Monday, July 11, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 57: October-November 1985

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

Batman #388

"The Round-Trip Looking Glass!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

A priceless jade necklace on display at the Gotham Museum is too tempting for the Mirror Master and Captain Boomerang to resist. Having left Central City and come to Gotham City due to its lack of heroes with superpowers and a desire to get revenge on Batman, the duo argue until the Caped Crusader shows up and they run for the exit.

Back at the Batcave, Robin looks up the villains' origin stories on the Bat Computer. At the docks, Mirror Master meets some of Black Mask's flunkies and hypnotizes them into going after Captain Boomerang. Bruce Wayne brings a date with Julia to an abrupt end when he sees the Bat Signal, but on the way to headquarters he nearly crashes into a car driven by Harvey Bullock. Captain Boomerang's attempt to rob a jewelry store is foiled by Black Mask's hypnotized flunkies, while Robin and Bullock confront Mirror Master elsewhere.

Batman shows up at the jewelry store and knocks out the flunkies as Captain Boomerang escapes and makes his way to Mirror Master's hideout, where he finds a magic mirror. Bullock and Robin drive off with their new prisoner, Mirror Master, until he tricks them with a mirrored tooth and escapes. Back at his lair, Mirror Master is hypnotized by Captain Boomerang, who uses the magic mirror he stole from the other villain.

Peter: It seems as though Doug is swerving away from the dark detective and steering us toward a more 1960s' approach to Batman. The two lower-tier villains teaming up would have been a swell issue of World's Finest and that three-panel sequence (reprinted above) sure looks like an homage to the Adam West show. I prefer the noir-tinged Bats, but I'm not averse to silliness now and then.

Jack: This issue is dreadful. The villains' rationale for going to Gotham City is dumb and the art is not getting any better. How long will we have to tolerate Mandrake? I checked the GCD and, thankfully, it's not long. 

Detective Comics #555

"Returning Reflections"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Robin relates the second half of the Mirror Master-Captain Boomerang saga in his diary. Batman plots a trap for the two seventh-tier villains involving Harvey Bullock as bait. Bruce Wayne goes undercover as "Matches" Malone, spreading the news in every Gotham bar and dive that the jade necklace the Mirror/Boomerang boys were trying to steal (see Batman #388 for that exciting escapade) is being moved out of the museum. To keep it low key, only Harvey Bullock will be transporting the gem. Overhearing the conversation in one bar is Larry Fine, aka the Captain himself.

Racing back to Boomerang HQ, the Captain alerts Mirror Master to the transport and the two hooligans agree to meet up and divvy up the prize. What Mirror Man doesn't know is that Boomerang Boy intends to double cross him and leave him for the cops to haul in. Later that night, Batman and Robin arrive, but Bats immediately smells a dead mackerel when CB doesn't show. The Dark Knight makes a snap decision and allows the heist to go down without alerting Bullock, who is kidnapped by the Mirror Master.

"Hey Moe!"
Bats and Robin give chase, admitting that Bullock might be an oafish buffoon, but he's their oafish buffoon. They arrive at Mirror Mansion just in time for Captain Boomerang's big entrance. Mirror Master admits he was just foolin' when he acted like he was under Boomerang's control. In fact, he gloats, he was primed to set up Boomerang at the museum! Holy double-triple-quadruple cross! MM uses his mind control on Bullock, ordering him to murder Boomerang, but the Dynamic Duo bust through the only window left with panes in all of Gotham and mop the floor with the two dopes. Later, while writing in his journal, Robin decides the story "couldn't even pass for a comic book,"  so he tears it up.

Peter: Despite the fact that this script is light as a feather, there's a lot to like here. Number one, obviously, would be the return of Gene Colan, who immediately gives the tale a readability the first half didn't have. Then there's the hilarious burgeoning relationship between Robin and Bullock; the conversation between Bats and Robin about Harvey is pretty funny stuff (Robin: "At least he makes me look good--a welcome change after hangin' out in your shadow!") and that light tone works wonders for Doug's pretension-o-meter, which is at a very low level in this issue. 

Having Robin narrate the story beginning in the middle is an odd choice, no? The double-crossing got to be a bit confusing, but that might be my short attention span. I do think it hilarious that Mirror Master was able to keep a straight face every time he did the Glenn Strange impersonation "Yes...master!" But, hey, if I can't have dark, brooding Batman all the time, at least Doug is providing me with an amusing and entertaining alternative.

Jack: I like that Jason Todd is credited as the story's writer on the first page, rather than Doug Moench. Despite the hard-to-read cursive captions, I enjoyed this story as well. Colan and Smith are a huge upgrade over Mandrake. It's nice to see Matches Malone again and, while there's not much to the story, I enjoyed Harvey's role and how Colan draws him.

"The Case of the Runaway Shoebox!"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano
(Reprinted from Action Comics #431, January 1974)

While Oliver Queen is on his way to pay his rent, a pickpocket pinches the hero for his 200 bucks. When he discovers the dough is missing, he retraces his steps and stumbles into a museum robbery. As Green Arrow, he nabs the thieves and returns the shoebox containing a priceless urn (or the pieces of said urn) to the museum. While handing over the crooks at the precinct, his pickpocketer is brought in and he's able to identify his 200 bucks for the cops. Now, off to meet the lovely Dinah.

