Monday, February 13, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 72: January/February 1988


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

Batman #415

Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

Commissioner Gordon has been replaced by a Manhunter, one of the super-androids that has rebelled against the Guardians. The Manhunters think that the upcoming Millennium is a threat to their existence, so they want to use ten humans chosen at random to stop it. They also don't want any superheroes to interfere with their plans.

Gordon pistol whips Batman and pushes him out of his office window, but when Batman saves himself and re-enters the building, Gordon is gone. Batman overhears a couple of cops discussing the Floronic Man, who is to be released from Arkham Asylum to take part in the Millennium.

Meanwhile, Robin has tracked the Scarecrow to his hideout and, despite being told just to find him and report back, the Boy Wonder smashes flasks of fear gas, triggering an extreme fear reaction in the Scarecrow. Back at the Batcave, Robin explains what happened while Alfred has the Scarecrow strapped to a table and sedated. In disguise, Batman and Robin get inside Arkham Asylum, where they fight guards and inmates put there by the fake Commissioner Gordon to prevent the Floronic Man from being released. A pitched battle with the Gordon Manhunter ends when Batman uses an explosive to blow the thing to bits, leaving only its head.

At least the Scarecrow
sets reasonable goals.
Instead of springing the Floronic Man, Batman and Robin return to Wayne Manor, where Batman hooks up the Gordon Manhunter's head to the Batcomputer and discovers that the real Jim Gordon is in Louisiana. Batman heads south while the Floronic Man appears to think he's soon going to escape from Arkham.

Jack: I had to resort to Wikipedia to find out what Millennium was all about, since this issue tosses us into the middle of an ongoing crossover saga. It doesn't seem worth reading all of the other comics, but this issue of Batman is reasonably entertaining, mainly due to the sharp art by Jim Aparo. I have to admit that the sight of Robin wielding a shotgun took me by surprise, but the real question I have is in regard to why Batman and Robin go to all the trouble of sneaking into Arkham in disguise, then battle cops and the super-android, and then decide to leave! Wasn't the whole purpose of going in to release the Floronic Man? What changed?

Peter: Though 35 years have come and gone since this issue hit the stands, one thing has remained constant: I hate big cosmos-spanning DC crossovers. This looks to be one of the goofiest and most boring of the 1980s "events" so I'll just skip critiquing the bits that I can't understand. Ulp. Well, Robin's takedown of the Scarecrow would have to be the issue's highlight and the art's pretty nifty. Everything else is disposable.

Detective Comics #582

"Sole Survivor"
Story by Jo Duffy
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Pablo Marcos

Gordon is summoned out of town by a member of his old Special Ops force. Meanwhile, Batman has to extract information from the Gordon android... (yeah, I know, I can't figure any of this out either) just as he learns his old friend has headed out of Gotham. Luckily, Batman catches up with Gordon just as the Commish is meeting up with one of his old pals and lets him know he's nearby in case he's needed. 

Shortly thereafter, Gordon heads to the home of Rosenfeld, another agent from the past. The reunion is a quick one, though, as a Manhunter bursts through the door and blasts Rosenfeld. Batman short-circuits the robot but the damage is done. Gordon stays with his dying friend while the Caped Crusader heads out into the night to track more Manhunters. 

He meets up with ex-cop/now-PI Corrigan, who's also trailing the killer androids. The two team up and, following a lead, head to a temple in a nearby swamp where they find the hostages (yeah, again, I'm as lost as you are...) being held in a steel cage. Batman and Corrigan annihilate the Manhunters and release the prisoners. Meanwhile, Gordon hears Rosenfeld's dying words: "Warn Washington..." and wonders what it could mean. At the White House, Ronald Reagan receives a disturbing call while his wife sits nearby, a demonic gleam in her eye.

Jack: After a nice Bingham cover, once again we are dropped in the middle of an ongoing story that doesn't seem worth delving into any deeper. When Batman remarks to Robin that they don't tell anyone their secret identities, does that exclude Gordon and Selina Kyle? Is this a post-Crisis revision? I chuckled when Batman said the following during his summary of what's gone on to date: "eight people are being groomed as a kind of gestalt avatar." Seriously? I also don't like seeing Batman use a laser gun. Batman doesn't use guns! The art is still iffy and up and down from page to page. There's not enough Batman in this issue and what there is is inconsistent with his well-established personality. The best thing is on the last page, where it looks like Nancy Reagan is an android. I knew it all along!

Who needs a nose when you're a member of the JLA?

Peter: Whoever thought these multiverse multi-title crossovers were a good idea should be condemned to read them all over and over. I'm convinced that even if I had wasted my time reading Captain Atom #11, Suicide Squad #3 and Spectre #10, I still wouldn't have a clue as to what was going on in this "epic." There's a full-page "What's Happened So Far" monologue delivered by Batman that reads like a locked room mystery without the solution. What the hell is this guy talking about? And can someone tell me why Norm Breyfogle prefers our hero without a nose? This art stinks. Batman can't smell it because, for some unknown reason, Norm Breyfogle has decided our hero is best rendered minus his nose. Best to forget this brief epic interlude and get back to the latest Penguin escape.

Bingham & Giordano
The Saga of Ra's al Ghul #1

"Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!"

