Monday, August 22, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 60: April-May 1986


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

Batman #394 

"At the Heart of Stone"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy

Batman has a nightmare in which a stone Cossack riding a stone horse lops off his head with a stone sword and Gotham is annihilated in a nuclear blast. After waking up in a sweat, the Dark Knight takes the Boy Wonder to pick up Katia, who has been luxuriating in a fancy hotel suite. At the Gotham waterfront, the Dark Rider takes delivery of the statue that is filled with Plutonium.

Batman and Katia interrogate a boat captain, trying to find out more about the Dark Rider's whereabouts, while the Rider delivers the statue to the Gotham Reservoir. At Police HQ, a bit of good cop/bad cop succeeds in eliciting from the boat captain the details of the Dark Rider's plan: he will contaminate the reservoir with Plutonium!

Batman, Robin, and Katia race to the reservoir and confront the bad guys, while Commissioner Gordon waits to announce to the citizens of Gotham City that they'd better start buying bottled water. Realizing that he alone can do the dastardly deed, the Dark Rider douses his own body in Plutonium and, after a quick bit of hand-to-hand combat with Katia, makes a run for the water. Only quick thinking by the Dynamic Duo and their good aim with Batarangs keep him from fouling the water system.

Peter: Well, we've already established that Paul Gulacy brings an added excitement that wasn't there a couple of months ago but, dang it, couldn't Doug have come up with something more engaging than James Bond-lite? I do like how, suddenly, Robin is almost the same height as his boss. Obviously, Gulacy hadn't read the Bat-titles since Dick Grayson flew the coop. 

Jack: Okay, it's not perfect, but it's one of the best two-part stories we've read in recent months. The opening dream sequence, where Batman is decapitated, is shocking to see in a DC comic, even if we readers know it's a dream all along. You make a good point about Jason/Robin's size and age--he looks like Dick Grayson and even calls Batman "champ" at one point, a sarcastic remark I don't think Jason Todd would make. Moench leans too hard on the conflict between Russian Katia and American Batman in some of the dialogue, but her resemblance to Mrs. Peel is welcome. I can't believe Mandrake is back next issue. It's not fair. I thought Gulacy was taking over.

Detective Comics #561

"Flying Hi"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan, Bob Smith & Ricardo Villagran

There's a light shining in Jason Todd's eyes and her name is Rena. The new girl at school, Rena takes a shine to Jason as well and slips him a note during class: "High, want to get hi tonight?" (Obviously not the best student in English!) Robin talks it over with Batman during their workout and the Big Guy has a few words of wisdom for his ward: "Just Say NO!!!!"

With the exclamation points still ringing in his ears, Jason goes to meet Rena that night at their appointed spot in the park. The girl explains to J that she's never done drugs before, but all the teenage angst and pressure have gotten to her and she needs to take the edge off. Won't he join her? Jason tells Rena there's a better (and more healthy) way to get high. He extends his hand and asks her to come with him.

Before the couple can make it out of the park, three hoods from their school, led by tough guy Shane, emerge from the shadows, and explain to Rena that their connection is late; they're going to go get the "candy" themselves. She lets go of Jason's hand and leaves with the three yutes. Jason quickly discards his duds and swings off into the night as Robin. The Boy Wonder follows the group to a nearby pharmacy and watches as Rena explains that she's not into B+E and flees. The trio break in but are descended upon by Robin. There's a brief tussle and Shane gets away with some of the pharmaceuticals. He later meets up with Rena and offers some of his treasure to her, but she turns her back on him and warns him never to speak to her again. 

Peter: Much of "Flying Hi" is like a Nancy Reagan infomercial but, with the Comics Code still holding sway, Doug probably couldn't get too down and dirty with teens and drugs. The conversations Jason has with Bruce/Bats and "foxy" Rena about narcotics and teen problems don't come off as pat and cliched, which surprised the hell out of me. Solo Robin stories ain't usually my bag, but this one was a winner. Script wise, that is. Obviously, Bob Smith couldn't do all the inking on this strip, so Ricardo Villagran was called in to sub. Quite a bit of the art is muddied up and ugly, while some of it is just as good as Colan/Smith gets.

Jack: That's funny--I thought the art was what made the story entertaining! It's more proof that Gene Colan can make even a dull conversation about drugs worth reading. The story is unusual and I like it; note that Jason has returned to being a kid after his sudden maturation in this month's Batman.

