Monday, November 8, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 40: April 1983

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

Hannigan & Giordano
Batman #358

"Don't Mess With Killer Croc!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Curt Swan & Rodin Rodriguez

Killer Croc attends a meeting of the Gotham City Tobacconist's Club, a front for the mob, and announces that he's taking over. At the morgue, Batman and Commissioner Gordon learn that the Squid was killed by a special bullet shot from a special rifle--only two prototypes exist. Batman visits a shooting gallery and kidnaps a crook nicknamed Specs, whom he brings back to the Batcave and threatens into revealing that he sold the rifle to Croc, who lives in a slum known as the Point.

Bruce and Dick chat about Croc and Bruce recalls the man in the trench coat who witnessed Batman's escape from the Squid's trap. Dick reveals that Trina Todd has figured out the secret identities of the Dynamic Duo and needs help with a criminal who is trying to shake down the circus owner. Batman heads over to the Point and has a fight with local toughs; not long before, Croc broke into Star Labs to steal an Air Force computer to show the mob how clever he is. The tough guys tell Batman where Croc lives and, while Croc is showing the mobsters the stolen computer, Batman is making himself comfortable in Croc's living room.

Too bad Specs didn't see a big, blurry Abe Lincoln head!
Croc returns home and is not happy to see the Dark Knight in his favorite chair; he trashes the place and sets it on fire, angry that his special hideaway has been discovered. Batman waits for him outside but Croc manages to make his escape.

Peter: This should be an exciting, rollicking adventure, but its clunky art and stuttering script render it anything but. Perhaps the big picture will be revealed at a later date, but I'm not sure why Killer Croc is jumping through hoops for these mafia guys when he can break a man in two with ease. A more pressing question might be why the youth gangs in Gotham always look like the Village People, talk like bad 1960s stereotypes ("When studs trespass on our turf, they get hurt."), dress in three piece suits (love that vest!), and wear snaggletooth necklaces. And the security guys at STAR Labs shouldn't be so hard on themselves. I'd have never been able to tell the difference between Colonel Hardy and the 400-pound lizard who stole his uniform.

Jack: The key word there is "lizard," since it seems to me that the Croc is DC's version of the Spider-Man nemesis, only without the ability to switch to human form and the angst that goes along with it. As I read the story, I thought "Peter's not going to like Curt Swan's art," and I was right. Swan's style seems too smooth for the gritty Gotham City milieu. That said, he's a great comic book artist who knows how to tell a story effectively. I enjoyed the back and forth from scene to scene and especially the way everything was timed so we could understand what was going on and where. I agree that it makes little sense for Croc to have to steal a computer to demonstrate his worth to a room of sweaty mobsters, but I'm willing to wait and see where this all goes.

Hannigan & Giordano
Detective Comics #525

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Dan Jurgens & Dick Giordano

After Killer Croc has burned down his own home and disappeared into the river, Batman and Robin search the area but find no trace of the giant lizard-man. Unfortunately, Bats doesn't look closely enough; Croc is hiding in the shadows. 

With Croc on the lam, Bruce Wayne re-emerges for a date with Vicki Vale. Unfortunately, that doesn't go well when Bruce makes man's biggest mistake with woman and tells her what's really on his mind: Selina Kyle. Though Bruce insists to Vicki that his love affair with Selina is in the past, Vicki takes it badly and storms off.  Meanwhile, Robin checks out the Flying Todds' performance at the circus and, once the show is over, has a talk with the Todds about working with the police to catch a mysterious "man in a trench coat" who's shaking the circus down for protection money. 

Just at that very moment, Bruce suddenly has the epiphany every other guy on the planet had the day they were born: giant crocodile-men are much easier to figure out and deal with than women. It suddenly occurs to him that Croc was right there next to him in the shadows at the river. He dons his Bat-uni and takes to the sewers. There, he finds Croc and engages in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with his new adversary before being swept away by the strong current. Batman knows for sure the two will meet again!

Peter: A bit better than the anemic "Don't Mess with Killer Croc!" but still nothing more than an average Bat-tale. The art is an obvious step up but, script-wise, there's just not a lot going on here. Am I the only one thinking this Killer Croc cat might just be a rip-off of that Lizard guy over at Marvel, but there's definitely some potential? The Todd family subplot is obviously working up to a game-changing event, but that's because we have the benefit of being Monday morning quarterbacks. Otherwise, it would be just another uninvolving distraction. 

