Monday, April 18, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 51: October/November 1984


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


Batman #376

"Nightmares, Inc."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Wealthy Simon Platz returns home to a scene of horror: his butler lies dead with a knife in his back, monsters murder his date right before his eyes, and he is face to face with a masked madman wielding an axe. It turns out to be an elaborate stunt that was set up as part of a surprise party, and the monsters are employed by "Nightmares, Inc.," which sets up creative scenarios to jolt the jaded.

Two days later, Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that Platz's home was burgled the day after the party and suggests that Nightmares, Inc., might be behind it. That night, Batman investigates and learns that Sturges Hellstrom, who runs Nightmares, Inc., is both a prior burglary suspect and a former Hollywood stuntman and special effects wizard. The Caped Crusader finds two other rich people who were robbed not long after a visit from Nightmares, Inc., and when Bruce attends a party where the same group stages another surprise, he embarrasses Hellstrom by pulling off his mask. Batman visits their office and is met by a very angry Hellstrom, who manages to escape. The villain makes his way to a cave, where he confronts his silent partner: Nocturna!

Peter: Doug decided a whole lot of soap opera was needed to stretch out the flimsy plot involving Nocturna's return. Thank goodness we have Newton and Alcala to keep our eyes open. It's unclear (so far) why a woman with Nocturna's powers needs to hatch an overly elaborate scheme to case the houses of the rich. I did like the "Manners the Peeper" scene. It shows that Doug wants to add as much of an "adult" vibe as he can to the Bat-titles; at least as "adult" as the CCA will allow. Nocturna becomes a recurring character for the next several issues.

Jack: I thought this was a terrific issue! Yes, the art is outstanding, but the story worked for me as well. Moench seems completely in control of his material, weaving subplots in and out of the main story and keeping Vickie, Julia, and Jason from being forgotten. The "Manners the Peeper" scene is funny--Batman interrupts a rich man to interrogate him, and we see that the man is watching a pretty neighbor through a telescope. The scene where Bruce speaks with Alfred and the butler tips him off to Nightmares, Inc., is very well done. I recall thinking Nocturna wasn't much of a villain in prior comics, but maybe Doug can do something worthwhile with the character.


Detective Comics #543

"Shadows of Vengeance"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

Nightshade announces to Nocturna that he plans to pull another big heist; this time, it's at a rich man's party located at an amusement park funhouse. Nocturna tells him she wants nothing to do with the robbery nor anything to do with Nightshade's proposals of love and cuddliness. Her heart belongs to no one but the Thief of the Night, who sits rotting in jail. Nightshade storms out of the apartment and Nocturna ponders who to leech money off of now. A newspaper headline about Bruce Wayne's battle to adopt Jason Todd (slow news day in Gotham) switches on the light bulb over the beautiful but pale villainess.

Meanwhile, Vicki Vale goes out to dinner with co-worker Bill, just as Bruce calls work to invite her out. He reaches Julia, instead, who gets another one of those brilliant ideas on how to land herself a man, and she innocently admits she's pretty hungry (wink wink!). Bruce and Julia dine at the fabulous Gotham Restaurant and Alfred's favorite under-sexed daughter puts the moves on the billionaire. Feeling uncomfortable, Bruce takes Julia home and denies her the gift of a good night kiss (dumb!). At Gotham Penitentiary, a big storm provides cover for the escape of Anton Knight (aka Thief of the Night), who heads for Nocturna's pad. He spies Nightshade putting the moves on Nocturna and simmers.

Nightmares, Inc., prepares to pull off their latest caper at the funhouse but, based on a clue found at the group's HQ, Batman heads them off at the pass and saves the rich partygoers from harm. As he's about to put the kibosh on Nightshade, a dagger flies out of the shadows and finds its mark in the villain's chest. As Batman examines the lifeless body of Nightshade, he hears the Thief of the Night deliver a warning: anyone who tries to put the moves on his babe will get the same treatment. Two days later, Bruce Wayne confronts Natalia Knight (aka Nocturna) outside a Gotham courtroom and asks what she's up to in her attempt to adopt Jason Todd. The pale but gorgeous woman replies that she'll make a great mom, but she could use a little help with the precocious brat. Would Bruce consent to marriage?

