Monday, October 17, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 64: September-October 1986


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

Batman #399

"Strike Two!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Batman has staked out Roy Spivey for over a month, but he has yet to witness the man do anything suspicious. Meanwhile, Catwoman trains her new panther! Batman finds the remnants of a suspicious chemical near the furnace in Spivey's basement and, the next day, Jim Zwaitek returns home to find Mona's shrunken head in a package that was mailed to him.

With Jason spending every evening with his new girlfriend, Batman calls Catwoman to ask for help watching Spivey; the killer buys an axe and goes after Mona's roommate, Nancy, but is stopped by Catwoman's panther, which scratches his face. Spivey rushes home to find Batman waiting for him and, with Catwoman's help, the killer is apprehended. At Mona's funeral , Catwoman tells Batman goodbye, and back at the Batcave, the Caped Crusader is happy to see Robin ready to resume work as the Dynamic Duo.

Jack: After the story got off to a great start in Detective 565, with art by Colan and Smith, it comes to a crashing halt in "Strike Two," with art by Mandrake that can best be described as terrible. We complain a lot about the writing in the comics we blog about, especially in regard to the Warren mags, but Mandrake's work on Batman demonstrates just how much a mediocre artist can take the excitement out of a decent script. It's bad enough that the first three pages are wasted on a rehash of part one of the story; Mandrake's faces are badly drawn and Batman's karate kick on page 20 is embarrassing. I'm surprised Len Wein would accept such poor work because DC had a reputation for a baseline of quality.

Peter: Of course, it was inevitable that, since I enjoyed the first chapter of this arc, the second would let me down. That's only one of the parallels "Strike Two!" has to 1980s slasher flicks: interesting setup and lamebrain windup. By the end of the issue, I had not only forgotten why poor Nancy lost her head, I didn't care anymore. If anything, Mandrake's art is getting worse. It's as if editor Len Wein jumped into a time machine and stole doodles from eight-year-old Val Mayerik. But, hey, you're probably tired of hearing me bitch about Tom Mandrake's scribbles, so I swear I won't mention it again. Never mind this is Tom's swan song on the title.

Detective Comics #566

"Know Your Foes"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Someone has left a cryptic message for Batman on the desk of Commissioner Gordon: Know Your Foes. That’s it. Just three words. But the note sends Batman into a paranoid frenzy; he and Robin head to the Batcave and fire up the Batcomputer to go through the Rogues’ Gallery for clues. Could it be the Joker? The Riddler? The Penguin? Killer Moth? One by one, the dynamic duo cross each villain off the list for one reason or another. In the end, they both get burned out from looking at too many bad guys and head for the gym, vowing to get to the bottom of the mystery… another day.

Peter: This is tantamount to one of those 1970s Marvel issues where Roy couldn't meet his deadline, so he had the Thing sit down and remember a particularly great adventure the Fantastic Four had years before. The concept here is flimsy at best. Couldn't this note be an innocent letter from someone in Gotham reminding Bats that it's parole time for the Penguin, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc? And why does the world's greatest detective have to fire up the Atari to learn anything about Joker and Co.? Laughable. Robin has the best quote this issue: "I'm startin' to get pretty burned out on all this..." You and me both, kid.

Jack: What a contrast between Mandrake's plodding storytelling and the dynamic work of Colan and Smith! Even in a non-story like this, they manage to make the pages fun and interesting--see Batman pacing across the panel border on page two for an example. I was surprised to see Killer Moth and Black Mask as villains number three and four, but as I read on it became clear that Moench was front-loading baddies that he created or revived. As a setup of Batman 400, this story is light and fun.

"Old Enemies Die Hard"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Dell Barras

Ollie's flat has been turned inside out by someone looking for information. After Queen messes with his broken answering machine, he discovers a message from Onyx, letting him know of her whereabouts. Bad idea. Meanwhile, at the music store where she's hiding, Onyx is killing time with former Journey member, Tommie, who's putting the moves on the caped babe. Suddenly, the roof caves in and Barricade drops to the floor, vowing to retrieve a powerful bracelet Onyx has on her shapely person. Green Arrow arrives on the scene before things get too violent. Barricade promises to mop the floor with our hero.

Peter: For a backup feature, Green Arrow continues to be mildly entertaining, if more than a bit meandering; what happened to the storyline with the Mayor Bolt/Steelclaw subplot from the last few issues? Does this Barricade cat have anything to do with Bolt? Will we ever discover why Onyx is so important to this strip? I guess we'll just have to find that out together.

Jack: Cavalieri's writing continues to improve bit by bit, and the art by Moore and Barras is really good, in a mid-'80s sort of way. I'm glad we finally get to see Onyx take center stage in this seven-pager that is above-average for a Detective backup feature.

Batman #400

"Resurrection Night!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by John Byrne, Steve Lightly, Bruce Patterson, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Larry Mahlstedt, Bill Sienkiewicz, Arthur Adams, Terry Austin, Tom Sutton, Ricardo Villagran, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi, Karl Kesel, & Brian Bolland

Simultaneous explosions at Arkham Asylum and the state penitentiary allow all of Batman's enemies to escape at the same time. After running for an hour, they find their costumes hanging on the branches of a tree! Once dressed, some of the bad guys head off on their own missions, while the rest gather with the Joker and plan to go after Batman.

The villain who set this all in motion brings the other villains to him and explains the plan. Soon, Julia Pennyworth is kidnapped by the Scarecrow and Harvey Bullock is snatched by Poison Ivy. Vickie Vale is nabbed by the Riddler and Black Spider. In the Batcave, Batman is visited by Ra's al Ghul, who masterminded the plot in order to convince Batman to team up with him; if the Dark Knight agrees, Ra's will help round up the escapees. Batman refuses.

