Monday, February 15, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 21: September 1981

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


DC Special Series #27
Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk

"The Monster and the Madman"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dick Giordano

Robert Bruce Banner has been working incognito for Wayne Enterprises, hoping he could get his hands on a Gamma-Gun (to fix his big green problem, I suppose), when a strange gas permeates the lab he's working in and everyone starts laughing uncontrollably. With the highest IQ in the room, Banner grabs a gas mask and waits to see what happens. Enter the Joker, who is working for some off-stage sinister who wants that Gamma-Gun really bad. As Banner heads for the exit to get help, he's eyeballed and attacked by Joker's henchmen. Bad idea.

Whenever Bruce Banner knows fear or tension or something that raises his blood pressure (the 1980 Presidential Election, perhaps?), he becomes the Incredible Hulk! The Green Goliath grabs the Gamma-Gun and sets to destroying it until the Joker calms him down. It's at this point that Batman shows up. He confides to Hulk that, just this one time, the Clown Prince of Mayhem is on the money. Don't destroy that gizmo! Taking advantage of the confusion, Joker convinces Hulk that Bats is the real enemy in the room and should be pulverized. The green lug grabs ahold of Bats, with an eye to cracking his spine, while Joker eggs him on. The Dark Knight reaches into his utility belt and cracks open a sleeping gas pellet, which knocks the big guy out. Joker and his men have exited stage left with the Gamma-Gun, leaving Bats empty handed.

Two transformations ensue: Hulk becomes Banner and Bats becomes Wayne. Bruce approaches the scantily-clad egghead with a proposition: would Banner be interested in building a replica of the G-G for Wayne Enterprises? Banner quickly agrees. Meanwhile, the identity of the baddie pulling Joker's strings is revealed as the Shaper of Worlds, a giant cyborg created by the Skrulls (first appearance: Incredible Hulk #155, September 1972), who has the power of making dreams come true. The Shaper has enlisted Joker's aid in restoring his diminished powers. Joker blasts the giant with the G-G, but the energy is still not enough. This cat needs more!

Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is working on the G-GII on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Atlantic when a helicopter full of soldiers lands and takes Bruce into custody. Alfred, having been placed on the carrier to babysit, steps in to voice his outrage and is summarily smacked in the head for his troubles. Banner Hulks out, but the Colonel wishes up a beast even bigger than our green hero, and voila! a giant blob-thing (think giant, yellow Golem) appears and captures the Hulk. The copter flies away with its emerald cargo.

Commissioner Gordon arrives (who called him is anyone's guess) on the ship, followed closely by Batman, and he puts in a call to Marvel General Thunderbolt Ross, only to discover the Army has not sent any men out to retrieve the Hulk. Batman wisely deduces that the crew was hired by Joker. The smiling sadist has taken Hulk back to their base with an eye to having Banner activate the G-G for the Shaper, but when our green hero learns that Banner might be invited to dinner, he freaks out and tears his blob-thing captor to pieces. He and the Shaper have a bit of a showdown before Hulk leaps his way to freedom. Joker apologizes to his boss for allowing the monster to escape, but the giant explains that his powers have been amped up and he thinks it has something to do with Hulk's anger. Shaper sends Joker out to recapture the brute.

The Clown Prince of Funny Business is smarter than he appears and he somehow dupes the Dark Knight into tracking down the Hulk and then talking the big guy into visiting the Shaper, who uses the Hulk's intense radioactivity to bulk up on power. The Shaper then grants Joker's wish to become "king of the world" and the villain flies off to enjoy his newfound fortune. But the fact that he can do anything he wants drives the Joker insane and Batman carts him off to Arkham as, in the distance, the Shaper fires up his spaceship and blasts off into space. 

Peter: Never had the pleasure of reading this one back when it first arrived on the stands, as I'd already moved on from funny books to funny girls, but this was a well-constructed, nicely-drawn, albeit very long epic that benefited greatly from Len Wein's familiarity with both heroes. Obviously the second mega-crossover of the DC-Marvel conglomerates, following Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man back in '76, BvH has the same problem as the first: how to match up a hero with super-duper-powers with one who's a little more down to earth? I woulda thunk Hulk v Superman might have made more sense. To me, though, the real dilemma comes whenever Batman says "Oh, yep, I've heard of this Hulk character. He's supposed to be really strong!" and I just think, "How is that possible? Does that mean The Fly or Fatman also loom somewhere just outside Gotham, awaiting their spotlight?"

