Sunday, June 25, 2017

Batman #354 (1982)


Batman #354 (December, 1982)
"Showdown"
Writer - Gerry Conway
Penciller - Don Newton
Inker - Alfredo Alcala
Letterer - Ben Oda
Colorist - Adrienne Roy
Editor - Len Wein
Cover Price: $0.60

Sometimes the preamble is the hardest thing to write.  It's just a sentence/paragraph... or a few, but there are some days where, I dunno... I just don't have a whole lot to say about a particular issue other than, "hey, here's a book I really wanted to read and chat about"... and, er... here we are!

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We open with Batman tearing down a wanted poster with his image on it.  This story is occurring during a time in which Peter Pauling, associate/puppet to "Boss" Rupert Thorne, is Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department.  Under his watch, Batman has been not only stripped of his GCPD Special Deputy status... he's been outlawed!  Former Commissioner James Gordon was relieved of his duties by Mayor Hamilton Hill, who is also in Thorne's pocket.  We join these two discussing the "bedlam" making Batman "Public Enemy Number One" has wrought... and speak of the devil, Batman just happens to show up to chat'em both up.


Batman's not there to fight... he just wants to let them know that he knows they (and Boss Thorne) hired Deadshot to kill him.  Pauling pulls a gun, and Batman's all "Go ahead and shoot me", knowing full well he won't.  He warns them that justice will be done... and also suggests, should he return... he may not do so alone.  After Batman leaves, Pauling pushes the panic button on his desk (that every corporate baddie seems to have), exclaiming that Batman's gotta die... which begs the question, why didn't he just pull the trigger?  I mean under this regime, Batman's looked at as an outlaw... nobody would hold it against the office.


Outside, Batman is swinging away.  The Gotham City Officers refuse to shoot Batman without first giving him the opportunity to surrender.  I suppose when you work side by side with an organization long enough, brotherhoods are forged.  All but one of the officers agree... and he unloads his rifle in Batman's direction, hitting him right between his shoulder blades!  Our man plummets into the alley below, however, by the time the police arrive he's already gone.


We shift scenes to Gotham's "Doctor's Row" Greytowers, and the home of the late Dr. Hugo Strange.  "Boss" Thorne, who at present is being haunted by the spirit of Hugo Strange... the man he'd killed, is here to take a look around the facilities.  His tour guide is Doctor Thirteen.  Upon making their way through the building's false front and into the lab, Thorne is greeted by...


Hugo Strange's buffed-out ghost!  Or, is it?  Doctor Thirteen flips the lights on, causing the "apparition" to vanish.  He notices a loose panel in the wall... removing it reveals a portable hologram projector... inside which is a Hugo Strange-flavored prism.  They deduce that Thorne is certainly being messed with, however, not by a phantom.  Thirteen asks if there might be anyone "out to get him"... and the first names Rupert can think of are Commissioner Pauling and Mayor Hill!  This way they might keep their names and reputations clean.


We next shift to the Batcave, where Alfred is about to deliver Bat-Captive, Floyd Lawton his... I dunno, dinner, I suppose.  Either that or an early breakfast.  Lawton is wearing blinder goggles, and hasn't the foggiest idea where he might be.  He's in a cell, raving... open to the chance to cut a deal with whoever is holding him there.  Before Alfred can serve his meal, a bloody Batman drags himself in.


We now move to Vicki Vale's office where her private phone line begins to ring.  She knows there's only one person who has that number... and it's Bruce Wayne.  She answers and is surprised to hear a woman's voice on the other end.  Catw-- er, the caller threatens her to stay away from Mr. Wayne.


Back with the "Boss", he is lamenting the fact that his two confidants, who he helped put in high places, have turned against him... and bemoans his own naivety, for if the situations were reversed, he might have done the same thing to save his own skin.  His internal monologue is interrupted by... Batman?  Well, if we're using the captions to identify him, we could call him "the tall man".  He stands by silently while Thorne... pretty much confesses everything.


I should probably mention that upon seeing "the tall man", Thorne threw down his decanter of brandy... right in front of the roaring fireplace.  If you're thinking that was a stupid thing to do... you'd be right!  Before we know it, the room is engulfed in flames, and by the time "the tall man" gets his bearings, "Boss" Thorne's already flown the coop.


While the fire department is dealing with the raging inferno, we shift scenes back to our pals Pauling and Hill.  The Commish is reading Officer McClosky (the one that told the officers to stand down earlier) the riot act.  Mayor Hill, it would appear, is starting to regret getting wrapped up in this mess.  Suddenly, a soaking wet (it is a rainy Gotham night) "Boss" Thorne arrives, and he's pointing his piece right at the perceived turncoats.  The Mayor pleads with him to calm down... but Thorne just ain't having none'a that.


