Batman Arkham: The Riddler (May 2015)

rid.pngMost Bat-fans glorify and self-identify with The Joker, but in actuality the average DC Comics fanboy is closer to The Riddler: needy, nerdy, narcissistic and way too smug about the lifetime of meaningless trivia they’ve accumulated.

That said, I love the guy. His gimmick is basically self-sabotage disguised as grandiosity. He’s every overweight dork in jean shorts and a fedora who just spent six months in the gym and studying how to be a Pickup Artist, whose core of vicious insecurity is barely inches below his flamboyantly confident new exterior. There’s a neurotic underdog aspect to his criminal insanity, as opposed to the anarchist self-indulgence or melodramatic tragedy of so many other Batman villains.

Chuck Dixon’s 1995 origin story Questions Multiply the Mystery formally introduced this angle on Edward Nygma, and it’s a real pity it wasn’t included in this first official Riddler “greatest hits” trade paperback. Why not? Where also is the other key Riddler appearance of the modern era, Neil Gaiman’s deft little post-modern 1989 tale When is a Door? Essentially a monologue by an aged, wistful Riddler, he reflects on how everything in Gotham’s gotten so grim and gritty of late and there doesn’t seem to be a place anymore for super-criminals like him who just want to have some goofy fun – rather than rack up a body count. A simple observation, but the entire key to Riddler’s role in a post-Dark Knight Returns world: compared to the rest of Batman’s increasingly depraved Rogue’s Gallery, Eddie is relatively something of a gentleman.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler doesn’t include either of those gems, or even a single story from 1984 to 2006. As if there wasn’t a decent Riddler comic for 22 years! Absent any apparent legal reprinting issues, this yawning historical gap seems to have been caused simply by editorial ambivalence. The laziness is there at first glance, from the recycled New 52 cover art to the title – who’s “Batman Arkham”? I gather the idea that the collection is akin to a trip to the E. Nygma cell at Arkham Asylum, but there’s not even an introduction describing the character’s legacy, let alone some “Heh, heh, heh! Welcome to Arkham, kiddies!” kind of Cryptkeeper curtain-opener. Of the 14 compiled issues, the first 9 are from the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of DC and that alone probably makes the book worthwhile overall, especially for Riddler’s 1948 debut by Bill Finger & Dick Sprang, and 1960s revival by Gardner Fox.

The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler from 1966 is a particularly memorable bit of introspective villain psychoanalysis: Riddler decides to stop leaving riddles and just be a normal thief, only to discover his addictive obsession won’t let him quit. A definitive story, but its inclusion is probably chance. Why, for instance, if you’re only going to reprint two Riddler stories from the whole decade of the 1970s, wouldn’t you want to include the one that Neal Adams drew? It’s like they were picked at random. Even the modern age choices feel arbitrary – like an abysmal 2007 Paul Dini issue of Detective Comics which is primarily a Harley Quinn timewaster using Edward Nygma as mere supporting player. No respect. How appropriate.

The contemporary stuff isn’t all bad, however. Scott Snyder & Ray Fawkes’ 2013 Riddler one-shot Solitaire is the only Batman comic I’ve read since the Animated Series spinoffs to build thoughtfully on the conception of Edward Nygma as a conceited intellectual who doesn’t realize he’s also a lunatic.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler is far from the ideal compendium for one of Batman’s oldest, most unique and iconic adversaries, but asks a fair enough price for all his earliest classic battles of wits in one volume.

CREDITS

Writers, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, David Vern Reed, Len Wein, Don Kraar, Doug Moench, Paul Dini, Peter Calloway, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Charles Soule; artists, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Springer, John Calnan, Irv Novick, Carmine Infantino, Don Newton, Don Kramer, Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Dennis Calero; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, DC Comics.

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Batman 379 (January 1985)

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It’s a crazy issue. The last half has not just Robin telling Nocturna he’d love her as a man would if he were older, it’s got Batman blathering on to her about… no, I’m wrong. That thing with Robin telling his newly adopted mother he’d have the hots for her, Moench never tops that one.

It’s kind of bad and kind of great. Moench can’t do this story, he just can’t make it work–Nocturna wanting to be a crime fighting family with Robin and Batman–but he tries so hard. And then there’s a lot better stuff with Alfred feeling like he’s losing his daughter even more. That bit is good.

