Monday, June 5, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 82: April 1989


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

Batman #432

"Dead Letter Office"
Story by James Owsley
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

Entering a dark office at night, Batman comes face to face with Maxine Kelly, a tough, female private investigator who is looking for something but doesn't find it. Batman heads to her loft and discovers that she's searching for traces of three-year-old Josh Winston, who was abducted from a Fourth of July celebration seven years before. It turns out Kelly is looking into the cold case on behalf of the boy's mother, who is dying in a hospital.

Commissioner Gordon asks Batman to help round up a gang of jewel thieves, but the Dark Knight is troubled by Kelly's case and decides to help track down the child. He stages a fake fire at a federal building so that he can break into a safe and get a lead; in the process, he has to fight off quite a few federal agents. Even Jim Gordon doesn't realize that the recent death of Jason Todd means Batman empathizes with the plight of a parent who lost a son. He tracks down the man who had been the chief suspect in the kidnapping; he's now a Catholic priest who denies any involvement in the abduction.

Batman brings P.I. Kelly to the Batcave and explains how he has used newspaper files to create a database of children who fit the profile of the missing boy. He notices a woman in the last photo of the child and uses the Bat-computer to locate her; he and Kelly drive to her house and find the missing boy, who she took to replace her own missing son. Batman and Kelly take the boy to reunite with his real mother right before she dies.

Peter: We've been getting some solid one-offs lately (well, except for the odiferous "Our Man in Havana") that ignore the Rogues and concentrate on how Batman finds the time to help the "average everyday Joe." "Dead Letter Office" is no exception; it's a tight, exciting "ripped from the newspaper pages" thriller. The FBI building break-in is one of the best action sequences of the year.

But... a few nits anyway. Why is it that when a strong woman character is featured, she always has to talk like a man and dress in leather? It's become a funny book cliche. Also, why is Gordon such a dick this issue? You'd think after 49.5 years of following the Batman's advice, he'd get wise to the fact that this is the world's greatest detective. Over and over, Gordo tries to pee in the Caped Crusader's cornflakes with "Hey, the kid is dead! Stop wasting my time on this old case. I've got jewelry heisters to nab!" If I were the Bats, I'd take a leave of absence. Also... I never took law in school (I was too busy listening to Van Halen in the parking lot), but it's always been my assumption that there is no statute of limitations for the murder of a young boy. Is the Dark Knight telling a white lie to get Saunders to confess (and in a Christopher Priest poke at religion, I'm sure, the suspected child kidnapper is now a priest)?

Jack: One thing I noticed in these Owsley/Priest issues is that the writer leaves plenty of room for the artist to go wild in the action sequences. Last issue we had a seven-page wordless fight sequence; this time out, there are few captions and little dialogue to interrupt Batman's visit to the federal building disguised as a fireman. About that sequence--at first I wasn't sure it was Batman and thought it might be Kelly. In fact, I was only certain it was Batman when he used the Batarang to aid his escape. Aparo and DeCarlo are doing fine work on the series at this point; it's not four-star quality and it's not as good as what Aparo was doing several years before in The Brave and the Bold, but it's solid, exciting art. I also like the theme of Batman missing Jason and I wonder what the writers would have done if the fans had voted to keep the boy alive.

Denys Cowan/Malcolm Jones III
Detective Comics #599

"Blind Justice, Chapter Four: Citizen Wayne"
Story by Sam Hamm
Art by Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, & Frank McLaughlin

He's been branded a traitor and a stinkin' commie by the rest of the world, but Bruce Wayne's more upset about his loss of privacy. At least Jim Gordon tells him (in a very cryptic dialogue) that he knows Bruce is not a bad guy because "you know... you know..." Well, "No," Bruce shyly replies, "I don't know!"

Bruce's lawyers try to get him to open up about his time spent overseas but, through a series of flashbacks (one introducing the super-assassin Henri Ducard), we discover that most of that time was given to learning the martial and mystic arts that enable him to fight crime in a cowl. Can't very well tell a jury that, can we?

Bruce believes his only hope lies in testimony to be given by Theodore Lund, personal assistant to the deceased Dr. Harbinger. If Bruce can get Lund to testify against the Cartel, then his name could be cleared. Unfortunately, Lund is murdered approximately five panels later and there goes the defense.

Meanwhile, across town in a basement lab, Mitchell Riordan is overseeing an attempt to recreate Harbinger's brain-transference experiments but is getting nowhere slowly. Riordan is frustrated but, at the same time, confident his next stunt will "put the nail in the coffin" of Bruce Wayne. Before that plan can be initiated, however, a homeless man (outraged that WayneTech was experimenting on his brethren) opens fire on Wayne and his lawyers on the courtroom steps. The lawyers are killed and Bruce is in critical condition. Gordon watches the incident on TV and orders one of his officers to shut down the Bat-signal. "I don't think he's coming."

Peter: I'm still convinced that, in the end, we'll get a good story out of Sam Hamm, but there's a whole lot of padding going on in this chapter. At some point, the full-page little-panel newscast (a pilfering of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns yet again) will cease and a clever artist will discover a new way of getting this cliche across. Lord knows it ain't Denys Cowan. In last week's discussion, I was hot and cold on the artist's work; this issue, it's all cold. Cowan can't seem to decide which depiction of Bruce Wayne he'll stick with: handsome playboy millionaire or crotchety old man. Nothing more than inked doodles.

To me, the dialogue between Gordon and Wayne, where Gordo hints that he knows what Wayne is up to at night, is the highlight of this chapter, but it was also intriguing to discover that Riordan was just as surprised by the assault on Bruce and his lawyers as everyone else. It's hard to build suspense when you know the lead character is not going to die, so Hamm throws in a little mystery to keep us going.

Jack: This is the first time we've been treated to Batman barfing on the cover of a DC comic, as far as I know. He must have read the story inside! We're off to a poor start with two pages of talking heads on TV screens and it goes downhill from there. The art goes from bad to very bad and the story is easily a contender for worst of '89. The climax, where Bruce is shot, falls flat. They should've saved the Joker/Robin series of issues so that Robin got killed in Detective #600. This story arc is a dud. Norm Breyfogle, come back--all is forgiven!

Next Week...
The Startling (or is that
Stultifying?) Conclusion!

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