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!

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