Monday, October 25, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 39: March 1983

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

Hannigan & Giordano
Batman #357

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Batman busts up a drug ring and learns that the Squid sold them the franchise (see Detective 497 for the Squid's last appearance). Batman bursts into the office of Commissioner Gordon at City Hall while, in an alley, the Squid is busy asserting his new role as protector of certain criminals.

Over in Jersey, a circus is menaced by a protection racket and the villainous Croc is involved--will the flying Todd family be safe? At the site of the old Gotham Aquarium, the Squid gathers various crooks to demonstrate what a hungry squid can do to a gangster who is bound to a chair and thrown into a tank of water.

On a lonely Gotham bridge, Batman tells crusading reporter Olivia Ortega that she is going to help him save the life of crime boss Tony Falco; the next day, after Falco is sentenced to a long stretch in prison, the Squid helps him escape and brings him to the old aquarium. However, Falco is not Falco, but rather Batman in disguise, and the Squid knows it. Batman tries to fight off a passel of crooks but is knocked out, tied up, and thrown into a giant tank with a very hungry squid named Gertrude!

Peter: There's oodles of atmosphere this issue thanks to the stellar, noir-ish art (reminiscent in spots of Colan), but the plot isn't that great. Just another Gotham mob story, spotlighting a goofball who talks like a certain hunter of one Wascally Wabbit! Why the speech impediment, Gerry? Just something to give the Squid that extra oomph? I found it distracting, to say the least. The moniker ("I am the Squid because my tentacles weech everywhere... and I also happen to keep a pet squid!") is uber-dopey.

More important is the (sorta) introduction of someday-super-important Jason Todd. I never read this era of the Bats-titles, so this is all new to me. I was not aware that Todd's origin (at least so far) was so close to that of Dick. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow history of the character, I'll let the surprises unfold as we get to them. 

Jack: I don't know the first thing about Jason Todd, other than that he ends up as Robin, so I'm looking forward to learning his story. The cover by Hannigan and Giordano is excellent and the interior art is very good in spots and less so in others. I don't know why the Squid talks like Elmer Fudd but you're right, it is annoying. I like seeing Croc skulking around and this issue feels like Conway is starting a few new plot threads that I assume he'll spin out for several issues.

Hannigan & Giordano
Detective Comics #524

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Dick Giordano

While the Squid and Croc watch with big smiles on their faces, Batman battles with a giant squid in an aquarium and appears to be on the losing end. Just when all hope seems lost, Bats puts the kibosh on the monster and escapes the tank to the astonishment of his audience.

Disgusted at what he sees, Croc leaves the building but pauses in the courtyard to look up to a nearby rooftop, just to let the Dark Knight know he's aware of his presence. Batman manages to make it back to Wayne Manor, where Dick is throwing a gala for the Todds. Introducing the acrobatic family to all his friends and acquaintances (and to us as well), Dick almost misses Bruce sneak in the patio door and make his way into the parlor. 

Dick summons Alfred, who brings the first aid kit, and the two minister to Bruce's wounds. Suddenly, the door pops open and lovely Trina Todd sticks her head in, witnessing Bruce Wayne being bandaged, his Batman shirt in his hands. Dick is sure the girl has put two and two together and Bruce insists that he and Dick discuss the situation (to be continued... I assume) later.

Meanwhile, back at the Squid's warehouse, Elmer Fudd is ordering his men to "kill the Batman tomowwow!" But tomowwow may be too wate for the Squid as a bullet flies through the window towards him and he hits the deck. The shooter: none other than Croc, who's looking to eliminate his former partner after the earlier snafu. 

The Squid rises from the floor just as the Batman smashes through the window and hurls himself at his enemy. But the Squid is too fast for our hero and he shoots the Dark Knight in the chest. As Batman is dying, his blood soaking the floor, the Squid suddenly realizes it's all a dream; he's the one whose grip on life is at an end. Croc's aim was true!

