Monday, February 21, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 47: February/March 1984


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


Batman #368

"A Revenge of Rainbows"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Batman and Jason Todd are sitting in the Batcave, trying to figure out a name for Jason's alter ego, when in walks Dick Grayson. Meanwhile, in an abandoned warehouse, the blind villain known as Crazy Quilt has his sight restored by means of a high-tech helmet. He plans "A Revenge of Rainbows" on his nemesis, Robin. Back at the Batcave, Dick says he needs to grow up, now that he's the leader of the Teen Titans, and gives Jason his Robin costume and permission to use the name.

That night, Batman and Robin hit the streets of Gotham and clean up a large number of crooks. Vicki Vale gets wind of the action and snaps a pic of the new Dynamic Duo; the next day, Crazy Quilt sees the photo in the paper and vows to make tonight the Boy Wonder's last. Up in Montreal, Alfred and his daughter Julia discover the dead body of a man named Letrope, confirming Julia's suspicion that her father was murdered.

Night falls, and Batman and Robin again prowl the streets of Gotham. Batman sees colored lights and thinks of Crazy Quilt; he goes off alone to look for him, thinking he's protecting Robin, but while the Bat is away, the Crazy mouse will play--Crazy Quilt confronts Robin and beats Jason to a pulp, leaving his body in an alley to be found by Batman, who fears his new partner has been murdered.

Peter: Back when we were doing the Marvel University blog, we used the Captain America shield for "landmark issues." If we had the equivalent here, "A Revenge of Rainbows" would doubtless earn that award. Doug shows just how comfortable he's become in the role of Bats-chronicler by elevating a tenth-tier villain like Crazy-Quilt into a major menace in the space of a few pages. The dialogue between Bats and Jason, when the kid is wondering why he can't get credit for his actions, is far more dense than that usually afforded a funny book aimed at pre-teens. This was an era of Batman I somehow missed out on (coming back after a decade's absence when Frank Miller dropped in with "Year One"), but I'm really looking forward to seeing what treats Doug has in store for us. Wait, did I really say I'm anxious to see what Doug Moench has up his sleeve to surprise me? Hell has frozen over.  The art is exquisite. 'Nuff said.

Jack: I completely agree with you! From the cool, retro cover to the half-page panel that ends the story, this issue really stood out as a turning point for the Batman saga. Moench's plotting is excellent, and he uses Crazy Quilt perfectly. Even the brief appearances of Vicki Vale and Alfred manage to keep these characters in the mix without being too intrusive. These full-length Bat stories are very entertaining, and the art by Newton and Alcala is quite good. The issue was so good, in fact, that I was wishing it had been illustrated by Adams and Giordano. Now, THAT would have been something!

Detective Comics #535

"One Hole in a Quilt of Madness"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

After Jason/Robin's beating at the hands of Crazy-Quilt, Batman takes the lad back to Stately Wayne Manor to recuperate. When Jason wakes, he argues with Bruce about his capabilities as a crime-fighter. Bruce has the last word when he forbids Jason to suit up as Robin 2.0 for at least a little while. Jason agrees and heads to the Batcave to do some "research."

In the "Meanwhile" department, Alfred grills his daughter on her secret life and Harvey tells Gordon he believes there's a new Kingpin of Crime in town. But enough of that nonsense...

Jason returns to the study after a few hours, dressed in his Robin suit. Batman barely gets out an outraged protest when Jason clocks him in the head with the Joker's scepter and flees into the night. At a seedy bar on Pier 17, Robin finds Crazy-Quilt and his men. A tussle ensues. Back at Wayne Manor, Batman stirs from his unwanted nap and reads a note left by Jason. "Aha!" he exclaims and storms through the door. Mere seconds later, he's at the seedy Pier 17 dive, assisting Robin in purging Gotham of a tenth-tier villain.

You see, Robin explains to Bats, Quilt placed a hypnotic suggestion into the lad's brain, luring him out to the bar. But Quilt didn't know that Robin would be aware of the suggestion and warn Batman with his note. After Robin discovers the secret of Quilt's helmet, he disarms the baddie and uses the headgear against its owner. Batman commends his new partner on his ingenuity and fighting skills.

Peter: A bit of a comedown after the strong first chapter, "One Hole..." suffers most from a confusing expository in its climax and some murky Colan/Smith art. In one panel, it appears that Clark Kent is suiting up as Batman. The sub-plots, as usual, are completely disposable. In the case of the Gordon/Bullock page, there's not enough info given to drive the thread along and all I could think about was the fact that Gordon got out of the hospital really fast. The Alfred/daughter soap opera is gawdawful and should be wrapped up as soon as possible. Still, the main thread, Jason's tutelage, is enthralling. Doing some research, I learned that contemporary Bats-fans hated Jason Todd and, in a revolutionary twist, voted him dead. But we'll cover that in a "couple of years" from now. The point is, I'm stunned (at this point in the arc) that readers disliked the character that much. I wish I had the luxury of calling a 1-800 number when I was enduring Nemesis. And please... let's all welcome back Gordon after a traumatic 48 hours where he had a stroke and slipped into a coma. I need some of those vitamins Jim is taking.