And so, Thorne shoots Commissioner Peter Pauling... in the face!  Mayor Hill dives to the floor, and Officer McClosky fires a defensive round into the Boss's gut.  Thorne collapses to the floor just as "the tall man" arrives on the scene.


McClosky takes aim at "the tall man", but is kayoed for his troubles.  Mayor Hill pleads innocence in this whole mess... because, hell... it's not like Pauling's in the mood to dispute that, being dead and all.  Gotta say, for a dude who was shot in the face, he leaves a rather handsome (and clean) corpse!  The Mayor informs "the tall man" that he will reinstate his deputy status and drop all charges against him... further pinning the whole shebang on perforated Peter.


We wrap up with an epilogue.  "The tall man" calls in to Wayne Manor, and unmasks revealing himself to be... ya know, Robin... duh.  Not sure if unmasking in public is all that great an idea... but whattayagonnado?  It's also revealed that he was wearing a "bat wire" hoping to catch the corruptees in some self-incriminating chatter.

Dick: "Did I make a good stand-in for the Batman, Bruce?"
Bruce: "D-Did you... just take the cowl off in public?"

The epilogue, and the issue, concludes with the revelation that the person behind Thorne's descent into paranoia and mental-collapse was, in fact... the not-so-late (well, maybe late to dinner), Dr. Hugo Strange!


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I always enjoy a good "Batman vs. the Police" type story.  It's weird to see the Gotham City Police depicted as being corrupt (at least the Commish, anyway).  I'd always attributed GCPD corruption as a post-Crisis concept... like, Year One and beyond type'a thing.  It's always fun make new discoveries and come to the realization that my perceptions may have been clouded by a narrative rather than content.

I've read a few Batman stories from this time period, and am always impressed with their quality.  I've said it before (and, knowing me... I'll say it many more times) but in my younger days, I always discounted pre-Crisis DC (outside of New Teen Titans) as being interchangeable one-off stories with nebulous-at-best continuity between 'em.  Seeing the Batbooks as being so tightly knit really exemplifies to me how wrong I was.  This is a good thing in that it makes me really wanna "go deep" and read a whole lot more.

Now the issue itself... my Rupert Thorne experience was all based on the Animated Series.  If I recall, those were some of the less-fun episodes for me growing up, as they didn't normally feature any of the "big" bad guys.  I think Thorne works a whole lot better in the comics... and I really appreciate the way he was depicted in this story.  An illustration that someone so powerful can also be so fragile.  The more people you "use", the more you fear you yourself are being used.  Hugo Strange "apparitions" aside, this was a really neat study in paranoia... and, best of all... it didn't overstay its welcome.

I'd figure if this story was written today, we'd get three issues of Thorne standing by a window, looking into the rainy Gotham night... pondering.  We'd get skatey-eight hundred flashbacks to learn what makes him "tick"... we'd see that his father was mean to him growing up... told him he'd never amount to anything... maybe even took the belt to him a time or two.  By the end of it, we'd be sympathizing with the "Boss", and feel kinda gutted when he gets arrested.  The writer would fall in love with the character, and six months later he'd become a trusted confidant to the Batman.

Well, that paragraph kinda got away from me... ahem.  Like I said, the depiction of paranoia here was neat.  Now, let's add the "prism" of Hugo Strange.  This was skillfully done too... as it, in essence, removed Strange from the list of folks out to get Thorne.  Thorne was so tunnel-visioned on Hugo, that when he learned that he was being "haunted" by a hologram, his mind began racing.  He now needed to know who was not only behind the "hauntings", but also why anyone would be messing with him so.  Really nice bit of storytelling there, if not a touch convenient.

I still think it was kinda weird that Pauling didn't just kill Batman in the office... or, ya know... try to, and get socked in the face for his troubles.  Especially when just three panels after lowering his gun, he presses the "kill" button on his desk.  So weird.

Speaking of weird... Robin, baby... don't remove the cowl in public.  What are you thinking?  I know "we" (readers) needed the reveal... but c'mon, if there was anybody reading this who didn't figure it out, you really didn't deserve a reveal.  I mean, the captions were careful not to refer to him as "Batman" a single time... he was just "the tall man".

The art here is unbelievable.  Don Newton is an artist I've somehow slept on... but, damn I really enjoy his take on everything here.  He's just a great "Gotham" artist... hell, just a great artist, period.  This was a beautiful book... and it's added another line of "grab whatever you can by this artist" to my ever-growing list.

Overall... I had a lot of fun with this one, and I'm sure most Batfans would too.  For your convenience, this issue is available digitally... and if they ever get around to a Tales of the Batman: Don Newton, Volume 2 it might show up there too!

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