Monday, February 27, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 73: March/April 1988

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

Mike Zeck
Batman #417

"Ten Nights of the Beast!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

DEA agents meet a pair of Russian spies arriving by boat on Gotham City's beach; unfortunately, one of the men is a massive beast who kills all of the agents with his bare hands. The KGB is not happy, since these are rogue agents sent on an unsanctioned mission of assassination, so a Russian bigwig briefs the powers that be in Gotham about Operation Skywalker, which targets the U.S.'s Strategic Defense Initiative.

It seems the Beast (known to the CIA as the KGBeast) is a master of martial arts whose strength has been cybernetically enhanced. He's already done away with two people in the Gotham area and is expected to kill more. The FBI wants nothing to do with Batman, but the Caped Crusader and the Teen Wonder are on a rooftop listening in on the meeting, courtesy of a microphone hidden in a button on Commissioner Gordon's jacket.

Soon, the Beast appears at the office of agent Jason Greene and commits a brutal attack; Batman arrives just in time to see the Beast toss Greene's body off a high building and, despite some incredible acrobatics, Batman fails to save the agent. Batman meets up with Gordon and a CIA agent who has no problem working with masked vigilantes; he reveals that the President of the United States is on his way to Gotham and is last on the Beast's list of targets!

Peter: Do we really need another overly-dramatic (some might say bordering on pretentious) Bat-espionage "thriller?" To me, Starlin was always a better illustrator than writer and this script seems to fall back on all the old George Smiley cliches. The Beast looks like a precursor to the much-more famous Bane (who won't show up until 1993). The art is okay but Aparo could do with a different inker; facial features are almost indistinct. Hopefully this four-issue arc gets better.

Jack: I thoroughly enjoyed "Ten Nights of the Beast!" I like Mike Zeck's cover a lot and have always been a fan of the artist since seeing his work in '70s fanzines. Aparo does a great job on the interiors, using varying panel sizes and some wordless sequences effectively. It's always a bit hard to put myself back into the '80s U.S. vs. Russia mindset, but this issue's spirit of collaboration between enemies is well presented. I thought Peter would be more excited about the page where the motorcyclist's head is severed by a thin wire across the road; it reminded me of something from a '50s Atlas horror comic. Robin is used just a bit and it works; he sits in the shadows a couple of times with Batman but doesn't do much else. The four-page sequence where Batman tries to save Greene while in freefall is thrilling! My only complaint is the Beast's silly costume! Why would a trained assassin dress like a male stripper? 

Detective Comics #584

"Fever Break!"
Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

Scarface and his boys are smuggling Fever into Gotham from Tijuana via a very obese corpse. Batman gets wind of the plot and breaks up the party but gets dosed with the drug. His brain on fire, he beats the Ventriloquist and his dummy to a pulp (pun intended) before coming to his senses. Thanks to the Batman, Gotham streets are safe from the Fever.

Peter: That seems like a very simplistic synopsis but there really isn't much to the story. Despite that, it's a very enjoyable bit of fluff thanks mostly to the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy knockoffs. Since I'm not familiar with the careers of these nuts, I don't know what becomes of them or whether we'll find out if Scarface is more than just some fine teak, but at the very least it gives us a couple more quality Rogues to watch for. 

This short arc really could have stood a couple more chapters to let it breathe. The crisis is introduced and eradicated way too fast. A couple of chuckles to note: our man in Tijuana has obviously been watching Al Pacino's Scarface a lot, since he's got that realistic Hispanic dialogue down pat ("Say hello to our frien', the Fatman. He gonna be takin' some stoff back to Gotham.") and, though we've noted it quite a few times before, I think it was good to be reminded that Gotham allows its jailbirds a vast amount of leeway when it comes to personal belongings allowed in their cells (see below)! Though I still have some problems with Breyfogle's penciling (at times, too cartoonish), Steve Mitchell seems to be one of the artist's best assistants so far.

Jack: I agree. Either Breyfogle is growing before our eyes, or Mitchell is doing a lot of cleanup, or I'm just getting used to the style. Whatever the case, I thought this was a strong issue with one exception--the need to have every word that starts with a "B" start with a "G" when the dummy speaks, presumably because "B" is such a hard letter for a ventriloquist to utter. Also, Breyfogle needs to tone down some of the expansive cape shots! The scenes are very good, though, especially the one at the restaurant where Batman threatens the Ventriloquist, and the one at the funeral parlor. I even liked the final panel, where the dummy is attacking the Ventriloquist. This guy is really committed! 

Bingham & Giordano
The Saga of Ra's Al Ghul #3

"Bruce Wayne--Rest in Peace!"
(Reprinted from Batman #242, June 1972)

"The Lazarus Pit!" 
(Reprinted from Batman #243, August 1972)

"The Widow's Walk"

Jack: The highlight, of course, is "The Lazarus Pit," a key story in the Ra's al Ghul legend and one that benefits from 24 glorious pages of art by Adams and Giordano at their peak. "Bruce Wayne--Rest in Peace!" is not bad, with decent work by Novick and Giordano, but the Adams/Orlando art in "The Widow's Walk" is disappointing. Oh, and another gorgeous cover by Bingham and Giordano! I can't say it enough times--Dick Giordano is underrated and a major factor in some of the best DC comics.