Peter: A disposable bit of mid-70s nonsense, obviously placed due to a missed deadline. Any 1985 readers who weren't familiar with the old Arrow strip that ran in Action Comics for a few years in the mid-70s (the series rotated with the Atom and a storeroom full of other washed-up heroes) would be completely lost. Why does Ollie suddenly run a PR company? What happened to the newspaper gig? Len Wein doesn't even bother to pen one of those "Here's what happened on the way to Detective #555" apologies on the letter page. This rerun pushed the right buttons, though; it made me nostalgic for the DC 100-pagers again. I have to ask again (for the 400th time): what is Green Arrow's line attached to in the photo above? How does he exit a moving van and latch onto some high object with (ostensibly) his trick arrow and how does he know the next van will take him where he needs to go? My head is starting to hurt.

Jack: It looks like his line might be wrapped around a horizontal pole supporting the traffic signal. That's my best guess. This story was silly but fun and I do like the Dillin/Giordano art, something I consider the classic mid-70s DC style, since it graced the pages of JLA for so many issues.

Batman #389

"Red Skies"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

"Red Skies" hover over Gotham City, where romance and danger cause pulses to pound harder! Catwoman is back in town and someone is killing robbers who wear Halloween masks. Nocturna is also back in town, and she kicks a street gang out of the observatory so she can have the view all to herself. Jason misses his mom, Vicki is mad at Bruce, and Batman brings Catwoman to the Batcave to show off a stalagmite that looks a lot like a cat.

It turns out that the Halloween mask-wearing thieves are being rubbed out by the Thief of the Night, who has also returned. Jason hears that Natalia has moved into the observatory, while Bullock follows up a lead on the observatory's missing security guard. Robin and Harvey head to the observatory, where the Night-Slayer has just killed the guard. Robin cuddles up with Natalia outside on a high ledge and calls her "Mom."

Jack: Despite the shaky art by Mandrake, "Red Skies" has so much going on that it's hard to resist. It's almost as if Moench decided to take every last subplot he could think of and twist them all together into something that may not be exciting, but it is interesting. I expect to be disappointed in the wrap-up, but at least it will be better illustrated. 

Batman goes to all the trouble of transporting Catwoman to the Batcave, says some witless nonsense about that dripping stalagmite and the cat rock someday fusing (wink wink), and hustles her back into the car. Why couldn't he just say (in English) "I dig ya and someday our bodies are going to make sweet music together but, right now, you're the index finger on a hand that also features Nocturna, Julia, Vicki, and Talia, so just play it cool!"? The way Jason hears about Nocturna being back in town, from his buddy at school ("My brother's friends are dangerous felons and they ran across this really pale lady the other night... you gonna eat that granola bar?") is so stuffed full of ludicrosity, I had to stop and take a break to get rid of the giggles. 

Doug's pretension-o-meter is back up to about an 8 with all his stalagmite poetry and ominous forecasts of apocalypse under red skies (just tell us why the skies are red, ferchrissakes!), and someone please tell me what the heck that last panel is supposed to mean. Meanwhile, Tom Mandrake's art, while still not at the level of Colan or Newton, seems to be getting better and better. He still can't draw a human face to save his life and his posing leaves a lot to be desired (Batman seems to be levitating and his body is approximately three times larger than Catwoman's in the panel to the right), but his brooding Bat-Guy is pretty snazzy.

Detective Comics #556

"The Bleeding Night"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

The Night-Slayer continues his murderous rampage across Gotham, attempting to find his ex-lover, Nocturna. Speaking of the gorgeous pale lady, she's no sooner saved by Robin from the gun barrel of Harvey Bullock than she's assembling a crew of toughs for her heists. This time, her boys consist of the crew of Black Mask, now enjoying three squares and an hour of rec time on the yard at Arkham. 

Meanwhile, across town in the Commissioner's office, Harvey and Jim Gordon discuss the possibility that Batman has a new Robin. Gordon allows how he suspected months before that the first kid was out of the picture ("I simply assumed the original Robin grew up and moved on!") but the Dark Knight has his own reasons for doing what he does and, after all, who are mere mortals to question? Night-Slayer corners another of the False Face Society on a rooftop and, when he doesn't get the info he desires, prepares to slit the thug's throat. Batman interjects and the two foes battle, but Night-Slayer escapes. Later that night, Batman confronts Nocturna at the observatory and they both mull over the crazy red sky and crimson rain. Nocturna tells him that she has come to the observatory to "save the night--or to die." Perhaps tired of the meaningless dialogue, Batman and Nocturna merge into one for a smoking hot kiss.

