Monday, June 13, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 55: June-July 1985


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

Batman #384

"Broken Dates"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg & Rudy Nebres

Saddened by the death of Dr. Fang, Gotham City's crime bosses place a telephone call to the Monitor, a mysterious figure who orbits the Earth on a satellite. For a fee, he hires the perfect super-criminal to oppose Batman: the Calendar Man. Cal likes to stroll around his mansion, pondering the nature of calendars, and today, March 15th, he decides to commit six crimes in a leadup to the first day of spring, when Batman will die.

After Batman finds proof that Catwoman did not die in her fall from an airplane, the Calendar Man commits his first crime by robbing a bank vault and leaving a guard dressed (or undressed) as Baby New Year. Batman figures out the identity of the culprit right away and, in between mooning over Nocturna, listening to Alfred talk up Julia, and taking a phone call from Vicki, the Dark Knight deduces where the Calendar Man will strike next.

The following day, the Calendar Man's robbery of a magic shop is interrupted by the Dynamic Duo, but the villain escapes easily. On March 17th, Bruce breaks a date with Julia (again) and Alfred hints to his daughter that the millionaire playboy has more on his mind than stocks and bonds. The Calendar Man interrupts a magic act to steal a valuable diamond necklace and once again manages to escape scot-free. Batman finds a calendar showing that spring arrives in three days, and a message is scrawled in the page: "When Robins come out to die!"

Peter: I found the art to be a bit better than last time out. Hoberg seems to be toning down the cartoony aspects of his pencils (it might also be Nebres's inking). The Calendar Man is strictly a fifth-tier level villain, but that's perfect for the hokey script he's saddled with. The Bat-romance angle is ludicrous to the max. "I can't get over how much I love Selina now that she's missing. Oh, she's all right! I don't love her as much now. Nocturna's all night-timey and sultry and dangerous. That's my woman! She's still pining for the Thief of Night-Slayer? Oh well.  That Vicki Vale sure is hot. Oh, she wants to break up? I think I'll put the moves on Alfred's little girl." 

Speaking of which, Alfred continues to be Father of the Year by egging Bruce on in any way he can. If the Comics Code hadn't stepped in, we'd have seen the panel where Alfred hands Master Bruce a packet of ribbed condoms and tells his boss which positions Julia digs.

Jack: Where did the Monitor come from? A quick trip to Wikipedia tells me that he was a big deal in the Crisis mini-series that was on the horizon at DC. I guess regular readers of DC in 1985 were familiar with him before this issue of Batman. He reminds me of one of those online sources where you can go to find a contractor to install a new window or fix your roof. In any case, this is one of the kinds of Batman stories that I enjoy, with a goofy super-villain and a series of crimes linked by a theme.

Detective Comics #551

"The First Day of Spring"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

The Calendar Man continues his reign of terror working up to the assassination of Batman. His next event day is the opening of the tunnel that connects two major highways in Gotham. He arrives in the guise of Emerald Archer (the "Cupid of Crime"), a bowman with deadly arrows, and prepares to blow up the tunnel. But the Dark Knight arrives in time to prevent the destruction. Calendar Man escapes but leaves a clue for his adversary; his next planned event will arrive on March 21st--National French Bread Day!

Meanwhile, infantile Jason Todd, mad because Bruce Wayne grounded him, slips out into the night, prepared to head off Calendar Man at the pass. Yet again, this impetuous six-year-old will doubtless triple-axle himself into harm's way and necessitate rescue from the big guy. To be continued!

I must admit, with quite a bit of shame, to having taken my eyes off the prize when it comes to Calendar Man's gimmick. At first, I assumed the nut based his heists on major holidays, but then he expanded his range to tunnel openings, so I'm not sure how Batman and Robin can figure out any future moves. National Pineapple Day? National Take Your Pet to Work Day? Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Gotham's first Wal-Mart? Katy bar the door. That Emerald Archer suit is a loser. What about it screams "Cupid of Crime"? I can see so many ways of becoming injured on the job wearing that armor. One sudden stop and his calf is lacerated by half a dozen arrows (tipped with... who knows?!) and the faux wings on his back must weigh a ton. Where'd he get such an outlandish get-up? At that brand new Wal-Mart?

The "Jason Todd is a whiny snot-nosed brat" sub-plot reaches its zenith with the ludicrous exchange between Bruce and Jason (at least, I think it's B+R's alter egos, but who knows with this lousy art?) in the Batcave. At what point does Batman throw up his arms and decide a solo career is actually better than babysitting?

