Monday, September 19, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 62: July 1986


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

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2

"Dark Knight Triumphant"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

The Mutant crime wave in Gotham City is getting worse. Commissioner Gordon is attacked by one of the scoundrels and responds by pulling out his gun to shoot and kill his assailant. None of this deters a young girl named Carrie, who dons a Robin costume and heads out into the night to fight injustice. The head Mutant makes a statement that he will kill Gordon and Batman, adding that he plans to "rip the meat from his bones and suck them dry." Complicating matters is that little Kevin Ridley, heir to a chewing gum fortune, has been kidnapped.

Batman quickly tracks down the mutant kidnappers, beats them senseless, and rescues wee Kevin. Despite his seeming heroics, people remain divided about whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. Ellen Yindel is named new Commissioner of Police and announces that her first act will be to issue an arrest warrant for Batman. Undeterred, the Dark Knight heads out in his new, improved Batmobile/Sherman Tank to the city dump, where the Mutants have gathered. Unbeknownst to Batman, Robin has also arrived on the scene and is watching as events unfold. Batman is goaded by the chief Mutant into exiting the safety of his tank and engaging in hand-to-hand combat; the Mutant gets the upper hand until Robin comes to the rescue by distracting him so that Batman can knock him out with a gas pellet.

In the White House, the President asks Superman to get involved in the Batman/Mutant fracas and settle down the Caped Crusader. Batman is badly injured but realizes that the new Robin saved his life, so he welcomes her to the Batcave. Outside the sanctuary, things remain dire as a madman shoots three people in a movie theater. The mayor makes the mistake of visiting Mutant #1 in jail and is murdered for his trouble; Batman is on the mend and tells Robin that her training will begin tomorrow. Batman arranges for the Mutants to gather at the city dump and for Mutant #1 to be released from prison. At the dump, Batman and the head Mutant engage in extreme mud wrestling and, when Batman wins the fight, the Mutants suddenly shift their allegiance to the Dark Knight.

Peter: I continue to be astonished at how fresh, imaginative, and groundbreaking this series was/is. So many startling images and ideas, all emanating from the brain of one man. I mentioned last time how you can spot all the iconic scenes that influence the Batman movies from Burton's blockbuster all the way up to Matt Reeves's dour, pensive, and exciting The Batman. With this second chapter, I can see the bits and pieces used for Todd Phillips's Joker, particularly in the way Batman influences the young of Gotham to follow his ways blindly. Miller can't help getting in several digs at then-president Ronald Reagan and the squeaky-clean image of DC's other powerhouse, Superman. More on that next time.

Jack: Am I alone in strongly disliking this issue? The cover is ugly and Miller amps up the violence in a transparent bid for realism. I still can't figure out what year this story is supposed to be set in; the President seems like Reagan and everyone dresses like its 1986, yet there are Mutants running wild. Many of Miller's ideas and plot points seem obvious and one-sided; the Batmobile is a tank, Superman is a fascist, the Mutants talk like a cross between bad science fiction characters and Black characters written by Bill DuBay. The idea that the mayor would visit the head Mutant in jail alone and be murdered is ludicrous; even more ridiculous is that the same Mutant would then walk out of prison.

Miller's writing seems like that of a frustrated, angry man who thinks things have gone very wrong in his country and someone needs to Make it Great Again. I am not sure whether this version of Batman was the cause of bad things to come in the comics and films or a symptom of what was already developing, but I loathed this comic and I think it was the start of Batman going in the wrong direction.

Batman #397

"Binary Brains"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Two-Face is back on the street and, while Batman discusses the villain's escape from Arkham Asylum with Commissioner Gordon, the fiend is telling his gang that he plans to rob a computer genius. In addition, someone just put a black wreath on the Sionis crypt! Batman and Robin start looking for Two-Face while Catwoman goes on the hunt for Circe to see if she knows anything about the wreath.

While Two-Face forces computer guy to sell him the "Binary Brains," a pair of computers that reach different conclusions when fed the same data, Catwoman locates Circe, who is performing at a strip club and removing everything but her mask. Circe tells Catwoman that her brain is concocting schemes of revenge while her body is busy gyrating. The Dynamic Duo fail to locate Two-Face who, two weeks later, uses the computers to determine the best method to heist a bank. In subplot land, Lucius Fox informs Bruce Wayne that he is considering running for mayor.

Two-Face and his gang successfully rob the bank, despite the arrival of Batman and Robin, who choose the wrong one of two getaway cars to follow. Back at his lair, Two-Face learns that Circe wants to meet with him and may be able to provide him with a new face.

Peter: It seems, between Doug's anemic scripts and Mandrake's loony doodles, the regular Bat-titles just keep getting worse and worse. Several laughs this time out. Gordon tells Batman that Two-Face broke out of Arkham using his infamous two-sided coin and Bats doesn't even question why the lunatics he risks his life to put behind bars are allowed to keep their tchotchkes in their cells with them. And how about that Gordon dialogue: "Two-Face has escaped Arkham Asylum by putting on a "second face"--actually a third face, I suppose, considering he's already got two..." On the splash, Robin looks taller than Batman despite his pre-teen age. Check out the panel on page four where Batman's cape appears to be approximately a third the length of the building. Circe sheds clothes to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," not my idea of a striptease number (but the extra-risque cheesecake panels are a nice treat). So, if guffaws are all you need to enjoy a funny book, have at it. Me, I hope we climb out of this pit (deeper even than the one Bruce Wayne had to climb out of in The Dark Knight Rises) real fast.

