Monday, August 8, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 59: February-March 1986


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

Batman #392

"A Town on the Night"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema

Three tough guys, armed with a baseball bat, a broken bottle, and a hockey stick, menace Batman in an alley, but is he worried? Not one bit, especially when Catwoman swoops in to help mop up the drunken bums. The men tied up and left for the cops to find, Catwoman flirts hard with the Dark Knight, who takes her to dinner in back of an Italian restaurant.

Their idyll is interrupted when someone is shot inside the bistro; they catch the shooter and tie him up, too. A romantic walk through the park is interrupted by a pair of muggers who menace a nurse; Batman and Catwoman make quick work of them and tie them up before Catwoman drags Batman to Glitterati, a dance club where she thinks their costumes won't stand out.

Wouldn't you know it? A coke dealer approaches them and more dumbbells have to be knocked out cold. Even a trip to the liquor store finds BM and CW facing a gun-toting robber. The pair finally decide to round up all of the felons they've tied up over the course of the night and deliver them straight to Commissioner Gordon in order to prove to him that Catwoman is now on the right side of the law. Gordon has spent the night listening to Harvey Bullock try to convince him that she remains a crook so, in his contrary way, the Commish had decided to accept her even before she and the Caped Crusader delivered the bunch of crooks.

Peter: Some may find "A Town on the Night" to be a refreshing, madcap change of pace; I found it to be silly and infinitely disposable. All of Doug's scenes work up to punchlines that aren't very funny. The bumbling side of Bullock is getting old, as is the shuffling of Bruce/Batman's preferred choice of woman. And I'd love to see the blueprint on how you tie up fifteen-plus criminals into a bundle and hang them umpteen stories up... just for effect, by the way. The best you can say about this one-shot is just that: it's a one-shot.

Jack: Why does the cover say, "A Night on the Town," but the title inside is "A Town on the Night"? Perhaps the person in charge of covers decided that the title must have been a mistake and changed it. The story is relatively entertaining, but it's annoying that we don't know what happened with all of the red rain and hail unless we go and read Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is where I assume it was explained. This story opens with a caption saying that the Crisis is over! Jan Duursema tries to clean up Mandrake's pencils and succeeds to an extent, but the underlying poor art can only be fixed so much.

Brian Bolland
Detective Comics #559

"It Takes Two Wings to Fly"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

As Batman is chasing a robbery suspect, an arrow is shot from out of the blue, impeding his way. The suspect gets away and Batman is left with a very large frown on his face. The arrow, of course, was delivered by a certain green fella who usually rents the back pages of Detective Comics but thought this adventure so important that he traveled to Gotham. He didn't come alone, as Batman soon discovers, when the Black Canary emerges from the shadows decked out in her new costume.

The Dark Knight calmly asks the Arrow what the hell he thinks he's doing impeding the right arm of the law. Ollie explains that the escapee, one Curtis Samples, stole money from the very company that killed his father. The dad had been a worker at the Kemson Corp., handling deadly materials, and developed incurable cancer. Curtis blames Kemson for the death and hopes to throw light on the factory's shortcomings.

After a few elevated and irate conversations, Batman and Green Arrow decide to join forces (with the Canary and Catwoman) and look into the matter. Bruce Wayne arranges (through Lucius Fox) a shady deal with Kemson, sending Selina Kyle to deliver a suitcase full of money in exchange for some of the man's illegal chemicals. Kemson gets suspicious and orders his men to kill Selina, but Batman arrives in time to save her. A full-blown melee ensues, but Green Arrow gets the upper hand when he threatens to blow up a vat of toxic chemicals unless Kemson surrenders. The Canary and the Cat leave the boys arguing over politics and toast to a job well done at a nearby java shop.

Peter: Politics (and Doug's obvious left leaning) be damned, this was one heck of a fun story. I could have done with 22 pages of nothing but the boys arguing at the coffee shop and Arrow's continued derogatory use of the word "Bat" as in Bat-Nazi and Bat-Ronnie. Hilarious! Joey Cavalieri's handling of Green Arrow is not so overtly political (but then Joey doesn't have the luxury of 16 pages an issue) so, while reading the back-up feature, you don't really get the sense that this guy hates the "system" and the "man." Yeah, there are those funny books from the 60s by O'Neil and Adams to chew on but, at least in 1986, those leanings have fallen way into Arrow's background.