Stupid Cupid
Did I mention the abysmal Broderick/Smith graphics? Vicki Vale, overnight, has grown a shnozz the size of Pete Townshend's famous bugle, and Bruce's face has elongated like it's made of silly putty. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Pat Broderick's penciling is better suited to the cover of Rocket's Blast, not a professional funny book that sells approx. 50,000 copies a month (and plummeting). This art sucks.

Jack: It really is pretty bad, though the cover, which is credited to Broderick alone, looks much better than the interior art. One interesting thing to note about the Calendar Man is his apparent penchant for calendars with cheesecake photos of pretty women. It makes me wonder just where his interests lie. I agree that the rebellious teen/strict father subplot is getting tired very quickly and, as for Calendar Man's daily, elaborate super-villain costumes, I'll just quote Warren Zevon: "I'd like to meet his tailor."

Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

When a gung-ho immigration agent tries to bust Oliver Queen's favorite restaurant owner, it opens Ollie's eyes to the problems of illegal immigrants. The manager whips out his green card and the Feds hoof it, but the man asks Ollie to check in on his brother, an illegal from El Salvador. Ollie visits the foreigner, who is hiding in the basement of a local church, but their conversation is interrupted when a certain gruff immigration man rushes through the door and busts everyone, including a very perturbed Oliver Queen.

Peter: Ripped from the day's headlines and still newsworthy today, "Sanctuary" lets Joey comment not only on the growing problem of undocumented immigrants (some of whom were probably mowing DC President Jeanette Kahn's front lawn), but also that favorite target of the hip and with-it funny book writer, the corrupt, stupid and belligerent law enforcement officer. 

It's an interesting change of pace to have a Green Arrow strip that lacks a guy in spandex but, to me, it reads like something Joey threw together after reading Time Magazine's cover story on illegal immigrants. Look, it's definitely a step down from Alan Moore, but we're stuck with Cavalieri and his loopy scripts. Might as well enjoy them, right? Well...

Jack: I liked the change of pace story and thought the art was better than that in the lead story. The immigration problem sadly has not gone away. The last page, which returns to the ongoing mystery involving a woman with a headband or tiara, was less interesting.

Batman #385

"Day of Doom"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rick Hoberg, Chuck Patton, & Alfredo Alcala

Robin follows the Calendar Man and fights him in an alley but is unable to prevent his escape; back at the Batcave, Jason talks Bruce into letting him be more of a partner in the fight against crime. Batman knows where tonight's crime will occur, yet a visit to an assembly of Gotham crime bosses yields no information on the Calendar Man's whereabouts.

The Calendar Man's next robbery goes off without a hitch, in part because Robin is distracted by fireworks. The next night, poor Bill Modell tries to keep up with Vicki Vale's workout and ends up getting slapped. Elsewhere, at Gotham Park's ritzy restaurant, snakes frighten diners and the Calendar Man shows up dressed like Loki; his attempt to rob the guests is foiled by the Caped Crusader. After letting the air out of the tires on Cal's escape motorcycle, Robin chases the villain to his hideout. Batman follows and a fistfight ensues. When Batman is momentarily stunned, Robin intervenes and saves his mentor from being killed by the Calendar Man's laser rifle.

Peter: Well, at least the art is better this time around, thanks to the return of Alfredo. But, alas, Alcala won't be around for long, as next issue we get yet another new artist on Batman. Doug's script seems uncentered, as if he just can't get rid of this lousy Calendar Man. A three-issue arc and the super-baddie chameleon is dispatched fairly easily by the Boy Wonder. While Joey Cavalieri had been reading Time, it's clear Doug was keeping time with Health & Fitness. There's an annoying Jamie Lee Curtis (circa Perfect) vibe to Vicki Vale, who seems to have grown a couple of feet in stature thanks to aerobics. 

Jack: I'll agree that the art is marginally better, but the story is a letdown. I'm still puzzled by the Calendar Man's ability to create new costumes each day for his escapades each night, not to mention his success at finding fancy new motorcycles and his skill at building a laser rifle. The guy should use all of his talents for good! Worst of all is the fact that Moench spends three and a half pages on the Vicki Vale scene at the gym; her dialogue is priceless:

--"But what's wrong with transvection of disillusionment into a catalyst for actualizing the potential of one's self?"

--"Fighting back in the arena of one's self is hardly a cult..."

--"Reading something other than the latest bestseller is the quickest escape from the mediocrity of the herd mind..."

Like you, I lived through the '80s, and I have no interest in getting into a time machine and going back to a decade where people said things like that with a straight face.


