Monday, July 5, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 31: July 1982

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

Andru & Giordano
Batman #349

"Blood Sport"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

Killing time in L.A. waiting for his application to the Academy of Crime to be approved, Batman calls Stately Wayne Manor after 10 p.m. and is surprised when no one answers. Little does he know that Robin is tied to a chair in Dala's spooky mansion. Meanwhile, Alfred is in Boston, hiring Christopher Cross (a/k/a the Human Target) to impersonate Bruce Wayne. Alfred claims Bruce's life is in danger, but he really wants to trick Vicki Vale into thinking Bruce and Bats are different people.

In Gotham City, Commissioner Gordon sits at home in his bathrobe until Babs shows up with Jason Bard in tow. On the 11 o'clock news, they see an announcement that the new commissioner plans to institute mandatory retirement after 20 years on the force. Gordon gets fired up and agrees to work with Bard to investigate the recent mayoral election. Back in Dala's mansion, Robin knocks over a lamp and sets fire to a rug, bringing Dala and a spooky monk on the double--and they both have fangs! Dala puts the bite on Robin before he knocks her out and he finds two corpses in another room, tied upside down to beams and with bite marks on their throats.

Robin fights off the monk, escapes from the mansion, and collapses in the middle of the road, where a priest happens to drive by and pick him up. The priest takes the Boy Wonder to the hospital and thinks that he recognizes the mark of the Vampiri!

Peter: First things first: Gene Colan and Alfredo Alcala working together on a Batman strip? Be still my beating heart. Colan was untouched when it came to noir art and Alcala (for my money) was one of the three best horror artists of the 1970s (along with Wrightson and Sutton), and their excellence shines through in just about every panel here. Ironically, the only scene I didn't care for was the lone appearance of Batman himself, which looked a little clunky. As for the story, which is a spotlight on the supporting cast despite the misleading cover illo, I love when the writers introduce supernatural possibilities to the Bat-stories, since the Dark Knight's gloomy atmosphere meshes with those scary elements so well. Of course, this all could be explained away as "blood disease" next issue but, as it stands, the Best Story of the Year award is "Blood Sport"'s to lose. The Monk and Dala are rebooted characters who appeared in slightly different form in Detective #31; Gerry was obviously going the Roy Thomas route of sifting through old issues for inspiration. That always seems to bring about good stuff.

Jack: I don't like Alcala's inks on Colan's pencils at all. The panels look muddy. Here and there I can see a glimpse of the old Colan but, overall, the art in this story is a mess. Not as big a mess as the story, though! Conway uses his Marvel training to make us read one issue after another by keeping multiple story threads going, but none of them is particularly interesting. Batman and the Academy of Crime are given short shrift, the subplot with Alfred hiring the Human Target is just stupid, and Commissioner Gordon being revived to fight early retirement seems silly. That leaves the main story thread, with Robin in the spooky mansion. Maybe Dick Giordano brought in Alcala to amp up the story's horror elements, but Colan was the best vampire artist of the '70s and didn't need the help.

"The Man, The Bullet, The Cat,
Part Two"
Story by Bruce Jones
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Larry Mahlstedt

Candidate Dan Brown is shot but he's not dead, so when he is taken to the hospital, his wife blames Catwoman for failing to protect him. Brown wins the election and insists on making an acceptance speech, so Catwoman develops a protective bubble for him to stand under. On the night of the speech, the bubble fills with poison gas and Catwoman tricks Simmons into admitting he's to blame. He then throws Mrs. Brown under the bus but, when she makes a run for it, she suffers a bad fall and is left paralyzed.

Peter: The reveal, that Simmons and Mrs. Brown were the hidden villains, was too obvious, and I would question whether an emergency trapdoor that can leave someone with a broken spine is a really good idea, but the Von Eeden art is so stylish and sets itself apart from the usual meh art of the backups that I can still enjoy the series. Still, this is not Bruce Jones's finest work.

Jack: Once again, the backup story outshines the lead story, something that I can be sure will not happen in Detective Comics or The Brave and the Bold. I agree that von Eeden's art is the highlight; some of the panels and layouts recall those of Walt Simonson from the mid-'70s Batman.

Andru & Giordano
Detective Comics #516

"Academy of Crime, Part Two:
Final Exams!"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Kupperberg
Art by Don Newton & Frank Chiaramonte

Matches Malone, a/k/a Bruce Wayne, a/k/a The Dark Knight, has infiltrated Hollywood's "Academy of Crime," an elite school for criminals. There, hoods are taught how to ventilate, stab, and immolate their foes. But somehow, the Headmaster is onto the Dark Knight's presence and sends his goons after our hero. Obviously, these toughs get an "F," since they are all dispatched without much of a fight. That leaves the Headmaster himself, who discovers that not even a flamethrower is effective against Gotham's most famous vigilante.

