"The Millionaire Contract" writer: Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz art: Don Newton and Bruce Patterson
Jim, I'm re-rethinking my policy on Detective. This issue was not essential reading for following the Batman title, and it was of Conway's signature ho-hum quality. After giving us one and a half more pages of wrap up for the previous vampire story (which helped a little), the story shifts to the problem that's been developing as of late with Vicki Vale, Rupert Thorne, and Deadshot all knowing Bruce Wayne is Batman. Sure enough, this is the issue where Deadshot goes after Wayne while The Human Target is posing as him. Really, it all goes exactly as you'd expect. No unique twists of any kind. By the end, all interested parties casually assume that they made a mistake in assuming Wayne was Batman because they couldn't possibly have been in the same place at the same time. Conway spent a whole lot of issues building this story up for absolutely nothing. What a waste.
Gordan and Bard also get their butts kicked by some crooked cops (now that Gordan is no longer police commissioner).
"He With Secrets Fears the Sound" writer: Barbara J. Randall art: Trevor Von Eeden
Batgirlrandomly stumbles upon another upstart female villain (come on, she can't handle a man or an established villain??) who intends to blackmail businesses by using an ingenious new computer program to access and steal info from their mainframes. Granted, I'm a sucker for early '80s techno paranoia stories, but this is no War Games. There's really nothing particularly interesting about the story's premise, writing, nor characterizations.
"The Killer Sky!" plot: Gerry Conway script: Paul Kupperberg art: Don Newton
Gene Colan seems to be gone from the Bat titles nearly as quickly as he arrived. In his place, Don Newton does a mostly adequate and occasionally stylish job, but there are at least three pivotal moments in the story where his vague art fails to clearly depict what is happening. This becomes very frustrating.
The plot involves "Captain Blimp" and his men piloting a strange zeppelin out from under the water, kidnapping a submarine with an intense magnet (I have at least two physics-based problems with this), and then parading it over Gotham City for no apparent reason. Batman shows up, of course, but makes some truly stupid moves and gets thrashed and ditched.
Kupperberg, scripting for Conway in this issue, does a very nice job of capturing a powerful dramatic moment between Bruce and Vicki Vale in which she confesses that she thought he was the Batman and was going to expose him, as well as the fact that she just saw her boss kill himself (oh, that happened this issue after his attempt to impress Rupert Thorne with Batman's identity backfired).
Unfortunately, Kupperberg is less successful in portraying the playful banter between Batman and Robin in the Batmobile while pursuing the villains. It feels forced and downright awkward, especially when Robin facetiously idealizes moving to the country and wearing a loin cloth.
All in all, while the B plots were done nicely in this story (I didn't even mention the bit about the new commissioner threatening Gordan's life while he's in the hospital from his last beating), the A plot was very poorly done and doesn't seem all that interesting overall.
This is one of those stories that continues into Detective which I will not be following...
"Last Laugh" writer: Gerry Conway art: Jose Garcia Lopez
Ever since Julie Schwartz's office took Batman in a more modern, gritty direction way back in Batman #217, there has been a very conscious effort to use the Joker sparingly, carefully, and (above all else) tastefully. This was abundantly true of his last appearance in Batman #321 which, at the time, was the best work we'd seen come out of the Wein/Levitz writer/editor team.
Unfortunately, this time around, Conway truly appears to be winging it (no intended Batman pun there). The Joker rallies up his old henchmen (who, for some reason, have been waiting around in an abandoned hotel for him while he's been in Arkham), has taken the time to master both the crossbow and deadly snake handling (yet fails to deliver ANY gags while using either of them), and manages to deliver almost no jokes while maintaining a largely serious look on his face as he works to carve his face into a rock cliff with stolen explosives. It's really the Joker in appearance only.
Meanwhile, there's one nice B plot as Batman determines that it's Rupert Thorne backing Mayor Hill and gets a confession from his former competitor, Arthur Reeves. However, he does this by getting Reeves to confess with Gordan present IN THE BATCAVE. Why take such a risk? Neither Gordan nor the man who built his entire campaign on the menace of The Batman needs to be in a situation where they have even the slightest chance of learning who Batman is. A confession could have been given in an alleyway, or Jason Bard's office, or...anywhere, really.
There's also a nice little segment where Vicki Vale appears to be coming completely apart after seeing her editor kill himself last issue.
But, all in all, this was a waste of a story, especially of a Joker story.
Editor-wise, it's worth noting that Len Wein takes over this issue. The letter column presents this as an unexpected, last minute switch due to Giordano feeling too overwhelmed with his work. I'm actually very excited about this transition. Less than four years ago, Wein began his writing stint on the title, attempting to build a new mythos for the Batman complete with a better supporting cast and a better rationale for who he is and how he does what he does. Unfortunately, his editor wanted colorful villains and seemed to have little respect for the groundwork Wein was trying to lay down. I'm curious to see how his influence will now work from the other side of the desk. Maybe he'll even be able to push Conway to produce some of the better work that we've seen him be capable of doing from time to time. Or, maybe Wein's will just be the next in a long line of plaques on the wall that don't really change much of anything.
"Masters of the Universe Preview" writer: Paul Kupperberg art: Curt Swan and Dave Hunt
I grew up with the toys, I watched the cartoon, and even at the tender age of 4, it was hard to miss the huge disparities between the two. This wasn't an amazing story (and Curt Swan's style paired with relatively serious writing was a bit jarring at times) but this was a fascinating read that really gave a lot more thought to the basic premise of the series. As an example, when I played with my figures, I always imagined that the fact that He-Man and Skeletor had swords that could fit together played a key role -- the two could be joined to create a sword of power. Sure enough, that figures heavily into this storyline. Beyond that, the treatment of these characters, particularly Cringer/Battlekat, Teela, and Merman, were so much denser than the simple uni-dimensional roles they were given in the cartoon. Though I don't care enough about the premise to follow the series, I found this snapshot immensely enjoyable.
"A Bad Case of Worms" (advertisement) Really, there was such a novelty toy. The cartoon ad is absolutely as tasteless as you'd expect. The sister's horrified face as her cruel brother dangles them in front of her was almost as extreme as something you'd see on a House of Mystery cover. Just felt the need to document it.
