Monday, May 16, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 53: February-March 1985


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


Batman #380

"End of the Bat"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg & Alfredo Alcala

Mayor Hill is so determined to have Harvey Bullock killed that he arranges for Dr. Fang to be released from prison, certain that the toothy one is the man for the job. Batman searches the sewers for the Night-Slayer, who is finished with rehab and departs Tina's shack, swearing her to secrecy. Batman finds Tina but she doesn't reveal the identity of her recently departed visitor.

After a stroll in the park with Jason, Nocturna returns to her penthouse, only to find the Night-Slayer waiting. The jealous former lover knocks out Jason and Natalia and waits for Batman, intent on murdering his rival. Dr. Fang also follows Batman, who ends up at Nocturna's penthouse, where he has an extended fight with the Night-Slayer. Dr. Fang arrives in the middle of the battle and the Night-Slayer picks up a gun, with which he shoots and kills Dr. Fang. The gun grazes the Caped Crusader's temple and his "brain short-circuits."

Batman's mind is confused and he thinks he killed Dr. Fang. The Night-Slayer takes advantage of Batman's confusion to switch outfits with him, leaving Batman dressed as the Night-Slayer and holding the murder weapon, convinced that he's the latest member of the Rogue's Gallery. The Night-Slayer, dressed as Batman, returns to the safety of Tina's shack, while Batman leaps from the penthouse into space.

Jack: The cover by Hoberg and Giordano reminded me of early '70s Adams/Giordano Batman depictions, but when I saw the inside art, where Hoberg is inked by Alcala rather than Giordano, I realized that Dick was the reason the cover looked so good. The inside art on "End of the Bat" isn't bad, not by a long shot, but it isn't what we've been used to seeing from Newton.

Moench again displays his ability to juggle numerous stories at once in this 23-page "epic"; I enjoyed it perhaps due to the lack of any sign of Vicki Vale. The obligatory long fight scene isn't worth much and the effect of Batman being knocked in the temple by a gun seems overblown, but the full-page illos with the Rogue's Gallery, which Batman thinks of as his mind spins, are welcome.

Peter: Maybe it's just that I'm grumpy about losing Newton to, clearly, a lesser artist like Hoberg, but I found this chapter to be dull and dreary. The dialogue (especially the exchange between Bats and our blind heroine) is schmaltzy, the action is confused, and Doug seems to be regressing to some form of his Warren-pretension days. When did the Thief of the Night begin to refer to himself as Night-Slayer? I recall Bats making some kind of melodramatic speech about Anton morphing from Thief into Slayer, but why would he suddenly be referring to himself as so? I had to laugh when Bats sighs and tries to convince himself that falling in love with a female criminal really isn't his style. Really? And, c'mon, that finish is gawdawfully contrived, no?


Detective Comics #547

"Cast of Characters, Sequence of Events"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Klaus Janson

The Thief of the Night became the Night Slayer, but his transformation was not complete. Now, thanks to Batman suffering a concussion and seeing stars, Anton Knight is the Dark Knight! Yep, he's stolen the Bat-suit... but at least he was courteous enough to leave Bruce in the Night-Thief-Slayer costume. Bruce goes off to ponder this new identity by stacking pebbles on a rooftop. Please don't ask me any more questions about this therapy session.

Meanwhile, so much is else is going on. Anton Dark Knight takes advantage of his new identity by, what else, robbing banks and spreading general chaos throughout Gotham. Robin and Nocturna team up to go after the new baddie (after they dump Dr. Fang's body!), but when they face him, they're clearly outmatched and Anton flees into the night.

Bullock lies in bed, Gordon continuing his watch over the fallen cop, and demands that something be done about Mayor Hill. Gordon sadly nods his head, but admits they don't have the time to do anything about it this issue. Alfred the butler discovers that his daughter, the newly-anointed journalist of the family, has used her adopted father's surname for her byline. Along with all the rest of the events of the day (Jason being taken from the mansion, Julia getting her own apartment, Master Wayne never coming home, and please don't mention that damn soufflé!), this news pushes Alfred over the edge and he bursts into tears.

Thankfully, that pile of pebbles has made Bruce see who he really is and the fact that he's dressed in a murderer's outfit angers him. He sets off to make things right. To be continued!