In our "meanwhiles" this issue, Vicki Vale has pressure applied to her by her editor (who is under Boss Thorne's thumb) to give up her candid shots revealing the true identity of Batman, and Commissioner Gordon becomes one-half of a PI team (the other half being Jason Bard), hell-bent on uncovering dirt on mayor Hamilton Hall, the man who took Gordon's job. And Boss Thorne might be going slightly mad, since he's seeing Hugo Strange everywhere he looks.

Once you get past the ludicrous plot device of a school for wayward murderers, you're left with little but mediocre fight scenes and humdrum sub-plot interludes. The Gordon angle is an interesting one, but then we all know how that has to end since he becomes commissioner again one day. The Vicki soap opera is going on too long and we know that nothing will come of that, either. As I recall, the "Is Boss Thorne just overworked or is he really seeing Hugo?" storyline will actually pay off in a few months' time.  Oddly, Gerry never lets on how the Headmaster gets wise to Bats being one of his pupils. The only bright side to this disposable adventure is, as usual, the art, which continues to dazzle.

Jack: I'm not loving the Ross Andru pencils on the covers this month, though Dick Giordano manages to tone down his excessive tendencies. I do love the art, though, and much prefer it to that in Batman. All of these continuing stories and subplots require a lot of recaps, which tend to eat up pages. After all of the subplots were dutifully advanced, the wrap-up was pretty good. But what was that panel where Matches went to a music club? Was that supposed to be DC's idea of 1982 punk rock or new wave?

"Sleep While the Serpent Smiles!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Jose Delbo & Joe Giella

Still reeling from the bite delivered last issue by Lady Viper, Batgirl passes out in a seedy alley and is discovered by a group of homeless people who live in the "undercity" below Gotham. With their help, the Dark Knight-ette overcomes the poison in her system and makes a speedy recovery, only to discover that she's become half-snake! Meanwhile, Lady Viper is slithering through the city, pulling off antiquity heists. The Queen of the Serpents is heading for an inevitable battle with Bat-SnakeGirl!

Peter: This has to be one of the most unashamedly stupid arcs I've ever read and yet the damn thing is like Cheetos. I can't stop ingesting it, possibly because Burkett dispenses with anything related to reality and just throws in the kitchen sink. This is perfectly demonstrated by the batshit-crazy final panel for "Sleep While the Serpent Smiles," where Babs discovers that fabulous behind of hers has been replaced by ugly green scales! Keep this going for another ten issues, Cary. Please don't get back to Babs's love life or Jerry the mechanic and his underground Batgirlcycle ramp. I'm begging you.

Jack: The art is better than usual, which makes me wonder if Giella and Delbo had help here and there from an uncredited third artist. Burkett is taking the snake lady a bit further than I expected and that last panel is just nuts. With Robin battling vampires and Batgirl turning into a giant snake, things are pretty kooky this month at DC!

The Brave and the Bold #188

"A Grave as Wide as the World!
Part One: A Moon for Madmen!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jim Aparo

As Batman stands in a grave in Gotham Cemetery, about to be crushed by a big rock thrown by Nazis, along comes Thorn, whose flying barbs distract the baddies. Flash back to several nights before, when a man dressed as Adolf Hitler visited a dying Nazi to learn a long-held secret that will threaten all democratic countries! The next day, Bruce Wayne got nowhere trying to make friends with a group of poor kids, but when Batman showed up in his cool car they were off for a ride that ended with them cleaning up a polluted lake.

On the way back to Gotham, Batman hears a radio news bulletin about the death of the Nazi and recalls that the man stole a canister of deadly poison gas that was never found. Batman promises the kids to protect the world from this very dangerous form of pollution. After deducing that David Phillips, a hospital orderly, must have disguised himself as Hitler in order to learn the dying Nazi's secret, Batman saves Rose Forrest from a flock of insane birds but, after she goes to sleep, she awakens and transforms into the crimefighter known as Thorn! The Caped Crusader learns that the birds were infected with the deadly poison gas and that Rose's father's body was one of many stolen from their graves the night before. Batman visits the grave, looking for clues, and is attacked by Nazis. After he and Thorn defeat them, Batman heads off alone on the trail of David Phillips. To be continued!

Peter: Bob Kanigher's six-page prologue about ecology and rehabilitating wasted youth is hilarious, but what's even more funny is the fact that Batman doesn't even require his Batmobile-riding moppets to wear seat belts! These borderline-gang kids go from uttering idiocies like "Who's the dude?" and "Take your scrubbin' brush somewhere else, turkey!" to cleaning up lakes and commenting on the adults they have to deal with in this big, troubled world:

Kid #1: "You promised us the world--not a bad dream!"
Kid #2: "You adults are big--with promises!"
Kid #3: "Batman will find it!"
Kid #4: "He'd better--before the clock runs down!"