Detective Comics #552 

"A Stump Grows in Gotham"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick & Bob Smith

Julia Pennyworth covers the sad story of a centuries-old elm tree being cut down so that new buildings can be erected in Gotham. But we'll get back to the relevance of this later...

There's a hit man walking the streets of Gotham with a deal to make with all the major crime lords. His name is Cutter and, for a price, he'll take down Batman for good. The bosses agree but, of course, they demand proof when the job is done. Unbeknownst to the criminals, Batman is on the rooftop, listening to the conversation through the skylight. He has a plan.

The next night, in Gotham Park, the Dark Knight confronts his would-be assassin and feigns an easy takedown. Cutter believes he's killed the Caped Crusader and buys a cheap coffin (made out of the felled elm... toldja we'd come back to that) to place the "body" in. Cutter calls a meeting of the mob bosses in Darkwood Cemetery to show him the corpse but, miraculously, Batman comes back to life and busts out of his wooden cage. Shocked by the turn of events, hit man and mobsters alike are easy pickins' for Gotham's avenger. 

Peter: "A Stump Grows in Gotham" is lightweight, inoffensive material that is, thankfully, not stretched out to two issues' worth of material. There are some eye-rolling delicacies here and there from the pen of  Mr. Moench. A stark apparition from the thirteenth midnight of fever. I'm still Googling Shakespeare quotes to find where that one came from. No luck, though. Unlike over at the Batman title, the art here is not improving. That's worrisome since we're stuck with Broderick for a bit.

Jack: I think your wires got crossed! This appears to be the last Pat Broderick issue for the foreseeable future. "A Stump Grows in Gotham" is the definition of filler--the first four pages display the thrilling spectacles of Alfred reading the paper and a crew cutting down a tree, while the last four pages are taken care of by two double-page spreads. All this in a 16-page story! One thing that puzzled me was why Batman had to go through the whole, elaborate ruse of dying his hair red, taking a pill to slow his heartbeat, etc., in order to gather all of the crooks together in one place. Weren't they all gathered together when he listened in on their plan to kill him? Why not drop in then and wipe the floor with them? It seems rather risky to pretend to be dead and let the crooks have his body for a funeral.

"Sanctuary II: Poor, Huddled Masses"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

With the help of the Black Canary (in disguise as Ollie's lawyer), Oliver Queen bails out of a detention center housing illegal immigrants. Since he's a superhero, he busts out every other "prisoner" as well. Meanwhile, Onyx finally tracks down the Green Arrow!

Peter: If I wanted to get political (which I definitely don't), I could bring up all kinds of reasons why Oliver Queen is in the wrong, despite the aggressive actions of the INS. Legally, that is. Morally... that's where things get gray. Wouldn't the INS have filed some kind of paperwork on Ollie when he was brought to the facility? Surely they could find him easily and arrest him for all types of felonious acts. Not that I'm trying to give Joey any fodder for future installments. I think I prefer villains like the Golden Goose to agents of the Government. Somehow, this social commentary worked when Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams did it in the '60s. Here, it's just a boatload of grandstanding. Onyx gets her standard, one-panel cameo at the climax. Will this poor girl become the spotlight of an arc at some point?

Jack: I found it odd that the bad guy seemed to be making some good points, but Ollie listened to none of them. The two men just kept talking right past each other. Maybe that was Cavalieri's point. Doubt it. The plot fell apart quickly, after a good start last issue, and Ollie's decision to turn around and ram his car into the prison fence just to create mayhem seemed far-fetched. Wouldn't that increase the risk of his passengers being caught? At least we have Black Canary back. Hopefully, she'll hop on her motorcycle soon.

Batman Annual #9

"The Four Faces of Batman"

"First Face: The Child 'Childhood's End'"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jerry Ordway

"Second Face: The Avenger 'Innocent Blood!'"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alex Nino

"Third Face: The Detective 'Death by Double Fault!'"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Dan Jurgens & Dick Giordano

"Fourth Face: The Man 'Perspectives!'"
Story by by Mike W. Barr
Art by Paul Smith

"Childhood's End" comes early for a talented young violinist when his parents are run over and killed by the getaway car in a robbery gone wrong. The young man vows vengeance and Batman thinks back to his own youth, when bitterness and a thirst for revenge drove him to a life of crime fighting. He quickly catches the driver and guides the young man onto a path that will develop his musical talent rather than kindle his rage.

Crooks pretending to be with the Black Heart Army, a revolutionary organization, rob a bank and a teller dies of a heart attack. Batman immediately deduces that the robbers were not part of the Black Heart Army, due to their unprofessional approach to the use of explosives, and vows to find the people responsible for shedding "Innocent Blood!" Before he can intervene, the Black Hearts confront the robbers and both sides are killed in a hail of gunfire and explosions.

