Monday, May 15, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 79: Winter/Holiday 1988 + The Best of 1988


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

Batman #427

"A Death in the Family,
Chapters 3 & 4"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

The hunt for Jason Todd's birth mother continues, with Batman and Robin tracking Shiva Woosan to a Beirut hotel, only to learn that she has been kidnapped by terrorists! Batman uses his powers of persuasion to learn the camp's location and he and Robin infiltrate it and put numerous terrorists to sleep as they search for the woman.

Meanwhile, in a famine relief camp in Ethiopia, the Joker tracks down the third candidate to be Jason's mom, Dr. Sheila Haywood, who he knows from her days in Gotham City "'performing illegal operations on teenage girls,'" as the Clown Prince of Crime delicately puts it. He blackmails her into letting him commandeer six truckloads of medical supplies that he can sell on the black market to rebuild his fortune.

Batman and Robin finally find Shiva Woosan, who turns out to be the notorious kung fu expert and assassin, Lady Shiva (last seen in Detective Comics Annual #1). She and the Dark Knight have quite a fight and, when it's over, Batman injects her with truth serum. She admits that she's never had a baby, so the Dynamic Duo head to Ethiopia to find Dr. Haywood.

Once they reach the famine camp, Jason and his mother are reunited and she explains how she was involved in a botched operation that ended her medical career in the states. Jason's father fell for another woman and Dr. Haywood allowed her baby son to be raised by his father and the other woman. She tells Jason that she has business to attend to; he sees her meeting with the Joker and eavesdrops on their conversation. The Joker, staying true to form, explains to the doctor that he is replacing the medical supplies with boxes of his lethal laughing gas, which will cause widespread carnage when the crates are opened.

Jason rushes to find Bruce to help stop the Joker. Batman suits up and takes off in the WhirlyBat to find the convoy of trucks carrying the lethal gas; he tells Jason not to try to deal with the dangerous criminal on his own. Jason finds his mother and reveals to her that he's really Robin; she marches him into her tent and hands him over to the Joker, admitting that she's been embezzling famine relief funds and doesn't want to be caught.

The Joker then proceeds to beat Jason viciously with a tire iron and leave him for dead, while the lad's mother does nothing to protect him. Batman intercepts the trucks carrying the gas and defuses the situation before heading back to the camp. The Joker sets an explosive device with a timer in Dr. Haywood's tent, ties her up, and leaves her and Jason to be blown to bits. Surprisingly, the Boy Wonder is alive and staggers to his feet. He unties his mother, who discovers that the Joker locked them both in! KA-THOOOOOM! The bomb goes off just as Batman arrives. Are Jason and his mother dead? Tune in next issue!

Jack: Wow! I've never read this before, but I think it's one of the best issues we've read. It's certainly much better than The Cult! Batman's fight with Lady Shiva is a good one; I was not aware that she would later become a major figure in the DC Universe. Aparo draws the Joker with such a long chin that it's funny and bizarre, especially when he has makeup on to cover his chalk-white face. Of course, the coincidence that the Joker would be with Jason's mother is a bit much, but it all works to make a very exciting story. Her betrayal of her son is heartbreaking, the Joker's beating of Jason is brutal, and the final pages, with the timer ticking down, are thrilling.

Peter: A very solid issue. If I'd read this back in '88, I'd have been sure Robin would be saved at the last second. No internet to ruin surprises for us back then. Sheila's transformation from loving mom to heartless beeyotch (she hangs around and sparks a ciggy while the Boy Wonder gets his head caved in) and then (next issue) back to proud mommy didn't ring true for me. She aided Joker in the murder of her son for what? To avoid a bad rep back in Gotham? Still, that climax is a powerful one and it makes one wonder how Bats doesn't kill Joker at some point in the future after all the really impolite acts he's been responsible for over the years.

Detective Comics #594

Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

Gotham currency trader Ed Hallen trips out on Ecstasy, buys three bombs, and decides it's time to clean Gotham streets of its drug dealers. Batman happens upon the scene just as Ed is about to drive over a gang of peddlers with his Porsche. His vehicular manslaughter denied, Ed hands the keys over to the yutes and walks away. With glee, the dealers hop in the car and... it explodes.

Just then, PI Joe Potato arrives and explains to Batman that he's been hired by an anonymous client to hunt down Ed Hallen and prevent him from detonating the three bombs he's bought. The Dark Knight leaves Potato to sort things out with the cops and heads out into the night. Meanwhile, Ed Hallen is arguing with the voice in his head.

