Monday, January 10, 2022

Batman in the 1980s: Issue 44: August-September 1983


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


Batman #362

"When Riddled by the Riddler..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Commissioner Gordon receives a mysterious box from that arch-fiend, the Riddler. Harvey Bullock wants to know what it all means, so Jim explains that, "When Riddled By the Riddler...," one had better put on one's thinking cap. Batman arrives and tells Bullock to beat it; Gordon opens the box to find a golden egg with the initials MA printed on it. From this, Batman deduces that E. Nigma plans to rob the gate receipts from Gotham's Mother Goose Amusement Park.

At the park, the Caped Crusader and the Riddler chase each other around for a while, until the Riddler disappears and Batman learns that the park is closed for the season and there's no cash to steal. Back at Gordon's office, another clue is found inside the egg and it leads Batman to a TV quiz show that is being filmed that evening at Gotham's Paradise Theater. The Riddler makes off with the prize money and hijacks a crowded bus. The Dark Knight is more than a match for the green-clad villain, though, and it's back to jail for Edward Nigma.

In the epilogue, Commissioner Gordon sends a veiled threat to Harvey Bullock, who decides to withdraw his charges of corruption against his boss at the big hearing.

Jack: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala combine to provide us with a feast for our eyes in this 23-page, full-length story. Doug Moench's story is mediocre but not bad--there's only so much that can be done with the Riddler and his goofy clues. I liked seeing the Mother Goose Amusement park by night, and the concept of a nursery-rhyme themed playland allows the artists to go wild with giant eggs and shoes. I'm looking forward to the return of more classic, campy villains!

Peter: I thought Doug's script was actually clever this time out (the riddles work), even while being 100% disposable. Riddler shows up, dumps some riddles, and then goes back to jail. Like Jack, I'm eager to see the rogues return, hopefully, to glory. The art is great as usual. The Bat-titles seem to be in good hands. Now if we could have some gripping subplots and stories with consequence.


Detective Comics #529

"The Thief of Night!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Dick Giordano

Answering an alarm at a nearby warehouse, Batman encounters a sly, elusive villain calling himself "The Thief of Night!" The mysterious figure gets the better of the Dark Knight and steals away into the night with an expensive fur. Batman takes the injured night watchman to a hospital and foolishly tells a reporter what happened. The next day the papers scream: "Batman Foiled by Common Thief!"

Meanwhile, Lucius Fox is informed about an employee of Wayne Enterprises who was injured during research. The woman, a "Ms. N. Knight" (hmmmm!), was exposed to radiation, which damaged the pigmentation of her skin, reducing it to a white, deathly pallor (hmmmm!). 

That night, Bruce Wayne takes Vicki Vale out on the town to make up for a previous, missed date. He stops for some champagne at a local club and hears a radio deejay read a message from the Thief of Night, inviting Batman to a rematch. Bruce drops his drawers, leaves Vicki in the car, and heads out into the night as his alter ego. 

A clue in the radio message leads Batman to the residence of Mrs. Raymond Brevoort, one of Gotham's elite and a woman who keeps very expensive jewelry in her home safe. The Brevoorts are on vacation and Batman is convinced that the Thief will attempt to make off with some expensive baubles. Sure enough, the Dark Knight spots the Night Thief atop one of the neighboring rooftops and swings down to engage in battle.

Alas, the Thief proves to be slippery once again and makes off with the priceless Brevoort necklace. Batman swings back to Vicki, who's still double-parked at the club, and tries to explain, but the ace reporter proves that patience is a virtue that Vicki Vale was not born with. The Thief (whom we discover is named Anton) delivers his goodies to his lover, Nocturna, a pallid-complexioned woman, while Bruce heads home dejected, only to discover that Jason wants to go back to the circus.

There's a whole lot going on in these 16 pages, some might say too much. It always makes me laugh when we're given info that we know is crucial to the plot points in a sledgehammer way. We know this poor astronomer named N. Knight (!) has suffered a catastrophic injury that will propel her into a life of crime, but does she really have to be on the Wayne payroll? Coincidence? And when did this accident take place? It seems like a whole lot of planning went into setting up Anton with special "thief of the night" powers and costume. Is Nocturna's plan to send Anton out into the night to jazz up her wardrobe? Give N. Knight credit for filling out the workman's comp papers.

