Monday, July 25, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 58: December 1985-January 1986 + The Best of 1985


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

Batman #390

"Women Dark and Dangerous"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Why is Batman so attracted to "Women Dark and Dangerous"? His big smooch with Nocturna ends and he tells her he can't accept her stealing, even from Gotham's rich. Out in the red rain, Catwoman sees another victim of the Night-Slayer, who is killing masked henchmen. Catwoman thinks she'll be blamed for the murders and vows to solve them herself. Nocturna tells her minions who's picking them off; she heads back to the observatory in her hot air balloon, followed by Catwoman.

The various subplots move forward just a bit before Catwoman confronts Nocturna and Robin appears to defend his surrogate mother. Catwoman backhands the Boy Blunder and she and Nocturna are about the have a catfight when the Caped Crusader appears on the scene and goes at it with Catwoman until she is struck by lightning and falls into his arms. Is Selina alive or dead? 

Peter: There a lot going on in this issue and most of it is a/ confusing, or b/ just dumb. In the first category, we have the red rain and now hail falling on a Gotham that doesn't seem remotely alarmed by this phenomenon. I know this is a city that deals with Mister Freeze, Hugo Strange, and a boatload of other pseudo-supernatural hijinks, but you'd think maybe someone might be alarmed.

Batman's continued use of a wheel of fortune for his romantic interests grows more ludicrous every issue. Now we get the brilliantly scripted sequence where the Dark Knight warns Catwoman to stay away from Nocturna because she's not the bad person Selina thinks she is... well, until Selina is struck by lightning and Bats immediately shifts gears. It's tiring.

Jack: What is even more tiring is Tom Mandrake's amateurish art. There was one panel depicting Catwoman that reminded me of those reader drawings that they would sometimes print in the letters columns. The subplots are as dumb as ever; this time, Vickie Vale falls into the arms of a muscular hunk and Batman spies on them through a picture window.

Detective Comics #557

"Still Beating"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Batman rushes Selina Kyle to a hospital after she's struck by lightning and then sits by her bedside, waiting for any kind of news as to her condition. Meanwhile, the red rain and hail continue to fall.

Robin returns to the Batcave after expressing his fear that the world is going to end and the big guy tells him not to worry; if it's the end of the world, he won't die alone (now that's a peppy speech for an eight-year-old sidekick!). The Boy Wonder Mach II gets to the cave just in time to receive a message from the JLA--tell Bats to be ready for action in re: the bizarre weather. Robin tells J'Onn J'Onzz his boss will be ready when called upon.

Somehow, Nocturna survived the earthquake (in Bats #390) and has gotten word to her masked henchmen that if Night-Slayer is looking for her, she can be found at the observatory. Sure enough, NS breaks into the Masked Bandits clubhouse and demands to know where his ex is located. Once he's done some damage, the boys cough up her location and the deranged phantom heads into the night to settle a score.

Back at the hospital, Selina has arisen from her deep sleep, obviously mentally imbalanced since she's quoting passages from Erich Segal's Love Story. Batman declares this month's undying love for her, laughably telling Selina he could never love Nocturna because she's... get this... a thief! Robin stands guard at the observatory and, as a superhero is wont to do, he swears out loud (to no one in particular) that he'll protect his mother, Nocturna. Night-Slayer giggles and tells the kid he's done for.

Peter: This has got to be the most maudlin and disposable script of the year (I didn't say worst-- for that, scroll to the bottom). Batman's hospital antics are so unlike him. Attacking the doctor (with cocked fist) because the guy is skirting around an answer is conduct unbecoming a member of the JLA. And then admitting to the doc that he's in love with the bedridden bad girl? Yeah, I know, he's facing a crisis and it's taking such a toll on him. The woman he loved, disposed of, ignored, and belittled, is back on top of the Wayne 500. My eyes are sore from all the rolling. Just about every line of dialogue is cringe worthy.

Having never read any of the DC funny books of the 1980s save a random Bats or 'tec here and there, I have no idea if this red rain nonsense is leading to something like a massive cosmic crossover. Nocturna seems to be more wrapped up in it than anyone else. I sure hope Doug doesn't grant Catwoman super-powers via that lightning bolt. Thank the comic gods that, at the very least, we have the Colan/Smith art to ogle. Imagine if this thing were penciled by Mandrake.

Jack: I had the same feeling as I read this story. The Colan/Smith art is fantastic and really pulls the weak narrative along with it. The doctor in the first scene is a classic Colan nerd, with glasses slightly askew. The whole story is basically recap and setup made bearable by terrific graphics. Oh, and how hard could it have been for Night-Slayer to figure out where Nocturna was staying?