"In the Grip of Steelclaw!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Dell Barras

Black Canary (in her new blue costume) continues her infiltration of the drug world, masquerading as a hero gone bad and letting word go 'round among the skanks that the Canary wants a piece of the action. When she leans on a couple of dealers at the docks, Canary learns that Steelclaw meets his associates at the Old Sail Shop. She heads there and walks in just as Steelclaw is holding court. Alas, she gives herself away, and Claw blasts her with sleeping gas.

Meanwhile, across town, Green Arrow saves three stupid kids from certain death at a construction site and runs into hero-for-hire Champion. They mock each other and then part company. In a city park, two men play chess when a beautiful, strange woman who looks just like the new Jamie Lee Curtis-ized Vicki Vale minus the spandex and sweat approaches the winner of the game and hands him a card. She tells him to contact her when he loses interest in chess.

Peter: Three stories (maybe four, if you count Champion) running concurrently in a seven-page strip are a recipe for disaster, especially if none of those plots is worth a damn. Never mind that the disfigured face and long purple robe are stupid accessories for a drug lord; it's taking too long to get to the point. Will the inevitable unmasking of Steelclaw reveal one of the forgettable support characters? Green Arrow and Champion are afforded one page to have essentially the same conversation, about corporate greed vs. doing a good deed for your fellow man, that they had last issue. And then Joey has to throw in a new mystery on the last page. Are we about to see a new super-villain dressed as a chessboard?

Jack: The art is solid and the Arrowverse is starting to develop a personality of its own, with GA not showing up for several pages, Black Canary taking the lead, and Champion popping in to remind us that he's a jerk. I especially liked the final scene, with the Black guys playing chess. For once, I'm enjoying the Detective backup strip!

Shadow of the Batman #5

"The Coming of ...Clayface III!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #478, August 1978)

"If a Man Be Made of Clay...!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #479, October 1978)

"The Devil's Plague"
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #254, October 1977)

Jack: The last issue of this reprint series is another great one, reprinting a two-part Clayface story written by Len Wein and drawn by Marshall Rogers. Wein took Batman in a different, darker direction and the art was tremendous. This series has focused on Rogers, with new, wraparound covers and all of the interior stories drawn by him. The third story, a House of Mystery reprint, is also great--it concerns a country doctor who encounters a series of horrible events.

"The Devil's Plague"

Batman #395

"The Film Freak"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

"The Film Feak" is on the loose in Gotham City, committing crimes reminiscent of those from old movies and spouting corny bits of dialogue. Batman and Catwoman team up to go after him, leaving Jason Todd feeling left out, so Robin teams up with old movie fan Harvey Bullock to conduct a parallel investigation. Vicki Vale and Julia Pennyworth are busy covering the story for the press.

Batman learns that the Film Freak is failed actor Burt Weston, who faked his own death in a publicity stunt and is now back and nuttier than ever. Weston likes to send notes with clues, one of which spurs Julia to drive upstate to investigate his background. She stops at a motel and takes a shower, not noticing the shadowy figure entering the bathroom with a knife. Is the Film Freak about to reenact a scene from Psycho?

Peter: Oh boy, this was dumb. Vicki looks as though she's given up on the daily four-hour gym routine and also the hair salon but, thankfully, actress India Blue (and with a name like that, we definitely know what kind of flicks she makes) picks up the slack. Our new villain obviously has second sight as a weapon since he warns the gals about Norman Bates (how could a grown-up reporter not know who Norman Bates was?) hours before our sexy final panel. It's pretty silly how Bats can take on super-strong dudes at times but can't take down a simple maniac here.

As mentioned at least 3,000 times in the past, the "Jealous Jason" subplot has long run out of steam (if it ever had any) and should be jettisoned asap. I'm itching to sneak a look at the issue where Jason dies and see if it follows a scene where he mocks Cat-Lady and Bat-Boss. I'd have clocked the kid by now. Patience is Batman's super-secret weapon. The only bright side, for me, is the continuing humor of the Robin and Bullock team-up. After a brief time off for good behavior, our imprisonment with Tom Mandrake's gawdawful art begins anew. That cover makes Bats look likes he's on time out.

Jack: I promise not to spend every post complaining about Tom Mandrake's terrible art--I'll just mention it when he does something right. I've copied here a decent couple of panels that are in shadow. Let's just say that if Colan showed how to make dull scenes interesting in last month's Detective, Mandrake demonstrates how any potentially good idea can be deflated by his illustrations.

