Friday, May 31, 2013

What Is and What Should Never Be: Detective Comics 569

Detective Comics #569 (December 1986)
"Catch as Catscan!"
Mike W. Barr-Alan Davis/Paul Neary

Doug:  You like Alan Davis?  I like Alan Davis.  Although today's (and tomorrow's -- yep, 2-parter in 2-days) fare falls outside our normal Bronze Age parameters I'm doing it anyway.  Who needs parameters?  I am reading/scanning from the original issues, but it was my early-2013 acquisition of Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis that reminded me of this story.  Let's check out the pretty pictures then.

Doug:  We pick it up on a foggy night at the Gotham Medical Supply warehouse.  If there's one thing I love/hate about DC, it's the goons that we often find in the employ of do-badders.  Of course, this was never more accentuated than on the 1966-era Batman TV show.  So what we have here are nine guys dressed in yellow cat costumes (apparently there's no shame in a) being a crook or b) dressing like an idiot).  A voice from above tells these guys that the jig is up and the camera pans upward to show the Batman and a very young Robin.  This was in the days shortly after a young teen named Jason Todd had assumed the mantle of Robin, but before the post-"Batman: Year One" revamp when his character was totally changed to become an obnoxious, even underhanded personality.  This Jason Todd was a throwback to the Golden Age Dick Grayson, and it was sort of refreshing!  The Dynamic Duo engage and make very short work of the henchmen -- all except one fellow, who grabs a passing security guard and holds a revolver to his head.  Batman simply invites the guy to do what he feels he has to do -- to Robin's protest.  Batman lets the cat burglar back away with his hostage, right out the door -- Batman smiles and tells Robin about their "ace in the hole".  On the other side of the door, our thug is much dismayed to find his former boss:  Catwoman!  She makes quick work of him, and then turns in the whole gang to the police.  On a rooftop a short time later, she cuddles up to Batman and asks if he believes she's gone straight.  Batman tells her that he has no doubt; it's whether or not they can have a relationship "in their line of work" that is the issue.  Catwoman stalks off, and Batman and Robin take to the skies.

Doug:  We cut to the Jester Novelty Company, where the Joker and his gang are holed up.  It seems that the gang hasn't pulled a job in months, and the boys are concerned about a lack of leadership from the head guy.  Alan Davis' Joker is a weird-looking version, reminding me somewhat of Daredevil's foe the Owl.  Maybe it's just that '80's hair.  The Joker tears up plans for a bank heist and says he's lost his edge, his zeal.  Just then, a big man on a motorized trike races into the room and up to the Joker's desk.  Unfurling a newspaper, the Joker is shown a headline exclaiming the new "Dynamic Trio".  A cacophony of maniacal laughter, such as we would all expect, suddenly enveloped the room.  The Joker has his edge back.

Doug:  In the Batcave Bruce and Jason work on different maneuvers.  This initial panel is outstanding -- there's a real Dick Sprang vibe to this whole story, from plot to visuals.  I looked up the publication date of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight and found that the first issue was cover-dated March 1986.  I questioned myself how this story could be so light in the wake of Miller's revolutionary treatment of the characters.  In hindsight, Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, and Paul Neary may have told the last breezy Batman stories before the post-Crisis version of the Dark Knight became entrenched.  Anyway, as our two protagonists train, they are interrupted by Alfred -- dinner, after all, is served.  But, just as Jay begins to sink his utensils into the pot roast, the Bat Signal lights up the sky and away they go.  Arriving at Captain Gordon's office, Robin is taken aback to see Catwoman already there.  Gordon tells Batman that since it's apparent that they've been working together he let her stay.  The Joker has left a calling card and a clue, and all assembled attempt to decipher it.  Once a plausible conclusion is reached, Robin's practically out the door.  Until Batman brusquely grabs him and warns him to "never do that again!"

