Monday, May 29, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 81: March 1989


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

George Pratt
Batman #431

"The Wall"
Story by James Owsley
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

When known criminal Ralph Stuart confesses to "a litany of dirty tricks" and lands in jail, Batman wants to know why. Tape recordings of Stuart's phone calls reveal that he witnessed four mysterious men killing a woman and now he's so scared that he prefers being locked up to freedom. Batman visits Stuart in prison but the crook won't talk, so the Dark Knight investigates, disguised as a handyman and a Black doctor. Finally, he identifies the corpse and discovers that she was killed with a "vibrating palm strike," which only a few people on planet Earth know how to do.

Batman visits Mugs Clifford and informs the thug that he knows that Mugs hired the League of Assassins to kill the female federal attorney who was prosecuting Mugs for racketeering. The assassins got the wrong address and killed the wrong woman. After Batman leaves, Mugs calls his contact and cancels the hit on the attorney.

Batman visits the home of Thaddeus Gladden, the middleman who arranged the hit for Mugs, and finds him dead. The assassins are still on the premises and Batman fights and defeats all four of the sword-wielding ninjas, using the vibrating palm strike with great care in order to knock the last one unconscious. He then travels to a remote spot in North Korea, a place where he had gone ten years before as Bruce Wayne to learn the rare fighting technique. He confronts Master Kirigi, who trained Bruce and the assassins, with the death of the young woman, but the sensei is not upset, since that would require moral judgment. Batman turns and leaves, suggesting that the sensei might do well to acquire some morals.

Jack: And here I thought Batman was heading off to see Ra's al Ghul yet again! "The Wall" is another one-shot story, following Starlin's piece about the rooftop sniper, which came after the long story arc involving the death of Robin. James Owsley, who later changed his name to Christopher Priest, presents a complex and engrossing narrative that features something quite unusual in a Batman title--a seven-page, wordless fight sequence! Yes, seven pages. That's nearly one third of the 22 pages in the story! Fortunately, Aparo and DeCarlo are up to the challenge.

Peter: I liked this one but didn't love it. This was probably the era of Batman funny books that Chris Nolan and his brother grew up on, since there are a lot of "tells" scattered amongst the pages: that snow-flurried splash and the emergence of the League of Assassins, not to mention the introduction in next month's Detective of Henri Ducard. I can see panels of these comics pinned up on the Nolans' office corkboard in prep for Batman Begins. I dug the wordless, seven-page action sequence; sometimes you don't need smartass one-liners to get the message through.

Denys Cowan/Malcolm Jones III
Detective Comics #598

"Blind Justice"
"Chapter One: The Sleep of Reason"
"Chapter Two: The Kindness of Strangers"
"Chapter Three: The Price of Knowledge"
Story by Sam Hamm
Art by Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, & Frank McLaughlin

The world’s greatest detective is called in by Commissioner Gordon to investigate the death of a night watchman who was guarding a jeweler's vault. Every bone in the man's body was broken and Gordo has no suspects. Can the Batman help? The mystery comes at a superb time for our hero, who hasn't been sleeping well of late, thanks to some particularly disturbing nightmares.

Meanwhile, Jeannie Bowen has traveled to Gotham to search for her missing brother. She's been sifting through a meager amount of clues but the trail ends at the Wayne Tech Building, where brother Roy was working as an intern. Wayne Tech's director of research, Mitchell Riordan, insists Jeannie is incorrect; her brother never worked at WT!

Working on a tip from a "punk," Batman stalks the shadows of Gotham Harbor, waiting for a drug shipment to come in on a garbage scow. Just as the vessel arrives in port, the Dark Knight hears (and feels) an odd humming and the boat disintegrates. Suddenly, from the smoke of the wreckage, a huge, hooded figure emerges. Batman quickly takes stock of the small dishes attached to the giant's arms and deduces that he is using some sort of "low-frequency sonic pulse." The muscled mammoth introduces himself as "Bonecrusher" and the two battle a bit before Batman is knocked into the water. Bonecrusher escapes, but he was injured in the battle and is bleeding profusely.

