Monday, April 4, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 50: August/September 1984


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


Batman #374

"Pieces of Penguin!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

When a mechanical penguin waddles up to the plate glass window of a jewelry store and explodes, that can only mean one thing--the Penguin is back! Released from prison just last week, the waddling wastrel steals jewels and departs. Batman and Commissioner Gordon soon arrive and quickly deduce who is responsible.

At Wayne Manor, Julia tells Alfred that she finds Bruce Wayne arrogant and that she has landed a job at Picture News. Vicki Vale is working late at the office when she receives a visit from the Penguin, who asks her to capture his "inner genius" on film, yet she refuses and instead snaps a surreptitious photo that reveals his menace. The next evening, robbers steal jewels from a high society party; when Batman and Robin arrive, they find the Penguin sitting calmly outside, feeding the birds.

Serious upper
body strength!

At police headquarters, Harvey Bullock discusses his near assassination with Commissioner Gordon, unaware that Mayor Hill is behind the plan to kill him and that is has something to do with Dr. Fang's fate as a prisoner. A week later, Vicki Vale is hosting a party for reporters, and Bill Modell cryptically speaks about a big story he's investigating. Bruce Wayne arrives with Julia and Vicki is jealous; suddenly, the Penguin and his men attack, knocking out Modell with gas and kidnapping him. Batman gives chase and bursts in on the Penguin, who has been interrogating the reporter. Batman defeats the Penguin's aides and rescues Modell, but the Penguin escapes. Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that the fowl fiend now possesses "the blueprint for global conflict."

At the Gotham Child Welfare Bureau, a do-gooder discovers that Bruce Wayne has not formally adopted Jason Todd, which presages an investigation for child endangerment.

Peter: Since the Penguin is one of the rogues who comes off more eccentric than full-blown homicidal maniac, Doug gives more space to the subplots and the annoying supporting cast to fill out this arc. You never get the feeling that Oswald is going to kill anybody; he just wants Gotham to remember he's around. It's like Moench is accepting the fact that, now and then, he has to weigh the needs of the old-school fans who love the '66 show and the Darker Knight is not their cup o' tea. I can live with the bright lights now and then and "Pieces of Penguin!" is amenable enough fluff to tide me over until the menace reappears. 

Jack: I'm one of those old-school fans who love the '66 show, so this issue was right up my Crime Alley! Alcala does fine work with Newton's pencils, and the art is superb throughout the issue. The Penguin never seems very menacing, but Moench's work weaving all of the characters and subplots together is strong this time around; it reminded me of a Marvel comic in the way it juggled so many different balls. One question, though: the Penguin appears to be out of shape, yet he can support his full body weight with ease when he holds onto an umbrella and slides down a wire. How does he do that? I'd fall off in a foot or two.


Detective Comics #541

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

The Penguin uses truth serum on reporter Bill Modell and the newspaperman reveals the secrets of the "Early Bird Warning System" that the US government is developing. Penguin heads to the Antarctic and a Soviet outpost, with mega-dollars on his mind.

Batman hops in the Batplane and follows, but the extreme cold almost kills him. He barely makes it to the outpost, just as Penguin is handing over the Modell tape recordings to the Commies. But the free world is saved when one of the Russkies exclaims that the tapes are not what they are supposed to be. Penguin snickers and tells Batman that he had switched tapes and was intending on selling the info back to the American government. As the Batman and Penguin are leaving the base, one of the soldiers offers a copter ride to the nearest American outpost. When Penguin complains, the Dark Knight pops him one and loads him in the copter.

Later, Batman learns from Modell that there really was no "Early Warning" system. The government was using him as a tool to confuse the Russians. Batman is not amused. 

Peter: Except for the dig at the US government in the tail end and an absence of the Boy Wonder, "C-C-Cold!"  would have made for a great '66 episode. It's colorful, harmless, and totally out of the realm of believability. I'm not up to date on Penguin's origin or any reboots over the years, but Moench brings up the idea that Oswald can somehow withstand these freezing climes and then doesn't tell us why. Annoying as all get out. This is a perfectly average Batman tale, but it misses the tension that the crazier villains bring.

Jack: I thought it was a fun and fitting conclusion to the story, with superb art by Colan and Smith. I wondered about the Reagan-era Star Wars defense system, but in the end, it turned out as fake as the real world one we all heard about. It's a good thing Batman/Bruce Wayne has unlimited resources, since that Batplane must have cost a pretty penny. I would not have minded a page or two of fancy flying as Batman tried to evade the Penguin's heat-seeking missile--Joe Kubert would have had a field day with that scene! I liked the twist, where the Penguin double-crosses the Russians; in Reagan's America of 1984, even a super-villain would not side with the Soviets!

"The Nightfly"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus & Sal Trapani

McManus and Trapani test the boundaries
between amateur and pro
Oliver Queen stops by WSC-FM to see his old buddy, Davy, the deejay at the station. When he parks his car, Ollie is attacked by a super-villain calling himself "The Death Dealer." He uses sharp and explosive cards as his weapons. Ollie changes into Green Arrow but, too late, the Dealer is gone.

