Monday, November 22, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 41: May 1983


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


Batman #359

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Dan Jurgens & Dick Giordano

Batman makes an unannounced visit to the Tobacconist's Club, where he confronts Filbert Hughes III and demands information about the whereabouts of Killer Croc. Around the same time, Killer Croc leads a meeting of Gotham City crooks at the zoo's reptile house; though he claims to have killed Batman and says he now rules Gotham City, the assembled hoods mock him. Later that night, Croc breaks into Gotham City Jail and, dressed as a guard, murders an inmate named Tony Falco.

Batman hotfoots it to the jail when he hears the siren and ends up in a fistfight with Croc, who clobbers the Dark Knight and runs off. Back at Stately Wayne Manor, Bruce loses his temper with Dick and decides the best way to relax is to call Vicki Vale and apologize for his recent, boorish behavior. Meanwhile, over in Jersey, Croc's right hand man, Slick, visits the Sloan Circus to collect protection money. While the Todd parents follow Slick, Batman takes Commissioner Gordon for a moonlight drive. Gordon has the details on Killer Croc's background from the Tampa Police and proceeds to tell Batman the crook's origin story.

It seems Croc was bullied as a child and grew up to be a hardened criminal. Sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate, his sentence was commuted when the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional and, after spending 18 years in the clink, he was paroled and got a job wrestling alligators at a carnival sideshow. Two months ago, he killed the deputy who gave him his first beating. Now, the Todds have followed Slick to the zoo auditorium, where they suddenly find themselves onstage in front of an audience of Gotham's criminals! Killer Croc is about to outline his plans for Batman and the unfortunate Todds find themselves with front row seats.

Peter: There's a nasty streak to our hero in this issue that we haven't really seen before. He admits that maybe it's a good idea that the Squid was assassinated, but he really didn't like the fact that it went down on his watch. Bruce lays into Dick for no apparent reason other than to keep alive that thread Gerry introduced issues ago that maybe these two should work solo rather than as a team. That scene comes off as pretty lame, as does Bruce's call to Vicki. But I can't deny that this Croc guy (Marvel ripoff he may be) is a shot of adrenaline to a series that was wilting on the vine.

The young
Killer Croc
The art is molten hot and frigid, depending on the scene. The Jurgens/Giordano team does a fabulous job of portraying Batman and Croc as fearsome creatures but drops the medicine ball when it comes to the human characters. A lot of the figures come off stiff and lifeless. That cover, by the way, is a knockout, even if the scene inside doesn't feature that rogues' gallery. On the letters page, editor Len Wein confesses that this is Gerry Conway's final Batman issue. The bad news is the new guy is Doug Moench. The (hopefully) good news is that he's a much more refined writer than the guy who was writing for Warren in the 70s.

Jack: Unlike 99% of the Warren stories we read, "Hunt" features better writing than art. The style reminded me of Mike Grell, for some reason; perhaps it's the stilted poses and almost unfinished look to some of the panels. I'm surprised that Giordano inked this, since he usually does more solid work. The Killer Croc background tale is weird, don't you think? He goes from looking like a somewhat ugly kid to looking like a human alligator as an adult! That's some seriously bad teenage development, if you ask me.

Detective Comics #526

"All My Enemies Against Me!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

The Joker has called a meeting of all of Batman's foes to inform them that an upstart named Killer Croc is announcing his intentions to kill Batman. Oddly, the Joker is insulted by this proclamation and insists that he and his comrades should murder the Dark Knight first! Unfortunately, the Clown Prince of Crime doesn't read back issues of Batman like Jack and I do, so he's not aware that Catwoman and Talia al Ghul are sweet on the Caped Crusader. Both gals exit stage left and head for the Batcave.

We find our hero in a surly mood yet again, taking his emotions out on unlucky punching bags. Cats and Talia arrive at the same time, have a small catfight, and inform their lover of the new partnership between Gotham's finks. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson is attempting to track down the senior members of the Todd acrobatic team, who are closing in on a very dangerous man they've been following. 

Yet another meanwhile, Barbara Gordon has stumbled on a clue at the site of the Villains Peace Summit and heads to Wayne Manor to inform Batman. Discovering her mentor has hit the road with his two gorgeous lovers/adversaries, she spills the beans to Dick Grayson: "Get into your silly costume, Dick, and let's go! Yep, I know you're the Boy Wonder and I have for quite a while. Do you think I'm an idiot? There's a detective's brain hidden under this gorgeous mane of hair!"