Batman arises from the polluted water and tracks Bonecrusher to a local warehouse. He offers to take the giant in and get him some medical aid, but Bonecrusher politely declines and jumps into some electrical wires, killing himself. When Gordon arrives at the scene, Batman surmises that the equipment the dead man was using was quite expensive and he would not be surprised if there was a puppet master pulling the strings. Across town, three derelicts trade horror stories about their latest nightmares. One admits that his dream concerned fighting Batman at the harbor.

Inevitably, Jeannie Bowen finds her way to Bruce Wayne and talks him into showing her around Wayne Tech. Sure enough, many of the employees remember brother Roy and, once prompted, even Bruce admits to having seen him once. Mitchell Riordan ducks out of the meeting and makes a phone call, telling an unknown (to us, at least) party that the wagons are circling and he needs a plan. Bruce apologizes to Jeannie for the dead end but asks if she'd like to take in an opera with him that night. She gleefully agrees.

Reports of the Bonecrusher's demise are exaggerated and he soon pops up again, this time as a hijacker of "fissionable material." The Bat-signal flying high in the sky, Bruce has no choice but to dump his date on the sidewalk and burn rubber. Elsewhere, in a dark alley, a young man is assaulted and his bag stolen. A pair of good Samaritans come along and take him to the local food shelter. As Batman battles Bonecrusher, the young man acts out the skirmish in the food shelter as his new friends look on in alarm. Finally, the police are summoned and the young man is taken to a Gotham precinct and caged. Meanwhile, the Bonecrusher wearies of the battle and ignites the flammable truck, setting off a whale of an explosion and killing himself.... again.

Gordon and Batman are alerted to the incident at the food kitchen and they head to the jailhouse to interview the prisoner. Bats immediately recognizes the man as Jeannie's sister, Roy, but keeps the info to himself, asking Gordon for a bit of private time with the jailbird. Mano a mano, Roy admits he has no memories of his past life, claiming he awoke on a subway platform a few months prior. He does, however, think he dreamed of battling Batman. The Caped Crusader asks Gordon to release the prisoner to him, no questions asked, and then tells Jeannie of the situation. He offers up Wayne Manor as a hotel for the two wanderers.

Roy is examined by a doctor and it is discovered that a microchip has been planted in his brain, a device linked to the brain of Bonecrusher and, evidently, manufactured by Wayne Tech. When Bruce asks Roy if he can remember anything about his tenure at the company, the amnesiac admits the only thing he can recall is a code word: Sunday. Bruce hacks into the mainframe for his own company looking for anything related to a "Sunday Project," unaware that, miles away, Mitchell Riordan knows exactly what Wayne is doing.

Jeannie and Roy are enjoying a quiet moment in the Wayne Manor dining room when Roy suddenly doubles over in pain. The security alarm goes off and, suddenly, the wall caves in. The Bonecrusher has invited himself in. The giant is about to crush Roy's bones when Alfred shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. Bruce lifts Bonecrusher's hood to see what lies beneath but is stunned when his new enemy's body explodes. The explosion brings Roy's memory back and he reveals that he was involved in a project code-named SABAT (Surgically Augmented Biochip Assault Troops), building the perfect killer for the military.

With a quick suit change, Batman heads to Wayne Tech, where he discovers a whole lot of activity going down. All the lab equipment is being loaded onto a truck and goons are guarding the lab inside. Bats takes out the henchmen and breaks into the lab where he finds top professor, Dr. Kenneth Harbinger, dead. The detective goes through the professor's notes and discovers the old man had perfected a micro-chip that enabled one to link minds with another subject. He had sold the cartel on the merits of super-soldiers. Turns out Harbinger is behind Bonecrusher; the wheelchair-bound scientist had become addicted to the thrill of superpower and no repercussions. Knowing the cartel was about to snuff him, Harbinger transferred his brain into another body.

Confronting Riordan about SABAT, the millionaire playboy is informed that if he spills the beans to the police, the cartel will make public just what Bruce Wayne does in his free time. Bruce stands his ground and tells his employee that he'll go to the cops anyway. Later, at Wayne Manor, two men in expensive (purple) suits arrive to arrest Bruce Wayne for... bein' a stinkin' commie spy!

