Monday, February 7, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 46: December 1983-January 1984 + The Best of 1983


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

Walt Simonson
Batman #366

"The Joker is Wild!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Jason Todd is poking around Wayne Manor when he looks in Dick Grayson's closet and sees something surprising! In Guatemala, the Joker dusts off his purple suit and vows to keep causing mayhem. Batman and Vicki Vale emerge from the jungle and hitch a ride on a truck with gun-running rebels. The Joker takes off in his helicopter to target General Diaz in Mixtaya.

In a Gotham City park, Alfred's daughter tells him that her adoptive father may not have died of natural causes. As the truck taking Batman and Vicki Vale to Mixtaya nears its destination, the Joker's copter flies overheard, going the same way. In Gotham, as Commissioner Gordon lies in a coma, Harvey Bullock shows unexpected spine and refuses to take advantage of the situation.

The Joker's copter arrives at Mixtaya and an attack is launched on General Diaz's soldiers, but Batman prevents a catastrophe and they realize that the attacker is not with the rebels, so a shaky peace takes hold. Batman hangs onto the Joker's copter and chases the Joker into the jungle after the flying machine crashes. General Diaz and his soldiers join the rebels in attacking the Joker and his men at the Mayan pyramid, but just as the Joker has Batman in the sights of his machine gun, out of nowhere swings Robin! The Dynamic Duo make short work of the Joker and, as rebels and militia men shake hands, Robin reveals that he's Jason Todd. Batman tells him to "'remove that costume,"' promising further discussion of the young man's new role.

Peter: Jason Todd swinging in to the rescue in Guatemala is a howler, the pinnacle of ludicrosity (as is the Joker and his henchmen surviving the "bail-out" of a crashing helicopter), but.... and you've heard me say this quite a lot lately... I can't help but remember how boring these things were before Doug got to town. Now the titles are F-U-N. The only downside is the Newton/Alfredo Joker, who looks like a white-faced 1950s rock star in some panels. Their Batman, though, is strictly top-notch.

Jack: That cover by Walt Simonson is fantastic--it hearkens back to the amazing Flash covers of the '60s by Infantino and also looks forward to the sort of covers we'd see in the decades to come. As for the story, Doug Moench does a great job of juggling the subplots, though there's not enough Joker and too much Central American rebels for my liking. Also, Batman and Jason discuss the latter's secret identity while Batman has the Joker slung over his shoulder--I'd think they'd be a bit more careful sharing secrets like that!

Detective Comics #533

"Look to the Mountaintop"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Four ex-cons join forces to kill Jim Gordon, who's walking a ledge between life and death in a Gotham hospital. Each thug possesses a very particular set of skills. Berford "Mr. Bang" Bannon is an explosives expert, Zeke "Cobra" Kowalski is a black belt psychotic, Johnny "Hit Man" Hinton is a sharpshooter, and Ray "Slinker" Dawson knows no peer in the field of electronics. The quartet map out a (very sketchy) plan to infiltrate the hospital and negate Gordon's forward progress.

Meanwhile, Babs Gordon sits in her chair endlessly, never leaving her Pop's side, vocalizing her memories of childhood support from her father. Gordon would always tell his daughter "look to the mountaintop" whenever the odds seemed too great. 

Meanwhile, the villainous team makes it into the hospital and gasses the occupants. Babs makes it to a phone and gets word to the police that the building is under siege before she gives in to the sleeping gas. On a nearby rooftop, the suddenly good-souled Harvey Bullock contemplates life without Jim Gordon. How could Harvey have been such a bad man? His musing is interrupted by a cop, who informs Bullock of the assault at the hospital. Bullock lights up the bat-signal and heads to Gotham General.

Having a sixth sense, Batman heads directly to the hospital and finds the lovely Babs unconscious with the bad guys on their way up. Gordon suddenly wakes from his near-death coma and mumbles "look to the mountaintop!" Bats puts two and two together, tosses Gordon (bed and all) and Babs into the elevator, and takes them to the building's rooftop. The four geniuses of crime arrive shortly thereafter and Batman, with the aid of a resuscitated Babs, makes short work of them. 

Back when we were doing Marvel University, we coined the phrase "'tweener" for one-shot stories that were written to fall between two major arcs. "Look to the Mountaintop" is a good example of a 'tweener. It's got a very simple, uncomplicated plot that's been done a million times before, sprinkled with some extremely maudlin flashback scenes that would feel comfortable in a Lifetime movie of the week. The icing on the schmaltz-filled cake is Gordon waking from his coma, spouting that childhood phrase, proving to us and Babs that he was coherent the entire time he was down for the count. Oh brother.