If Batman #376 felt a bit heavy with sub-plot drama, then "Shadows of Vengeance" feels like a stuffed Thanksgiving turkey. It's not a bad read, but it's inconsequential and filled with dumb beats. Nocturna's adoption plans are too contrived and coincidental to have any credibility. Nor is the fact that Batman finds a card with details of the heist at 1 Nightmares, Inc. Plaza. Why not a marquee out front announcing the event? Can't you just picture the henchman putting on his bifocals, licking the end of his pencil, and asking his boss what time that deadly hit was going down? 

Bruce's sudden emotional meltdown at dinner when Julia brings up Vicki Vale ("...once you get Jason back, I suppose Vicki Vale would make a very good mother for him...") made me want to gag. Get over yourself, rich boy. There are so many women in this strip you want to bed. Don't make it seem as though Vicki is the light of your universe. The bright spot of this underwhelming episode is the emergence of Thief of the Night (who really needs a snappier moniker and will get... at least a different one very soon) as a jealous, homicidal maniac. We need more lunatics around this place after tame adversaries like Penguin and Mr. Freeze. Do I really need to add that Colan and Alcala continue to do a fabulous job visualizing this dark and dangerous world?

Jack: I thought the art was a bit shaky until the finale at the funhouse. Newton and Alcala's work in Batman looked better than Colan and Alcala's work n 'Tec. Nocturna really treats Hellstrom harshly, don't you think? She tells him her heart is pledged to the weird guy in prison. Julia is about as successful with Bruce as Hellstrom is with Nocturna. It's a romantic minefield. I still can't get worked up over Nocturna as a villain. Why have they started putting the writer and artist credits at the top of the front cover?

"It's No Fair!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus

Oliver Queen visits the apartment of Tommy Doyle (aka the "Printer's Devil" from the last arc), ostensibly to save the man from a life of crime because, for some reason, Ollie has deemed the guy as "misunderstood." True, Doyle was reacting to economic and ecological adversity when he donned the cape and cumbersome helmet of the Printer's Devil, and maybe this guy can become a vital part of American society. In any case, Ollie gets there and finds Doyle tied up on his couch, with another victim of society's woes donning the Printer's Devil disguise.

PDII escapes and Ollie goes back to work, where he receives a clue as to the whereabouts of his new enemy. He tells the boss he'll be at the World's Fair, reporting on all of Star City's new environmental breakthroughs. The boss tells him that's fine, but saddles him with the gorgeous photog, Sharon Greenglass. Though Ollie would rather be flying solo, the boss insists and the duo depart.

They arrive at the World's Fair in time to see Printer's Devil II and his new pals, Pinball Wizard (who shoots metal balls out of his ass arm, and Bad Penny, who... does something. All three deliver monologues about how the main exhibit, the "Auto-Auto Factory" (a workplace that requires no workers), stole their jobs and will do the same to the rest of Star City's working population. All three let fly with their weapons and the falling detritus threatens our hero and his new gal pal.

Is there any reason to cover these things anymore? Let's put it to a vote. All for ignoring the seven or eight pages of kindergarten doodles at the back of each issue of Detective Comics, raise your hand. (Raises his hand.) I don't question whether Joey Cavalieri's heart was in the right place when he stood up in his cramped office at DC, looked out the window at the picketers in front of Schlatzkey's Deli across the street (Importing olives is unfair to local farms!), threw his Ham on Rye to the floor, and said "Damn It! Someone has to do something, and I'm a comic book writer with 80,725 loyal pre-teens who eat up every one of my adjective-filled sentences. I shall change the world!" I just wish he could weave his pet projects into a captivating yarn rather than type some random... stuff. There is literally nothing memorable about the script, and the art looks like something I saw flash before my eyes when the EMTs put the nitro tablet under my tongue. It's ugly and contains no distinguishable style. Just look at the panel I've reprinted here. The guy on the far left looks like he was drawn by Val Mayerik and the poor soul on the far right was ripped out of a strip by Steve Ditko. Somebody please tell editor Len Wein that a back-up in 'tec really isn't needed.

Jack: Before reading your attack piece, I was going to trash this strip. Now I want to defend it! The art is amateurish, but every so often it looks like the artist has promise and might get better if he keeps practicing. My problem is with Cavalieri's super-villains. Where do these bozos come from, and why do they always pause (marked by an ellipsis--...) before announcing their name? "Cower before the spare change of ... Bad Penny!" Still, it's better than Nemesis.


