Monday, December 6, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 42: June 1983


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

Batman #360
"When Slays the Savage Skull..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton, Pablo Marcos & Ron Randall

Two Gotham City policeman have been brutally murdered by a madman with a knife! A third narrowly escapes the same fate when a car appears out of nowhere and the attacker runs off. Batman's training session with new sidekick Jason Todd is interrupted by a call from Commissioner Gordon, who asks the Caped Crusader to join him in interviewing the wounded policeman at the hospital.

Batman begins making the rounds of beat cops and gets a lead involving retired Officer Jack Crane; in the meantime, another policeman is savagely murdered by a maniac who refers to himself as the Skull. A visit to Crane's apartment results in Batman solving the mystery--Crane is a nut who (helpfully) scrawled "The Savage Skull Will Slay" on his own wall, right above photos of the dead cops and future victim Jim Gordon!

The Skull suddenly appears and he and Batman fight to a draw; the Dark Knight rushes to Commissioner Gordon's home and learns that Crane was a bad cop who was seriously injured in a fire after he shot an unarmed teenager. Later kicked off of the police force, Crane was bitter and now is engaged in blazing a trail of vengeance. Suddenly, the Savage Skull bursts through Gordon's window only to find Batman, whose punch knocks him right back out of the same window. The Skull runs for blocks until he is cornered at the docks, where Batman knocks him into the water. His head hits a piling on the way down and he disappears under the water, failing to surface.

Peter: Pretty dreary stuff. The origin of the Savage Skull is one of the oldest in comic books. Disfigured, the villain stalks the night searching for those who did him wrong. The art is adequate; nothing earth-shattering but it gets the message across. As does the new Bat-writer. Any hope that Doug Moench had shed his pretentious ways is shattered by such baloney-stuffed meanderings as: The night is hardly friend to everyone and, too, of those who do take succor within its dark mantle, few share the essence or intent of the Batman or a ruefully idiotic thought fleetingly intrudes--about missed lunch and lost calories. The Book of Adjectives always by his side, Doug Moench settles in for a long stretch scripting the Bat-titles. Heaven help us all!

Jack: I thought it was terrific! The murder that opens the story grabbed me with its dynamic art, and having Jason Todd as Batman's new ward is a huge development--the first such in over 40 years! Newton does a nice job of hiding the killer's face and showing a bit more with each attack until the reveal of the Skull's actual appearance is shocking. I thought this was an excellent debut for Moench, who tells an exciting story with a conclusion that leaves open the possibility that the Savage Skull may return.

Gene Day
Detective Comics #527
"Avatars of Vengeance"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Dan Day & Pablo Marcos

Proving once again that he's the most absent-minded alter-ego of a super-villain, Dr. Kirk Langstrom forgets to take his antidote pill and the stress transforms him into Man-Bat! Langstrom skreeks into the night, searching for the man who made his life a living hell... Batman!

Meanwhile, that handsome billionaire playboy/masked vigilante is having a conversation with his best friend, Commissioner Gordon, who "cough cough" has seen better days. There's something just not right about the Dark Knight's old chum, but he chalks it up to that ol' debbil, exhaustion, and heads home to Wayne Manor...

...Where Robin wanna-be Jason Todd is chewing the furniture out of boredom. When Bruce shows up, Jason asks his new mentor if they can go to the picture show to brighten up their lives. Wayne happily agrees to cancel his "hot date" with Vicki (she'll be just fine, Bruce) and have a boy's night out with the precocious toddler.

Across town, Gordon is in a meeting with Mayor Hill, who is insisting they come up with a Savage Skull body or there will be hell to pay in regard to Gordon's future with the force. He also hints at an assistant to help Gordon along in his day-to-day chores. Gordon swoons, almost passes out, but chalks it up to exhaustion.

Having scoured the town and found no Batman, Man-Bat arrives at the last location he fought the Caped Crusader: Wayne Manor! The creature of the night flies through the caves and arrives at the secret passageway (which, as we recall from last issue, isn't all that hard to find) and attacks Alfred. The Batman arrives just in time and the battle moves into the Batcave, where Alfred and Jason watch the two bats scuffle. 