While Dick and Barbara head out on their own, Batman, Talia, and Catwoman pinball through Gotham, taking out the villains one by one. Gordon calls Babs and Robin to the city zoo, where they discover the remains of Trina and Joseph Todd; Croc had fed them to some of his pets. Robin unleashes a howl of pity and anger and swears vengeance for his murdered friends. Speaking of Croc, the Joker has tracked the monster to the abandoned Gotham City Men's Club and proposes a deal. He explains that the Gotham Baddies have united to kill Batman before Croc can get to him and he wants no part of it. Can they be best buds just this once (the sly devil!)?

Back at Wayne Manor, Jason Todd has stumbled upon a secret doorway to the Batcave and begins rummaging through some old chests that just happen to be lying around. Within minutes, he has found an old Robin costume and dons it (cue: "Key Overstreet Slabbed Issue" music). At that moment, the Batmobile roars into the cave and Jason must take shelter... in the trunk of the vehicle!

Batman uses his Bat-computer to come up with an abandoned brewery as a possible hiding place for Croc and he, Cats, and Talia head there, unaware of the stowaway in the boot. Across town, Batgirl and Robin bust some heads and come up with the same address for Croc. All parties converge on the brewery, where Croc and the Joker get the best of Bats, Cats, and Talia, tying them up to an overheating brewing vat. Croc unties Batman and challenges him to a fistfight. Bats happily agrees! At that very moment, Robin arrives, explaining the situation with the Todds. Jason, who has exited the trunk and sits high overhead in the brewery, waiting to help, overhears and dives onto the distracted Croc just as Bats gives the scaled supervillain a left uppercut. Jason beats on an unconscious Croc.

The next day, feeling guilty, Dick Grayson announces to Bruce his intention to adopt Jason Todd and Bruce agrees to provide shelter. Dick smiles as he sees something very familiar in the young man.

Peter: 56 pages begs a lot of patience and concentration but allows the script to breathe. Problem is, there's just so much going on that you get the feeling Len Wein told Gerry this would be a 200-page epic and changed his mind at the last moment. There's not enough room here to dwell on each of the 20+ villains (some of whom I'd never heard of before) and introduce the new subplots. The death of Trina and Joseph Todd (a very pivotal moment, we'll come to find out soon) is handled almost as an afterthought. Side note: those are the cleanest casualties of a crocodile attack ever recorded. The final showdown is anticlimactic. Shortcomings aside, "All My Enemies Against Me!" is a lot of fun and a well-told tale with some great Newton/Alcala art. 

I love how Gerry gets in a plug for women's equality with Vicki Vale elbowing her creepy layout man, Lance, when he puts the moves on her. Vicki explains to us that she was probably too hard on Lance but she's "fed up with men who insist on having things their way" and then calls her flaky billionaire boyfriend to check up on him! She rips Alfred a new one when the butler won't give her the info she wants and then breaks down in tears. Gerry gets to fly the freedom flag and put women down in two successive panels! Brilliant!

Equally stupid/brilliant is Jason Todd's stroll through Wayne Manor and discovery of the Batcave. The world's greatest detective couldn't figure out that the pathway to the world's most guarded secret is perhaps a little too easy to stumble on?

This is the issue where, out of the blue, Batgirl announces to Dick that she knew all along he and Bruce were the Caped Crusaders. Yeah, right. I get that half of Gotham should know their secret identities by now (as witnessed by Jason's discovery), but her sudden exclamation doesn't ring true. But, heck, Babs definitely shows she's a true detective when she informs Dick she's found a sole "pinched cigarette" at a crime scene and from that formulates the theory that all of Gotham's bad guys are grouping together to kill Batman. Sherlock Holmes could never have arrived at that theory with such scant clues. And is it just me or is it kinda creepy that the Commish calls his daughter "babe?"

Jack: Two classic Bat issues in two months! Last time out we had the great Brave and the Bold, and now this. There's just so much to enjoy here that I wasn't bothered at all by the shortcomings you cite. I love the idea of all of the villains gathering and the Newton/Alcala art looks as good as it ever has. It's fitting that the Joker is the leader of the pack, since he is the greatest Bat villain of all time, but even the second-tier bad guys are used effectively. Of course, this issue is a turning point in the Bat-saga with Jason Todd becoming part of the team. It's not lost on me that Gerry Conway has a history of writing issues that are turning points where an important character dies (Gwen Stacy, anyone?).

