Monday, May 4, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 1: January 1980

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

Kubert & Giordano
Batman #319

"Never Give Up the Ghost!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Bob Smith (with Bill Wormstedt)

The Gentleman Ghost is back, but right in the middle of robbing industrial diamonds from a warehouse, he and his henchmen are interrupted by Batman! The Ghost escapes but Batman keeps the jewels. Batman drives home to Stately Wayne Manor (I couldn't resist) while, later that night, two of Gotham's Finest are killed by a deadly gas emitted from the mouth of a dummy made up to resemble a certain Clown Prince of Crime.

The next evening, Bruce Wayne attends a costume party dressed as Henry VIII. Bruce leaves midway through the party and reengages with the Ghost at the same warehouse, barely escaping a death trap where he is suspended over a container of sulfuric acid. The Gentleman Ghost crashes the party, intent on stealing expensive jewels on display, but is foiled by the speedy return of the Caped Crusader. Batman chases the Ghost out onto a cliff, but the phantom makes his escape yet again.

Holy Hotfoot!
JS: I am thrilled to be back reading the adventures of Batman, and this first issue is right up my alley. As I read it, I could hear the voice of William Dozier in my head reciting some of the captions. I've always been intrigued by the Gentleman Ghost, whom I think of as really a Hawkman foe, and the Kubert/ Giordano cover is a beauty. It's a treat to see the Batmobile return to Wayne Manor through the hidden entrance to the Batcave, and Wein's habit of teasing upcoming stories with short diversions promises a return appearance by the Joker. I'm also happy to see Irv Novick's solid pencils again. What more could a Bat-fan want?

PE: Just as I was really getting into the Gentleman Ghost character, hoping there might be a supernatural bent to him, Wein has to play the Scooby-Doo card. Love how all the weird twists are explained away in the end, like the projector being in just the right place at the right time on the cliff. Whatever problems the script has, at least Novick and Smith get the job done. In fact, the art for all three Batman strips this month is pretty darn good!

The Brave and the Bold #158

"Yesterday Never Dies!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Aparo

When masked robbers crash a swanky party in Manhattan, they are surprised to be accosted by Batman, who usually works the Gotham City beat. Once the bad guys are disposed of, Bruce Wayne makes an appearance and happens upon Diana Prince, who is also in attendance. Soon, a costumed bad guy shows up and Diana switches to her Wonder Woman outfit to engage him. He throws a glass sphere at her and, when it breaks, it releases a gas that makes her hallucinate and think she's reliving the death of her old flame, Steve Trevor.

Bruce Wayne's meeting with the French ambassador is interrupted and, when he ventures outside and talks to a dazed Wonder Woman, the bad guy named Deja Vu leaves the ambassador a babbling idiot. It seems this villain opposes a big business deal between the U.S. and France, so it's off to Paris for Batman and Wonder Woman. She tracks Deja Vu to a factory, where she barely avoids falling into a vat of hot, bubbling liquid; Bruce Wayne works to close the deal by day before donning his Bat-garb by night and tracking down Deja Vu, who uses his special gas to make Batman imagine he's reliving the murder of his parents.

Batman and Wonder Woman fight each other briefly while Deja Vu (or Flashback) attempts to ruin the business meeting between U.S. and French representatives, but soon Batman gets the better of him by means of a good, old-fashioned gas mask. It turns out Deja Vu's father was killed while working at an American canning plant in France, so now he wants to prevent any business deals between the two countries.

JS: First of all, I want to thank Peter for graciously agreeing to add other Bat-books to our blog besides Batman and Detective Comics. This issue of The Brave and the Bold has a pretty run of the mill script that reminded me of many a Marvel Team-Up issue: figure out a way to get two heroes together, have them fight briefly for no good reason, and wrap things up quickly. Still, Jim Aparo's art is usually worth a look and it can't have been easy to have had to draw all of those guest stars every issue!

PE: I couldn't figure out if the villain's moniker was Flashback or Deja Vu; either way, never heard of him. After a quick Google search, I don't feel so bad... this was Flashback's first and only appearance. The character was retconned in the 90s and was (wouldn't ya know it) addicted to crack cocaine. The story itself was nothing much but I liked the art.