The Mad Hatter returns, but not with enough page time for much personality. The Hatter-Zombies are kind of a neat touch.

Sadly, Newton and Alcala go lazy from time to time. There’s way too much going on.

CREDITS

Bedtime Stories; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 378 (December 1984)

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I’m kind of hoping Moench’s got a good back story saved up for Nocturna. She gets what I think is her first interior monologue–if not first, first significant one she’s come back–where she’s questioning her motives. There are hints at some strange origin. It would help.

Batman too gets a lengthy internal monologue as he tries to figure out how to kill time after Nocturna’s adoption of Jason goes through. Moench even goes through Bruce’s thought processes on deciding what case to investigate. That sequence, still problematic due to the adoption thing, is nice.

The Mad Hatter also gets a subplot–he’s the cover villain–and Moench writes him rather well. He’s far more engaging than most of the regular cast.

I really wish Alfred had smacked Vicki Vale for disparaging his daughter though. Moench’s pushing the hostility between the women and it’s getting long in the toothi

CREDITS

One Hat Madder!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 377 (November 1984)

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Moench runs directly into that Bruce Wayne problem he’s been having for a while. He has to have Bruce decide he wants to sneak around with Nocturna; it comes after a lengthy conversation with Alfred. Moench does fine with that conversation–the art from Newton and Alcala is fantastic, Newton’s compositions this issue are amazing–but he hasn’t established any of Bruce’s romances well.

It doesn’t help the issue starts with an absurd courtroom scene with Bruce acting nuts.

As for Nocturna–who Bruce apparently picks over Vicki (who he hasn’t seen romantically in five or ten issues) and Alfred’s daughter (Moench avoids a mention of her when Alfred’s talking to Bruce)–Moench basically just makes her Catwoman. The back and forth about her life of crime sounds like Batman and Catwoman.

Moench’s digging himself a deeper hole, but Newton’s apparently more than capable of getting him out of it.

CREDITS

The Slayer of Night; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, Ben Oda and Alcala; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 376 (October 1984)

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Moench has a lengthy conversation between Alfred and Bruce about the state of affairs–Jason, Bruce’s love life, a little with Batman–and it’s a decent scene. Even though much of the content is absurd, with Bruce mentioning he hadn’t thought through the legalities of being Jason’s guardian, it’s a good enough scene.

The main plot has to do with a group of thieves masquerading as party monsters–they dress as monsters for rich people’s parties. It’s decent enough stuff. Newton and Alcala do a fine job on the art. The best might be this mid-flight dive Batman takes out of a window though. Something about it is just very striking.

But there’s not much else to the issue. Jason gets a little moment where he’s rude to his new foster mother, Vicki and Julia bicker. Same old, same old.

The villains aren’t much good either.

Still, not terrible.

CREDITS

Nightmares, Inc.; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 375 (September 1984)

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It’s not the best issue. It’s maybe the weakest art I’ve seen from Don Newton (with Alfredo Alcala inking him). A lot of the art is still amazing–most of it probably, but there’s also a lack of detail in a lot of places. Not like Alcala’s rushed because he still over-inks a couple faces. Very strange art this issue. Unfinished or over-cooked.

But then there’s the story itself. Or, how Doug Moench tells it. He tells it in a rhyming homage to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s hilarious and wonderful. The opening is good and poetic–Moench’s narration, I mean–but later on it gets funny. It’s extremely creative and Moench has some great couplets.

There’s also some good stuff with Vicki and Alfred’s daughter teaming up for an adventure. Moench writes them better than Jason and Bruce; he hasn’t found a good chemistry for them.

CREDITS

The Glacier Under Gotham!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 374 (August 1984)

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This issue is particularly strong. There’s great art from Newton and Alcala on the Penguin, but there’s also a lot of good stuff from Moench.

After many issues of ignoring the supporting cast, he’s got great scenes for Vicki Vale, Alfred’s daughter and even Bullock. The Vicki Vale one is the best though–the Penguin comes in looking for her to take his picture as a promotion of his crime spree; she’s the best photographer in the city, it’s going to be art.

It also sounds a lot like the Tim Burton Batman movie with a character change.