I agree that Batman's security needs an upgrade and I blame Alfred for that one. And after 50 years, you'd think that some mayor of Gotham would clean up Crime Alley! Things I loved in this issue:
  • an appearance by the Gentleman Ghost
  • Joker: "Lord save me from loonies"
  • Catwoman and Talia fighting over Batman
  • Jason Todd donning an old Robin outfit and hiding in the Batmobile's trunk
  • the Batman TV show-worthy death trap
This is a four-star story and one of my best of 1983!

The Brave and the Bold #198

"Terrorists of the Heart!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Chuck Patton & Rick Hoberg

A group of terrorists known as the Black Heart are in an armed standoff with Gotham's finest; Batman intervenes but is knocked out of a window by machine gun fire. The terrorists rush the cops, guns blazing, and escape to a handy hideout just around the corner. Their leader is Peter Travers, who bitterly recalls being betrayed by Katy, his terrorist lover. Now he wants to find her and kill her.

In New York City, Karate Kid appears from the future, looking for his old gal pal Iris Jacobs. Her former landlady tells him that Iris has moved to Gotham City. Back in Gotham, a super-villain known as Pulsar breaks into the jail cell where Katy is being held, but Batman appears and goes toe to toe with Pulsar. As in his battle with the terrorists, Batman is blown away, this time by an energy beam from Pulsar's staff.

Batman takes a beating #1...

Katy slips out of the prison while Batman and Pulsar are fighting; she murders a kindly gentleman who stops to help her and she drives off in his car until she crashes into a fire hydrant in her weakened state. Who should happen by to help Katy but Iris Jacobs, who lives right by the fire hydrant and who helps Katy into her apartment and gets her cleaned up. Surprise! Through an open window pops Karate Kid, who has a bad cold and grabs a hanky from a table. He sees on the TV news that Pulsar is on the loose, so he has to dash, determined to go after the villain and promising to deliver important news to Iris at a later date.

Karate Kid meets up with Batman, who quickly uses his skills as a detective to determine that the snotty tissue Karate Kid is clutching belongs to Katy! The terrorists track down the woman who betrayed them and burst into Iris's apartment just as Batman and Karate Kid enter through the open window. Batman fights the terrorists and Karate Kid fights Pulsar, who gets blown to pieces when the head terrorist pushes a button on a remote control that sets off an explosion in the motor under Pulsar's heart. The terrorists are soon dispatched and Iris takes Katy down herself. Sadly, Karate Kid breaks the news to Iris that he's getting married to someone else in the future. She tells him to get lost and he heads back to the future in his time-travelling bubble, leaving Iris with a broken heart.

...Batman takes a beating #2.

Peter: After a couple of Brave and Bolds that had me sitting up and taking notice, we're back to the usual organ-grinder and monkey routine. I have no idea who Karate Kid is and most of the stuff he's telling us about is zooming straight over my head. Was this Peter Travers/Katy Patty Hearst story line continued from somewhere else? How many B+B readers (aside from DC-fanatic Jack, of course) actually purchased something called Karate Kid when it was published for 15 issues from 1976-78? I had never even heard of this guy, so I knew I'd have to hit the research books for some background.  Wikipedia My deep research revealed the following nugget of info about KK: The extent of his skill is so great that he can severely damage various types of hard material with a single blow and was briefly able to hold his own against Superboy through use of what he called "Super Karate." Well, that certainly answered my silly question of why the future filled with Superboys and Wonder Girls would need a karate expert. Hard to believe that martial arts was still a thing in 1983.

Jack: You caught me, Peter; I did buy Karate Kid comics back in the mid-'70s. I also bought Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter. I had an Enter the Dragon flipbook that I got at the movies and treasured. I even took karate lessons at the Y, though when I failed to get a black stripe on my white belt, I quit. So ended my career as a martial arts master. The art on "Terrorists of the Heart!" is not very good. It's one of the first credits for penciller Chuck Patton, who came and went at DC after an undistinguished five-year term in the mid-'80s. Rick Hoberg's inks don't do Patton any favors. Mike Barr's story isn't bad, it's just routine. He knows how to craft a plot and get from point A to point B, but the scaffolding shows, especially in the awkward business with Karate Kid's cold and the hanky leading Batman to Katy. It's a shame that this weak issue followed such a great issue, but that's the nature of an anthology series, I guess.


