Monday, October 11, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 38: February 1983


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

Hannigan & Giordano
Batman #356

"The Double Life of Hugo Strange"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dick Giordano

Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale's make-out session by moonlight is interrupted when she remembers that she has a budget meeting. Bruce heads home in his car but is suddenly gassed. The next thing he knows, he's already arrived at Wayne Manor, where Alfred serves him tea and attacks him with a knife! Bruce knocks Alfred out with a right to the jaw. Or does he? Alfred reappears with a cup of tea and there's no sign of the butler Bruce just walloped.

Bruce doesn't realize that his every move is being watched on closed-circuit TV by Hugo Strange, who is dressed in a Batman suit of his own. At the real Wayne Manor, Alfred, Dick, and Vicki wonder where Bruce can be. Meanwhile, Bruce takes a shower and is attacked by the Boy Wonder. Bruce fights back and kills his sidekick! Or does he? Once again, Dick appears and there's no trace of the dead body.

Where's the beard, Hugo?
It turns out that Hugo Strange built a replica of Wayne Manor and is using his Mandroids to impersonate Bruce's loved ones, attack him, and get the stuffing kicked out of them. After another attack by a fake Dick Grayson, Bruce sees that he's really a Mandroid and ventures down into the replica Batcave, where Hugo Strange explains how he managed to escape certain death and why he thinks he should replace Bruce as the Dark Knight. Robin the Boy Wonder rides his motorcycle to the rescue and enters only to find two Batmen duking it out! He has no trouble deciding who's who and punches Hugo, who then pulls a handy destructo-switch and blows the place sky-high! Luckily, Hugo was blind as a bat without his glasses and did not see that Batman and Robin had run out the door moments before everything went ka-boom.

Batman and Robin return to Wayne Manor just in time to save Alfred from another Mandroid with a gun and they explain to the faithful servant just what happened with Hugo Strange.

Peter: The real Batman nails it on the head when he asks the most important question of faux Batman: "Why go to all this insane trouble?" Indeed. Building an exact replica of Wayne Manor (that you just know we'll never see again) and deploying super-life-like androids just to create a facade that won't be necessary an hour after its fabrication. Why doesn't Strange just blow up the real Wayne Manor with Bats and Robin inside? Because Gerry has to fill pages. If you remember that little bit, you can sit back in your easy chair and be entertained. The art is great and Hugo Strange sure beats the hell out of abominable snowmen.

Jack: Agreed. Giordano is such a great inker that he makes Newton's pencils look better than they've looked in some time. I enjoy these "book-length" tales, since they give Gerry enough room to get all of his subplots out of the way without sacrificing the space he needs to tell the main story. One question I have has to do with Hugo's beard, which seems to disappear as of page 17. On earlier pages, he has his glasses and beard, but from page 17 on, not only does he lose his glasses but he's also clean-shaven. Was it a fake beard connected to his glasses? And if he's so blind without his specs, how did he manage to greet Bruce, fight with him for a few pages, and rush over to the destructo-switch?

Hannigan & Giordano
Detective Comics #523

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Tony deZuniga

The "Doc" Heller gang has a new secret weapon and his name is Solomon Grundy, a Frankenstein-like monster with superhuman strength and a very short fuse. Heller keeps Grundy calm by giving him toys but when the toys run out, Grundy gets grumpy. 

Working off a mold sample found at one of the robberies, Batman discovers the identity of the thief just as the Bat-alarm goes off, warning the Dark Knight that another 211 is in progress. Our hero arrives at the scene to find Solomon picking out new toys from a vast array of vintage toys in an antique store. Nearby are the bodies of Heller and his gang. Grundy proves to be more than a match for Batman and, after the creature flings him against a wall, the Dark Knight has no choice but to play dead.

Grundy continues to tear apart the building, looking for just that right toy, when Batman has a brilliant idea and lures Grundy into the furnace. The monster goes up in flames and is reduced to ashes. As Batman drives away, he can still see the smoke and ash billowing from the chimney.

Peter: A whole lot of fun even if it doesn't make much sense. The most confusing bit is while Bats is admiring the residue of his handiwork coming from the chimney and the captions read: "And just for a moment, he wonders. He wonders." Wonders what? Did I miss something? And even if Solomon Grundy is a monster, that's a pretty cold-blooded way for the Caped Crusader to vanquish his opponent. I'm not familiar with the character, but the thumbnail flashback (see Superman #319 for more details) makes the monster's origin sound an awful lot like that of Swamp Thing (or, considering that Grundy was created in 1944, vice versa). Even though we see Grundy reduced to ashes, he ain't dead by a long shot. Great work from Colan and deZuniga here.

I'm also not sure what Heller was hoping to gain using an obviously psychotic creature to help him with his heists. All it got him was some mannequins and... death! The cameo for the coming of Batman's first new memorable arch-enemy in ages is very cool. We'll get more panels out of that guy next issue. There's also a three-panel teaser for the events of Batman #357 which stops the action dead in its tracks and builds absolutely no excitement for what may come.

Jack: I always liked Solomon Grundy since I was a kid and I associate him with the Justice League. I was not happy with the way he was used in this story. I don't remember any Swamp Thing-like origin, but maybe that came later. The art seemed pretty rough in spots to me, like Colan's pencils were very sketchy and deZuniga was trying to make something of them. At least Commissioner Gordon is back on the force. We can take comfort in that.