I was just wondering when Jason would pop his head into a corner of a panel and start whining about how little his talents are utilized when Alfred agrees to pick the kid up from elementary school. It's so much more peaceful around without the brat. 

Jack: I liked this story too, but I wonder just who demanded Batman and Catwoman vs. Green Arrow and Black Canary, as the cover blurb claims? Fortunately, there's no battle of the teams inside, as there might be in Marvel Team-Up for a few pages until some misunderstanding is cleared up. Instead, we just get 22 solid pages of Colan/Smith art and mid-'80s political anger from Moench. I've noticed that they've stopped numbering the pages, which signals a page cut they were trying to hide from readers. The house ads show a new trend of limited series emerging at DC. Overall, I like the direction this is going, even though this issue is really just a warmed-over Brave and the Bold story.

Shadow of the Batman #3

"The Malay Penguin!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #473, November 1977)

"The Deadshot Ricochet"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #474, December 1977)

"Calamity from the Clyde"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #52, April 1977)

Jack: More terrific work from Englehart, Rogers, and Austin; the first reprint features the Penguin and the second features Deadshot. I gave each story four stars when we reviewed them almost a decade ago. The third story is a continuation of the one in the prior issue, with excellent Rogers and Austin art and a so-so story about talking dogs warring in future Britain. Apparently, it's the same world that we saw in Kamandi, which explains the talking animals who behave like humans. This issue has a gorgeous wraparound cover by Rogers.

Batman #393

"The Dark Rider"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy

Commissioner Gordon has big news for Batman: the CIA wants the Dark Knight to travel to Venice, Italy, to meet a man named Voorloper. In Italy, Voorloper asks Batman to track down a stolen statue. Batman learns that the statue will be the subject of a black-market auction in Bonn, Germany so, three days later, he attends the auction and bids ten million dollars, causing the statute to be withdrawn and sent back to the warehouse in Moscow.

Batman heads to Russia to look for the statue and has to fight off gun-toting Commies; Katia, the attractive female auctioneer from Bonn, helps him escape by wielding a machine gun and hopping on a motorcycle. She explains that the Dark Rider is not just the name of the statue but also the code name of the former KGB agent assigned to steal it. The problem is that this agent has gone rogue. The KGB found out that the statue was tampered with and now something is hidden in the horse's belly--it may be plutonium.

On a snowy mountaintop, the Dark Rider reveals that he plans to use the plutonium to blow up an American city and trigger World War III. Katia and Batman fly to Switzerland by helicopter, hot on the trail of the Dark Rider; she leaves and Batman continues his mission. He locates the statue and meets a CIA agent, who confirms what's in the statue and tells Batman that he's mucking up everyone's plans. It seems the CIA is working with the KGB to foil the Dark Rider and Batman keeps getting in the way. Batman thinks it's all over until he finds the CIA agent dead and learns that the Dark Rider has the plutonium and is heading for Gotham City to cause chaos!

Peter: I dug the Paul Gulacy art and, I assume, his stint on the similarly espionage-tinged Master of Kung Fu is what got him this job with his old padnah, Doug. The script is another animal entirely, way too complicated and confusing. The story is obviously Bond-influenced and I just can't see Batman slipping into that role as much as I tried. Halfway through, I couldn't remember why the Dark Knight was even in Germany. Something about a Dark Rider guy. But I'll give this a thumbs-up for the fabulous graphics and for the fact that Doug's swinging at the seats rather than pumping out another Night-Slayer snoozer.

Jack: I don't quite know what to make of this! We've shifted from a Lady and the Tramp-like dinner in an alley with Catwoman to an adult story with Batman as a secret agent, though it's hard to be secret in a huge blue cape. I am very happy with the Gulacy art, which is at least as good as what we're seeing from Colan and Smith in Detective, especially that snazzy cover. I agree that the story is confusing and I don't know if Moench or Gulacy is to blame, but this is a huge upgrade from what we've been seeing from Mandrake in recent issues.

