Monday, January 16, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 70: September/October 1987


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

Hannigan & Giordano
Batman #411

"Second Chance"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Dave Cockrum & Don Heck

Two-Face has the audacity to hold up the Second National Bank of Gotham in broad daylight, following his attempted heist at a casino the night before. Batman suspects the villain of planning four robberies in four days (Two-Face sent two pairs of playing cards) and gets Jason out of bed, where the boy has been pouting.

The next evening, Two-Face robs the box office at a baseball game and Robin loses his cool, trying to strangle the man he knows killed his father. Two-Face gets away and, back at the Batcave, Jason tells Batman that he is angry at not being told the truth about his father's death. The Dynamic Duo patch things up quickly and get a "Second Chance" to nab Two-Face when he tries to rob the same casino a second time. Two-Face hops on a giant roulette wheel and Robin redeems himself by rescuing him from being crushed by a big metal ball.

It was natural that, after an arc as stunning as "Year One," we'd take a step back in quality, but this doo-doo is like getting in your Pinto and backing up three city blocks. The credits say "Dave Cockrum" but I can't see it under the typically bad Heck inking. No matter though since the script covers old territory and Max's dialogue doesn't sound like words that would be coming out of the mouths of these characters (example: Gordon labeling Two-Face a "fruitcake"). The Jason Todd hissie-fits are cringe-worthy. Someone needs to throw this title a lifeline pronto.

Jack: Don Heck is one of those artists whose work I'm never happy to encounter. It's not bad, it's just average. You're right that there's almost no sign of Cockrum with the heavy inks. The story is bland, with a brief bit of excitement near the end involving a giant roulette wheel.

Detective Comics #578

"Batman Year Two, Chapter 
Four: ...So Shall Ye Reap..."
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Todd McFarlane & Pablo Marcos

Batman is working with Joe Chill (yep... that Joe Chill) to set up mob boss Moritz for a heavy fall, unaware that the Reaper has tipped off Gordon and his men as to where the big meeting is being held. Meanwhile, Bats's alter ego has proposed to Rachel (now that she has put her nun's duds in the attic), unaware that the girl's pop is actually the Reaper!

Gordon, the Reaper, and Batman converge on Moritz's hideout simultaneously and bullets fly. Moritz is gutted by the Reaper but Joe Chill and Batman manage to get away. The moment of truth for Bruce Wayne has arrived: he drags Chill to Crime Alley and unmasks, promising to put a bullet in the head of his parents' killer. Before he can take action (as if he would), the Reaper does the dirty work for him. Reaper tells Batman to meet him at the Wayne Foundation building where they can finish their battle once and for all. Once there, the Reaper is unmasked, revealing to Batman the true identity of his enemy: the father of the woman he loves! The villain falls to his death and Batman, his vengeance muted, buries the gun that killed his parents in the foundation of the Wayne Building (oh, Irony, how sweet is thy sting?).

Distraught, Rachel unpacks her habit and rejoins the sisterhood, leaving Bruce Wayne a broken and bitter womanizer, cursed to roam the Earth alone for at least one more issue. Leslie Thompkins gets her clinic and Batman soars through the night, awaiting the arrival of Year Three.

Peter: I'm a bit puzzled about Alfred's sudden peculiar butler accent ("Mawster Bruce...") and McFarlane's obvious confusion between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, but Todd's grip on the Batman (despite the obvious exaggerations of the cape's length) and the Reaper is dynamic and exciting. McFarlane's visions are somehow amateurish and stylish at the same time; any hint of an uncredited Pablo Marcos has been muted by said styles (and judging by Marcos's work over at Warren, that might be a good thing). Mike Barr's story is fairly simple and predictable (we all know the wedding will never happen so it's only a matter of what circumstances stand in the way) yet still captivating. This is not Frank Miller but it's head and shoulders above the writing found in this month's Batman.

Jack: Well, yes and no. Oddly enough, the cover credits Alfredo Alcala with work on the interior but the interior credits don't list him and the art doesn't look like he was involved. It's too bad, since I think he's needed to smooth out some of McFarlane's rough edges. The comic is certainly more noirish than Batman, but it's all more of the same, with graphic violence added to make it seem more "adult." I'm not impressed with McFarlane's excesses and his use of forced perspective makes things look abnormally big, like Reaper's blade on page eight. The ridiculously large cape doesn't work for me at all.