Peter: Wow, a lot to digest here, obviously. "Blind Justice," written by Tim Burton's Batman co-scripter Sam Hamm, will span 145 pages and three issues. It's an epic all right, a complicated cat-herding of a script, and I was lost several times, I must admit. Hamm does a great job of throwing us off the scent several times, as with the Harbinger character, who comes off at first like a really noble egghead, discovering new ways to help his fellow humans but, in the end, commits some truly evil deeds in the name of selfishness. 

DC obviously wanted to cash in on the buzz of the then-upcoming Burton flick and figured the Bat-nerds would eat up a huge buffet served up by one of the guys "on the inside." The art is up and down; some of it I really liked and some of it comes off as low-budget Bill Sienkiewicz. With the movie on the horizon (and Prince's "Batdance" about to take the airwaves by storm) and the character's 50th Anniversary celebrated monthly, 1989 was definitely the year of the Bat. I'm all for a party but I'll be glad when Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle return in #601.

Jack: You are too kind to this 61-page pile of slop. The story is unengaging and the art veers back and forth among bad styles that recall the efforts of Frank Robbins, Don Heck, and various Warren artists whose names shall not be mentioned. By part three, I was jotting down the words "confusing," "dull," and "ugly art" in my notes. We have to read another 80+ pages of this mess? Good Lord.

Next Week...
Bruce Wayne, Commie?
Say It Ain't So!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 87: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 72
October 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Astonishing 35
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Jessica!” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Dinner Guest” (a: Don Perlin) 1/2

“Collins Is In His Coffin!” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Man Who Followed!” (a: Mannie Banks)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #26)

“Brother Vampire!” (a: Al Eadah) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

Painfully shy college student Philip attempts to fit in with the other guys in class by fabricating a beautiful girlfriend named “Jessica!” The fantasy becomes eerily real when his new friends happen upon Philip on a bridge and discover a woman’s corpse fitting Jessica’s profile to a tee. Philip is convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. As he awaits the drop of the switch, Jessica comes to him and Philip dies happily.

A quiet but intensely unnerving little yarn that avoids any supernatural histrionics and, instead, relies on psychological horror. Or does it? Could Jessica have been some kind of malevolent spirit on a recruiting spree? And who was the dead girl under the bridge? “Jessica!” excels at raising the hair while simultaneously keeping things calm.

A Russian Commissar is told by an old man that his son is a zombie and so his charity must be increased. The Commissar scoffs at the man’s story until he’s shackled to a bench and presented as lunch to the zombie son. “The Dinner Guest!” is padded at four pages but does present some nice early Don Perlin work.

A newspaper reporter interviews Bob Lane and his wife about the “Collins affair.” Years before, Bob stood by while a mad mob lynched his neighbor, Josh Collins, for a crime they knew he didn’t commit. Since Collins’s land was so rich and valuable, there was plenty to be gained if the farmer was out of the way. With his dying breath, he curses his killers to die a thousand deaths. The drought that arrives soon thereafter brings just such a death. “Collins is in His Coffin!” begins as a quasi-EC Shock SuspenStories nod but then descends into a formulaic revenge yarn. The final panel, where Lane and his wife disintegrate into skeletons before the reporter, makes no sense whatsoever. Nor does Lane offering up his take on an incident that would surely have landed him in jail years before.

Convoluted and complicated, “The Man Who Followed!” is very hard to follow. Something about a futuristic hunter who tires of easy game and so creates his own prey based on the terrifying apes to be found on Mars. But the red planet monkeys are smarter than they look. The closer this issue, “Brother Vampire!,” is an inane bit of hogwash about a vampire who comes upon an amnesia victim and has the brilliant idea of masquerading the pair as Siamese twins (who would suspect one-half of being a vampire?). He joins them together with a gob of plastic (no, seriously!) and explains away his vampirism to his “brother” as “just something that happened!” To save a pretty girl from becoming the latest victim, the good half stakes the bad half and is then overcome with a moment of clarity. Some fun vampire graphics by Al Eadah but otherwise disposable.

