Monday, June 21, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue Number 30: June 1982


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

Batman #348

"Shadow Play"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Klaus Janson

Bruce, Dick, and Alfred have moved back into Wayne Manor but the night is interrupted by two surprise visitors at the front door: Francine Langstrom and her young daughter, Rebecca. Francine is angry at Bruce for failing to follow up on his promise to find a cure for her husband Kirk so, once Francine is fast asleep, Batman takes little Rebecca down into the Batcave and disappears into a maze of tunnels, hoping to find Man-Bat and use Rebecca to jolt him out of his madness.

Man-Bat attacks and nearly kills Batman, not recognizing his daughter at first. However, when she nearly falls to her death, Man-Bat snaps back to sanity and saves her. Batman injects him with a serum that makes him return to human form and the Langstrom family is reunited.

Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon is worried about her father's emotional state and decides to call Jason Bard for help, while Vicki Vale tells her editor that she may have proof of Batman's secret identity, unaware that her boss is passing information to Boss Thorne.

Peter: Man-Bat is in my Top Ten Rogues' Gallery of Bat-Villains, but even I know a problem when it presents itself. These Man-Bat adventures of late have become formulaic. Weepy wife tells the Dark Knight her husband has turned into a flying creature again and Bats heads out to nab him. Langstrom then realizes what he's doing and becomes a good guy again. It's the same kind of formula Marvel ran into the ground with the Lizard. "Shadow Play" is no different. Langstrom will be back before we know it. Colan's art is rough here, looking incomplete in several sections (in one panel, Babs Gordon looks like Dick with a red wig), but I'll take it over the blandness of some of the other artists at DC around this time.

Jack: Batman's decision to use a child as bait to catch a lunatic is ethically questionable, but how about the first couple of pages, where Bruce and Dick have trouble moving the giant penny back into the Batcave? Why not just get rid of it? Like you, I'm always happy to see Man-Bat, but not for one moment did I think little Rebecca was really in danger or that Man-Bat wouldn't be cured. What I wonder is what Man-Bat was doing hiding in the Batcave all this time. Did he eat grubs? Did he fly out at dusk like the rest of the bats? Does he excrete guano? So many questions left unanswered.

"The Man, The Bullet, The Cat, Part One"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Pablo Marcos

Walking down a city street, Selina's hat flies off and a little girl runs into the street to retrieve it. Selina rushes to save her from being hit by a car but trips, allowing a man to rescue the child. The man turns out to be Daniel Brown, who is running for president of the CLA Union and who needs a bodyguard. He talks Selina into signing on to protect him from getting shot at a talk he's giving that night. Two hours before the speech, Selina is eating a burger at Hamburger Haven when she intervenes to teach a bully a lesson. An hour later, the bully and his fellow motorcycle gang members tangle with Selina but have to reckon with Catwoman. This incident makes Selina late for her security job protecting Brown and, just as she arrives, she hears that he's been shot.

Peter: The Catwoman back-up continues to be readable, but I'm still confused as to when she became a "superhero-type" and when she reverted back to bad girl. The politician plot is a good one but his stumbling over what to call Selina was old after the second time. This might just be typical backup fare and I'm a Bruce Jones homer.

Jack: Much like the prior story with the disappearing train, this is well above average for a backup feature. Trevor von Eeden and Pablo Marcos's art is better than that of Colan and Janson in the lead story this issue, and Bruce Jones's story is entertaining. I'll go out on a limb here and predict that Brown's running mate, Peter Simmons, is behind the assassination plot. And what's with all of these motorcycle gangs in Gotham? Didn't Batgirl just have a run-in with a similar (but less well-drawn) group?


Detective Comics #515

"The Academy of Crime Part One:
College for Killers"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

There's this new place in SoCal called "The Academy of Crime," and its big boss, the Headmaster, teaches criminals how to be criminous. We discover via a conversation between the Headmaster and his latest batch of pupils that Mirage (see 'tec #511) was a graduate of the Academy (though not one that would have a little statue under glass in the hallway). While out cracking heads, The Dark Knight gets some 411 on this new prep school and makes immediate flight arrangements, stepping out not as Bruce Wayne but as the sketchy Matches Malone.