Following a riddle left by Ra's, Batman, and Robin head for a seedy waterfront dive, unaware that Alfred is at home, being kidnapped by Killer Croc. At the dive, Batman and Robin are confronted by five villains, but when the good guys seem about to prevail, the Riddler reveals that four hostages are being held and will be killed if Batman doesn't let the bad guys walk away. Worse yet, the Joker and the Penguin land a copter on the roof of police headquarters and drop an electrified cage over the entire building. The Joker calls Batman, who has returned to the Batcave, and gives him three hours to rescue the cops before he starts killing them off.

Talia shows up and offers to help the Dark Knight. Meanwhile, Poison Ivy has Harvey Bullock tied up and Catwoman's attempt to help falls flat. Batman returns to the dive, beats up some hoods, and finds a clue to Ivy's location. He rushes to her greenhouse and, with Catwoman's help, frees the four hostages and knocks out a bunch of baddies. The good guys then head to police headquarters, where they have little trouble setting everyone free and defeating the rest of the villains--all but one.

Batman makes his way to Ra's's secret location, where the bad guy has taken a dunk in the Lazarus Pit and gained even more strength and endurance. He and Batman have a big fight that ends with Ra's unintentionally falling back into the pit and the whole place caving in. Back at the Batcave, Batman's pals celebrate, but the Caped Crusader wonders if the mass escape of fiends is just one big DC reboot.

Jack: A 60-page story tells of "Resurrection Night!" and, for a big anniversary issue, it's definitely something special. I'm just not sure it's very good. Having 17 different artists with wildly varying styles illustrate the chapters gets in the way of the storytelling, and Moench's tale isn't particularly original. I'm happy to see the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Ra's, etc., but it all seems predictable. There's a nice essay by Stephen King on the inside covers and some good full-page posters at the end, but some of the art is distracting--especially the highly stylized chapter by Bill Sienkiewicz, who also painted the cover, which I don't much care for. George Perez contributes four decent pages and the four pages by Kubert look good, but they don't really fit with the rest of the story. Peter, what did you think?

I thought it was a huge (and I do mean huge) disappointment; so bloated and padded that I had to reread the section where Ra's explains why he's doing what he's doing because I kept losing sight of the endgame. The gimmick of the Rogues teaming up to off Bats was a lot more fun in the 1966 Batman movie with Adam West. Considering that there's a veritable bullpen of artists, it's no surprise we get some extreme highs (I could have done with a whole issue of Bolland and Sienkiewicz) and some extreme lows (Leialoha and, incredibly enough, Tom Sutton, contribute barely professional work) and a whole lot of in-betweens. I really shouldn't have been surprised this didn't float my boat, since these big extravaganzas invariably disappoint. Doug's heading out the door and I hope he takes mopey crybaby Batman with him. 

Oh, by the way, Stephen King shows how little he really knows about Batman by opining that it's only been "in the last four years or so" that the Dark Knight had found his mojo. Ummm... I think I'd take Denny O'Neil and Steve Englehart's scripts over Doug's any day. And did Big Steve forget about the days of Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers? Ulp.

Detective Comics #567

"The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!"
Story by Harlan Ellison
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

On what would seem to be a typical patrol night, Batman can't seem to find anyone to help. From the woman who puts a beating on her own mugger to the ledge jumper saved by the cops to the would-be car thief who actually locked the keys in his vehicle, it seems as though Gotham is safe without its Dark Knight. At least for tonight.

Peter: Guest writing by Stephen King and Harlan Ellison in the same month furthers the theory that DC was trying to put space between it and Marvel, a company going through a few changes, thanks mostly to Jim Shooter. While Marvel was dumbing down their titles, DC was emphasizing adult content with special projects like The Dark Knight and Watchmen, spearheaded by thinking-man funny book writers like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Mark Evanier wrote about how Ellison delivered "The Night of Thanks..." to Julius Schwartz and, I'll just add, it was typical Harlan showmanship.

As Jack mentions below, Ellison crams lots of pretension into the caption boxes, but that's not the only thing wrong with this jocular adventure. The main problem I had was with the words coming out of Batman's mouth. Hard to imagine Bats calling even the lowest of scum "Puke-For-Brains." It's just not his style. For a humorous story, it's just not very funny. The sole smile elicited was from the panel reprinted here. Otherwise, this was ho-hum. Hard to believe it took Ellison fifteen years to cook and deliver this.

Jack: Leave it to Harlan Ellison to contribute one of the worst stories to Detective that we've seen in a while. He manages to mix pretentious captions with low-class dialogue and reach new depths of cursing in a mainstream DC comic. At least the art by Colan and Smith is reliably sharp. Ellison's attempt at humor is weak and the story overall is forgettable.

"The Face of Barricade!"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Stan Woch & Dave Hunt

Barricade attempts to retrieve the "Wisdom Key" from Onyx but the superheroine is putting up a good fight. Green Arrow and Black Canary come to the rescue and it's the Canary who discovers Barricade's Achilles heel. The baddie is reduced to a pile of bones and Onyx slips away into the night, happy she finally got more than two panels of funny book time.

Peter: "The Face of Barricade!" is not an easy strip to follow and, before you know it, it's all over. So much for Barricade as a super-baddy. I still have no idea who Onyx is or whether she'll be back, but these seven pages are enjoyable enough.

Jack: The splash page is terrific and the story fits in a lot of excitement in seven pages. I'm glad to see that Onyx is finally being used more and I thought the way Black Canary intervened was clever. This is not the first time that a GA backup story eclipsed the Batman lead story.

Next Week...
Will the special 100th Anniversary
Issue of Creepy start a new era
of greatness with Warren?
Don't hold your breath!

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