Monday, April 24, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 77: November 1988


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

Batman #425

Story by Jim Starlin
Art by M. D. Bright & Steve Mitchell

Batman receives a letter from Jose Garzonas, the father of Felipe, who fell to his death last issue. Jose is holding Commissioner Gordon hostage and demands that Batman bring Robin to an auto junk yard to free Gordon. Instead, Batman heads off on his own, but Robin realizes that something is up and follows him without revealing himself.

Batman arrives at the junk yard and dispatches most of Jose's goons before being forced to show himself. Robin suddenly reveals his presence. Batman frees Gordon, who is wounded by gunfire as he runs for cover. Garzonas tries to shoot Batman with a machine gun and Batman avoids death by climbing to the top of a pile of flattened cars; the pile collapses under him, crushing and killing Garzonas. Batman lectures Robin on the meaning of "Consequences" and goes so far as to say that Garzonas exhibited a "'father's righteous anger.'" Robin walks away quietly.

Peter: The art is iffy but the story's not bad. Hard to tell by that last panel exactly what's on Jason's mind. Is he ashamed or emboldened? Only time will tell. Hopefully, though Garzonas is dead, the repercussions from Robin's actions will continue to ripple. I think it's a fascinating hook.

Jack: Once again, I prefer this art to that of Breyfogle in Detective. There wasn't much to this tale and it was a quick read, but it works to advance the story arc questioning whether Robin bears fault for Felipe's death. Most of the pages are taken up with Batman knocking heads in the junk yard. The cover is a real cheat--it looks like Batman is about to be the one crushed by a collapsing pile of cars, while the story has the opposite happening!

Detective Comics #592

"The Fear" Part One
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

While on his nightly rounds, the Batman hears a scream and answers the call to discover a corpse — sans its heart — in the trunk of a yellow cab. The only witness, a small boy, describes the man who left the body as… Jesus! When the cops come to claim the body, one of the officers notifies the Batman that the dead man is one Ed Hunt, who went missing several days before. Hunt was last seen in a bar with a man who was the “spittin’ image of Abe Lincoln!”

What the hell is going on in Gotham, you ask? Well, thanks to the magic of funny books, we learn before the Dark Knight that the psycho who’s stalking the city streets is a creepy cat calling himself “The Fear,” a recent release from Arkham Asylum who can somehow take on the visage of famous people while doing his evil deeds. With his kiss, the maniac sucks the fear from his victim and uses it as energy. Or something like that.

What an ugly mess this first chapter of “The Fear” is. I had a hard time following the meandering story and an even harder time making out what was drawn on the pages by Norm Breyfogle, who seems to have taken several steps back after he’d seemed to be taking forward steps in the last few months. Breyfogle’s art this issue looks like really bad Tom Sutton to these eyes. This is the first Grant story I didn’t like; maybe the conclusion next issue can bring the clarity this chapter was missing. I had to smile when Bats was looking at a list of the loonies released from Arkham in the last month and none of the Rogues’ names appear! 

Jack: This is such an exciting issue that it's hard to stay unhappy with Breyfogle's art. There are still aspects I don't like, especially characters' faces and some of the unusual portrayals of Batman, but the storytelling is dynamic and the page layouts creative. Grant's story is a thriller and I can't wait for part two. I especially liked the large panel where the skull face was revealed.

Batman: The Cult #3

Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Bernie Wrightson

Deacon Blackfire's followers murder Deputy Mayor Filbert on the street in broad daylight! In the sewers, Robin sets Batman free; at City Hall, Commissioner Gordon can't believe that fingerprint evidence links Blackfire to crimes dating back to the 1920s. The street people of Gotham City are lining up behind the new, self-appointed messiah, who tells his second in command that it took him years to learn that religion is the surest path to power.

As the Dynamic Duo make their way through the sewers, anarchy reigns in the streets above as the governor declares a state of emergency. Batman and Robin witness Blackfire bathing in a pool of blood and remarking that it holds the secret to eternal life. They are discovered and chased by Underworlders as Blackfire takes to the airwaves to tell the citizens that he will protect them. Batman and Robin barely survive a brutal fight with hordes of Blackfire's followers below ground, while in the streets above, things go from bad to worse and the governor orders an evacuation.

As people flee Gotham City, Blackfire declares victory and calls for a celebration. Batman and Robin finally make it back to the surface, where Alfred picks them up and Batman declares that they have lost and cannot help Gotham.

Peter: Except for a few pin-up-worthy panels (see left for one of them), I'm afraid "The Cult" is a waste of the talents of the best horror comic book illustrator of the 1970s. It's obvious (as I said last time out) that Bernie was under a tight deadline since his panels are more elementary than his usual insane detail. Starlin's script is a mess; it feels like Jim just wanted an excuse to pour on the graphic violence without earning it. I can't figure out the Deacon's master plan (maybe this won't be revealed until the concluding issue?); did he want to rule a ghost town? Starlin's Batman turns tail and runs like a scared little puppy? When have you ever seen that before? Alfred packing a heater? And who would ever believe a lunatic could win the devotion of millions and stir up riots and bad behavior?

Jack: You're right--Bernie Wrightson is not the artist to draw Batman and this is a bloated mess. DC has spoiled us in the past couple of years with big Bat-events, but this feels like a money grab. Especially annoying are the small panels depicting TV screens with either news commentators or regular folks commenting on the events. There is also a problem with the time frame in the story. Like so many bad Warren tales, there are parallel threads running simultaneously and the story jumps back and forth every few pages. In one thread, Batman and Robin make their way through the sewers, which can't take all that long. At the same time, above ground, Gotham City deteriorates into chaos in what seems like about 20 minutes. The Deputy Mayor is murdered and beheaded, the governor declares a state of emergency, he calls for evacuation, and people flee from the city. This is all taking place in the time it takes the Dynamic Duo to trudge a few blocks through the sewers. It doesn't line up.

The Best of the Brave and the Bold #2

"But Bork Can Hurt You!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Neal Adams, Vince Colletta & Dick Giordano
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold  #81, January 1969)

Jack: Another gorgeous early Neal Adams story is reprinted in this issue, along with two stories by Kubert and one by Heath, all three from 1956. The issue also features a partial bibliography of Adams's work for DC and a reprint of the original cover.

The story of Bork has some unexpected parallels with that of Deacon Blackfire in The Cult. Bork is a dock worker who suddenly discovers himself invincible when he survives being hit by a truck. Before you know it, lowlifes all over the city are following him and it's up to Batman and the Flash to learn the secret of his invulnerability and put a stop to his campaign.

Next Week...
After 109 Posts (and at least
that many headaches), the
boys nuke the Warren blog!

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