Congrats from DC's answer to Stan Lee,
Bob "I did it all myself" Kane!
As is our wont around here, we present the annual circulation numbers for the three regular titles (along with the previous years' numbers, so you can see how the comic world was faring); the figures published in 1983 actually reflect on how the title sold during the previous twelve months. As you can see by the figures, the tailspin experienced over the past several years has leveled off and the loss of readership is nearly negligible.


1982: 108,234
1981: 110,997
1980: 129,426

The Brave and the Bold

1982: 91,097
1981: 92,847
1980: 109,307

Detective Comics

1982: 85,049
1981: 85,567
1980: 64,762

Next Week...
Severin and Wally together!


andydecker said...

As far as anniversy issues are concerned, Detective #500 is pretty good. Solid to good art, Gerry ties his loose ends and presents an okay story. Nevertheless the origin of Jason Todd is so lame. (Not that the next Robin is any better.) The duplication of the Robin origin is stupid. What are the chances?

Talia must wear the most horrible costume of her career. And I truly hope Doug Moench puts Vicki Vale into comic limbo. She is boring and the whole love story was not remotely convincing.

The numbers are interesting as usual. What sells Batman today? Far less I would think.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had something of value to contribute to this week’s Batman discussion. I can only agree with you guys about early Dan Jurgens — kinda / sorta / pretty good at times but strangely bland and un-exciting at others, and having the usually reliable Dick Giordano on inks doesn’t really move the needle much. A puzzle.

Everyone here has heard me moan about Alcala inking Newton being a waste of both their talents, so no need to keep beating that particular dead horse. One new thought about Newton tho : with or without Alcala’s inks, his male figures tended to be somewhat more attractive than his females. I heartily agree with Andy, that is one of the worst, most unappealing outfits I’ve ever seen Talia wearing.

I don’t have much else to say about this week’s stuff, so I’ll get a jump-start on next week’s (since you kindly posted a little preview at the tail) — the art on ‘Creeps’ is credited to John Severin and Wallace Wood, thus many fans have long assumed it means that Severin did the pencils and Wood did the inking (even the GCD seems to think so) — but don’t you believe it. It’s clearly Wood on pencils (including some stock poses and faces he used in other stories) and those are unmistakably Severin’s gritty inks.

Okay? Great. Now that we have that sorted, is the combo any good? Well, personally, I think…


John said...

I really loved Detective Comics #526 "All My Enemies Against Me!"
It had the suspense to keep your interest going until the end, the deaths of Todds, which is a pivotal point and bring the 1st version of Jason Todd into the Bat-family and finally ends the Croc storyline with his apprehension.
The triple-crossing of Joker is such a Joker move !!!
The specific mention of Conway to Croc's death penalty sentence that was ruled unconstitutional and later showing him do all these murders makes me wonder if it's a pro death penalty stand or if I am just overthinking it.
Also, as a response to Jake's comment I'd say that Croc is the example of what can happen if you avoid a good dermatologist as a teenager.
I think Crisis on Infinite Earths corrected many mistakes made by Conway.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, everyone! Andy, there are a lot of Batman comics today, so perhaps they make up some of the diminished sales with the number of titles. I also think online comics probably sell pretty well. I'm reading Fear State right now across the Bat titles and it's very good.

b.t., you'll have to wait till next Monday for our assessment of "Creeps." We strongly disagree with each other...

John, I read Crisis many years ago and I've never read the Conway Bat-stories before, so I'll trust you on the corrections.

Yankee Cowboy said...

A door behind the Grandfather clock??? I thought the door WAS the Grandfather clock. Or was it somehow left ajar?

On a related note, I wonder how long into the 80's Batman will continue to have the BM 1966 inspired Car with no roof? Personally I've always loved that look, but with a new age in Comics coming there will doubtless also be an update to the Batmobile.

Jack Seabrook said...

I remember American cars in the 1980s. They weren't anything to write home about. We'll have to see what happens to the Batmobile!

Yankee Cowboy said...

I was thinking more about security. By the '89 movie the Batmobile could be nearly impregnable (with the shell engaged). As of now it's anything but that. Not that I'm in a hurry to end this wonderful, "innocent" era.

Jack Seabrook said...

I hadn't thought of that but it will be interesting to see how (if) the movie affects the comics. Peter and I differ on favorite Bat movies/TV shows!