Monday, November 14, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 66: January-February 1987


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

Batman #403

"One Batman Too Many"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Denys Cowan & Greg Brooks

Batman seems to beat the Joker and Two-Face to death, but in reality, it's Tommy Carma, whose Batman obsession has driven him to extreme violence while he's locked up in Arkham Asylum. He escapes with ease and holes up in a cave outside Gotham to shelter from the rain. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is on a date with Vicki Vale (whose hair has grown back quickly) and he has to listen to her complain about how Batman is a dangerous vigilante.

Policemen search the grounds around Arkham, which happens to abut land owned by Bruce Wayne. Carma works his way through a series of caves and finds himself in the Batcave, where he dons a Batsuit and hops in the Batmobile to look for criminals. Home from his date, Bruce checks in with Jason, discovers that Carma has been there and the Batmobile is missing, and zips off through the rain on the Batcycle. Batman does some quick investigating and determines that Tommy is probably going after Lou Spindle, who ordered the hit on former policeman Carma, the hit that went wrong and resulted in the deaths of his parents.

Batman locates Spindle at a trade show and finds Carma there; after a brief fistfight, the Caped Crusader takes the Faux Dark Knight to get some more help.

Peter: A very satisfactory wrap-up for this two-parter, but I think it's hilarious how everyone in Gotham seems to stumble on the Batcave. For the world's greatest detective not to explore further all of the back doors is puzzling. Best scene in the story is Batman asking Robin where the heck the Batmobile went off to and the Boy Wonder mutters, "I don't suppose you coulda misplaced it--" Cowan's Dark Knight is very well realized, tall and angular, but his character faces could use a bit more work (or a better inker--see the cover for proof). 

Jack: What a difference an inker makes! When I saw the cover, I thought we were in store for great work by a new artist. Then I opened the comic. Uh oh. As inked by Brooks, Cowan's pencils are not much better than Mandrake's. This is not a promising development. As for the story, it seemed like a rerun of last issue, with the fake Batman causing mayhem until the real Batman catches him. I agree with Peter about the Batcave; I wondered if Man-Bat was still flying around in its deep recesses.

Detective Comics #570

"The Last Laugh!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

Thanks to the mind-altering gizmo of Dr. Moon, Catwoman has become one very confused lady. The Joker asks her point blank the real identity of Batman and she reveals the name... 

Meanwhile, across Gotham, Batman leans on info man Profile for the whereabouts of the Joker. After a little coaxing, the man gives up the address and the Dynamic Duo get moving. They arrive at the hideout (a toy factory) and Joker's henchmen engage them in a brutal fistfight. Joker and Catwoman get away.

Now, with the goal of ruining Batman forever by revealing his identity to the world, Joker bursts into the mansion of a millionaire named Benson, the man Catwoman identified as Batman's alter ego. Dr. Moon had warned Joker that Cats's mind might be confused so soon after the contraption made her brain into mush, but when has the Clown Prince of Crime ever listened to anyone about anything?

Batman deduces that his smiling nemesis is at the Benson estate and he and Robin burst in just as Joker is about to electrocute Benson's daughter. Even in her condition, Catwoman does not agree to this and she heads for the exit, promising Bats that they'll run into each other soon enough. In frustration, the Dark Knight beats the Joker to a pulp, easing up only when Robin reminds him that manslaughter will get him 5-10.

Jack: This issue is a total delight! The cover is superb and the interior art lives up to it. It seems like we're seeing a more adult Batman, perhaps in the wake of The Dark Knight Returns. There's genuine humor here, along with more violence than we're used to in the monthly comics. However, the mood is not the depressing one of Miller's limited series; instead, it's fun and believable. I'm quickly getting used to this version of the Joker (a complete psycho), dangerous but still comic. There's just so much to enjoy in this issue. I hope the creative team can keep it up!

Peter: I thought this was a fun dividing line between adult and Adam West. You've got the darker edges (attempted murder of a minor mixed with the goofy gadgets [the Jokermobile and the toy factory]). Barr takes advantage of the extra pages the past writers never had to let his script breathe a little (the backup story, by the way, will not return during our look at the 1980s). I was wondering how we'd see DC ease Catwoman back into a life of crime and I assume this is step one. The Davis/Neary art is gorgeous and, as with the script, alternates between light (the sexy Selina) and dark (Bats has seldom looked so fierce as when he's putting the beatdown on Joker in the finale). Great stuff!

Batman #404
"Batman Year One, Chapter One:
Who I Am, How I Came to Be"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli

Lt. James Gordon arrives in Gotham City on a crowded train and is met by the hulking Det. Flass, while 25-year-old Bruce Wayne arrives at the same destination by plane and is welcomed as a celebrity after having spent 12 years abroad. Gordon meets with corrupt Police Commissioner Loeb and Wayne returns to Wayne Manor, where Alfred the butler awaits. After leaving the commissioner’s office, Gordon witnesses Flass brutally beat some street people.

As time passes, Gordon begins to get a reputation as an honest cop and Wayne practices his fighting skills in private. Eventually, Gordon is badly beaten by men connected with Flass and Wayne disguises himself to venture into the seediest part of Gotham, where he is propositioned by a child prostitute, beats up her pimp, and goes mano a mano with Selina Kyle, who is working for the same man.

A cop on the scene shoots Bruce, who is cuffed and put in the back of a police car. He snaps the cuffs, overpowers the cops, and escapes, before returning to his own car and driving back to Wayne Manor, passing Gordon on the way, who is also badly beaten. Gordon drives to a house where Flass is spending the evening with other cops; when Flass emerges, Gordon follows him and runs his car off the road. Gordon fights Flass one on one, defeating him with ease, and leaves him naked and cuffed next to his own car. At Wayne Manor, Bruce sits alone, bleeding and contemplating mortality. He thinks back to the night his parents died and suddenly a bat crashes through the window, which gives him an idea.