Peter: Again, it may just be the changing of the guard at the art department, but I really don't like where this arc is going; namely nowhere. We were in such a groove thanks to Messrs. Moench, Newton, Alcala, Colan, and Smith. Now, three of those guys are gone and the graphics look sketchy. Anton sure seems to be a lot more cheerful as Batman than he was as the Night Slaying Thief. As the rather bland Thief, Anton would mope around and quote Shakespeare or Chekhov; now that he's in the Bat-suit, the guy is all smiles and one-liners. It's a wonder what a change of clothes can do for a man. 

Oliver Queen is Batman

The startling turn of events, with Batman losing his marbles from a bullet crease to the noggin (hasn't he suffered worse injuries in his 45-year career?), is evidently solved by a stack of pebbles. To say this chapter of the arc is inconsequential is an understatement. It's dreary, boring, and maudlin, adjectives that I haven't used much since Doug took over.

Alfred's crybaby routine also flies in the face of everything we've come to expect from this guy. He's always been strong and a backbone for Master Bruce, but a couple of kids flying the coop and Julia's choice of surname for the byline on her first article send Al into full waterworks-mode. Best of all, no one notices that right about the time Batman went bad he grew a red beard. <insert chuckling emoji> Wait, no, best of all is surely the scene where Robin turns felon and aids Nocturna in the dumping of Fang's corpse in a park. I can't wait until Jason 'fesses up to that one. "Well, erm, Bruce, I am only nine years old! I don't know no better. My mom told me to."

Jack: Phew, Pat Broderick is no Gene Colan! I thought this was a weak story and it seemed like Moench was treading water between the longer stories in Batman. There's too much (unwelcome) time spent with Vicki and Julia, and I have no idea what Batman was doing stacking pebbles for four nights. As for the Night-Slayer as Batman, why wouldn't he shave? Wouldn't someone wonder why Batman suddenly grew a rather stylish beard and mustache after years of smooth cheeks and chin? I looked back again at Batman and there's no way the drawing looks like Batman's skull was creased with a bullet, as Robin claims.

"Clash Reunion II: Most Likely to Die!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Still stewing over the puzzling remarks made by Vengeance (see last issue), Oliver Queen investigates the two men missing from his class reunion. Running down a lead on Tim Selby, Ollie witnesses the man taking money from a Vietnamese shop owner. The storeowner refuses to comment on the incident and Ollie goes away, scratching his head. 

Turns out that Selby is a strong-arm for the Association, the Viet mafia and, enlisting the aid of Mary Ho (who's not Vietnamese, but if you squint... oh no, I'm not going there), they set a trap for the bad guy. Mary acts the part of a shop owner and, sure enough, Selby shows up to let the woman know she's going to have to pay the Association to keep her shop open. When Mary stumbles over a couple of questions about Viet Nam, Selby sees through the disguise ("What is this, a joke? You're not Vietnamese at all, are you?") and pulls a heater. Enter Vengeance, who starts shooting and, evidently, hits Mary.

Peter: I found the Moore/Patterson art to be much better than that in the main feature this issue. The plot's a good one as well, with just enough content and twists to make it interesting. The race aspects of the story are a bit... mmm,  up in the air. Ollie's buddy, an obvious Bob Marley homage (there's even a poster of Bob on his wall), has the obligatory hookah and dreadlocks and speaks in a foreign tongue (what the hell is "King Bloodclot?"), while Mary is the yellow-skinned token. All that was missing was Ollie shrugging his shoulders and breaking the fourth-wall with a "Hey, they all look alike, don't they?"

Jack: The art by Moore and Patterson is at least as good as that in the lead story in this issue, so this is not a total loss. My favorite panel featured the Rastafarian smoking the hookah. In a  DC comic? Maybe it was just tobacco. I was not expecting Vengeance to burst onto the scene, so I have to give Cavalieri credit for a surprise, and his dialogue was not as ridden with cliches as usual.


