Monday, January 2, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 69: July-August 1987


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

Hannigan & Patterson
Batman #409

"Just Another Kid on Crime Alley!"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Ross Andru & Dick Giordano

At Ma Gunn's school, she tells the other boys to "snuff" Jason Todd, but he fights back and impresses her. Bruce Wayne investigates Jason's parents and resists Vickie Vale's efforts to have him pose for photos with patients from the clinic in Crime Alley. A TV news crew films a story in Ma Gunn's classroom, but as soon as the reporters leave, she goes back to teaching the boys about firearms. Thinking the old woman batty, Jason escapes.

Batman finds out that Jason's father was probably killed after double-crossing Two-Face and, that night, returns to Crime Alley, where he breaks up a drug deal and helps a man whose tires have been stolen. The Caped Crusader finds Jason, who tells him what's really going on at Ma Gunn's school. Ma and her boys break into a museum to steal some jewels, but they are foiled when Batman arrives, with unexpected help from Jason. As the duo ride off in the Batmobile, Batman calls Jason Robin.

Peter: It's a total surprise to me but I am not digging this Max Allan Collins run on Batman. Since the author is one of my top five favorite crime writers, it should be a cinch, right? Evidently not. This Ma Gunn thing is just silly and I'm wondering if Max got the inspiration from the Ma Parker character played by Shelley Winters on the '66 show. At any rate, Ma comes off as cliched and her constant correction of her boys' diction becomes tiring very fast. Let's kill off this annoying Todd kid already.

Jack: I liked her corrections--it made me wish we had a similar teacher over in the Warren mags. As drawn by Ross Andru, Ma Gunn looks like Harry Osborn from Spider-Man with a white wig and glasses. Dick Giordano does what he can to improve Andru's art, but it looks like what it is--a rush, fill-in job, according to Denny O'Neill's note on the letters page. The story is fast-moving, simple, and straightforward, but it's nowhere near the quality we've grown used to lately.

Detective Comics #576

"Year Two, Chapter Two:
Deal with the Devil"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Todd McFarlane & Alfredo Alcala

Gordon and his men are escorting mob boss "Big" Willie Golonka to prison but the Reaper has other ideas. The vigilante shows up at the march and puts a couple of live rounds into Golonka's back. The villain escapes in an armored car, leaving one officer dead and one severely wounded. Gordon is not pleased.

Shortly thereafter, Judson Caspian (whom we know to be the Reaper) tells his daughter, nun-to-be Rachel, that everything he does, he does for her and his murdered wife. We then see in a flashback that Mrs. Caspian was shot down in the street by an armed robber, which drives her husband to extreme measures, taking his name from a Bible verse ("thou shalt sow but thou shalt not reap") and hitting the streets as Gotham's first vigilante.

Back in the present, Bruce Wayne has lunch with Rachel Caspian and (you guessed it) ignores her protestations of celibacy and makes his move. At the end of a busy day, Gordon finds time to meet the plane carrying Metropolis mob don Jonathan Heymer, but the greeting is broken up by the arrival of the Reaper, who guts Heymer's bodyguard like a fish and moves in for the kill on the big man. Batman arrives in time to rescue Heymer and shuffle him off to the big mobster meeting in Gotham. The Dark Knight makes his case to the goombahs: join forces with him to defeat their common enemy, the Reaper. The fat cats agree and introduce Bats to their number one hitman: Joe Chill. Yep, that Joe Chill.

Peter: Whereas Frank Miller's deconstruction of the Batman mythos was clean and actually added something, the reveal here feels forced, like the time Peter Parker finally ran across the burglar who killed Uncle Ben. We'll have to wait two issues for the conclusion to determine if there is coherence to Barr's plot but, so far, it's pretty thin. The art is dynamic, with Alcala taming the loose cannon McFarlane would become when assigned to Spider-Man (you can see a bit of McFarlane's crazy energy leaking through here and there, especially on page fifteen). I always thought Todd owed more than a smidgen of his millions to Bernie.

Jack: Not having the slightest bit of experience with the work of Todd McFarlane, I'll have to take your word for it. I thought the art in this issue ranged from pretty good to very good. Once again, it seems DC has turned a page toward more adult themes, with the graphic murder of Golonka and the mention of "prostitutes." Wasn't there another Bat-villain recently whose parents were killed in front of him when he was a kid? Is this motivation being overused? I recall another reference to Blue Oyster Cult's song in a '70s Marvel comic (a Rich Buckler issue?) and I think it's silly, but I admit I'm intrigued by the appearance of Joe Chill.

Geiger & Giordano
Batman #410

"Two of a Kind"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Dave Cockrum & Mike DeCarlo

Batman trains Jason Todd to be the new Robin but leaves out details about Two-Face until the boy asks questions. The training goes so well that Jason is given a Robin costume to wear and introduced to Commissioner Gordon. Coincidentally, Two-Face has gathered around himself a new gang, comprised of twins, and they rob the Lucky Dollar casino. Batman and Robin are waiting outside but when Two-Face takes a woman hostage, Robin volunteers to take her place. The Boy Wonder soon escapes and Two-Face decides to get while the getting is good. Back at the Batcave, Jason continues his computer-based research on Bat-villains and discovers that his late father was killed by Two-Face.

Peter: I always love these stories where, out of the blue, the hero studies one of his old nemeses for no particular reason and then... holy cow!... turns out that bad guy pops up for action. Not much in the way of surprises here. At least the Cockrum art is somewhat better than the Ross Blandru stuff we got last issue. I will say that this retconning is confusing the hell out of me. So, is Denny saying we should just forget any of the events that happened prior to the re-introduction of Jason Todd a couple issues ago? 