Journey into Mystery 18
Cover by Carl Burgos

“The Man Who Went Back!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★

(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)

“The Hidden Man!” (a: Ed Moline)

“He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” (a: Bill Walton)

(r: Tales of the Zombie #3)

“The Swami!” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★

“The Worst Thirst” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★

(r: Dead of Night #5)

Every time Jeff Martin dives off the pier into the Hudson, he becomes ten years younger. “The Man Who Went Back” doesn’t understand why he’s reaping the rewards but he’s not going to complain. That is, until two men begin following him around. Jeff panics and jumps into the river, traveling back another 25 years. Since he’s an expert at the stock market, Jeff makes another ton of money but notices the men hanging around outside his home. He grabs a gun and heads for the pier again, but when he throws a few shots their way, the men gun Jeff down. Turns out they were IRS agents traveling back in time, pursuing him for unpaid taxes. The climax is simultaneously inane and pretty on-the-nose. The idea that the IRS would find a way to track anyone who owed dough to the government (even through time) makes a lot of sense but the rest of it doesn’t. Why is Jeff blessed/cursed with this liquid time machine?

In “The Hidden Man!,” a series of shootings befuddles the police. No motive, no robbery, no trace of the gunman, nothing that can help the cops nab the perp. If only they looked in the nearby zoo, where a monkey has managed to get hold of a pistol and several boxes of ammo. Never mind the fact that the monkey would probably chew the boxes of bullets rather than load them into the cylinder… never mind where the monkey got the gun… what about the fact that these shootings take place over a period of two days… doesn’t anyone feed that monkey? 

Comedian Eddie Johnson hits the big time, signed by a superstar agent, and goes out for a bit too much celebrating. He doesn’t quite make the curve on the cliff and his convertible takes a dive. Eddie is thrown clear of the wreckage but when the police and ambulance arrive, Eddie is pronounced dead. This, despite the fact that he’s protesting the findings. Eddie is taken into custody and told he has to be cut open for an autopsy. No one will listen to the poor undead guy and he’s put on trial and found guilty of being dead. His accusers bury him alive. But don’t worry… the whole thing was a dream! “He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” is bottom of the barrel drivel with by-the-numbers Bill Walton art.

An evil stepfather forces Timmy to break into the home of “The Swami!” and steal something valuable. However, when Timmy is inside he comes face to face with the seer himself. Once Timmy explains the situation, the swami gives the boy a box and tells him to give it to his stepfather. Back at home, the evil step-pop locks himself into his room, opens the box, and screams. The swami appears at Timmy’s house, explaining that he needs the box back. They open the father’s room to discover he’s disappeared and a strange mist emanates from the box. The story itself is a bit creepy (though it has a very silly, maudlin climax where Timmy’s mother suddenly wakes up to the evils of her husband and promises her son that happiness is just around the corner) but Mort Lawrence gives it a detailed, otherworldly sheen.

In “The Worst Thirst,” the Jessup Brothers are duking it out with the new folks up the hill for water supplies. The Jessups are convinced the newcomers tapped into their well and are siphoning off their drinking water. Joe Jessup gets a bright idea and talks brother Pete into sneaking up the hill that night and laying pipe from the neighbors’ well down to their own property. Unfortunately, the neighbor hears the brothers digging and comes out with a shotgun. Pete kills the man and the brothers bury his body near the well. The next day, cool, fresh water flows out of the Jessup well. Just then, Jeb, the man who’s been delivering the Jessups their drinking water, pulls up and gives them the skinny on why the neighbors haven’t been using their well. Seems one of the town drunks dumped a barrel of crop poison down the well and one drink will kill a man within two hours.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 31
Cover by Carl Burgos

“Who’s Dead?” (a: Paul Reinman)

“The Strange Man!” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

“The Captive!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

“The Worm Men!” (a: Dan Loprino) 1/2

“No Place to Hide!” (a: Ed Robbins)

Doc and O’Brian enter into a deal: O’Brian will play dead in a coffin with 200 grand sewn into his death suit and Doc will dig him up right after the funeral. But then Doc decides to give it a couple weeks since… what’s the hurry, right? Problem is, there’s an unidentified stiff in O’Brian’s coffin! So “Who’s Dead?” Abysmal, with a climactic “twist” so complicated that the writer felt the need to include an expository.

