Monday, November 28, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 67: March-April 1987

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

Batman #405

"Batman Year One, Chapter Two:
War is Declared"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli

Even though Lt. James Gordon is a hero for single-handedly disarming a crazed kidnapper, he's not making any friends in the office of the police commissioner, who prefers the "shoot first and ask questions later" approach of a cop named Branden. But Gotham City has another problem: bad guys are being attacked by the mysterious vigilante known as Batman, who is still learning the ropes but who shows great physical skill.

Crooked cop Flass personally witnesses Batman take down some drug dealers and soon Batman embarrasses the commissioner by showing up at his house during a fancy dinner and announcing that the days of corrupt politicians are nearly over. The commissioner assigns Gordon to catch Batman and the lieutenant interviews D.A. Harvey Dent, who seems to be a good choice for Batman's alter ego but who has an alibi for every time the vigilante has been active. A freak accident causes Gordon and Batman to cross paths and, when Batman makes a run for it, he is shot in the leg by a patrolman. Branden orders that an abandoned building where Batman is holed up be destroyed. Has the new hero been killed before his career really began?

I am loving this arc so much I hate to think it only lasts four issues. Obviously influenced by 1930s pulps in both script and art, "Year One" takes us back to the early days before Gordon gained the trust of Bats and vice versa. Mazzuchelli's art here brings to mind those early Bob Kane (or whoever Bob was paying off at the time) strips in Detective; there's a crudity to the penciling and inks that makes you believe the work was sitting in a DC vault for fifty years, gathering dust. Miller wisely omits Selina's story this issue and instead focuses on the corrupt police force and government. So much of this issue was "borrowed" by the Nolans for Batman Begins. Today's artists and writers could learn a few things from the sparseness of words and crudity of images in this series.

Jack: This is a superb issue of Batman, among the best we've read. I can't get a good handle on when it's supposed to take place, and maybe that's the point; DC seems to be resetting the Batman legend under new editor O'Neill. As Peter notes, the art is excellent and manages to evoke Kane's early work while updating it for the late 1980s. Miller's theme of how much violence is justified in a world with criminals at every level continues from The Dark Knight Returns but, as I wrote about the prior issue, it's delivered more subtly this time out. I was not reading comics anymore when this originally came out, so Mazzuchelli is new to me, and I'm lucky in that. I see from Wikipedia that he worked with O'Neill and Miller on Daredevil at Marvel, so it makes sense that he'd make the jump to DC and Batman with them.

Detective Comics #572

"The Doomsday Book"
Story by Mike W. Barr

Chapter One
Art by Alan Davis

Chapter Two
Art by Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano

Chapter Three:
"The Adventure of the Lost Adventure!"
Art by Carmine Infantino & Al Vey

Chapter Four:
"The Adventure of the Red Leech"
Art by E. R. Cruz

Chapter Five:
"God Save the Kingdom!"
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

Thomas Morgan walks into Slam Bradley's office and asks the P.I. to help him find his fiance, a woman who was kidnapped by the I.R.A. in London the day before. Morgan believes the terrorists have brought the girl to Gotham. Suddenly, a quartet of gunmen break in through Slam's office door and open fire on the two men. Bradley manages to get them out through the fire escape but they're cornered in the alley. Is this curtains for Slam Bradley?

Not so fast! Batman and Robin finally enter the scene and save the private dick's skin. Unfor-tunately, one of the I.R.A. thugs gets hold of Morgan and holds a pistol to his head. He backs out of the alley and into the night. Batman turns to Robin, sighs, and tells him they're heading for London. Meanwhile, Slam hits the cobblestones of Gotham, looking for the kidnapped girl. Through ace detective work, he tracks her to Gotham Island and rescues her. The girl introduces herself as Mary Watson and explains that Slam's new client gave the P.I. a phony name. His real name is Thomas Moriarty!

Meanwhile, in London, Ralph Dibny (aka the Elongated Man) is visiting 221B Baker Street, legendary home of the most famous detective of all time. Ralph's been told by Richard Waid, caretaker for the estate of the Dr. Watson, that he's discovered a long lost and unpublished Sherlock Holmes manuscript. When Ralph arrives, a gunman opens fire on the silhouette in 221B's window. Dibny stretches up to the flat and finds Waid in shock but otherwise unhurt; the old man mumbles something to EM about "Jean" and then passes out. 

