Detective Comics #554 (1985)

Detective Comics #554 (September, 1985)
“Port Passed”
“Crazy From the Heat, II: The Past is Prologue”
Writers – Doug Moench & Joey Cavalieri
Pencils – Klaus Janson & Jerome Moore
Inks – Bruce Patterson
Letters – Todd Klein & Bob Lappan
Colors – Shelley Eiber
Edits – Len Wein
Cover Price: $0.75

Hey, well there’s a pretty interesting cover, eh?  It’s almost like we saw its polar opposite a li’l while back…

Read on…

We open at Gotham Harbor, where Harvey Bullock has been called in to check on some weird activity concerning an ocean liner.  He is greeted by a pair of officers who report that it’s from Castellammare in Palermo, Sicily… and they claim to be importers of olive oil… and, get this, that they’ll blow up the bay if anyone gets close!  They’ve decided to quarantine the entire tub, just to be safe.  Just then, from outta the drink, rises a panicky individual.  He’s fresh off the tub, and attempts to warn about a pair of fellas who overtook the freighter… he refers to one of ’em as a “f-frog”, before succumbing to his wounds.  Ya see, he was stabbed in the back.

We shift scenes to Stately Wayne, where the man of the house and his new-ish friend Jason Todd are having themselves a game of chess.  Bruce wins, naturally.

Before Jason can appeal for a rematch, the night is interrupted by the illumination of the Bat-Signal.  The dynamic dudes leap to the call… with Robin, especially, really anxious to see some action… but not in his more psychotic post-Crisis sort of way.

A quick seventeen-minutes later, Batman and Robin arrive at the Harbor… and, upon hearing a stirring, itchy-rang-finger Robin hurls a projectile into a pile of crates… whacking poor Harv’ in the noggin!  Whoops.  Batman suggests Robin reel in his impetuousness… though, really doesn’t have an answer when Robin asks “What if it were a thug?”.  Well, check-mate, Boy Wonder.

Bullock fills the boys in on the going’s on, all the while getting an eyeful of Robin.  He thinks to himself that the last time he saw a kid in the red and yellow, he seemed a fair bit older.  We’re going to keep playing with that line of thought for the next little bit…

Commissioner Gordon arrives shortly after, and everyone tries to decipher the dead guy’s warning.  The GCPD assumes by “Frog”, the fella meant there was a Frenchman.  Batman, however, has a different idea.  He figures the warning was about a “frogman”, as in a scuba diver, Naturally, Batman’s right… 

They decide to divide and conquer, with Robin teaming with Bullock to board the boat… and Batman dipping into the drink to cover them.  In a cute bit, Bullock starts giving Robin the ol’ “twenty questions” treatment… trying to figure out anything he can about this new-kid.  Tiring of the treatment, Robin tips the boat depositing ol’ Harv into the wash.

Batman bides his time underwater, watching as the clumsy oaf of a detective and fresh-faced dumb kid board the dangerous freighter.  Seems like a pretty bad idea, dunnit?  Anyhoo, Bullock climbs up… and immediately attempts to arrest the armed and dangerous boat-jackers.  Dumb.  Robin hops into action, winging a ‘rang (his only ‘rang) to disarm one of the baddies.

At this point, the “Frogman” hops overboard… and finds himself being tracked by the Bat.  While the chase is on, Bullock asks their baddie about the explosives.  He gets no answer.  Batman notices that Froggy’s got a speargun, and immediately deduces that the explosives must be in the tip!  That’s one helluva deduction, innit?

Batman gets in close to the Frogman, under the assumption that he won’t fire the bombed-up spear… lest they both perish in its blast radius.  What he doesn’t consider, however, is… there’s more than one way to wield a gun!  Froggy nails him with the butt of the thing… and the wrestle for a bit.

Both men, Bat and Frog, rise to the surface… and, it looks as though the latter has grown quite desperate.  He doesn’t seem all that concerned firing the bomb… even if it costs him his own life!  Batman uses a light-gimmick on his utility belt to blind the baddie, then gives the barrel of the speargun a kick.  The trigger is pulled, and the bomb is fired… right into the freighter!

Batman kayos the Froggy, and after a quick check of the smoldering tub, reports back in to Gordon.  He presents the Commish with a waterproof box he’d found on board.  Inside it, is… a passport?  Yup!  We learn here that this freighter wasn’t looking to smuggle anything into Gotham, but was trying to smuggle someone out.  Joseph Torrelli… a man who had been sentenced to deportation back to Naples on that very Ocean Liner.  Whoops.

Okay, with our main feature out of the way… we can take a look at our “cover feature”, and honestly… the reason we’re doing this book today.  Now, we’re all more than a little familiar with Action Comics Weekly (take a shot every time I bring that series up… on second thought, don’t!), right?  If you’re new, don’t worry… I’ll link ya to the pertinent articles.  From that run, there are… maybe a handful of “iconic” covers.  Okay, maybe just one or two.  One of them was, Action Comics Weekly #609… complete with Black Canary setting fire to a very gaudy outfit.