The voice wins and Ed heads to the club owned by the recently incarcerated Ventriloquist. With a push of the red button, the club is no more. Now on to site number three, which happens to be the Bruford Tower, the office building where Ed plies his trade. Present are Ed's trader buddies, who are astonished to see their friend standing after all the E he consumed a few nights before. Batman and Potato burst into the room and Ed pulls out his final bomb, admitting he was the one who hired the PI to keep an eye on his activities. The voice inside feels betrayed and, suspecting the cork is about to blow, Batman shoves Hallen into a nearby safe just as he's pushing the button. Blooooooie! goes the trader. Potato and the Dark Knight trade compliments and each goes his separate way.

Jack: I guess this is the issue where I climb aboard the Breyfogle express! He inks his own pencils and it works very well. Alan Grant's story is great, too; the story of a trader hooked on Ecstasy had me from start to finish. I even liked private eye Joe Potato! The one odd note was Alfred's sarcasm on the phone with Batman--maybe he's just sleep-deprived.

The voice inside Ed's head had me completely confused. I was assuming the whole time this was some master villain at work, much like Cornelius Stirk in the previous issue. That feeling lasted right up to the ending, where Ed confesses he hired Potato to shadow him. A decent story, but not on par with some of Grant's earlier work on the title. Sharp-eyed readers might notice that John Wagner's name has been dropped from the writing credits. The long story short is that Wagner expected much more pay from the title and, when the royalties never came, he hopped in the Bat-Glider and flew into the night. For a detailed report, you can read this. Norm Breyfogle's stock continues to grow; his stylized art meshes perfectly with the subject matter. Dark and stormy.

Hannigan & Garcia-Lopez
The Best of the Brave and the Bold #4

"And Hellgrammite is His Name!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #80, November 1968)

Jack: I always wanted to like the Creeper, but the stories in which he appeared are often disappointing. Ditko drew him best and the art in this issue by Adams and Giordano isn't up to their usual standards. The story doesn't have much to it, either. Still, the layouts and page designs by Adams are excellent, even if his depiction of the two superheroes is a bit lacking this time out.

Once again, there are three backup stories by Kubert or Heath from the mid-1950s that feature terrific artwork. The inside front and back covers have a nice bio of Russ Heath that is reproduced here.

Back cover

Batman #428

"A Death in the Family,
Chapter 5"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

As Batman searches through the rubble following the explosion in Dr. Haywood's tent, he thinks back to how he met Jason Todd and how the lad become Robin and ended up here. The Dark Knight finds Dr. Haywood, who tells him that Jason shielded her with his body when the bomb went off. After she takes her final breath, Batman finds Robin, who is already dead.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, the Joker delivers boxes of medical supplies to smugglers and is surprised when members of the Iranian secret service introduce him to the Ayatollah, who wishes to offer the Joker a government position.

Bruce Wayne speaks to the authorities about the bomb blast and its victims; the next night, Batman finds the Joker's warehouse and more victims of his lethal laughing gas. He also sees a message scrawled on the wall telling him to meet the Joker at "42nd and 1st." Batman flies home and, after Jason's funeral is held, the Caped Crusader reasons that the Joker wants to meet him at the United Nations building in New York City. Superman appears and tells Batman that Iran has a new ambassador who has diplomatic immunity, so Batman can't touch him. Batman flies off the handle and punches Superman in the jaw, nearly breaking his own knuckles. A car pulls up and out steps the new ambassador from Iran--the Joker!

Jack: This issue screams "landmark" and "collectible"! The story is 22 pages long and the first six pages are taken up with recap, probably because the editor figured that many people would buy the issue who were not regular readers of the title. The late 1980s found DC killing off heroes right and left, and the full-page depiction of Batman holding Robin's dead body recalls Superman holding the dead body of Supergirl on the famous cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, another "landmark" issue. Speaking of Superman, he makes a rather gratuitous appearance, basically to tell Batman to cool it in light of the Joker's new status. It was surprising to see a depiction of the Ayatollah in a comic and it was funny that even the Joker was taken aback by his appearance. Still, the last page, where the Joker announces his new role, is a hoot, and I'm glad the comic is back to normal size, even if it means they're dragging out the story for one more issue.

Peter: The Supes appearance seemed to me to be just an excuse to revive some Dark Knight Returns magic. Following a very potent extra-length epic last issue, this one is a bit of a letdown. As you say, Jack, there's the "Let's briefly reflect on the entirety of Jason Todd's history" chunk that wastes a quarter of the page count and then there's the inane reveal of Joker's new job (complete with cameo by Khomeini). Just a bit too silly for my taste. Let's get back to dark and stormy.

