could end the series with such a fine, book-length tale. Aparo's art is stellar, as usual, making me wonder just how much the awful art by Dan Spiegle was to blame for the poor quality of the series as a whole. Bloodclaw is another forgettable villain. The parade of villains who don't have much to recommend them makes me all the more impressed with Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, et al., who created so many terrific bad guys back in the early days of comics. 



Best Script: Gerry Conway, "Blood Sport" (Batman #349)
Best Art: Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga, "Nightmare in Crimson" (Batman #350)
Best All-Around Story: "Blood Sport"
Worst Script: Cary Burkett, "Bride of Destruction" (Detective #510)
Worst Art: Jose Delbo & Joe Giella, "Riders in the Night" (Detective #512)
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Blood Sport"
2 "Terror Train" (Batman #345)
3 "Fatal Prescription" (Detective #512)
4 "Calling Dr. Death" (Batman #345)
5 "Monster, My Sweet!" (Batman #344)


Best Script: Alan Brennert, "Interlude on Earth-Two" (The Brave and the Bold #182)
Best Art: Jim Aparo, "The Batman's Last Christmas!" (The Brave and the Bold #184)
Best All-Around Story: Interlude on Earth-Two"
Worst Script: Cary Burkett, "Gladiator's Gauntlet" (The Brave and the Bold #188)
Worst Art: Jose Delbo & Joe Giella, "Riders in the Night!"
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Interlude on Earth-Two"
2 "The Batman's Last Christmas!"
3 "The Shadow of the Batman" (Batman #347)
4 "The Monster in the Mirror" (Detective #517)
5 "The Messiah of the Crimson Sun" (Batman Annual #8)

Next Week...
Is this the greatest story ever
presented in a Warren Magazine?


John said...

I think 1982 was a good year for the Batman titles. Not extraordinary, but not bad either. My list of top-5 stories for 1982 is:

1) The Messiah of the Crimson Sun (Batman Annual #8)
2) The Shadow of the Batman (Batman #347)
3) The Monster in the Mirror (Detective #517)
4) Blood Sport (Batman #349)
5) Nightmare in Crimson (Batman #350)

In Batman #354 "Showdown" the manhunt for Batman by the police brings to mind a little story by Frank Miller which will come in 1987...

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John! Good choices!