Monday, June 19, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 84: June 1989


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

Batman #434

"The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter Two: 
How Many Times Can a Batman Die?"
Story by John Byrne
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

Across the rooftops of Paris, Batman chases a mysterious figure who wears a white suit and a red hood, cape, and gloves. They struggle and fall into the river; later, Batman's corpse is fished out... of a river in Gotham City! Commissioner Gordon tells the female pathologist at the scene that this is the fourth dead Batman to turn up in the last twelve hours, so he doesn't think it's the real thing. This one's mask is removed to reveal Mark Jenner, a famous stock car driver who was paralyzed five years ago in a  crash.

Back in his office, Gordon ponders the fact that each of the dead Batmen was an expert in his field--driving, demolition, chemistry, and body building. The doctor joins him and announces that she wants to be part of the investigation; her autopsy revealed that Jenner drowned in fresh water, so he was killed before being put in the river. Elsewhere in Gotham, the Spandex-clad women at a gym called the Swet Shoppe are thrilled when famous gymnast Peter Allison visits. He orders the gym cleared and emerges from the locker room dressed as Batman, claiming he was offered $20K to work out on the gym's new equipment in this getup. Suddenly, he is shot and killed by an arrow from a crossbow! Commissioner Gordon investigates and learns that Olympic crossbow champion Raphael DiGiorda just arrived in town last night.

Back in Paris, Batman delivers the corpse of the white-and-red-clad victim to the police; he removes the mask to reveal that she's a woman, but the gendarmes are more surprised to see Batman alive, since the paper's headline says he's dead! In Gotham, Gordon and the doctor visit DiGiorda, who is also dressed as Batman, having been invited to a costume ball by Bruce Wayne! DiGiorda keels over dead from poison in the fabric of the Batman costume, making six dead Batmen.

Gordon and the doctor pay a visit to Bruce Wayne, who just received a package in the mail containing yet another Batman costume! Before he can don it, the costume is melted by acid. Elsewhere, a tubby fellow in a Batman suit appears to be murdered by a mysterious person we only see in shadow.

Peter: It's all very silly and yet I keep reading it, perhaps to find out if John Byrne can come up with clever reasoning behind the mass murder. The fact that Byrne showcases this new character, the female coroner, leads me to believe she might be the killer. I'm hoping Byrne can come up with something a little more dazzling, though. As many problems as I found with the script, I have no such complaints about the art, which is very, very strong in spurts (see page five below) and at least average elsewhere. 

Jack: It was a relief to get some dialogue at least, starting on page six. The first five pages were as dialogue-free as the entire last issue, and I was worried that we'd have a three-parter without a single word balloon. I agree that this is just interesting enough to keep reading, and that Aparo and DeCarlo do a nice job with the art. Why doesn't the assistant coroner get a name? It's as if Byrne is purposely withholding her moniker. I read the story three times and I can say with certainty that we don't learn her name. In fact, one character tries to find it out and Gordon interrupts him! I guess we'll see next issue in the thrilling conclusion.

Detective Comics #601

"Tulpa, Part One: Monster Maker"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle

While on patrol, the Batman comes across a speeding Ferrari, driving recklessly and heading straight for a city bus. Using keen instinct and the Batmobile's turbo speed, the Bats manages to detour the Ferrari and save the bus. The driver of the sports car exits and... turns to dust. Befuddled, the Dark Knight returns to the Batcave.

Meanwhile, across town, Tenzin Wyatt is visited by the goons commanded by mobster Rafe Kellogg. Kellogg loaned Tenzin some dough and now he wants his money. Turns out Tenzin had been waiting for the Ferrari to pay off his loan; now he's up a crick without a paddle. Kellogg's goons introduce their fists to Tenzin's face. Kellogg tells Tenzin he'll receive the same treatment every day until he coughs up the green.

After the hoods leave, Tenzin goes into a trance and fabricates a "Tulpa," a being who will follow every order given by his master. The Tulpa is to bring back five thousand dollars without resorting to violence. The target: Wayne Manor. While Bruce is out patrolling as his alter ego, Alfred happens upon the Tulpa attempting to crack Bruce's safe. The Tulpa panics and beats Alfred, scurrying away without the booty. Alfred manages to pop a Bat-tracer onto the fleeing phantom and then puts in a call to his boss, who is understandably peeved. 

The Tulpa arrives home and tells Tenzin of his failure. Distraught, Tenzin reduces the creature to ash and discovers the Bat-tracer amidst the detritus. He crushes the gizmo and then retreats to his sanctum, preparing to go on the offense against Kellogg before another beating is delivered. No more Tulpas. Now... a "demon from Hell!"

