Monday, June 27, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 56: August/September 1985


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

Batman #386

"Black Mask: Losing Face"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

When the doctor who delivered baby Roman Sionis dropped the infant in the delivery room, it was a bad sign. Despite being the heir to his father's cosmetics empire, Roman grew up unhappy, especially when he was bitten by a raccoon on a family vacation. Soon after his 21st birthday, Roman was made vice president of his father's company and he quickly hooked up with a gorgeous redheaded model who called herself Circe.

When his parents didn't approve, Roman set fire to their home, killing them. Roman became president of the company and, though he tried to interest the public in face-paint cosmetics, all he did was nearly run the organization into the ground. When he offered a big bonus for a revolutionary new makeup, Roman ignored his own scientist's warnings about side effects and put water-insoluble makeup on the market. Widespread injuries and lawsuits followed. Finally, the only hope for Janus Cosmetics was a bailout from the Wayne Foundation; it seems Bruce Wayne's father had been friends with Roman's late father.

Bitter at being forced out of his own company, Roman visited his parents' crypt one stormy night and lost his mind, transforming his face into something that had to be covered with a black mask. He began gathering small-time criminals to form the False Face Society of Gotham, a gang that carried out numerous thefts. Batman was soon on his trail and, when Black Mask (as Roman began calling himself) murdered the new chairman of the board of Janus Cosmetics, Batman knew who was to blame. What the Dark Knight didn't know was that Black Mask's next target was Bruce Wayne!

Peter: Hot on the heels of Calendar Man, we get another villain tied in with the early days of Bruce Wayne. It's a radical experiment for Doug to write a full-length origin story for an untested bad guy. Though the origin itself lacks originality, the story is entertaining and fast-paced. The art is dreadful; Mandrake's work looks like the sub-par penciling we'd find in the later-years DC mystery comics. In the years that followed, Black Mask would become one of the mid-level-tier villains, used quite a bit in comics and animation.

Jack: I agree with you that this is a half-decent story with poor art. Is Black Mask supposed to be similar to False Face, who I remember from the 1960s TV show? It's unclear exactly what happens in the crypt, when Roman pushes some sort of wooden fragment into his face for five hours. I guess we'll get a big reveal of his hideous face in an upcoming issue. We do get one panel with a long-distance shot of Circe, topless, with her back turned, wearing nothing but some skimpy undies. I know it's not much, but I was surprised to see that panel in a DC comic, even in 1985.

Detective Comics #553

"The False Face Society of Gotham"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Black Mask continues his killing spree, murdering executives of the company he once owned, Janus Cosmetics. His next target: Bruce Wayne! Our billionaire/favorite alter ego receives a call from an alarmed Lucius Fox, who fears the recent killings will cause Wayne stocks to plummet. Fox suggests that Bruce attend the following evening's benefit for Ethiopia to stem the tide of concern. Bruce agrees.

The next night, Wayne arrives at the function with the beautiful and multi-surnamed reporter Julia on his arm. Of course, he notices the car across the street occupied by Black Mask's hoods but concentrates on enjoying his thousand-buck dinner. 

Meanwhile, across town, Black Mask kidnaps super-model Circe and takes her to his super-secret hideout. The next night, he gives her the deadly mask treatment but adjusts the dosage in order to take away her beauty but not her life. Black Mask offers Circe the choice of receiving the full fatal facial or becoming his new "queen" and ruling beside him. Circe opts for royalty. 

At the same time, Batman and Robin are mopping the floor with Black Mask's hired goons, who can offer no help as to the whereabouts of their boss. Looks like the boys are going to have to roll up their gloves and do a little detective work!

Peter: The Black Mask saga is a decent time-waster but Doug seems to be taking it a lot more seriously than I do. Pert near every line the new villain recites seems to have been written for some low-budget opera rather than a tights 'n' capes funny book: "You may enter, initiates... enter--to join the swelling ranks of the faceless..." I dare anyone to read Black Mask's monologue on the title page and not giggle at least once. Of course, I'll add the obligatory Having said that... and say that I dig psycho bad guys. There's a Tim Burton's Joker vibe to Black Mask, like he's capable of doing anything at a moment's notice, that makes the story hum. Shakespearean dialogue aside, Moench pens a really good, unpredictable crime drama here and Klaus puts a very nice cinematic sheen to it. Please don't let me down with the finale, Doug.

