Monday, July 27, 2020

Batman in the 1980s Issue 7: July 1980

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

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
The Untold Legend of the Batman #1

"In the Beginning"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Byrne & Jim Aparo

Batman is calmly opening the last of his mail in the Batcave when he opens a very large parcel containing... the tattered remnants of his father's original Bat-Man suit! Yep, turns out that Dr. Wayne was at a costume party when a batch of mobster Lew Moxon's men broke in and kidnapped Wayne to bring him back to the boss's pad. Moxon had been shot and needed first aid but Wayne knew that, once he fixed up the goon, he'd be a goner. He took on the lot of them with nothing but loaded fists and the police, led by a young Lt. Jim Gordon, arrived to haul them away.

Moxon vowed to get even with Wayne and, years later, hired Joe Chill to off the Doc and his Mrs. in the famous alleyway, leaving young Bruce as an "alibi" that Moxon didn't commit the murder. Batman eventually caught up with Chill and the murderer was ventilated by his fellow thugs. Bruce Wayne assumes that's the closing of the Wayne Murder Case but... a year later, while he and Dick Grayson are doing some dusting in the attic, Bruce finds a film canister featuring home movies, including that of the party the night his father was kidnapped, in his Pop's desk. A diary found in the same drawer maps out exactly who the real villain was... Lew Moxon!

Putting two and two together like the great detective he is, Batman deduces that Chill was actually an assassin sent by Moxon to get even for Wayne's testimony. Batman makes a citizen's arrest of Moxon, whom he finds working at a "blimp advertising" business, but the thug passes a lie detector test, convincing the police that, for the first time, Batman is wrong. Turns out Moxon had a very bad accident "right after Wayne Sr. was murdered," and his brain was wiped clean of all wrongdoing. He can't remember ordering Doc Wayne's death! The Dark Knight decides to confront Moxon (yet again) to see if his memory will come back and Robin goads Batman into wearing his Dad's bat-costume. That does the trick; Moxon flies into a panic and steps in front of a speeding truck. The Wayne Murder Case is finally closed. Well, um, until Batman gets his father's suit in the mail. So, who sent it?

Peter: What a confusing, confounding bit of claptrap. This comic should have been called The Rebooted Legend of the Batman. Of course, we know that nothing is sacred and "the new talent" feels the need to make the character their own every twenty years or so, but this script doesn't just rewrite the Caped Crusader's history; it juggles it. It skews it. It dumbs it down. Why bother showing that classic scene of Batman receiving inspiration from a bat flying in the window when we know now that it was a party suit his Pa wore that really put the twinkle in his eye? But the most perplexing twist Len Wein perpetrates is having young Bruce dress in a proto-Robin costume in order to impress a local detective. I'm sure by now some later generation has made Moxon the pawn of an even higher muckety-muck in the mob.

Now, I'm the first to admit I have not read every Batman comic book from 1939 through 1969, but has this bombshell ever been dropped before? In the middle of a narrative about young Bruce's training, it's more than a bit confusing. John Byrne's art is okay, other than the fact that his older characters all look alike (I had to re-read the thing a couple times to figure out that Chill wasn't actually supposed to be the same guy as Bruce's college law professor); his Bats is a cross between Neal Adams and Jim Aparo (which is probably not a coincidence as Aparo is inker here). Jim Aparo will take over as regular artist next issue. After one issue in the books, I can say that ULOTB is no worse nor better than the regular titles.

Jack: My first question relates to the Batcave: when did Batman stop acquiring big, weird souvenirs? The giant penny and the dinosaur have been showing up for decades, but did he run out of room? Did Alfred complain about having to dust it all? Did Bruce Wayne marry Selina Kyle and get told to stop accumulating junk?

I like the back story of the Wayne killing that makes it something other than a random event, though in the back of my mind I feel like there was a story somewhere that had the Joker involved. It certainly took guts for Wein to try to synthesize 40 years of mythology and add something new, but there are a few too many coincidences and I, like you, was not happy to see Batman in a Robin getup. I'm interested to see what next issue brings, since the coming attractions promise more origins.