Batman #377

"The Slayer of Night"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

It's not easy being millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne! Sadly, the judge won't listen to him and looks likely to grant Natalia Knight's request to adopt Jason Todd. Batman visits Jason and learns that the lad asked to be adopted by Natalia because he thought it was the best way for him to end up with Bruce. Anton makes his way to Nocturna's place, only to have her spurn him when he reveals that he murdered Daimon Sturges Hellstrom.

Bruce chats with Alfred over chess while Vicki Vale fends off her horny date, Bill, and Julia pockets a photo of Wayne that she finds in Vicki's desk drawer. Bruce agonizes about the hot pants he has for Nocturna before making tracks to her place, where he seems to discover that she wears a necklace that emits a fragrant drug that makes men weak in the knees. Anton shows up and he and the Dark Knight fight over Nocturna; just as Anton is about to deliver the coup de grace, Nocturna shoots him in the back. She then puckers up and plants a big, wet kiss on the lips of Batman, who is woozy in the moonlight.

Peter: Since taking over the chores for both Bat-titles, Doug Moench has avoided the flowery prose that was his downfall at Warren but, for some reason, that bad habit comes back to haunt us in "The Slayer of Night." From the clunky self-examinations ("What have I done? What have I created? What have I destroyed?") to bizarrely worded observations best reserved for Psych 101 ("It's Vicki Vale I love... even Julia... anyone but... but her. And yet... and yet... why must the night be so confusing? Why must it form the division between what I am and what I can't resist?") to head-scratching title nods ("It was the Night-Thief who murdered Sturges Hellstrom on Empire Island... making him now a slayer of night."), this script smells like that month-old broccoli in the back of the fridge. None of the character motivations make much sense and where the heck is the magic bed that Jason rides on the cover? Get us out of this romantic crap and back to the danger.

Jack: How did Hannigan and Giordano come up with that cover from this story? I want to see more of Jason's nightmare! As good as Newton and Alcala's art is in the shadowy sequences (something shared with Colan), they can't draw Bruce Wayne to save their lives. Moench is fully in soap opera land with this story, which revolves around Bruce's tangled love life and all of the women who can't get by without him. I don't see the big appeal of Nocturna, with her pale, white skin, and it seemed out of character for her to turn on Anton as soon as he revealed that he had murdered Hellstrom. Where is this story arc going?


Detective Comics #544

"Deceit in Dark Shadows"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

Natalia Knight has saved Batman by shooting the Thief of Night/Night-Slayer/Whatever but, once they finish their canoodling, Bats and "the darkly white mystery known as Nocturna" notice that Anton Knight's body is gone. He's leaped off the roof and vanished, leaving a trail of blood behind. Natalia tells Batman she knows his secret identity and wants him to marry her, not for money but for love, and vows never to reveal his secret, no matter what.

Bats follows the crimson breadcrumbs to a deserted alley, but finds no Anton, dead or alive. Meanwhile, would-be assassin Slade has been released on bail and Harvey is none too happy about the news. The Dark Knight follows Slade and confronts him in the alley where he lost Anton. The blood spooks Slade and he spills his guts to the Caped Crusader, explaining that Mayor Hill was the puppet master all along. Across town, Nocturna pays a visit to the temporary home of Jason Todd. Jason has suited up and hit the streets in his Robin Underoos, tired of being cooped up and under a microscope. Natalia explains to the Boy Wonder that she knows Bats is Bruce and that Robin is Jason and that she promises to be a great mom. Batman visits the mayor's mansion and warns Hill that his days are numbered.

Peter: A bit of an upswing in quality since this month's Batman, but still not racking up a lot of stars on my ratings sheet. The splash is odd in that it clearly shows a different scene than where we left off in Bats #377; in that chapter, Bats was leaning against a wall when Anton tried to skewer him, but here our hero is hanging precariously from the ledge. Lack of communication, I guess. Anton/Thief disappears and we don't see him again. We're still not clear on why Natalia has decided laundry and three squares for the circus brat is what she's always desired in life. The climax, where Bats tips his hand to Hill, is an odd one in that it just peters out without any real closure. "Deceit in Dark Shadows" reminds me of the career of Bo Derek: Nothing consequential but boy, oh boy, is it nice to look at.