Jack: Had I not been so disturbed by this month's issue of Dark Knight, I would've been quicker to dump on this issue of Batman. The Mandrake art remains amateurish, with panel after panel looking like fan art at best. There's one panel on page 21 at the top where I suspect Dick Giordano lent a hand, since Batman looks significantly better than he does anywhere else. As for the story? Yes, it's silly, but it's more of what I expect from a comic book and it didn't upset me the way Miller's narrative did. I wish we could have Moench's writing and Miller's art together. I wonder where the Catwoman saga is heading? In this issue, she tools around on her Catcycle and seems like a substitute for Batgirl.

Detective Comics #564

"Double Crosses"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Circe approaches Two-Face with a request: she wants Harvey to bust Roman Sionis out of Arkham so she can kill him for disfiguring her face. In exchange, she'll let Two-Face in on a fabulous heist plan she's cooked up involving a pharaoh's tomb on exhibition. Two-Face tells Circe he'll consider it while he's pulling his own heist at Dos Cruces Brewery. His fancy shmancy computer will decide his heists from here on in.

Meanwhile, the chipper pre-teen/teenage/young adult Jason Todd prepares for a night out with girlfriend Rena, a trip to the movie theater to see Steven Spielberg's controversial new film, The Color Purple. Could this be Spielberg's masterpiece or, as his nerd fans proclaim, an icky history lesson with no flying saucers or deadly arks? Also meanwhile, we discover through a trip backstage of the Ecdysia strip joint, that Circe is acting with the Batman to trap Harvey Dent with her sarcophagus heist. Outside the nightclub, Catwoman observes and, of course, believes Batman has visited Circe for a/ romantic reasons or b/ because he doesn't trust Selina.

Thanks to the computers of Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne deduces that Harvey's next robbery will be at Dos Cruces and he heads there, sans partners. But it turns out Two-Face is smarter than Batman gives him credit for; the rip-off is a set-up. Harvey traps the Caped Crusader in a giant beer vat and shouts "So long, Batbrains" as he rushes out the door (Holy 1966, Batman!). Bats uses the explosive device from his utility belt to blow the lid off the sucker and exits the vat to find Circe standing above him. After a bit of dialogue wherein Bats confesses he doesn't trust Circe, she lifts her mask to reveal... Catwoman! Inexplicably pissed that her Dark Knight beau doesn't trust Circe (women!), she storms off, leaving Batman to ponder the mysteries of the female of the species. Across town, Harvey flips his coin, blasts his computer, and decides to enter into an agreement with Circe.

Peter: "Double Crosses" is just as maddeningly sub-par as the last umpteen issues of Doug's tenure. The initial powwow between Harvey and Circe drags on for three pages and nothing seems to be said. The dialogue is awful and zigzags between subjects. The continual seesawing of the Circe character (she's bad... no, she's good... she's evil... no, she wants to redeem herself...) is as nauseating as the equally up-and-down relationships Bats has with his two partners. Now we have to deal with Selina's jealousy of Circe as well as the obligatory rantings of Jason. And, hey, could someone send a memo to the Bat-title artists that we need a little consistency regarding Robin's height and age? 

Jack: Easily my favorite Bat-story of the month, and probably in the running for my top five of 1986, "Double Crosses" features excellent art by Colan and Smith along with not one but two plot twists that took me by surprise: when we see that Circe is working with Batman behind Two-Face's back, and when Circe takes off her mask and turns out to be Catwoman. It's rare that any plot twist is unexpected, so kudos to Moench. Kudos also to Colan and Smith, who not only tell a good story but do it with style; Colan's gruesome Circe face is one for the books. There is a spot of questionable proofreading on page four when Circe repeats an entire word balloon in two successive panels, but what really shocked me is Two-Face saying, "'You've screwed yourself.'" In a DC comic? Times are changing.

"This Masquerade"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore, Steve Montano, & Rodin Rodriguez

If Mayor Bolt doesn't allow a drug shipment to enter Star City's harbor, real estate man (and sometime drug kingpin) Marty Costa will kidnap Bolt's son. Green Arrow and Black Canary attempt to find out where Bolt hid his son so that they might get him to safety. Meanwhile, Bolt dons his faux-bad guy outfit and hits the streets as Steelclaw. He arrives at the mansion where his son is being hidden at the same time as Canary and Arrow. Mistakenly believing that Canary has gone over to the dark side, Steelclaw puts Dinah Lance out of commission and calls the police to haul her away. Meanwhile, within the house's walls, Ollie meets a similar fate when a door blows up in his face. Across town, Onyx gets her obligatory one-panel cameo.

Peter: Joey sure makes things hard on himself, concocting a plot so convoluted and contrived that there's no way he can write himself out of his corner. The title of this episode is perfect, though: Bolt's a good politician masquerading as a bad one while he moonlights as a good superhero posing as a villain. Nothing confusing there. And can we just get a full-story arc for Onyx out of the way once and for all? If you pasted together all her appearances in the last year, you might be able to fill one page of story. Hey, whatever problems I have with the story, I've got none with the art. Why wasn't someone in the editorial office taking notice of the Moore/Montano/Rodriguez team here and giving them the chores on the woefully drawn Batman title?

Jack: I thought the art was inconsistent, probably due to having two inkers. The story is decent and they replace the scene of GA chatting with BC across the kitchen table with one of them chatting on her motorcycle. The Onyx cameos bother me, too!

Next Week...
Creepy tackles the horrors of the media.
This should be... interesting.

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