Phil Vernon gathers the suspects ten years after he was pushed down the stairs and ended up in a wheelchair. Now, in "Death By Double Fault," he intends to smoke out whodunit, but he is killed before he can identify the assailant. Batman, who attended the party as Bruce Wayne, interprets a dying clue and nails the guilty party.

Three different "Perspectives!" are presented to tell the story of Batman rescuing some kids from a fire at a hospital: that of a child, who portrays himself as a hero; that of the criminal, who claims he was caught due to an accident; and that of Batman, who describes a scene where he let himself get careless when distracted by a child in danger.

Peter: The layout is a bit deceptive. Rather than one large story or four pieces that comprise a related tale, "The Four Faces of Batman" might have been called "Four Batman Stories We Had Lying Around." The art is solid all the way through and each script has its merits. The two standouts, to me, are "Innocent Blood!" and "Perspectives!" Barr comes up with a solid plot hook and an interesting moral question at the climax of "Innocent Blood!" Did Batman knowingly set off a slaughter? The Nino art is aces; give me more! And "Perspectives!" is a great read as well. I laughed out loud at Ralphie's relating of the big event.

Jack: This annual is worth the cover price! Forty pages of Batman stories, all featuring good art and stories that are, if not groundbreaking, at least readable and entertaining. Jerry Ordway's Batman in "Childhood's End" has a late '30s vibe to it, while Nino's angular style in "Innocent Blood!" works for everything except the Dark Knight, who is usually the easiest character to draw, even for lesser artists.

"Death By Double Fault!" finds Batman playing Poirot in a far-fetched mystery, while "Innocent Blood!" has its heart in the right place and seems like a DC version of Rashomon.


The Best of DC #62
(The Year's Best Batman Stories)

"The Player on the Other Side!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Michael Golden & Mike DeCarlo
(Reprinted from Batman Special #1, 1984)

"Down Below"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #537, April 1984)

"What Price, the Prize?"
(Reprinted from Batman #372, June 1984)

(Reprinted from Detective Comics #539, June 1984)

A new villain in Gotham, an "Anti-Batman" who calls himself "The Wrath," is gunning for Commissioner Gordon. Turns out... ready for this?... the Wrath's parents were burglars killed by a then-rookie by the name of Jim Gordon. He teams up with the daughter of a dead mafia don, another victim of Gordon's firearm. The Wrath has sworn he'll dispatch Gordon on the 25th anniversary of the slaying. In the "Holy Cow, What a Coincidence!" department, Bruce Wayne's parents were gunned down on exactly the same date! The Wrath discovers this information and uses it against the Dark Knight; to show he means business, the villain desecrates Wayne's parents' gravesites.

At the same time, the Wrath beats Alfred to a pulp, putting our favorite butler in the ICU, clinging to life. All this makes our titular hero quite angry and he and Gordon hatch a plan to bring down the homicidal Wrath. The climax sees Bats, Gordon, and Wrath high atop a Gotham building. Only two walk away alive.

Peter: So... confession time. We somehow missed the Batman Special #1 when it came time to covering the April 1984 issues, and the only reason we found out about it is that "The Player on the Other Side!" was reprinted in its entirety in Best of DC #62. It's not a great story, it's not a lousy story, it's just right down the middle, barely above mediocrity. The massive coincidence of "the birth" of Batman and the Wrath through their parents being killed on exactly the same night 25 years before is cringe-worthy. It's a nice touch to make this villain psychotic (he murders a couple of innocents in cold blood by cutting their throats), a la the Joker, but to put him in a costume so similar to Batman without his knowing about their sharing an anniversary date until well into the story is enough to make my eyes roll up in their sockets. The art's not bad, except where Mike Golden seems to have been influenced by Flock of Seagulls album covers. Of the other three full-length reprints this issue, "What Price, the Prize?" nearly made my Top Five list for 1984, while the other two were unremarkable.

Jack: Had we reviewed this story in our post for April 1984, it would have made my list for best of the year. The art by Golden and DeCarlo is sensational! Why is Pat Broderick drawing Detective instead of Golden? I found it interesting that the Wrath had no trouble figuring out Batman's secret identity, yet Alfred has no clue why June 26th is a special date in Bruce Wayne's life. This is not the first special Batman story that has revisited Crime Alley and, once again, it's worth the trip.

Next Week...
Dube reaches into his
goldfish bowl of nonsense words
and comes up with...

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