"The Sting -- Batman Style" writer: Mike W. Barr Art: Don Newton and Dennis Jensen
Robin gives an incredibly sad one man parade to support a fund that fights juvenile delinquency. After raising $50,000 for them, he discovers that the organization doesn't exist; he was working for con men. Batman has a plan to get it all back, but Robin decides to go his own way as Batman cautions him that he might be getting in over his head (against two low level con men??). Sure enough, Robin gets in over his head, making stupid mistake after stupid mistake (he slips across their floor when fire sprinklers go off. Seriously??). Finally, at the big climactic bust, Robin ends up disguised as Batman (delivering the corniest lines of all time) and Batman ends up disguised as Matches Malone. Robin almost gets himself killed, but Batman manages to save the day.
All in all, I think this could have worked for a Robin solo story from the 1940s, but this is all downright insulting to the Teen Wonder who's been depicted in these back stories over the past two years and who's been leading The New Teen Titans as well.
One nice touch was Batman asking Robin to take over his JLA satellite duty for the night. Very nice continuity link there, though Robin ends up ditching that responsibility in favor of pursuing the bad guys, and that never gets mentioned!
"The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala
I don't know whether it's Len Wein's arrival, the near-culmination of a plot that's been in the works for quite a while now, or pure serendipity, but somehow both Conway and Newton really turned in something special this issue. Both the writing and art exude pure style in a way that, at moments, even surpasses what was done in the classic Monk storyline from a few issues back.
Newton and Alcala make excellent use of perspective, shadows, and thoroughly expressive faces in this issue while Conway really plays with narrative flair, writing from the second person, and delivering fantastic lines like: "You know these nighted streets the way a master strategist knows a chessboard. The city has given up its secrets to you long ago. You are part of the night. Part of the city's soul. The dark part. The secret part. You are The Batman--and tonight, you have a rendezvous with friends." Unfortunately, Conway takes this flare a little too far, giving similar lines to every major character introduced throughout the story. It gets very tiresome by the time he begins describing Alfred, as he's introduced with one page left in the story: "You are a gentleman's gentleman, Alfred Pennyworth, and if that makes you a putterer--then, by George, so be it." It's not as if Alfred plays a key role in this issue, either. He's merely there, dusting, and telling Bruce to check out what's on the news.
I should probably make some mention of the plot (in one overly long sentence): Boss Thorne is being haunted by Hugo Strange, so he seeks out Dr. Thirteen to help him, and Dr. Thirteen goes to Strange's old hospital only to be assaulted by his ghost all while Batman convenes with Gordon, Bard, and Vicki Vale to do some more planning against Thorne, ultimately resulting in Batman busting Deadshot out of jail and locking him in the Batcave.
All in all, the writing and art are working (mostly) very well, and the plotting is competent. This is a high point in Conway's run so far simply because it's more than adequate. It's not as great as Batman can be, but it's as good as it's been in a long while.
"The Cat and the Conover Caper!" writer: Bob Rozakis art: Gil Kane (according to the GCD)
Selina Kyle (now bumped from the backside of Batman to the backside of Detective) randomly runs into Louie Conover, an old henchman of hers who she seems genuinely pleased to see. As they catch up, it becomes immediately apparent that Louie is still involved in crime and is concealing this from Selina. So she quickly changes into her Catwoman costume and begins to trail him.
This is where both the story and the Selina back stories in general begin to fall apart for me. What are Selina's motivations here? Is she a woman trying to get on with her new life who jumps into costume in times of great need, or is she an arbitrary do-gooder who feels the compulsive need to seek out crime wherever she may seek it, even though she clearly isn't actively seeking it yet is actively going out of her way to send a good (and mostly harmless) old friend to jail? It just doesn't add up. Selina seems more like a generic protagonist than an actual character. Perhaps this explains why the feature gets replaced next issue with an ongoing Green Arrow back-up.
Fortunately, Louie Conover ended up being a good guy, after all. After letting a rival programmer into the video game company building he works for (in order to steal a game program, which is apparently written on a large piece of parchment???), Louie activates and deactivates the silent alarm like an SOS. How on earth he knew that someone at Police HQ would notice that pattern is beyond me. I'd imagine a tired, overworked cop would just go, "Hey, break in! Nope, it's gone. Nope, it's back. Nope it's gone again...oh hell, let's just send someone over, already!"
Incidentally, the GCD indicates that Gil Kane did the art on this one, but the credits simply state "Art:" followed by two large, wide character on top of one another. It almost looks Japanese. In hindsight, these appear to be a G on top of a K, but why did Kane have it credited like this? Was this a well recognized mark that fans should have understood?
"Showdown" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala
Who would have thought it possible, but both the writing and art continue to improve in this installment, as Conway starts toning down the flare on his narration while keeping it abundantly rich, and Newton provides even better facial expressions, dramatic angles, and unique camera perspectives. Conway's best line yet (as a three way stand-off goes terribly wrong): "There is, in the mind of each man, a sudden unnatural clarity, as if time had somehow expanded, and reality shifted into high gear. In that instant, dreams and regrets, fears and hopes, cease to have meaning, in the double thunder of two guns firing...and for each, there is simultaneous realization that it's all over, all of it...over!"
I'd go so far as to say that this may very well be the best Batman story I've yet read in this 50+ issue run that I've been following. Up until now, it was Wein's climactic Batman and Catwoman versus Catman storyline in Batman #323 and 324, but I think the tone, excitement, and over-all quality of this one takes the cake. I will at least give the story this much: this is, by far, the best "street level" Batman story I've ever read, pumping in as much drama and excitement as possible without the use of any costumed villains nor unbelievable feats of heroics. Even the revelation that a hologram has been used to make Boss Thorne believe he's seeing the ghost of Hugo Strange was explained in such a convincing way that it seems believable for someone to have actually done it. The technology is realistic and thoughtfully explained, not a plot convenience.