Batman #412

"The Sound of Silence"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Dave Cockrum & Don Heck

Who stole the clapper from the big bell at St. Martin's Cathedral? Apparently, the same person who's been stealing clappers from church bells all over Gotham City, resulting in "The Sound of Silence" on Sunday morning.

That evening, in the theater district, a female mime performs in the middle of the street, drawing some cheers, some jeers, plenty of dollar bills, and one very angry taxi driver. The mime pulls out a gun and shoots him before running off into the park. The Dynamic Duo arrive just after the event and Batman gives chase on foot, but when he offers a hand to help the fallen mime to her feet, she takes his hand and he receives a big electric shock, leaving him dazed as she runs away.

Batman knows that the mime is Camilla Cameo and he visits Vicki Vale to do some quick research on the performer before returning home to tell Jason that she had a brief success as a performer before dropping out of sight. Batman and Robin locate her that evening at a concert performance by the heavy metal band, Blister Twister, who do hard rock versions of songs by Simon and Garfunkel. She zaps the musicians but this time Batman is insulated and has no trouble defeating her.

"Introducing... The Mime!" the cover screams like we're getting a major new villain, but then we get a silly female Joker with an equally silly backstory and some Twisted Sister/KISS mash-up cliched funny book heavy metal band (I love how their one line is "Hello Darkness..." because I assume DC was afraid they'd have to pay Paul Simon for using more than two words). The choreography is stiff and unexciting; if only the interior art could be on a par with Kevin Nowlan's dynamic cover. This title needs an enema. The capper is the Batman quote at the end as he watches Dee Palma and Blister Sister belt out their two words and wonders if he did the world a favor saving the band from the Mime's deadly attack. As noted in the previous issue's commentary, it seems Max just didn't get these characters; Gordon and Bats don't utter the off-the-cuff lamisms that would work in a Nolan or Quarry novel. Collins is still one of the greatest crime writers of all time but Batman wasn't his finest hour.

Jack: Once again, the story is competently plotted and told, it's just dull and pales in comparison to the recent highlights we've read. The art is just as plain; there's nothing wrong with it and it's much better than the dreck we suffered through when Tom Mandrake was drawing the series, but it's uninspired. Other than the sharp cover that you noted, the most interesting thing in this issue is a note in the letters column that explains the rebooted origin of Jason Todd and clarifies that the events in his new origin story take place about three years ago.

Detective Comics #579

"The Crime Doctor's Crimson Clinic"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Norm Breyfogle

Matthew Thorne, aka The Crime Doctor, is the man the bad guys go to if they need medical assistance off the books. "Big Moe" McAllister is in need of a heart transplant but he's on the lam and can't chance going to a regular doc, ergo his visit to the Crimson Clinic. In exchange for a hundred grand to go to his wife and young daughter, ex-con Shuyler Reems has agreed to give up his heart--and life--so that McAllister can flee the country in good health.

Thanks to the Batman and Robin, "The Crime Doctor's Crimson Clinic" is shuttered and his golden hands put into handcuffs. McAllister winds up dead but, hey, eggs gotta be broken and all. And Schuyler saves the life of Batman and is granted a reprieve from prison and a new cushy job (janitor?) at the Wayne Foundation. Happy endings all around.

 The switch from McFarlane to Breyfogle means we have some uneven art to look at in this story. It seems like drawing regular people and their faces can sometimes be a challenge for artists who do perfectly well with costumed characters. I love the new cover logo; we'll see how long it lasts. The story is a good one and, for a change, the villain doesn't seem like a throwaway character.

Peter: You ain't kiddin' about the art, pardnah. It amazes me how so many of these artists can draw brooding, atmospheric caped crusaders and then drop the ball completely when the cowls come off. The "human" characters are cartoony to the max, with the Doc's assistant, Nurse Rench, looking like a smocked Kingpin and Schuyler straight out of an Archie strip. I wasn't blown away by the story; there's really not much going on here but then most one-offs lack the space to breathe, anyway. I did like the scene where Bats takes advantage of Dr. Thompkins by searching through her computer for rare blood donors without permission. Very reminiscent of the tension between Bats and Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight.

Next Week...
Join us for another subtle
Michael Fleisher outing!

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