Batman #381

"Darkly Moved the Pawns"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg & Alfredo Alcala

Blind Tina finds a cop on the beat and reports that Batman is a thief. The Night-Slayer, dressed as Batman, proves her right by stealing all the loot he can find. The Gotham newspapers report the hero-turned- villain story and the citizens of Gotham debate it. Meanwhile, Amanda Groscz has decided to return Jason Todd to the care of Bruce Wayne, unaware that Jason, as Robin, has been scouring the city with Nocturna, looking for the Dark Knight.

Jason finds Nocturna's hidden stash of stolen treasure and contemplates turning her in to the authorities, but he decides to wait until Batman is found. Nocturna is getting her jammies on when the Night-Slayer pops in through a window; the two of them swing off to witness Batman casing a fur warehouse, waiting to rob it. Mayor Hill plots to bring down Batman, while the Night-Slayer turns up at Stately Wayne Manor and removes his mask to reveal that he's really Batman, whose memory loss lasted only an hour or so.

At the fur warehouse, half of the Gotham police force turns up to catch the fake Batman in the act of trying to steal a shipment. The real Batman also appears and unmasks Anton, who puts up a brief fight before falling off a dock into the water and disappearing. Batman's name is cleared, Natalia tells Jason he can stay at Wayne Manor, and the Caped Crusader pays a visit to blind Tina to demonstrate that he really is a good guy after all.

Jack: Once again, the Hoberg/Alcala graphics don't do Moench's story any favors. While I liked the way Doug juggled the subplots in the prior issue of Batman, I think he tries too hard to weave every last story thread into this issue so he can tie them up. There was never any doubt that Jason would return to Bruce's care, so the Natalia storyline was doomed from the start. The Night-Slayer isn't much of a villain and seems bent on stealing lots of stuff without any real goal in mind. The coming attractions banner promises Catwoman next time out, so here's hoping a return to a classic villain will improve things.

Peter: This is just awful, awful stuff. Doug's prose is stuffed full of pretension again ("Not while this night still weeps!"), and not one of the plethora of colliding side-tracks (Gordon, Bullock, Nocturna, Robin, Mayor Hill, etc.) is in the least interesting. I had to laugh several times at the cast playing catch up with each other (all the while winking at the readers who might have missed the last few installments), mouthing long and contrived expositories like "We're still looking for Anton Knight, once the Thief  of the Night, then the Night-Slayer, now Batman..." If you were Jason after Nocturna spent two pages telling him why they were in the soup they're in, wouldn't you look at her sideways and exclaim, "Hello, I was right here with you!?" And what are we to gather from that not-so-subtle "In the morning, he will tell her..." while Bats and Tina head into the shack for the evening? He's in love with Vicki, Selena, Talia, and Natalia (and maybe even Alfred's kid), but he's not adverse to a little on the side with a girl he doesn't even know now and then.


Detective Comics #548

"Beasts A-Prowl"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

There's a killer panther loose in Gotham and Batman believes it must belong to ...Catwoman! But, while out patrolling the city with Robin and sweeping the alleys for any stray cats, the Bat-signal rips open the sky like a meat cleaver slicing through pastrami. Gordon informs Batman that a terrorist "with Syrian ties" calling himself Darkwolf has taken six hostages in the Egyptian Embassy. If his demands are not met, he'll kill all the innocents.

Meanwhile, smelling a big story in the return of Catwoman, Vicki Vale and ace journalist Julia Pennyworth hit the pavement but quickly come under the eyes of a skanky bunch of '50s throwbacks calling themselves "The Skull Smashers." Not taking "no" for an answer, the thugs accompany the girls into dark alleys but hoof it when the big cat shows up. As Vicki is about to brain the panther with a brick, Catwoman shows up and threatens bodily harm if the jungle cat is wounded. 

Back at the Embassy, Batman manages to break into the building and gets the upper hand on Darkwolf, with Robin secreting the six hostages to safety. Darkwolf tosses a grenade and the office explodes. The costumed terrorist exits the debris via hang-glider and, minutes later, Batman walks out unharmed but a bit pissed at the turn of events.