The plot summary (which, for once, is too dense to reiterate in one ridiculously long sentence): Pauling, the new police commissioner working for Boss Thorne, has made Batman public enemy #1, which makes Mayor Hill (also working for Thorne) nervous that someone will see through them and question their motivations. Batman confronts them, hoping to make them nervous, clumsy, and stupid in their next move, but it only ends in Batman running from a fleet of cops, armed to the teeth with assault rifles, who are ordered to open fire on Batman. An incredibly well done disagreement takes place amongst the men, but, finally, one of the cops "on the take" opens fire and gets Batman square in the back. He barely escapes as we cut to Doctor Thirteen explaining to Thorne exactly how someone has been tricking him into believing he is losing his mind (incidentally, we FINALLY get an editor's note explaining where and when Thorne first killed Hugo Strange, leading up to all these later events [Detective #472]). Unfortunately, the damage is already done. Thorne is unbalanced and paranoid, immediately assuming that Pauling and Hill have turned on him and are behind this plot to drive him mad.
We then cut to the Batcave, where Deadshot is still being held captive until Batman can get a confession out of him. He's wearing a blindfold, but nothing appears to be keeping him from taking it off, and Bruce is careless enough to address Alfred by name in front of him. Careless, careless, careless, especially since just a few issues back everyone was suspecting Batman and Bruce Wayne of being the same person (and Deadshot knows this). Deadshot still refuses to testify as Batman staggers in, severely injured. We then cut to (apparently) Selina Kyle, making a threatening phone call to Vicki Vale, instructing her to leave Bruce alone.
We cut back to Thorne, clearly beginning to lose his mind, as Batman appears in his doorway, silent and refusing to speak. Thorne confesses everything and, in a moment of clumsy drunkenness, sets his mansion on fire. Batman loses track of him long enough for Thorne to show up at Pauling's office (with Hill there), accuse the two of them of setting him up, and pull a gun on them. The crooked police officer (also present) attempts to stop him, and it ends in chaos as Thorne shoots and kills Pauling, and the cop shoots and severely injures Thorne. Batman arrives too late, but he confronts Hill silently, as Hill loses his composure, clearly afraid, and promising to reinstate Batman's deputy status.
Batman walks on to the roof and de-masks; it was Dick Grayson all along. He got Thorne's confession on recording for Bruce (who is recovering under Alfred's care), though he was unable to get anything on Mayor Hill. Things appear to be wrapped up as Boss Thorne is going away for a long while, Commissioner Pauling is dead, and Mayor Hill is now afraid of Batman and no longer under Thorne's control. However, just as things are wrapping up tidily, we see a limo parked outside of Thorne's mansion and finally discover who's been trying to turn Thorne mad with the ghost of Hugo Strange -- HUGO STRANGE!
Wow. This one had it all. No wonder some posters here were steadfastly defending Conway in spite of all the utter garbage he'd written. Suddenly, the man's on fire. Of course, let's not neglect to recognize the influences of both Len Wein as editor and Newton's art that is even surpassing Colan's work on the title at this point.
Last Edit: Jun 30, 2017 16:26:06 GMT -5 by shaxper
"Cat Tale" writer: Gerry Conway art: Irv Novick and Sal Trapani
After concluding the stunning "Boss" Thorne story arc, I'd imagine Conway felt like he could take on anything. And so, in a moment of impressive ambition, he dares to reintroduce Catwoman to the Bat titles, more than two years since she took her big exit after the conclusion of Wein's masterful Catwoman/Catman story arc.
Now, bear in mind that, after reading more than 50 Batman issues in a row, the only storyline that I'd rank higher than that Catwoman/Catman story arc is the "Boss" Thorne arc that Conway just completed, so I can't fault his ambition. However, the execution is downright disappointing.
When Wein was writing Catwoman, what made her characterization (and, indeed, that entire storyline) so compelling was how strong and confident Wein made her, able to stand by Batman's side as an equal without even seeming to try, even as she was facing imminent death. Hers was an incredibly strong and independent character; one who commanded respect without even thinking to ask for it. This was no uber-feminist byproduct of the 1970s, trying so desperately to gain equality that it inevitably shone as a sign of weakness. Instead, Selina Kyle was in a class all her own.
Unfortunately, the Selina that Conway writes is exactly the opposite -- a bad feminine stereotype/contrivance who sleeps in the nude for the benefit of her male fans, wants nothing more than to threaten/kill her ex's new love interest, and is so hopelessly obsessed with her former lover that she calls him her "anchor" and appears to have her entire life crumbling around her because Bruce Wayne is in love with someone else. Whoever this character is, the real Selina Kyle would have kicked her ass to katmandu in a moment's notice.
She even goes so far as to explain, "I gave up a life of crime as the Catwoman out of love for Bruce." Ummm, that's not what happened at all. In fact, the self-confident Kyle had already turned her life around when she came to the Wayne Foundation looking for a second chance, and (as I recall) she didn't take any crap from Bruce, either. It took a long while for their relationship to blossom. So how is Wein letting this ridiculously upsetting misconception get by as editor? HE WROTE THAT STORY!!!
Even Conway's writing feels a bit cheaper in this issue--still polished, but take for example the opening of the story, in which a long narrative depicts Vicki Vale's inner thoughts as she walks the streets and thinks back on her past. Catwoman attacks...and it all turns out to be Catwoman's dream. You can't honestly tell me she dreamt that entire inner monologue that had absolutely nothing to do with her and filled in a tremendous amount of back story on a character she knows little about. Cheap.
There's also the middle section of the story, in which Batman randomly takes on a group of thugs looking to make a name for themselves by trying to lure in The Batman. This five page storyline seems to serve absolutely no purpose other than to provide some action for an otherwise slow moving and uninteresting storyline. In these five pages, the thugs are written as absolutely generic scum, and the plot simply involves Batman rescuing an innocent girl as he makes more idle chatter, boasts, and quips than one would normally expect of the caped crusader. Oh, and don't expect any acknowledgment of the near fatal bullet he took on in the previous story.
And, by the way, I should mention that Selina Kyle now knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. When the heck did that happen???
Naturally, Conway taking on Wein's greatest character led me to compare the two writers as I read this issue. I've already made it clear how differently Wein treated Selina, but I think that level of narrative sympathy extended a lot farther in his writing, as well. Wein never wrote simple bad guys; they all had a point of view and a compelling quality about them, even when they were wrong. Wein would have given the thugs in that middle plot a personality; he would have cared for who they were and why they were doing what they were doing. That, in itself, would have made for great storytelling, whereas Conway simply delivered some action.