Doug:  Cut to the library, where the Joker and his gang are about to steal an antique joke book.  Of course the Batman and friends arrive to catch them in the act and the obligatory scuffle breaks out.  Robin continues to quip and pun -- it's a little annoying, but I kept putting in the context I raised earlier, that this is perhaps the last time we'd see a Robin with this spirit for quite some time.  Make of that what you will.  As Batman and Robin take out goon after goon, Catwoman finds herself face-to-face with the Clown Prince of Crime himself.  Alan Davis' Joker is not only a little off facially, but he is one lanky dude!  I like the outcome.  For whatever reason, Selina tries to reason with the Joker -- it's obvious she's lost her edge.  He fires a strong electric charge from his cane and drops her.  Back in the main part of the library, an ugly dressed like Rambo jumps out from the stacks with a large gun.  Robin, full of bravado, walks right toward the guy.  But when he fires it's not bullets that come flying but some white sticky substance.  It begins to constrict immediately as Robin struggles.  Batman, also enwrapped, deduces that it's Chinese Finger Puzzles and will continue to squeeze until the life is gone from our heroes.  At this point the Joker walks by, Selina in a cage.

Doug:  We scene shift again, to a kangaroo court/talk show being convened by the Joker.  He introduces a Dr. Moon, who claims that man is an animal, with a brain that can be molded like clay.  The Joker has secured a catscan machine, and the doctor intends to use it to reprogram the mind of the Catwoman.  The doctor informs the assembled that this will not occur without some large degree of pain, and he'd like the subject awake -- the Joker says "you're my kind of guy."  We cut back to the library, where Batman has determined that the only way to free himself from the Chinese Puzzle is to completely relax.  Through intense concentration he is able to do so and to free himself; a quick slice of the batarang and Robin is free as well.  But what of Catwoman?  She awakens and begins to curse the Joker... when the doctor engages the reprogramming machine.

Doug:  I chose the title for this post while mowing the lawn (for the first time this spring -- wrote this back on April 21!).  Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" came over the iPod, and I began to ruminate on the relationship between Batman and Catwoman through the years.  Of course there has always been the sexual tension between the two, whether in the comics, on the television show, the movies -- wherever.  It's part of the chemistry between these two oft-adversaries.  And then I was thinking of my experience with these two, which as I determined was very much shaded by the All-Star Comics revival in the Bronze Age.  There, as written in and around the All-Star Squadron, the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne had married the Earth-2 Selina Kyle, and they'd had a daughter.  Of course, she became one of the break-out stars of the series and got her own back-up feature in several different magazines.  I'm speaking of the Huntress, Helena Wayne.  So as I graduated from college and was fully immersed in the "Crisis" and Batman: The Dark Knight, I felt that this story was an opportunity for "our" Batman, he of Earth-1, to have the same sort of settling down that his Golden Age counterpart had enjoyed.  However, once the Joker entered the fray, it became "...what should never be".  You won't have to wait long to find out how this one turns out.  As I stated near the top, I'm coming right back tomorrow for the conclusion.  You know the drill -- same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!


Mike said...

Doug - my only comment so far is to echo you on Alan Davis' Joker being really "weird-looking". I don't like it at all ... but his Catwoman has to be the most gorgeous Catwoman I've ever seen!

I always liked how he drew Batman too, especially with the flowing cape. I'm betting his Batman art had some influence on one of my Detective title favs - Norm Breyfogle.

Doug said...

Mike --

The Joker has always been drawn as a long, angular figure, but Davis really stretches that character trait. I think he also adds an effeminate air about the Joker that throws me off a bit, as I don't generally think of him in that way. Aside from that, the rest of the book looks fantastic.


Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug! Haven't read this, but just a few comments anyway, just because I'm also a big fan of Alan Davis (and Mike, pretty much any woman character drawn by Davis is the most gorgeous version of that character ever). It's really unfortunate that he left Detective after the first issue of the Batman: Year 2 story.
Otherwise, I'm a really big fan of Mike Barr on Batman: together with Alan Brennert, he's written several of my very favorite Bat stories. It's too bad Barr didn't become the trend-setter for the way Batman stories were supposed to be written, rather than Miller.

Doug said...

Thanks, Edo!

RE: Batman: Year Two. As Todd McFarlane was not yet the star he'd become, I recall being very disappointed to crack open that second issue to find that Davis/Neary had left. The mini-series finished well enough, but many of us have remarked that artist-swapping midstream has always been a major pet peeve!

And yes, Mike Barr really wrote a fun Batman, with (as I remarked) a real throwback feel to it.


Anonymous said...

Yes. This Batman has a very classic look and feel to it (though I know that the word "classic" is a shibboleth). It is what feels like "classic" to me, I guess.

And the Joker is only vaguely recognizable!