Moench nearly brings Bruce Wayne in, something he’s not comfortable doing normally. It’s like Jason Todd was an addition to keep Bruce from having any actual stories. But here, there are a few hints Moench might change his approach.

Again, the art’s simply gorgeous. Newton and Alcala outdo themselves on this issue.

CREDITS

Pieces of Penguin!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 539 (June 1984)

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Bob Smith inking Don Newton is something to see. There’s almost an Eisner-like quality to the faces. It’s beautiful art on the feature.

But Moench’s writing is awesome too, whether it’s the main plot line with Batman teaming up with the Rocky stand-in to hunt down a killer or Jason feeling bad he was so crappy to Alfred’s daughter. Moench actually asks a bit of the reader–Vicki Vale figures in, but she hasn’t even had an appearance recently–but the scenes pay off.

The big boxing finale is only okay, however. Something about the way Batman stands down doesn’t play right. The epilogue’s very strong though. Moench’s trying hard to do something special with the comic.

Sadly, slapped on to this ambition is another odd Cavalieri’s Green Arrow backup. Half of this one is dedicated to the evils of corporate journalism. Cavalieri just can’t make Ollie likable.

CREDITS

Boxing; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy. Green Arrow, The Devil You Don’t Know; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Shawn McManus; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Jeanine Casey. Letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 372 (June 1984)

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Moench retells Rocky with a handful of changes. Batman isn’t the biggest one, instead it’s how upfront Moench is about race. The champ’s black, the challenger is white and Moench talks about it length. It’s not just the boxers and their managers, it’s the regular people of Gotham. It’s kind of incredible.

And the majority of the issue doesn’t have anything to do with Batman. He gets something like three or five precent when Alfred’s daughter is jealous Bruce likes Vicki Vale more than her and then a little thing about Jason wearing Dr. Fang’s fake tooth.

Otherwise, the issue is about the boxers. Moench introduces three lead characters–boxers, trainer–and gives them a bunch ambitious scenes together. His conversations don’t always come off. For instance, the hardest talk about race pushes too much on honesty.

But he always tries. Moench doesn’t wimp away from the issues he’s raising.

CREDITS

What Price, the Prize?; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; letterer and inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 371 (May 1984)

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It’s a goofy issue to be sure, with Moench writing Catman as compulsively using words beginning with cat-. It gets annoying fast, probably before Batman even knows up.

As for the Batman and Robin development, there isn’t much to it. Instead, Moench concentrates on some subplot work with Alfred’s daughter maybe liking Bruce, which is icky, and Vicki Vale gets a brief appearance. Dr. Fang comes back for a moment too.

Moench’s Batman is a lot lighter. He’s looking forward to a new case, he jokes about the big street fight from the last issue. Then, once Catman reveals himself the villain, he’s “serious.” Or Robin keeps thinking about how he’s serious. It’s like Moench can’t decide how to characterize him. It’s Batman but Batman never gets to run the comic.

And Jason figuring out where Catman is going to strike from something at school just sounds stupid.

Odd stuff.

CREDITS

Nine Cradles of Death; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 370 (April 1984)

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Moench certainly does have an interesting take on Bruce Wayne–he ignores Jason, who is trying to fill him in on important Batman and Robin business, because he’s trying to score with Alfred’s daughter.

In front of Alfred. It’s exceptionally seedy and kind of funny. Moench opens the issue with Robin out on patrol by himself (doesn’t make sense, but whatever) so Batman is never really the protagonist this issue. Instead, Moench sticks with Jason throughout. It’s an interesting viewpoint, even if it’s a little silly at times.

And then Bullock reveals himself–it’s not a surprise–and there’s a huge action sequence with Batman and Robin fighting like fifty thugs. Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, fifty thugs. It looks fantastic. It doesn’t make much sense and it doesn’t matter one bit. The art’s so good, Moench can practically do anything.

And his villain, Dr. Fang, proves it. He’s super lame.

CREDITS

Up Above the Sin So High…; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 369 (March 1984)

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Moench ends on a literal rough point–Batman smacking Deadshot around for information. The scene just feels wrong, maybe because it doesn’t seem like Deadshot should just reveal the information after one hit.

