Monday, May 30, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 54: April-May 1985


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

Batman #382

"The Vengeance Spiral"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg & Rudy Nebres

Catwoman is glad to be reunited with Diablo, her pet panther, and not glad to have Vicki Vale confronting her. When Batman shows up, Catwoman helpfully provides Darkwolf's origin story. He had been a Syrian terrorist attacking Egypt; Catwoman happened to be living there and she stopped him with help from Diablo, who mauled Darkwolf's face. Darkwolf then started wearing his wolf mask to hide his scars. He eventually came to Gotham City, where he broke into Catwoman's apartment and poisoned Diablo's dinner. The poison drove the big cat crazy, causing him to break his chain and go on a rampage. The poor cat drops dead from the poison.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Darkwolf bursts through airport security and hijacks a jet plane, demanding to be flown to Damascus. Batman, Catwoman, and Robin race to the airport, where Catwoman gains access to the plane, disguised as a flight attendant. Batman lies down on the wing and hangs on tight, with a parachute strapped to his back. The plane takes off, Catwoman attacks Darkwolf, and Batman enters through an emergency exit. Darkwolf tosses a live grenade, which Catwoman grabs before jumping out of the plane. Batman throws the parachute out after her and hopes for the best. He then beats the heck out of Darkwolf, ending "The Vengeance Spiral," and lands the plane safely. No one can find Catwoman, whose fate remains uncertain.

Peter: Had to laugh when Darkwolf, the world's most amateur terrorist, shrugs and says "Yep, that's fine" when the authorities insist on sending another "flight attendant" onboard. Didn't this guy see Magnum Force? Someone explain to me why the master plan of Batman and Catwoman required that the plane take off. Wouldn't it have been much easier for Selina to just have at it while they were still on the ground? Puzzling, to say the least. I won't even bring up the howler of Batman hanging onto the wing while the jet is in the air or Bats tossing the parachute at Selina as she takes a header out of the plane, in hopes the chute will "catch up to her." This script is all kinds of dumb. Doug Moench's bag of good stories and plots might have left the building with the good artists. The Hoberg/Nebres art is perfectly functional, horizon-level average, but since we've been spoiled by Colan and Newton for so long, it comes off as sub-par. Maybe the boys saw these scripts in advance and decided a change of venue was in order.

Jack: I found myself enjoying the story, which moves at a fast pace, and I thought the 23 pages went by surprisingly quickly. I was happy to see a cover by Gil Kane, even if it's overly heavy on inks and nowhere near his best work. The interior art seemed very much the work of Rudy Nebres, and it reminded me of his work at Marvel on Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. I agree that some of the plot points were far-fetched, but it was fun and this is a comic book, after all.


Detective Comics #549

"Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

While searching for the Batman, Harvey Bullock makes an enemy of one of the Skull Smashers. The youth lures Harvey away from the detective's apartment and lays waste to Harvey's noir poster collection. Harvey doesn't take kindly to the home invasion and hunts the kid down, pummeling him in a dark alley. As the loutish cop is about to haul his prisoner away, the kid's comrades show up and broadcast their intention to chop Harvey into little pieces. Luckily, Batman arrives and gives his sometime adversary a helping hand, mopping the streets with the yutes.

Peter: "Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock" gives us a long overdue look into what makes this cop tick. I'm not going to pretend I like the character, but if I gotta read about him, some backstory would be nice. Moench's almost-Batman-free script does give us a few hints about Bullock's life after work, but the details are sketchy. He has a nice apartment, seems to be neat (even though, as Doug shows over and over in a not-so-subtle way, Harvey is a slob while on the job), and has an obsession with old movies. That's about it. 

He seemingly went from hating Batman's guts only a few issues ago to enjoying the beginning of a "beautiful friendship." The final panel, of Harvey offering a helping hand and advice about life to the guy who wrecked his apartment, is about as phony as they come. To paraphrase Kay in The Godfather II, I think I liked this guy more when he was a "common hood." The art is awful, no two ways about it. Worst we've seen in a Batman title in ages. Broderick's penciling is as ugly as Harvey Bullock, with no regard for human anatomy. You don't even have to crack the funny book open to see that, since Broderick's responsible for the bland cover as well. The pits.

