Monday, July 31, 2023

Batman in the 1980s, Issue 90: November 1989


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

Batman #441

"A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter Three: Parallel Lines!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

While Two-Face sits in his lair pondering his next crime, Batman sits atop a stone gargoyle and ponders the same thing. Meanwhile, at Stately Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson introduces Alfred to Tim Drake, the thirteen-year-old who has deduced the secret identities of the Dynamic Duo. While Tim explains how he did it and tells Dick that Batman needs his old Robin back, the Caped Crusader drives to Hawk Bridge and rescues two boys named Wright from certain death. Two-Face is busy robbing a casino and, at Wayne Manor, Dick shows Tim the Batcave and heads off as Nightwing to save the day. Batman is back on a stone gargoyle (in the pouring rain), wondering how to get over Jason's death; Two-Face's old-time radio is talking to him; and Alfred may think he has a new Robin on his hands!

"Oh, and my name's not Jeff..."
Oh man, I want my thirty minutes back. This is a sappy retread with art that reminds me of the bland, lifeless junk Marvel pumped out in the mid-1980s. No flair, no choreography, no surprise, no imagination, as if no thought were put into this thing at all. I've said it before and I'll say it probably until the end of my Batman-blogging days: they just killed off a Robin... what's the hurry with filling the void? Will fans love a precocious tot (who changes sizes from panel to panel) as much as they loved snot-nosed rebel, Jason Todd? The opening, with Two-Face and the Batman thinking along the same thoughts about every move, is eye-rollingly bad, but the "maybe I should blow up the Twin Towers" thought balloon is chilling in a Monday Morning Quarterback way. The only highlight is when Dick calls Tim by another name. Great editing there, Denny! It looks as though the Batman title will end the 1980s with a whimper. 

Jack: I had the same reaction as though much of this issue felt like padding. Aparo and DeCarlo draw Dick Grayson at Wayne Manor so that he looks just like Bruce Wayne, which threw me for a minute, as did the panel where Tim is called Jeff. Wolfman rehashes the death of the Flying Graysons yet again. In all, it's a confusing issue where the story treads water and a big development (a potential new Robin) is buried in the mess.

The story continues to crawl along at a slow pace in The New Titans #61, where Alfred and Tim keep talking and Nightwing hooks back up with Batman, only to have the two of them buried under rubble when Two-Face blows up a house. The issue ends with a closeup of the Robin outfit in the Batcave and Tim insisting that he and Alfred have to do something. If Alfred puts on the Batsuit in the next issue of Batman, I'll be pleased!

Detective Comics #608

"Anarky in Gotham City, Part One: Letters to the Editor"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

There seems to be a new costumed vigilante prowling the streets of Gotham and this one isn't as friendly as the Batman. Calling himself Anarky, the masked man targets those who live outside the law and somehow get away with it, using angry letters to the editor of the Gotham Gazette to select his victims.

His first victim is drug-smuggling punk rocker, Johnny Vomit, who is electrocuted in an alley after he performs at a concert (a nice old woman had complained of the noise from the nearby heavy metal club). When the Batman arrives, the only clue he finds is the clipped letter to the editor and the words "I deal drugs, I kill kids" scrawled on the wall above Johnny's head.

No rest for the wicked, as they say, so it's off to the Bates Chemical Factory for Anarky. There he finds Mr. Bates (the subject of a particularly nasty letter written by one of those Gotham tree-huggers who was angry about all the chemicals found in the city's drinking water) working another long night. Anarky zaps Bates.

The next day, a video hits the airwaves starring Gotham's new hero/anti-hero, warning wrongdoers that, if they continue their evil ways, they'll get what Bates and Vomit got. The TV audience has its breakfast ruined when Anarky forces Bates to drink some of his own chemicals. Bruce Wayne is among those viewers and he lets Alfred know that, while Anarky's heart is in the right place, the madness must stop.