The issue opens with Alfred and his daughter on the run from Deadshot. This section is the best part of the comic, even though Moench drops too many hints about it being Deadshot after them. The cover kind of gives it away.

Batman shows up around halfway through to help them. At that point, Alfred and the daughter take a back seat to Batman going through all the clues. The clues lead to Deadshot and then Moench does these crazy thought balloons where he tries to explain both men’s motivations. It’s more for him, trying to justify their actions.

Not many subplots–Bullock maybe going dirty again, probably not.

Alcala goes overboard inking; otherwise the art’s good.

CREDITS

Target Practice; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 368 (February 1984)

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It’s a very simple issue, but Doug Moench really does pace it all out beautifully. It’s goofy even–Moench hasn’t got down how to get his superheroes not sound silly when talking about being superheroes–but it is beautifully paced. The issue features Jason Todd’s first two nights as Robin, which end in tragedy.

Pre or post-Crisis Jason Todd was apparently always a lot of trouble (more like the writers finally realized how nuts it was to have a kid running around beating people up). There’s also a cameo from Dick Grayson and Moench, along with artists Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala, figure out how to turn it into a great guest appearance.

Even with iffy dialogue. There’s just so much texture to the characters’ interplay.

The art’s fantastic, the pacing’s fantastic, the dialogue’s problematic… it’s a pretty darn good comic. Except maybe the cliffhanger, Moench tries too hard.

CREDITS

A Revenge of Rainbows; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 306 (December 1978)

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Conway does a riff on High Noon with Batman protecting a drug dealer from the vigilante, the Black Spider. Because Conway keeps all Batman’s plans from the reader, it does have some successful plot twists.

Except maybe when Batman falls down the entire Wayne Foundation tree and lives. The only real damage is to his costume–the cowl and pants survive, but it’s shirtless Batman for the final showdown. Very, very odd.

Calnan continues to be ambitious, particularly during action scenes and they still don’t come off. But it’s not a bad feature.

Rozakis’s backup, with Batman trying to discover the identity of his master blackmailer, is pretty good. It ends unsatisfactorily for Batman, which one has to assume would happen a lot. There are some great summary panels from Newton too.

I think the backup might have more subplots than the feature… Conway’s story is professional, Rozakis’s is passionate.

CREDITS

Night of Siege; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, John Calnan; colorist, Jerry Serpe. The Mystery Murderer of “Mrs. Batman”!; writer, Bob Rozakis; penciller, Don Newton; colorist, Adrienne Roy. Inker, Dave Hunt; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, E. Nelson Bridwell and Julius Schwartz; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 305 (November 1978)

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There’s something off about the art in the feature story. John Calnan is actually really ambitious–interesting composition, lots of dynamic movement–but none of it works. There’s no depth; someone’s hand–gesturing–will look affixed to his or her face.

Not sure if it’s inker Dave Hunt or Calnan, but since Hunt does all right inking the backup, I’m assuming Calnan.

Gerry Conway writes the feature. It’s Batman versus terrorists with a subplot about Gotham millionaires losing their fortunes. Are these two plots somehow related? Sadly, yes. Actually, Conway pulls off the connection relatively well, he just has a goofy resolution for the terrorists. There’s the reality of a terrorist threat and the unreality of a giant slot machine.

Bob Rozakis’s backup has beautiful pencils from Don Newton and goes through Batman’s investigative process. It’s pretty cool, with Batman following leads without them panning out.

Incredibly weak cliffhanger though.

CREDITS

Death-Gamble of a Darknight Detective!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, John Calnan; colorist, Jerry Serpe. With This Ring Find Me Dead!; writer, Bob Rozakis; penciller, Don Newton; colorist, Adrienne Roy. Inker, Dave Hunt; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, E. Nelson Bridwell and Julius Schwartz; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 367 (January 1984)

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Moench makes an endless amount of strange narrative choices this issue. Only a couple of them are bad, but the rest might go either way.

The lesser bad one is how he handles Poison Ivy’s return. The issue is a direct sequel to her last appearance but there’s no flashback and almost no explanation of the previous events.

The worse bad one is the lame soft cliffhanger. Bruce brings Jason along on patrol and calls him Robin, even though Bruce previously said he couldn’t be called Robin. Big yawn. Moench’s fumbling the pair every issue now. He’s pacing it all wrong.