Written as if by someone who never actually heard a kid on the streets of 1983 talk, it's tantamount to the cliche of a millionaire being asked how much a jug of milk costs. Sounds phony. The lengthy lecture and Thorn's origin recap leave precious little space to devote to a story. But that may be a good thing, based on what we got. Full of coincidences (Bats just happens to pick up Rosie, who happens to be the Thorn) and silliness (if you're a part-time Hitler youth and you want to keep things on the q.t., would you take a pic wearing your death's-head ring?), the first part of "A Grave as Wide as the World!" is one great big yawn. As with most of these B&B guest stars, I had no idea who Rose and Thorn were and Bog Bob gives me no reason to seek out any other adventures by the "duo."

Jack: I vaguely remember them from early 1970s issues of Lois Lane that my father would buy for my sister to read. I didn't read those "girly" comics, so I don't know much about this heroine. What troubled me about this issue, beyond the cliches and convoluted plot, was the unusually mediocre art by Aparo. In places, it reminded me of the work of Irv Novick. Now, Novick is fine, but he's no Aparo. Maybe Jim wasn't inspired by Kanigher's story and phoned these pages in.

"Gladiator's Gauntlet!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis is trapped in Kingston's mansion and must run the "Gladiator's Gauntlet!" He knocks out a couple of guards and is watched the whole time by the other members of the Council on closed-circuit TV. Avoiding falling to his death through a hole in the floor and being impaled on spikes, Nemesis comes face to face with a quartet of gladiators, who attack with knife, hook, bullwhip, and martial arts. Council member Leonard Maddok intervenes when he fears Nemesis will be defeated and Kingston will become head of the Council. But does Nemesis need his help? After beating the fearsome foursome, he feels around for an opening in a wall, unaware that it's rigged to blow up.

Peter: Despite the fact that this chapter is wall-to-wall action, it feels so tame. The fight scenes are so badly choreographed, you can't really tell what is going on. And do we really have to be reminded, every time Nemesis fires his rifle, that the bullets are harmless "Stunno-pellets?" You would never hear the Punisher brag about that.

Jack: After a not-awful story last issue, we're back to the dregs this time out. These stories are so boring and badly drawn that I find myself checking the little numbers on the bottom right of each page to see how much more I have to endure. Hang in there. It's nearly over.

The Best of DC #26

"You Can't Hide from a Deadman!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Neal Adams
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #86, November 1969)

"Three Arrows Against Doom!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #9, January 1957))

"Menace of the Mirage People!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #38, November 1961)

"Threat of the Ice King"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #18, July 1958)

"The Sword in the Lake!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #31, January 1959)

"The Secret Beneath the Earth"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Bruno Premiani
(Reprinted from Brave and the Bold #31, September 1960)

Jack: After a sharp cover by Aparo and a three-page "fact file" that introduces the main characters in this all-reprint issue, we're treated to 23 pages of gorgeous Neal Adams art from 1969! This was Deadman's second appearance in The Brave and the Bold and his first since his original run ended in Strange Adventures. Batman announces at one point that he has based his career on "surprise and fear," pre-dating the 1970 arrival of the Spanish Inquisition on Monty Python and suggesting an influence I had never before suspected. Also, the whole business with the Sensei and the snowy mountains made me think the creator of Marvel's Iron Fist may have read Deadman at some point before coming up with his kung fu hero.

The back cover!
Russ Heath's work on "Three Arrows Against Doom!" is pleasant and Haney's story is fun. "Menace of the Mirage People," from 1961, is not very interesting, though it's from the period where Andru and Esposito's art was easier to take than it would become later. "Threat of the Ice King" features 13 pages of classic Kubert art which, paired with the Adams story, makes this digest worth every penny of the dollar cover price. "The Sword in the Lake!" is fourteen pages of above-average Novick art and a story that demonstrates why the Silent Knight did not become a big hit. Finally, 25 pages of Cave Carson in "The Secret Beneath the Earth" just feels like filler to me, despite a giant lava monster and a giant magnetic monster, both of which made me think of Kirby.

Peter: It's great to have Neal Adams back with us but I couldn't make heads or tails of Bob Haney's script for "You Can't Hide..." (the mid-story expository from the Sensei was like nails on a chalkboard), and after a bit I gave up and just stared in awe at new (to me) Neal. "You Can't Hide..." is the only Bats-starring vehicle this issue and the most recent of the reprints. One of my all-time favorite DC war and Atlas horror artists, Russ Heath, adds an almost Joe Maneely-esque sheen to the historical setting of "Three Arrows Against Doom!" Until I did some research, I had no idea that Robin Hood was one of DC's first regular characters, introduced way back in New Adventure Comics #23 (January 1938). Also unknown by this non-DC fan was that The Brave and the Bold did not slip into its "team-up" theme until B&B #50 (November 1963). Until then, it was a haven for lesser hero solo stories and launching new characters. "Three Arrows" is a lot of fun, thanks mostly to that Heath glow. Of the remaining golden oldies, I liked the imaginative scripts for "Menace of the Mirage People" and "The Secret Beneath the Earth" (the latter of which I fondly remember reading in the early '70s) and the glorious art of Joe Kubert in "Threat of the Ice King."

Next Week...
Is an entire issue given over to
Luis Bermejo a good thing?

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