Monday, March 27, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 75: July/August 1988


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

Jerry Bingham
Batman #421

"Elmore's Lady"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Dick Giordano & Joe Rubinstein

Ten women in Gotham City have been murdered by the Dumpster Slasher. Batman visits Commissioner Gordon and wonders why there has not been an eleventh body since the slasher has followed a pattern and kills on a schedule. A bum named Elmore is dumpster diving for scraps of food when he's attacked by a couple of punks; fortunately, Batman shows up and puts a stop to their mayhem.

Elmore mentions to the Caped Crusader that he has a new wife whom he met at a nearby dumpster; Batman follows Elmore into an abandoned railroad tunnel and finds the body of the eleventh victim. Elmore reveals that the body was dumped by men driving a van that Batman recognizes as bearing the logo of the Iron Dragons, a Chinatown street gang, so the Dark Knight pays the gang a visit. After some martial arts fighting, Batman is able to examine the van. He finds dried blood and learns that the van was in police impound when the last murder occurred.

A quick search on the Bat computer tells Batman that Officer Victor Giambattista was on duty at the impound on the nights of the killings; by the time Batman gets to the crooked cop's apartment building, it is in flames and Victor is dead of a stab wound in the back. Before he died, Victor wrote a clue in blood on the floor and Batman tracks down his cousin, Vito Procaccini. Vito comes after Batman with a knife but misses; as Batman interrogates the crook, a big man named Branneck enters and tells Batman that he called the cops. Before Batman leaves, he confronts Branneck about the murders but gets nowhere; after Batman leaves, Branneck tells Vito that they need to kill another girl to make it an even dozen. Batman ponders how to corral the baddies and prevent another killing.

Jack: "Elmore's Lady" is a fairly complex story with a lot to recommend it. There's plenty going on and the section where Elmore leads Batman to his "home" and we see the dead girl whom he calls his wife is spooky and sad. It's unusual to see Dick Giordano doing the pencils and they're not great, though Joe Rubinstein does his best with what he's given. Mike Bright takes over as artist next month, so Giordano must have had to fill in at the last minute.

Peter: I liked "Elmore's Lady" as well, much better than Starlin's "Ten Days of the Beast." It's gritty and grimy and closer to the old days of O'Neil and Adams than to the James Bond or LeCarre vibe we had to endure in "Beast." I didn't mind the graphics; they're gritty and grimy as well. The intro of Branneck as a partner in the serial killing ups the edgy atmosphere. Weirdly, while I was reading this, I was thinking that this is the kind of material Max Allan Collins should have been writing for this title during his tenure. It's definitely up his alley.

Detective Comics #588

"Night People Part 2: The Corrosive Man"
Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

Mitchel rises from the ashes of the hazardous waste fire, transformed into a burning, killing machine, and calling himself the Corrosive Man. He unwittingly kills responding firefighters and police, burning them to the bone. Batman arrives and is able to keep the creature at bay with a firehose but, eventually, the Corrosive Man slips away. 

Meanwhile, Webley returns to the home of eccentric (if a little insane) Mr. Kadaver, having murdered for his boss only hours before. Kadaver informs his henchman that he killed the wrong guy and that he needs to go back to the docks and find the right vagrant to slice up. 

Corrosive Man hijacks a big rig but his touch means disintegration and, unfortunately, he's reminded of that fact when his hands go through the steering wheel and his flaming rear melts the seat. The truck crashes and he sets off on foot to the home of the aforementioned Mr. Kadaver. Batman, following the unmistakable trail of his new foe, is swinging over the harbor just as Webley is slicing up another vagrant, ostensibly the right one this time.

There's a lot to unpack here, two stories that are heading to a convergence at some point, but I like the script a lot. The Corrosive Man is a great new baddie, one of those Lennie-like characters who didn't ask for their lot in life and thus elicits sympathy while doing bumbling and fatal deeds. We still have no idea why Kadaver needs hobo Dalton Walls dead (or why he sleeps in a coffin and makes himself up like a vampire), but I assume we'll get the skinny in the conclusion next issue. This is a very fun story. Can't ask for more. Well... The art is another story altogether. It's slapdash and amateurish at times but, I'll admit, it does convey quite a bit of excitement. Oh, and the DJ interludes are still eye-rolling.