Peter: Thanks to the addition of this interesting new villain (whom I have not one memory of from my early funny book days), we've got a fast-moving and exciting adventure with some fabulous graphics. Even the new subplot (will Trina spill the beans or will fate step in to quiet her?) is intriguing. Unfortunately, what looks like the final chapter for the 12th-tier villain, the Squid, is only a respite for Batman readers. He'll be back. They all come back, eventually. What I've been wishing for for a long time finally arrives: a multi-part crossover, this one lasting six issues. Great start!

Jack: The Hannigan/Giordano cover is bound to be one of the best of '83 and the interior art is just as good. Giordano is a superb inker who elevates Newton's work quite a bit. It's a real contrast with the Alcala inks in Batman. This must be an important issue in the Batman canon, since we see Croc's face and are introduced to Jason Todd. As seems to be the norm nowadays, there is a passing mention of the Teen Titans, whose book was selling so well at the time. The end, where the Squid unexpectedly dies and Croc becomes the new focus, is intriguing.

"Mob Rule II: Heat of the Moment!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Irv Novick & Ron Randall

Nah, never happen in real life!

Green Arrow continues his battle with the Executrix, the lovely but lethal bodyguard of political hopeful, Machiavelli, but the fight is short and the lady ends up pinned to the wall with some fancy arrow moves. She quickly gives up the 411 on her boss (a former mob counselor who's using his speaking prowess to attract important influences to his cause) and Arrow exits stage left. With a little intel from one of Arrow's mouthpieces in the park, our hero deduces that Machiavelli is about to make a big entrance in front of a packed crowd at City Hall. Sure enough, the Shakespearean goofball interrupts the mayor's speech to incite the crowd to violence. The Arrow is all set to let one loose when a gat is shoved into his ear.

Peter: This is really dismal stuff. Am I starting to sound like a broken record (cd? mp3? digital download?). Having said that, it's eerily prescient and, to some people in the audience at least, brings back some very bad recent memories. The Electrocutionatrix chick lasts but five panels before she gives up with a hilarious "You wouldn't hit a woman, would you?" Ah, here's to the naive early 1980s, before women's lib.

Jack: A dreadful story with inane pop culture references at every turn, "Heat of the Moment!" is titled after the 1982 Asia hit single and even includes an embarrassing sequence where the writer tries to be "relevant" as Green Arrow meets a bitter young black man who plays chess in the park. Throw in a corny villain and Irv Novick art and you have bottom of the barrel 1980s' DC work.

The Brave and the Bold #196

"The Two Faces of Midnight!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jim Aparo

Hanging around a dark alley in Gotham City one midnight, Ragman happens to be in the right place at the right time, able to catch Batman as he falls, unconscious, from a high window. Crooks fire shots from a speeding car to try to finish off the Dark Knight, but Ragman manages to blow up the car and cart Batman away to safety.

Ragman's friend Opal pulls up in her convertible and drives him and Batman to the safety of the junkyard, where Ragman recalls his origin story. A Vietnam vet whose father was killed by mobsters, Ragman wears the costume of a Tattered Tatterdemalion and helps the unfortunate, both in his guise as a hero and in real life, as a generous pawnbroker.

Batman explains that he was on the trail of a terrorist group when he was thrown out of a window by an explosion. He is injured and can't go after them, so he switches costumes with Ragman, who finds the terrorists but is injured by a grenade. He staggers back to Batman, who takes up the fight dressed as Ragman! He overhears the terrorists' plan to rob a bank and, after Ragman and Batman switch back into their usual costumes, they foil the bank robbery and manage to save hostage Nina Norwood, who is shot in the melee.