Then we come to the ludicrous: Bruce deciding, on a whim, that leaving Vicki outside the club for three hours while he flies off to fight the Thief was a good idea. I mean, even if Bruce thought it was a good idea, Doug Moench should have known it was pretty dumb. More realistic would have been that Bruce heard the broadcast while inserting air particles into the Bat-Analyzer to come up with fingerprints for the Thief. Why does Batman repeatedly remind us that the Thief is just a common thief when the guy clearly has some major skills? Jason's sub-plot, involving Waldo the Clown (who, no doubt, is something other than the good-hearted, if creepy, carnival clown he appears to be), has already jumped the shark and let's hope it quickly goes the way of Gordon's hacking cough.

Jack: I was intrigued by the artistic combo of Colan and Giordano. My impression is that Giordano was a great inker without an individual style whose strength lay in bringing out the style of the person whose work he was inking. He does it here with Colan just as he did it so many times with Neal Adams. Not surprisingly, the Thief spouts some classic Moench dialogue, but I'm most interested to find out why Waldo the Clown never removes his makeup. Is he a crook on the run?

"Getting Up III: Lost in the Ozone"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Paris Cullins & Frank Giacoia

The Green Arrow must hunt down Ozone before the villainous teenager uses the deadly Botulin formula on the city's population. Arrow accomplishes the task.

Peter: There's no sugar-coating it: this is bottom of the barrel comics, the kind that permeated 1980s funny books like a Botulin. The art is uninspired and the script was probably laughably dated by the time it was published. On the bright side, there's no "Getting Up IV" and Arrow's office boy/little buddy's action-pausing speech about his crazy inventor dad is a howler.

Jack: I thought the art was pretty good, despite the weak script. The mid-1980s pop culture references all seem to date badly, don't they? In the 1970s' comics, similar references evoke a fond sense of nostalgia, while the 1980s' stuff makes me cringe. Maybe it's all related to when we grew up. Still, this is better than Nemesis any day of the week.


Batman #363

"Elegant Night Crimes"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

The "Elegant Night Crimes" of the Night Thief are plaguing Gotham City! Natasha Knight, a/k/a Nocturna, attends a charity dinner at Wayne Manor and flirts with Bruce Wayne until the Night Thief crashes through a window and liberates the wealthy attendees of their cash and jewelry. Lucius Fox explains that Natasha was injured in a laser accident several years ago and awaits compensation for her resulting loss of skin pigmentation.

Batman pays a visit to Natasha, who admits her part in the robbery and explains that she was a poor child who was adopted by a rich man who turned out to be a criminal. She grew used to the finer things in life and has no plans to give them up. The Night Thief arrives and, after thinking he has rendered Batman unconscious, departs with Natasha.

Jason Todd followed the Night Thief, but when Batman refuses to let him help fight crime, the youth vows never to help Batman again. At the Gotham Observatory, Natasha reveals that the Night Thief, a/k/a Anton, is the son of the man who adopted her; he was trained in the Orient as a master fighter and steals to keep his lover happy. Batman appears and has a long fight with the Night Thief, who succeeds in the dark but fails in the light. Natasha escapes in a hot air balloon and, weeks later, sends a check for $100K to support the observatory, money that Bruce refuses to accept. That night, Jason Todd runs away to join Waldo the clown.

Peter: There are some obvious sub-plot timeline problems inherent when scripting two titles featuring the same character, and we see a glaring instance here when precocious panel-furniture/future-hero Jason mumbles a promise to Alfred that he's gonna talk to Bruce about returning to the circus. The kid already laid out the plan to Master Wayne in 'tec #529 which, according to the almighty GCD, went on sale two weeks before this issue. 

Moench's back-story on Nocturna, while familiar, is satisfying and his dialogue between the two Knights crackles, as in the sequence when Nocturna explains why she's stealing expensive items even though she grew up wealthy:

Nocturna: Once I'd owned a Mercedes, I could never be satisfied with a... Volkswagen. After the sweet intoxication of the finest concert halls in Europe, I could never go back to a beer-house juke-joint. Once I'd heard the finest stereo money could buy, a transistor radio merely hurts my ears... Do I make myself clear, Batman?

Batman: You're spoiled.

At what point did N. Knight say to Anton: "Hang on a second! Don't call me Natasha anymore. From here on out, it's Nocturna!" And can we wrap up the "Harvey Bullock is a fat, greasy asshole!" sub-plot already? It's going nowhere and the character is obnoxious. I realize he's a part of the cast that's going to stick around, but can we maybe give him a second note?