Jack: You and me both. I thought this story was good and that the art was excellent, though I don't know why Moench expanded the subplots even though he only had 16 pages to work with. Credit the writer for bringing back an obscure villain and making him interesting and meaningful in the overall Bat-arc.

"The Black Box III: On the Cheap"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus

Green Arrow infiltrates the junkyard hideout of the Werewolves of London and discovers an old friend there. Yep, the judge was lenient and released Ozone, and the dopey kid is scrounging around the dump looking for spare parts when he stumbles upon the biker gang and is captured. The Arrow discovers that the bikers are led by yet another tenth-tier baddy with the handle of "Cheapjack." This guy's forte is building weapons out of junk! When Cheapjack uses Ozone as a human shield, the Arrow uses some fancy slinging to rescue the kid and then uses one of Ozone's spray cans to escape. The aerosol lifts the Arrow and Ozone hundreds of feet into the air, all the better to watch as Cheapjack and the 'wolves unveil their secret weapon: the shack they'd all been fighting in is actually a helicopter! 

The building ascends in the air and Ozone tells the Arrow to zap it with a can he has in his utility belt. Unfortunately, Ollie uses the wrong can and a stream of glue gobs up the copter's prop, sending it hurtling to the ground. Ollie and Ozone land, only to be confronted by the Detonator, who reminds the pair that he'll do anything to get his mitts on the black box!

Peter: "On the Cheap" continues a very fun, very dumb story that has me, inexplicably, hooked! Scripter Joey Cavalieri continues to throw humor and dopey plot twists in to keep our attention. It's working. The scene where Ollie is supposed to hurl an aerosol grenade at the shack but chooses the wrong can is a gem; laugh-out-loud funny. I have no idea how Joey is going to tie up all the loose ends in one seven-page finale. 

Jack: I'm worried about you, Peter. Maybe you've read too much Warren drivel. This back-up series is awful! The writing is especially bad, with groan-inducing references to pop culture and advertisements. It's absurd that a spray can could lift two people high in the air and that their flight could be controlled. At least the art, by Shawn McManus, is not as bad as we've been used to.


Batman #369

"Target Practice"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Alfred and Julia are in Montreal, discussing the murder of Jacques Remarque, when they find themselves in danger from a series of near misses: a sign almost falls on them, a car nearly crashes into them, the subway car in which they ride jumps the rails. Julia explains that she had discovered that Remarque was working for the French police to recover art treasures that had been stolen by the Nazis. Julia wants to avenge Remarque's death on her own (after all, she's the daughter of Mlle. Marie!), but Alfred realizes that they need help, so he contacts Batman.

Meanwhile, in a Gotham bar, Harvey Bullock reveals that he may not be such a changed man after all when he announces that he wants in on a big, illegal gambling racket. The Dark Knight rushes to Montreal, where he follows a clue and deduces that Julia and Alfred are being menaced by Deadshot. Hero finds villain and a chase ensues that ends in a park, where Deadshot is about to eliminate Julia when a well-thrown Batarang causes Julia to unintentionally shoot Deadshot in the leg. Deadshot reveals that he was paid to kill Julia by none other than Jacques Remarque!

Peter: "Target Practice" is entirely disposable and incredibly boring. Incredible, to me, because Doug had been riding the rails at 200 mph without so much as a bump in the road until now. Alfred/Julia is disposable soap opera fluff, albeit nicely illustrated fluff. The only bright spot is the final panel, where we discover that the man who paid Deadshot is (supposedly) Julia's adoptive father. I became increasingly annoyed with 'shot's m.o. of shooting stuff around his mark in order to kill the target instead of just making fast work of it (after three fails) and shooting the poor girl. Get me to the other side of this arc quickly.

Jack: It was rather bold of Moench to go almost 11 pages without an appearance by Batman; unfortunately, the first 10 pages aren't very compelling. I had forgotten that Julia was Mlle. Marie's daughter (Alfred, you scamp!), so that was an interesting tidbit, but the opening sequence lasts way too long. At least this allows Moench to fit in the two-page Harvey Bullock subplot between the section with Alfred and the arrival of Batman--that way, it's not too distracting. Once Batman gets to Montreal, things speed up, though I've never been that fond of Deadshot as a character. There is a bit of back-story here about him that I don't recall, and there is no caption directing us to a prior issue, so I wonder if the business about him being a crimefighter in a top hat is new or if I just forgot. In any case, this arc isn't off to a great start.