I was reminded of Alan Moore's classic V for Vendetta, not so much in script but in the design of the Anarky costume. The idea of another vigilante, one who doles out justice just a shade more violent than the Caped Crusader, has been done a thousand times before (maybe even a thousand times in the 1980s Batman titles we've read), but Alan brings a bit of humor and wit to the old cliche. There's a sequence that ends the issue, where we see a split-screen of Alfred and Bruce enjoying a cup of Joe while the TV plays the offensive video and, on the other side, the Mike Machin family doing the same. What this new character has to do with Anarky remains to be seen. As I've said a few times already (maybe even more times than there have been "rival vigilantes in Gotham" storylines), I am really going to miss the clever scripts and snazzy art of the Breyfogle/Grant team.

Jack: In spite of the usual hilarity that ensues when comic book writers attempt to write rock lyrics ("My brain's fried in gasoline, ya know what I mean"), I liked this issue, which improved once Johnny Vomit left the scene. The bit about the old lady using a tough name--"Dave Stang"--to write her letter to the editor was clever, and it seems likely to me that Mike Machin will turn out to be Anarky. We've only committed to reading one more issue of Detective for this project but I may have to read on to the conclusion of this series.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1

"Shaman, Part One"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ed Hannigan & John Beatty

Several years ago, Bruce Wayne was climbing a snowy Alaskan peak with top bounty hunter Willy Doggett when they tracked down a criminal named Thomas Woodley, who shot Doggett and nearly killed Wayne before falling to his death. Bruce was left alone without a coat or a pack in a blizzard, but instead of freezing to death he was rescued by a "Shaman" and nursed back to health after being told a folktale involving a bat.

Bruce promises his pretty nurse not to tell anyone the Bat-tale when he returns to civilization. Back at Wayne Manor he heads out for his first night as a crimefighter, which doesn't go so well. When the bat crashes through the window he recalls the Alaskan bat fable and, the next night, heads out to fight crime dressed as Batman. He runs into some hoods robbing the Thompkins clinic and things go much more smoothly until a young female patient stabs herself in the heart when she sees the fearsome Dark Knight.

Peter: Despite Denny's hyperbolic intro on the inside back page, explaining to us why this new title is important ("DC's first comic created to present separate stories by different creative teams..." doesn't sound all that much different from the two regular Bat-titles that spent most of the 80s with a carousel of "talent"), this is just another rehash/reboot/regurgitation of the Bat-origin. Since Frank Miller's "Year One" was only a few years prior, Denny and artists Hannigan and Beatty made sure to drop in a couple of clumsy nods to that milestone while reminding us about that alley and that bat that flew in through the window. The art is crude but not in a charming, Mazzucchelli way; it's just crude. The story stretches belief, even for a funny book. You can't tell me that Bruce Wayne, despite all his training, survived thirty below in a varsity sweater and khakis. It just ain't possible. But I guess it must be, since Bruce survived thanks to the "Shaman" and his pretty granddaughter (gotta love that the playboy in Wayne comes to the surface even in freezing weather) to return to Gotham and tangle with Selina Kyle (it's at this point when Hannigan turns the Mazzucchelli up to 10) and meet that brave window-crashing bat.

I read the first six arcs years ago with an eye to shaping my notes into an article for bare*bones, so I know the stories get better (after this arc, that is), but this first installment is a major disappointment. Denny, in his intro, explains that this new title is so important that DC felt it deserved a second cover and the "four colors are just for fun." We know better, don't we? That direct market, becoming so vital to the comic companies by the late 1980s, was just entering the "variant" age where multiple covers meant multiple purchases. Skip all four.

Jack: I have to disagree with you on this one, pal. I thought the art was excellent and I liked the way bits and pieces of the origin story were welded together to make a seamless whole. Of course, whenever I see Bruce Wayne in the snow climbing a mountain, I figure Ra's al Ghul is just around the corner, so that was my first surprise when Ra's failed to show. I liked the single panel with Selina Kyle, though it reminded me of the Catwoman limited series that I tried to read not long ago (from the '80s) but gave up in utter confusion. I liked seeing Leslie Thompkins, who has become part of Batman's origin story but who has been around since the O'Neil/Adams days. Best of all was the art--I am a big Ed Hannigan fan. I think his work is better than what we're seeing from Aparo or Breyfogle in the monthly books as of late 1989.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter bid adieu
to the 1980s!

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