Monday, October 31, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 65: November-December 1986 + The Best of 1986


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

Batman #401

"A Bird in the Hand..."
Story by Barbara Kesel
Art by Trevor Von Eeden

Wealthy women in Gotham City are being killed by trick necklaces created by Magpie, a villain who loves pretty things like jewels. Batman arranges for a showing of the Wayne Collection of the most precious jewels in town and, at the gathering, Bruce and Commissioner Gordon are harangued by G. Gordon Godfrey, a loudmouth who thinks superheroes are nothing but dangerous vigilantes.

During the party, Magpie murders a woman with a sharp, jeweled necklace, right under the noses of Wayne and Gordon. Batman departs to hunt for Magpie, while Godfrey blames the Caped Crusader for the murder. The Dynamic Duo quickly locate Magpie's hideout, where they battle her henchmen before being trapped in an elevator rigged with fatal laser beams. Batman deflects the lasers with a mirror and the heroes escape; they catch Magpie and take her into custody.

Jack: This issue marks the start of Denny O'Neill's tenure as editor, and it's a breath of fresh air. There's nothing new in the story by Barbara Kesel (credited as Barbara Randall), but it hurtles forward at a rapid clip and includes just enough excitement to be fun. I've seen better art from Trevor von Eeden, but I really like his version of Batman, which hearkens back to the way the Dark Knight looked in 1939. I think more changes are coming that will help revive this series.

Peter: I loved "A Bird in the Hand" and its retro art by von Eeden. The story is more violent than we're used to, perhaps as a consequence of the popularity of The Dark Knight Returns. I'm not familiar with the Magpie character but I'm always up for a new villain whose elevator doesn't go to the top floor. 

Detective Comics #568

Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Klaus Janson

During a rally denouncing super-heroes as passe and dangerous, a spectator is attacked by a giant falcon. Luckily, the Dynamic Duo had been on hand to watch the proceedings and Batman quickly traps the huge bird and eliminates any more bloodshed.

Meanwhile, the Penguin has taken interest in Dr. Baird, the man responsible for the giant Peregrine; he breaks into the scientist's lab and grabs his notes. Batman arrives and attempts a rescue, but Penguin makes a getaway, mad scientist in tow.

Turns out the scientist is breeding large falcons for an Arab sheik and the Penguin is hoping to ransom the recipe for a big bundle of cash. With a bit of deduction, the Dark Knight manages to track the Penguin to his lair and, with quite a bit of help from the professor, quashes Cobblepot's mad scheme. Back to Arkham goes the fowl felon.

A very disjointed adventure from the get-go. I assume the interludes with rabble-rouser Godfrey, who's not shy about giving his opinion on superfolk, have something to do with the mini-series, Legends, which was crossing over into several titles during the latter part of 1986. I've never read the series, so I've no idea what the gist of the story is, but what sneaks its way into "Eyrie" doesn't seem all that interesting. The Penguin's grand blackmail scheme doesn't break any new barriers, but its lightweight tone is perfect for a one-and-done. It's nice to see Joey Cavalieri given a chance to flex his funny book muscles in a full-length thriller. Wouldn't it make sense, though, for the bad guys to escape now and then rather than getting hauled back to their cells? It would certainly make it easier to swallow than being paroled every nine months. 

The Klaus Janson art here is not that great, sorry to say. I know he's always been a big fan favorite and I loved his stint on Marvel's Daredevil, but his work here looks rushed. Batman has almost as big a beak as Penguin, but no one fares worse than the Boy Wonder, who runs the gamut from emaciated pre-teen to overweight middle-ager.

Jack: The excitement continues in this full-length story written by GA scribe Cavalieri and illustrated by inker Janson! The pages look great and the layouts are terrific, but some of the close-up faces are a bit shaky. Janson isn't quite as skilled as Colan, but it's a big step forward from Mandrake. I'm always happy to see a classic villain like the Penguin and I have to note that Godfrey looks completely different than he did in this month's Batman.

Batman #402

"There's Nothing So Savage--As a Man Destroying Himself!"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Jim Starlin

Batman interrupts a couple of violent muggers and breaks their necks! Of course, it's not really Batman, but the public and the news reporters don't know that and think that the Dark Knight has finally crossed the line. At Wayne Manor, Bruce asks Alfred to start calling around to see about renting a Batman costume. Jason Todd wonders what's so bad about killing off bad guys, but Batman sets him straight.

When Alfred learns that all of the Batman costumes for rent have been stolen, it becomes clear that someone is impersonating the Caped Crusader. Bruce Wayne visits Howard Despond, a man whose wife was murdered; Despond recalls a nice young detective who found the killers before they got off on a technicality. After nightfall, a man robbing a liquor store is caught and killed by the fake Batman. Commissioner Gordon informs Batman that the dead man had shot a store owner the year before and was let off on another technicality.

