Monday, April 12, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 25: January 1982


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

Batman #343

"A Dagger So Deadly..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Batman failed to find Man-Bat and is exhausted, but crime never sleeps in Gotham! The Caped Crusader is driving home when he witnesses a costumed rogue on a motorcycle cause a tractor-trailer to crash by puncturing one of its tires with a well-thrown dagger. The villain, who refers to himself as Dagger, tells the trucker to be sure to pay his protection money to avoid any more accidents. Batman gives chase, but "A Dagger So Deadly..." lands in the front grille of the Batmobile, causing it to burst into flames. Batman ditches the vehicle in a body of water below Gotham Bridge.

Bruce Wayne attends a meeting of the Wayne Foundation and they manage to get a delay before turning over all of their assets to Poison Ivy. An hour later, Dagger holds up a jewelry store, again demanding protection money. Meanwhile, mayoral hopeful Arthur Reeves meets with a mysterious man who wants to help him win the race by giving him proof of Batman's secret identity. Speaking of the Dark Knight, he recovers the dagger from the Batmobile's grille and takes it to the Batcave for examination. It is stamped with the name, Rennington Steel, so Batman visits the home and headquarters of the knife manufacturing company.

Not surprisingly, Rennington turns out to be Dagger and, once he's changed into his costume, he and Batman have at it for a few pages, with the usual result. 

Peter: I can't stress enough how enjoyable it is to read Gerry Conway's cross-over stories in 'tec and Batman. The big reveal, the photos of "Batman's real identity," will carry over into this month's 'tec and the Poison Ivy saga will probably go on for months (that particular subplot is pretty darn weak, though, if you ask me... "I really want to tell everyone that Ivy made us sign that darn pap...agh-ugh-ackkk!"); all that adds up to my friend, Continuity. "A Dagger So Deadly..." is a serviceable action-thriller, with all the requisite stops and starts and pants and gasps but, oh, that Dagger costume is the pits. Big old pirate boots and some head-scratching blade placements (I mean, those things aren't even covered and one of them, with a decent bend, is going to cut Rennington's femoral to ribbons). Oh, and the giant "D" on the chest just in case no one gets it. I think one day we'll find out these nobodies had to shop at Sixth-Tier Villain Warehouse for their suits.

Jack: What a thrill to see Klaus Janson ink Gene Colan on Batman! It looks like Tomb of the Dark Knight. The story isn't quite up to the art, and the scene where Batman has to drive the Batmobile off of a bridge doesn't seem to make the words fit the picture, but who cares? Colan is a great visual storyteller and a creative page designer. You are right to mock Dagger's costume, and I really have a hard time believing that one knife could cause the Batmobile to burst into flames, but the story chugs along at a rapid clip and never seems dull. The concluding fight is exciting, even though we never doubt the outcome.

"Odyssey's End"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Rodin Rodriguez

Robin drops Deanna off at a medical clinic but notices that the doctor's pin is upside down. He does some surveillance and discovers that the medical staff has been tied up and fake doctors are smuggling drugs. Deanna is trapped in a nightmare from her previous ordeal but manages to save Robin's life when the drug smugglers tie him up and try to poison him with gas. The Teen Wonder turns the tables and saves the day, and Deanna snaps out of her nightmare state.

Peter: The concluding chapter of "Robin vs. the Satanic Drug Smugglers" is just as good as the previous two, and certainly head and shoulders above any of the other current backups. I wondered if the tell-tale upside down "Caduceus" was a nod to the satanic roots of the bad guys or if it was just down to a clumsy mistake. 

Jack: I think it was just a clumsy mistake, since this group of baddies does not seem to have any connection to the satanic worshippers of the prior issue. These guys are just drug smugglers. Trevor Von Eeden's art continues to improve, and the inks this time by Rodin Rodriguez are particularly sharp.