Batman #325

"Death--Twenty Stories High"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

There's trouble in Gotham City when Commissioner Gordon receives a death threat targeting Batman! Gordon is up for re-election as police commissioner and a crime wave is spreading across the city. A sniper takes a shot at Batman while the Dark Knight talks to Gordon on a rooftop, but the bullet misses him and smashes the glass of the Bat Signal. Batman chases and catches the sniper, who reveals that he was hired by a crook named Sweet Lou Milligan.

As the Bat Signal is repaired, Gordon debates with Bob Brand, his opponent in the election, whose campaign manager Tom complains that Gordon lets Batman run Gotham City. Gunmen crash the debate, targeting Gordon, and Batman again saves his life. Batman tracks down Sweet Lou Milligan, who tells him that Bob Brand is the one who ordered the hit on Gordon. The Caped Crusader rushes to Brand's office, only to find the candidate dead; campaign manager Tom admits he's responsible. Brand deduced that Tom was behind the crime wave and threatened to expose him, so Tom did away with Brand.

But that's not all: Tom tells Batman that the Dark Knight is about to cause Gordon's death himself! Tom accidentally falls out of a window to his death and Batman races to Gordon's side after realizing that repairs to the Bat Signal included placing a bomb inside of it. In saving Gordon from the bomb, Batman knocks him off the roof, but our hero manages to catch the commissioner a moment before he hits the ground. Good thing, too, because Gordon is re-elected!

Jack: The romance between Bruce and Selina is interrupted by a fill-in story this issue, penned by Roger McKenzie. Gone are Len Wein's super villains and elaborate death traps, and in their place we have what could be a story from any issue in the 1970s. It features a straightforward plot with a villain who is not hard to guess. There's nothing wrong with the story; it's just rather bland. The moment when Tom trips over the dead body of Brand and falls out of a window to his death is ridiculous, but if he had just bounced off the glass it wouldn't have been very dramatic. The art by Novick and Mitchell is as bland as the story.

Peter: This could very well be the worst story of 1980, with a deadly dumb script and sloppy art. So many eye-rolling moments. The aforementioned "trip out the window" is more of a leap, when you think about it. The Dark Knight is the world's greatest detective but his deduction that the villain claiming Bats would be the death of Gordon short-cutting into his (brilliant) guess that there's a bomb in the Bat-Signal is positively Poirot-ian. About the only highlight I can point to is the photographer who's snapping Brand's pic. Coincidence, or is Roger borrowing a friend from the competition? Oh, and you gotta love those DC stamps (see far below). What a novel idea!

Jonah will sure be pissed when he finds out Parker is moonlighting in Gotham...

The Brave and the Bold #164

"The Mystery of the Mobile Museum!"
Story by J. M. DeMatteis
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Two statues dubbed "The Mysterious Ones" were discovered in the desert and are being transported from the Gotham Metropolitan to the Midway City Museum. Batman and Hawkman are helping with the transport, since the statues have created a sensation. Batman's mind is attacked and suddenly the entire museum takes flight!

"The Mystery of the Mobile Museum!" requires both heroes to turn their attention to the floating building. Batman enters it but Hawkman is blocked by a force field; his wife Shiera is inside, having been knocked unconscious. Batman is attacked by two empty suits of armor, while Hawkman flies to his starship to grab a gizmo to try to breach the force field around the museum.

Hawkman enters the building and he and Batman fight off a dinosaur skeleton and a mummy, both of which have suddenly been brought to life. Shiera wakes up and, in a trance, grabs the Mysterious Ones and floats out of the building into mid-air. Despite Batman's attempts to stop him, Hawkman pursues his wife, who returns safely to Earth with the statues. Suddenly, a telepathic voice explains that the statues are gods that were lost from a distant world; an energy being has come to retrieve them but needs a physical being to help take them home. Batman and Hawkman volunteer and manage to survive a trip through a warp in space to return the gods before making it home safely.