A few nits to pick: Joker's motive for helping the Shaper is never really explained other than a silly "If everyone in the universe is exposed to his dream power, I won't be the craziest man anymore!" outburst. Seems a lot of trouble to go to just to ensure you're loonier than the guy next door. And the psycho-babble nonsense of the climax went straight over my head. And I can't remember if we covered this over at Marvel University when we discussed the Shaper of Worlds, but how is it that Ideal never sued Marvel and/or Archie Goodwin, creator of Shaper, for ripping off the design of the Zeroids toys? Can't argue with the quality of the art, though. Both companies come off well thanks to the Gil Kane-infested vibe of Garcia-Lopez and Giordano. Overall, a fun read.

Separated at birth?

Jack: I have never read this before, either, and I really enjoyed it! I liked the treasury-sized comics back in the '70s, though my favorites were the DC Golden Age reprints. I guess Peter is right that this was only the second DC/Marvel crossover, but there sure were a heck of a lot of treasury editions back then, both at DC and Marvel. Superman v. Muhammad Ali, The Wizard of Oz, etc., spring to mind. In this issue, there's a neat feature on the inside cover with capsule origins of both heroes, and on the inside back cover there's a very cool overview of how the cover was developed. I remember reading about how hard it was to get both companies to agree on the Superman/Spider-Man cover and to get both heroes to be the same size and have similar visual prominence.

The art inside is outstanding, though Garcia-Lopez draws Wayne & Batman better than Banner & Hulk, surely because he had so much DC experience. The Joker is easily the strongest character in the story, as is so often the case, and I enjoyed the dream sequence near the end where a bunch of super-villains show up, though I don't know why Killer Moth was included!

Buckler & Giordano

Batman #339

"A Sweet Kiss of Poison..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

Keeping up with Wayne Foundation business by day and prowling the streets of Gotham by night is taking its toll on Batman, who nearly misses landing on his own roof and has to enlist Alfred's aid to avoid oversleeping. At lunch with a mayoral candidate, Wayne is suddenly kissed by a beautiful woman who apologizes for mistaking him for someone else. It turns out she's Poison Ivy in disguise, and she's been giving all of the members of the Wayne Foundation "A Sweet Kiss of Poison..."! The villainess wears hypnotic lipstick and her smooches cause the men to be helpless when she has them sign over the money and power to her. Unfortunately for Batman, she also gives a hypnotic order not to divulge the truth, so the Dark Knight can't even tell Commissioner Gordon!
Not hot enough
for Peter

 I don't know if it's because Dick Giordano has taken over as editor, but I found this story more entertaining than any in Batman in recent memory. It has a go-go 1960s' vibe to it, from the return of Poison Ivy and her hypnotic lipstick, to Batman's use of an item from his utility belt (defoliant to kill the ivy that is choking him), to a view of a couple of the trophies in the Batcave (the big Joker playing card and the dinosaur). It may not be the dark, violent Batman of the O'Neil/Adams days or the Frank Miller era, but it is the Batman that reflected the camp TV show and I like it. I also dig the "Look Out" at the top of the cover, which is another '60s-era touch.

One other point: having Bruce Wayne/Batman show signs of fatigue from his lifestyle is the sort of humanizing touch we're not used to in a DC hero comic. Did it take Marvel writer Gerry Conway to humanize Bruce Wayne?

Peter: "A Sweet Kiss of Poison" is the very definition of a generic, dopey, badly-illustrated funny book strip. It's lifeless, uninteresting, and not easy on the eye. I think Jack mentioned last time out that there seem to have been two Gerry Conways writing the Bat-titles in 1981. The guy on Detective was crafting intelligent and exciting adventures while this Gerry Conway is aiming at the lowest common denominator. But I think the art has a lot to do with it as well. There's a Hostess Twinkie ad on page 13 that literally blends right in to the action on either side of it and this might be the most unattractive Poison Ivy I've yet seen.