I gotta believe that Doug has a good reason for costuming and monikering a "common terrorist" other than to make him look cool. The outfit is pretty dumb; the dope might have grabbed a hunting souvenir off of one of the Ambassador's walls. There's no rhyme or reason to any of the plot threads. Why does Catwoman have her panther prowling the streets (in one scene, killing a man)? Why this random act of terrorism (possibly to cash in on the day's headlines?)? Why would Vicki and Julia think it a good idea to pal around with JDs? In what DC Alternate Universe does Alfred want his daughter to "jump the bones" of Bruce Wayne? Ferchrissakes, he's been around the billionaire playboy for decades; he's gotta know how that would end up. 

The art is bottom of the barrel. The girls have gaping mouths and eyes that seem to get farther apart as the panels progress. The Skull Smashers are all stock JD pencilings. Batman and Robin alternate between halfway-decently drawn and something one of the fanboys might have doodled for the latest issue of The Comic Reader. Just look at the sequence reprinted here and remember that a couple of months ago we were looking for new synonyms for "awe-inspiring" when detailing the art of Colan and Newton. This crap is depressing.

Jack: I never thought I’d see the day when Alfred the Butler uttered the phrase, "jump his bones." This is in the running for worst story of 1985. The art is awkward and barely at the level we sometimes see in the backup stories. The villain escaping by hang glider made me think of the 1975 movie, The Dragon Flies, and now the song "Sky High" is on repeat in my head. Terrible from start to finish, "Beasts A-Prowl" should have been titled "Stinks A-Lot."

"Clash Reunion III: Vengeance is Mine!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore and Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow flies into a rage when he sees Mary gunned down by Vengeance. He throws his bow and arrow to the ground and challenges the vigilante to a fistfight. Mano a mano. Vengeance lasts approximately ten seconds before Arrow has the dangerous goofball's arms locked behind his back. It's then that Mary sits up and asks what she's missed. A bulletproof vest provided by Oliver has saved her life. Later that evening, Green Arrow has a chance encounter with a hooker on the street outside James's flat and discovers it's the William Davis he's been searching for. Well, now he/she goes by "Billie Jean!" Dude Looks Like a Lady!

Billie Jean is not my QB

Peter: Like Jack, I'm not sure what the hell's going on here with that climax (Keith Richards's immortal line "The pool's in but the patio ain't dry" kept swirling through my diseased brain for some reason); evidently, the quarterback that Ollie's been searching for is now taking it for the other team... maybe. Maybe Green Arrow should be the "Detective" in Detective Comics since he managed to fuse two wildly different wires together to come up with the truth. And if Mary had a vest on the whole time, why was Arrow going on about murder? One hell of a vest by the way, taking a high-powered rifle bullet in the chest and leaving Mary with just a few bruises and a great story to tell friends. 

Jack: Compared to this issue’s lead story, "Vengeance is Mine" is a gem. The art is of much higher quality and the story is fun, even though (once again with this series) I’m not really sure what’s going on.

Next Week...
War is Hell!


Anonymous said...

I got to wondering what necessitated the switchover of artists. Near as I can figure, the only other DC book Gene Colan was drawing for the next few months was JEMM, SON OF SATURN. He returned to drawing Batman in DETECTIVE 555. But as I suspected, we won’t be seeing any more Batman art from Don Newton. Sadly, he died (WAY too young) in August of ‘84.


Jack Seabrook said...

That is too bad. He was a very good artist. I looked up his bio online after reading your comment. I first got to like his art in the RBCC and then at DC.

Anonymous said...

I first noticed him at Charlton, on the ‘Baron Weirwulf’s Library’ series of really nice one-pagers about werewolves and vampires and ghouls etc (kinda like the ‘Loathsome Lore’ stuff in the early CREEPY and EERIE mags), a few painted covers (including a stunning portrait of Baron Weirwulf himself on HAUNTED #21) and especially his knockout run on THE PHANTOM.

I remember thinking ‘This guy draws better than most of the DC and Marvel guys, why the hell isn’t he working for THEM?’ And then suddenly he was — AQUAMAN, NEW GODS (actually kind of a poor fit for his particular skill set, IMO), STAR HUNTERS, etc, and a little later, excellent runs on CAPTAIN MARVEL and of course, BATMAN.

It’s crazy to think his entire professional comics career lastly only about a decade, start to finish, but man he sure drew some excellent comics in those ten years (plus all that awesome fan art from before he turned pro, most of which I only saw years later).