Jack: The opening pages of this story made it seem like it would be a simple heist tale, with Hawkman taking fake statues to the museum while Batman had charge of the real ones. The narrative then goes off in a completely different direction and is reasonably entertaining. I have always liked Hawkman and this issue demonstrates how stories featuring the Winged Wonder can veer into a science fiction territory we don't usually see when we read about the Dark Knight. Garcia-Lopez and Mitchell render the pages beautifully with some of the nicest Bat art I've seen in awhile--and that's saying something in a comic usually drawn by Jim Aparo. All in all, this is an above-average issue of The Brave and the Bold.

Peter: I think I'm with the cops in the final panel, who say something along the lines of "What just happened?" As with you, Jack, I found the story entertaining enough, but it reminded me of those goofy, nonsensical DC superhero/sci-fi tales of the 1960s where the writer would cart out mind-reading gorillas or talking zebras and wrap the whole thing up at the end with an equally goofy, nonsensical explanation. The brief fight/misunderstanding between Bats and Hawks is obviously an "homage" to Marvel Team-Up. I'd give this one a solid "Meh."

Detective Comics #492

"Vengeance Trail"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Don Newton & Dan Adkins

"At War With General Scarr"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Don Newton & Bob Smith

Bruce Wayne's much-needed sleep is disturbed by his butler, Alfred, who rouses Wayne with the morning paper and condolences on his loss. "Batgirl Slain by Assassin," screams the headline! Pissed off beyond belief, Bruce throws back the covers and, for some reason, feels he has to put on his uniform before calling Commissioner Gordon to give him his heartfelts and promise that the guilty party will be apprehended by the end of business that night. Gordon calmly tells Bats to swing his way over to the Commish's place as he's got something he needs to talk to him about. "Hmmmm" thinks the Dark Knight, "Jim sure was calm. I wonder..."

Sure enough, when the Caped Crusader arrives at Gordon's place, there's Batgirl reclining on the couch, arm in a sling. She explains in very complicated (and yet, at the same time, very simple) detail how she managed to elude most of Cormorant's gunfire (last issue). It's very silly, so just take my word that it's not imperative for you to know how she did it. Batman tells Babs (in his way) how glad he is to see her and says let's go get that bad guy who ventilated your arm.

Batgirl sighs and tells her mentor that she's officially retired. She can't work up the enthusiasm every night like she used to and she's tired of these bad guys fighting back! When Batman scoffs, Babs emphatically vows that Batgirl will never fly again and slams the door in his face. Gordon allows how he doesn't blame his daughter for her feelings, but then subtly tells Barbara that all good people must make sacrifices or there will be nothing but bad in the world.

Meanwhile, Batman tracks General Scarr back to his hidey-hole and has himself caught on purpose (the reasoning behind this move is never satisfactorily explained--for some reason Bats arrives at the conclusion that he's got the advantage if he's in chains). Scarr rounds up his assassins and announces that Batman will be executed as a prisoner of war. At that very moment, on a nearby rooftop...

Having decided that 20 minutes was enough of a retirement, Batgirl uses her photographic memory to deduce the exact same lair where Bats is being held and swoops in to save the day. Only momentarily does she lose her nerve, as she stares at the back of the man who tried to assassinate her, but then, when she regains her composure, she has a laugh when the assassin falls to his knees and begs for mercy. She shoves the coward's head into a wall and announces that "Batgirl is Back!" Batman, for his part, shucks his chains and the two round up General Scarr and turn him over to the police.