To be fair, though, Conway has his advantages too. His narration is nearly as strong as Wein's (though inconsistent) and, most importantly, comparing the two has led me to realize what a powerhouse of a plotter Conway has become. He's great at introducing B and C plot lines a few months ahead and then exploding them into the forefront of a story arc. Meanwhile, Wein was great at setting up B, C, D, E, and even F plots, but they rarely ever went anywhere. He'd left so much to languish when Wolfman arrived and wiped the slate nearly clean in order to introduce The Lazarus Affair.
All in all, I do think Conway's doing a great job on these titles (far far better than when he began!), but I think he needs to take a few lessons from Wein on characterization, as well. With Wein as editor, I'd like to think we'd be seeing the best of both of them come out in these stories, but that just doesn't seem to be the case yet. How could he have let Conway take his best character so far astray?
Oh, by the way, Irv Novick is back on art. Every frickin' time I think he's finally gone, he sneaks back in, delivering page after page of disappointing artwork.
Incidentally, the plot in one ridiculously long sentence: Selina is obsessed with stalking/threatening Vicki Vale in order to stop her from dating Bruce, keeps dreaming she's turning into an actual cat-woman, and confronts Vale, leading her to tell Bruce that Selina is falling apart and needs his help, all randomly interrupted by an episode in which Batman fights a bunch of gang members. Nothing much to write home about.
"High Tech Highwayman!" writer: Joey Cavalieri art: Trevor Von Eeden
The first Green Arrow backup story, and I couldn't even finish it! I've read A LOT of crap when it comes to backup stories, and I absolutely could not get past page two. Ollie is writing a newspaper article about a computer hacker when the computer hacker crashes his computer, shows up on his screen (in a full and elaborate bad guy costume) and introduces himself while explaining that he "can't have you broadcasting my trade secrets all over Star City!" It's a terrible, terrible plot full of an absurd amount of suspension of disbelief. With a beginning this bad, it was clear the story wasn't going to go anywhere worth reading. I'm sure my summary doesn't do justice to just how awful those two pages were, so you'll just have to trust me.
Before jumping into the actual issue, I should discuss "Superman in 'The Case of the Snake Shapes,'" a one page story/advertisement for K-Mart's new Snake Puzzle toy, and executed in the same style as the Hostess Cakes ads that (sadly) stopped a few months back. Unfortunately, this ad is a lot less tactful. Whereas, in the Hostess ads, the heroes never actually ate nor endorsed the products in question, Superman's quest to stop the Toyman in this adventure leads him to play with and espouse the wonders of the Snake Puzzle Toy with far more affection than he ever showed to Lois Lane, as he stands in the K-Mart toy section and uses it to figure out where the Toyman is hiding (I'm not kidding!). Why it's necessary to discuss this thoroughly shameless ad before getting to the primary story in this issue will become apparent soon enough...
""Never Scratch a Cat" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala
It wasn't just a bad dream. Selina is still an emotional wreck without the man she loves this issue, and any hope that it was due to some disease or transformation she was undergoing is squelched by the end. She really is just that pathetic. Fortunately, Newton takes his art to the next level again, providing powerful moment after powerful moment, often working in the absence of any of Conway's dialogue and, in one instance, providing a full page panel of Batman socking a giant panther. You just can't beat it.
The plot in one ridiculously long sentence: Selina attempts to run Bruce and Vikki off the road while they're on a date (and, yes, Conway gave her a Cat Mobile. What is this--The Atom Age???), and has a last minute change of heart and saves them from drowning, leaving Bruce to sit by Vicki's side in the hospital, depending upon Bard and Gordan to stake out Catwoman's place, but Bruce breaks for a good heart to heart with Dick about whether or not people are responsible for each other's actions (as Selina claims that Bruce is), and then he goes to Selina's place, battles her giant panther, and discovers that she's moved to a new hideout, so he follows her there, they duke it out, and then they come to realize they're both hurting from the breakup and make their peace. End of crappy story. Oh, and Gordan gets reinstated as police commissioner.
The Good about this story:
Bruce and Dick's borderline philosophical discussion about whether or not people should be responsible for each other was intriguing and powerful. Dick goes on to muse that having Bruce be responsible for his welfare was good for Bruce, too. As he explains, "I think--having me underfoot all those years---kept you sane." As heavy and intriguing as that statement is, it's followed by a surprising coldness on the part of Bruce as he drives off, angry both with Selina and with himself for failing her. As he leaves, Alfred comments "I've never seen the master quite so cold, young sir. Except when he speaks of Joe Chill." Nice little continuity point there, as well as a clear depiction of how much Selina has meant to Bruce, though that's hard to understand considering her characterization in these issues.
There's also a nifty point of continuity in this discussion. It's FINALLY acknowledged that Dick leads the Titans! Though, when Bruce expresses concerns that all the help Dick has lent him as of late must be harming his relationship with the Titans, Dick protests "Bruce, my first duty as Robin is to you." I take major issue with that statement. It's as if the Bat titles finally acknowledge Robin's other home just so that they can trash it in contrast. That title is where Robin truly found himself and, I believe, most of his bronze age fans. He's still just Bruce's young and somewhat immature lackie here.
Finally, I really liked how Conway handled Gordan's reinstatement as commissioner. After Barbara and Jason Bard discuss why Hill is backed into a corner and has to take Jim back, going so far as to comment, "Now Hill wants to see him...what I wouldn't give to see that--!" the scene we're given is a stark contrast, in which Hill offers no apologies, explains his situation as a tirade, and gives Gordan his badge back with the most sickeningly sarcastic smile I've ever seen (go Newton and Alcala!). I can't wait to see where this is going.
Obviously, Selina's depiction, the thoroughly anti-climactic ending, comparing Selina's importance in Bruce's mind to Joe Chill and the murder of his parents without giving any hint of a relationship that warrants that treatment (after all, Conway's undone all the characterization and dynamic that Wein gave them), and, of course, the damn Cat Mobile.