Equally lame-brained is “The Strange Man!,” wherein the police haul in famous sculptor Alberto Grappiosa for covering the park statues with raincoats and galoshes, claiming that even stone figures can catch cold. After the cops are forced to release the artist, they catch him doing his schtick again and there’s a tussle, after which Alberto falls and shatters into a million pieces. He knew the figures were subject to inclement weather because he was a statue too! Except, I guess, a mobile statue.Sheesh.

The Skas visited Earth millions of years ago and planted the seed that became man. Now, they’ve come back to inspect what they created by kidnapping one man and studying his brain functions. After much testing, the Skas come to the conclusion that mankind must be destroyed, unaware that the man they abducted was an escaped mental patient. "The Captive!" has a fun and clever wrap-up that almost makes up for the slow build and the ho-hum Perlin graphics.

After a massive explosion in a mine shaft, one of the survivors is rescued and swears he saw Tony Rye down there. That’s utterly impossible since Rye was presumed dead in a cave-in a year before. Nevertheless, a search party heads down into the dangerous mine shaft to investigate. They do, indeed, find Tony Rye, his head jutting out of a hole in the wall and warning his friends to leave before “The Worm Men!” capture them. Tony explains that the titular creatures have kept him alive the last year by teaching him how to absorb coal dust through his skin. The lights go out, another cave-in occurs, and the men know they’re trapped. When they finally get a lantern lit, they see the full story behind Tony Rye: he’s got a long worm-like body trailing behind his human head. A creepy final panel can’t save what is essentially a one-page story padded out to four, and some truly wretched art by Dan Loprino.

Every night, Otto Roznic transforms into a werewolf and plays a game of grab and run with the peasants in the village of Grudnia. Always making it back to his estate just in time and ahead of the angry mob, Otto lounges and guffaws at the villagers as they attempt to track the creature of the night. But one night, the weather plays havoc with Otto’s game and the wind shuts his bedroom window, leaving him at the mercy of the mob. Luckily, Otto finds a pack of wolves and runs with them but time gets away from him and he transforms back into his human shape again. The wolves tear him to pieces. Grubnia is obviously home to some of the more simpler people on Earth; every night they manage to track the lycanthrope through the snow back to the Ruznic estate but never put two and two together. It also doesn’t speak well of the villagers’ collective IQ in that the werewolf runs around in a three-piece suit and cape remarkably similar to the one their precious Otto wears! “No Place to Hide!” brings to close one of the worst ever issues of JIUW.

Marvel Tales 127
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Vampires Also Die” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Buried Alive!” (a: Bob McCarty) 1/2

“He Walks Through Walls” (a: John Forte)

“Skrak’s Secret!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“Gone is the Gargoyle” (a: Mort Drucker) ★★1/2

A sickly young vampire feels as though his younger brother, Igor, gets all the attention. Jealous, he approaches an old witch for a solution. “Vampires Also Die” is a weird hybrid of the horror and humor comics Atlas was publishing at the time, almost like a meeting of the two genres in the middle of the road. The Vampire clan most resembles the Addams Family. The chief draw of “Vampires Also Die,” of course, is the Colan art. Even when obviously drawing with tongue (or fangs) in cheek, Colan delivers a creepy, noirish atmosphere like no other artist could. 

The Great Galdoni has become the world’s number one escape artist but his assistant, the gorgeous blonde, Lila, wants to slap marriage cuffs on the magician and she wants them fast. Galdoni has a bigger plan and it involves a millionaire’s widow, so he talks Lila into doing the dangerous “safe in the lake” trick. Of course, the event goes awry, and poor Lila drowns. Galdoni and the widow announce their engagement with one last stunt: the “buried alive” trick. It’s an event no one will want to miss, not even Lila. The finale of “Buried Alive!” features a reveal that’ll elicit a smile, but makes no sense at all once you think it over.

After an electric shock allows Adolphe to walk through walls, he decides to devote his life to crime. Of course, it helps that Adolphe is manager at the bank he works at so he simply waits until late on night and walks through the bank vault. Unfortunately, his powers wear off and he becomes trapped within the bank vault door. There’s no explanation for the sudden loss of Adolphe’s power in “He Walked Through Walls,” but that didn’t bother me so much as the fact that the guy doesn’t sink into the ground when he walks. 