Peter: A superior two-parter, with lots of fun twists and turns and fabulous art (thank God we don't have Delbo and Giella to deal with this time 'round). Sure, the over-hyped "Death" and "End" of Batgirl lasts just about as long as we expected, but that's the nature of this beast, isn't it? Whoever decided that the Cormorant might look more sinister without his Dudley Do-Right mountie's hat should be elevated to Editor. Did I mention the graphics? Holy cow, this is some very effective art we're graced with in this two-parter (with only the inkwell changing hands) and I'd be a very happy man to see this team tackling all the Bat-titles. Won't happen, but I can dream.

There's also some very strong writing going on here, especially the dialogue between Jim and Barbara. She's going through a mental hiccup and looking for guidance from a cop, who also happens to be her Dad. There's no doubt Jim's monologue about his feelings toward the Batman and what he does for Gotham came into play when Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were writing that Gordon speech in the finale of The Dark Knight.

Jack: I agree that the art is terrific, though I thought Dan Adkins did a better job inking Don Newton's pencils than did Bob Smith. I like the light touch on the amount of text in certain sections of the story, since it lets the art shine through. I really can't blame Batgirl for wanting out and the whole situation made me think of her injury at the hands of the Joker decades later. When Gordon is wondering what motivates Batman, I wanted to tell him to pick up a copy of this month's Untold Legend--all his questions would be answered! There's a very good sequence in part one where Batman is beating up crooks while Gordon is talking to Batgirl elsewhere; the dialogue and pictures complement each other even though they are occurring in two different places. Part two is mostly fighting, but I like the whole 25-page package.

"Fifty Million Tons of Soul!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Bob Oksner & Bob Smith

In this issue's installment of "Tales of Gotham City," we meet Rusty Krebs, the guy responsible for coating the bridge in anti-rust paint. Just as Rusty is musing how everything is beautiful in its own way, he spots a kid getting ready to jump. The boy, named David, tells him he has girl problems and Rusty tells him no dame is worth the five-hundred-foot drop. Just as the two are continuing their dialogue, a car full of bank robbers tries to make it across the bridge, despite the presence of Gotham's finest. Linda, who broke our prospective jumper's heart, shows up to try to talk David down; she's nabbed by the bad guys, who use her as a shield against the cops.

Rusty manages to grab the kid and swing down to put the kibosh on the bank robbers. Linda doesn't exactly say she'll reconsider David as a future beau but at least David isn't in the drink... for now. Stay tuned for the sequel, where David climbs to the top of the bridge on Rusty's day off.

Peter: I thought "Fifty Million Tons of Soul!" was cooking pretty well until Haney (our old war comic pal) had to throw in the sub-plot of the thugs. Rusty seemed an interesting character and his dialogue with David stayed far off the maudlin road. A pity we needed that action stuff to interfere. I was upset that Haney decided to handle the scene of Rusty scooping up David and dropping the bucket down on the bad guys' car off-panel. That would have been an interesting explanation. The art by Oksner and Smith is typical third-tier graphics, falling in line with the tepid visuals we get from the artists assigned to these back-up features.

Jack: The story is enjoyable but corny. Take a look at the closeup of David on page three and of the cop on page four. Do you think Don Heck stopped by the drawing board to help out? Those faces sure look like Heck. Wait, that did not come out right.

"We Are Experiencing a Slight Delay..."
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Romeo Tanghal & Vince Colletta

Man-Bat arrives home after a grueling day at work but wife, Francine, and daughter, 'Becca, aren't there. Seems they were at the house of Francine's friend and took the subway home but... the train was hijacked and never left the tunnel. Man-Bat flies down into the subway system and takes out the young hoods, but notices that one of the cars is badly damaged. How the heck did a bunch of kids do that? The answer arrives in the form of a giant rat, who puts a scare into the passengers until Man-Bat scares it off with fire.

Peter: A sub-par script that never really makes any kind of explanation for its fantastical elements. Oh, it's just a giant rat in New York! Nothing to see here, move long! I like the Man-Bat character, but he's a dark, tragic figure and shouldn't he be given scripts with a tad more... I don't know... sense? The Tanghal/Colletta art is hot/cold (as is much of what Colletta had a hand in); the Man-Bat panels are effective, but anything human looks cookie-cutter. Still, lousy script and iffy art notwithstanding, I'll take this any day over Black Lightning, Elongated Man, or Robin. Speaking of which...