Jack: Wagner and Grant write a powerful story but I don't think Breyfogle is the right guy to illustrate it. His limited art skills definitely remove some of the power from the first scene with the Corrosive Man and Mr. Kadaver also suffers from the way Norm draws him. One question: why don't the Corrosive Man's feet burn through the pavement? These issues of Detective exhibit some adult themes and more violence than we used to see, but the art just isn't there for me.

Jerry Bingham
Batman #422

"Just Deserts" [sic]
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Mark Bright, Joe Rubinstein, & Steve Mitchell

Vito worries because Batman knows that he and Karl are the Dumpster Slashers, but Karl reassures him by telling him that one more killing will get the Caped Crusader off their backs. Karl hates women and wants to put them in their place. Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that he will find the killers and earns a warning about taking the law into his own hands.

Everywhere Karl goes, he sees a pretty blonde watching him. He manages to lose Batman, who has been following him, and meets Vito in a subway tunnel, where he fatally stabs his partner and leaves him on the tracks to be run over by a train. Karl cleans his knife and hides it under the floorboards of his apartment, but Batman finds it and tells Karl that Vito rolled off the tracks before he died. Karl lunges at Batman, who knocks him out.

Karl wakes up in jail. Three months later, at his trial, he's freed on a technicality. Karl knows the Dynamic Duo are watching him and so is the blonde, so he packs to leave town but plans one last murder before he goes. Meanwhile, Robin beats up a pimp who was abusing a prostitute and Batman has to stop the Boy Wonder before he goes too far. That night, Karl finds the blonde and drags her toward his van but she pulls out a razor and fatally cuts his throat before he can have his way with her. Karl dies in an alley, surrounded by the ghosts of his victims.

The blonde, Linda Koslosky, gives herself up and reveals that she is the sister of Karl and Vito's second victim. She is charged with manslaughter but suggests that no jury will convict her, since she "'put down a mad dog.'" Batman reminds Robin that no one is above the law.

Jack: After a surprisingly obvious typo in the story's title (shades of Warren!), "Just Desserts" (or "Just Deserts") features mediocre art from new penciller Mike Bright and a run of the mill story that takes a surprising turn when Linda kills Karl. The thoughtful conclusion elevates the story.

Peter: For once, I completely disagree with my compadre. "Just Deserts" (without a Gobi or Sahara in sight) is dy-no-mite! Easing into Death Wish/Dirty Harry territory and questioning just how far Bats can take it without becoming a Linda Koslosky. Though I've (justifiably) criticized the handling of Robin in the past, I think Starlin handles the kid's rebellion just right. Jason is steadily becoming more of a loose cannon, but there's no two-page moralizing here (just two panels)--it's the most human this throwaway character has been since being introduced. The art... yep, it's shaky when it comes to the "human" characters, but the Bright/Rubinstein/Mitchell trio does aces work on the dynamic duo's scenes. When Jack gets an eyeful of the Cockrum/DeCarlo "artwork" in the following issue, he'll wish he could have this team back in a heartbeat. "Just Deserts (No Forest For Miles)" is the best Bats work Starlin has done yet. 

Detective Comics #589

"Night People Part 3: The Burning Pit"
Story by John Wagner & Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

Batman nabs Mr. Kadaver's hitman, Webley, and escorts him out of Cardboard City before the locals tear him to shreds with an eye to eliciting directions to the boss's house. Across town, the Corrosive Man heads for the same address. 

Meanwhile, at Kadaver's dungeon residence, the reason for vagrant Dalton Walls is finally revealed when Walls's nephew, Hobart, comes calling to pay Kadaver his money for the hit. Seems Walls is an eccentric millionaire who decided to chuck it all and live on the streets. Walls's fortune is inherited by Hobart with the old man's death. Kadaver discovers the connection and trusses up Hobart, hanging the man over a lime pit until he agrees to pay Kadaver twenty mill.

Batman arrives with Webley and engages in fisticuffs with the mentally deranged Kadaver, who slips and falls toward the lime pit, saved only by the neck of Hobart. The two swing over "The Burning Pit" just as Corrosive Man melts his way through the ceiling. Unfortunately, he lands squarely on the Batman and our hero is knocked unconscious. Corro reaches out and melts Kadaver's face. Batman comes to and carefully battles with Corrosive Man, who (just like Kadaver) loses his footing and falls to his death in the lime pit. Heading back to Wayne Manor to grab some grub and shuteye, Batman comes across a wreck on the highway. DJ Dark, nose full of blow, has accidentally run a man over. Ironically, the stiff is the dope dealer Batman had been chasing before he was sidetracked by Deke Mitchel and Kadaver. "Poetic justice," snorts (pun intended) the Dark Knight.