Jack: C'mon, it's not that bad! My first question, at the beginning of the story, came when Gordon told Bullock that the Bat-Signal doesn't work in the daytime. That makes sense, but how do they contact Batman if the Joker decides on some noon mayhem? And if there is a reliable, alternate method, what's the point of the Bat-Signal?

After a few pages of the Harvey Bullock comedy show, we get the shocking revelation that it's all a put on and he's refined at home and a connoisseur of old movies. Moench comments on the cliche of the sloppy cop by making it a purposeful act. I liked that aspect of the story and felt bad when the street punk invaded Harvey's carefully curated life. Bullock is like Batman in a way with his dual identities. The least interesting part of the story came when Batman arrived and we had the obligatory, multi-page fight.

"Night Olympics, Part One"
Story by Alan Moore
Art by Klaus Janson

While Green Arrow and Black Canary are out nabbing two-bit robbers, there's a new villain with a bow and arrow hitting the streets of Star City. And he's gunning for Ollie.

Peter: There's really not much to this first chapter of Alan More's all-too-brief, two-part guest stint on Green Arrow, "Night Olympics." Though Joey Cavalieri was doing an okay job as scribe on the series, you could tell right from the get-go that Alan Moore was bound for bigger and better things. In another year, Moore would unleash Watchmen and, a year later, The Killing Joke, two projects that would change DC Comics forever. Moore's sardonic humor and witty dialogue are evident here, despite the brevity of the strip (the conversation between the two thugs Black Canary is about to round up is genuinely funny), and the Arrow's laid-back persona is the perfect vehicle for the writer's one-liners. That just leaves the art. Thanks mostly to his work with Frank Miller on Daredevil, Klaus Janson would become one of my favorite artists of the 1980s, but here, on "Night Olympics," his work is up and down. Depending on what page you're looking at, Black Canary is a babe or a platypus.

Not so much

Jack: You had me at Black Canary. I don't recall ever seeing Janson on his own before, and the art here is shaky; I loved him as an inker over Gene Colan. The story is off to a promising start, which is no surprise coming from Alan Moore. Too bad he won't stick around.


Batman #383

"Just as Night Follows Day..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

It's not easy living the double life of a crimefighter by night and a millionaire playboy by day. Exhausted from a long night patrolling the streets of Gotham, Batman can barely stay awake to tune up the Batmobile and enter crime reports in the Bat Computer. Heading for bed in his Pierre Cardin bathrobe, Bruce Wayne has to deal with contractors repairing Wayne Manor and Jason Todd needing a ride to school.

But that's not all! Bruce yawns through an unscheduled meeting with the principal at Jason's school, nearly dozes off changing a tire on his way home and arrives back at Wayne Manor to find Lucius Fox waiting to discuss a business emergency. Then it's Julia, who has tickets to a concert the next night and wants Bruce to join her. Vickie Vale calls to insist on seeing Bruce to hash out their relationship and tells Bruce to pick her up at seven the next night or they're through! Of course, that's when the concert with Julia is scheduled, but Bruce is so tired his short-term memory is failing miserably.

Bruce picks up Jason from school and nearly falls asleep behind the wheel; he arrives home to find Amanda Groscz waiting for him, ready to discuss Jason's care. Night falls and the Bat Signal appears in the sky, triggering a second wind and a transformation into the Caped Crusader. Batman moves across the city, cleaning up crimes here, there, and everywhere, foiling a grocery store robbery, catching a serial rapist, and ruining the plans of several other thugs. Dawn breaks and, high up on the side of a skyscraper, Batman settles in for a long snooze, leaning against a stone gargoyle, completely unaware that he has a date later on with two different women.