"Mob Rule!
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Irv Novick & Ron Randall

The Green Arrow breaks up a confrontation between picketers and their management. But once the riot is quashed, Oliver Queen smells something really bad, like that tuna fish can you forgot to toss in the trash can last week. Yep, just as he thought, the chief picketer is in cahoots with the management. Arrow follows the man back to his headquarters and busts into a meeting between all the top white-collar criminals in Star City and a snazzily-dressed newbie named Machiavelli. The evil (but dapper) hooligan espouses racism and hatred in an effort to establish a new government they can control in Star City. Green Arrow thinks Little Lord Fauntleroy will be a pushover until he's introduced to the real muscle... an Amazonian beauty nicknamed the Executrix!

Peter: The Executrix! Yeah, right. How long it must have taken Joey to dream that up and then convey his ideas for the babe's costume to Irv and Ron. Lotta time spent on this one, believe you me. This series takes such a nosedive between the last issue and this one that it's almost as though Joey heard they were taking von Eeden away from him and he figured, screw it, I'll just go with another mob story. Good God, do we have to do this again when we just wiped the palate clean of mafia shenanigans in the Batman strips? I'm not looking forward to this three-part snoozefest.

Jack: Me neither. When I saw that Novick had replaced von Eeden, I was braced for the worst. Novick actually draws a pretty good Green Arrow, which makes me wonder if the character is artist-proof, but the story is strictly for the dogs. Machiavelli? Seriously?

The Brave and the Bold #195

"Night of Blood!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Aparo

A rash of what appear to be vampire killings in Gotham City has attracted Andrew Bennett, a 400-year old vampire, to investigate. Disguised as a wolf, he hides in the park to wait for the next attack, which comes quickly. A young male vampire and his female vampire companion attack an old man, but Bennett intervenes and soon the two bad vampires are reduced to dust. Bennett finds a matchbook from Club Dracula in the young male vampire's pocket. A clue!

Meanwhile, a wealthy crook named Hodges is desperate to save his daughter, who appears to have been bitten by a vampire and who is certainly dying. Batman arrives, responding to a plea for help from Hodges, and agrees to try to help his daughter in exchange for a file Hodges keeps on a criminal associate named Johnny "the Gun" Gunnarson. Batman investigates other victims of the supposed vampire at the Gotham City Morgue and has an idea.

Bennett visits Club Dracula, where he finds real vampires quietly mixing with party-goers disguised as vampires. Batman has the same idea and arrives at the club, disguised as a gangster. Both Batman and Bennett come under attack and end up fighting in the same place; after they defeat the baddies, Bennett explains that he believes his former lover/sworn enemy, Mary, and her vampiric conspiracy, the Blood-Red Moon, are causing the vampire killings in Gotham. Batman and Bennett team up and Batman quickly deduces that Johnny the Gun is in league with Mary.

The two heroes race to Johnny's house and Batman stakes Johnny, who has been turned into a vampire. Mary manages to escape and Johnny, who is taking his time dying, manages to shoot Bennett with silver bullets before turning to dust. Fortunately, removing the bullets saves Bennett, and Batman provides a blood transfusion for the vampire. Hodges's daughter is cured and Bennett sets off for parts unknown, continuing to track the Blood-Red Moon and Mary.

Peter: I read several installments of "I, Vampire" in House of Mystery (and posted my thoughts here), so I have some knowledge of what's going on with the Andrew Bennett character and his eternal struggle/romance with Mary Seward, but I have to believe 90% of the B&B audience was lost. Barr doesn't even include the obligatory "As seen in House of Mystery #312!" notes when something major is alluded to. I'm not complaining that Andrew avoids slowing down the action to let Batman know all the stuff he's been up to in the last couple years. 

The team-up was probably an attempt to draw new readers to House of Mystery; the comic's circulation was down to 87,000 at this time. It didn't help, though, as "I, Vampire" saw its final chapter appear in HOM #319 that August and the House locked its doors for good a mere two months later. The story itself is not that bad; it just feels rushed and inconsequential (a complaint I file on way too many of these Bat-titles).

Jack: Batman is so easy. He'll team up with anyone! This story was a bit confusing and I'm still not clear on what gangster Batman was impersonating or why Gunnarson's goons came after him so quickly. Aparo's art is average (for Aparo) and the business about whether the people who were killed in Gotham by vampires were really killed by vampires or not remains fuzzy in my mind. If Mary turned Johnny into a vampire, why are people using fake fangs and a virus to kill people? Why not just put the real bite on them? Maybe we're supposed to take that Mary was accidentally infected by a fake vampire with a virus, while all of the dead people were killed by real vampires. The good thing about The Brave and the Bold is that ending a story confused doesn't matter, since we'll be on to a new team-up next month.

Next Week...
Oh no!
Not mo' Poe!


andydecker said...

These are the best Batman & Detective in a long while. Both don't make any sense, well, Batman doesn't, but maybe that does the trick. The reader has to believe that beardless Strange is a dead ringer for Batman and suddenly wants to be short-sighted Batman, and the best detective in the world can't recognize a robot of his ward and butler. Okay, he was drugged, but what was Dick's excuse? And how can Batman be so easily kidnapped? But the story is so insane that it didn't matter for once. Also liked the bit of continuity. Call Titan Tower. Nice touch.

Both issues looked good, were a fast read and not boring. Both covers were very well done, I had completely forgotten how good a cover artist Hannigan was. And as we expect the backups to be dire and crap, GA didn't disappoint.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy. I agree that Batman was fun but confusing; I didn't like Detective as much. I'm very impressed with Hannigan's covers.

John said...

Since Solomon Grundy is an undead zombie, I think readers (even back then) could forgive Batman setting that trap. I really enjoyed "Inferno", but the Batman #356 issue was one of the most idiotic nonsense I ve ever read. The art though was fantastic in both of them !

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John. You have a problem with idiotic nonsense?

John said...

Haha. Well the replicas of Batcave, Alfred and Dick was a tad more idiotic and nonsense than usual....