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!