Inside the station, he explains to Davy what transpired in the lot and the disc jockey 'fesses up: years before, he testified against the mob and was put in witness protection. The bad guys found Davy somehow. Their trouble seemingly forgotten, Ollie requests some hot jazz licks by the MJQ (look it up) and, while the boys are searching for the smoldering LP, the Dealer comes back and attacks Davy. A smoldering ace of spades has trapped Oliver Queen inside the station. This could be the end of Green Arrow!

Peter: Another issue, another vapid script and utter crap graphics. I'm serious when I say I think I see the numbers under the colors. Not that Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was ever a character who made me plunk down dough for a funny book, but am I asking too much for a serious, adult back-up series without interchangeable, unoriginal villains? 

Jack: How far Green Arrow has fallen since the O'Neill/Adams days. When I was in junior high, I wrote a comic book story with a villain I called the Organizer, who had a gun that shot bile. That's about as clever as the villains Cavalieri is coming up with. Razor sharp playing cards? Give me a break.


Batman #375

"The Glacier Under Gotham!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Mr. Freeze envisions encasing all of Gotham City in ice, but he realizes that this dream may be overly ambitious, so he plans to start by pointing his giant ice cannon at a bank and making off with all of the loot after he freezes it. The heist goes as planned, and Commissioner Gordon summons the Dynamic Duo to the crime scene with the Bat-Signal. Batman suspects Mr. Freeze right away.

Crusading reporters Julia and Vicki rush to the frozen bank and fall through the ice into a cave below. At Wayne Manor, the woman from the Child Welfare Bureau confronts Alfred about her concerns with Jason Todd's status, but this pales next to Julia and Vicki's problems as Mr. Freeze discovers them and quickly freezes them in place. Batman and Robin seek them out and have little trouble dispatching with Mr. Freeze and his minions; back at home, Alfred breaks the news that Jason is going to be removed from Bruce's care.

Peter: Doug puts way too much emphasis on the soap opera nonsense this issue and the Mr. Freeze plot is strictly stale. It cracks me up that Freeze is working on this big gun to freeze banks so he can steal enough money to make a bigger gun. I want the story where Freeze sits down in his recliner and looks through the parts catalogue when he's ordering. With two weak outings in a row, we need Moench to re-find his muse quick.

Jack: "The Glacier Under Gotham!" is beautifully drawn by Newton and Alcala, and it features one of the great villains from the Rogue's Gallery, but it's too simplistic and straightforward to be very interesting. Mr. Freeze's skintight costume seems unlikely to be able to keep his body cold, though at least he still wears the bubble over his head, thank goodness. He also must have quite a workout routine, judging by his ripped physique. I did not appreciate the behavior of Vicki and Julia, who act like dopey damsels in distress, even though they do help the Dynamic Duo at the end by dislodging a stalactite that falls near Mr. Freeze. The Moench era has been good so far, and issues like this are fun if not substantial.


Detective Comics #542

"Between Two Nights"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Someone is out to kill Sgt. Harvey Bullock (no, it's not the staff of bare*bones), taking shots at him and forcing his patrol car off the bridge. But that's not the only drama Harvey is involved in. The very next day, he's ordered by the court to drive out to Wayne Manor with Child Protection witch, Amanda Grosci, and take little Jason Todd into protective care. Bruce Wayne has been accused of child endangerment (if they only knew!), and the kid has to go!

Meanwhile, in the pokey, we learn who's pulling the strings of Harvey's would-be assassin: Dr. Fang, whose attorney has cut a deal with Mayor Hamilton Hill: if Bullock is offed, Fang goes free. In a second meanwhile, Bruce Wayne calls a meeting of his vast pit of lawyers and demands they get Jason Todd back ASAP. But Wayne insists that they use only perfectly legal maneuvers, which might be a problem, according to said lawyers.

Back at police HQ, Bullock demands Gordon assign the Batman to his bodyguard detail. After some back and forth, the spineless Gordon gives in and powers on the Bat-signal. Bruce sees the light but considers the matter at hand much more important and ignores it. Jason, itching for action back at his new safe house digs, sees the light and suits up. The Boy Wonder arrives just as Harvey is heading home, disgusted by Batman's no-show. At that very moment, a shot rings out, Robin hurries the burly Sarge into his car, and they give chase to the gunman. The duo catches up to the deadly gunman, but the man gets the drop on Robin. The Dark Knight, finally unable to hold off his beckoning signal, arrives just in time to knock the perp out and hand him over to Bullock. Robin heads back to his new home, leaving Batman to ponder the utter hopelessness of fatherhood.