"Yeserday's (sic) Heroes!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Irv Novick & Bruce Patterson

With Cleveland Brand injured, Dick Grayson is now the star aerialist of the Hill Circus. As he performs his triple flip, he thinks back on his origin and how he came to be here. He misses the bar but executes an unexpected, life-saving bit of showmanship.

Jack: Despite the unfortunate (and incredibly rare at DC, unlike Warren) misspelling of the story's title as "Yeserday's Heroes," this is a strong recap of Robin's origin, one that makes this issue seem like the start of something new. I love seeing the replacement Deadman, even if he doesn't do anything, and Novick and Patterson draw a convincing portrait of Dick at the circus. I'm looking forward to seeing where this comic goes under Giordano's guiding hand.

Peter: When the title of your story is misspelled, you know you're in trouble; I assume deadline trouble is what Gerry had just before turning in his manuscript for "Yeserday's Heroes!" How else to explain a story that is 30% flashback to last issue's events and 68% the umpteenth retelling of the origin of Robin? Since the Robin strip is absent next issue and then returns with a completely different storyline the following month, I'm not sure where Gerry was going with the inclusion of Deadman's brother, but at least that might have been interesting.

Buckler & Giordano
The Brave and the Bold #178

Story by Alan Brennert
Art by Jim Aparo

Ten citizens of Gotham City have been murdered by a serial killer who leaves paper dolls strewn across the victim's chest. TV personality Dr. Clayton Wetley attributes the crimes to the moral decay rampant in American society, but Batman and the Creeper discover that the killer is a monster made out of paper and the monster springs from the tortured subconscious of Dr. Wetley. Once the Moral Majority crusader is confronted with his complicity in the crimes, he realizes what's going on and the monster flames away to nothingness, but will society spawn more such creatures?

Homage to Ditko
Jack: "Paperchase" is an entertaining mix of superhero action and social commentary, with a bit of paranormal activity thrown in for good measure. Dedicated to Steve Ditko, who drew the Creeper series, the story is extremely well drawn by Jim Aparo, who even includes one character, Hugo Marlies, who is rendered in the Ditko style, complete with bow tie. Like this month's Batman story, this is a lot of fun and I found myself turning pages quickly. Unlike the Batman tale, this one was topical in the Reagan era and, unfortunately, remains so today.

Peter: Alan Brennert's take on bigotry and intolerance is timely (and, sadly, probably always will be), but the Mr. Bill jokes were dated mere months after this issue hit the stands. Like a lot of these B+B co-stars, the Creeper is an unknown commodity to me. I know it's a Ditko creation (and not just because Brennert mentions Steve on the splash, smarty pants) but that's all the intel I have. Though "Paperchase" was entertaining, it didn't make me want to hunt down Creeper back issues.

"The Bitter Choice!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis appears to make "The Bitter Choice!" and says he agrees to help Samuel Solomon eliminate his rivals, but as soon as he is untied from a chair, Nemesis lashes out. Solomon holds the upper hand, though, having strapped a device to the chest of our hero that will make his heart race fatally fast at the push of a button. Nemesis is sent off in care of a goon but manages to make a temporary escape by jumping out of a plane and activating his mini-parachute.

Jack: More nonsense from Nemesis, who seems to be making a habit out of jumping out of flying conveyances. I don't know why Solomon thinks Nemesis will ever work on his behalf, but at least it keeps the plot moving forward. Valerie is once again relegated to the role of hanging around her apartment, worrying about Nemesis.

Peter: Actually a decent tale this time out. The art is still miles away from a professional level (fer instance, in the final panel on page 4, Nemesis seems to be doing an upside down jig for Solomon) but at least I can make it through the words without rolling my eyes or falling asleep. The "coming next issue" blurb informs us that, due to next issue's extra-long team-up with the Legion of Super-Heroes, we'll have to wait two issues for the conclusion to "The Bitter Choice!" Legion of Super-Heroes? Be still my beating heart.

