Monday, March 21, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 49: June/July 1984

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


Batman #372

"What Price, the Prize?"
Story by Doug Moench & Don Newton
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Dr. Fang decides he wants to set up a boxing match between the champion, Michael Greene, and a washed-up fighter named Tommy Dunfey. Dunfey visits Greene and talks him into a fight, but it takes work to get the boxing commissioner to agree. When a mentally unbalanced fan named George Straite sees news of the upcoming fight, he vows to gun down the referee, Jake DeMansky, a former champion.

Batman learns of the death threat and Dr. Fang has his assistant make contact with the champ, intending to have him throw the match so that Dr. Fang can cash in on his bet. The fight begins, and Dunfey unexpectedly knocks down Greene while Straite waits in the audience with his gun at the ready. Greene gets up and he and Dunfey have a vicious battle, just as Batman intercepts Straite in the crowd. Straite's gun goes off and a bullet wounds Batman in the arm, but the Caped Crusader knocks out the lunatic before anyone else is hurt.

Dr. Fang is watching on TV and is furious at the result of the boxing match, so he sends his helper, Woad, to kill Greene, which he does. 

Peter: Doug pours on the "we're all the same despite the color of our skin" message even while assigning cliched dialogue to his Black characters ("If there's anything I got nicer than that belt you want so bad, it's them kids and they [sic] mother.") but despite some shortcomings, "What Price, the Prize?" is more a nicely-plotted ring saga than a Rocky rip-off. There's a lot going on here and not a whole lot of Batman. I'd have liked it much more, though, had some of the details been clearer. Psycho George Straite comes out of nowhere in order to further Doug's opinion that racism is alive and well and living in America circa 1984, but he's already pounded that message home, so the character is superfluous. Where's the sequence where Woad confronts the champ about throwing the fight? I'm assuming by Dunfey's comments in the final panel that it had to do with threats against Greene's kids, but that's just conjecture. Perhaps the conclusion will provide answers. Still in all, a very solid installment.

Jack: I found this story to be a little bit confusing and a little bit boring. I read it twice and I'm still not sure why Straite wanted to kill the referee. The art is not Newton and Alcala's best work. I don't really understand why Dr. Fang insists on wandering around with fake vampire fangs, either. His character seems to be unfocused.


Detective Comics #539

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Bob Smith

Plagued by guilt over the death of his opponent, the champ Michael Greene, in the ring, contender Tommy Dunfey scours the underbelly of Gotham, looking for the man responsible. Batman gets wind of the city's newest vigilante and confronts him, explaining that the real culprit is Dr. Fang. Dunfey swears he'll find and kill Fang, so the Dark Knight has no other choice but to team up with the prizefighter. Huh?

The new dynamic duo beat a path to Fang's door, which happens to be a boxing gym. While Fang's thugs hold Bats at bay with their irons, Fang challenges Dunfey to a bout. At first, Fang does a decent job of pummeling the pugilist with a right cross, three jabs to the midsection, a lead uppercut to the chin, and finishing with a camel spin right axle to the solar plexus. But then, Dunfey finds his footing, shakes off his triple vision, and puts Fang out with a vicious (and certainly illegal) rear hook. Fang is delivered to Gordon and Dunfey delivers the Champ belt to Greene's widow. 

What began as a very solid boxing epic ends in sheer ludicrosity. Just how many former professions does Dr. Fang have? Former actor. Former boxer. Now former vampire. And, like Jack, I still don't know why he uses the fangs. Does this nut think he's a vampire? Then maybe he should drink some blood now and then to further the illusion. The whole concept of Bats agreeing to team up with this fighter makes little to no sense. And he caves to the idea so quickly. Coming soon: Dr. Fang, former chef, becomes Arkham's new cafeteria cook. Oh, and Jason turns dick and is rude to the perfectly wonderful Julia, telling her that she should go find an apartment. No wonder the fans wanted him dead!

Jack: What a letdown! After several issues of seeing Dr. Fang off and on, he is done in by an over the hill boxer, not even by Batman. Newton's art is again shaky in spots as he replaces Colan to draw the end of the saga. The plot barely fills 16 pages and has to be padded out with an overly long interlude between Alfred and Julia. At least the finale was emotionally satisfying.

"The Devil You Don't Know"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus & Sal Trapani

An Aussie newspaper magnate is planning to buy the Daily Star, but before the deal can go down, an evil villain dressed like Satan and calling himself "The Printer's Devil" attacks the Star HQ. Luckily, Oliver Queen is on hand and dons his Uni for battle. A fire breaks out and threatens the gas station across the street from the Star building. Can Ollie fight his new adversary and extinguish the fire before the whole city goes blooey? Stay tuned!

Peter: What a load of crap, from the cliched Rupert Murdoch stand-in (Morris Burdick!) to the dopey and completely disadvantageous costume worn by the Devil. How is this guy supposed to fight when he can't even see? And how does that trident reload? Does he stop the action and pop more missiles on the end of his pitchfork? Sheesh. McManus's art continues to sway between passable and amateurish. Unlike Jack, I've been a fan of these Green Arrow back-ups but "The Devil You Don't Know" is just dumb.