Jack: Even though we don't give star ratings to the Batman comics in this blog, I do rate them in my notes, and these comics are earning a solid three stars in my book. Story and art are both consistently above-average but not spectacular. Never having read these before and having only the most rudimentary familiarity with the Jason Todd character, I admit that I'm intrigued to see where this Robin 2.0 storyline ends up. Having Nocturna escape by hot air balloon seemed improbable, but I'm fine with the character returning in the near future. I don't think Nocturna or the Night Thief will join the Pantheon of Bat-villains, but they're good enough for now.


Detective Comics #530

"Passion Nocturnale"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Dick Giordano

After Jason runs away from Wayne Manor, he rests in the forest and is approached by the lovely Nocturna. Not realizing who he is, Nocturna asks why the boy is out in the wilderness so late at night. Not realizing who she is (even though he probably should), Jason tells the woman his entire sob story, leaving out some important alter ego facts. He asks the woman what he should do and Nocturna tells him to go back to the place he left, where he is loved.

Meanwhile, across town, Batman has requested that Anton, Nocturna's accomplice, be tried by a night jury. His reason for the unusual request enters the courtroom--Batman is the star witness, to the astonishment of the jury and judge. The Dark Knight gives chase as the woman turns and hoofs it into the night air, but he's once again bested by a pale astronomer who has no evident martial arts skills. 

Still, our hero is a pretty smart guy and, once Anton has been given his right to a fair and (extremely) swift trial, Bats volunteers to drive the armored car carrying the convicted man to the "upstate pen." Predictably, Nocturna hovers over the vehicle in her hot-air balloon and drops a grenade, which somehow blows the back door open and frees Anton. Ah, but our sly Dark Knight then hops out of the truck, chucks a Bat-a-rang at the balloon, and watches in glee as Nocturna drifts right into his hands. He pops the cuffs on the criminals and hauls them off to prison.

Peter: Anton's trial must be the fastest in American history. He was only taken into custody an issue ago and he's already been found guilty? That's what I call swift American justice. Perhaps even swifter is the Gotham Star, which gets out an edition with the news of the "surprise night trial" the same day and then somehow gets a copy delivered to Nocturna in her cave. That Gotham must be a great place to live! No Harvey, no problem! Shouldn't Jason have known who Nocturna was when they met up in the forest, since he tracked her to her lair just days before (in Batman #363)?

As with many of these super-villains, I question where Nocturna would get all that "wonderful stuff," explosive jewelry and getaway balloons, and why Bats seems to be constantly fooled by the woman when he's the world's greatest detective and, um, I could have figured she'd come to the courthouse armed. The Colan/Giordano work is glorious; I know I sound like a broken record, but these current titles have the best and most consistent artwork we've seen on our journey. Doug Moench adjusts his quill pen to "flowery" again after avoiding that purple hue last issue; I could have done without his two-page observation of "love" and all its permutations (A woman paces her nest-like apartment... hoping for the shrill sound of love's call...), but the Nocturna character, no dangerous combat skills and all, is a pretty cool addition to the third tier of Bat-villains.

Jack: I agree that we are in good shape with the art on the Bat-books right now, with Colan and Newton providing consistently fine work. I don't think it's up to the level of Adams/Giordano or Austin/Rogers, but I'm not complaining. The splash page, where Jason meets Nocturna in the woods, is terrific, and I like that Nocturna advised the lad to go home, even though he ignored her wise counsel. For once, the transitions back and forth among the three main plot threads were smooth, something we don't usually see in Detective. In all, one of the best Batman stories I've read recently.

"Survival of the Fittest"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Adrian Gonzales & Rick Magyar

As an ace reporter, Oliver Queen is covering an event at the Soviet Embassy in Star City when a gang of armed military men bust in and claim they're authorized by the American government to take all Soviet diplomats hostage. Smelling a rat, Ollie changes into his Green Arrow spandex and chases the baddies off.

Tracking them to their lair in the sewer system, Queen overhears their leader spill the beans: the group is awaiting nuclear war, storing up arms and gold for the inevitable post-apocalyptic new government. Ollie heads over to the local Army base to let the brass know what's going on but... too late! The nutty survivalists have gotten their hands on a gizmo that will circumvent security and fire off our nuclear missiles. Bombs away!

Peter: Wow! I gotta say this is more like it. An energetic, exciting and, yep, extremely far-fetched action thriller that beats the hell out of dangerous aerosol cans. The art is still on the south side of average but, for the first time in a long time, I can't wait to see how they follow this one up.