Paris Cullens/Malcolm Jones III
Detective Comics #595

"Our Man in Havana"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Irv Novick & Steve Mitchell

Batman travels to Cuba to fight Thanagarians who are smuggling guns into Gotham inside cigar crates. The Dark Knight thwarts whatever plan is going on and blows up the cigar factory. He swims out of the Havana harbor, wondering how he'll get the hell out of Cuba.

Jack: It's hard to believe Alan Grant wrote this terrible story. It took me a while to realize it's part of another godforsaken DC crossover "event," but that explains a lot. I was relieved to see Irv Novick's name as the penciller after so many issues drawn by Norm Breyfogle, but the story is such a dud that even the more traditional art was dull.

Peter: I don't know whether to feel sorry more for Alan Grant, whose talents were clearly high above this swill he was forced to participate in (at least, I suspect he was forced), or me and Jack, who are forced to read this garbage. If I wanted to hold up a good example of why I ignored DC for the most part in the 1980s, this chapter of "Invasion" would settle the argument. According to my research, the mega-event crossed over into 30 titles and a three-issue mini-series. I'd sooner watch TikTok videos of ulcer operations than read another chapter of "Invasion." It all comes off as warmed-over Kree-Skrull to me. 

The art is awful, bland, and lifeless; surprising, since I liked Irv Novick's work on earlier Batman titles. It's odd that Batman is neither a/ wondering how Jason Todd is doing, or b/ mourning his fresh corpse. I'm not sure how long it will take for the effects of the Batman title to ripple over into 'tec

"Cold Cuts"
Story by Jeff O'Hare
Art by Roderick Delgado & Jerry Acerno

Mr. Freeze escapes from his work detail and breaks into S.T.A.R. Labs, where the scientists are working on an artificial diamond that can be used as a laser beam. When Batman answers an alarm at the Labs building, he's surprised by his archenemy, who freezes the Caped Crusader in ice cuffs. Freeze then aims the laser at Batman with an eye to slicing him in half, but Bats uses his Batarang to put the kibosh on Freeze's plot. In the kerfuffle, Mr. Freeze's helmet is damaged and Batman must save him before he meltssssss....

Jack: Another bonus book featuring an effort by some new folks features a run of the mill story and some very 1980s-style artwork. I like Mr. Freeze but the plot was lacking in substance. The best thing about it was the ending, where Batman rescues Mr. Freeze and shows some sensitivity.

Peter: A throwback to the old 60s comic stories, "Cold Cuts" is actually a bit more enjoyable than the usual bonus fare. Yep, it looks and reads like a fan submission, but then so did most of the Moench/Mandrake collaborations a few years before. At least "Cold Cuts" ain't pretentious.

The Best of the Brave and the Bold #5

"Red Water, Crimson Death"
Story by Dennis O'Neil
Art by Neal Adams
(Reprinted from The Brave and the Bold #93, January 1971)

Jack: We wrote about this classic Bat-tale eleven years ago on this very blog! It still holds up and the Adams art is superb. There are some interesting profiles of DC creators on the inside front and back covers that are reproduced here.



Best Script: Alan Moore, The Killing Joke
Best Art: Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke
Best All-Around Story: The Killing Joke
Worst Script: Mike Baron, "Slade's Demon" (Batman Annual #12)
Worst Art: Dave Cockrum/Mike DeCarlo, "You Shoulda Seen Him" (Batman #423)
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1- The Killing Joke
2- "The Ratcatcher" (Detective Comics #585)
3- "The Diplomat's Son" (Batman #424)
4- "White Gold" (Batman #416)
5- "Rat Trap" (Detective Comics #586)


Best Script: Alan Moore, The Killing Joke
Best Art: Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke
Best All-Around Story: The Killing Joke
Worst Script: Lewis Klahr & Steve Piersall, "For the Love of Ivy"  
(Detective Comics #589)
Worst Art: Dean Haspiel & Denis Rodier, "For the Love of Ivy"
Best Cover >

The Five Best Stories

1- The Killing Joke
2- "A Death in the Family," chapters 3 & 4 (Batman #427)
3-"Ten Nights of the Beast," part 1 (Batman #417)
4-"Ten Nights of the Beast," part 3 (Batman #419)
5-"Rat Trap"

Next Week...
Batman without Robin

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