The continued reform of Harvey Bullock as a sub-plot is also annoying. Did the police union contact the DC offices and let them know they weren't hip to the idea of a bad cop and change had better come fast or those parking tickets were going to increase? Well, let's just be thankful this dross was a 'tweener and not a three-issue arc. The art, however, is top-notch Colan, very reminiscent of his classic work on the late '60s Daredevil. Smith seems to be the perfect inker for Gene in that the guy knows who the headliner is and lets him do his thing. 

Jack: I thought the scene where Babs recalls growing up as a tomboy was effective, not schmaltzy. The hospital scene reminded me of a similar scene in The Godfather, when Michael has to move his father before the assassins arrive. Overall, this is a straightforward crime story with no distractions.

"The Black Box"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Chuck Patton & Shawn McManus

A new tenth-tier villain calling himself "The Detonator" has a jones for billionaire Warren Whelmsley, destroying the construction site of the Whelmsley Tower and publicly declaring his plans to blow up the rich man's plane while he's aboard unless he's paid the handsome sum of two million bucks. For his part, Whelmsley refuses to change his lifestyle and vows to board his plane for an in-air celebration of his wife's birthday. Sure enough, while the Whelmsleys are partying, the plane explodes but, miraculously, all on board are saved! Whelmsley announces to the media that the plane was carrying a special "black box" that recorded every sound on the plane while it was flying. This could provide top intel as to the true identity of the Detonator.

Not wanting the black box to fall into the hands of the wrong parties, the Detonator heads to the crash site in order to locate the equipment. There, Green Arrow engages in a brief tussle before our hero is knocked unconscious. The evil villain finds his black box and readies his departure when he's surrounded by a marauding gang of bikers... the Werewolves of London!

Peter: "The Black Box" is the first part in what promises to be yet another dumb and disposable back-up arc but... at least it's entertaining. Entertaining, that is, in the way, one of those Battle of the Network Stars shows always seemed to keep your attention. Something stupid but eye-catching was bound to happen. And so it is with "The Black Box." I'm not sure why the Detonator finds it so important to find a device that holds a tape of everything said aboard the plane unless... the Detonator is Whelmsley himself! But then, if he's put the box on board, why would he be dumb enough to incriminate himself?

And hats off to Star City's rescue crew for saving the lives of the passengers of a jumbo jet that explodes in the air! Cavalieri is obviously commenting on how worthless a hero the Arrow really is, since his two scenes in the story see him defeated soundly. My favorite bit, though, and the reason I'm looking forward to the second part, is Cavalieri's "homage" to Mad Max, the biker gang inexplicably named the Werewolves of London! A good start to this four-parter, but if I've learned anything from my tenure here at the bare*bones Batman office, it's that these back-ups seldom end well.

Jack: It's rare that one of these back-up stories in Detective is worth reading, and this installment is not worth the time. The art veers from fair to pretty good and the villains are as forgettable as ever. Seven pages just doesn't seem to be enough room to move an interesting story along.

Batman #367

"The Green Ghosts of Gotham"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

There's a big, old house in the Gotham slums that is overgrown with briars and weeds, but inside the house Poison Ivy is up to something! A cloud of spores is let loose into the city air and, from those spores, fifteen plant-people quickly grow to full size. Batman and Jason Todd are out on patrol when they encounter one of the creatures, but all they get for their trouble is some green goo.

The next day, executives at Gotham City's big corporations receive invitations from a company called Exotica and the men who respond are greeted at the big, old house by Poison Ivy, who has them all change into loin cloths and relax by a waterfall. The harried executives fall asleep and mysterious vines snake over them while they slumber. Upon returning to work, the men are strangely laid back, leading Bruce Wayne to wonder what is going on.

Batman and his unnamed young sidekick visit the big, old house and confront Poison Ivy, who reveals nothing about her master plan. That night, Batman enters the house again and does battle with the plant monsters; Jason gets in on the action, but Poison Ivy manages to torch the mansion and escape. More important, in the heat of battle, Batman calls Jason, Robin!

Peter: Am I the only one questioning why Batman didn't immediately suspect Swamp Thing when his batarang came back with green, mossy material? This was a decent, average adventure with some spotty art. Newton and Alcala hit the bullseye with their noir-ish night scenes, but anything involving interior or daylight shots (especially the Wayne Enterprises shots) look half-finished. Love that Gordon took the words right out of my mouth when he told the burly former felony-committing detective to leave him alone. What a difference four decades makes... these days, if you were to get an envelope in the mail with the return address of "Exotica," chances are it wouldn't have to do with plant-based therapy.