The strange bits include Bruce’s lack of interest in Alfred’s problems, Gordon’s recovery and the continued presence of Vicki Vale. Moench seems to be building these elements towards more importance, but he’s not giving any hints.

It’s a shame he’s not as effortlessly subtle with Bruce and Jason.

Batman 366 (December 1983)

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While this issue isn’t bad–the Newton and Alcala artwork is fabulous as always–all the things Moench has been playing fast and loose with build up and collapse here.

The first example is the Joker. Here, Moench’s Joker is a self-aware loon, out to have fun while he kills people and torments Batman. Only he doesn’t really kill anyone so there’s no danger. He’s just acting like a twit… one with a deep understanding of Guatemalan politics.

Next is the whole Jason Todd thing. This issue features Jason Todd in costume, freaking Batman out (because he thought Dick suddenly shrank, apparently) and another argument. There’s an argument every issue between Bruce and Jason about it; Moench’s drug it out way too long at this point.

It’s also unbelievable Jason could leave the country on his own.

However, the two subplots Moench’s been nursing–Gordon and Alfred–are blooming.

Batman 365 (November 1983)

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Lame cover and predictable villain reveal aside, this issue is pretty good. It’s Batman meets Indiana Jones, with Batman jetting down to South America to save Vicki Vale, who’s on assignment.

Moench takes the time to work on his Bruce and Jason storyline, which is mostly just Bruce giving in on the argument. Though, as he’s Jason’s guardian, it seems odd he should leave him unattended (Alfred’s off on his still unrevealed subplot).

There’s also enough time for some more on the Gordon storyline. And Moench’s trying to make Harvey Bullock sympathetic, but he’s cried wolf too much. It’s impossible to believe. That sequence, which should feature Bruce’s despondence over Gordon’s coma, goes too fast. Moench has trouble juggling the human and superhero elements in the book.

The end, Batman in the jungle, is fine. It’s Newton and Alcala. It’s absurd content, but beautifully illustrated.

The issue works surprisingly well.

Batman 364 (October 1983)

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In hindsight, there’s not much mystery to Doug Moench’s new villain. He has a limited pool of suspects–though it’s seemingly larger–but his execution of the investigation is so strong it doesn’t matter.

The issue opens with Jason Todd, run off with the old circus, feeling depressed. He’s investigating a series of home invasions in the towns the circus visits. It almost seems like the issue will be his, but Moench contrives to bring Batman in. It’s hard to get upset, because Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala do an amazing job bringing Batman to the circus.

The final half or so of the issue is just a long chase scene. Batman and Jason separately chasing the bad guy. Moench loses track of Jason for a little too long, but it’s a fantastic sequence.

Moench paces out the ending well. He devises a final, unexpected twist and a solid cliffhanger.

Batman 363 (September 1983)

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Moench gets a lot done this issue. Primarily, he introduces Nocturna (an astronomer turned ghostly pale through radiation and, of course, now a criminal), gets her flirting with Bruce and fighting with Batman. Oh, wait, there’s also the continuing Vicki Vale drama and Jason Todd getting ready to leave since he can’t play Robin.

And more with Bullock and Gordon. Even a passing mention of Gordon’s health problems (but just passing).

What’s even better is how well Moench writes these scenes. He and Newton make Nocturna believable in her hyperbole–she’d be overcompensating to make up for the physical changes. Bruce’s inability to bond with Jason is also salient. Moench’s not spending a lot of time showing his Bruce Wayne, but he is clearly defining the character.

The art’s outstanding. Alcala and Newton jibe here, from the first page it’s masterful.

The issue’s strong. Moench juggles a lot and succeeds.

Batman 362 (August 1983)

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I was expecting more from the art, with Alfredo Alcala inking Newton this issue. The art’s still good, but Batman’s talking heads scenes with Gordon are off a little. Newton and Alcala position Batman awkwardly in the space.

This issue is a Riddler issue, plain and simple. It opens with Edward Nigma figuring out a good riddle for Batman and Batman dealing with him. Moench is muted when it comes to both exposition and character development. While Bullock’s attack on Gordon’s career continues, there’s zilch about Gordon’s heart condition. I wonder if he just magically got better at some point off page.