The Just Plain Sad
Okay, let's go back to the "Case of the Snake Shapes" ad. If you didn't think DC had whored out it's beloved heroes enough with that ad, look closely at Bruce's conversation with Dick in the Batcave. What's that thing that Dick is playing with in four different panels across three pages? Well, what do you know!--It's K-Mart's new Snake Puzzle toy.
Don't kill me, Jim, but I'm skipping Detective #522. In addition to Conway being in another writing slump and his working on that issue with my all-time favorite artist, Irv Novick, this issue features the return of the Snowman, the second most terrible thing that Conway's run has given us thus far (The Sportsmaster being even worse!). I decided to jump directly to the next Batman issue and then see if I'd missed any important developments. Fortunately, I didn't.
"The Double Life of Hugo Strange" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Dick Giordano
Though the beginning promises that this will be "a climactic episode in the epic legend of The Batman," I fail to see how. Hugo Strange has decided to assume Bruce/Batman's life (he knows his identity) and tries to do so by driving Bruce insane. It's been done so many times before, most recently in Batman #304, where The Spook tried to convince Bruce he was a ghost, and in Batman #326 and 327, where Prof. Milo locked Batman in Arkham and tried to convince him that he was insane. In both cases, the general premise seemed like a good idea, but it ultimately proved to be a stale one, and the execution wasn't original enough to save it.
That's certainly true here, as well. As Bruce arrives home, only to find Alfred trying to kill him, seeing Alfred dying and coming back as if nothing was wrong, and then seeing the same thing repeat with Dick, you keep waiting for a GOOD explanation. After all, Strange is a doctor. Maybe this is medically induced. As I read this, I remember clearly thinking "Don't just be robots. Don't just be robots." It's about the lamest, least creative, and most generic solution to the problem possible, and that's exactly the direction Conway took.
I could rip apart the specifics of this story (and there were so many illogical moments), but why bother? The story just isn't worth it. By the end, Strange is presumed dead, and everything is back to normal. "Climactic episode" my butt.
It's worth noting that, while Newton continues as the penciler for this issue, Alcala is replaced by Giordano as his inker. The art in this issue is certainly GOOD, but it lacks all the pizzaz of the previous issues. Who would have thought it would ever be a disappointment to get Giordano on art, but this time it is.
Still, the competent art is really all that saves this from being a thoroughly generic, lackluster Batman entry.
Last Edit: Jun 30, 2017 16:26:48 GMT -5 by shaxper
"Inferno" writer: Gerry Conway art: Gene Colan and Tony Dezuniga
I decided to give Detective another whirl this issue since Colan had replaced Novick, and the classic villain (Grundy) had a lot more potential than a Conway original like The Snowman. All in all, the story was enjoyable, though there were peculiarities as well.
For example, Batman arrives at the scene of a store break-in, dramatically proclaiming to the shop owner that "Every man has someone who hates him--even to the point of murder," only to randomly decide, two panels later, that "Carstairs [the owner] could be right after all...it looks more like the work of a madman than someone pursuing a vendetta." What the heck was that all about? Since when does Batman shoot his mouth off without taking half a second to examine the scene of the crime, and why would Conway bother to depict it, other than for the sake of bad melodrama?
Weirder still, the issue begins with an unnecessary depiction of a broken, completely naked mannequin, strewn across the ground, and clearly set up as the primary focus in the foreground. It absolutely looks like a dead, raped woman; perhaps a little too mature for a comic that was still being read by kids. As the story progresses, it turns out that Grundy has been collecting these "toys" and discarding them once they're "broken." The story takes pains to explain that all Grundy is doing is twisting their heads off, but that's not what the art is telling us. Why, then, is he stripping them???
The art by Colan is solid (as one would expect), but Dezuniga (I'm assuming this must be Dezuniga) keeps adding zip lines to his panels, and it's really distracting. When Alfred does a double-take, he shouldn't have two heads and a bunch of lines running between them. This isn't Beetle Bailey.
This issue does feature the first cameo appearance of Killer Croc, though even his entrypoint is odd. Croc (hidden under a trenchcoat and hat) asks one of his lackies why he is nervous, and the lackie goes on to explain that Grundy randomly found the gang and is now tailing along. The lackie clearly doesn't like this. So when Croc instructs him to ditch Grundy (which, you'd think, is exactly what the lackie wants help doing), he becomes defensive and tells Croc to "take a walk," at which point, Croc does. What the heck was that all about?
One final oddity is how Colan tries to insert more tension into the Batman continuity now that nearly all of the plot lines are resolved. Suddenly, Gordan is tired after his fight to get his job back (if anything, he was reinvigorated the last time we saw him), and Bruce is more stressed than ever, even after giving up the Wayne Foundation, and devoting entirely too much energy into being Batman (of course, this all comes from Alfred's thoughts. We never SEE it anywhere!). Conway's clearly trying too hard to keep things interesting, here.
Oh, and we're given an origin for Grundy that makes absolutely no sense. He simply formed out of the sewer. That can't be right. Where'd the suit come from? The man is clearly undead.
The struggle between Batman and Grundy concludes as Batman tricks Grundy into walking into a giant incinerator and then driving off without checking to see if Grundy was destroyed. Just beautiful.
Why, oh why, did I come back for another Cavalieri Green Arrow backup? The issue begins with Ollie breaking up a legal union strike. He tries to be diplomatic, but he fails in the most transparent of ways: "You've all got beefs...and they're all legitimate beefs...but the place to settle them is the conference table...not the streets! Clear?"
Gotta love it.
Of course, it turns out that the discontent is all being caused by a new villain called...get this..."Machiaveli," and he's actually dressed like Machiaveli. Along with his assistant, "The Executioner," he plans to turn Star City against itself for his own gains. It's "To be continued," though I won't be back to see how it ends.
As soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to sit down to read Batman #357 for the first time...and I'm scared.
You see, when I first started reading comics in 1989, I walked in just in time for Death in the Family. Robin had been a favorite character of mine long before I started reading, and so the tragic death of Jason Todd really spoke to me, as did his defiant, angst-ridden journey for truth and identity, which the pre-teen in me understood with great severity. Dick Grayson was the classic Robin, of course, and I grew to like Tim Drake, but Jason Todd sort of became my Robin, and as I slowly bought up back issues of Batman (compiling a full run from 400 to current, which was around 440 back then), I thoroughly enjoyed monitoring Jason's development as a character in reverse.
