Monday, June 12, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 83: May 1989


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

Batman #433

"The Many Deaths of the Batman,
Chapter One: Period of Mourning"
Story by John Byrne
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

One rainy night in Gotham City, cops on patrol find Batman near death, crucified on a fence in an alley. He is rushed to the hospital but efforts to save his life fail and his body is taken to the morgue, where a sleazy news photographer bribes an orderly to take a picture that lands on the front page of the Gotham News.

Reactions are mixed: the Penguin is angry that he's not responsible, while Two-Face flips a coin and expresses delight. Nightwing and Starfire hug each other for support and Alfred searches Stately Wayne Manor and the Batcave to no avail. At the National Convention of Police Commissioners, Jim Gordon is told the news and rushes back to Gotham City to confirm his worst fears. Yet when he removes Batman's facemask, the dead man in the suit is not Bruce Wayne! That night, the Bat Signal flashes in the sky and another dead Batman is propped up on the roof of the Gotham Hotel; after an explosion, a passerby on the street below grabs a piece of the Batsuit that comes fluttering down from above.

Jack: In recent issues I've been impressed with Aparo's ability to tell sections of the story in wordless pages. With "The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter One: Period of Mourning," new writer John Byrne takes this practice to the extreme: there are only two words of dialogue in the entire 22-page story and no captions. The dialogue is spoken by Commissioner Gordon, who tells everyone else to "Get out" before he removes the facemask from Batman in the morgue. As a result, the story is a quick but unsatisfying read. The art is solid but the story lacks the depth that words usually bring. Peter, what did you think?

Peter: I've never been a fan of John Byrne's, not his Fantastic Four, not his X-Men, and definitely not his Superman. I always saw JB as a bit of a coattail guy, riding in on the new wave of funny book artist/writer popularity created by Frank Miller. It's too early to tell whether I'll be similarly dismissive of Byrne's Batman but I'll say this: "The Many Deaths of Batman Part 1 of 3" must have been the easiest script JB ever wrote.

Cowan & Jones
Detective Comics #600

"Blind Justice:
Chapter Five: Hidden Agendas
Chapter Six: Covert Operations
Chapter Seven: Ulterior Motives"
Story by Sam Hamm
Art by Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, and Frank McLaughlin

Though he's lying mortally wounded in a hospital bed, Bruce Wayne awaits trial as a commie scumbag. The prosecution has summoned professional assassin Henri Ducard to testify against Wayne.

Meanwhile, Dr. Harbinger is enjoying the use of his all-new body, strutting through the streets of Gotham with none the wiser. Back at the hospital, Bruce Wayne awakens, making a "miracle recovery," and immediately wants to leave the hospital. Elsewhere, Commissioner Gordon is making excuses for the absent Batman, who's been gone approximately the same amount of time Wayne has been laid up in Gotham Hospital. Hmmmm...

The authorities have been having a grand time looking through Wayne Manor, searching for any little scrap of paper that can link Bruce to the Russkies, and they make quite a mess. Cleaning up with his sister, Jeannie, houseguest Roy (the one who was experimented on by Harbinger--see the previous chapters) pushes the wrong button and opens the door to the Batcave! Ulp!

Returning home to Wayne Manor through the Batcave, Alfred and his boss are more than a little surprised to see Roy standing amidst the history and hoopla present in the greatest den in the world. Roy volunteers his services as a junior detective, swearing never to tell anyone the big secret. Roy also has a bit of fun convincing Alfred to switch brains with him (that microchip still works!). This annoys Bruce to no end, but what can a man in a wheelchair do and, after all, Roy is a guest.

Later, with brains switched back, Bruce gets a fabulously fun idea: he can throw Gordon off the "Hmmm, I wonder if..." track by switching grey matter with Roy and taking the young man's body out for a test drive. BatRoy arrives on the precinct rooftop to answer the Bat-Signal, much to Gordon's surprise. Appearance made, BatRoy swings away. On the way back to the Manor, FauxBat stumbles onto a hostage scene and smashes through a window, barely apprehending the culprit but avoiding slashing any major arteries. 