Those ears!
Gordon and Batman realize that Tommy Carma, the nice young detective, is the link between all of the cases. Batman tells Robin that Carma was not only a policeman, but also a Golden Gloves boxer, a black belt karate expert, and a former Marine. His wife and daughter were killed when the mob blew up his car. Tracking down Carma, Batman learns that the former detective lives with his mother. Batman visits the woman, who thinks he's her son and reveals that Carma worshipped Batman and named his daughter Robin.

Batman asks Gordon to tell him the location of a mob assassin named Snuffer. Before Batman can get to him, the fake Batman bursts in and tosses Snuffer out of a high window, but the real Batman arrives just in time to catch the crook before he hits the pavement. A brief fight ensues between Batmans, but when Robin shows up, Carma is distracted and Batman knocks him out, ending the menace.

Jack: I'm a fan of Max Allan Collins and Jim Starlin, so I was excited to read this story after I saw the credits. It's pretty hard-hitting for an issue of Batman and reads like it's been influenced by the work of Frank Miller. Starlin's art is pretty good, but he draws the ears on Batman's mask so long that they almost look like bunny ears.

Peter: I liked this a lot as well. No surprise since I've been a fan of Max for nearly forty years. No other crime writer is as consistently good as Collins and the proof is in the three series he created featuring Nate Heller (PI), Nolan, and Quarry (both hit men), the latter of which gives Donald E. Westlake's Parker books competition for Best Crime Series of All Time. As with "A Bird in the Hand...", the hook here is that Snuffer is psychotic; he's got his reasons for his actions but those reasons aren't exactly rational. Standout scenes for me would be Batman's discussion with Ma Snuffer and the Seven-esque panels of Bats perusing the "wall of fame." It's a pity Max only sticks around for a short stint, as the writer would have definitely steered our hero down some very dark alleys.

Detective Comics #569

"Catch as Catscan"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

With help from Catwoman, Batman and Robin quash the robbery of a valuable piece of equipment known as the Catscan. After the bad guys (ironically, all former employees of Selina) have been vanquished, Cats wants to discuss with Bats their on-and-off romance, but the Dark Knight doesn't seem to want to be bothered.

Meanwhile, across town, the Joker is frustrated with the quality of his latest heists and tells his men they need to step it up. One of the more eccentric among them brings Joker the latest Gotham Gazette and points at a headline screaming "Dynamic Trio Nabs Gang." The Clown Prince of Crime has an epiphany.

The Bat-signal lights the sky and the Dynamic Duo head to Commissioner Gordon's office, where they meet up with Catwoman, and the Commish shows the heroes a Joker calling card delivered to the precinct a few hours before. Batman deciphers the message on the back of the card and the trio head for the Gotham Library. Sure enough, Joker and his henchmen are hiding in the aisles and a fierce brouhaha ensues. Joker gets the upper hand and traps Batman and Robin in a liquid straitjacket that tightens as its captives struggle. Joker zaps Catwoman and takes her away to his lair.

There, the villain confers with a mad scientist named Dr. Moon who, with the aid of the stolen Catscan, will "tear apart" Selina's brain. Joker misses Selina as a comrade and, clearly, the idea is that Moon will be able to bring back the "old" Catwoman. At the library, Batman practices his Zen and relaxes every muscle of his body (except for his brain, of course) and slips the constraining bonds. He frees Robin and then ponders their next move.

A solid, fun adventure with some dazzling art, as if Will Eisner had written a script and Bernie Wrightson had realized it. Lots of goofy, throwaway bits to celebrate here... Batman's rebuff of Selina's seduction ("Please, Selina... not in front of the boy.")... Henchman Scoop riding in on what appears to be a motorized tricycle to hand over the newspaper to his boss... Selina lounging like a pin-up on Gordon's couch... Scoop's deranged monologue, while dressed as Rambo, in the library ("You're pretty brave now... now that we fought the wars for you... bled and died while you wimps got sore feet protestin'...")... there's a lot to like from Mike Barr's script.

Of course, I will always have nits to pick... It might be just that I'm confused, since there are so many femmes in and out of Bruce Wayne's life, but the last I recall, Selina didn't know Bruce was Batman. I might have been asleep for the reveal (God knows you'd have to excuse my naps during the awful stories we got in the last year or so), but she's definitely in the secret circle as of this issue. Also, we never see how Joker acquires the Catscan. The last we see of the machine, it's been rescued by the "Dynamic Trio." Very minor quibbles. I can't quibble with the Davis/Neary art, though. It's fabulous and stylish. Their depiction of Joker is both beautiful and hideous at times, while Selina (as I mentioned) is curvy and erotic. Robin is suitably cartoony and Bats is big and scary. A total winner! What a great month for Bat-adventures.

Jack: The new art team of Davis & Neary blew me away! I love the cover and the interior art is just as good, though their Joker is a bit feminine and incredibly skinny. They clearly delight in drawing Catwoman! This issue returns to the classic formula: super villain + fun + cliffhanger=one of the best stories of 1978!

Miller & Janson
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4

"The Dark Knight Falls"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

Following the massacre at the amusement park, the police arrive to arrest the Joker and Batman. Robin gets away by hanging onto a helicopter, while Batman, who is badly injured, sets off some explosives and is lifted to safety with Robin's help. When the Joker's corpse is found, Batman is charged with murder.