Peter: A fabulous conclusion to the three-part Corro/Kadaver arc but, for once, I'd have loved a bit more background on Mr. Kadaver, a wonderfully loony villain who just happened to own a dungeon and a very large makeup kit. The expository behind the target on Walls's back was handled well. Corrosive Man reminds me of Ghost Rider without his leather and bike. I'm not sure but my source, who asks to remain anonymous, informs me that Deke Mitchel will return.

It's funny how monikers for these bad guys get around. Last issue, Deke Mitchel dubbed himself "The Corrosive Man" while out wandering by himself. This issue, Batman suddenly starts referring to Deke by the same alias. Not Meltdown or Captain Radiation or the Hazardous Waste Man; he gets it right on the money! Breyfogle's pencils remain sketchy (literally); the continued low angle shot of Batman's exaggerated chin is getting to be annoying.

Jack: I'm surprised you liked this story. I thought it was a disappointment. I was shocked to see the DJ snorting a line of coke in a DC comic! Breyfogle draws some good layouts and can handle action sequences, but the human faces remain a big problem and his drawing of Batman is sometimes just too goofy for me. Overall, I thought it was an unfocused story with mediocre art.

"For the Love of Ivy"
Story by Lewis Klahr & Steve Piersall
Art by Dean Haspiel & Denis Rodier

Poison Ivy is dying, poisoned by the toxins within her own bloodstream. She's also highly contagious. Batman sets out to capture Ivy and talk her into taking an antidote. Ivy is not easily persuaded.

Peter: An experiment by DC editors, the "Bonus Book" gave a chance to artists, writers, and letterers who fancied a career in graphic arts. Thankfully, consumers who plunked down their hard-earned quarters for Detective #589 didn't have to shell out one penny more for the extra 16 pages. The writing is crude and some of the dialogue between characters is as if two conversations are going on at the same time. The art is stiff and the choreography non-existent. In short, "For the Love of Ivy" does what it sets out to do in putting new names out there but doesn't sell the argument that these individuals should be in the biz. Of the quartet, only penciler Haspiel went on to some success.

Jack: Even though we don't put ratings on these comics in our posts, I keep them in my notebook, and this one gets a single star across the board (out of a possible four). It's not a professional-quality story in any department and I don't think DC should have published it in Detective. And I really like Poison Ivy!

Batman Annual #12

"Slade's Demon"
Story by Mike Baron
Art by Ross Andru, Pablo Marcos & Denis Rodier

Bruce Wayne travels to the Slade Estate in Upstate New York to attend a murder mystery weekend. It's rumored that Monica Slade's late father, Deacon Slade, was a Satanist and that "Slade's Demon" haunts the modernist structure. Bruce meets macho man Jake Sweeney, who compliments Wayne on the "'bitchin' tower'" at his estate, and Monica assigns roles to each of the guests; ironically, Bruce is cast as the detective. His date, sexy blonde Ruby Smith, is cast as a famous actress. Of course, a Black couple are cast as a gangster and a hooker; other parts are handed out to the rest of the guests.

The lights go out in a thunderstorm and Bruce sees that Monica has fallen to her death through a high window. After Batman confirms that she's dead, Ruby tells Bruce that a ghost is rumored to stalk the rooms. Another guest is attacked by what she thinks is the Slade Monster and Batman questions the rest of the guests. As he looks for the killer, the Dark Knight is suddenly attacked by Jake, a trained martial artist and the secret son of the late Monica Slade. Batman dispatches the bodybuilder but is hit from behind by Jake's father, Rene Cesar, who is the son of Deacon Slade and a woman he raped. Cesar killed Monica as part of a planned sacrifice to Satan.

Batman is thrown out of a high window and caught by Slade's Monster, who happens to be climbing up the side of the cliff below the house. The monster used to be Swanson's assistant and is now just a really big guy with a furry vest and green trousers who holds up the house on his shoulders so that everyone can get out safely before it slides into the gorge. As the house crashes below, a giant demon appears in the sky and disappears at last. Later, Bruce drives off with Ruby and we see that the monster lives on.