The Brave and the Bold #182

"Interlude on Earth-Two"
Story by Alan Brennert
Art by Jim Aparo

A strange electrical storm buffets Gotham City on Earth Two, so Robin and Starman investigate, only to find that the disturbance was caused by Hugo Strange, whose holograph announces his plan to destroy Gotham and who takes Starman's cosmic rod to help him do so. On Earth One, Batman feels compelled to visit a strange cemetery and, when lightning strikes, he suddenly finds himself on Earth Two, in front of the grave of Bruce Wayne!

Batman heads to the headquarters of the Justice Society for help and runs into Robin. The two of them are attacked by menaces from the past that have been revived by Strange with the help of Starman's cosmic rod: Selina Kyle's Pantherjet and a giant, spinning top from the Spinner. Much-needed help arrives in the form of Batwoman, who assists Batman and Robin when they are attacked by the original Batmobile.

Batman deduces that Strange must be in the old Batcave, so the trio of heroes hop aboard Whirlybats and fly there. They must contend with the giant T-Rex trophy that has been brought to life, followed by a robot Batman that nearly defeats them. Finally, Batman confronts Strange, who is now elderly and weak. Confronted with his own misery, Strange uses the cosmic rod to commit suicide and is reduced to a heap of dust. Starman uses his cosmic rod to send Batman back to Earth One.

Jack: Chalk one story up for my ten best of 1982 list! "Interlude on Earth-Two" has many of the things I love about DC Comics and Batman in particular. The art by Aparo is superb, and the appearances of Starman, the adult Robin, Batwoman, and Hugo Strange are all handled well. I did not know that Batman of Earth Two was dead, so I had to do a bit of online research, including a quick read through the story in Adventure 462 where he dies. Having Brennert join The Brave and the Bold as writer is a huge benefit, and I know we'll eventually get to the classic issue #197 where... but I don't want to spoil things.

Peter: Aside from the endless bickering, I can't remember the last time I simultaneously enjoyed the heck out of a story and couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. Obviously, it helps to have some knowledge about all the "alternate Earths" in the DC Universe but I'm too lazy to do homework so I'll just accept "Interlude..." for what it is: complicated fun. Extra bonus points to Alan Brennert for having the brain capacity to write something based in this Universe and keep track of who's dead and who's old and all that other important stuff.

"Enter... Greyfox"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

While Nemesis spends his time trying to teach Valerie how to shoot with accuracy, the three remaining members of the Council engage the services of an assassin named Greyfox to find and kill Nemesis. Greyfox has goons rough up Valerie's brother, Chris, who calls her for help. Valerie tells Chris to come to New York City and, when he does, Greyfox follows him, correctly assuming that Nemesis will be in the vicinity. Nemesis disguises himself as a blind man but Greyfox catches on; a smokescreen and a quick change allow Nemesis to escape for the time being.

Jack: "Enter... Greyfox" is such a disappointment after the great lead story in this issue. The Nemesis series just keeps plodding along, as if each entry is part of a bad, old Saturday-morning movie serial with dreadful art.

Peter: The art's as terrible as it's always been but I'll admit to being slightly intrigued by Traquer/Greyfox, at least until Burkett runs that character into the ground as well. I guess I'll take anything interesting at this point. This series is just such a mess. What the hell is Valerie wearing on the splash? And does she have the handgun propped up against her nose? Not the best shooting stance. 

Detective Comics #510

"Head-Hunt by a Mad Hatter"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Gotham's mayoral debate is about to get underway and Batman sits in the wings, watching. Suddenly, nearby, a TV store is robbed and the thieves attempt their getaway. Batman swings into action and nabs one of the crooks, but candidate Arthur Reeves, not having seen the robbery, views the act as an assault and tries to make a citizen's arrest. The Dark Knight laughs at Reeves and Reeves's opponent, Hamilton Hill, sees the incident as a victory. No one notices Reeves walking away with a mischievous smile on his face.