As EM is pondering the situation, yet another set of gunmen burst into the room and our hero is just able to condense himself into a small block and hide in a violin. The nattily-dressed leader of the gunsels announces himself as the grand-nephew of evil genius and Holmes nemesis, Professor Moriarty, here to destroy the manuscript. Dibs unwinds, does a bit of battle with the bad guys, and is sucker-punched into oblivion. Moriarty sets fire to the flat and exits stage left. Fortunately, Slam Bradley arrives with Mary Watson and they extinguish the fire, saving EM and Waid in the process. They find the manuscript and head for Ralph's hotel to peruse it for clues.

The document, entitled "The Adventure of the Red Leech," chronicles Professor Moriarty's attempts to murder the Queen of England, using the titular creature. Just in the nick of time, Sherlock Holmes thwarts the maniacal villain and saves England from tyranny. Moriarty, however, stays in the shadows and is not apprehended; Holmes knows he'll face his nemesis again in the near future.

Batman and Robin arrive at Ralph's hotel and the Dark Knight immediately reads the Holmes manuscript. The Caped Crusader deduces that the young Moriarty intends to finish what his uncle started one hundred years before. Batman learns that the royal family will be at a special event at the Grimsby Castle Museum that evening and the crew sets out to provide extra security. Meanwhile, Moriarty reveals the scope of his plan when he steals poison missiles from the military and points them at Grimsby Castle.

EM, Slam, Robin, and Mary arrive and engage in fisticuffs with the blokes, but Moriarty manages to launch a missile... with Robin and EM aboard! Dibs manages to disarm the missile and the weapon explodes shortly after he transforms into a parachute for Robin. Slam slams Moriarty. At Grimsby Castle, Batman detonates a bomb meant to kill the Queen and unmasks the chief of security as a traitor. As he's attempting to escape, the rapscallion is tripped up by none other than... Sherlock Holmes!

I've got a few quibbles but, overall, this jumbo story was a lot of fun. The obvious stand-out quality-wise is the Sherlock Holmes adventure, which nicely captures the atmosphere of the classic Conan Doyle stories. "The Red Leech," with its E.R. Cruz art, would have fit nicely in one of the 1970s DC mystery titles. The surrounding chapters are fine but pale, script-wise, and almost seem to have been written to complement the "unearthed manuscript." Art wise, we're given quite a few different styles and the jump from a Beatty (not my cup of tea) to an Infantino (definitely my cup of tea) is startling. I love the Davis/Neary work except for their Boy Wonder, who looks a little too goofy to me (check out the panel reproduced here, where Robin looks like a mutant). Their Batman is, on the other hand, noirish and imposing, so maybe the guys just don't dig Jason Todd. A nice, solid package, but let's have a moratorium on anniversaries and special events for a while. There seems to be some milestone to celebrate in Batman's history every six months now.

Jack: I didn't think I'd enjoy this issue as much as I did! I like Kaluta's cover and there's a thoughtful intro on the inside cover by Mike Barr. The first chapter gets things off to a slow start, but the story begins to warm up in chapter two, when Slam Bradley discovers just how many Irish bars there are in Gotham City. The art style change from Beatty and Giordano to Infantino and Vey was jarring and I never much liked Elongated Man, but the Sherlock Holmes chapter is terrific and its extra length was welcome.

In chapter five, I thought Moriarty's first appearance looked like Ramona Fradon stopped by the DC offices to contribute a panel. I enjoyed the interplay between Slam and Robin and I was very surprised to see the elderly Sherlock Holmes! The comic ends with a gorgeous new two-page spread by Dick Sprang, making this an above-average anniversary giant with multiple characters and creators.

Batman #406

"Batman Year One Chapter Three:
Black Dawn"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli

Batman is trapped in a burning building that is surrounded by cops with orders to shoot to kill. Blocks away, Selina Kyle is awakened by the commotion and heads to see the excitement. Despite a bullet wound in his leg, Batman manages to outsmart the cops as the sun rises, in part by summoning a huge number of bats to fly from the Batcave to join him and confuse the police.