Jack: Terrible writing, mediocre art. When did Man-Bat become a hero, popping pills to switch back and forth between human and bat form? I love that his little son yells "'Daddy!'" when he sees Man-Bat on the subway. Bob Rozakis's scripts are unimpressive to date.

"The First Bird"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Charles Nicholas & Vince Colletta

Robin discovers that the Penguin is trying to steal the ultra-valuable "Kline Egg," the world's only surviving pterodactyl egg. He swings in to the museum to save the day only to discover that the Penguin's real plan was to trap Robin. Not so smart now, are we, Boy Blunder?

Peter: Not much to say about this one other than to echo my sentiments of the last installment: Yeccch! The art is nothing much more than Colorforms or Etch-A-Sketch. Penciller Charles Nicholas has a career that stretched from the 1930s into the 1980s, so he obviously filled some kind of gap. That gap being these below-par back-ups.

Jack: The art reminded me of those Hostess ads that always popped up in DC Comics around this time, though the GCD tells us that this issue's ad (with the Flash) is drawn by Curt Swan and Vince Colletta. Curt Swan was a great artist, but Charles Nicholas was not. I was thrilled to see the Penguin, but this story made me say "Wawwkk"!

Batman 325

Next Week...
Will we see a return to form
for Reed Crandall in time for
Uncle Creepy's 50th Celebration?


andydecker said...

Considering how often the origin was re-told and re-written, I guess this version is still the least dumb. Even if it is so needless. I don't know how long ago the first Joe Chill story was done (80 years? I am too lazy to check), but it was perfect. A random mugging and a traumatized boy. How timeless. No elaborate conspiracy makes this better. I don't know what the current version is, I gave up on Batman before New 52. As everybody and his brother has wore the cape in the meantime, it has become devoid of meaning.

Batman wearing the Robin costume sure is dumb. I remember dimly one of those young Batman and Superboy stories rom whoever Bob Kane was at the time, where Bruce picks a foxfur for a mask and became Foxman. Come to think of it, it was still better as being Robin.

Batman # 325 is another weak issue. Most idiotic moment for me was the scene where Batman gives a press conference and endorses Gordon. Another eye-rolling scene. For a random tale about Gotham politics I don't expect another Boss Thorne as a villain, but this is just lazy. Maybe I am biased, can't remember a Roger McKenzie story I liked.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy. Maybe next issue will be better! I've read quite a few recent Batman comics (mainly through the Wal-Mart 100 pagers) and I really liked them, so perhaps things improved. I also thought some of the recent Nightwing series were excellent.

Mark Cannon said...

Gents - while you obviously didn’t think much of “Untold Legend of the Batman” #1, Len Wein wasn’t really to blame for some of the things you criticised. Thomas Wayne once wearing a Batman costume and Lew Moxon being the real force behind the Wayne murders were the basis for a 1950s Batman story, as was young Bruce once wearing a Robin-like costume.

Since I was familiar with those stories (via Silver Age reprints) by the time I read “Untold Legend” not long after its publication, I quite enjoyed those aspects of the story, seeing them as geeky little nods to the past. Whether it was Len’s own idea to revive those plot-lines or editorial dictate, we’ll probably never know. I certainly suspect they’d be ignored if a similarly-themed comic was published today.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Mark. I did not know that. said...

The 'collecting giant souvenirs' stuff took up most of the Jack Schiff era of the '50s and early to mid-60s(when a large number of Batman stories, mixing 'spin-off' characters, gadgets, 'common criminals' and science-fiction-fantasty elements, were semi-interchangeable with Weisinger-era Superman), and pretty much ended when Julius Schwartz took over, in 1964.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! I feel like there may have been a giant issue that reprinted some of the stories where those items were first featured.