Jack: I just can't warm up to this series. The corny jokes get old fast and the art style continues to look cheesy. Green Arrow's "disguise" is so ridiculous that I can't believe everyone doesn't see through it. The villain is goofy yet again. It's hard to believe this series will last as long as it does.


Batman #373

"The Frequency of Fear"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

Jason Todd has a nightmare in which he finds Batman's corpse draped over the graves of his parents, but that's nothing compared to what's about to happen now that the Scarecrow has been judged sane and released from Arkham Asylum! After a brief interlude in which Julia is rebuffed by Vicki Vale when she asks for a job, we get back to the main story, in which the Scarecrow is after the Joker for humiliating him back in Detective #526.

The Scarecrow has a new gizmo in a hand-held skull that tunes in to "The Frequency of Fear" and causes anyone within range to have horrible visions. He makes his way to the Joker's jail cell, only to learn that the Clown Prince of Crime has been moved to solitary confinement, because his laughter was driving the other prisoners nuts. Batman appears in the nick of time and prevents the Scarecrow from getting to the Joker and, though Robin tries to help, the Scarecrow turns on his fear skull and escapes.

In a couple more meanwhiles, Jason Todd's schoolteacher is concerned that the boy is falling asleep in class, and Harvey Bullock reconciles with Commissioner Gordon over burgers, unaware that Mayor Hill has just ordered a hit on Harvey. Batman relates Jonathan Crane's history to Robin, while Crane sits in Norman Bates's his house, explaining to no one but the reader how his fear-inducing skull works. Realizing that Batman is preventing him from getting rid of the Joker, he sets off to do in the Caped Crusader, who heads to the Gotham Zoo to investigate a report of animals going crazy. The skull sends Batman into a paroxysm of fear at the zoo, while Robin, disobeying orders as usual, visits the Scarecrow's house and is attacked by the villain. Will Robin escape the Scarecrow's clutches? Will Batman fall into a pit of hungry crocs? Tune in below!

Jack: Whew! A great cover leads into a great issue, which is a relief after the duds featuring Dr. Fang. Colan and Alcala's art is perfect for this spooky tale, and the opening nightmare sequence with Robin is a winner, even though I knew it was not real. I have to wonder about the wisdom of thinking Dr. Crane is cured and releasing him from Arkham, but then how would the story progress otherwise? I love the panels with Crane's Psycho house and the scarecrow on a post outside; I also love involving the Joker and the continuation of one of the best stories of recent years from the 500th anniversary issue of Detective. The business with the skull is scientific gobbledygook, but it works and provides a way for this villain to get the best of our heroes, at least for a while. There's a hiccup on page 16 where Batman picks up a conversation in the middle and I looked back to see where it started... but it never did. The Scarecrow is a great villain when he's used properly, as he is here. Peter, what did you think?

I think it was quite dandy, Jack! Especially that opening nightmare in the rain you mention. Colan and Alcala have become a beautiful machine, working off of each other's strengths and producing something dazzling. Outside of the Dr. Fang arc (which, I think, we both agree started strong and then fizzled out), Doug Moench has been filling his scripts with a sense of dread we haven't seen from a regular scripter since the 1970s. That continues here with the Scarecrow, a character I feel was mostly mishandled in the funny books. It took Christopher Nolan to elevate the character from a nothing to (at least) a second-tier rogue. 

This would have to be a landmark issue, as it's finally revealed why the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Mad Hatter, and the rest of the gang are seemingly out on the streets mere months after being locked up for arson, diamond heists, and murder. They were "rehabilitated"! And, according to Gotham law, that means they go free. Do you think the warden hands them their costumes and dangerous gizmos as they're exiting the building? 


Detective Comics #540

"Something Scary"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Robin is investigating the old Marston house, where Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, has been residing, and is attacked by what he thought was a harmless ragman on a stick in the yard. The Boy Wonder gets the better of Crane and the Scarecrow flees into the mansion. During the tussle, Robin is able to destroy Scarecrow's "fear frequency skull," which then frees Batman from his delirium.

Speaking of the Dark Knight, our hero finds himself in the zoo surrounded by crocodiles after his fever dream had led him into the pit to save Jason. Nightmare over, Bats swings out of the zoo and heads for the old Marston house.

Meanwhile, Jason has followed Crane into his house of horrors and there must make his way through corridors filled with scary stuff like rubber spiders and grinning skeletons. Clearly, this is a haunted house done on the cheap. Batman arrives just in time to help Robin put the kibosh on Scarecrow's spare fear frequency skull and land a right cross on Jonathan Crane's chin. The Scarecrow will head back to Arkham until he's rehabilitated. 😀

Peter: A satisfying if not spectacular finish to the two-part Scarecrow arc, "Something Scary" excels when Doug dumps us with Robin in the haunted house. Jason shows that he might be impetuous, but there is some brain activity when he notes that the Scarecrow is "a 12-year-old with a genius IQ. A clever kid who likes to scare birds." The elaborate haunted mansion (fittingly titled "the old Marston house," surely a nod to Stephen King's Salem's Lot) would be something a child would rig up to scare his buddies. I'm not sure I buy Batman's explanation of why the 'crow's fear frequency wouldn't work on him, but Doug had only a couple panels to wrap it up, so there it is. 