Jack: After two Black Mask stories I remain confused. Black Mask made a mask from his father's coffin lid and it has spirit power? I did not get that from the first story, perhaps due to the poor artwork. Now it seems that putting on a mask with poisoned cosmetics smeared on the inside can not only kill a person in 30 seconds but also leave their face looking like a skull. I like the way Doug uses the double meaning of "losing face" and I like Janson's art better than Mandrake's, although it's still not great.

"Crazy From the Heat
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow and the Black Canary attempt to extinguish a fire at an abandoned building. Well, they think it's abandoned until they hear a series of shrieks emanating from within. Ollie shoots a series of foam arrows into the blaze while Canary enters. She finds and rescues a woman and her child and then heads further into the inferno, where she comes face to face with the X-Men's Storm the newest tenth-tier villain to hit Star City, Bonfire. The arsonist gets the better of the Canary and then hoofs it, leaving our heroine to suffocate or burn to death. Arrow arrives just in time to save his best girl.

Outside, Green Arrow has words for the fire chief, who arrives once the action is over. Arrow is convinced that the owners of the building had it torched so that they could simultaneously get rid of squatters and make way for rebuilding. Later, while recovering in bed, Dinah looks at an old photo of her mother, the original Black Canary, and makes a startling discovery. To be continued.

Peter: You don't get much of a look at DC's daring new villain, Bonfire, but you can tell right off the bat that, like most of these short-term criminals, not much thought was given to design. She's a chick who starts fires. What else do you need to know? Joey Cavalieri continues checking off boxes on his list of "Societal Woes" by turning the spotlight on the very real problem of the homeless and squatter's rights. Trouble is, Joey doesn't have the space to craft a solid story around these threads.

Jack: It was nice to see Black Canary take a central role and I liked Green Arrow's brief return to social commentary. What bugged me was the fact that Black Canary has a perm on page six but nowhere else in the story. Moore & Patterson's art is not bad here; in fact, it's better than Janson's work on the lead story.

Batman #387

"Ebon Masquery"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Batman knows that Black Mask can't resist a masked ball, so he invites the villain to attend a get together at Wayne Manor. At the party, Alfred narrows the suspects to six attendees and begins to winnow them down to one, but Black Mask tricks Bruce Wayne and they end up alone in the conservatory.

Bruce manages to fight off Black Mask, who makes a run for it. Robin tails him to the Sionis family crypt and summons Batman, but when the Caped Crusader arrives, the Dynamic Duo find themselves outnumbered by masked members of the False Face Society. After mopping up the first batch of baddies, Batman and Robin follow Black Mask, who again manages to escape.

They track him to the Sionis estate, where countless members of the False Face Society try to defeat Batman and Robin while Black Mask stands in his childhood bedroom, talking to his toys. Eventually, Batman and Robin catch up to him, but not before he has set the room on fire with himself in it. Batman rescues Black Mask, whose face is permanently charred black by the flames. Circe remains at large and, a month later, she visits Arkham Asylum, where Black Mask now resides, and leaves him her mask.

Vicki Vale lets Bruce know what he's been
missing in the three days since he last saw her!

Oh Doug, you did it to me again! Whereas the previous chapter in this arc seemed edgy, the climax is like a script from the 1966 show. This is not the first time that I've felt Doug writes to the standards of his art crew. Janson is the new wave, while Mandrake is tantamount to Mike Sekowsky. There's little to no choreography, the action is unexciting, and our heroes might as well be Colorform figures. The party dialogue is like a series of unconnected one-liners and the climax makes no sense. Biggest laugh of the year: Vicki Vale flaunting her new Jamie Lee Curtis-inspired body at the party. What a feeling! What a letdown.

Jack: In spite of the uninspired art, I enjoyed it! Moench sets up interesting parallels between Black Mask and Bruce Wayne, and the fight/chase/fight structure of the story kept me turning pages. Like other artists we've seen at DC and Warren, Mandrake is challenged by human faces, so when many of the characters wear masks, he is able to execute better panels. I also laughed at the new, buff Vicki Vale! I would love to have seen what Colan would have done with this story.