What Andre wants most in the world is to be a great impressionistic painter like the great Skrak. No one knows how the brilliant artist captures pain and misery so triumphantly. What is “Skrak’s Secret!?” Andre decides to follow the painter home to his studio one night and breaks in to Skrak’s cellar. There, he waits, hoping the painter will come down to work on his latest masterpiece. When Skrak finally descends and picks up his brush, Andre accidentally knocks over some crates and his presence is felt. At last, Andre will learn for himself how the master captures pain and misery so triumphantly! While the plot is old hat, I got a big kick out of Al Eadah’s artwork. Eadah creates a world where virtually everyone is ugly and dwarfish.

The final tale, “Gone is the Gargoyle,” is the best story of the issue almost by default. It’s got a wacky script and some dynamite Mort Drucker visuals. By night, one of the stone gargoyles atop the Notre Dame becomes flesh and blood and descends to take one unlucky Parisian up to his aerie for a midnight snack. And every night, a police officer watches and ignores the horrifying display of brutality. What is the connection between the officer and the gargoyle? A fairly predictable one, unfortunately, but there are still a few interesting twists and turns to keep the interest. Drucker’s visualization of the gargoyle attacks is unnerving; this is one vicious creature. It’s a downright dirty shame that Drucker only appeared twice in the Atlas horror titles (the other being “Look Ma… A Vampire!” in Strange Tales #30), but his name would appear 16 more times post-code. Two years after the publication of Marvel Tales #127, Drucker began his historic 55-year run on Mad.

In Two Weeks...
The Magical Matt Fox!

Monday, May 22, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 80: January/February 1989


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

Batman #429

"A Death in the Family! Chapter 6"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

CIA agent Ralph Bundy tells Batman that he can't touch the Joker and Superman is given the job of making sure Batman complies. Batman tells Superman that the Joker killed Robin and the Man of Steel tells the Dark Knight not to do anything stupid.

That evening, at the Iranian embassy, the Joker dresses up to address the U.N. General Assembly. Batman pays him a visit to warn him. Soon, at the U.N., the Joker addresses the representatives of member countries, whining about getting no respect before whipping off his robe to reveal canisters of lethal laughing gas strapped to his chest. He begins to spray the gas but, unexpectedly, he is foiled by a nearby security guard, who turns out to be Superman in disguise. Superman inhales all of the gas into his super lungs.

The Joker always has a backup plan, so he pushes the button on a remote-control device and detonates explosives that were planted earlier in the day. Amidst the chaos and smoke, the Joker escapes, pursued by Batman to the roof of the U.N., where a helicopter awaits. Batman follows the Joker on board and a gunfight follows; Batman leaps off and dives into the river below before the helicopter crashes and explodes. Batman suspects that the Joker's body will not be found.

Peter: The story's a good one, a solid conclusion to this game-changing epic, but I didn't for one second believe that Batman would kill Joker. So why the charade? Obviously, Starlin strung us along for tension's sake but if you don't a/ believe your hero will finally cross the line; or b/ an iconic character like Joker would actually be killed off, all the guttural rantings come off as silly. As does the "Joker as Iranian Ambassador" sub-plot. Would the diplomatic stint ever be mentioned again?

Jack: Chapter six is a fitting end to the saga of Robin's death. Aparo's art seems a bit rushed in places, but I'm glad Superman had a reason for being in the story and wasn't just window dressing. Of course, the Joker would be responsible for killing Robin! The folks at DC need to expand their Bat-villains rogue's gallery so that someone else can be a real menace. Whenever something big happens, either the Joker or Ra's al Ghul is involved. How about the Penguin or the Riddler? We need someone else to step up.

Detective Comics #596

"Video Nasties"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Eduardo Barreto & Steve Mitchell

Batman stumbles onto a trio of thugs roughing up a film student in an alley. To make matters more interesting, a fourth bully is standing to the side, filming the entire assault. Bats breaks up the mauling but the ringleader gets away. He does, however, forget his camcorder.

