Monday, May 2, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 52: December 1984/January 1985 + The Best of 1984


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


Batman #378

"One Hat Madder!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Batman pays a nocturnal visit to Mayor Hill to warn him that his days in office are numbered. Elsewhere, the Mad Hatter sits at his computer, busily typing and chatting with his pet chimp. The Hatter suspects that Natalia knows the location of money stolen and hidden by the late Sturges Hellstrom. In court, the judge awards custody of Jason Todd to Natalia so, that night, Bruce heads out as Batman to fight crime and take his mind off of Jason.

The Mad Hatter delivers a fancy hat to Natalia and, when she puts it on, she is in his power. As the Hatter begins to download all of the knowledge stored in her brain to his computer by means of the hat, Batman arrives, but Natalia goes on the attack, controlled by the Mad Hatter. Robin chases the fleeing Hatter and catches him, grabbing his computer. When Robin returns with the device to Natalia's penthouse suite, he is able to shut off the mind control unit. The Dynamic Duo swing off into the night, secure in the knowledge that the Mad Hatter will not discover their secret identities by rifling through the thoughts of Natalia.

Peter: Though Doug's exposition and dialogue continue to be (respectively) clunky and melodramatic, he still has what it takes to fit together a decent yarn. Bereft of most of the soap opera trappings we've come to know and hate, "One Hat Madder!" is simply an enjoyable throwback to the '66 show, featuring one of those old third-tier villains who would have disappeared into obscurity without David Wayne's help. But, oh, that art! Outside of Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers, I can think of no one who brings the Batman to life more vividly than the Newton/Alcala team. Just have a look at the splash or the final page. The detail alone would push most artists past the deadline. 

Jack: They are really flying high, are they not? I enjoyed this story too, though the Mad Hatter's goofy chimp companion was almost too much for me to take. DC sure loved its gorillas/monkeys/chimps! All of the subplots are nicely handled, from the Vicki Vale/Julia love triangle, to Alfred, Mayor Hill, and Harvey Bullock. Moench really does well with the full-length stories and I wish they'd get rid of the backups in Detective so he could stretch out there as well.


Detective Comics #545

"By Darkness Masked"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

The Thief of Night (oh, sorry, my bad, the Night-Slayer), aka Anton Knight, reminisces about his life, how he escaped the clutches of Batman, and how dearly he wants vengeance against his ex-lover/adopted sister Natalia Knight aka Nocturna. (Pshooo, takes a breath.) Night Slayer/Thief/Whatever climbs down into the sewers and collapses; the water takes him down through the twists and turns of the sewers and deposits him out on the river's edge. That's where Tina and Cerberus find him.

Tina is a poor blind girl who lives in a shack on the river and Cerberus is her very large dog. When they run across the body, the dog is able to drag Anton back to the shack, where Tina nurses the injured man back to health. When the girl asks how Anton came to be injured, he tells her he was shot by a bad man who's out looking for him and he needs time to recover. Referencing the tights and cape Anton was wearing, Tina asks the bedridden man if his alter ego is Batman. Seeing this as a way to get what he needs, Anton answers in the affirmative. Meanwhile, the real Batman is following a trail of blood crumbs and closing in on his prey.

Peter: Okay, Doug, I get it. The Thief of the Night has "spilled enough blood to become a Night-Slayer." Just change his name already and stop writing awkwardly phrased sentences to remind us of the fact. Doug's scripts of late really have been a seesaw of flatulent prose (It was Nocturna who coldly committed to symbolism that which was already wrought in reality.) and clever twists (Tina mistaking this bozo for the Dark Knight) but, in the end, the guy does provide solid entertainment and a minimalizing (of late) of those goshdarn subplots. I could have done without the six-page "What has come before..."

And extra points to the writer for juggling two (or maybe three) major plot threads at once and making me interested in all of them. Only a random mention here of the Hatter, whose threat continues in the next Batman. As I mentioned way too many times already, we really are spoiled to be covering two titles with two dynamite art crews. As Alcala seems to be Newton's soulmate, so would it seem that Gene Colan has found a perfect partner in Bob Smith. The inker Smith is smart in that he realizes Colan is the draw here; he doesn't do anything to detract from a master's work.

Jack: I read this dud of a story and thought Smith's inks did Colan no favors. I did not even realize that Tina was a girl at first. I have to say, when you look at Natalia's behavior from Anton's perspective, she does seem a bit loose with her favors. This tale seems like Moench is treading water, since we get a long recap and then nothing much happens.