Jack: I'm glad one of us enjoyed it! I thought art and story were terrible. I have no tolerance for these Red Dawn-type 1980s' Soviet Union/nuclear war stories and the art reminded me of the work of Ric Estrada, which is something I'd rather not be reminded of.

Peter: Hey! I wear the grumpy grouch uniform around here, not you!

Next Week...
Where, oh where, are Rich Corben and
Bruce Jones in our hour of need?


Anonymous said...

I both agree and disagree on your assessment of Dick Giordano’s skills as an inker. I heartily agree that he tended to bring out the best in the pencils of whichever artist he happened to be inking. But I disagree that he lacked an individual style of his own. I think his own personal style was quite distinctive and almost instantly identifiable — crisp and solid, with a unique, almost “wood grain” texture. You can see a strong “Giordano influence” in the work of two of his protégés : Klaus Janson, whose earliest pro jobs look VERY Giordano-ish, and had a similar pronounced “wood grain” texture that only faded away once he began using brushes more than pens — and Terry Austin, who embraced the “crisp and solid” aspects of Giordano’s style to the point where his line became SO rigid and precise that his figures sometimes seemed to be made of cut glass or granite.

Giordano was an excellent choice as inker on these two issues. Colan’s pencils had become increasingly loose over the previous few years, and Giordano’s inks kept the figures and faces from getting too mushy, without completely dominating or over-compensating. It’s a really good combo.

It’s true that when he was inking Neal Adams, Giordano was clearly just trying to mimic Adams’ pencils, to make the work look as “100% Adams” as possible. But usually he brought his own personality and style to the work, with delightful results. Some of my favorite examples of his inks enhancing a penciller’s artwork:

HOT WHEELS #1 and 2 (over Alex Toth)
MARVEL PREMIERE #15 (over Gil Kane — first Iron Fist)
DR. STRANGE #1-6 (over Frank Brunner)
BATMAN #312 and 321 (over Walter Simonson)
DETECTIVE COMICS 482 and DC SPECIAL 15 (over Mike Golden)
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #48 - 51 (over John Buscema)
STRANGE TALES #172 and 173 (over Gene Colan — Brother Voodoo!)

He elevated Dick Dillin and Irv Novick’s pencils on numerous occasions, and I think you guys might even change your tune on Ric Estrada if you ever happened to see him inked by Giordano on several DC romance books. Of course, he was also an excellent penciller in his own right. Overall, I think he’s woefully under-appreciated these days. Alas!


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I can’t resist taking a swing at such glorious low-hanging fruit:


I do believe we have a winner in the ‘Too Twee By Half Warren Story Title’ Sweepstakes. Almost makes one pine for the likes of ‘Spitshingle Toejelly’, ‘Bonebooger’s Poopsoup’ and other deathless Doug Moench classics of yore :)


Peter Enfantino said...

No fair looking ahead. The most amazing thing to me in re: that title is that it's not a Bill DuBay farce.

andydecker said...

Some nice and consistent art in the Bat books. Still it is a bit low-key, or isn't it?

I wonder if Moench is making a joke of the Jason plot. The boy who is running away with the circus? Really? And Waldo can only be some serial-killer, I would be surprised if we get another ending.

The back-up is just awful.

Jack Seabrook said...

b.t., I defer to your superior knowledge of Dick Giordano! I really like his inks. I've just never found him to be someone who makes everyone else's work look like his own. I mean that as a compliment.

Tar said...

I’m currently working my way through your old Batman in the 70s entries - Great stuff! - and while I can’t comment on them at this late stage, I thought I’d chime in here when I saw Dick Giordano being discussed.

My comic book reading and collecting began at 10-years-old with the earliest Adams/Giordano collaborations on Batman and GL/GA round about 1970, and I would happily put money on myself to recognise a Giordano ink job anywhere anytime - his style remains that distinctive to me. As far as I’m concerned, Adams/Giordano was the gold standard of penciller/inker combos from that era. Sure, it would’ve been preferable to see all those issues inked by Adams himself, but I also liked the slightly heavier line that Giordano used, and if you couldn’t have pure-Adams it was the next best thing.

Agreeing with b.t. above, I’d say that he elevated the work of artists like Dick Dillin and Irv Novick, and helped to bring a more uniform look to the Batman comics at that time, which I assume was intended. His work with Frank Brunner on Dr Strange is almost on a par with his Batman/Lantern work, and the two Buscema Conan issues that he, Adams and the other Crusty Bunker artists worked on were as good as the colour Conan comic got, as far as I’m concerned.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Tar! I love the conversation that has been generated regarding Dick Giordano.