Later, in Commissioner Gordon's office, the two allies survey the footage and both come to the conclusion this "obscene" piece of film was meant to be enjoyed by a high-paying customer. Batman fears there's a new marketplace opening up in Gotham. We soon learn the "director" who escaped Batman's grip in the alley is adult film store owner Oscar Lampet, whose strings are being pulled by underworld entrepreneur, Milton Slader. And that guy is none too happy with Batman for ruining his next premiere. He warns Lampet that another film better be shooting by the next night or Slader will take over as director and Lampet himself will be the star.

Meanwhile, a clue in the found footage leads Bruce Wayne right to the door of Oscar's Weenie Palace. After determining Lampet is his man, Bruce decides to lay in the shadows until closing time and then follow his prey to the next movie set. Slader, suspicious that the Dark Knight will once again ruin his plans, sends his one-man wrecking crew, Tonka, to bodyguard. When Bats interrupts the new project, Tonka lays into our hero, who admits the big man packs a punch "like a jackhammer!" But the Caped Crusader has a trick up his sleeve and... (to be continued).

Jack: Sometimes a story just hits me in the right mood, I guess, because I really like this one. The Breyfogle cover is an early candidate for year's best, and the interior art by Barreto and Mitchell strikes just the right note, mixing Bat-styles from the '30s through the '60s in a way that recalls Year One. The theme, involving violence on video, is handled adeptly and is thought-provoking without being preachy. The end is a real cliff hanger and I can't wait for next issue!

Peter: I think I liked this one even more than you, Jack! Definitely a contender for story of the year. You're right about the art, which immediately reminded me of David Mazzuchelli's in Year One. It's rough and simple but so very effective. As is Alan Grant's script, his most solid of his tenure yet. The Tonka character can't help but remind me of Bane; a massive, unstoppable threat that even the usually unflappable Batman has second thoughts about. The fact that the first kid to get beaten up is working on a film essay is a little too on-the-nose for me but that's quickly forgotten. That final panel is a killer, whetting our appetite and not sinking to the usual cliche of having the hero helpless at the villain's feet. Thanks to the wonder of our Monday Morning Quarterback perches, I don't even have to wait a month to finish this two-parter. 

The Best of the Brave and the Bold #6

"Punish Not My Evil Son"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Neal Adams
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #83, May 1969)

Jack: This six-issue limited series ends with a pretty good story and a new cover that cashes in on Robin's death in Batman. The story features spectacular art by Adams and concerns a new ward named Lance who moves into Wayne Manor and spells trouble. In the end, he redeems himself and dies, dressed as Robin. The Teen Titans don't have much to do and there is some hilarious, hip lingo. Best of all are the original cover (reproduced here) and a two-page interview with Giordano, Haney, and Schwartz about the old days at DC.

Fred Butler
Batman #430

"Fatal Wish"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

There's a sniper on top of a tall building in Gotham City and he's picking off innocent people on the street below! Commissioner Gordon tells Batman that the shooter's name is Tim Conrad and that he was just fired from a banking job inside the building. Batman risks his life to race across the street through a hail of bullets and reaches the building's entrance. He makes it up to the rooftop door and hears the sniper yell, "'I wish you were all dead!'"

As Batman climbs up the side of the building, the sniper's words trigger a painful memory. The day that young Bruce Wayne's parents were shot and killed, Thomas Wayne had been upset about some bad financial news and had slapped Bruce when the boy wanted him to stop work and play catch. When Martha tried to comfort her son, he lashed out, saying "'I wish he was dead.'" That night, of course, his wish was granted.

Recalling this event, Batman has compassion for the sniper, even though the man tries to shoot and kill him when they share the rooftop. Batman clouds the scene with some gas pellets and warns the man to get away from the edge of the roof, but to no avail--a police sharpshooter at street level shoots and kills the sniper, who falls to his death. Down below, Gordon realizes that Batman tried to save the killer and ponders why.

Peter: Well, you can't blame Starlin for wondering if his audience was aware of the title character's origin. After all, it's been at least three or four months since the last reminder. But, as with other funny book auteurs, Starlin has to add a wrinkle to the mythos: Thomas Wayne was an abusive father at times. At least, I think it's the first inkling we get of the dark side. The gunman picking off random targets has been done to death as well and Starlin does nothing to give Tim Conrad a character. He's just a cliche. The art's really good, though.