As for Batman, there’s a mention of Jason Todd at the beginning, but Moench keeps the story tight. Batman and Gordon are after the Riddler; there’s no time for anything else.

The Riddler’s big riddle isn’t great (it’s lackluster after its first part), but the issue’s still solid.

Batman 361 (July 1983)

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Here’s the problem with Man-Bat stories. They’re basically all the same (at least in this era). Langstrom screws up, becomes Man-Bat, does something bad but probably not fatal to anyone and then Batman cures him.

The details are different, sure. For example, in this issue, Man-Bat grabs Jason Todd so Bruce is really peeved. But he doesn’t try to kill Man-Bat. He comes around and realizes Langstrom just needs the cure.

The most interesting thing in the issue is the last page, when Gordon gets stuck with Harvey Bullock as an assistant. It’s pre-cartoon Bullock and he’s a real heel. It’s compelling.

As for the rest, the unoriginality can’t compete with Newton. His Man-Bat is both physical and frightening; there are some beautiful action sequences.

Moench’s writing is good too. He relies on exposition a little much, but otherwise he does well.

It’s fine.

Batman 360 (June 1983)

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I can’t tell for sure, but it doesn’t seem like Doug Moench’s thrilled to have Batman saddled with Jason Todd. He writes the kid sympathetically–this issue is set approximately a month after his parents died–but Moench can’t wait to leave him behind at Wayne Manor.

Batman heads off on an urgent case and Jason doesn’t make another appearance.

The issue has a great pace. It opens with a teaser of the villain, moves to the next morning, then the rest of the issue takes place over the day. There’s a lot of Batman in the daylight (so much there’s exposition about how effective he comes off) before Moench tightens up the pace.

The villain’s fairly weak and the C plot with Gordon’s heart troubles is too obvious, but it’s pretty otherwise good. Don Newton comes up with some excellent action layouts and he matches Moench’s procedural pace well.

Detective Comics 526 (May 1983)

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It’s a gorgeous issue. Newton and Alcala doing Batman’s rogues gallery is possibly an unsurpassable event. Maybe eight pages in, they have this incomparable Joker close-up. DC ought to reprint the issue oversized just so one can really look at it.

But it’s also a really good issue. Besides Jason Todd’s endless thought balloons–not bad, just too many of them–it’s a perfect Batman comic. Conway splits the action–Batman, Talia and Catwoman go one way, Batgirl and Robin go another. They meet at the end with Jason Todd, in a Robin outfit, joining.

Batman with the two women makes for good stuff (oh, Vicki Vale gets dismissed without a thought from Bruce), since they’re all very aware of each other. Similarly, Robin and Batgirl work well as a team.

The end, with Bruce, Dick and Jason Todd, brought a tear to my eye. It’s way too simple, but also undeniably effective.

CREDITS

All My Enemies Against Me!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 524 (March 1983)

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Once again, if Bruce, Dick and Alfred weren’t stupid enough to leave the door unlocked with Vicki Vale, Jim Gordon and a bunch of strangers in Wayne Manor, they wouldn’t have to kill Jason Todd’s mom for finding out Bruce is Batman….

Oh, wait, some of that statement is incorrect. I guess they don’t decide to kill her, just Dick is going to talk her into keeping it a secret. Thank goodness she’s going to get killed in an issue or two anyway.

The story is otherwise indistinct. Killer Croc shoots the Squid, which is a sad sendoff for Conway’s Eisner homage, though it’s not like the character worked in a serious setting.

Beautiful art from Newton and Giordano makes it a fine issue… though the ending leaves something to be desired.

The Novick art is better than usual on the Green Arrow backup, which is too silly for words.

CREDITS

Deathgrip; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Dick Giordano; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein. Mob Rule!, Part Two: Heat of the Moment!; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Irv Novick; inker, Ron Randall; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, Phil Felix. Editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 357 (March 1983)

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Okay, now I get why Conway’s wasting time with Dick going to the circus–it’s to introduce Jason Todd (pre-Crisis Jason Todd, who has the same origin as Dick, but blond hair).

What’s funny about that story is how out of touch Batman is with the Gotham underworld–Killer Croc (who I don’t think Batman even knows about yet) is shaking down businesses for protection money and it’s off Batman’s radar? Those late nights with Vicki Vale must be taking their toll.