Buckler & Giordano

Detective Comics #506

"Who Dies for the Manikin?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Steve Mitchell

The Batman comes across a crash scene and pulls a young woman from the wreckage. She is badly burned but alive. Flash forward ten months and Gotham has witnessed a string of brutal murders; the victims all were fashion designers. While nightclubbing, Bruce Wayne witnesses the latest killing, perpetrated by a young, slim, but startlingly strong woman. Attempting to intervene, Bruce is taken aback by the woman's iron grip.

Once the woman makes her getaway, Wayne changes into something a little more spandex and gives chase. She cleans his clock but before she makes another hasty departure, she disrobes and reveals her true self... she's a gold manikin! Taking the clothing to Selina Kyle for identification, Batman is confident the Manikin has left a clue as to her next victim... stuffy designer Hoston. While Bats is at Hoston's business office, warning the elite snob of danger, the Manikin attacks, torching the building. The Dark Knight is able to smash his way through to Hoston's showroom but discovers the golden minx has locked the exits. No way out! As the smoke thickens, a figure emerges and tells Batman she really doesn't want to kill the hero. Just leave the designer and get out. But Batman can be stubborn and the Manikin gives him the right upper cut, knocking him into tomorrow. As Hoston cringes in fear, the Manikin approaches.

I'm all in on the story of the Manikin. Lots of intrigue and questions (like, is this really the disfigured woman from the wreck or some radio-controlled automaton?) and good old-fashioned mystery in "Who Dies for the Manikin?" Gerry shows off those wonderful, cliff-hanging chops he perfected over at Marvel, dragging out the story to two installments but keeping the narrative gripping. While maybe not on a par with Chuck Connors's creations in Tourist Trap (1979), the Manikin is a very creepy concoction of Gerry's. A little out of character though, don't you think, that Batman lets out a "choke" upon gazing at the poor crash victim? The background noise is still interesting as well, the political nonsense and the Bruce/Selina-Bats/Cats lovers' spat is oodles more fun than Lucius and his drug addicted kid.

Jack: I thought Mitchell's inks were a little shaky this time out and didn't do Newton's pencils any favors. Reading the Batman titles this month, I had to wonder how Batman could hold his own in a one on one fight with the Incredible Hulk but was in danger of being bested by the Manikin! I've never seen the word spelled that way before and Google tells me that this particular spelling denotes a dummy used for medical staging rather than one used for clothing display. I'm not sure why Conway chose to spell it this way, but maybe next issue will reveal something. The story is definitely more adult than what we saw in Batman, as usual.

"Farewell, My Lovely"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Turns out the hunchback killer who battled Batgirl last year isn't really a hunchback after all. He's a simple tunesmith driven to insanity by writer's block. The poor guy is convinced he has to offer up a sacrifice to his muse for the melodies to flow again. Meanwhile, Batgirl has done some good old fashioned detective work and tracked the looney quasi-Quasimodo to his lair (a seedy apartment in the Bronx). The two tussle and the results are the same: the Dark Knightrix ends up tied to a chair while her hunchbacked captor tickles the ivories. Believing he's finally hit the tune he was looking for, the killer raises his knife and plunges it... into himself. 

Peter: For a back-up, "Farewell, My Lovely" is not bad; it's readable at the very least but it's also anti-climactic. As rendered by Delbo & Giella, the hunchbacked killer is no more terrifying than a Sesame Street puppet. Poor Babs finally gets out on a date with dreamy Jim (a sizzling evening at the Met, no less) and work calls. One of these days, she's going to get lucky. Let's just hope it happens before that fateful day when she opens the front door to the Joker.

Jack: Well, at least that's over. Part one of this story was bizarre and part two was a disappointment. I never figured out why the musician had to put on a goofy hunchback costume and lope around killing people, and the ending--where he kills himself--makes no dramatic sense whatsoever. So far, the Batgirl backup isn't very impressive.

Next Week...
Could this be the most
politically incorrect hero of all time?


Mark said...

I remember being incensed that the Hulk could be taken out with gas that Batman happened to have in his belt (Marvel characters must be vulnerable to DC gas--it's how Slade Wilson knocked out Colossus and the rest of the X-Men).

I did like that the Joker convinced Hulk they were pals because they both had green hair.

Jack Seabrook said...

That Joker--he can convince anyone of anything!