Guess which one of us liked Colorforms.

Detective Comics #554

"Port Passed"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Klaus Janson

Harvey Bullock investigates trouble down at Gotham Harbor. An Italian freighter has refused customs inspection and is being escorted to the docks. At the last moment, a source informs the police that the freighter may be carrying explosives. As Bullock is comparing notes with the beat cops, a man emerges from the water, blurts out the word "Frog--" and then croaks, a stiletto lodged in his back.

Batman and Robin arrive at the dock, summoned by the Bat-Signal, and a plan is quickly formed. The Dark Knight believes the dead man may have been trying to say "," which would signal an underwater as well as onboard threat. Robin and Bullock will approach and board the ship to investigate the explosives threat while Batman will sniff out any below-surface danger.

Robin and Bullock sneak aboard the ship; they fail to find any TNT, but there are two would-be terrorists waiting for them. They make quick work of one but the other, in scuba gear, dives over the side with a spear gun. Batman picks up the man's "trail" and deduces that the explosives are in the gun. The two grapple underwater and the spear gun goes off, blowing a hole in the freighter. The two bad guys are rounded up and a waterproof box is found. Gordon opens it, expecting to find drugs, and discovers a passport for nefarious Italian mobster Joseph Torelli and an airline ticket from Gotham to Naples. Ironically, Gordon reveals to his audience, Torelli was set to be deported back the next day to Naples on that very freighter!

Peter: One-offs usually don't float my boat (pun intended), but "Port Passed" is a fun romp with some great visuals. The dialogue between Robin and Bullock as they're speeding out to the freighter is hilarious. Bullock trying to get answers from Robin about his partnership with Batman, and Bullock's nagging feeling this is not the same Robin they've been dealing with all these years ("I always thought Robin was bigger... and older too!") bring up something I'd never thought about: the general public has no idea this is Robin Mach II! I've never understood underwater action scenes in funny books. Batman is clocked with a spear gun he "never saw coming." How do you effectively deliver a stunning blow underwater? 

Jack: In slow motion, of course! I really enjoyed this fun story and appreciated the dynamic art. It amused me that Bruce and Jason were playing chess by the fire and Jason wanted to play a video game. Isn't it about time to redecorate the Batcave and get rid of that giant penny?

"Crazy From the Heat II: The Past is Prologue"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Tired of living in the shadow (both physically and mentally) of her famous superheroine mother, the Black Canary tosses her old uni in the trash and gets herself a new sexy, fireproof Danskin. All dressed up, she heads out to the abandoned buildings where she last saw Bonfire and the two engage in a brief tussle before Diana uses her "Canary Cry" to debilitate the super-arsonist. Green Arrow shows up in time to watch the end credits and give Diana a hard time about her new look.

Peter: The back story of Black Canary is confusing to the Nth, even after I spent several seconds skimming her Wiki page. I believe this is the first we've seen Diana use her "Canary Cry" weapon (essentially a low-grade "Black Bolt Bellow"), but it makes me wonder why she didn't simply use it when confronted by Bonfire last issue. If I didn't know better, I'd say Diana decided to retire and it's Vicki Vale who emerges as the new Canary. Cavalieri leaves the social commentary out this time (all the better, that) and the Moore/Patterson team do an aces job visualizing the words on the paper. All in all, not a bad little story but odd that the powers-that-be chose to spotlight the Canary's new look rather than what was going on in the lead feature.

Jack: I like that the cover is an homage to Carmine Infantino's 1948 cover for Flash 92, though I have to say I prefer the earlier version. Black Canary does bring much needed new blood to this series, but her new uniform is a definite no. One question: I thought Golden Age super-heroes were supposed to be from Earth Two, not the parents of Bronze Age superheroes. Can someone help me out? How is the 1940s Black Canary the mother of the 1980s Black Canary? Who is the father? And why isn't Golden Age Batman the father of Bronze Age Batman?

Next Week...
Corben's back!

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