"It's No Fair III: Fair Raid"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Shawn McManus

Oliver somehow explains the Green Arrow costume to Bad Penny (maybe she's just stupid?) and she lets him into the Automated Automat building where she and Pinball Wizard are keeping hostages. The duo want six million or the hostages get blowed up real good. Oliver changes into his tights and apprehends the two baddies but loses his temper when he discovers the two hostages are really robots in the automat. Meanwhile, a new costumed baddie in Star City guns down an unarmed man in a dark alley. Who is this masked man?

Peter: Thankfully, a conclusion to Cavalieri's plea to the rich to show some kindness to the have-nots and stop taking steps toward "progress." If Joey changed one mind among the billionaires who read Detective Comics, then his job was done. I can't believe the stupidity of the characters in this strip, not one of whom realizes the guy with the big yellow goatee who carries tights in his backpack is also the Green Arrow, who just happens to show up the same time Ollie disappears. Talk about the people in Metropolis being nitwits. A whole lot of care and imagination was put into the creation of Vengeance, I'm sure, but why not use Vigilante, a character who owns pretty much the same costume (oddly, it's red here but transforms into black in the following issue) and mentality? I guess we'll find out next issue.

Jack: The only good moment in this one was when Bad Penny calls Green Arrow Hawkeye and he quips that "for some reason, that name really grates!" Pretty funny.


Batman #379

"Bedtime Stories"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Julia writes a great story for Picture News about a fire, but Alfred is disappointed that she did not use his surname in her byline. Vickie sends her to cover the judge's ruling in the Jason Todd adoption case while the Thief of the Night continues to recover at blind Tina's shack. The Mad Hatter recruits various people and controls them with special hats, giving them great strength and instructing them to find and kill Batman, or at least to stick a tracking device onto his cape.

Natalia tells Jason one of her "Bedtime Stories" but is unable to counteract his determination to go on the prowl with Batman as Robin; one of the Mad Hatter's minions fights Batman and puts a tracker on his cape. Later, the Dynamic Duo head off into the night, unaware that they are being followed by Natalia. Batman and Robin find the Mad Hatter's current base of operations and come face to face with a quartet of super-strong, mind-controlled men. The men are vanquished but the Hatter is about to blow up the warehouse where the fight took place, until Natalia appears from nowhere and stops him from harming her crush and her adopted son.

Peter: A rushed finish to what began as a solid arc. It's not just the script that's sub-par this time out; the art doesn't have the usual depth and life we've become accustomed to. In three consecutive panels, Bruce Wayne looks like... anyone but Bruce. Shades of the Green Arrow/Oliver Queen identity problem, we've got Nocturna and Natalia Knight, who no one but Dick and Bruce seems to recognize as the same person. This despite the skin coloring of Dracula's daughter. This Thief-Slayer-of the Night thread has gone on long enough. Let's put 'er to bed.

Jack: An enjoyable, full-length story with a lot of subplots that are well-handled. I agree that Newton and Alcala don't always handle faces very well, but their depiction of Batman in action is terrific. I was surprised that Julia wrote (in her story for Picture News) that she sees Bruce as a father figure; we've been led to believe he was more like a potential boyfriend. Also, I did not expect Natalia to come to the rescue at the end, though I should have realized it was coming when she slipped out after Batman and Robin left. Chalk one up to Moench for a pleasant surprise.


Detective Comics #546

"Hill's Descent"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

With Commissioner Gordon suspended, Mayor Hill commands the police force to bring in Batman--dead or alive! The cops seem to be evenly divided in this new mission to bring down Gotham's defender- some believe him to be savior, others a vigilante. The Dark Knight tries to reach Gordon's home but the police have the area surrounded and his approach is foiled. Bats gets Gordon on the phone and the Commish tells him he suspects Harvey Bullock knows more than he's telling.

Meanwhile, across town, Harvey is shot at again and only his quick trigger finger saves him. The assassin is killed and Harvey is furious. He hops in his jalopy and heads for Hill's mansion. There, Bullock tells Hill he's done being a stooge for the corrupt mayor; he's come to learn that Gordon is an honorable man and a great cop. Hill responds by blasting Harvey with a concealed handgun. 

Peter: "Hill's Descent" is a solid, entertaining read. It's nothing new, but Moench brings up good points in the "Batman: Hero or Masked Vigilante" debate and frames it in the context of what the cops would think. These guys are just trying to do their job, following orders, but some are conflicted about bringing down the guy who's saved the city more than a few times. This Hill thread has to be coming to a conclusion soon, since we all know Harvey Bullock is not dead and he'll be talking before you know it, unless Doug slaps the poor slob with a dose of amnesia. The two subplots of Thief of the Night-Slayer and Nocturna's new motherhood are given only a blessed page each. Neither page advances the narrative, but that's okay with me. Better these teensy slivers than a huge bar of soap all at once.

