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!

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