Jack: Another terrific, full-length story in Batman by Moench, Newton, and Alcala! I've always liked Poison Ivy and recently read the current "Fear State" saga in the new Batman comics, so I know Ivy is now the romantic partner of Harley Quinn. Nothing that progressive (transgressive?) happens here, though Newton and Alcala certainly draw an alluring Ivy. Like Peter, I thought of Swamp Thing when the plant monsters were rising, but that character is not referenced anywhere in the story. Moench once again handles the continuing sublots adeptly: Alfred briefly shows up, Vicki Vale is at her newspaper, and Harvey Bullock and Commissioner Gordon are back in the office. 


Detective Comics #534

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Alfredo Alcala

Five Wayne Enterprise executives have been bewitched by Poison Ivy. They leave their desks, then they leave the building and disappear. Meanwhile, at police headquarters, Poison Ivy's scientist ally, Lignier, is being grilled by Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne. The interrogation gets nowhere as Lignier refuses to cooperate and is interrupted by Harvey Bullock, who brings news of the missing execs. 

Bruce gets a call from Lucius Fox, who informs him that the five men were behaving weirdly before vanishing, and he would suspect embezzlement if not for their upstanding reputations. Below the burnt rubble of the Exotica building, Poison Ivy continues the evil experiments begun by Lignier, transferring "brain waves" from her five hostages into the mossy forms of her "green ghosts." 

Working from a clue inadvertently delivered by Lignier, Batman heads to the Exotica debris, Jason Todd in tow. Jason is captured by Ivy and she threatens to strangle the boy with her vine-noose if Batman does not allow her to unleash her green hell on Gotham. Her twisted plot involves planting mutated seeds below Gotham and watching as they destroy the landscape. Ivy orders her monsters to kill Batman, but her glee is short-lived when Jason gets the drop on her and reverses the noose onto the gorgeous Ivy. The woman has no choice but to order her moss-men to stand down. 

Jason wonders if he might have been too violent with the obviously mentally ill Ivy, but Bats poo-poos that notion and tells him that, in their "line of business," stuff happens. With that, the Dark Knight officially welcomes Jason Todd to the costumed hero fan club. They retire to the Batcave to sort out a new name for the acrobat.

Peter: A very enjoyable two-issue story, but I wish Doug had stretched it to three as the climax feels rushed. I'd have liked to see Ivy's plan come to some fruition before shut-down. One thing I couldn't figure out (perhaps I'm just too dense) was why Ivy had to have the five executives' "brain waves?" Maybe just to get revenge against Wayne Enterprises? You get the sense that Poison Ivy is as unhinged as the Joker. Before this story, she was just the girl who could control plants. Here, she wants to use that power to destroy the world, not just rob banks.

Bruce has a real detective working for him in Lucius Fox, who senses something might be "irregular" when all five of the brainwashed execs transfer most all of Wayne's funds to Swiss accounts. I'd have never caught that one. The Newton/Alcala art is superb (I should just cut and paste my art critiques, such as they are, from last issue); this is really the best run of Batman/'tec issues since the mid-'70s, thanks to Doug Moench and his very capable imagineers.

Jack: High praise, indeed, and I agree with you. I thoroughly enjoyed the two-issue Poison Ivy saga and the art by Colan and Alcala has not been this good since Colan first joined the Batman family. Jason's torturing Ivy was unexpected and I like that they're suggesting that he may not be as lily-white as his predecessor. Even the last few panels, where Bruce and Jason trade silly suggestions for a new name for the lad, were funny.

"The Black Box II: Werewolves of London!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Chuck Patton & Shawn McManus

The Green Arrow and the Detonator kinda sorta join forces to battle the biker gang known far and wide as the "Werewolves of London!" At stake is what the Arrow describes as "the holy grail," the black box that was on board the Warren Whelmsley-owned jumbo jet that exploded in air and may contain the secret identity of the Detonator! Despite a healthy battle, one of the bikers manages to get away and heads for the Werewolves' lair with the black box, Det, and Arrow close behind.

Peter: Well, at least the sheer goofiness of this arc hasn't let up. We still have no idea why anyone would think the black box contains info worth killing for (Warren W. pretty much declares the box contains the identity of the Detonator) or why an East Coast biker gang would call itself the Werewolves of London. The climactic reveal, of the gang's hideout and possession of lots of explosives, is reminiscent of the "Survival of the Fittest" storyline. Obviously, Cavalieri had been very taken by The Road Warrior. Penciller Chuck Patton's art is hot and cold; his Arrow is snazzy but his support characters look rushed. 

