Monday, January 30, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 71: November/December 1987 + The Best of 1987


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

Hannigan & Simonson
Batman #413

"The Ghost of Masahiko Tahara"
Story by Jo Duffy
Art by Kieron Dwyer & Mike DeCarlo

While on patrol one night, Batman encounters Japanese criminal Toshihiko Kikkawa. After a brief skirmish, the crook reveals that he heard about plans for a robbery at the Metropolitan Museum of Gotham. Bruce Wayne attends the opening of the long-awaited Masahiko Tahara exhibit at that very museum, where Yoshio Tahara, a descendent of Masahiko, and Dr. Lucius Pitt, the curator, make an appearance.

Back at the Batcave, Jason is doing some extra-credit homework on the exhibit, unaware that nighttime at the museum means an appearance by "The Ghost of Masahiko Tahara." The next evening, Pitt is attacked on leaving the museum by a gang of thugs but, before the Dynamic Duo can spring into action, he is aided by the ghostly warrior, who swings a mean bamboo stick. The ghost disappears back into the museum before Batman can confront him.

Batman then visits the dojo of Yoshio and engages in a martial arts battle, defeating the visitor from the Orient. That night, Batman is keeping watch inside the museum alongside Pitt when the ghost attacks! Afraid that Batman will defeat the ghost, Pitt pulls out a gun to shoot the Caped Crusader but is stopped by the intervention of a ghostly ninja. Batman beats the ghost and reveals him to be Yoshio, while the ninja is revealed to be Robin.

Peter: I had to congratulate myself for figuring out that it was Tahara in the gold suit all along. Of course, anyone would have known that. On the other hand, the reveal that Jason was behind the Ninja mask was a complete surprise. That might be due to the big cheat of adding a few feet to Jason's height and quite a bit of bulk to his runt of a body. Cheat! I couldn't make heads or tails of why Tahara was doing what he was doing but I can't be concerned enough to sort it out... I'm on to the next "new" adventure.

Jack: An editor's note tells us that this issue's story is a fill-in by Jo Duffy and that it features the debut of 19-year-old artist Kieron Dwyer, who does a great job. The story is breezy and forgettable, but I like the many wordless panels and the Asian theme.

Jerry Bingham
Detective Comics #580

"Double Image"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Baikie

Two-Face attempts a robbery at the palatial residence of sculptor Kyle Braxton but Batman and Robin, who just happen to be patrolling the area, put the kibosh on the villain's fun. Spoiled brat Robin, still seeking vengeance for the murder of his father by said villain, tries to take T-F down by himself. Instead, the Boy Blunder is taken hostage and Batman must allow Harvey to escape.

While doing some brainstorming with Gordon, Bats stumbles onto Harvey's plan: he's robbing artists who "create doubles of their subjects" and so posits that the next heist will be at the Gotham Mirror Factory. The Caped Crusaders foil the robbery but Two-Face (once again) escapes. On the bright side, the light goes on over Bats's cowl and he realizes that this Two-Face is not Harvey Dent but poor delusional actor, Paul Sloane, who had been hired years before to play Harvey Dent in The Two-Face Story for TV. While shooting the courtroom scene, a jealous actor slipped real acid in the prop bottle and Sloane was disfigured exactly like Harvey. Bats helped the actor overcome a massive dose of insanity and put him back on the straight and narrow. Our hero is convinced that Harvey is behind the actor's relapse.

Only Jim Baikie can tell us
what happened to Batman's head
A tip leads the Dynamic Duo to the Gotham Train Yard where a shipment of two-dollar bills will pass through on the way to the mint for destruction. Sure enough, Sloane arrives with his henchmen but Gordon and his entire police force are hiding in one of the boxcars and Sloane and his men are easily captured. But hang on a sec--who's that hanging around in the shadows? Why, it's the original Two-Face, Harvey Dent, who puts Gordon and his men to sleep with a sonic NyQuil. Dent's distraction leads to Sloane shooting Harvey, Bats, and Robin full of tranquilizer darts. He throws them in a refrigerated car and rigs a bomb for good measure. Is this the end of the Caped Crusaders?

Peter: Unlike Jack, who really should like this story since it's steeped in 1960s nostalgia (gag me with a spoon), I liked this twenty-some pages of inanity. The Harvey/Sloane switcheroo reminded me of my favorite funny book arc of all time, the Other Captain America. I will agree that the art is shaky, bordering on icky, especially when dealing with Bats and Two-Face, but at least the story kept me moving forward. And there are flashes of originality to Baikie's work here and there. I wasn't paying much attention but while doing research on Sloane, I discovered that the idea is that the Crime Doctor re-disfigured Sloane at the behest of Harvey for this issue's plot. Seems like a lot of work to go through to... well, I don't know what the plan was. Maybe Mike will let us in on that next issue? Barr does do a great job with the flashback sequence; I was convinced these events had happened in the Golden Age but, nope, Mike invented the scenario right on the spot. That kind of ingenuity deserves my praise.