Peter: Here's a rare example of a whole bunch of unwanted subplots threaded together to form an enjoyable story. Jason being hauled out of Wayne Manor and bunked in a sparse bedroom is a good twist, as is Amanda herself. Looking at it (without knowing the guy is really Batman and Jason is Robin) from a strictly civilian standpoint, the billionaire is not really raising the kid in a parental fashion, is he? Well, maybe a Hollywood parental fashion. The return of Dr. Fang so soon is not a welcome subplot, and hopefully that gets put in mothballs for a while, though I did like when the dopey would-be vampire tells his lawyer that if things don't go his way, he'll turn to smoke and kill Bullock himself. Hilarious! I needed a panel of the lawyer rolling his eyes.

Jack: The story was fairly entertaining, but the art was rough. I wonder if Colan's pencils were always hurried and the final product depended on how much time and effort the inker put into finishing them. As for Dr. Fang, why wouldn't the prison guards confiscate his fangs? Aren't they deadly weapons?

"The Night Fly Part II:
The Turn of an Unfriendly Card"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus & Sal Trapani

The Green Arrow manages to get himself and his buddy, Deejay Jazzy Davy, out of the burning studio and then put the fire out. (Phew! That was close!) Arrow has a brilliant idea in order to smuggle Davy out of the station without anyone being the wiser: he instructs Davy to record a tape to be played on the air to convince the Death Dealer he's just fine. While the tape plays, Davy slips out the back and hoofs it in Ollie's jalopy. Meanwhile, the Arrow waits in the studio for the Death Dealer. The wait is not long and, before too long, the new 25th tier villain is history and the real bad guy behind this terrorist act is unmasked: it's the station manager, who was an investigator back in the day, before his failure to catch Davy ruined his career. Green Arrow wraps the bozo up and hands him over to the feds. Time for some Brubeck!

Peter: Even the station manager wonders aloud how insane a coincidence it is that Davy aka the Mouth aka the Rat walks into the radio station he's fallen back on after his life of crime went kaput! What are the odds? I find it hard to believe DC hasn't collected all these Green Arrow back-ups into a trade paperback. Heck, they did it with the Neal Adams stories; why not this?

Jack: This story was not as bad as the usual Green Arrow back up entry. There's less corny dialogue and an actual plot, as hurried as it is. I know, I'm grasping at straws. Still, not awful is something to be thankful for.

The Best of DC #51: The Batman Family

"Daughter of the Demon"
(Reprinted from Batman #232, June 1971)

"Surprise! Surprise!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Carl Potts & Frank McLaughlin
(Reprinted from The Batman Family #11, June 1977)

"Dread Night of the Jaguar"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
(Reprinted from The Batman Family #12, August 1977)

"The Man Who Melted Manhattan!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Newton, Marshall Rogers, & Bob Wiacek
(Reprinted from The Batman Family #13, September 1977)

"Night of the Reaper!"
(Reprinted from Batman #237, December 1971)

Jack: This $1.25 digest of reprints opens with one of the best Batman stories of all time, "Daughter of the Demon," which features gorgeous art and a riveting story involving Ra's al Ghul and Talia.

What follows isn't quite up to that level. First, we have "Surprise! Surprise!" in which Commissioner Gordon and Alfred prepare Wayne Manor for a surprise party for Bruce Wayne. Alfred is determined not to let Gordon discover the secrets that lead to the Batcave, so he pretends to be a burglar and ends up distracting the commish just long enough until the guests arrive. Alfred, in disguise, gives Jim a swift kick in the head, which seems a bit rough for the purpose of distracting him.

Kirk and Francine Langstrom are enjoying a concert in Central Park when a jaguar suddenly appears in the crowd. Kirk transforms to Man-Bat and fights the jaguar; his instinct then leads him to foil a robbery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where costumed criminals loot treasures with the thought that their jaguar was keeping the cops busy elsewhere. They sic the beast on Man-Bat, who turns into a were-jaguar when bitten. At sunup, he reverts to his Man-Bat form, but the crooks get away.

The Rogers/Austin art team was one of our favorites of the 1970s, but their smooth stylings are not enough to overcome the inane script by Rozakis.

"The Man Who Melted Manhattan" begins badly as Robin and Batgirl are shackled to runaway motorcycles and must figure out a way to free themselves before they crash into each other. The scene then switches to Man-Bat and picks up where the prior story about the were-jaguar left off; this time, Man-Bat defeats the costumed gang and fights the Outsider, who looks like he has a terrible skin disease. It turns out that the Outsider is really Alfred the butler's evil side (don't ask), and he goes after Robin and Batgirl, siccing the were-jaguar on them and claiming that Man-Bat is dead. Of course, he's fine, and the trio of good guys get the best of the Outsider, finally separating him from Alfred, who gives the villain a one-two punch.

At 29 pages long, this story is just terrible. Bob Wiacek's inks don't do any favors to the pencils by Don Newton or Marshall Rogers, and Rozakis's plotting is by the numbers. His dialogue is worse. If this weren't a reprint, it would be hard to beat for worst story of 1984.

The digest finishes up with "Night of the Reaper!" which has gorgeous art but a pretty weak story for an O'Neill/Adams/Giordano team-up. Still, compared to "Melted," it's poetry.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter write their very first 
open letter to Jim Warren...
"Please bring back your series issues!"

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