Tangent: So what range of dates do you guys generally work with for "the Bronze Age"? While I know I am the exception, I am one of those people who is generous and willing to include everything through the late 80s as the Bronze Age - personally, I think the popularity of the Image Comics guys and the founding of that company is the best cut-off (which is even later). So 1970 to 1990 works for me (plus I like round numbers). :)

Some historians use the term "The Long 18th Century" to denote that sometimes you cannot easily delineate time periods - I call my way of looking at it "The Long Bronze Age". ;)

Doug said...

Mr. Oyola --

Karen and I generally use 1970-85 as "our" Bronze Age. Over at Diversions of the Groovy Kind, ol' Groove uses 1980 as his cut-off point.

It's so subjective -- the beginning and ending points can be argued everywhere. I've seen some people argue that the BA actually began at Marvel with their expansion in 1968; to me, Kirby's departure for DC seems a good starting point (1970). I guess one could argue that much of the creativity and envelope-pushing that is such a hallmark of the era ended at Marvel in the late '70's, roughly around the same time as the so-called "DC Implosion". I think the Crisis is a nice stopping point.

But then there's the advent of the direct market, the mini-series, etc.


Thanks for the comment!


Garett said...

Fun review Doug! I was looking at the Alan Davis Batman hardcover book just yesterday--is BAB beaming out secret messages to its readers?? : ) I think I'll go back and pick that book up. Now was that my thought, or...?

There was another by Davis I remember liking, JLA: The Nail. His curvy style is great for drawing women, not as much for the guys.

Karen said...

I love Alan Davis' style, but I think he looks better with a heavier inker.

I also like a Batman who isn't a psychotic jerk. I miss that guy.

As far as Bronze Age definitions go, it's so subjective, isn't it? Doug and I are in pretty fair agreement on what we want to call Bronze Age here, but that doesn't mean we don't sometimes talk about stuff that falls either before or after. It all probably comes down to your age and what you grew up reading and enjoying.

I look on BAB as a place where we can share the stuff that brought us joy -what am I saying -that BRINGS us joy!

Doug said...

Garett --

Not only is JLA: The Nail a good story, but if you get the chance to pick up Superboy's Legion it is worth your time and money as well. In fact, it's worth a re-read for me this summer!


Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, I think Davis draws both men and women equally well; to me, he's one of those artists who draw everybody/everything really beautifully.
Doug: I have both The Nail (both parts, in fact) and Superboy's Legion, and just recently I found myself thinking that I should really re-read those soon!

As for the ongoing debate as to just what constitutes the Bronze Age, I understand entirely why 1985 is taken as its end, although like ol' Groove, I think 1980 is a better cut off point. As for its beginning, as I've said it in other comment threads here, I think at Marvel the Bronze Age started in the late '60s (when Roy Thomas and a few other young guns started doing more of the heavy lifting on the writing side, and Big John, Gentlemen Gene, etc. really came into their own as artists on various titles). 1970 seems like a good starting point for DC and Charlton, though.

Doug said...

DC's Silver Age is far different temporally from Marvel's, don't you think? Of course it begins in 1956 when the Golden Age heroes get revamped, but after a time in the early '60's they sort of go on "coast mode" until the "new look" Batman, Neal Adams arrives, etc. Would you say that their Bronze Age began around 1966, or is it something different altogether?

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, good point about DC: the Silver Age really was initiated by them in the 1950s. However, I think most of what DC was publishing remained pretty firmly Silver Age until about 1970 or so (even though that veritable harbinger of a new era, Neal Adams, had already started doing some artwork for them before that).
By contrast, my personal view is that Marvel showed up late to the party (in '61) but then basically launched the Bronze Age by the late '60s.

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

I really believe everyone either subscribes to the popular answer or holds a private opinion regarding the Age beginnings and ends.., so it's all good for discussion but you'll never really get a consensus.

DC..? Silver started with Infantino's Flash, Bronze started with GL/GA's adventures, probably ending with last issue of either Crisis or Flash.

Marvel..? Silver easily started with FF #1, Bronze started with Kree-Skrull and was in full-swing with Gwen's death, with no particular ending other than either Marvel Team Up final issue (#150) or 'Secret Wars' last issue, both 1985.

And since I wasn't collecting much by then (or managed to toss out everything from that time..) anyways, it doesn't really matter to me.

Anonymous said...

I look on BAB as a place where we can share the stuff that brought us joy -what am I saying -that BRINGS us joy!

That line made me smile. Thanks Karen!


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