And… it’s not just a dramatized cover.  Dinah actually does burn that costume in the issue… it’s like a major plot point.

When we discussed that chapter, we talked a little bit about how this cover and the scene within… reeeeeeally shouldn’t have been able to go down quite like that.  Thing is, the Black Canary Action Comics Weekly arcs were written by someone who didn’t seem all that interested in things like continuity… or, if I’m being honest, making sense in the slightest.  Well, let’s stop vamping… and get right into it, so we can meet: 

This back-up feature opens with Dinah Lance in bed checking out some articles her mother (the original Black Canary) saved from the Gotham Gazette.  They feature a villain called Pyra… who is a Pyra-Maniac, geddit?  Notably, none of these articles refer to Dinah’s mom, the original BC… and so, our gal decides to dig into her mother’s diaries.  Here, she learns that the run-in with Pyra was the only time her mother failed.  She reflects on this… and, relates it to her own recent failure with another (present day) fire-themed baddie, Bonfire!

Dinah realizes that, due to the weird hoodoo between she and her mother… it’s a long story, that we dug a bit into back in the long ago.  The short of it is, Dinah’s mothers memories are sorta-kinda “imprinted” on her… as such, any residual fears her mother had… are now hers as well.  And so, if Mom’s scared of fire… so too, will Dinah.  So… does Dinah fight fire with fire?  Well, no… she’s going to fight fire with… a brand-new fireproof costume.  Hey, ACW cover, ya listenin’?

The next night, Dinah makes her debut in her all-new, all-different, all-gaudy gear!  Puffy sleeves and leggings have gotta be helpful in a fight, right?

Black Canary heads over to a neighborhood that she believes will be the next to go up in flames.  There, duh, she runs right into Bonfire!

Dinah dives through the flames… and plainly states (via thought balloon) that her “new duds” are, in fact, fireproof.  She enters a room, and finds that Bonfire has taken a squatting hobo hostage.

Bonfire fires another blast of flame in Dinah’s direction… which she’s able to walk through without taking damage.  Then… a fight is on!  Dinah wrestles with Bonfire… while being haunted by visions of Pyra.  Finally, she lets out a sonic scream (of “MOM!”) which knocks the baddie on her butt.

Dinah wins the day… and is shortly joined by Green Arrow, who makes some snarky remarks about her “new look”.  We learn that the “hobo” is actually the city Fire Chief… which, I mean… does that really matter?  Anyhoo, that’s that!

Sometimes when I discuss a book, I wonder what sort of reaction sharing my article online will get.  Today, I’m pretty sure when I share this, I’m going to get folks, who won’t bother to visit the site or read the piece, replying with… the cover to Action Comics Weekly #609.


Where do we start with this one?  I suppose we can get the Batman and Robin story out of the way first.  I had a lot of fun with it, however, I can’t help but to feel as though something here went over my head.  Not exactly sure what the deal with the deportation was… does this mean that the GCPD messed something up?  I mean, we’re hitting the mid-80’s here, where certain Comics Code Authority rules were being relaxed… which is to say, it’s now okay to show police officers as being inept, or downright corrupt.  Is this a case of just showing Gotham’s Finest as failing to cross their i’s and dot their t’s?

Maybe I’m thinking on it too hard.  Nah, that doesn’t sound at all like me, does it?  Before I spiral even deeper… let’s talk about some of the fun particulars of this piece.  I loved the back and forth between Jason and Bullock.  I thought this was an absolute blast, with Jay just being a snotty, sarcastic kid… and Bullock playing the clumsy “straight man”, trying to follow up on his “sneaking suspicion”.

I have very little experience with pre-Crisis Jason, so seeing him in his more “bantery” and lighthearted, Dick Grayson-lite persona was a real treat.  I’m only really used to him being a hyper-violent sociopath.  This was a refreshing (though, admittedly somewhat jarring) change of pace.

Klaus Janson’s art was… mostly good.  Some pages, however, felt sort of like I was looking at Colorforms, ya know?  Like there was a background, and they just stuck some posed characters onto it.

Now… the “main event”, The Canary’s New Clothes!

I’ve wanted to cover this one for awhile… and, honestly, it was one of the first non-Action Comics books I was planning to cover as part of the (sadly, unloved) Action-Plus feature.  I realized, however, if I were to post it as an AP, nobody would read it… and so, here we are.

The Dinah/original Black Canary “mind/memory-imprint” deal is… kinda weird, but I can’t help but to dig it.  I feel like this is a great way to sort of “play” with continuity… and keep certain bits in pieces, that might otherwise have been forgotten, in the forefront of people’s minds.  Connecting Bonfire to Pyra-Maniac) (who I’m not sure was an actual original BC baddie) was pretty cool… and facilitated the shift to the weird (though sorta timely) “Jazzercize” costume.