Jack: Doesn't it seem like we're seeing too much of Two-Face lately? I should like this story, especially the TV-like peril at the end, but I don't. The art is shaky and the story just hops from fight to chase to fight. It's hard to believe an actor playing Two-Face could have acid thrown in his face and become another Two-Face.

And yet there are some bright spots, no?

Batman #414

Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

The Gotham Slasher has claimed three "Victims!" They are all killed with a knife and tossed like trash into a dumpster. The police have no clues. As Batman speaks to Commissioner Gordon at the scene of the latest murder, he sees a nearby building on fire and rushes to the scene; he rescues pretty Kate Babcock, a young social worker who risked her life to save others.

In the weeks that follow, Bruce Wayne runs into Kate a few times and they become friends, so Batman is devastated when she is the next victim of the Slasher. Batman suspects the killer may be drug dealer Frank "Cutter" Thompson and witnesses the crook pull a switchblade when a pair of undercover cops try to bust him for dealing drugs. The sight of the blade causes Batman to snap and he nearly beats Cutter to death before Commissioner Gordon stops him.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Cutter was in jail when Kate was murdered. Another victim of the Slasher is found and Batman realizes that his emotions got in the way of his brain. He vows to track down the killer.

 After the high of Year One, it's been a bit of a letdown for the last few months in the Batman comics, but with this story we are right back on top. Starlin's story is gripping and it's great to see Aparo back drawing the Dark Knight. Will the story be continued next issue?

Peter: It's no secret to anyone who reads my comments that I'm a fan of the Darker Knight rather than the watered-down version we're seeing in the 'tec comics. Starlin swoops in and rescues what was becoming a disposable title. Funny how the titles are swapping relevance every couple of  months. Love when Kate dresses down Batman for his assumption she's a hooker and, believe it or not, I was completely shocked when she ended up dead at the end of this first chapter. Yeah, romantic interests for Bats don't last but they usually end up becoming nuns or psychopaths, not dumped in pieces in a bin. 

Baikie & Marcos
Detective Comics #581

"One Out of Two... Isn't Bad..."
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Baikie & Pablo Marcos

Batman, Robin, and Two-Face are trapped in a refrigerated train car with a bomb set to go off in T-minus two minutes. Bats uses his amazing brain to save the day by breaking off one of the freon pipes used to refrigerate the car, utilizes the gas to freeze the bomb and... no, seriously... enlists the aid of said pipe to cut his ropes! Astounding! 

But the trio are still not out of the woods. Batman knows that Fake-Face Sloane will be slightly suspicious when the bomb doesn't detonate so he proposes that he, Robin, and Harvey temporarily team up to defeat Sloane-Face. Any idea that this unholy trinity might come to pass is erased once Sloane's henchmen are out of the way and Harvey drops lumber on the heads of the Dynamic Duo. Rat fink!

Back at the Batcave, Batman sets up an elaborate trap for Two-Face-Two by planting a false new item on Sloane's favorite network; the report is that a local amusement park, Noah's Park, was ripped off by Sloane. Outraged that he's getting the blame for something he never did, Faux-Face decides he and his men will visit the scene of the crime and rob the park a second time. Of course, Batman and Robin are waiting for him. After a rigorous battle, Sloane's men are (once again) put out of action and Batman pulls the Ace card from his sleeve: Sloane's pretty wife, who very quickly changes her husband from fighter to lover.

To make up for all the bad stuff he's done lately, Sloane volunteers to help the Caped Crusaders round up the man who put that ugly face on his head: Harvey Dent. Using the U.S. Constitution as bait (please don't make me elaborate), the Tumultuous Trio nab Harvey-Face and haul him off to Arkham for what promises to be a long three-month stay. Paul Sloane is taken to a hospital and his handsome face replaced. Ah!

 Right off the bat, the art by Baikie and Marcos turned me off, and it never got any better. I hope it's another two years before we see Two-Face again. Can't we get another member of the Rogue's Gallery? How about the Joker? Penguin? The Riddler? At this point, I'd welcome the Mad Hatter! This issue is another series of jokes and fights without much depth, and the art is hard to take.

Peter: The art in this issue is just horrendous; it's got Pablo Marcos's name on it but there's nary a loincloth or halter top to be seen. One panel shows Two-Face with a tiny head atop a big body; Batman and Bruce Wayne resemble no past renderings; and Robin... well, it's the same old problem. The kid seems to age from pre-school to teen daredevil from panel to panel. The first part of the story was something of a gem but the wrap-up is a mess. Plots are plotted and traps are set and none of it seems to make sense or go anywhere. I'm still not sure why Harvey went to all the trouble of having the Crime Doctor mess with Sloane's face, just to "throw the cops off the scent." Harvey-Face seems to be a very vain guy; why wouldn't he want Batman to know about his latest crime spree? Sloane's about-face (pun intended) after seeing his wife is laugh-out loud funny. Will Sloane have to face any kind of criminal charges once his face has healed? Doesn't seem likely.  And, I'm with Jack: let Harvey simmer in Arkham for at least a couple years.