In the days that follow, Lt. Gordon follows up on his suspicions that Batman is Bruce Wayne while trying not to be too distracted by the sexy Sgt. Essen. Several weeks pass and Selina, inspired by Batman, has fashioned a cat costume for herself and sets out on a new career to replace prostitution. Bruce Wayne realizes he needs Jim Gordon on his side and Gordon is torn between his pregnant wife, his sexy partner, his loyalty to the force, and his suspicion that Batman is not a menace.

Peter: Gordon's despondent tone throughout is crushing and Miller (as usual, the genius at getting to the root of these characters) reminds us that the lieutenant is not the saint we think he is based on all those years of reading DC funny books. He's a man; he makes mistakes (E-S-S-E-N) and has fears and doubts. The latter are what seem to overtake him in this issue. How do you strive to be the best man you can be within a system so broken? How can this man of the law trust a vigilante? More important, why is the final image of the issue Gordon sitting on the edge of his bed, his pregnant wife sleeping, his hands cradling his service revolver?

Gordon and Essen, the original nighthawks!

Jack: I don't think he's contemplating suicide. I think he's weighing his duty to the force against what he suspects is a vigilante who is more honest than the police. I'm delighted that I've never read this four-part series before, since it's wonderful work by Miller and Mazzucchelli. I have to hand it to Denny O'Neill and Jenette Kahn for allowing this to appear in the regular Batman comic and not holding it for a special graphic novel. This will surely have influence on where the character goes in years to come and how he's handled. Won't it?

Davis & Neary
Detective Comics #573

"The Mad Hatter Flips His Lids!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

After what must have been a three-month sentence in Arkham, the Mad Hatter is a free man and he's determined to make the most of his time. He sends a cryptic message to Batman and then begins a new crime spree. First off, he arrives at the Gotham City "Liars' Club" and sends around a hat for the members' valuables. Batman and Robin arrive, but the Hatter sets a fire and escapes in the excitement and chaos.

Using his detective skills (and a little help from Alfred), Bats deciphers Hatter's blueprint for crime and heads to the Gotham Sports Arena, where a good hockey player might accomplish a "hat trick." Sure enough, the Mad Hatter and his henchmen are already looting the box office. After a brief skirmish, the Dynamic Duo put the Hatter's men on ice but the evil genius once again escapes.

As a lure, Bruce Wayne calls his friend at Gotham Gazette and tells her he's "throwing his hat into the political ring" and running for councilman. To raise funds for his campaign, Wayne throws himself a bash and invites all his rich buddies. Like clockwork, the Hatter shows up and uses deadly buzzsaw straw hats to instill fear in the crowd. But Bruce and Jason head for the shadows and change into their work clothes. The Hatter escapes to the roof and pulls a gun on Batman, but our hero is too quick for his nemesis and gives him a solid right. The gun, however, goes off, hitting Robin.

Jack: Right now, Batman and Detective represent the two sides of Batman stories that I love: the gritty, noirish tales and the goofy, fun tales. Barr, Davis, and Neary are giving us stories that hearken back to the late '40s/early '50s Batman of Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang, filled with nutty villains, outrageous events, and giant props. The Mad Hatter is so crazy that I was wondering, right from the start, how the warden could parole him, since he's got no chance of being okay. The story was fun from start to finish, capped off by a surprise turn of events in the final panel.

Peter: Unlike Jack, I'm not a big fan of 1960s Batman but, like Jack, I can tolerate these lighter tales now and then. Actually, thanks to a whopper of a shock ending, this one isn't that light at all, is it? I would love to see Batman sit down with the city's judge and discuss what constitutes a fair sentence for these costumed baddies. I mean, seriously, each and every one of them must be charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and felony armed robbery, yet they're seemingly paroled every year or so (just in time for the Rogues Gallery Wheel of Fortune to stop on their respective names). It'll be interesting to see what Mike Barr has up his sleeve with Batman: Year Two, which begins in the following issue, but I have to say that the "Coming Next Issue" banner screaming "New Origin of Batman!" has me nervous. Ostensibly, the Jason Todd: Is He or Isn't He? twist will either wait or transport over to the Batman title. 

Next Week...
Can Creepy pull off an
All-Robots Issue?
Don't hold your breath!

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