Jack: The Colan/Smith art is back in fine form, for the most part. I can't understand why the citizens of Gotham don't know by now that Batman is a good guy. He's been fighting crime for 45 years! The whole narrative thread of Batman vs. the cops is exciting and reminds me of the early '70s Batman comics. One question: why is Nocturna's real name Natalia in Batman but Natalie in Detective?

"Clash Reunion"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Oliver Queen is attending his high school reunion when a masked vigilante known as Vengeance breaks up the gaiety, announcing he's here to apprehend an embezzler named Davy Arnold. Ollie slips away, changes into his Green Arrow costume (such as it is), and dukes it out with the bounty hunter. Vengeance informs the Arrow that more than one of the classmates is wanted for vile deeds and he intends to put a rope around each one of them. Vengeance throws a smoke bomb and disappears, leaving Ollie to wonder who among his old friends may be a criminal. Meanwhile, a dying old man tells his pupil, Onyx, that it's time for her to get out in the world and bring back Oliver Queen.

Peter: I've been burned by too many of these worthless back-ups to show more than a glimmer of hope that this might just be an interesting arc. It sure seems so and the last page, the introduction of Elektra-lite Onyx Adams, has me intrigued at the very least. It will all probably come back to haunt me, this show of affection, and Jack will laugh behind my back just like every other time I said "Hey, this back-up might be a good one!" It also helps Cavalieri's cause that he was assigned a competent art crew. The graphics, while not on a par with Colan or Newton, are tantamount to The Kinks taking the stage after warm-up act The Association slinked off. Penciller Jerome Moore will stick around for a couple of years on the back-up and then take over as regular artist on DC's Star Trek funny books.

Jack: I had the same reaction to this story--thank goodness it was slightly interesting and we don't have to suffer through any more art by McManus. Moore & Patterson's pages won't win any awards, but they're at least competent and the odd panel here and there looks very nice. The story as a whole isn't bad and the cliffhanger is decent. I'm not laughing at you yet, but I don't guarantee to stick to that!



Best Script: Doug Moench, "A Revenge of Rainbows" (Batman #368)
Best Art: Newton/Alcala, "One Hat Madder" (Batman #378)
Best All-Around Story: "A Revenge of Rainbows"
Worst Script: Joey Cavalieri, the Green Arrow back-up
Worst Art: Shawn McManus, the Green Arrow back-up
Best Cover: Hannigan/Giordano, Batman #373 > 

The Five Best Stories
1 "A Revenge of Rainbows"
2 "Nine Cradles of Death" (Batman #371)
3 "The Frequency of Fear" (Batman #373)
4 "Brambles" (Detective Comics #534)
5 "By Darkness Masked" (Detective Comics #545)


Best Script: Doug Moench, "A Revenge of Rainbows"
Best Art: Colan/Alcala, "The Frequency of Fear"
Best All-Around Story: "The Frequency of Fear"
Worst Script: "It's No Fair III: Fair Raid" by Joey Cavalieri
Worst Art: "It's No Fair III: Fair Raid" by Shawn McManus
Best Cover: Hannigan/Giordano, Batman #370>

The Five Best Stories
1 "The Green Ghosts of Gotham" (Batman #367)
2 "Brambles"
3 "A Revenge of Rainbows"
4 "The Frequency of Fear"
5 "Nightmares, Inc." (Batman #376)



Next Week...
25 years ago, Peter picked this as one
of the most horrifying Warren stories ever...
So... does it hold up?


andydecker said...

I don't know if I would choose Batman #368 as the best script, but there is nothing really spectacular in these issues which stays in mind. It is solid work, no doubt, but it never becomes great work storywise.

Compared to other DC books of this period the Batman franchise remains safe and dull. You had Teen Titans, Omega Men, Swamp Thing, Legion of Superheroes and a lot of other stuff which maybe didn't work in hindsight or saleswise, but at least was interesting.

My choice for best cover would be Batman #367, but this is a matter of taste. You choose also excellent covers. Hannigan and Giordano did outstanding work for this book.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Andy. I wasn't really reading new comics in the '80s, so these are all new to me. I've read some of the Teen Titans in later years and so I think Wolfman and Perez were probably doing the best work, but my sample size is so small that I really don't know. I also read the Crisis trade PB eventually.