"Zen and the Art of Dying II: 
The Pursuit of Wisdom"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow and Onyx have their backs against the wall, but they're doing their best against the guards of the monastery. The leader, Lars, gets the better of Onyx and drags her away to a secret chamber. He explains that he's been looking for the Master's key to the box that holds the Book of the Ages and he thinks he knows now where that key is being held. He grabs Onyx's headdress and, lo and behold, undoes the key that lurks within. Green Arrow storms in but he's too late to keep Lars from opening the box. The book evaporates to dust and Lars becomes a skeleton.

Peter: That climactic twist would have been a humdinger if it hadn't been for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Good trick, that, with Lars's skeleton remaining upright. The battle seemed very anticlimactic, as if Joey had got us there and remembered he only had a few pages to wrap it all up. The Moore/Patterson art is more than serviceable; it actually showcases some great choreography. It's just all too rushed.

Jack: We're not used to such stellar art in the backup features, are we? I wasn't entirely clear what happened in this story but it sure looks great. For once, they might have stretched it out a bit longer. As it is, GA zipped over to the monastery and, before you know it, skeleton man appeared! I'll bet that next issue GA is back in the slums, dealing with social problems.

Shadow of the Batman #1

"...By Death's Eerie Light!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #469, May 1977)

"The Origin of Dr. Phosphorus"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #469, May 1977)

"The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #470, June 1977)

"Hell Park"
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #274, November 1979)

Jack: For $1.75, readers could pick up this 44-page reprint comic, which featured a new wraparound cover by Marshall Rogers. Inside were the first two issues of the Englehart/Rogers Batman run from 1977, along with a House of Mystery reprint that Rogers drew in 1979. Looking back at our review of the Batman stories, it seems we were fairly impressed but not blown away.

Batman #391

"Death Comes As An End!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

As the red rainstorm rages with the fury of a typhoon, Robin battles the Night-Slayer at the base of the rocky tower whose summit now houses the observatory where Nocturna waits for her former lover. Robin's efforts fail! At the hospital, Batman tries to explain to the ailing Selina Kyle that he loves her rather than Nocturna, but Selina knows better. Robin radios Batman to tell him to rush to the observatory and, after the Caped Crusader leaves, Selina struggles from her bed and departs as well, after knocking a few orderlies to the floor.

The Night-Slayer approaches a morose Nocturna as Robin steals a hang glider and takes to the skies in order to reach his surrogate mother in time. Batman starts the long climb up the rocky tower with the same objective. The Night-Slayer stabs Nocturna and, as Robin leaps into action to save the woman, the sight of her surrogate son gives her the will to fight her attacker. Batman appears in the nick of time and is also stabbed by the knife-happy Night-Slayer.

Robin tucks the unconscious Nocturna into the basket of a hot air balloon and Catwoman shows up, having traveled to the observatory by helicopter. The combination of the chopper blowing up and a big lightning strike crack the observatory structure in two, allowing Robin to send Nocturna skyward in the hot air balloon. The Night-Slayer appears on the verge of taking another one of Catwoman's nine lives when Batman intervenes, and the fighting foursome fall from the top of the rocky tower to the waters below. The story ends with Batman, Robin, and Catwoman safe on the beach, the Night-Slayer in custody, and Nocturna nowhere to be found, her hot air balloon ripped apart by the howling red typhoon.

Peter: This arc just got worse and worse with each successive chapter.  At least "Still Beating" had the Colan touch; Tom Mandrake is clearly no Colan. Doug seems to have no idea where he wants to take this; did he really think his readers wanted to spend page after page on Batman/Catwoman/Nocturna pathos? The hospital scene is a dilly... Batman sounds like he's already married Selina. "Um, no dear, of course I don't love Nocturna. No, I mean it. Not even a bit. It's you I've always loved. Well, you're right, I've never trusted you enough to tell you I'm Bruce Wayne, but that's neither here nor there." 

The climax is the height of ludicrosity. As the entire observatory "peels" around them, the principals never bat an eyelash and keep up their fistfights. Nocturna with several knife wounds in her heart, Batman a bleeding abdomen, and Catwoman still reeling from a lightning strike. Ya'd never know it from all the action going on. And then Selina and Night-Slayer survive a hundred-plus foot fall from the cliff. This is the pits.

Jack: This might have been a decent read if Colan had drawn it, but it was just beyond Mandrake's abilities. Moench has been leaning a bit hard on the idea of Batman falling in love with bad girls and those girls seemingly dying--didn't Catwoman almost die just a few issues ago? I don't know if the whole red rain thing is connected to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I hope we find out soon. I read Crisis in the trade paperback years ago but I don't know if it was referenced in the regular DC comics at the time. I did have to smile when Robin told Batman he couldn't die because the JLA and the Outsiders need him!