Naturally, I had no idea what Crisis on Infinite Earths was, nor would I have understood the concept of a "Reboot" even if I had, so when I read Batman #406 for the first time, I assumed the portrayal of Jason's origin in flashback was nothing more than a retelling--and a lousy one at that. I did own Batman #368 (the issue in which Jason first became Robin), so I knew this wasn't his actual first appearance, and I therefore reasonably assumed that, a few crappy issues in the early 400s aside, Jason had always been depicted uniformly as the difficult, strong-headed, but over-all empathetic young hero that I'd seen leading up to Death in the Family.
Of course, over the years, I learned about the sham of a marketing campaign that Death in the Family actually was, that those crappy retellings of Jason's origin were the definitive post-crisis Jason Todd until he started developing a real personality just prior to Death in the Family, and, above all else, that the Jason who had existed prior to those issues was an entirely different character, most commonly perceived as a carbon copy of Dick Grayson with red hair.
It's one devastating thing to know all this, but I imagine it's another one entirely to actually experience it first hand, to discover with the heart as well as the brain, that the character I'd always loved and believed in really only existed for around 7 issues and was otherwise someone else entirely. On a larger scale, actually experiencing it would, once and for all, topple my childhood idyllic assumption that comic book characters and continuities were rich and uniform, well planned and organic. I used to read Batman #450 and actually believe that there were four hundred and forty nine uniformly quality episodes of continuity carefully building up until the moment I was holding in my hands. This has, of course, been disproven for me a thousand times in the course of being a comic book reader, but Batman was the first comic and continuity I ever cared about, and I still haven't read the actual issues linking the past I know about the Batman titles to the issues I actually grew up with. I can still claim ignorance in my heart, even in spite of what my mind knows, up until the moment I first see Jason Todd in the next issue.
I'm incredibly excited, incredibly scared, and, above all else, prepared to have my expectations trampled upon. I sincerely hope that I can find something about the pre-Crisis Jason that is both unique and likable that others have missed; something that will allow Jason to remain special to me. However, the truth of the matter is that this CAN'T be the Jason I grew up with; it can't be the Jason I want it to be, and so, no matter what I read, I will inevitably be profoundly disappointed. The character and the history I dreamed I'd find in these issues as a boy simply doesn't exist, and I'm going to have to finally accept that.
Chances are, Jason will only make a small cameo in this issue and won't get any chance to develop a personality for many issues to come, but rational expectations have less than nothing to do with my anticipation here.
For those of you who think I'm making a big deal about this, just understand that, while many of you latched on to Superman, Batman, Captain America, or Spider-man as the heroes of your pre-adolescence, I arrived in comics at a unique moment which led me to latch onto Jason Todd, specifically the post-crisis version. In reading these issues, I'm about to watch the history/legacy behind the character that I'd always imagined shatter into nothingness.
Well, this issue provided me with absolutely no read on Jason Todd, so I guess I can breath a sigh of relief for now. He doesn't ever talk in the issue, and the only two panels he appears in show him from a distance. Even then, some uncharacteristically inconsistent art between pages prevent me from even getting a sense of what he looks like, or even how long his hair is.
"Squid" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Alfred Alcala
Perhaps finally sensing where his strengths as a writer lie, Conway has backed off from his typical costumed villain stories and, instead, attempts to re-immerse himself in the murky waters of organized crime that he explored so well in the "Boss" Thorne storyline. Now, he's turning his spotlight on "Boss" Tony Falco, and the power vacuum he left when Batman apprehended him back in Detective #499 (which I have not read). Naturally, Falco hasn't been mentioned once in the 57 consecutive issues of Batman I've read, yet everyone's commenting on his power vacuum in this particular issue.
Essentially, a character named The Squid, a dangerous aspiring crime boss with a pudgy, short build, odd clothing, a sense for the theatrical, and a less than intimidating accent, is attempting to fill Falco's shoes. He's an interesting enough character, but I can't help but feel that he's just another Penguin.
The story is written quite well, depicting a lot of the fear and confusion within the criminal world as The Squid's reputation precedes him, finally building up to his highly anti-climactic introduction. All in all, it was nice to take a break from Batman's perspective and immerse myself in the point of view of Gotham's criminal world, and it was well done.
Storywise, we also see the introduction of the Todd aerialist family, see Killer Croc's man threaten the circus' owner to join his protection racket (you just know where all this is going, especially as Dick is watching in the audience), and we see Batman get Tony Falco out of a trap (using predictable, practically trade-marked strategy), and get himself captured by The Squid.
There are problems with this story, including at least one odd jump in time, where Falco is about to be interviewed in one frame and then is receiving a verdict in front of the judge in the next, a thoroughly overly ambitious extortion attempt as Croc's man tries to shake up the circus owner for $10,000 a night (how much does he think Circuses make???), and a sincerely disappointing climax in which five of The Squid's random thugs easily take down Batman in a fair fight.
Additionally, as noted earlier, there's a lot of inconsistency in the art across pages.
All told, though, the tone of this issue was well-crafted, the plot is interesting, and Conway has finally succeeded in kicking up some interesting new over-arching plot lines for us to keep an eye on.
Last Edit: Dec 12, 2019 10:40:56 GMT -5 by shaxper
"Deathgrip" writer: Gerry Conway art: Don Newton and Dick Giordano
Arguably, Conway's tightest story yet. Batman escapes from the overly elaborate squid trap that The Squid has placed him in (and, though you think his escape will go unexplained, it's tactfully revealed much later on in the story), and the shadowy Croc, who has been quietly evaluating The Squid from the sidelines, seems to be the only one to witness and understand it. As he decides to walk out, The Squid confronts him, only to knock his hat off, giving us our first glimpse of Croc -- an actual reptillian face! The Squid cowers back, and Croc leaves, even going so far as to notice the Batman watching him and not caring. Conway is crafting the Croc into one heck of a bad-ass. Interestingly, he bears absolutely no resemblance to the Killer Croc I know from post-crisis continuity.