Peter: This is one big slice of Limburger cheese, truly one-of-a-kind awful in both script and art. With so many glaring holes in this plot (and so much cringe-worthy expository in its dopey howmanydunnit climax), I'd have to point to the fact that not one of these party guest ding-a-lings asks how the Batman managed to show up! You'd think someone would scratch their chin and say "Hmmmm!" Or how about freaky Hamish Stewart holding up an entire house on his back? The art is the pits. Ross Andru and Pablo Marcos: a team made in heaven. Ironic that the worst Batman strip of the year is delivered in the same month as the best.

Jack: A weird cover by Mike Kaluta starts things off and appears to depict a very angry Batman weeding a garden at night by lamplight. The 38-page debacle that is titled "Slade's Demon" makes little sense and features art that would be wretched if we hadn't just seen the terrible illustrations in the bonus story in Detective #589. Oddly, the story and art are definitely DC-PG, with "bitchin'," "damn," and a shot of a dead woman's panties! The art looks like very weak Ross Andru work to me and I don't see much evidence of Pablo Marcos. The inker is the same Dennis Rodier who inked the terrible Poison Ivy story in Detective.

"The Back-Up"
Story by Robert Greenberger
Art by Norm Breyfogle

Jason Todd doesn't have many friends in the seventh grade, so when a trio of nerds known as the H.I.T. (High School Independent Technical) Squad show him how they have figured out how to access all of the school's locked supplies and change their grades on the school's computers, he finds a way to ensure that they're caught without anyone knowing he was involved.

Peter: Though not quite as egregious as "Slade's Demon," the "Back-Up" story that supposedly features Robin (but does nothing of the sort) is pretty dumb as well. I'm trying to wrap my head around Jason's attitude towards his friends' behavior: "Well, yeah sure, they're doing something really awful but it's not my place to tell them it's wrong and, anyway, they're my friends and they're really good guys!" The art by Breyfogle here is even worse than his work in Detective.

Jack: It's all in what you compare it to! The story isn't great, but it's better than this issue's lead story, and the same is true for the art. I didn't mind an off the wall tale like this one, though I was surprised to see that Jason is only in the seventh grade. Breyfogle's art reminds me of the work of Ramona Fradon here, though without her humor or inventiveness. Maybe he'll improve with time.

Batman: The Killing Joke
Story by Alan Moore
Art by Brian Bolland

Batman visits Joker in Arkham Asylum. Our hero tries to get a message across to his number one enemy that he wants their never-ending game of violence toward each other to end, since the result can only be death to one of them. Joker ignores him, continuing to play a game of solitaire, and Batman finally reaches the end of his patience and grabs the fiend's hand. Greasepaint comes off on the Dark Knight's gloves and he realizes this is not the real deal.

Joker, meanwhile, is miles away, finalizing a deal to buy a rundown, abandoned carnival. Of course, since this is the world's most insane criminal, the deal ends with the ghastly death of the businessman. Joker is the proud owner of a carnival.

As these events unfold, the Clown Prince of Crime flashes back to his origin story. He is an unnamed comedian trying to make ends meet, living with his pregnant wife, who agrees to participate in a crime with a shady pair of characters. The target is a playing card company (and since this is Alan Moore, the reasoning is never really made clear), but the building must be accessed through a chemical plant and Mr. Pre-Joker used to work at said plant. Since our innocent-but-desperate comedian needs the dough, he agrees to join the crime circle and also (as per his cohorts) to wear a red hood while performing the crime.

Commissioner and Barbara Gordon are enjoying a night at home, each putting their crime-fighting to the side for a short while, when there's a knock at the door. Babs answers and finds a certain clown standing in the doorway. Before she can react, Joker pulls a handgun and shoots her. He and his henchmen enter and kidnap the Commish. Before exiting, Joker strips the wounded Babs and takes some Polaroids of her naked, bleeding body. Later, Batman visits the woman in the hospital and Barbara reveals that her dad has been taken prisoner. 

Gordon comes to, naked and chained in a cage at the carnival, where he is brought by strange little men to the throne of Joker. Joker places the cop in a fun-ride car and subjects Gordon to a freak show display, culminating in a huge screen showing pics of Babs, lying in a pool of her own blood. Gordon screams like a man on the edge of sanity. Joker is pleased.