Detective Comics #487

"The Perils of Sergius"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

Pulp writer Sergius has a target on his back after a misunderstanding leads the League of Assassins to hire Ma Murder to silence the hack. When Batman gets wind of the contract, he becomes Sergius's private bodyguard, which is fine by the scribe since he's always wanted to write Batman's biography. Bats ain't interested in publicity, unfortunately, but Sergius is still glad to have the Caped Crusader watching his back after a couple of botched hits. Ma turns on the heat and gets fancy, attempting to drown both Bats and Sergius in the writer's apartment. Turns out Bruce Wayne is an accomplished plumber and his skills save the day. Ma confesses that her client is the League and then is carted off to Arkham.

PE:  The script for "The Perils of Sergius" is not up to Denny O'Neil's lofty, early-1970s-era standards, but then most of Denny's Bats sagas towards the end of the '70s were iffy; it's a one-note joke based on a ridiculous premise (one of the League muckety-mucks overhears Sergius working a plot out loud and, naturally, believes the writer has uncovered the clandestine organization), but right in line with the kind of entertainment DC was offering up at the end of the 1970s. It's nice to see the team of Newton and Adkins survived the jump from the '70s to '80s as their art was some of the best we saw toward the end of our first run at these titles. Bats is just muscular enough to give you the idea he could kick just about any criminal's ass. Matches Malone makes a brief cameo. Denny will hang around for a few months, contributing a couple more Bats adventures for 'tec and then jump ship for Marvel. These guys had a habit of going back and forth whenever something riled them up.

JS: I liked the classic splash page, a la Jerry Robinson, but I was disappointed overall by both the story and the art, despite having been fond of Don Newton's work since I first saw him in fanzines. The klutz who escapes death repeatedly never worked for me.

"The Aliens Among Us!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Dave Hunt

Roy Raymond debunks Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and other myths weekly on his top-rated TV show, Impossible But True. This week, Roy is given the task of deflating four beings who claim to be aliens from outer space. Turns out his co-workers are having one on the celebrity.

PE: For some unfathomable reason, Bob Rozakis thaws out a forgotten, fifth-level (about the lowest you can get on the character scale) character that populated the pages of Detective from 1949 through 1961. You say "Hey, Peter, how could Roy be a fifth-tier loser if he appeared in over 150 issues of a flagship title?" Easy, because Roy, like so many of the DC support acts that were relegated to the back pages, was doomed to repeat the same plot and devices issue after issue. Myth introduced... myth debunked. Bob Rozakis obviously recognized that all he had to do was fill some pages here and that's all he did. "The Aliens Among Us!" has a perfect 1960s DC vibe to it; it's innocuous and fills six pages. The "unmasking" of the various aliens is silly and it wouldn't take a myth-buster to figure out what was going on. The only question left unanswered is why the studio employees would waste their time trying to fool this mastermind on network television. Thankfully, other than a guest appearance in #500, this is the last we see of Roy Raymond, TV Detective.

JS: I remember this character from some of the DC 100-Page Super-Spectaculars from the early 1970s. He's nothing special and this story is essentially fluff. I didn't really understand what Hawkgirl had to do with anything.

"The Iron Solution"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger & Joe Giella

While on a business trip in Germany, representing Wayne Enterprises, Dick Grayson (aka Robin!) must investigate a bank robbery that has the local authorities baffled. Turns out rogue factions in the army are carrying out heists with the aid of a tank. Robin swoops in and puts an end to the shenanigans.

PE: Move along. Nothing to see. Literally. Both script and art for "The Iron Solution" are bottom-of-the-barrel, Super Friends-style cartoon fare, from the phony subterfuge (Dick actually lets us know that he and Robin should not be seen in the same faraway village lest someone put two and two together and then three pages later, he's shooting the bull with the entire German army in his tights) to the stick-figure graphics. There's nothing more boring than stiff humans and lots of blank backgrounds; it's the epitome of "Just hand it in unfinished... we got a deadline!" "The Iron Solution" is lazy (in fact, even the letterer comes off lazy, misspelling Schaffenberger's name on the title page!), unimaginative filler.

JS: Schaffenberger's art always looks like kid's stuff to me. And where did Robin get the fake, eight-foot-long leg and foot? And where does he store it in that skintight costume?