The only set of panels that piqued my interest is when Gordon asks Batman if Robin will be attending the festivities and Bats just gives him a curt "No." How will our hero handle the public loss of the moptop if that same public knows that Bruce Wayne is grieving the death of Jason Todd? He's going to have to concoct a really good story to avoid suspicion.

Jack: "Fatal Wish" is another excellent story from Starlin, Aparo, and DeCarlo, who have really hit their stride. The cover, drawn by Fred Butler, is outstanding as well. I'm not sure that slapping young Bruce in a moment of anger and frustration qualifies Thomas Wayne as an abusive father; more like a human being who loses his temper just like the rest of us and does things he regrets. I think adult Bruce saw something of his father in the sniper, a man who worked for a bank, had a setback, and lashed out, perhaps unable to control his actions.

Detective Comics #597

"Private Viewing"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Eduardo Barreto & Steve Mitchell

Batman is beaten senseless in front of a camera, falling before the might of the uber-strong Tonka. And it's all for the entertainment of the filthy and selfish rich. Luckily for Batman, a couple of teens from Bruce Wayne's charity boxing gym happen upon the sight and provide at least a distraction for the mighty Tonka. Opening his eyes to see the boys being beaten to death gives the Dark Knight added incentive to put the gargantuan away fast. Using one of his patented kicks and a well-placed brick wall, Batman finally puts the man-monster out like a light.

Once again, "director" Oscar Lampet makes his getaway but, this time, with video intact. The Caped Crusader collapses in the alley and finds himself, hours later, being bandaged by a very opinionated ER doc. The next day, Batman follows Oscar to Milton Slader's mansion, where the millionaire is hosting a roomful of slobbering, rich scum, eager to watch a violent beatdown. What they get is wholly unexpected; first, when Slader unveils his masterpiece, "The Beating of a Hero," starring a very bruised and battered Batman; and then, when the hero himself emerges from the shadows to shut down the festivities and announce the arrival of the police.

Rather than immediately escort them to jail, Batman feels a viewing of his own making is in order and so he takes all the partygoers to the hospital where first victim, film student Archie Gaines, is recuperating from injuries he sustained making his film debut. Most of the observers are disgusted with themselves but not the steadfast Mr. Slader, who grabs a handy scalpel and takes a pretty hostage. But, with the help of Archie, Batman disarms Slader and saves the day yet again.

Jack: What a terrific two-part story! I really like the art and wish this duo could stay longer. They make Batman look human. The combination of story and art succeeds in conveying Batman's pain as he keeps going to get the bad guy, and the idea of a group of rich people gathering to watch violent videos sums up the excesses of this decade. I laughed when I saw Batman still wearing his mask at the ER but I wondered what name was on his health insurance card. The climax, where Gaines jabs Sladek with a pen to stop him from cutting a woman's throat, ironically demonstrates that the pen really is mightier than the sword. Great stuff.

Wow! I'd have to say this two-parter is right up there with such classics as "The Laughing Fish" and "The Sign of the Joker" for impactful script paired with dynamite graphics (sorry, but nothing touches "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge"). But those scripts had an iconic villain to anchor them whereas "Private Viewing" dispatches the threat of Tonka very quickly and then relies on an obese millionaire to get its point across. And it does. 

Alan Grant's dialogue is so crisp and playful you'd swear you'd heard it in a movie some time. Batman's debate with the disgusted surgeon is hilarious and insightful at the same time; you can see both sides of this argument. It's criminal to me that this short arc is not discussed more when the Best of Batman is bandied about. Call me hyperbolic, but Alan Grant's "Video Nasties/Private Viewing" scripts transcend funny book writing.

For those, like myself, wondering where Eduardo Barreto came from and where he went to after his brief stint on 'tec, the GCD lists a multitude of Superman and Teen Titans credits pre- and work on The Shadow Strikes later in the early 90s. The artist passed away in 2011.

Next Week...
Sam Hamm stops by!