Meanwhile, Dick Grayson follows his ex-not-quite-girlfriend, Dala, around town as Robin and discovers she lives in a creepy old mansion outside of Gotham. After watching Dala change clothes (naughty, naughty!), Robin breaks all kinds of laws by entering Dala's house via an upstairs window. When he hears her chanting downstairs, he heads for the staircase and is relieved of his senses from behind by a mysterious robed figure. 

Meanwhile meanwhile, Alfred has decided to not bother his Master about the impending Vicki Vale cover story on "Bruce Wayne: Batman!" and, instead, takes matters into his own hands by contacting the Human Target. What this plan entails is anyone's guess at this point but, hopefully, will be revealed in part 2 of "The Academy of Crime!"

Peter: There's so much wrong with this sub-par mess (and we can start with that horrible splash at right where the faux-Batman strikes a pose that no normal human being could pull off--is he walking in mid-air?) that I question whether one of my favorite Bat-scribes actually wrote the script or handed it off to one of his pre-teen neighbors to work out. Why would a crime college in Hollywood be studying tactics for defeating Batman? Aren't there any DC heroes located closer to L.A.? Why would Alfred think so highly of Vicki Vale that he would do anything to prevent Bruce from finding out she's about to out him ("This way there will be less damage to their relationship!")? As if Catwoman wasn't a shaky enough relationship, now Al wants his boss to get into bed with a blackmailer.

And let's go over this "crush" Dick has on the mysterious Dala, a woman he's never really had a relationship with other than a few stolen goo-goo eyes and maybe a kiss or two. The Boy Wonder turns stalker and commits a B+E just to find out why this girl won't fall as madly in love with him as he has her ("Maybe it's pride, but after the way you dropped me cold..."). And then this erstwhile superhero gets clocked in the head for the 14th time this year by someone he never sees coming. Perhaps Bruce Wayne should open an Academy of Sidekicks? All in all, one of the worst Gerry scripts we've seen so far.

It must have been love/
but it's over now!
Jack: Yep, it's pretty bad. After a great, old-fashioned cover, the inside lead story is a conglomeration of subplots looking for a focus. The Headmaster is a Sydney Greenstreet knockoff and I wondered as I read if one could take out a student loan to attend the Academy of Crime. As for Vicki Vale's supposed "evidence" that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it's pretty thin. It looked to me like all she had were a couple of photos pasted together and some height and weight measurements. That's it? Hardly crack journalism. It's nice to see Batman go undercover again as Matches Malone, but I have to ask why we're suddenly seeing the return of characters from the 1970s like the Human Target here and Jason Bard in Batman. It's like Roy Thomas is in the background, poring over his collection for ideas.

"In the Coils of the Serpent!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

While she's got Batgirl trapped in her gigantic coils, Lady Viper relates how she became "Queen of the Serpents." Once a mild-mannered reptile lover, the poor young girl was found repellent by boys and girls her own age, so she found solace with her snakes at the carnival. While traveling through Europe, the girl stumbled across a statue of a snake goddess in a curio shop and took it home with her. Later, the souvenir zapped the girl with its hypnotizing eyes and granted her the power of a giant snake. The long, detailed, and frankly sad story allows the Darknight Damsel to reach her utility belt and burn a bit of Viper's tail. Batgirl is released but she's bitten, and Lady Viper slinks away. Our heroine feels very tired but knows she has to nab the slithering goddess before she murders again

Peter: Dumb as a box of Fruit Loops and about as healthy for you, "In the Coils of the Serpent!" is also undeniably fun. It's pure purple pulp writing and the entire chapter is given over to Viper's cornball origin. I think it's absolutely amazing that Batgirl knows exactly where everything is in that belt of hers. Ostensibly, the shark repellant and laser eye-beams are in one pouch and the compact and hair spray in the other? Jack and I constantly harp on Messrs. Burkett, Delbo, and Giella (and for good reason), but they accomplish exactly what they set out to do this issue and present some decent entertainment.

Jack: Peter, I think one too many Bat backup tales has scrambled your brain. This is terrible! It's good to know that the one sure way to avoid certain death is to ask a super-villain to tell you their origin story. While the serpent lady is rattling off her tale of woe, Batgirl is sneaking her hand into her utility belt. Maybe she didn't know right where everything was and that's why she had to keep the gal talking as her hand opened pouch after pouch until she found what she needed.