Jack: Why did comic book writers feel the need to reference things like George Harrison's "Crackerbox Palace" and Monty Python's John Cleese? Both are mentioned in this story and the in-jokes serve no purpose. The art, in spots, is certainly competent, but it never comes to life--it's just technically proficient. These backup stories seem like training ground for new comic writers; Joey Cavalieri has yet to impress me with anything unusual.



Best Script:
Gerry Conway, "Deathgrip" (Detective Comics #524)
Best Art: Joe Staton & George Freeman, "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" (The Brave & the Bold #197)
Best All-Around Story: "Deathgrip"
Worst Script: Joey Cavalieri, "Mob Rules" (Detective Comics #523-525)
Worst Art: Irv Novick & Ron Randall, "Mob Rules"
Best Cover > 

The Five Best Stories

1 "Deathgrip" 
2 "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
3 "All My Enemies Against Me" (Detective #526)
4 "Survival of the Fittest" (Detective #530)
5 "Smell of Brimstone..." (The Brave & the Bold #200)


Best Script: Alan Brennert, "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
Best Art: Joe Staton & George Freeman, "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
Best All-Around Story: "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
Worst Script: Joey Cavalieri, take your pick! 
Worst Art: Paris Cullins & Pablo Marcos, "Getting Up" (Detective #527)
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1 "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!"
2 "All My Enemies Against Me!"
3 "Requiem for Skulls" (Detective #528)
4 "Passion Nocturnale" (Detective #530)
5 "Laugh, Killer, Laugh!" (Detective #532)

Next Week...
Richard Corben
comes to our rescue!


andydecker said...

Batman #366: The transformation of Bullock from Saul to Paul is a bit too fast for me, pity they didn't write this more convincingly.

In Detective #533 sentimentality is king. Doug Moench writes a solid Batman, but his idea of a stroke and its effects is laughable.

Harley and Ivy are a team since the days of Batman: The Animated Series. And Paul Dini's and Bruce Timm's Harley & Ivy three issue comic series from 2004 is still great. But it is hard to recognize this old Ivy in the current version. Still, Doug makes a lot out of the character. The story is okay and lot more coherent than later ones with Ivy.

But I still don't like Jason.

The cover of #367 is one of the best Batman covers of the year.

John said...

The cover of Batman #366 "The Joker is Wild!" by Walt Simonson is one of my all-time favorites and I feel it's such a pity that DC did not give Simonson a whole run of Batman-Dec titles.

I agree with Jack that "Look to the Mountaintop" was effectively written without forcing the sentimentality. The story had a heart.

Colan and Newton seem to understand what excellent script material was given to them my Doug Moench and really show their best selves. Amazing art !

Also, I think in this 80's decade the villains really stopped being ludicrous goofy caricatures for kids and started to transform to the modern type of villains highlighting the violence and the cynicism of the world. Poison Ivy's story by Doug is an example of that.

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy: Saul to Paul! Good analogy. We did need a Road to Damascus moment for Harvey Bullock to make his transformation more convincing. There are huge holes in my Bat-knowledge, so thanks for the info about Harley and Ivy. From what I can tell, though, they just became a "couple" recently, no?

John: I'm with you in wishing for more Walt Simonson in the Bat books. His run in the '70s was great. Fortunately, we're in good hands with Colan and Newton for now. I'm looking forward to seeing the more adult villains, though I think they may have taken that too far in recent years. I grew up on Adam West and Burt Ward, so I'll always have a fondness for goofy villains.

John said...

Jack: Yes, they definitely have taken it too far lately. It seems to me they reached a point where they just repeat theselves over and over with rare moments of creativity. To be honest since Grant Morrison's run I stopped reading Batman regularly. I just wait for something extraordinary ( which is very rare recently) like Snyder's Court of Owls run or Black Mirror to pick them up in TPB.

Yes, Harley & Ivy recently became a couple in the animated HBO Max series with title Harley Quinn, but I am sure there are also some comics where they re together not only as crime partners. Harley is Paul Dini's creation and he has written & created the best material for the character in every medium.

Jack Seabrook said...

I read the entire recent run of "Fear State" and, while it started out well, it quickly ran out of steam.

John said...

I haven't read Fear State, but I read a lot of good things for James Tynion's “The Joker” limited series and I remember your recommendation for "Urban Legends".
I want to find the time and read these two.