Jack: I think we read different stories! There are panels where this looks like the Gene Colan we know and love, and there are panels and large parts of pages that look like another artist entirely--neither Colan nor Alcala. I've reproduced one here. It reminds me of Jack Sparling. In any case, Moench drops the Nocturna storyline midway through and pivots hard to the Bullock storyline, which is much more interesting. Unfortunately, Dr. Fang is mentioned, which means we may have to suffer through another appearance by him.

"It's No Fair II:
Fair from the Madding Crowd"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus

The three costumed terrorists, Printer's Devil, Bad Penny, and Pinball Wizard, have taken over the Auto-Automat at the World's Fair and they mean business. They've taken photographer Sharon Greengrass as a hostage and demand six million dollars in ransom. The baddies insist they will not talk to the cops, so they demand an impartial deal broker: Oliver Queen. As Ollie is entering the building, Bad Penny demands to look through our hero's bag. Uh-oh, that's where he keeps his Green Arrow uni!

Peter: More meandering story and blacklight poster art. Laughably, there's this terrorist strike going on and the authorities have decided it's not dangerous enough to warrant an evacuation of the Fair! On the bright side, the Auto-Automat's design is immensely original... if you've never seen one of the original McDonald's restaurants. 

Jack: I'm flummoxed by Bad Penny's wage loss calculations. On page 7, Sharon Greenglass says "the girls who worked the automat" mean business, and on page 5, Bad Penny announces that she and her colleague would have made $100,000/year had the fair not stolen their jobs. I ran an inflation calculator online, and $100K in 1984 equals $269K today. For working at the Automat? I knew I was in the wrong line of work.

Next Week...
Warren's longest-running series begins...
but is it worth a damn?


andydecker said...

The whole Nocturna story doesn‘t make a lot of sense, especially as Doug now makes her some Poison Ivy clone. She is intoxicating Batman to love her? Huh? Also this plot brings the worst in Doug‘s writing habits to the front with lots of painful dialogue.

At least his characterisation remains true. Jason is doing something dumb because he is a kid. I quite liked the plot about Hill making Wayne‘s life miserable just because. The evil mayor in Gotham plot has become wearisome, so every little change from the usual is welcome. But the best are the Alfred scenes. Two friends talking about their problems in a relatable way. A nice counterpoint to the melodramatic Nocturna stuff.

Newton/Alcala beat Colan/Alcala. But the quality of the covers is still very high. Isn‘t Batman#377 a homage to Little Nemo in Slumberland?

How you guys have the discipline to wade through this awful back-ups is beyond me. No wonder Green Arrow was ripe for a new start after this with Grell‘s Longbow Hunters.

John said...

I am not so thrilled either that the 2 Bat-titles became Mexican soap opera these weeks.
I found something interesting about Nocturna when I did a quick research on her:
Nocturna was scheduled to appear in an episode of the television series Batman: The Animated Series, as a vampire. The episode was canceled after Fox censors objected to the storyline, which would have involved Batman being turned into a vampire and craving human blood. Producer Alan Burnett later recounted the events by saying: "We also wanted to do a Nocturna story – Bruce had drawn a hot model of her - but she's a vampire, which would've involved bloodletting, which was a huge no-no for kids TV.

When I read thing like this, my desire for a Batman: The Animated reboot/sequel/continuation grows stronger

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, I'm sure you're right about Little Nemo. I did not think of that. And our dedication knows no bounds. We read all of the Nemesis stories, didn't we?

John, I have never seen the cartoon show but I understand it's highly regarded. Maybe some day I'll give it a look.

John said...

Jack I recommend Batman T.A.S. wholeheartedly. The show captures the feel of the 70s Detective Batman although it was made in 1992. Many episodes are based on comics from that era ( Laughing Fish, There is No Hope in Crime Alley and many others ). You will love it.
Also Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy give their very best in the Joker and Batman roles respectively.
Only downside is the lack of gory/blood/mature content. But the mood and the atmosphere are rich and the show is surrounded from the Art-Deco architecture of Gotham we saw in Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN movie

Jack Seabrook said...

I will have to check that out! The lack of gory/blood/mature content is a positive for me. My favorite Batmen are Adam West and Michael Keaton.

andydecker said...

Batman T.A.S is great. It not only adapted so much DC lore very well, it gave old characters much needed depths. I could never take villains like Clayface or Mr. Freeze serious, but here they worked. Often much better than in the contemporary tv adaptions. Also it created characters like Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn. Not bad for what was basically a kids show.