Monday, July 17, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 88: September 1989, Part 2


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

Batman #439

"Batman Year 3, Chapter Four: Resolutions"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Pat Broderick & Michael Bair

After Batman makes it clear to Nightwing that he did not know Zucco was about to be shot and killed, attention turns to Zucco's missing ledger, which contained incriminating information on Gotham's criminals. Taft, a parole board member, wants to find it first because it contains something bad about his past.

Jason wonders what Batman's problem is since Jason died and recalls the court hearing when he was appointed Bruce Wayne's ward. Separately, the once-Dynamic Duo question criminals in an attempt to find clues to the location of the ledger. Nightwing visits the orphanage where he and Zucco were raised and locates the journal, hidden behind the brick wall of a bell tower; Taft surprises him and nearly beats him senseless with a crowbar before Batman arrives to save the day. Taft falls to his death from a tower window and the pages of the ledger scatter in the wind. Bruce returns home while Dick visits the graves of his parents.

Peter: Thank goodness that's over. A long, drawn out "mystery" that took place more in the "present day" rather than in "Year Three," with awful graphics and an overly moody superhero, is now a red flag for me. I'm not sure if it's the Broderick pencils that run this one into the ground or the lazy Wolfman script. The dialogue is cliched and the tension between Batman and Nightwing seems to come and go between panels. The art is muddy and each successive character is uglier and more amateurishly drawn than the previous one. As far as I know, there was never a "Year Four"; perhaps this dog killed the events.

Jack: I agree! The story is dull and the art is below average. There's no point in this four-issue arc where the events get exciting or where Wolfman creates suspense; it just plods from start to finish as if the writer was doing his duty. The flashbacks add nothing to Robin's origin story and the whole thing seems like a cash grab in light of the Batman movie--just get more product on the stands as quickly as possible because it'll sell, regardless of quality.

Detective Comics #605

"The Mud Pack, Part Two: Heart of Steel; Feet of Clay?"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

Looker is having bad dreams about being dragged down into mud when she's rudely awakened by a call from Batman, demanding to know why she was visiting Preston Payne, a/k/a Clayface III, at Arkham. The flustered heroine tells Bats to go fly a kite, she never came anywhere near Payne. "Hang on just a dang minute!" the poor, sleep-deprived telekinetic exclaims, "Don't you remember fighting the Clayface family years ago and one of them impersonated me?" Suddenly, the world's greatest detective realizes he may have made a mistake and quickly apologizes, hanging up.

Meanwhile, Clayface I (Karlo) and IV (Sondra Fuller/Lady Clayface) are plotting a big heist in order to sweeten their nest egg and also discredit the flying rat. Lady Clayface puts Payne, who has risen from his drug-induced stupor, under a spell and the two head out into the night with Mudgirl disguised as Batman! Payne attacks an armored car delivering dough to a Gotham bank and Faux-Batman swings into action, taking out the guards for all of Gotham City to see. The news is abuzz with reports of Batman turning crook!

Luckily, the real deal is in Gordon's office, reviewing the case, when a detective bursts in to let the Commish know that witnesses have ID'd Batman as a conspirator in the heist. Gordo wisely poo-poos the idea since the Dark Knight has been in his office the whole time. Batman tells his friend to keep a lid on his own innocence so as not to alert the Mud-Pack he's on to them. Payne and Lady Mud arrive back at the theater with the dough; just in time, too, as Payne is coming out of Sondra's spell. She quickly takes control of the situation and disaster is averted. Karlo announces that the dangerous pair will waste no time and commit Heist #2 immediately.

Acting on a hunch, Batman arrives at Gotham Plaza (which is holding its $$$ Casino Night for charity) just as Payne and Sondra (still disguised as the Caped Crusader) bust through the doors and demand the booty. Batman engages in a fistfight with the duo and emerges the victor, but someone sneaks up behind him and...

Man, this is one fun story. I can just imagine Alan Grant tittering while he's typing, and that's just the way it should be with someone writing about a six-foot tall caped bat. Again, what strikes me are all the little details that add up to something more special than the usual Batman arc. Grant's throwaway humor makes me laugh out loud (as when Sondra and Payne return to the theater; Karlo is frightened by her appearance as his archenemy and Sondra exclaims "It's only us, dummy!") and his plot is intricate without being complicated. Norm Breyfogle continues to climb that "Elite Batman Artist" ladder every issue. He's Top Five now. I think the greatest compliment I can hand Messrs. Grant and Breyfogle is that, even though our tenure in the 1980s is over in a few weeks, I will be reading on into the 1990s as long as the team was around.

Jack: How about that terrific cover? I'm enjoying the arc as well, though I'm not ready to put Breyfogle in my list of all-time, top-five Bat artists. The exciting story mixes humor and horror and I have absolutely no idea who surprises Batman at the end.

Next Week...
The thrilling conclusion!


Scott D. Parker said...

Based on y’all’s review of “Mud Pack,” I found my old copies and am re-reading…and loving them. Thanks. So, are y’all going to continue Batman into the 1990s?

Jack Seabrook said...

We are stepping into our time machine and heading back to January 1960 instead!