Batman: Son of the Demon
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jerry Bingham

Batman singlehandedly defuses a hostage situation at the Gotham Chemical Plant, rescuing a pregnant woman and dispatching some nasty terrorists. Injured in the fight, the Caped Crusader passes out on the way back to the Batcave and awakens to find that he has been brought home and tended to by none other than Talia al Ghul. Commissioner Gordon tells Batman that the terrorists worked for Qayin, a fearsome foe from the Middle East who has recently allied himself with General Yossid of the nation of Golatia.

The terrorists at the chemical plant wanted to steal barrels of a chemical used to make rain, so Batman visits the Blaine-Pearson research facility, only to find that Dr. Blaine has been poisoned. A dying clue leads Batman to suspect Ra's al Ghul of the murder, but when Batman and Talia fly to her father's mountain fortress, Ra's insists that he's not responsible for Blaine's murder. Batman asks about Qayin and Ra's explains that Qayin murdered Ra's wife (and Talia's mother) years before by pushing her into the Lazarus Pit.

Ra's al Ghul and Batman team up to go after Qayin; Talia reminds Batman that they were once married by Ra's and they retire to her bedchamber to consummate the union. Batman trains Ra's's men in non-lethal fighting techniques while Qayin, in Golatia, uses torture to learn about a soon to be launched satellite that can control the weather. Qayin has been told that he does not have long to live, and he intends to wreak as much havoc as he can in the time he has left. Batman and Ra's encounter Qayin at the launch pad but are unable to prevent the rocket from being sent into orbit.

After things calm down, Talia tells Batman that she is pregnant with his child. Qayin plans to take control of the satellite to control the weather; his men discover Ra's's hideout and attack, causing Batman to be protective of his pregnant bride. Qayin tries to get to the Lazarus Pit, thinking he can increase his own lifespan, but Ra's blows it up. Unknown to Ra's, Qayin survives the explosion and escapes.

The satellite goes live and Qayin immediately assumes control of it, sending a hurricane over the Soviet Union. Gorbachev warns Reagan that if the hurricane nears Moscow, the countries will be at war. While Batman and Ra's are trying to figure out what to do, Talia falls ill and tells Batman that she has miscarried. Batman and Ra's fly to Mt. Ararat, where Qayin is hiding out, and make their way into his fortress, where Batman fights Qayin and Ra's disables the satellite just in the nick of time. Qayin is killed by a stray electrical cable and, once again, the world is saved.

Batman visits Talia in the hospital, where both lament the path their relationship has taken. Nine months later, a baby boy is born and given to adoptive parents; with its blanket is a necklace Batman gave Talia as a gift.

Jack: Never having read "Son of the Demon" before, I was floored by its quality, especially in comparison to the content of the monthly Batman comics we've been reading. It seems clear that, in the late '80s, DC was putting out more quality graphic novels with adult content, but this one is special--Barr avoids the violence and anger that mark much of the work of Frank Miller, and Bingham's art is outstanding, demonstrating a strong Neal Adams influence. A quick bit of online research tells me that this book was a smash hit and, according to Mike Barr, it put DC back ahead of Marvel in sales for the first time since the early '70s 25-cent comic debacle. It's interesting how often DC would return to the characters of Ra's al Ghul and Talia when they needed a really special Batman comic.

Peter: Son of the Demon has the epic scope of a 1980s James Bond flick, an exciting and enthralling thriller with stunning artwork (dead ringer for Neal Adams, but that's the idea, right?) and a fast pace. Contrast this 80 pages with one of those longer Rook things we have to deal with every few weeks. I also like the rougher edge and the more adult dialogue Mike Barr uses in order to remind us this isn't the same kind of fare we get in the monthly titles. And, since I wasn't reading much Batman (or funny books, for that matter) in the 1980s, I have no idea if that vague climax will result in more storylines down the road some time.



Best Script: Frank Miller, "War is Declared" (Batman #405)
Best Art: David Mazzuchelli, "War is Declared"
Best All-Around Story: "War is Declared"
Worst Script: Max Allan Collins, "Did Robin Die Tonight?" (Batman #408)
Worst Art: Andru/Giordano, "Just Another Kid..." (Batman #409)
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1- "War is Declared"
2- "Black Dawn" (Batman #406)
3- "Son of the Demon"
4- "Who I Am, Who I Came to Be" (Batman #404)
5- "Friend in Need" (Batman #407)


Best Script: Alan Moore, "Mortal Clay" (Batman Annual #11)
Best Art: Alan Davis & Paul Neary, "The Last Laugh!" (Detective #570)
Best All-Around Story: "War is Declared"
Worst Script: Mike Barr, "Double Image" (Detective 580)
Worst Art: Jim Baikie & Pablo Marcos, "One Out of Two... Isn't Bad..." (Detective #581)
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1- "War is Declared"
2- "Mortal Clay"
3- "The Last Laugh"
4- "Fear for Sale" (Detective #571)
5- "Son of the Demon"

Jack: 1987 is the best single year of Batman comics we've read to date!
Peter: Well, I don't know about that, but it was purty darn good!

Next Week...
Enfantino discovers he has to read
a whole issue of Warren science fiction!

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