Peter: A very enjoyable change of pace and, of course, the return of the lifeblood of the title, the Colan-Alcala team (if for only one issue). "Just as Night..." is like a 1930s Cary Grant romp, cleverly written and full of smiles (Bruce tracking paint through the Manor is a highlight). One of the best of the year! Did I mention how great the art is?

Jack: The letters column tells us this is Gene Colan's last hurrah, which is a shame, since "Just as Night Follows Day..." features some of the best work he's done on Batman in quite a while. As you say, the story is fun from start to finish, and it gives Colan a chance to do what he does best, drawing lots of different characters. If this is really it for Gentleman Gene, I'll miss him.


Detective Comics #550

"The Spider's Ninth Leg!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

Joey Redwine has always been a loser, a tough guy, a thug... but you have to understand, it's not his fault. His father beat him and his mother when he was young, so he's got an excuse to steal, commit assaults, and take drugs. And all that leads him to break into a church to steal gold candlesticks. It's not his fault the nun is there. Joey kills her and then hoofs it.

Which leads to a confrontation with Batman, a chase along Gotham rooftops. Despite the Dark Knight's best efforts, Joey jumps to his death. Waiting for him in Hell are Satan and Joey's Pop. They reminisce about old times.

Peter: It's not just the cliched "bad childhood equals bad adulthood" poppycock that makes "The Spider's Ninth Leg!" so indigestible; it's Doug Moench's perplexing slide back into the adjective and analogy-stuffed sentences that made his Warren material so disposable:

... a colossal, suffocating web--like so many ladder-rungs reaching off to infinity, each step blackly glittering and sticky.

... these charts, he firmly believed, had led to the discovery of many secret omens--the worst of which was constituted by the emergence, if on a Tuesday, of a new zit on his left cheek.

Again, Doug seems to have slipped into the cloak of "funny book writer as poet." Joey's not really a bad guy and the Caped Crusader knows that. Sure, he's murdered a nun and has a heroin addiction, but everyone has problems. Doug's climax, of Joey's welcome to Hell and a confrontation with the titular appendage, makes no sense. And so, it makes sense in the context of the rest of the story. What is the purpose of this chase? To remind us that "the sins of the fathers...?" 

But there's plenty of blame to go around here. The Pat Broderick/Bob Smith art is atrocious, perhaps even worse than last issue. In spots, I have no idea what is going on. Why is Batman flying solo on a nun-killer? Where is Gordon and the backup? Can we climb out of this hole any time soon?

Jack: Another sad story about an abused child growing up to be a criminal. I agree that the art is not very good, and it's hard to have sympathy for a man who beats a nun to death in a church with a candlestick. Still, the unexpected finale with Joey in Hell meeting his abusive father caught me off guard and made me think a bit more highly of the story than I had up to then.

"Night Olympics, Part Two"
Story by Alan Moore
Art by Klaus Janson

A psychotic archer named Pete Lomax has targeted Green Arrow and Black Canary for some unknown reason. After watching the Canary get pegged with one of Lomax's arrows, Ollie hits the roof with a raging fury.

Peter: It's a simple but well-told story, this "Night Olympics" arc, and we should bask in it before we return to the highs and lows of Joey Cavalieri next issue. Moore loves to turn superhero cliches and expectations on their head and point out to readers just how absurd it is that these guys in spandex and capes are leaping from rooftops and surviving hails of machine-gun bullets all while showing love for the medium. The villain here is Pete Lomax, not "Bowman" or "Black Arrow" or some other ludicrous moniker. What's his motivation? Evidently to prove to mankind that superheroes aren't all that super. Compared to the bilge we get as the "main feature," this seven-page quickie is funny book heaven.

Jack: A simple story of revenge in which Klaus Janson plays to his strengths up until the last page, where the art again gets a bit shaky. This two-parter was more satisfying than what we're used to seeing in the backup features.

Next month...
Can Carmine save what
looks to be an unmemorable month
at Warren Publishing?

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