Obviously, the "world's greatest detective"
doesn't read Cosmopolitan.
Same goes (only double) for the awful Vicki Vale episode. The world's greatest detective doesn't know it's not wise to tell your current squeeze that your sexy, exotic, and dangerous ex is weighing heavy on your mind but that you're glad the new one's around because she's "uncomplicated?" Oh boy. I'm just a dumb comic nerd, but even I know you don't look Medusa in the eyes and tell her she's got a great rack but her hair is kinda funky.

Jack: I think Giordano is doing his best here to make something out of the Jurgens pencils, but he's not succeeding very well. As seems to happen too often in Detective, Conway plays out too many subplots in the limited amount of space he's been given. I won't even comment on Peter's chauvinistic remarks. We respect women here at bare*bones.

"Mob Rule III: The Irresistible Rise of Machiavelli"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Irv Novick & Ron Randall

Machiavelli continues his attempts to bring calamity to Star City by convincing the trucker's union to strike, thereby halting all commerce. But, with a well-placed "smoke arrow" in a crowded union hall, Green Arrow convinces the truckers that working as a team and ignoring rabble rousers like Mach is the way to go.

Peter: Like the two chapters that preceded it, "The Irresistible Rise..." is nothing more than space filler. I'm still not sure what Mach's overall plan was (but then maybe I just nodded off during that expository), but I am sure the guy must have one really bad case of dry mouth. In every panel he visits, his yapper is open wider than on those fake zombie things that chased Will Smith in I Am Legend.

Jack: I realize that this is just an old, forgotten backup feature in a DC comic, but did it strike anyone else as eerie that the tale features a politician who is trying to appeal to blue collar workers by playing on their sense of victimhood and his motto is that he looks out for number one? Add to that an image of empty store shelves and 1983 is looking an awful lot like recent history.

The Brave and the Bold #197

"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!"
Story by Alan Brennert
Art by Joe Staton & George Freeman

On Earth Two, Batman's alter ego sits down to continue typing out "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!" and explains how, back in 1955, the Scarecrow attacked Gotham City with his fear gas. The wedding of Bruce's former girlfriend, Linda Page, is disrupted by the toxin, which causes the guests to see a plethora of spiders, snakes, and worms. Batman, Robin, and Batwoman attempt to give chase, but suddenly Batman is overcome by the sight of his loved ones fading into thin air.

With all of his friends seemingly gone, the Dark Knight turns to Selina Kyle, who is serving time in prison. Batman convinces her to don her Catwoman costume again and help him. They drive to Gotham University, where the Scarecrow has set various traps, and working together deepens the bond between the Bat and the Cat. While helping each other overcome fears triggered by the Scarecrow's gas, the unlikely duo reveal their pasts to each other and, eventually, Batman takes off his mask and tells Selina that he's really Bruce Wayne. They defeat the Scarecrow and proceed to get married, living happily ever after until Selina's death twenty years later. Bruce writes his memoirs and waits for the day when he will join his wife.

Peter: Just the right mix of great writing, dynamic art, and good old-fashioned nostalgia. I'm not a big fan of "imaginary" stories (which is ironic, I know, since all funny books are "imaginary stories"), but "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!" is a stirring mini-masterpiece, easily the best B+B adventure we've embarked on. The Bats and Cats discourses reminded me quite a bit of the dialogue the same characters exchanged in Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Watch this Brennert guy; I bet he's going places. 

Jack: I have been a fan of Joe Staton's art ever since I bought E-Man #1 on the stands in Texas as a kid. I liked his DC work in the latter part of the '70s and I think the art in this issue is superb, perfectly capturing the flavor of the Golden Age comics it recalls. A quick bit of online research tells me that inker George Freeman also deserves praise for his work on this story. Brennert's script is not only clever and exciting, it also demonstrates an understanding of DC history, from the references to the Justice Society having disbanded and only a few heroes still going in 1955, to the appearance of Batwoman and the sign for Bill Finger Hall at Gotham University. I first read this story last year when DC reprinted it as a dollar comic; I still love it. The Aparo cover is great, too.

Next Week...
The very definition of
beating a dead corpse!


John said...

Something tells me The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne will be high in your top-5 or top-10 lists for the year and I completely agree.
As for the Croc stories I think Conway at this point was just trying to fill space and time until the main event happens and I assume you already know what this event is from your comments, but of course no spoilers.
Also, Bruce is a clumsy nerd with women.

Jack Seabrook said...

John, that story is definitely in my best of '83 list!