Now, the entire reason we’re looking at this is… silly.  It’s to point out the inconsistency between the origin and the ending for the gaudy gear.  Fireproof… to ashes.  Now, I’m no Fire Chief… I’m not even a hobo posing as one, so I couldn’t tell ya exactly what “fireproof” means.  It might just mean it takes longer to actually burn… but, again… I ain’t signin’ my name to that.

I just find it interesting that the new costume’s only stand-out feature (besides it’s gaudiness) is that it’s fireproof… and it found its end in… a fireplace.  If I had to guess, I’d say Sharon Wright (the writer of ACW Black Canary) never read this… and was just looking for a dramatic way to deep-six the gear.  And, heck… the Brian Bolland ACW #609 cover is definitely one for the ages.

Overall… this was a really fun pair of stories to look at and dissect.  It is available digitally, and has also just recently been reprinted as part of DC’s Dollar Comics line… which, might just be the only “current year” DC stuff worth reading!

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4 thoughts on “Detective Comics #554 (1985)

  • Grant Kitchen

    We're you aware that the cover of this issue was an homage to Flash Comics #92 from 1946? Google it and prepare to have your mind blown. You can thank me later. 😁

    It's weird that after BC discovered she was actually her own daughter she starts referring to her mother and herself as two different people like it was totally natural even though she had always believed herself to be the same person before this revelation. As far as I'm concerned this BC is the same as the original since her mind was just transferred to her daughter's body (pre-Crisis of course). That raises another question. After she transferred her mind to her daughter's body she obviously had no memory of it which is all well and good but apparently didn't notice that she was suddenly 20+ years younger? Did she just assume that was another side affect (effect?) from relocating to Earth 1 like her new powers supposedly were (or so we were told at the time)? 🤔

    Finally the main story. Why were they hiding this reporter if the ship was taking him back to Italy anyway? I feel like I need to read this issue myself because i feel like I missed something.

    • Yes, I was definitely aware of the cover homage…

      Dinah's twisted backstory is one I've covered both here on the site and in a pretty extensive podcast with nearly a hundred-page script… and, still… the whole thing befuddles me!

      The main story… I really don't know what to tell ya. The whole deportation angle threw me for a loop. If you do decide to give it a gander and can figure it out, please let me know!

  • I liked Doug Moench's tenure on Batman. His stuff was a bit off kilter from more mainstream Batman writers like Gerry Conway or Marv Wolfman. Moench had a good ear for dialogue. Love Bullock trying to 20 question info out of Robin and Robin not having it. I liked the Columbo angle on Harvey Bullock with a bit more on the ball than his bumbling oaf routine would suggest. This particular story is a bit meh, reading almost like those short one and done stories Denny O'Neil and Frank Robbins churned out in the early 1970s. It is at least livened up by Klaus Janson's art.

    Take a shot with every mention of Action Comics Weekly? (pour) (chug). Yeah, I got this!

    On to Black Canary who we all had to endure back in the days of Action Comics Weekly. (pour) (chug). Anyway there is a lot of story packed into very few pages in today's story but it was a lot easier to follow than the Black Canary series in Action Comics Weekly. (pour) (chug). Where was I? Oh yeah! That new costume is UGLY but Joey Cavaleri made a good effort to give Dinah a reason for making the change. I didn't understand anything Dinah was doing in her series in Action Comics Weekly. (pour) (chug). Whoa! That's some good stuff. OK, I was making a point , I think. OH! Speaking of making sense, Jerome Moore has to shove a lot of panels in a very teeny, tiny, itsy bitsy living space (hiccup!) but I never lost track of what was going on, unlike that mangled mess of art in the Black Canary series in Action Comics Weekly. (pour) (chug).

    And…and…and how… why is the blog spinning? Wait! If the new outfit is firepr… oof, how did Dinah set it… set it on f-fire in Action Comics Weekly? (pour) (chug).

    Chrish! I love thish blog! Chrish Ish on In (hiccup!)finite Earthsh ish my favorite blog in the whole wide world! I love thish blog and I love you, man! Even when you were…hold on, I got this… Chrish, pleashe make the blog shtop shpinning… even when you were poshting thoshe Bl-bl-black Canary shtoriesh in Action Comics Weekly. (pour) (chug).

    I'm gonna lie down now.

    • It's not often I actually "laugh out loud" while reading something… but, you got me, Dave! haha, love it!

      The "main" story, with Batman and Robin, really did feel like one of those afterthought one-off's. I wonder if that was by design here? Maybe to make Dinah's duds the main memorable bit here? Who knows…

      It's funny… I was revisiting some of the Black Canary ACW's after posting this, just to see what people who might venture "down the rabbit hole" would see. People give this costume a lot of guff (and, I mean… it's ugly, yes)… but, ho-ly smokes, when Dinah reveals her ACW costume… if a chicken laying an egg makes a sound, that's exactly what I heard when I saw that "strike a pose" panel! Woof!


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