"The Odd Man!"
Story Steve Ditko & Uncredited
Art by Steve Ditko

The Odd Man tries to get to the bottom of a series of strange jewelry heists. The trail leads him to a crooked pharaoh and his lovely "queen." During a struggle, the queen is accidentally zapped and killed by the pharaoh's "mummification" laser gun. Unable to live without his love, the pharaoh commits suicide.

PE: Steve Ditko tries his hand at yet another colorful character (after his less-than-successful stints on the Creeper, Shade, and the Question), this time a hero who can mess with a villain's perspective. At least, that's what I think is going on in the opening. Wildly, Steve doesn't let the reader in on too many details (this was originally supposed to run as a back-up in the axed Shade, the Changing Man title in 1979, so perhaps the idea was to fill in the blanks as the series progressed); we know the Odd Man's real identity is P.I. Clay Stoner and the action takes place in River City, but that's about it. I'm not sure how Odd Man keeps his eye patches on or why he wears a quilted outfit, but "The Pharaoh and the Mummies!" is mindless fun. Sadly, this was also the Odd Man's last adventure; he'll next see the light of a newsstand in Superboy #65 (August 1999), long after we're retired.

JS: The GCD says an unknown writer rewrote the dialogue for some reason. Why bother? This is just another one of those weird backup stories that Steve Ditko did in the '70s. He also did things like this for Atlas. They are almost always both awful and bizarre. The more bad stories I read by Ditko, the more I question his reputation as a genius.

"The Case of the Campaign Crimes"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Dick Giordano & Steve Mitchell

Batgirl must quash the assassination attempts on the woman running against her alter ego, Barbara "Babs" Gordon, in the next election.

PE: When last we left Batgirl, she was juggling two lives: that of Congresswoman Babs Gordon by day and Batgirl by night. The pace has obviously not slowed and the poor girl finds herself burning the candle at both ends. Jack C. Harris, who never did much of anything with this series, script-wise, actually seems to rise to the occasion of having a talented art crew assigned to his baby. Don Heck, who has had his share of naysayers (myself included in some circumstances), had gotten a good handle on Batchick but 90% of her adventures handled by another crew were swill. While Heck will be back soon, we'll also have to deal with that continuing carousel of guest "talent" for the near future. At the very least, the Batgirl series provides something that the Robin series ignores: continuity.

JS: Continuity, maybe, but entertainment? Not so much. Jack C. Harris's story is just page-filler and, while I love Dick Giordano as an inker, his pencils here are not so great. I remember looking at these $1.00 comics back in the day and thinking that was a lot of money. I would not have been happy with this package for a buck.

Next Week!


andydecker said...

When I started reading and collecting comics seriously at the start of the 80s, I regularly bought both books till the 90s. Why I finally jumped ship shortly before Knightfall began I can't remember any longer.

The whole time the Batman line was a strange beast. While DC on the whole exploded creatively under the guidance of Jenette Kahn and Dick Giardano, the Bat books remained underwhelming. There were brief spurts of creativity, especially because of the fallout of The Dark Knight, but they always lost steam fast. The Batman of Detective and Batman was not very exciting, and too often downright boring. Especially the filler material was crap.

So I am really interested on your take especially on the early 80s books. I re-read a few years' worth of both books not long ago, to see if they merited the purchase of some digital reprints. They did not.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm so glad you're sticking with us, Andy! I've never read these comics before so I'm looking forward to it.

Abe Lucas said...

Re: The Brave and the Bold #158...

The scene between Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince is nice, with Bruce asking Diana out for a late dinner that night. A hint of romance on Bruce’s part, perhaps? Diana replies that it would be nice and she’d like that, but she doesn’t actually accept his invitation!

Like regular B&B scribe Bob Haney, whose B&B format and story structure this issue emulates, Gerry Conway is masterful at telling a straightforward, action-packed story, but Conway peppers his narratives with subtle, thought-provoking social and political commentary. He opens the story by paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald: "They say the rich are different from you and I, and perhaps that is true--for how many parties of ours would be invaded by gun-toting robbers in stocking masks and tuxedos, come to steal our billfolds and jewels?" It’s something that then-eight-year-old me would not have gotten at the time, but is now quite noticeable, making these stories a whole lot more enjoyable when reading them as an adult.

Jack Seabrook said...

To me, those references seem a bit overly literary, like the writer is trying to show how smart he is. But I do get your point that it would be over the head of most young readers. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, and I love your screen name.