Brave and the Bold #187

"Whatever Happened to What's'ername?"
Story by Charlie Boatner
Art by Jim Aparo

Batman is out on patrol when he sees Iron, one of the Metal Men, being dragged off of a dock and under water by a mechanical creature known as a Floating Fury. Batman saves Iron and surfaces to see Gold, Platinum, and Mercury, three more Metal Men, searching for the missing Tin. Suddenly, bits of Tin rain down on the quartet, who realize that, like Iron, Tin has been knocked to pieces. Tin's head begs forgiveness from "Beautiful" and Batman wonders what ever happened to the seventh member of the metallic team of heroes.

Batman telephones Doc Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, who flies to Gotham City. When the Dark Knight asks the scientist about Tin's forgotten girlfriend, whom he called Beautiful and the others called Nameless, Doc recalls the Metal Women and Platinum Man, robots he once built to serve as companions for the team but who didn't work out and were destroyed. When Lead is located with a message etched on his back saying that "This is for Nameless," Batman is shocked to see that none of the Metal Men remember the female robot that Tin built as a companion for himself.

Mercury, Gold, and Platinum are suddenly attacked by the Gas Gang, creatures that destroy Gold and Mercury and accuse the trio of having left Nameless to die. Doc Magnus arrives and rebuilds the Metal Men, but at the last moment, Batman stops him from erasing their memories. When they awaken, they are attacked by the Missile Men, who are led by Platinum Man, who's not dead after all. After a big battle, Batman escapes and investigates a fissure in the Earth where the Metal Women and Platinum Man were thought to have been destroyed. He finds a giant robot named B.O.L.T.S., an old enemy of the Metal Men, and manages to defeat him.

Back at the lab, Platinum Man orders the Missile Men to destroy the Metal Men, but suddenly Nameless/Beautiful appears and is reunited with an overjoyed Tin. She explains that she and Platinum Man were badly damaged but rebuilt each other. He fell in love with her and rebuilt various enemies of the Metal Men to get revenge on them and Doc Magnus. The Metal Men's creator performs a wedding ceremony to unite Tin and Beautiful, but she gives her life in order to destroy a Missile Man that is about to blow up.

Jack: That was a lot of plot for seventeen pages, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved seeing the Metal Men and all of their obscure enemies (and friends) pop up and I thought both script and art were top-notch. Kudos to Batman for recalling so many details of the Metal Men's adventures!

Peter: The art is fantastic and the hook that Charlie Boatner hangs "Whatever Happened to..." on is a fascinating nugget. That sort of nostalgia digging is what made Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek so readable. But the script is way too hectic and confusing; I couldn't make heads or tails out of what was going on. At some point, I think my brain went on auto-pilot and I just looked at the pretty pitchers. The climax is sad rather than maudlin; that counts for something.

"Arena of Despair!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

While Kingston has his house rigged with booby-traps, Nemesis works on a new weapon. Kingston's men kidnap Marjorie Marshall and, when Nemesis learns of her abduction, he tracks down Roadrunner in Times Square in order to learn that Kingston is behind it. Nemesis flies to Houston, parachutes into Kingston's compound, and makes his way into the house, unaware that Kingston's men await.

Jack: Another eight pages of The Brave and the Bold gone to waste. This series just keeps going even though it never gets anywhere. The art is terrible and the characters are not interesting. I peeked ahead and it looks like about a half-dozen issues to go with Nemesis.

Peter: Rather than this boring, dim-witted multi-chapter saga we've been forced to swallow, how about Cary Burkett writes a Nemesis installment on how Roadrunner gets his info. That's what I want to see. Do all the bad guys in town call him up and say "Hey, bro, Mrs. Miller's been kidnapped by the Statler Brothers. I know that has nothing to do with you but I just thought you might like to know!" or does he sniff through the streets for his intel? It's nice to see Nemesis doing some line work in his downtime but, coincidentally, the guy draws just as badly as Spiegle! And that panel to my left gives evidence that Nemesis was also working on a growth formula as well.

Next Week...
You'll believe it'sa
rainin' all ovah the world!


John said...

Actually, Dick poses a good question about the giant penny when he asks Bruce how did he manage to get the giant Lincoln penny down under the Wayne Foundation building in the first place. It's something I was wondering too, but as I expected there is no answer to it.
Bruce replies to Dick: "Don't ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time".

At least we learned that Dick is a peeping-tom...

Jack Seabrook said...

If only Marie Kondo had been around when it was time to relocate the Batcave. They could've had quite a garage sale!