I can't get a bead on exactly how old Jason Todd is supposed to be. In some panels (and not just in this particular issue) the kid looks like a pre-teen, and in others he looks like he could go out on the town drinking with Dick Grayson. This issue's art accentuates the fact that Alfredo is a much better inker for Colan. Bats is supposed to be so frightening that he throws the 'crow off his game, but he doesn't look that imposing to me; he looks a tad overweight. There's a very brief step-out from the action to Harvey Bullock at police headquarters. Harvey's standing in front of a window and ducks down, just missing a bullet shot from across the office. Was the bullet meant for Harvey? If this is yet another yawner of a subplot, count me out.

Jack: After a quick (and unnecessary) recap, there is some nice parallel storytelling with Batman at the zoo and Robin at the Scarecrow's mansion, followed by an effective sequence with Robin inside the house. Even the botched assassination of Harvey Bullock is funny! A satisfying wrap-up makes this one of the better two-parters of 1984, at least so far.

"In Cold Type!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus & Sal Trapani

Oliver Queen (in his brilliant disguise as the Green Arrow) manages to save the gas station from blowing the town to bits but has a rematch with the Printer's Devil after the low-tiered baddie solders shut the doors to the Star. The Arrow uses some really quick thinking to send some cloud-seeding arrows into the sky at the same time shooting "adhesive bandage arrows" (!!) at the Devil. The ensuing rain hardens the band-aids and Ollie unmasks the villain. Incredibly enough, the guy under the mask is sportswriter Tommy Doyle, who only concocted this elaborate ruse to scare off paper magnate Morris Burdick. The plot works, Burdick hops a plane without buying the paper, but Tommy Doyle will have to write his column from a prison cell.

This strip reminds me of the comic DC published in the 1980s, New Talent Showcase, a title that would feature amateur writers and artists in their first (and, for the most part, last) stab at glory. "In Cold Type!" is so dumb, corny, and vapid that it would have fit right into those pages. Below, Jack wonders why no one can tell Ollie from the Arrow, and this issue features surely the most egregious example of that. Ollie is talking to his newspaper comrades about opening the fused-together doors, says "hang on a minute," runs across the street with his suitcase, and comes back as Green Arrow. And not one character scratches their chin and mumbles "Hmmm..." But never mind that, let's ask how this dope Tommy Doyle would gain access to a super-baddie uniform and a trident that shoots explosive missiles, all to save his job and the city's main voice for truth, justice, and the American way. How much would a get-up like that cost? Man, I hope this series gets better.

Jack: It's hard to believe how many arrows GA has in his quiver and what they can do, such as make it rain. The guy must have back problems from lugging all of those things around. And how dumb is everyone not to notice that Oliver Queen is Green Arrow? The blond guy with the kooky beard slaps a tiny eye mask on and no one can tell it's the same person? Still, to give some faint praise, this story wasn't as bad as what we've grown used to.

Next Week...
Bill DuBay proudly adds another
disgusting feather to his cap!


andydecker said...

The best of Batman # 372 is again the Hannigan cover. I have no interest in sports stories, especially not in boxing stories, so I just browsed this. Too many talking heads, not enough Batman. The only interesting thing about this is that Newton is credited as co-plotter. Seems he had to get a boxing story off his chest.

Detective # 539 just reinforced my often mentioned opinion that Smith is the wrong inker for Colan. Here he also muddles Newton's art. Faces become unrecognizable, bodies remind us of Frank Robbins.

As Alcala is also burying Colan's art in too many panels in Batman # 373 I wonder if Colan did a lot more than sketchy layouts for Batman.

The Bullock slapstick does get tired, doesn't it? But unlike you I find the hit on him a little bit interesting. But it could have been handled a bit more suspenseful. How boring is it that the mayor ordered it?

Green Arrow is just awful. Hard to believe that is the same McManus who drew those nice Swamp Things.

Nice to see those house ads again. It reminded me how much of those books I bought in 1984. Alone of the annuals advertised in Detective # 540 I must have bought half. And what solid books these were. Teen Titans, Arak, Legion of Superheroes, Amethyst, Moore's Swamp Thing, even Blue Devil which was silly fun. Compared to Marvel DC was on the move. It tried new things, while Marvel just put the third or fourth Spider-Man or X-Men title on the market.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy! I had quit comics by 1984, so the ads (and stories) are all new to me. I think the Hannigan covers are up and down--some I really like, and some are just blah. I like Smith's inks over Colan's pencils more than you do--I'd never compare the duo to Frank Robbins. I never read the McManus Swamp Things so I don't know if he improved.