Detective Comics #560

"The Batman Nobody Knows"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Harvey Bullock's calling the Dark Knight on the Bat-phone but our hero has something very important he has to attend to so he tells the detective to turn on the Bat-signal and the call will be answered "twice." Sighing, Bullock hangs up and turns the big light on.

Meanwhile, Jason Todd is looking all over Wayne Mansion for a missing glove (Alfred has hidden it to keep the kid out of the Bat-Cave for a while) and Catwoman can't wait to show off her new Cat-cycle to her beau, the Bat-guy. Jason is told by Bruce that he'll not be making patrols tonight... it's going to be up to Robin! Catwoman arrives at her cycle to find a note from Bats telling her he's busy tonight and she's on her own. Both answer Harvey's call on the roof of Gotham police headquarters.

Seems the Savage Skulls are acting up and the new Dynamic Duo of Catwoman and Robin must team up to put the young rebels down. Despite some early verbal sparring, the match-up turns out to be a success (just as Batman thought it would be when he orchestrated the evening) and Robin finds a new mother figure in the arms of Selina. And we discover in the end, the entire story was narrated by one of the bats in the cave!

Peter: "The Batman Nobody Knows" (a really dumb title if you ask me) is a bit corny, but I have to admit the Cat/Robin interactions were very poignant and funny. It'll be interesting to see where this whole Dynamic Trio thing goes, not having read most of the Bats-titles in this era (and I can only remember the upcoming Miller arc vaguely), since we know Catwoman has to resort to villainy again at some point, right? As those of you who followed our coverage of the DC war comics might remember, one of the gimmicks we hated most was the "Inanimate Object/Animal" narration. Here, Doug handles it well, although there are a few points that come up that no bat could know about. Overall, not a bad little one-off.

Jack: Doug's florid prose put me off at first and I didn't understand the point of all the spiders, but by the end I got it and thought it was pretty good. Having Gulacy drawing Batman likely puts the kibosh on stories being continued from one title to another, in part because the art styles of Colan and Gulacy are so dramatically different. I like both, however, and I especially like Colan and Smith's rendering of Bullock, who could not look dumpier or more rumpled. I'm intrigued by the attempt to get Catwoman and Robin to tolerate each other and I look forward to seeing this play out.

"...Me a Bad Guy...?"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Dell Barras

There's a lot going on this time, so keep up. A new superhero calling himself "The Champion" arrives in Star City and he works for profit alone. The fact that the flying, costumed hero bypassed an apartment fire to nab some stolen device for the reward has Oliver Queen up in arms.

Speaking of Ollie, he does no favors for his love life when Dinah asks her beau about switching public awareness of her alter ego, the Black Canary, from hero to bad girl. She argues that the switch would allow her to get in on the ground floor of some major criminal activities. Ollie tells her it's a dumb idea and to eat her breakfast and Dinah storms out. Men!

Meanwhile, across town at a villainous retreat, some bad guys are discussing the disbursement of a huge shipment of "junk" in Star City in the coming days. Their business meeting is interrupted by the arrival of yet another new villain, this one calling himself Steelclaw in reference to his... wait for it... steel claw! The dope dealers want no part of 'claw and let him know in so many words that he'd better get his cliched costume out of Star City before sundown. 'Claw emits a gas that chokes up the felons and issues his demand: fifty per cent!

Peter: The Steelclaw segment is triple-A ball amateur but the breakfast table discourse between the two lovers is Dinah-mite! What can I say? I really like Dinner with Andre-esque interludes in my funny books this time out. Perhaps because the dialogue in these segments is crisp and funny, while the action scenes have become ludicrous and boring. "Boy, am I in trouble," he sighed, while realizing there are at least four years' worth of fight scenes yet to come.