Peter: Bullock throws out some interesting theories about the identity of Robin II, one of which, that he's Nocturna's kid, seemed to be a little on the nose. Then he elaborated by hypothesizing that Nocturna's son left her to join Bats as his sidekick and she kidnapped Jason as revenge. Nice twist on the usual lightbulb going off over a character's head as the plot points are tied together in ridiculous ways. I could have done with sixteen pages of Harvey and Gordon conversing in their odd way rather than the rest of the silly mishmash Doug threw our way. This "red skies/red rain" thing better pay off big as it's more than a bit annoying to drop one or two panels in each issue to drum up anticipation. Night-Slayer is one of the most confounding villains we've had in some time. His trek through the underworld of Gotham to find his ex-beau (who's so well hidden, only a fifth grader at Gotham Elementary knows where she is) is tiresome, but the fact that he leaves each thug he questions a carved-up mess gives this strip a sense of danger.

Jack: So, did Peter Gabriel read Detective Comics before penning "Red Rain," which came out the next year? The mind boggles. I am really enjoying the art by Colan and Smith and I, like you, was intrigued by the dialogue between Gordon and Bullock concerning the Boy Wonder. I have not been able to work up much interest in Nocturna, though, unlike the Dark Knight, who can barely keep his cape and cowl on when she's around!

"Zen and the Art of Dying"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Oliver Queen is approached by a costumed girl calling herself "Onyx" with a story about Ollie's old teacher, the "exalted master." The master is in deep trouble, facing a rebellion within the group he trains. Without another word, Ollie rushes out the door for the exalted master's monastery.

Peter: At last, we get the skinny on Onyx, the girl who's been teased in a panel here and there for months. The info we're given is sketchy at best, but then Joey only has seven pages to deliver the set-up (and only seven more pages next issue to finish). What we get is well-illustrated and enough to pique my interest, but also raises the question of why Ollie was allowed to keep his goatee when all the rest of the followers were clean-shaven.

Jack: I had forgotten about Queen's time in the monastery. Or did I ever know that? Was it in the O'Neill/Adams issues? I seem to recall it was a big part of the TV series, but I can't put my finger on it. It's certainly something they haven't mentioned in some time. I kind of like the art, which is very '80s and smooth. Onyx is a double for Wonder Girl.

Next Week...
Like Tom Brady,
Rah never retires!


Anonymous said...

Green Arrow‘s time in the monastery took place in a series of back-up stories by O’Neil and Adams in THE FLASH #216-219. Ollie accidentally killed a bad guy, gave up Super-Heroing and entered a monastery. In the final chapter, Black Canary is seriously injured in a car crash and needs a transfusion, so Green Lantern has to track down Ollie (he and Dinah have the same ultra-rare blood type)and coax him back to civilization.

FLASH #219 was the first Green Lantern / Green Arrow story I ever saw — my first impression of Ollie Queen as a character was NOT good, and it stuck. Even as a 12-year-old, I thought his sanctimonious, self-righteous schtick was unpleasantly hyperbolic (tho I wouldn’t have used those words). He’s out in the boonies somewhere having a pity-party because he killed a guy (who was trying to kill HIM, mind you) and the wise, peaceful monks are telling him he’s over-reacting, that he should return to The World to face his fears instead of running away from them. When GL shows up and tells Ollie his girlfriend will die unless he gives her some of his blood, he reacts with one of Adams’ patented heavily-shadowed, slit-eyed, teeth-baring, shouty close-ups: ‘Back to smelly, corrupt, polluted Star City, huh? FINE! I’ll GO! But don’t expect me to LIKE IT!’ he snarls. I’m like, ‘Dude, your girlfriend is effing DYING, get over yourself’. To this day, part of me still thinks of him as ‘Drama Queen, Green A-hole’.

My poor opinion of GA was only reinforced when I later acquired and read the rest of the O’Neil / Adams GL/GA run. What a jerk!

But the funny thing is — whenever anyone writes him as a bog-standard ‘Nice Guy’, with all his hot-headed sharp edges sanded off, it feels wrong to me. I find myself WANTING him to blow his stack or pontificating about the Evils Of Capitalism or Stickin’ It To The Man or whatever. All from reading that one 10 page back-up strip in 1973.


turafish said...

My favorite comment of this excellent post was "This issue is dreadful." Until I saw that "Hey Moe!" caption... Oh man, I literally LOL'd! You guys are the best....

Peter Enfantino said...


Green Arrow seems like such a disposable character, I have a hard time taking any of his adventures seriously. I remember reading those O'Neil/Adams GA/GL stories when I was a kid and thinking they were the bee's knees. A decade later (get ready for the blasphemy)while re-reading them in high school, not so much.

Professor Joe-
You complete me.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'll stick up for the O'Neill/Adams GL/GA stories, which I think are some of the best comics ever. I read them when they came out and loved them, and I bought a trade paperback with them a few years ago and thought they still held up well. I wasn't as impressed with Adams's work in later years, especially on the Deadman series that came out several years ago, but the guy is my 3rd favorite comic artist of all time, after Eisner and Barks, so I'll always defend him.

Jack Seabrook said...

Hey Joe! Glad to read your comment. And that issue WAS dreadful. I hope things improve with Gulacy.