In Gotham City, a vigilante group calling themselves the Sons of the Batman begin to get very tough on crime. Meanwhile, the Mutants are kept behind bars, where they watch the news unfold on TV: Russia has sent a massive nuclear bomb to hit an island after their troops were forced to withdraw. Superman intercepts the missile and redirects its course toward the desert, but when it explodes it disrupts electrical systems in the USA.

Barely out of the operating room at Wayne Manor, Batman puts his costume back on and he and Robin head downtown on horseback, just as a plane, its electrical system lost, crashes into a building. Chaos envelops the city streets, the mutants break out of prison, and Batman faces off against the Sons of Batman at the city dump and enlists their aid in calming the citizens of Gotham. Out in space, Superman is near death from his encounter with the giant bomb, but a close encounter with the sun returns his vigor and good looks. With the aid of the Mutants and the Sons of Batman, the Dynamic Duo restore order to Gotham City.

A week later, darkness reigns as a nuclear winter has descended. An aged Oliver Queen visits Bruce Wayne and together they hatch a plan for Batman to face off against Superman, who has been ordered by the president to bring in the Dark Knight. Batman puts on a high-tech suit and meets Superman for a final battle. In the end, "The Dark Knight Falls," brought down by a heart attack. In the days that follow, it's reported that Batman was Bruce Wayne and that the billionaire's fortune has disappeared. Wayne Manor was blown up by Alfred, who dies from a stroke. Clark Kent attends Bruce's funeral and, as everyone leaves, he detects a faint heartbeat below the ground with his super hearing. It seems Oliver Queen had a hand in faking Batman's death! Clark winks at Robin and, later on, Bruce Wayne is back in what's left of the Batcave, instructing the next generation of crime fighters.

Peter: Of the four chapters, this is easily the weakest, due to Miller's clipped dialogue, the frenetic pace, and the intermingling of perspectives. It's all way too confusing for this little brain, and that's from someone who absolutely loved the first three installments. I'm sure there are those out there who will say that Frank Miller maintained quality all through the series and put the perfect bow on the package, but it was a mighty big disappointment for me.

Jack: Like you, I found this confusing on first reading it, but when I went back through it to write the summary, it made more sense. I haven't been a fan of this series, but I have to admit that Miller succeeded in doing something new, even if I didn't really want to see it. The art is exciting, though I don't care for Miller's technique of drawing Batman and Superman as giant, lumbering monsters. I also don't care for the "adult" aspects of the story, including the language and the violence. Still, we have to reckon with this series and all that's come after it, so it certainly qualifies as a landmark.



Best Script:
Frank Miller, "Hunt the Dark Knight" (The Dark Knight Returns #3)
Best Art: Frank Miller & Klaus Janson, "Hunt the Dark Knight"
Best All-Around Story: "Hunt the Dark Knight"
Worst Script: Harlan Ellison, "The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks," (Detective Comics #567)
Worst Art: Tom Mandrake, "Strike Two" (Batman #399)
Best Cover: Bill Sienkiewicz, Batman #400 >

The Five Best Stories

1- "Hunt the Dark Knight"
2-  "Catch as Catscan" (Detective Comics #569)
3- "The Dark Knight Returns" (The Dark Knight Returns #1)
4- "The Dark Knight Triumphant" (The Dark Knight Returns #2)
5- "A Bird in the Hand..." (Batman #401)


Best Script: Frank Miller, "The Dark Knight Returns" 
Best Art: Alan Davis & Paul Neary, "Catch as Catscan," 
Best All-Around Story: "The Dark Knight Returns"
Worst Script: Harlan Ellison, "The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks," 
Worst Art: Tom Mandrake, "Binary Brains," (Batman #397)
Best Cover: Marshall Rogers, (Shadow of the Batman #2)

The Five Best Stories

1-"The Dark Knight Returns"
2-"Double Crosses," Detective Comics #564
3-"Catch as Catscan"
4-"The Dark Rider," Batman #393
5-"Free Faces," Detective Comics #563

Next Week...
Did we really need an "In Deep II"?


Anonymous said...

I like Jim Starlin and i like Max Allan Collins, but for some reason BATMAN 402 has flown completely below my radar until today. I’ll have to see if I can find a cheap copy on eBay….

I do own a copy of BATMAN 401. Trevor’s art here isn’t quite in the same league as on BATMAN ANNUAL 8, but still pretty nice. He did a couple really cool issues of WORLD’S FINEST around this same time too. Magpie never became one of the more popular Batman villains, but she did show up in a particularly good episode of the CG animated BEWARE THE BATMAN series a few years ago.

The Barr / Davis run on DETECTIVE is a lot of fun. I tend to agree with Jack about Davis’ Joker looking a little too skinny and ‘pretty’ but yes, his Catwoman is dynamite.


Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, b.t.! I'm really enjoying this run of Detective.