Detective Comics #562

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Burt Weston, a/k/a "Film Freak," is about to put a knife into the showering Julia Pennyworth (a la Psycho, of course) when he is interrupted by the arrival of Vicki Vale. Julia, with suds in her eyes, has an epiphany ("Hmmm. I've got it! Norman Bates was in... oh shit... I'm in the shower!") and disarms Burt with a bar of soap and Shampoo (the latter an obvious nod to the popular Warren Beatty feature film of 1975). The disgraced actor/psychopath inexplicably flees rather than kill two defenseless women.

Meanwhile, jealous, spoiled rotten Robin and his new partner, Harvey Bullock, are traveling around town piecing together clues (which were oddly already pieced together last issue) and listening to umpteen hours of expository in an attempt to crack the "Film Freak" case before Cats and Bats get all the glory. They decide to revisit actress India Blue, Weston's old squeeze. The aforementioned Cats and Bats team are interviewing a director Weston was hoping to work with before he took a dive off the bridge (an Ode to Billy Joe nod, no doubt). The director reveals he's here in Gotham to preview his latest blockbuster, Boom! 

Robin and Harvey get nothing new out of India, but seconds after they leave her apartment, a giant gorilla knocks on her door and, being a trustworthy woman living in Gotham while her psycho ex is terrorizing the city, she opens the door (in a nod to stupid women in slasher movies) and the ape enters her apartment. At first perplexed that the ape can talk, India finally demands to see some ID and the monkey takes off his head, revealing the face of... Burt Weston! Enraged that India has been talking to the authorities and all the new hero teams mucking up Gotham, Burt beats the actress to a pulp. 

Luckily, Bats and Cats arrive on the scene before Weston can deliver the killing blow. Weston pulls a gun (yet again) on Catwoman and gets the drop on comic's greatest detective. Batman has no alternative but to let the big ape walk. Meanwhile, back at Gordon's HQ, Harvey makes a startling discovery: Weston was always two steps ahead of the team(s) because (a la Rear Window) the nut had a room right across from Gordo's office and was spying on the Commish the entire time. In the vacant room, Gordon, Bullock, and Robin discover a VHS tape containing a message from Weston about his next mov(i)e. Blow-Up!

Hard to believe that, in the end, sixty pages will be wasted on this crap. Well, most of the running time is Bats/Cats and Harvey/Robin retracing each other's steps. And Doug got paid way too much for his dialogue balloons this time out. It's all about rival team squabbles and pitiful jealousies (again). If I gotta hear Harvey's quip about The Sting again... My favorite (read as: Most ludicrous scene in a strip bursting at the seams with inanity): Weston taking the time to buy an ape suit and walk up who knows how many flights of stairs to India's apartment just to doff it the second he walks in. That's dedication.

Jack: Remember when Doug Moench took over this strip and we were excited by his revival of classic Batman villains? That seems like a long time ago. Now we get the Film Freak. At least Colan nails the shower scene. He and Smith are doing great work, even though the script is weak. I was surprised that this story wasn't wrapped up in this issue.

"The Criminal Element"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Dell Barras

Co-starring Mark Hamill as Bolt!
Steelclaw's thugs dump an unconscious Black Canary off the docks into the bay but neglect to tie her up (amateur move!), so a few minutes later she emerges to bust up their drug deal. Meanwhile, across town, Green Arrow has a face to face with Mayor Bolt about the new vigilante for hire, Champion. When Arrow tells the mayor that Champion gives anyone a license to play judge and jury, Bolt laughs and asks who swore the Arrow in. Huffing and puffing, Oliver exits. The mayor goes down into his private basement and suits up... as Steelclaw! Yep, he's masquerading as a baddie to infiltrate the drug underworld of Star City!

Peter: Another subplot-filled seven pages (I didn't even touch on the "return" of Onyx in the final panels) of nothingness. I'm not sure about the plans Canary and Bolt/Claw have come up with to fool bad guys into thinking they're on their side. How about some good detective work and arrests? Why do I feel like all this subterfuge will amount to nothing? I did like the scene where Bolt calls Arrow a hypocrite. Took the words right out of my brain.

Jack: I was surprised by the revelation about the mayor and confused by his motives. Is he trying to stop crime or to control it? Either way, I like how Cavalieri is juggling multiple subplots despite being limited to seven pages a month. This is such an upgrade from Nemesis!

Next Week...
Get ready for entirely too many
"Close Encounters"

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