Jack: It's hard to tell. The fact that Jason is researching past events means that things did happen in the past, but everything involving Jason Todd has been reset. When I was young, I thought Dave Cockrum's art was terrific, but nowadays I'm less impressed. When will the rotating band of artists cease? At least the cover is sharp. Once again, DC pushes further with the violence than we've grown used to--here, a casino guard is shot to death and lies on the floor in a pool of blood. I like the names of Two-Face's twin colleagues: the Dopple Brothers (Doppler signals are sent out and bounce back) and the Rorrim Brothers (read it backwards).

McFarlane & Marcos
Detective Comics #577

"Year Two, Chapter Three:
Deadly Allies"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Todd McFarlane & Alfredo Alcala

Partnered with Joe Chill, Batman must cross the lines of good and bad to bring the Reaper out of hiding. The Odd Couple force a local hippie to deal drugs on the street in order to draw the fire of the vigilante killer.

Unbeknownst to the Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon has marked the very building that the hippie will be dealing in for a sting operation. The three sides (Batman, Reaper, and Gordon) meet in the middle for an explosive showdown. During the melee, Gordon slaps the cuffs on Batman and Reaper gets away. Joe Chill gives chase, firing at the streaking figure and hitting a barrel of the explosive drugs instead. The building is leveled and Batman is forced to save Joe Chill's life. After a moment's pause, the Caped Crusader extends a gloved hand to the man and pulls him up onto the roof of the building, mentally noting that once he gets the Reaper, his next target is Joe Chill.

Peter: There's really not much going on here and the plot at times can be confusing, but it's wall-to-wall action and gorgeous art. I'm sold. I'm not sold on wishy-washy Gordon who turns on Batman yet again even after our spotlighted hero saves the Commish's life for the umpteenth time. Oh, and there's a bit of romance thrown in as well when Bruce pledges undying love for Rachel to her father (who is actually the Reaper when he does more interesting things than sitting around and looking at old pictures), which either means Rachel is scheduled to be a victim of friendly fire or she'll hate the Batman for bringing her deranged Pop to justice. Take your pick. Back to the art: you can see a little more of Todd leaking out of Alfredo this time around; the pair are nicely complementing each other's style. 

Jack: This may be the best issue we've read since the end of Year One. The art is very good, except for the ridiculously long, wide Batcape. The Dark Knight would trip and fall flat on his cowled face after a step or two in that thing! It's interesting to have Batman working with Joe Chill and to see their disagreement about the value of firearms. I wasn't completely clear on what happened in the final shootout, but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Hannigan & Byrne
Batman Annual #11

"Mortal Clay"
Story by Alan Moore
Art by George Freeman

As Clayface sits in front of the TV, watching All in the Family with his strangely silent and still lady friend Helena, he thinks back to where it all went wrong. He recalls a fire and his inability to save her; he leaped into the Gotham River and emerged to search the city for his lost love. Clayface finally found her on display in the window of Rosendale's department store; Helena is a mannequin.

Hiding inside the store, he was reunited with his love and they spent many happy nights together until a night watchman began to pay too much attention to her and Clayface killed him. The police recognized Clayface's particular method of murder (his victims are melted) and called in Batman, who searched the store and confronted the deranged villain. A brutal fight ensued and, at its end, Batman offered to help the sad, insane creature by returning him to Arkham Asylum. It's there where Clayface and Helena sit together in front of the television, she remaining quiet and he looking forward to the day when he is free of her.

Jack: Loved it! It's a real treat whenever we get an Alan Moore story during our journey through the Batman chronicles. "Mortal Clay" is all about Clayface, who just wants to be left alone with his beloved mannequin. Of course, he does murder the night watchman, so something must be done, but Batman understands that the villain is hopelessly, dangerously crazy and puts him where he belongs. The art by George Freeman is superb. 

"Love Bird"
Story by Max Allan Collins
Art by Norm Breyfogle

The Penguin is a "Love Bird"! Or so he tells the Parole Board, in an eloquent speech requesting early release. Batman doesn't believe it and tells the Board what he thinks, but they ignore him and let the Penguin fly the coop. Oswald Cobblepot heads straight to the apartment of Dovina, a woman with whom he corresponded while behind bars; the two have fallen madly in love. She informs the Penguin that he must walk a straight and narrow path, since she will not marry a criminal.

Batman is certain that the Penguin is lying and thinks that his new factory, the Gotham Umbrella Works, must be a front for some nefarious enterprise. Batman and Robin enter the factory and find that all of the Penguin's employees are ex-cons; after a brief battle, the Penguin explains that his business is legitimate, but the fact that he hired ex-cons (to give them a second chance) means he has violated his parole and will return to prison. Batman makes another appeal to the Parole Board, but this time he argues that the Penguin should be set free, and again his entreaties are ignored. Fortunately, Dovina visits and tells the Penguin that she will be his bride.

Jack: Another winner! We haven't been thrilled with the stories by Max Allan Collins so far, but this one is a delight. The bird puns fly fast and furious and the climax, where it's revealed that the Penguin really is going straight, is perfect. Outstanding art by Breyfogle makes it a joy to read. What a great annual!

Peter: I thought both stories were a lot of fun. Clayface is not a character familiar to me and, in fact, throughout the story I thought we were dealing with Mister Freeze! I like the restraint Batman shows entering the department store; his "I can help" shows that he's aware this guy isn't playing with a full deck. Both stories have the same kind of theme and vibe and Max Collins does a great job of pointing out the ludicrosity of a parole system that lets these loonies out of stir every six months no matter how many fatalities they notch on their umbrellas. Two very good stories and both extremely well-illustrated. I'm not familiar with Freeman or Breyfogle but both have striking visual styles. Breyfogle will be taking over art chores on 'tec soon.

Next Week...
More late-night under-the-covers reading
when Vampi gives stripping a go!

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