Jack: Perhaps part of the reason you like the scenes at the breakfast table is because Moore & Barras draw Dinah as utterly gorgeous! On the other hand, I still can't get over Black Canary's terrible new costume. Champion and Steelclaw are two more examples of bad new characters; this episode features very good art but the story is heavy-handed.

Shadow of the Batman #4

"The Laughing Fish!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #475, February 1978)

"Sign of the Joker!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #476, April 1978)

(Reprinted from Mystery in Space #111, September 1980)

Jack: This terrific issue reprints the classic, two-part Joker story by Englehart, Austin, and Rogers that we wished went on for a few more installments. These Shadow of the Batman comics reprint some of the best Batman stories of the 1970s! There's an interesting if rather unfortunate essay by Englehart in this issue in which he agrees with those who say that he wrote the "definitive" Batman and then answers people who argue that Batman has to be crazy. This must have been a big topic of discussion circa 1986, since Frank Miller was about to deal with it in his Batman run.

Next Week...
Can even Bernie Wrightson save us
from this flood of mediocrity?


Anonymous said...

Re: the discrepancy between “A Town on the Night” and “A Night on the Town” — a fairly commonplace editorial / marketing strategy back in them good ol’ days; it’s the old “Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak” idea. If the issue’s story title is judged too bland or confusing, or just isn’t all that dynamic, zhuzh it up for the cover blurb. Thus the odd but intriguing “The Rats Dance at Ravengard” in CONAN THE BARBARIAN 48 becomes the undeniably much more exciting “RAMPAGE AT RAVENGARD!” and the almost-evocative “A Gulf of Lions” in MASTER OF KUNG FU 30 becomes the easy-to-understand “PIT OF LIONS!” In this particular case, I assume the editor decided “A Town on the Night” would be just too baffling for cover copy. Honestly, the actual story title is so try-hard and non-sequitur, I’m kinda surprised the editor didn’t change it INSIDE the book as well.

I don’t remember ever seeing that sweet DETECTIVE 559 cover by young whippersnapper Brian Bolland before, which means I probably don’t have it in my collection. Looking at it more closely, doesn’t it look like Selina is giving angry side-eye to Batman? Makes me think Bolland’s intention might have been to have her and Green Arrow and Black Headband all in opposition to the Caped Crusader.

I think I do have BATMAN 339 in my Bat-box — gonna have to check that one out.

The panel you posted from DETECTIVE 560 — that’s supposed to represent normal “Son / Surrogate Mother” relations, with pre-teen Jason’s face buried between Catwoman’s breasts like that? I think Colan might have been having fun, seeing if the Comics Code folks were paying attention.

So, if Batman has finally decided Selina is the gal for him, does this mean he actually officially broke up with Vicki Vale and Alfred’s niece? Or is he just leaving them hanging, like a total douche?

As for Steve Englehart tooting his own horn about his and Marshall Rogers’ Batman run being ‘definitive’, to be fair, it WAS a truly magnificent run, an excellent synthesis of Golden Age and Bronze Age tropes, Finger/Fox/Robinson villain-centric plots smartly updated for the post-O’Neil / Adams times. Also, probably THE high point of his own comic-book oeuvre.


Jack Seabrook said...

I think Peter might disagree about Englehart's high point--right Peter?

Anonymous said...

Oh, dang — I meant to say, it’s easy to see why the Englehart/ Rogers Batman stories were considered “definitive” by comics fans in the late 70s/early 80s, but in reality, I don’t there’s any such thing.

Batman as an enduring pop culture concept comes in an extremely wide variety of flavors, everything from the bizarre space-traveling, dimension-hopping adventures of the 1950s to Tim Burton’s Retro-Gothicism, from Adam West’s deadpan goofiness to Christopher Nolan’s po-faced reluctant heroism to Grant Morrison’s ‘All Of The Above’ approach. Hell, Frank Miller himself had two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, diametrically opposed but equally iconic takes on the character in the mid-1980s : the gritty, ground-level “Taxi Driver meets Hill St. Blues” BATMAN: YEAR ONE and the grandly operatic, widescreen baroque DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

If you put a gun to my head and said “Pick just ONE”, I’m not sure I could.