Batman #418

"Ten Nights of the Beast, Part II"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

The KGBeast has killed four of ten people on the list of key players in the Star Wars program; five more are in protective custody. The KGBeast quickly locates person number ten and replaces the OJ in her boyfriend's fridge with a canister of poison gas. Five down, five to go!

The next day, at a Republican Party fundraiser, the KGBeast's assistant, Salari, eliminates person number six by posing as a chef and poisoning the soup; nearly everyone else at the banquet is also killed, just for good measure. Although Batman catches up to Salari and the KGBeast, they manage to escape in a van. Batman deduces that there is a spy somewhere among the scads of law enforcement officials failing to protect just about anyone.

With a senator and a congressman hidden, Batman and Robin began questioning all of their underworld contacts and learn that someone sold the KGBeast a bazooka! That night, the Russian positions himself atop a building and fires a shell at what he thinks is the senator, not knowing he's blowing up a dummy. Batman confronts the giant and, after some fisticuffs, a chase across the rooftops ends with the KGBeast escaping yet again.

Peter: "Ten Nights of the Beast" comes off as a low-grade mid-80s political thriller, starring Dolph Lundgren as the Beast and Chuck Norris (or Arnold or Sly) stepping in for Batman as the hero. The US/Soviet point/counterpoint over disarmament vs. inspection reads like it could have come right off of an episode of 60 Minutes back in the day. I am impressed with the wholesale slaughter Starlin was allowed to drop into his script (and Batman thinking, "The Beast has shot his wad!" also pushes the PG-13 envelope) but it's still a four-colored Tom Clancy cliche. Wow, it's been decades since I heard the terms "SDI program" or "Star Wars Defense." Love how Batman allows the Beast to blow up a hotel room just to show off his switch trick. Wouldn't it have been a lot less dangerous to folks on the street and a lot less damaging to the hotel if Bats had knocked the assassin across the head with, I don't know, a mallet before firing? 

Jack: I'm still enjoying this arc but part two wasn't quite as exciting as part one. The art is as good as any I've ever seen from Aparo and he succeeds in delivering some great action sequences. The only problem is that the KGBeast keeps escaping Batman! Yes, the Dark Knight, who has caught everyone else for over 400 issues, can't seem to catch the musclebound Russian. It'll be interesting to read the last two chapters to see if they keep having Batman fight the KGBeast briefly before failing to capture him.

Detective Comics #585

"The Ratcatcher"
Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Ricardo Villagran

Below the city streets, three men are being held captive by a looney calling himself the Ratcatcher, a fiend who can control the sewer's rat population. One of the men manages to escape but the Ratcatcher and his little pals catch up to him in a Gotham alley. The Ratcatcher orders his followers to "Tear him up!"

Meanwhile, not far from that terrifying scene, Batman puts the kibosh on a gang selling military weapons and, during the ensuing battle, notices the rodents swarming their victim. Quickly, he races over to the carpet of death and the rats flee, as if called away. Actually, Batman notes to himself, he did hear a high-pitched whistle. Could this be the Pied Piper of Gotham? Itching to discover the origin of the whistle, Batman follows the retreating vermin and spots the Ratcatcher himself.

He follows the costumed fanatic back into the sewers and confronts him, but the Ratcatcher is not impressed. He orders his pals to "tear him up!" and retreats back into the catacombs, where he uncorks a pipe full of raw sewage. Too late, Batman is swept away in Gotham's waste.

Peter: Like the previous story, "The Ratcatcher" doesn't have much plot. There are two storylines advancing at the same time and we have little to no information on what's going on in either one and yet here I go again admitting I enjoyed the whole thing. The Wagner/Grant duo manage to reel me in with what little they reveal and, again like last issue, the boys create an interesting (and, it would seem, insane) villain. I just hope this isn't going to end up being a Scooby-Doo mystery where the Ratcatcher is revealed to be a Waste Management employee who wasn't given a promotion and wants revenge. The fact that his three prisoners have something to do with the judicial system points to a reveal something along those lines. Still, the strip is entertaining and Breyfogle's art continues to improve.

Jack: I thought the art regressed this issue, probably due to having Ricardo Villagran (not Steve Mitchell, as the cover promises) inking Breyfogle's pencils. Way too many panels look like bad cartoons, though I will admit that some of the panels are nicely laid out, even if Breyfogle continues to go overboard with Batman's cape. The story itself is pretty exciting without any slow bits. Too bad Bingham only does the covers!

Adams & Nebres
The Saga of Ra's Al Ghul #4

"The Demon Lives Again!"

"The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!"
(Reprinted from Batman #245, October 1972)

"A Vow from the Grave!"

Jack: Adams and Nebres are an odd pairing for the cover, which is a good example of how Adams's art looked from then on. "The Demon Lives Again!" features some of the best Adams art we ever saw on Batman; "The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!" doesn't feature Ra's but has more nice work by the same art twosome. "A Vow from the Grave!" is a memorable story with more stunning art. These comics may be expensive, but this one is a real feast for the eyes.

Next Week...
Peter and Jack vomit up
their thoughts on what might
be the most oddball Warren story ever!

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