Otherwise, Conway spends the majority of the issue on reintroducing his Eisner homage, the Squid, as Gotham’s new crime boss. It’s strange to see the Newton and Alcala art (which looks more like Gene Colan than Newton with any other inker besides Alcala) realize such a strange-looking villain in an otherwise realistic approach.

The issue’s fine… though, again, Conway’s plot relies on Batman being moronically overconfident.

CREDITS

Squid; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 356 (February 1983)

batman_356.jpgIt’s a somewhat anti-climatic end to the Hugo Strange storyline Conway had been working on for… a couple years? Hugo shows up, back from the dead, with an army of androids, and Batman doesn’t bat an eye.

The art is so gorgeous, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not sure if Giordano is my favorite inker for Newton, but he does a great job with it. The issue even has a full page panel, the first I can remember from Newton, and it works… the art makes the story work.

The problem is with the pacing. Conway didn’t develop Strange as a villain, just as a shock guest star. So this issue needs to be beautiful to see, because the story is really just a perfunctory aside.

Though there is Bruce suspecting he’s probably lying to Vicki about his feelings for her. I like Conway acknowledging Bruce’s indecisiveness; it brings humanity.

CREDITS

The Double Life of Hugo Strange; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Dick Giordano; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 355 (January 1983)

2817.jpgSo does Conway ever explain why Selina has gone nuts? Nope. He resolves it all in a page–a beautifully illustrated one–where Bruce basically admits he was only taking up with Vicki (who Catwoman hospitalizes early in the issue) because Selina left him.

It’s a very problematic issue because Conway does lots of it well. It’s Batman and Catwoman fighting, but it’s about Bruce and Selina. There’s even some good stuff about Dick changing his mind about Selina and so on.

It’s just too bad Conway couldn’t have incorporated the crime fighting Catwoman backups… and maybe made she and Bruce’s story independent of the Vicki Vale stuff.

The art is mostly excellent, but there are some strange weak points. There’s the whole sequence with Gordon getting his job back… it doesn’t look right. The sublime Alcala inks aren’t there.

The issue ends on a lovely panel, so it gets a pass.

CREDITS

Never Scratch a Cat; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Nicola Cuti and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 354 (December 1982)

Conway’s starting to wrap up his big storyline and, again, it’s bumpy. He’s got Vicki Vale rushing off to see Bruce–Bruce who hasn’t thought of Vicki since she first showed up two dozen issues ago (she’s been around as a plot twist)–not to mention Hugo Strange showing up at the end, back from the dead.

But the big problem is the resolution of the political situation. It’s Batman versus the cops, round two, and this time the police commissioner can’t shut up about how they need to kill Batman to keep him quiet. Again, pretty sure Batman has someone he could call about corrupt politicians taking over a major metropolitan city and killing people. I don’t know, maybe Superman? Does Batman have Superman’s phone number?

But it’s Newton and Alcala so who cares if the story doesn’t make any sense? From the first page, it’s a visual delight.

CREDITS

Showdown; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editors, Carl Gafford and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 520 (November 1982)

5625.jpg

You know what… I’m not sure I’ve seen a better inker on Newton than Alfredo Alcala. The art this issue is exceptional. It’s so wonderful, it makes up for Conway’s leap off the judgement bridge.

The story itself isn’t bad. Batman is putting together all the clues about Rupert Thorne, as Thorne hires Dr. Thirteen to ghost-bust Hugo Strange. Then Batman has to just Deadshot out of prison, which I guess provides the issue’s action sequence.

For whatever reason, Conway writes it in second person, the narration describing each character’s thoughts to him (Vicki Vale doesn’t get that treatment). It’s absolutely horrendous. I think Conway’s doing it to get the tension up, since his lengthy arc is about to end… but it utterly fails.

Thank goodness for the art.

The Catwoman backup is genial. It’s got nice Gil Kane art and Rozakis’s script is fine. While filler, it’s got potential.

CREDITS

The Haunting of “Boss” Thorne; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda. The Cat and the Conover Caper!; writer, Bob Rozakis; artist, Gil Kane; colorist, Tom Ziuko; letterer, Adam Kubert. Editors, Carl Gafford and Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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