The story shifts to a party being hosted by Dick in honor of The Flying Todds. It's really odd to see Dick wearing a leisure suit in 1983, and it's frustrating to have both Joseph and Trina Todd talk while Jason once again remains speechless and difficult to glimpse (Conway's playing Jason close to his chest), but the next plot development, in which Trina walks in to find Alfred and Dick nursing an unmasked Batman, was damn exciting.
When we return to The Squid, his failure with the Batman and his recoiling in the face of Croc have knocked him down many pegs in our estimation. He's hardly the crime lord he was just last issue. As we're watching him command his men with a new, more critical set of eyes, the menacing Croc sets up to assassinate The Squid in parallel. The art contrast is phenomenal here, as The angles, coloring, and shadowing contrast between the two men speaks volumes about which is a more serious contender as crime boss of Gotham.
It's therefore astonishing when Croc narrowly misses hitting The Squid! Squid ducks just in time, only to have Batman enter, the two fight one on one, and Squid kick his butt, ultimately pulling a gun and killing Batman at the climax! The narration is intense, vague, and utterly poetic. We're not entirely sure how this is happening, and The Squid seems equally surprised to see this occuring.
Then Conway gives us this brilliant narrative moment:
Squid: It's over, Batman...all over.
Narration: The words echo ironically in his mind. Suddenly, darkness closes in, and he knows.
Squid: Wait. Wait.
Squid: It's not fair. I'm not finished.
Squid: I'm not...
[The scene then cuts to The Squid, lying dead on the floor where Croc had shot at him.]
Narration: The gunshot seems oddly far away, but the sound of a bullet hitting flesh, and the impact of a body against a cold marble floor, is very close.
Croc (from on the roof): One clean shot. Like I said--
Croc: --Nobody threatens Croc. Good-bye, Fatboy.
Wow. Narrative trickery at it's best.
Last Edit: Jun 30, 2017 16:27:32 GMT -5 by shaxper
(Untitled) writer: Gerry Conway art: Curt Swan and Rodin Rodriguez
The loss of Newton and Alcala (just for this issue) is sorely felt in this story. Swan's art feels thoroughly throw-back, and he is often unable to keep up with the characterization and momentum of the storyline through his penciling. Some action is thoroughly unclear, especially when Commissioner Gordon appears to be talking to Batman directly and then misses him sneaking off, as usual. He was looking right at him!
Swan's presence is even more disappointing here as this is the big issue where we finally get a good glimpse at Croc without his disguise -- and it looks downright silly. Oh well.
Conway still tells a good story here, over all, but he runs into two problems that both bothered me quite a bit:
1. He still writes all villains as generic thugs. The dialogue is stilted, the motivation is non-existent, and the battles are therefore nothing more than extraneous action. Considering that Batman fights random bad guys twice in this issue, it really gets old fast.
2. He seems to lose track of who Croc is in this issue. The cold, calculating, brilliant machiavelian of the previous issues who seemed to know when to wait and when to move turns into a stooge of the masterminds of the criminal underworld, doing their bidding all while threatening to kill them if they cross him (you know this is inevitably coming) and, above all else, turning into a thoroughly angry, thoughtless villain who makes such idle threats and strikes out with clumsy rage at the Batman. Once the mysterious coat and hat come off, so does Croc's style and technique. He's just an angry dude who looks like a crocodile. Jim, you said that you loved the early Croc and hated how later writers ruined him, but I wonder if Conway didn't start that transition right here in this issue. I sincerely hope the Croc of previous issues will come back. This Croc is downright boring -- a generic, flavor of the month, villain.
One final touch that I did enjoy about this issue is a darker, more brutal side to Batman. Upon taking down a group of bad guys who are firing weapons at him, one low-life starts going on about how it's not his fault that some dumb house wife got caught in the cross fire of his last job and died. As he continues to explain how she was a no one and her life didn't matter, Batman ducks behind him, causing another criminal to shoot the guy dead.
In another example, Batman and Robin drag a villain back to the cave and intimidate the living daylights out of him, causing the man to confess everything. They explain that he gets no due process because they aren't police, and this isn't an arrest -- they're just having a friendly "chat between friends." They go on to remind him that there's no one around to serve as a witness before he breaks down and confesses. Later, Bruce practically boasts, "I've said it before, I'll say it again: Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot...specs terrorized himself. I never even threatened him."
It's a whole new Batman; not a hero I can totally get behind, but a logical extension of who Batman is, what Batman does, and why Batman does it. I really respected that. He's not a police officer, and he doesn't follow their rules. He's a vigilante outside the law that walks a gray line of law and morality; the extreme wild card that's needed to reign in Gotham's rampant crime.
Oh, the plot in one ridiculously long sentence: Croc barges in on the tobacconists' club, demanding to be made crime boss, Batman gets a lead on who killed The Squid, tracing the bullet to the man who sold the murderer the gun, so he takes down the seller and his thugs, drags the seller back to the cave and gets him to confess he sold the gun to Croc, and has a brief heart to heart with Dick in which they debate over whether or not people can be trusted (especially Trina Todd, who now knows Bruce is Batman), all while Croc starts performing tests for Gotham's criminal masterminds to prove his worth, starting with stealing a government super computer, and the Batman tracks down Croc's hideout, getting into a fight with a random gang on the way, and ultimately battling it out with Croc, himself, but losing Croc at the last moment.
All in all, a good story, but not without its problems.
Last Edit: Jun 30, 2017 16:27:51 GMT -5 by shaxper
"Confrontation" writer: Gerry Conway art: Dan Jurgens and Dick Giordano
While this story provides another chapter in the Killer Croc saga, it's real purpose seems to be delving deeper into Bruce's psyche. This is a deeply psychological issue, in which Bruce further explores his desire to detach from others ever since Selina Kyle resurfaced, and he then takes that desire one step further, beginning to doubt and detach from himself.