When Man-Bat ascertains that this scrawny little kid means something to the Dark Knight, he grabs the little pest and flies out of the cave, promising Batman the kid is as good as dead. With heretofore unbridled rage, Bats swears to the world that the kid gloves are off, no more Mr. Nice Guy, he's going to kill the Man-Bat!

Peter: Has there ever been a cooler villain misused in comics? We're literally talking giant vampire bat who follows the same routine every nine months or so:

1/Langstrom is either unable or unwilling to take his medicine.
2/He becomes the leathery-winged giant flying mammal.
3/He robs a bank or threatens an heiress and Batman fights him for an issue or two.
4/Batman takes pity on the big guy or Langstrom's wife shows up with the kid to remind the creature he's still human.
5/Langstrom swears he'll take his meds from here on out.

I'll give Doug credit for wanting to take all the cool stuff out of the toybox once he got the assignment, but I hope he does something more interesting with the rest of the Gallery (and a whole lot of them will be showing up in the next three years or so that Moench will be calling the shots). Obviously, Doug is hinting that the Commish will be taking some extended sick leave in the near future. Actually, he's not hinting; every panel Gordon occupies is loaded with warning signs, and it's astounding that the "world's greatest detective" just shrugs his shoulders.

I may be in the minority in saying that the art is not very good. It is, in fact, darn right amateurish in spots. Dan Day doesn't seem to be able to make his faces look like anything but bad sketches and the layout (though some fans might think it's unique) is annoying. Too many small panels

Eagle-eyed funny book fans will spot a poster of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, on Jason Todd's bedroom wall. Master of Kung Fu was a Marvel title made famous by Moench and Dan Day's brother, Gene. Doug had written the Shang-Chi title for years, right up until he jumped ship for DC a handful of months before this 'tec hit the stands. Sadly, Gene passed away at the too-young age of 31 in 1982, shortly before Moench's tenure ended.

Jack: If I turned into a bat every time I forgot to take my pills, you can be sure I'd set some sort of alarm to prevent that from happening. Here, Langstrom has been working so hard that Man-Bat just slipped his mind. Oops! I thought the cover was great (and now that you've explained that Gene Day drew MOKF, I think I see a Paul Gualacy influence) and was disappointed by the interiors by Dan Day. I agree with you that the faces and figures are not very good; the layouts are better but nothing we haven't seen before. Too many subplots in a sixteen-page story has me worried that Moench will fall victim to the Curse of Conway. 

"Getting Up"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Paris Cullins & Pablo Marcos

Ozone is a costumed "tagger" who's become extremely upset that a big corporation has stolen his "urban art." He breaks into the offices of Male Man magazine to steal it back but encounters Green Arrow. He tosses the bowman a special can of whizzbang that blows our hero right out of the 30th-floor window!

Peter: I was more intrigued by the idea of Male Man magazine than any of the low-rent shenanigans taking up seven precious pages that could have been given over to video game and Twinkies ads. Officially joining the Hall of Fame of Stupid Villains is Ozone, a victim of the times. Yes, tagging had just become a "thing" and, of course, comic book writers are hip to new "things." The art is certainly better this time around, if that's any consolation.

Jack: Blecch! This story has all of the hallmarks of what I did not like about comics in the 1980s. The story is terrible and the art is only a bit better. This back-up series started out well but plummeted quickly.

The Brave and the Bold #199

"The Body-Napping of Jim Corrigan!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Ross Andru & Rick Hoberg

Jim Corrigan chats with a woman named Kalindra as the train they are riding on hurtles along. Suddenly, the brakes are applied, but not soon enough to avoid certain death from traversing a damaged bridge high above a river! The Spectre leaves Corrigan's body and holds up the bridge, saving everyone aboard the train, but when the spirit tries to return to its host body, it finds Corrigan is gone!