Peter: There are so many obstacles here to stumble over. We get oblique captions (The city has a dark side where it is always midnight. It is a wasteland of lost souls and burned-out hulks of deserted tenements, inhabited by arrogant rats and derelicts dreaming hopeless dreams fueled by cheap wine--are these actual rodents that are drinking cheap wine and dreaming hopeless dreams?), confusing flashbacks (Why does Rory survive the deadly electrocution and does it leave him with super powers?), dopey dialogue ("The only way to lure spiders out of their nest is with bait!"), head-scratching asterisks (Big Bob Kanigher feels the need to explain what an M.O. is to his pre-teen audience but then uses the obscure big fancy word tatterdemalion constantly without an asterisk anywhere in sight) and a maudlin finale (Hallmark Movie of the Week Presents: Batman Never Prays But He Does Mouth-to-Mouth). With all that going against it, you'd think I'd hate "The Two Faces of Midnight," but I don't. The plot is negligible and a decade outdated (Nina Norwood is Patty Hearst--wait, Patty who?), but the interplay between the two leads is entertaining and very humorous at times. Big Bob even tosses a "TNT trap" our way to remind us he's the guy who wrote 12,000 DC war scripts. I'd be looking forward to this team-up thing every issue if we got edgy characters like Ragman and I, Vampire rather than safe white-bread nonsense like Superboy and Aqualad.

Jack: Despite the silly and unnecessary switching of costumes, I enjoyed this story as well. I vaguely recall Ragman from the '70s when I bought every issue of the short-lived series, but I could not have told you he was a Vietnam vet, etc. Aparo's art is the key to these stories in The Brave and the Bold--when he's on, as he is this time, his panels are sharp and he handles action sequences well. Ragman has a really cool costume, too, and I like that he helps the less fortunate.

Next Week...
Richard Corben's "The Believer"
is only one of the many presents
we'll unwrap for you!


andydecker said...

So it really was Squid season? Good. One of the lamest Batman villains ever. (Okay, maybe not the lamest, but still a serious misfire.) But his death scene is a nice variation for once.

Giordano is criminally underrated as an inker. Considering he did it as a sideline in this period, his work is better as most of the regular guys. As much as I hated his later column in the DC comics, he was one of the architects of the new DC.

I had forgotten that Gerry created Killer Croc. Ad hoc I would have said it was Moench. Croc is one of the few - or maybe even the only? - villains with staying power created at the time in the Bat books. While I am very critical of Gerry's run, which I just think is terrible dull and uninspired, especially for what is supposed to be a flagship title, I like how Croc is introduced so slowly.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy! I agree with you about Giordano as an inker and about the slow build on Killer Croc.

Anonymous said...

I have very few DC or Marvels from this specific period, as most of the books from the majors had lost their sparkle for me. I was mostly spending my comics money on interesting ‘alternative’ titles like TWISTED TALES, CEREBUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS, so I’m unfamiliar with most of this stretch of Batman books. I’ve always liked Don Newton’s art and I remember flipping thru the Batman books at the comics shops, disappointed that his distinctive style was being buried beneath a landslide of Alcala’s heavy-handed inks. I did buy an issue or two, but just couldn’t take it. And I actually LIKE Alcala’s stuff, generally. Have him ink over pencils by Jim Janes or Adrian Gonzalez and boy, their stuff never looked better. But in this case, I thought it was like putting a (very well-drawn) mustache on the Mona Lisa. A waste of both their talents.

But somehow, this Newton/Giordano job slipped past me too. The examples you guys have posted here look GREAT. The “Owl Creek Bridge” surprise twist seems like a clever touch too. Maybe I’ll have to track this one down.

Re: Ragman — Not one of the true high points of mid-70s Comics or anything, but it’s five issues of solidly entertaining “street level vigilante” superheroics from the Kanigher/Kubert team. Joe Kubert only did full pencil/ink art on the final issue, the first four being finished by “The Redondo Studio” (Nestor and his brothers plus folks like Vic Catan and Buddy Gernale) over Joe’s dynamic breakdowns, but it’s a surprisingly effective combo. All five issues look really nice. For the longest time, they were readily available in Dollar Bins everywhere (I think I assembled two complete sets over the years) but I don’t know how cheap they are these days. Worth checking out if you can find them at a reasonable price. Someone might even have posted them online somewhere, come to think of it…


Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, b.t. I remember buying Ragman when it came out in the '70s and liking it, but I don't recall the story at all. I was a DC guy rather than a Marvel guy as a teenager, probably because I was being contrary since everyone worshipped Marvel.