"Daughter of the Demon"

"Night of the Living Dead"
(Weird Western Tales #13, September 1972)

Jack: A nice wraparound cover by Bingham and Giordano introduces a reprint issue featuring the first appearance of Talia, a classic Ra's story, and a story from Weird Western Tales that features art by Adams. The Talia story has art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano and is notable mainly for being her first appearance, while the Ra's story is a classic with stunning art by Neal and Dick. Adams inks himself on the western, which is a mediocre story with supernatural elements. The art is superb, though I prefer Adams when Giordano inks him. We didn't cover Weird Western Tales when we reviewed all of the DC horror comics.

One might wonder why an 11-page Weird Western Tale is reprinted in a deluxe format Ra's package. You might still wonder after I tell you the connections. Three bank robbers invade a rancher's home where they stashed the loot from a bank robbery years before. The ranch is owned by the catatonic Lazarus Lane, whose spirit rises from his chair when summoned and does battle with ornery range rats as gunslinger El Diablo. Yeah, the fact that the rancher shares the same name as a particular pit is connecting tissue number one, I suppose. The other would be that the strip was drawn by Neal Adams. El Diablo was created by Big Bob Kanigher for All-Star Western (which became Weird Western with #12) and ran semi-regularly until Jonah Hex took over the title.

Batman #416

"White Gold and Truth"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

A year ago, Robin broke through a skylight to bust the dealers running a coke lab, only to be joined by Nightwing, who apologized to the dealers and taught the Boy Blunder a lesson: "you can't bust anyone for possession if there's no dope to be found." As Nightwing walks away, he asks Robin to tell Bruce that they need to talk.

At Stately Wayne Manor the next morning, Bruce explains to Jason that Nightwing used to be Robin. After Jason heads off for school, Nightwing arrives and demands to know why, after Robin was shot by the Joker, Batman sent him packing. Nightwing explains that he went to college and then became leader of the Teen Titans. When he saw that there was a new Robin, he had to find out why.

The Dark Knight offers three explanations: Jason needed a mentor, Batman needed a partner, and Bruce was lonely. Jason observes Nightwing drive off and later runs into him on a rooftop; Nightwing gives Robin his old costume and together they bust the coke dealers. From a nearby rooftop, Batman watches and smiles.

Jack: "White Gold and Truth" may be a bit of a talk fest and certainly spends a fair amount of time recapping past events, but I enjoyed it. That's in large part due to the great art by Aparo and DeCarlo, but it also feels like something of a landmark issue where dangling threads from the past are tied off. In this post-crisis DC world, of course, timing is a bit skewed--Robin says he and Batman were together for six years and he then went to college (which happened around the early '70s in our world) and then took up with the original Teen Titans ('60s-'70s) and eventually (as Nightwing) the new Teen Titans ('80s), but that's OK--if we can accept superheroes, we can accept a bit of retrofitting regarding when things happened.

Peter: I really liked this story and that's saying something, since I could live my life happily without reading another Robin adventure. Starlin messes with the timeline (just like all the other DC writers) by starting off with "One year ago..." on the splash. That's very confusing; is it meant to fall in between past adventures for a reason? And, despite the fact that this installment supposedly took place in the past, Jason looks like he's already out of his teens. Perhaps we're just supposed to ignore all the lapses? In any event, despite all the guilt heaped on Bats by older-but-still-whiny Dick this issue, I found this to be a fast-moving and compelling drama.

Mike Mignola
Detective Comics #583

Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Kim DeMulder

There's a deadly new drug lighting up the addicts of Gotham, a narcotic known as "Fever" that gives its user the sweats and a super-high. After a band of yutes murders a security guard, Batman makes it his number one priority to find the supplier.

That might just be the latest addition to the Rogues' Gallery, the Ventriloquist, a mobster loon who uses a dummy named Scarface to do his talking. But is it the big guy or dummy who's in charge? After the Dark Knight busts up a drug dealer's den, he discovers the identity of his new enemy and heads out to shut the deadly duo down.

Jack: The cover by Mike Mignola recalls the Year One art style and also Frank Miller's work. The interior art isn't as bad as some of the other pages we've seen recently from Breyfogle, perhaps due to having Kim DeMulder as inker. This is the first time we've encountered Wagner and Grant as writers; it looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of them and Breyfogle in the coming years. The story is another one focusing on kids, drugs, and crime, but I'm intrigued by the new villain.

Grant and Wagner were a hot team in England, thanks mostly to Judge Dredd, when DC brought them over to create a similar project known as The Outcasts in 1987. It was natural the pair would be drawn to a dark hero like Batman and they would continue to write the character's adventures on and off for several years. Though "Fever" is a bit more edgy than most of the Bats-adventures, it really doesn't tell much of a story. Oddly enough, Batman seems more intent on gently dispatching a young murderer while the kid's victim lies nearby burning to death. No Robin or Gordon this issue, so strictly a solo saga; that's a plus. Oh, and opening your drug den on Delirious Street is a bad omen, no? "Fever"'s highlight, of course, is the introduction of the delightfully crazed Ventriloquist and Scarface team. I love insane villains. Breyfogle's art looks much better this time out, so perhaps it's a matter of pairing him with the right inker after all.

Bingham & Giordano
The Saga of  Ra's al Ghul #2

"Vengeance for a Dead Man!"

"The Secret of the Waiting Graves"

Jack: We chart the development of Ra's as a character with two stories from the early '70s that are pretty good. The third story has that Adams & Giordano knockout art and is thus the best thing in the issue. I love the wraparound cover but the $2.50 price tag (about $6.50 today) seems a bit steep. 

Next Week...
Six new visions of hell
and Jack and Peter can verify:
this is hell! 

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