While Bruce is enjoying a bit of cosplay, Ducard is reminiscing with Harbinger about his early days and the training of Bruce Wayne as a detective. Ducard sighs when he remembers how Wayne could not take that next necessary step and become an assassin. He then reveals to Harbinger why he believes Bruce Wayne is the Batman.

Back at the Batcave, Bruce gets one of those incredible ideas he's famous for, telling Alfred he believes the brain-changer machine he's been monkeying around with allows him to pop into the minds of the other microchip guinea pigs. He demonstrates and lands smack dab in the middle of a conversation between Harbinger and Riordan. Bruce Wayne is in the mind of the Bonecrusher! Harbinger controls Riordan's mind and commands him to pack up all the brain-changer equipment and bring it to him. Brucecrusher follows for a bit but his channel is changed when Alfred gets nervous.

Their conversation is interrupted by a visitor at the door. It's Ducard, who tells Bruce that, for a nominal fee and a new identity, he'll change his testimony in court and reveal everything he knows about the cartel. He also reveals that he knows Bruce is the Batman. 

To dig up the evidence to clear his name, Bruce must once again jump into Roy's body and retrieve Harbinger's notes and equipment. This leads to a disastrous showdown with Bonecrusher atop an elevated platform. BatRoy gets his ankle stuck in one of the tracks and Bruce must call Alfred to make a quick change-a-roo. His brain switches from BatRoy to Bonecrusher but Roy doesn't believe it's Bruce and tackles him. The two take a header off the platform and Roy is killed. Back in his own body, Bruce tells Jeannie and she doesn't take it well.

Riordan cooperates with the government and the evidence exonerates Bruce Wayne but, for his trouble, the little man is assassinated by Ducard. No great loss. Ducard heads back to Paris and Bruce Wayne begins his healing process. 

Jack: A sixty-one page conclusion to a story that wasn't very good to begin with is a lot to read. The art continues to disappoint and makes it hard to figure out who's who through most of the narrative. Being able to put someone's consciousness into another body is an intriguing idea, but the plotting is so convoluted that any germ of an idea gets lost in the confusion. I knew that when Roy discovered the Batcave, his days were numbered--it was just another cliche dumped in the reader's lap by Sam Hamm, who may have thought it was a new idea. It's an odd coincidence that this month's Batman also contains an image of someone else dying while wearing the Batman costume. The best thing about Detective #600 is the section at the end with full-page illustrations by the likes of Adams, Eisner, and Sprang!

 A 600th issue of a funny book deserves something extra special, right? Throw in the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the Batman and you better be talking "epic!" Right? Well... 

The script is way too long and confusing (too many brain transferrals) and the story is a mess, but it's entertaining to stumble across the bits the Nolans pilfered for the Batman trilogy (the appearance of Bruce's old "teacher," Ducard; Wayne's doctor wondering how he got so much scar tissue) and there are certainly some clever tricks in amongst the confusing nonsense. 

Raise your hand if you thought Roy could survive the story after he found out the "big secret." You don't read many comics, do you? Fact is, it seems like half of Gotham knew the Batman's real identity by the end of "Blind Justice!" Roy's conversation with his sister about her feelings for Bruce is maudlin until the twist reveals that the brain inside the body is Wayne himself, trying to dissuade Jeannie from falling in love with him. The highlight, for me, was the glimpse back to Bruce's training in Paris with Ducard. I was so hoping Hamm would pay homage to all those Grade-Z Monogram pics of the 1940s and have Bruce's brain accidentally trapped in the body of a gorilla but no, no such fun. The whole saga is quite serious. 

But all the bits and bobs can't distract from the fact that this is a very ugly comic book. Denys Cowan, who I was hot and cold on in the beginning, has deteriorated with each successive issue. Thank goodness we get back to the Grant/Breyfogle team next issue.

Next Week...
How can this be?

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