After failing to find any trace of Croc (he escaped from Batman last issue), Bruce takes Vicki Vale out on a date. She easily detects that the flippant playboy bit is an act and asks Bruce why he's putting it on. The art and writing almost lead you to believe he's really going to tell her -- or at least indicate that he has another secret life that he isn't prepared to tell her about, but Conway throws us a curve ball. Instead, he confesses that he can't stop thinking about Selina Kyle. Just when both you and Vicki think you know where that's going, we get another curve ball. He talks about how Selina made him realize that he never wants to be needed that desperately by anyone again. As he proceeds to trivialize his relationship with Vicki, calling it "uncomplicated" and praising Vicki for not making any demands on him, Vicki tells him off and leaves.
Then, FINALLY, we get our first real glimpse of Jason Todd, as the wide eyed young aerialist performs in front of a captivated audience, only to casually look up and notice that Robin is watching from the top of the tent. It's a very cool moment.
We cut back to Bruce, standing by the water, no doubt reflecting upon his actions with Vicki. While lost in thought, he suddenly realizes that he subconsciously saw Croc lurking in the shadows while looking for him earlier that day. Somehow, for some reason, he let Croc go. This leads to tremendous self-doubt as Batman obsesses over why he might have subconsciously allowed himself to ignore Croc's presence.
Back at the circus, Robin is talking with the Todd family. Jason finally gets to talk with him and wastes no time in asking "What's Wonder Girl really like?" An absolutely endearing question, and also a subtle reminder that Dick's primary allegiance is to the Titans these days. With this clear reminder, as well as with a number of parallels that have carefully been drawn between Dick and Jason over the past few issues, it's clear that Conway is carefully crafting a purpose and role for Jason. I wonder how obvious this was to readers at the time. It all strikes an extra exciting/intriguing tone when Robin gets the Todds to agree to help him bust the extortion ring moving in on their circus, promising that they won't regret it, and instantly feeling a chill as he says it. Trina Todd looks at him, feeling it too.
Back in the sewers, Batman and Croc have another showdown. Though Bruce is struggling with Croc physically, he's more importantly struggling with himself mentally. Can he really trust himself not to let Croc go this time? Just as it seems he's done the opposite, he gets in a sleeper hold and pulls a desperate move to level the playing field, ultimately resulting in his escape. What seemed like a proper and action-packed reversal of fortunes at the time becomes another doubting question to Batman -- did he just run away?
All in all, an intriguing psychological set of developments for Bruce, and I'm absolutely eating up the Todds' subplot.
"Hunt" writer: Gerry Conway art: Dan Jurgens and Dick Giordano
It's now clear to me what Conway is up to. When Wein was writing this title, he peaked with the Catwoman/Catman storyline, did a few more lackluster issues, and then faded away. When Wolfman came in (briefly), his only goal seemed to be to get to The Lazarus Affair, at the culmination of which he bowed out, ending on a high note. Conway seems intent to end his long run on Batman in the same way, building up both Croc and Jason Todd since #357 and having both of their storylines climax this month in Detective #526, Batman's 500th appearance in that title, before handing both titles off to Doug Moench. Overall, I think Conway has the right idea. This has been an interesting and largely very well done story arc thus far, but this penultimate entry falls a tad bit flatter. Conway's going to have to do a lot better in the final chapter.
The problem here is Croc, himself. The once mysterious, clever, confident, and controlled criminal mastermind is now a reckless, foolish would-be underworld king who has crowds walk out on him in meetings and everyone around him write him off as "crazy." This Croc seems to have no plan other than to kill people who get in his way, but he never thinks ahead enough to get a witness or furnish himself with some kind of proof. No one knows for sure that he killed The Squid, or (in this issue) Tony Falco, and he makes the embarrassing rookie mistake of claiming to have killed Batman as well. He's just a wreck of a character at this point, even less in control than The Squid was, but it's not a tragic fall. It's as if the character was just completely rewritten by Conway as soon as his trench coat came off. At this point, you know he's cruising for a bruising, and I'd be amazed to see him surface as a serious threat to Batman again afterward. Too rational to be scary; too irrational to be dangerous.
Batman's odd psychological relationship to Croc isn't making any more sense in this issue, either. it's still absolutely not clear why Batman is intimidated by Croc and has allowed himself to avoid battling him on two occasions. This gets particularly annoying when Batman tries for a therapy session in the middle of one of their battles: "You spooked me, Croc. But now I'm going to lay that ghost to rest." Since when does Batman admit to criminals that HE's afraid of THEM? A lot of good that's going to do to his rep.
There are some illogical moments in this issue (I thought Conway was finally passed those) like when Batman breaks into the house of the most powerful puppet master in Gotham, intimidates him, and then drops him off at Gordan's house, bound and gagged. What were the charges? What's the crime? I'd think Batman's more likely to draw heat on himself for breaking into the house of such a powerful man and abusing him in such a way without any evidence of a crime being committed.
There were a few high points to this issue. For one, Croc's attack on Falco in prison is absolutely wild. The absurd amount of blood, the look in Croc's eyes, it was intense and exciting. Jurgens and Giordano aren't Newton and Alcala, but they do a nice job, over all.
Another nice touch was Batman and Gordan's discussion in the Batmobile as Gordan reveals Croc's history. I've criticized Conway numerous times (as recently as last issue) for making his villains too generic and uncomplicated/unsympathetic, but in these moments, Gordan expresses sympathy for the boy that Croc was (even without abundant evidence to suggest anything less than a monster), but Batman is unsympathetic and unwilling to see, which Gordan calls him out on. It was a nice touch. Very Wein of Conway.
Finally, just when you think you know what's going to happen with the Todd aerialist family as Croc's henchman goes back to the circus for a shake-up, Conway throws us a curve ball. The Todds pursue the lackie back to his hideout, all while Bruce berates Dick for worrying about them (""Scum like Killer Cros wouldn't be able to get a foothold in this town if a few more people were willing to take risks to stop him!...Your friends make a commitment, Richard. They'll fulfill their commitment--or to hell with them, and to hell with you!"). Powerful stuff, as Bruce is clearly psychologically falling apart. How will all this resonate when the Todds meet their final fate next issue? As of now, Croc has them captured, standing helpless in front of a room full of criminals.
By the way, the cover, in which Croc stands before Batman's most classic villains, proclaiming himself "Killer Croc" is entirely misleading. None of them are mentioned or make an appearance until next issue.