Detective Comics #536

"Facing the Dark, Blindly..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan and Bob Smith

Deadshot has been taken to the Montreal police station, where he is being interrogated. Batman stands to the side, awaiting any nuggets or clues. Meanwhile, Alfred continues to calm and comfort his daughter/not a daughter, who has just been delivered the startling news that her adoptive father may still be alive.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham, we discover the identity of the new mob boss who's elbowing his way into the trade: a creep with a knack for melodrama calling himself Doctor Fang. He punishes an underling who's screwed up by biting him in the neck. "Next time," Fang promises, "It'll be your jugular!"

In Montreal, Deadshot manages to escape the police and steal a car. The police chase but ultimately lose him in the streets. Deadshot returns to his hideout and joins his accomplices, including the man who hired him to kill Julia. The police find Deadshot's car and surround the house but Julia, believing her "father" is inside, breaks away and sneaks into the building. She discovers an entryway through the cellar into the sewers, where she stumbles onto the stolen art. There, she confronts a man who reveals that Jacques Remarque is indeed dead and, soon, Julia will follow. Batman intrudes on the conversation, foils Deadshot's assassination attempt, and saves the day.

Peter: Thank goodness this arc is done and dusted. A long and boring story that went nowhere slowly. Extremely sad to see Alfred utter the lines "But I'm your father, Julia..." over and over again as his somnambulant daughter mumbles "He's alive... my real father is alive!" Deadshot might be a beloved character, but he's strictly a no-show in this arc. For once, the sub-plot perked me up more than the main course. This Doctor Fang guy may turn out to be a wet noodle in the end, but the nibbles we've been given (faux vampire who wears make-up and is trained in Shakespeare? Sign me up!) so far have me wanting to know what's coming down the pike sooner rather than later.

Jack: The best part of this weak story was the brief episode involving Dr. Fang, who inhabits a creepy cave that features stalactites and an arm holding a torch that is straight out of Beauty and the Beast. It's probably not a good sign that I laughed when Dr. Fang introduced himself, but at least it was better than The Adventures of Alfred that took up the rest of the story.

"The Black Box IV: Short Fuse"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus & Sal Trapani

Green Arrow and Ozone battle the Detonator at the Werewolves' junkyard hideout. The Detonator wants the black box, but Ollie won't budge. After defeating the Arrow and searching him, the Detonator decides the box must be somewhere in the bikers' lair. Ozone rushes Ollie to the hospital and reveals to our hero that he has the black box. Ollie listens to the tape and hears nothing. That, the Arrow decides, is the clue to the true identity of the Detonator.

The Arrow assembles Whelmsley and his staff at the billionaire's office building and reveals that the silence on the tape means that the pilot did not radio in the plane's explosion. Therefore, the pilot is the Detonator! Ollie uses one of his special arrows to shackle the baddie before he can don his electric mitts. 

Peter: I love the dialogue between Ollie and Ozone; it's genuinely funny and not forced. But, alas, as predicted in this space two weeks ago, the landing is fumbled. So, the Detonator was the pilot the entire time? How did he know he'd survive an explosion in mid-air? That makes no sense to me at all. Nor does abandoning the Werewolves/Cheapjack thread mid-story. And Joey doesn't even let us in on why the pilot was doing this to Whelmsley. Joey shoulda extended this arc another couple issues and let the story breathe. It's not like there's something more pressing coming down the pike. The art by McManus has gotten steadily better.

Jack: Better compared to what? Nemesis? This story is awful. Ozone refers to "Queekstraw" at one point, a shout-out to the old Quick Draw McGraw cartoons. He later quips, "I'm gonna stay and guard this foxhole against atheists." Finally, in Green Arrow's hospital room, Ozone and Hi-Tek argue over who fought Green Arrow first. This entire series reads like it was penned by a kid in junior high.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter debate the merits of
the controversial "Process of Elimination"


John said...

I can see why Bat-fans of that era hated Jason Todd so much that they wanted him removed.
Bat-books went from the perfect Robin that Dick was to a needy brat who was the exact opposite (always screaming for attention, disobeying, etch.)
He may had the same origin story with Dick, but he was never that likeable.
The brutal death of a teenager in a monthly comic-book was maybe the first very strong, memorable image of violence during this 80's decade that contributed to the transition from Silver age to the Modern era of comic books. (The scene with Crazy Quilt beating Jason can be considered a warning for the dejavu that followed )
I mean, Kathy Kane also died in some random, forgettable issue you have already covered, but they didn't even show us the scene of her murder.

Jack Seabrook said...

Kathy Kane died? Jason will die? I must keep reading...

andydecker said...

The point is, I'm stunned (at this point in the arc) that readers disliked the character that much"

I can remember that Jason Todd left me absolutely cold. At a time, where other DC books and characters developed, he got this lazy carbon copy origin of the original Robin. He seemed to be created just for copyright reasons - which of course was the point - and he was quite boring.

Still Batman #368 is a well done issue wirh very good art. But Colan on Detective continues to disappoint.

I can't take Deadshot seriously, so I don't care for the story. The sharpshooter who misses each time when it counts.