Meanwhile, The Mad Hatter is back in town and he's taken Lucius Fox hostage, demanding two million bucks from Bruce Wayne for Fox's return. Wayne agrees, but his alter-ego is able to track the loony Hatter to his lair and bargain with the evil genius for Fox's release. Batman agrees to sit in a chair that will steal his thoughts and transfer them to a machine the Hatter can use for his financial gain. But the Caped Crusader has an ace up his sleeve and foils the Mad Hatter's plot. As Batman leaves the hideout, Commissioner Gordon hands him a newspaper with the headline: "Reeves to Batman: 'I Know Who You Are, and I Can Prove It!'" To be continued...

"Head-Hunt by a Mad Hatter" is not a bad little one-off, but the Hatter interludes seem almost like an afterthought to the political intrigue. I was intrigued by the bit of 411 the Hatter drops, that he's the Real McCoy and that the guy who's been doing business in Gotham for the last umpteen years is a forgery. This Hatter has been in an asylum until recently and, when he escaped, he "disposed of the imposter..." Now, that's the bit I would have liked to see, not this goofy mind-stealing-machine business. A quick dip into Wikipedia reveals that the imposter was the tall, red-headed goofball we've all been used to seeing (last appearing in Batman #297, March 1978) and this issue's version, Jervis Tetch, is the original. Lost yet? I'm digging Gene Colan's work here; Gene's work has a noirish quality to it that no one could touch (save, maybe, Frank Miller) and Batman is the perfect receptacle for "Gentleman" Gene's vast talents. 

Jack: What really struck me with this story is how much it looks like mid- to late-1960s Daredevil! I love Colan's art, but this hit me a couple of pages in and, from then on, I couldn't stop noticing how Batman's poses and the faces and gestures of the supporting cast all look very much like a Colan issue of Daredevil. Not that that's a bad thing; it was just a surprise. I was happy to see the Mad Hatter return and I love the continuing stories across two series.

"Bride of Destruction!
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

The Annihilator continues his quest to destroy Supergirl, but now he's got a side plan as well: he intends to zap Batgirl with super powers, destroy mankind, and then make whoopie with Babs and repopulate the Earth! But Babs's incredible deductive skills and Supergirl's super-breath combine to put the kibosh on the big-head's big plans.

Peter: Boy, was this dumb. Typical dumb DC funny book story. Yeah, I know I sound like a 1970s' Marvel Zombie, but I don't remember the competitor's stuff being quite this lame-brained (DC Zombie Jack will straighten me out, no doubt). Bad art and totally patched-together script. Was I napping last issue when Big-Brain announced that his goal in life was to get Babs between the sheets, or was that really just a left turn at the beginning of this chapter? At the end of the day, Earth's most dangerous bald midget was foiled by a fire hydrant. High stakes.

Jack: Yes, it's bad, but it's better than Nemesis. The solution was dopey and Supergirl basically says "See ya!" and flies off. These last few stories, featuring Batgirl and Supergirl, remind me of how comics (at least in my family) were segregated by gender when I was a kid: I read the boy comics and my sister read the girl ones, like Lois Lane, Supergirl, Rima, etc. It's weird to think about it today, but that's how it was and I would never have voluntarily read a girls' comic in the early '70s. How times change.

Next Week...
The Screaming Cacophony of
Sheer Joyous Lunacy Returns!


Mark Cannon said...

Gents - glad that you enjoyed “Interlude on Earth-Two”. It’s one of my favourite Batman stories from this era, and probably my favourite ever DC Earth 1 / Earth 2 crossover. To paraphrase a review I wrote many years ago for an internet mailing list, it was the first comic I ever read that managed to convey just how damn _weird_ and unsettling it would actually be to meet a doppelg√§nger of somebody you knew and loved, particularly when that person was long-dead in your own world.

A few years ago, DC published a hardback collection of Alan Brennert’s Batman stories - I believe that it’s still available. He may have scripted only a handful of comics over the decades, but most of them have been absolute crackers.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Mark! I've always liked Earth-Two stories.