The Dark Knight is scouring the city for traces of the lunatic but salvation comes, ironically, in the form of an invitation to the carnival from the nut himself. Meanwhile, the Joker has removed Gordon from the funhouse and tells him to reflect on "life and all its injustices." This triggers a memory within the villain himself, of the events from years before. As he agrees to participate in a card company heist, the Man-Who-Would-Be-Joker learns his wife has died in a freak electrical accident and attempts to pull out of the criminal activity. His partners threaten death and he's forced to go through with it, despite his grief. The job goes south when security guards arrive and open fire. His two compadres dead, the red-hooded and panicked comedian races towards the exit, only to be confronted by the novice caped crime-fighter known as the "Human Bat." The poor dope takes a dive into toxic waters and emerges as Joker!

Meanwhile, back in the present, Batman arrives at the carnival and rescues Gordon. He turns his attention to his number one fan, who pulls a gun and points it in the hero's face. A sign emerges from the barrel, signaling that the weapon is empty, and Joker shrugs, telling his foe to just get it over with. Batman delivers his monologue again (this time to the genuine article), telling Joker that they should stop their endless, pointless game, that they don't have to "kill each other." The Maniac of Mirth smiles and tells the Caped Crusader that the situation reminds him of a joke...

Peter: In the prologue to the 2008 reprint of The Killing Joke, Tim Sale reminds us of what a fertile time the mid-1980s was for certain funny book writers, in particular Frank Miller and Alan Moore. I'm obviously not the first person to state that these two guys revolutionized the way comics were written (following in the footsteps, for the most part, of the two best writers of the 1970s, Englehart and O'Neil) and drawn. Stepping back and looking at it as a whole, there's nothing startlingly original about The Killing Joke. Joker escapes from prison, does some damage, and is rounded up again by the guy whose name is on the cover. But the devil, as the cliche goes, is in the details.

It took some big ones for the powers-that-be to allow Moore to completely change the course of one of their prime characters (granted, Batgirl had not been used to her potential in years) and in such a shocking way. Villains in funny books are kinda dangerous but the damage they do is temporary. Right? Barbara Gordon has a look on her face that mirrors that of the reader. Bad guys tie you up and hang you over giant snow cones; they don't shoot you with a handgun while dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. The naked snapshots are the icing on the cake. Moore's origin flashbacks are delivered in a crafty way; we're not sure if this comedian is Joker's Pop or the villain himself until the wife is killed off. We see the gradual erosion of the character from then on, with his toxic swim to safety adding an extra layer of insanity. But was Joker a loon before his corrosive bath? Ah, that's the question. Alan Moore doesn't seem to see it that way. He's just a bad stand-up comedian stuck in unenviable situations. Fascinating.

The Bolland art is flawless, to me easily the best art delivered in a Batman title of the 1980s. His Joker would become THE Joker from that point forward. There are so many iconic panels and scenes here. The shot of Batman approaching the card-dealing faux Joker at Arkham; Joker smiling at the realtor at the carnival (those gums looking eerily realistic); Babs opening the door, astonishment on her face; and, number one, the Joker emerging from the chemical bath. Would Batman titles ever reach the peak of the mid-to-late 1980s again? I doubt it.

Since I've never read much of the Batman's pre-1970s adventures, I had no idea what the Red Hood gang was all about until I did some internet research and went down that fabulous rabbit hole. I'm definitely going to visit some of these Golden Age Bat stories at some future date.

Jack: The wordless opening sequence is superb and the art throughout is fantastic; I thought I saw a bit of Eisner influence at times. We're reading the deluxe edition, which was recolored by Bolland, so I don't know how the original looked, but I loved this. The shooting of Barbara Gordon is in line with the trend of the late '80s and early '90s to injure or kill iconic heroes; Supergirl and Flash had been killed not long before in Crisis on Infinite Earths and Superman's death was only a few years away. Years later, Marvel would get into the act, but DC was the front runner with this type of event. I think that having the Joker shoot Batgirl made the kidnap and torture of Commissioner Gordon seem much more dangerous; if they could kill off Barbara, then why not Jim? I recall the Red Hood story from a 25 cent DC Giant when I was a kid, so I was familiar with the Joker's origin; I love when the modern writers find something from the old days and bring it back. This is one of the best Batman stories I've read.

Next Week...
You know things are bad when 
we hype the ads instead of the stories!


Ronald said...

Some fans think Batman kills the Joker at the end.

Jack Seabrook said...

Interesting. I don't think that's the case.

Joseph Tura said...

LOVE The Killing Joke! Great stuff that still holds up! PS Another great post, gentlemen!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Joe! Nice to hear from you!

wordsmith said...

One of the fans who believes that Batman killed the Joker is Grant Morrison.

Jack Seabrook said...

What do Moore and Bolland say?