Peter: Welcome back, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle! You were very much missed these last few months. The Ferrari scene is a bit confusing at first but the payoff comes later and the light bulb finally went on over my head (Tenzin was using a Tulpa to steal a Ferrari to pay his debt). I'm still digging that Grant doesn't rely on the old villain standbys and creates a magical, supernatural world of his own that Batman just happens to be occupying for a while. Hopefully, Tenzin's past and his odd powers will be explored more deeply next issue. 

Jack: Welcome back, indeed! Good writing and dynamic art make for a satisfying issue. We're off to a good start with the Batmobile chasing the Ferrari, and the panels where the skulls disintegrate are very cool. The plot is intriguing and I'm looking forward to part two. After the three-part dud that ended in #600 and the half-baked Byrne three-parter running in Batman, I groaned inwardly when I saw that this was "part one," but I enjoyed it.

George Pratt
Batman Annual #13

Story by James Owsley
Art by Michael Bair & Gray Morrow

A Gotham City policeman named Anthony Wells is killed when his house is fire-bombed. Commissioner Gordon suspects that the killer is Freddie Richards, who was working for Two-Face. Robin (not dead yet, since this is in the past) and Batgirl (healthy, for the same reason) help Batman track down Richards and Two-Face.

In the present, Richards is about to die in the electric chair for his crime. Batman sees something in a TV news report and decides that Richards is innocent. He dons a disguise and helps break Two-Face out of Arkham Asylum so that they can travel to the dangerous city of Santa Prisca, where Batman (in disguise again) explains that he saw the supposedly dead cop on TV and deduced that Richards was innocent.

Two-Face gets the jump on Batman and tries to have him killed by handcuffing him and putting him in the back of a runaway truck, but the un-Caped Crusader escapes and locates the not-really-dead cop at the Santa Prisca Police Department. Richards gets a stay of execution, leading Gordon to ask Batman whether the trade-off was worth it.

Peter: Annuals are such a crapshoot. The stories included are usually bloated, pretentious "epics" that, with a little pruning, could easily be worked into the regular title. Batman Annual #13 is no exception. This is one of the ugliest funny books of the year. It almost looks as though editor Denny realized he was up against the wall deadline-wise and ran the rough sketches rather than wait for the finished art. A lot of Owsley's script reminds me of the DC Showcase stories, where interns or DC office janitors take stabs at writing Batman yarns. At one point, Batman thought-balloons that Harvey has "gone totally around the bend! He's completely irrational... and deadly!" At what point in his career was Two-Face a sane character? 

And there's really not a lot of the Caped Crusader in this padded affair. Lots of Harvey. I did like the fact that Owsley throws us completely off by omitting one of those "The following prologue happened months before the death of Jason and the attack on Barbara." I had no idea what was going on (and neither did you) until we came to the conversation between Wayne and Gordon. I'll bet you thought "Ulp! Shelved story!" Extremely far-fetched that Bats would break Harvey out of prison (even to clear his conscience), but clever that, in the end, he's responsible for this homicidal maniac being on the loose again. So, when I sum it all up, I guess the script isn't really all that bad. But, oh, that art.

Jack: The art really does detract from the story. It reminds me of one of those bad Warren stories where the artist used a bunch of stills to copy his poses from; Two-Face looks like a different person from panel to panel. The story isn't half bad, but I got confused with Batman's disguises. I did not understand what was going on at the bottom of page 19, where we see someone in shadows in a cage suspended below the ceiling of the Batcave and Alfred is wearing Robin's mask. What is going on there? Is Two-Face in the cage while Bruce Wayne is at a party? That's about the best I can come up with.

"Waiting in the Wings"
Story by Kevin Dooley
Art by Malcolm Jones III

Alfred the Butler has served Bruce Wayne well, but when the wealthy young man turns 18, Alfred announces that he wants to resume his career on the stage. It seems that Alfred's father was the Wayne family butler, while Alfred's mother was an actress. When Bruce's parents were killed, Alfred helped raise the boy and make him the Dark Knight we all know and love. After a harrowing night of crimefighting, Batman returns home and needs Alfred's help; the butler decides maybe it's not so bad working to keep Gotham City safe.

Peter: "Waiting in the Wings" is an odd duck. Here, we're supposed to forget all that "Alfred Pennyworth, War Spy" stuff and reimagine the old guy as a semi-retired actor and, according to page 4, panel 5 (above), a very small person. The time frame is uber-confusing, since this adventure takes place at the beginning of Batman's career and yet one of the women sitting on Wayne's couch is sporting a mid-'80s Grace Jones coif. What gives? More below-average art. Even more than the opening act, "Waiting..." feels like an audition.

Jack: Agreed. We've seen way too many attempts to rewrite the Batman timeline in these '80s comics. Having Alfred be a great stage actor who gave up his calling to be a butler is just too much for me to accept. You're right about the timing--the woman's hairstyle and clothing doesn't fit at all.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter look for some kind
of sense in the final chapter of
John Byrne's Batman saga!

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