After searching the train and finding no trace of Corrigan, the Spectre flies to Gotham City to enlist the aid of Batman, the best detective he knows. The Dark Knight accompanies the Spectre back to the scene of the crime and finds traces of Corrigan's body being dragged to a highway; the Spectre is able to follow the car tracks to a spooky mansion, where Kalinda has used Corrigan's body to provide corporeal form for the spirt of her long-dead lover, Stephos. They had been cursed two centuries before by her husband for falling in love; as a result, she is immortal and he is trapped in the spirit world.

Once Batman and the Spectre have located Stephos in Corrigan's body, the Spectre challenges him to a duel that he can't refuse after Batman knocks his body unconscious with the Batarang. The Spectre then battles Stephos on the astral plane and, though Stephos transforms himself into a big, scary monster, the Spectre makes quick work of him and finishes off both him and Kalindra. Batman is shocked that the Spectre killed them, but the Spectre demonstrates that he has, instead, allowed them to be together as spirits at last.

Peter: I'd have liked to be a fly on the wall for the planning of that train wreck ("OK, I know this all hinges on a whole lot of coincidences and what-ifs, but let's give it a shot!) and there are a few other head-scratchers (the Spectre seems to be all-seeing and all-knowing, but he has to rely on Batman to help him track down his earthly body?), but the Spectre is one of my favorite DC characters. He's unearthly and macabre and you just don't know what to expect from the guy. The story's not bad, but Ross Andru's art is a see-saw. His mugs' mugs always look alike (Vanton immediately reminded me of such Amazing Spider-Man villains as the Grizzly), but he does know how to liven up the place now and then with a beautiful female figure. 

Jack: How cool is the Spectre? He can go from human-sized to giant-sized in the wink of an eye! The setup, with Corrigan abducted from a moving train, is intriguing, and the rest of the story is a lot of fun, more a Spectre story with special guest star Batman than a true team-up. It moves very quickly for a 23-pager and inker Rick Hoberg effectively smooths out some of the more unappealing visual tendencies of Andru.

Beam us up!

Next Week...
Is this the beginning of
The Bronze Age of Warren?


andydecker said...

That was a pretty low-key start in Batman. Doug tried to present a "realistic" story, which 40 years later reads even more by the numbers as back than. The plot didn't work for me, it is kind of hard to believe that the Batman couldn't wipe the floor with the generic "Skull". But I liked the writing. I was surprised how level-headed the characterisation was. From the "the specter of the bat is less imposing by daylight", which made me grin because I had exactly the same thought a page before with Bats in the hospital looking so out of place to "perhaps I made a mistake then" regarding to Dick.

That the Jason tale delivers not one surprise is not the writers fault, though. This couldn't go anywhere else.

Detective was a nice issue. I am a big Gene Day fan, and Dan at least captured the spirit of his brothers work. Compared to the awful back-up this is a masterwork and a nice change of pace. And I marvel that editorial waved the Shang-Chi poster through. Maybe they pretended it was Bruce Lee, who knows :-) Of course the moody artwork woke Moench's purple prose, not always a good thing. It will be interesting to see how Newton will handle the rest of the tale.

I can remember that back then I hated Moench's Bat run. I just didn't want to read about Robin 2.0. and his education, I thought it boring and bad soap opera compared to Teen Titans which was better soap opera. Maybe I am becoming more lenient in my old age and will enjoy it more.

John said...

I think Peter's hate towards Batman #360 "When Slays the Savage Skull..." is unfair. It is an intriguing noir that holds your interest until the end, something very rare and difficult to achieve with a 22-page comic book story. Furthermore, Newton's art compliments the story with the dark, moody tone.

The Shang-Chi poster on Jason Todd's bedroom wall is definitely a bold move from Moench, showing also the long-lost innocence of this era.

Next time you'll cover the Bat-titles it'll be the 200th and final issue of Brave & the Bold. Do you have something special in mind like a Top-10 stories ? I think in general most issues were just good enough to pass the time with only a few of them being really good. I liked the Spectre one.
Have a nice week !

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, guys! A top ten of B & B is a good idea. Maybe I can talk the old guy into it.