Jack: Where the heck did this come from? In a monthly issue of Batman, no less! The slow movement toward a more adult approach to Batman is suddenly turbo-charged in this landmark issue, which I'm fortunate not to have read before. The Dark Knight Returns prepared us somewhat, and I prefer Mazzucchelli's art to Miller's, even if it seems like Miller must have had a hand in some of the page designs, since there is an emphasis on words and a lot of small panels. I don't like Selina being made into a prostitute, but I love the idea of exploring the years between Bruce Wayne's training and his emergence as Batman. I can't wait for the next issue.

Peter: "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" is my favorite Batman story of all time, but "Year One" is number one in the "arc" department. I love everything about this story. Miller effortlessly juggles the three character narratives and lets the mythology seep in here and there, almost begrudgingly. He's going to tell you how Bruce Wayne became Batman, how Gordon became Commissioner, and how Selina became Catwoman, but you're just going to have to wait an issue or three. And that's just fine with me. Mazzucchelli's art perfectly visualizes Miller's noir atmosphere. So much of the look and tone of "Year One" was essential to the filmed versions of the Dark Knight, from Burton to Nolan to Reeves (I don't acknowledge the Snyders... nope, never happened). It's obvious where Matt Reeves got the inspiration for his almost-androgynous Selina. As far as Batman in the 1980s go, it doesn't get any better than this.

Detective Comics #571

"Fear for Sale"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

Suspicious about the accidents that befell two athletes recently, Batman (as Bruce Wayne) and Robin (as Spanky McFarland) observe a racing tournament, expecting another mishap. With keen detective skills, Batman has somehow narrowed down all the possible sporting events in Gotham to this one race; something just has to happen. Using those uncanny abilities again, Bruce eyes one racer through his high-powered binoculars and notices that the driver has removed his safety harness and wears a look on his face "as though he's gambling with his life... and doesn't care!"

Racing to the nearest men's room, the Dynamic Duo change into their costumes and head down to the track just in time to see the hot rod of three-time Indy 500 champ Jack Hogan erupt into flames. Using teamwork and a handy firehose, the Duo are able to save the life of Hogan, who is carted away to Gotham Hospital. Interviewing Hogan at the hospital, Batman realizes the superstar is under the influence of some form of drug that diminishes his fear factor. Hogan literally believes nothing can kill him,

Taking a sample of Hogan's blood to analyze at the Batcave, Bats matches the results with all the files found in the Bat-computer and receives a match within seconds. The accident was the work of... the Scarecrow! Batman goes out searching for clues and has Robin keep an eye on Hogan in case the Scarecrow comes back to finish the job. Sure enough, the Straw Man slinks into Hogan's room and tries to blackmail the driver; he'll hand over the antidote to the drug that holds Hogan in its grip for fifty grand. Before the racer can answer, Robin crashes through the window and stares down the Scarecrow. Thinking quickly, the evil villain sprays the Boy Blunder with fear gas and the pre-teen is cowering on his knees. Scarecrow grabs the blubbering hero and makes off with him.

Meanwhile, across town, Batman has disguised himself as "professional daredevil" Alvin Kenner, hoping Scarecrow will come calling. Sure enough, the Straw Dog shows up but he comes prepared. Smelling a rat from the first, Scarecrow shoots Batman full of his "fearless" drug and leaves him with a souvenir: Robin's "R" patch! Our hero tracks his nemesis to the Atlas Concrete Company, where Robin is trussed up like the proverbial holiday turkey but struggles to fight the feeling that he's invincible. After several tussles, Batman vanquishes the Scarecrow and releases Robin. When the kid asks how Bats managed to keep himself from jumping into the abyss with a smile on his face, the Dark Knight confesses he imagined the worst fear possible: the death of his partner.

 I prefer the Davis/Neary art over that of Mazzucchelli, and I love the way Barr is using classic villains and perils to bring the fun back to Batman. The two series are showing different but equally great ways to present stories about the Dark Knight, and it will be difficult at the end of 1987 to pick what's best. Like the Joker in the prior issues, the Scarecrow is drawn as freakishly thin. I also love how Davis and Neary draw Robin; certainly the best job with the Boy Wonder since Jason Todd arrived on the scene. Speaking of whom, that last panel was a kicker!

Peter: The art is so much better than the swill we were subjected to for too many months and yet... I think it's a bit too cartoony at times. It's got a Batman: Gotham Adventures vibe to it. The look is perfect for Batman and the Scarecrow, but poor Robin is reduced to an Anime character. Lots of "check your brain at the door" moments this issue. Scarecrow (like a lot of funny book archenemies) sets his bar fairly low. He's got this drug that could literally create chaos throughout the land and yet he's blackmailing some two-bit speed racer for fifty grand. What's the end goal? Immediately after being given a tutorial on the Scarecrow by the big guy, Robin falls victim to (what else?) the villain's most overused weapon! How about that opening track scene? Yeah, we know the guy's the best detective in the world (well, except when it comes to detecting extra doors to the Batcave), but isn't it a bit of a stretch to spend the day at the drag races on a whim and no evidence? But it's nice to see Scarecrow back for his annual visit as he's always been one of my favorite second-tier bad guys, maybe because I can relate to his mantra: "I'd rather spend money on books than on fancy clothes or stupid parties..."

Next Week...
More jungle madness
from Alfredo Alcala!

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