Detective Comics #558

"Strange Loves"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

As if the crazy red rain and inclement weather weren't enough, the observatory guard who was bewitched by Nocturna returns to find both observatory and Nocturna vanished from the face of the earth. Robin attempts to calm the man but he clocks the Boy Wonder and wanders away into the night, mumbling about finding the dark, pale woman.

Meanwhile, Batman has dropped Selina off at the hospital and dragged Night Slayer into Police HQ. There, he hands the unconscious lunatic to Gotham's finest but finds he has to rev up his internal engine again, despite his wounds, when NS tries to escape. Job done, the Dark Knight heads back to the observatory to check on the Boy Wonder.

He finds Robin in the midst of flooding waters, clinging to a tree limb. He rescues the boy and is told about the wacky watchman. The dynamic duo head back into Gotham to search for the man. They find him at the top of the city's tallest building, where Nocturna's balloon had become lodged. When the woman is nowhere to be found, the guard becomes further unhinged and pulls his revolver with suicide in mind. Before he can pull the trigger, a strong wind whips the balloon gondola into the man, who falls to his death. It's up to Harvey Bullock to inform the man's wife of his death.

Peter: But for that final page, a genuinely sweet and sorrow-filled three panels, "Strange Loves" is just as weird a mishmash of tripe, cliches, and pretension as the last few chapters of this dumpster fire. I'm repeating myself ad nauseam when I complain about Doug's miserable, syrupy dialogue but, seriously, who writes this: "Love became mystery and newness... something that needed darkness to thrive... even danger... the threat of vulnerability... of something precious deeply ventured in the dark" without winking at himself in the mirror now and then, maybe even blowing himself a kiss?

The romance angle is awful, as always. Batman and Catwoman go back and forth endlessly about whether they love each other, whether Batman loves Nocturna, whether they belong together, on and on and on. Somebody please swoop in and get us back to when these two were arch enemies, rather than cutesy-pie fifth-graders. And is this red rain thing a part of Crisis? I never read that "mega-series" back in the day and don't, for one second, think I'm going to read it now. All signs seem to point that way.

Jack: By my calculations, the last person to make a successful trip via hot air balloon in a storm was named Professor Marvel. I had thought the Nocturna saga was over with the last issue of Batman, but nope, here we go again--and she's nowhere to be found! I had forgotten about the security guard. Leave it to Gene Colan to make this interesting reading.

"Believe Everything I Hear"
Story by Dean Traven
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Dell Barras

Green Arrow gets a garbled tip from a wounded source and spends the day traveling around town looking for a drug shipment. He eventually finds the junk down at the dock.

Peter: A quick and harmless one-and-done with some decent but not spectacular art by Trevor Von Eeden. I like the more humorous tone writer Dean Traven brings to Green Arrow. In one scene, Ollie is accused of being a "pre-vert" when he offers to buy a young boy an ice cream. Oliver looks right at us, sighs, and wonders if Ambush Bug ever has days like this.

Jack: Who's Ambush Bug? I completely agree with you about this story--decent art but not the best we've seen from von Eeden; some humorous moments, but nothing special.

Shadow of the Batman #2

"The Dead Yet Live"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #471, August 1977)

"I Am the Batman!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #472, September 1977)

"A Canterbury Tail"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #51, March 1977)

Jack: Englehart and Austin produced superb Batman stories in Detective 471 & 472, some of the best we've ever read. We ended our coverage of DC War Comics with the December 1976 issues, so we never read "A Canterbury Tail," which features more great art by Rogers and Austin to illustrate a post-apocalyptic story in which dogs have replaced humans in England and they are attacked by giant bugs.



Best Script: Doug Moench, "Just as Night Follows Day..." 
(Batman #383)
Best Art: Colan/Alcala, "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best All-Around Story: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Worst Script: "The Spider's Ninth Leg" (Detective Comics #550)
Worst Art: Pat Broderick/Bob Smith, "Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock" (Detective Comics #549)
Best Cover: Gene Colan/Dick Giordano, Detective Comics #556 >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Just as Night Follows Day..."
2 "Night Olympics" (Green Arrow backup, Detective #549-550)
3 "Port Passed" (Detective #554)
4 "Hill's Descent" (Detective #546)
5 "Returning Reflections" (Detective #555)


Best Script: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best Art: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best All-Around Story: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Worst Script: "Beasts A-Prowl" (Detective 548)
Worst Art: Todd Mandrake, "Black Mask: Losing Face" (Batman 386)
Best Cover: Rick Hoberg/Dick Giordano, Batman 381 >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Bedtime Stories" (Batman 379)
2 "Hill's Descent"
3 "Just as Night Follows Day..."
4 "Broken Dates" (Batman 384)
5 "Port Passed"

Next Week...
A Weird Children Issue?
What... aren't all children weird?

No comments: