Monday, March 13, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 74: May/June 1988


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

Batman #419

"Ten Nights of the Beast!" (Part 3)
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

After the KGBeast takes out a plane with a rocket launcher, killing General Ridwell, there are only three people left on his hit list. Two of them are being guarded at the Commodore Hotel. That evening, the KGBeast succeeds in killing one of the two, a congressman, with a bomb disguised as the doorknob to his hotel room, so Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Agent Parker grab the other, a senator, and Parker insists that they take the elevator down to safety. Bad idea.

While they're all in the elevator, it suddenly stops, and cinder blocks begin to rain down from the top of the shaft, tossed by the KGBeast. Agent Perry is killed and Batman begins to shimmy up the elevator cable toward the Beast, dodging cinder blocks and bullets as he climbs. Policemen make it to the roof, but the KGBeast grabs an axe from an emergency firebox and slaughters them all. Batman arrives and follows the Beast, who uses the axe handle to slide along a cable to a nearby building. Batman manages to avoid death and trap the Beast's wrist in a loop of cable, so the Beast chops off his own hand to escape!

Batman discovers that General Ridwell was not really on the plane that was blown up and wonders if the Beast will try to assassinate President Reagan when he makes a speech on Saturday. Elsewhere, the KGBeast is busy procuring some sort of weapon to replace his missing hand.

Jack: Whew! This is strong, exciting stuff. The Commodore Hotel in Gotham City looks nothing like NYC's Commodore, where Phil Seuling's comic conventions were held in the '70s. As I recall, that hotel was much seedier than this one. The long sequence in the elevator shaft is thrilling and when the KGBeast chops off his own hand it's shocking, even if it's (mercifully) not shown. Aparo is at the top of his game. Add another great cover by Mike Zeck and you have a bargain for 75 cents! Peter, did you like this entry any better than the prior ones?

Peter: Sorry to say I remain unimpressed with this limp pseudo-John LeCarre spy stuff. Give me back the Joker and the Penguin; you can keep the KGB agent disguised as one of the Village People. And, am I the only one here wondering why the Beast had to chop off his own hand rather than aiming a little lower and cutting the rope instead? 

Detective Comics #586

"Rat Trap"
Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

The Ratcatcher catches Batman on a bad day and flushes him into the sewer. Waking up with really bad breath and an upset tummy (I see at least a couple issues off with hepatitis on the horizon), Bats fights his way back to the Ratcatcher's den. Meanwhile, above ground, Gordon sends a band of his best men down into the sewers to find out what's going on. That does not go well, as the Ratcatcher orders his troops to eat the faces off the intruders.

Back at the Ratcatcher's underground hideout, he executes prisoner Cornelius Budd and is about to do the same to Sgt. Sam Bellow when the Dark Knight bursts through the door and intercedes. The Ratcatcher calls for his pets with his rat-whistle, unaware that the Caped Crusader had just burned the rodent army to a crisp. Without his furry friends, the Ratcatcher is no match for Batman and he is leveled with one mighty right. For now, the danger is over.

What a fabulously creepy Gothic thriller this was. Alan Grant spares no violence or grimness (the panel of Batman spitting out... um, poopy... could be more horrifying than the scene of Budd with a .44 pointed at his temple) and, to their credit, it seems DC and editor Denny O'Neil either looked the other way or secretly smiled. Since Denny was responsible for some very grim classics of his own during the 1970s, I'd suggest it was the latter. Norm Breyfogle soars without the hindrance of an inker. At the very least, Batman's nose has grown back. Long live this new Bats-team! Alas, this nutty Willard knock-off won't be seen again for nearly a decade.

Jack: Wagner and Grant have hit their stride with this excellent issue! Even Breyfogle's art is looking good--he plays to his strengths and there are fewer cartoony faces and more dark, moody panels, especially down in the sewers. The cover is really nice, too. Batman is certainly getting darker in theme of late, what with the prisoner execution and the rampaging rats.

Batman #420

"Ten Nights of the Beast" (Part 4)
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

After killing the engineer who made him a new, weaponized prosthetic hand, the KGBeast disappears, waiting for his chance to kill President Reagan. The president arrives at Gotham Airport and is promptly kidnapped by Batman, who figures that this is the only way to deliver him safely to his suite at the Commodore Hotel. At the hotel, Batman explains how he plans to get Reagan to his speech that night, but once Agent Parker leaves, the plan changes. The KGBeast and Salari are immediately informed of the first plan by a spy.

That evening, Salari attempts to blow up the president as he gets into a helicopter on the hotel roof; Salari glides toward the hotel with dynamite strapped to his chest, but Robin swings over and knocks him off course, leading to Salari and the dynamite being blown to bits far from the roof. The president is delivered to the Gotham Convention center by car and immediately intercepted by the KGBeast and Agent MacDonald, the spy in Parker's group. Batman foils the Beast and chases him into the sewers below the city.

The KGBeast leaves a trail of bodies behind him and, when Batman catches up to him, the Beast fights valiantly with his new weapon, a prosthetic hand that is a combination of gun, bayonet, and tear gas dispenser. Batman is familiar with the layout of the sewers and maneuvers the KGBeast into a room with only one exit, then locks him in, bars the door, and leaves him there to perish. Batman returns to the surface and is driven home by Alfred, who has been impersonating the president.

Jack: An exciting conclusion to a very good four-part story, this issue finds Batman in a real knock-down, drag-out battle with the KGBeast; oddly enough, he's back in the sewers again, just as he was in last month's issue of Detective! At one point, he tells us in a caption that he's familiar with the layout from another case, but it's not clear if he's referring to the Ratcatcher. All in all, these issues have great covers by Zeck and superb interior art by Aparo. The stories are not very deep or complicated, but the action sequences are satisfying.

Peter: This "epic arc" just doesn't have the weight or the lasting effect of "Batman: Year One," a much more nuanced and powerful story, but I'll give this final installment a higher grade than the first three for two sequences. The suddenly adult-sized Robin taking out the glider-bomber without the assistance of captions or dialogue balloons is a fun fifteen panels. Even better is Batman's decision to wall up the Beast to die. Batman advocating starvation!? It's a bit of an odd moment, since the Joker has doubtlessly murdered thousands of Gothamites yet was never in any danger of being euthanized by his arch enemy. It's a fabulous climax to a so-so story.

Detective Comics #587

"Night People"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

As D.J. Dark spins some eclectic wax for the late-night folk, various stories unfold around Gotham. Convict Deke Mitchel, serving a life sentence for murder, somehow manages to saw away one of the bars in his cell and escapes the Gotham Pen. But what's Deke's goal here now that he's sprung? A vagrant named Michael Rossi is brutally stabbed to death in Gotham's "Cardboard City" alley. But who is Rossi's murderer?

Batman's been tipped to a massive cocaine shipment due to arrive in Gotham harbor, but the stoolie who's been "persuaded" by Batman to set up the drug dealer, Woolf, has developed cold feet. With some further "persuading" (via gloved fists), Batman finds out the time and exact harbor Woolf intends on docking at and heads for the water.

Coincidentally, that's where Mitchel winds up, looking for someone named "Kadaver." Woolf's boat approaches the harbor just as the police identify Mitchel and make a big scene. That scares away Woolf, but Batman is not to be denied and uses a nearby crane as transport to the boat. Woolf panics and dives into the harbor while Mitchel heads into a restricted area marked "Hazardous Waste." Lightning strikes the area and it explodes, immolating the escaped con. The Dark Knight looks for Woolf in the water to no avail and surrenders the huge load of coke to the officers on the dock. Later, after Batman and the cops leave the scene, Mitchel rises from the ashes transformed into....?

A very layered and complicated saga, one that begs to be read two, maybe three times in order to fit all the puzzle pieces together. There is so much information provided without explanation. If it all pays off in the end, then it's a whale of a tale. Who is the hobo named Rossi and who killed him? First impression says Deke Mitchel, but I'm not so sure. Who is Kadaver and why is Mitchel after him? How in the hell did Mitchel saw through the bars of his cell? What is the Mitchel-thing that rises up from his own ashes in the climactic panel? And why does D.J. Dark have such bad taste in music (outside of the Stones, of course). I had the same reaction as Batman every time Kiss's "Crazy Crazy Nights" came on the radio. If all this sounds like a lot of complaining, well, maybe, but Grant and Wagner have me convinced they're both boy geniuses already and I'm enjoying this ride. Even if I don't know what's going on.

Jack: This one took a bit of getting used to, but by the end I liked it. Breyfogle's art is kind of expressionistic, especially in the way he uses Batman's cape. The cape gets bigger and wilder, depending on the emotions of the scene. The night, rain, song snippets, and DJ chatter all create a background for a tale about an escaped prisoner with a drug bust thrown in for good measure. The cliffhanger on the last page has me looking forward to next issue!

Next Week...
What happens when
Pablo Marcos takes on Vampi?

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