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.

Batman 400 (October 1986)

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I hate this comic. I hate how DC used it, I hate how Moench writes it, even if it was an editorial decision.

There are nods to Moench’s run, but only so far as he gets to give each of his characters a page to sort of say goodbye. There’s no closure on any of the story lines, not a single one.

There’s also a lot of crappy art. It’s an anniversary issue with a lot of big names drawing either poorly or against their style. Rick Leonardi and Arthur Adams are some of the worst offenders, but not even Brian Bolland does particularly well. Ken Steacy is the only decent one.

Moench’s writing for a different audience than usual, the casual Batman reader, not the regular. Apparently he thinks the casual readers like endless exposition and incredible stupidity. It’s a distressing, long read; a terrible capstone to Moench’s run.

D- 

CREDITS

Resurrection Night!; writer, Doug Moench; pencillers, John Byrne, Steve Lightle, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi and Brian Bolland; inkers, Byrne, Bruce Patterson, Perez, Larry Mahlstedt, Sienkiewicz, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villagran, Leialoha, Kubert, Steacy, Karl Kesel and Bolland; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, John Costanza and Andy Kubert; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 566 (September 1986)

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I wish they had done a recap issue back when Colan was at the top of his game. This issue sets up the big anniversary special over in Batman, with he and Robin going over the villain files in the Batcave. Gordon got an ominous note.

One might think Batman should do that work during the day instead of when he should be fighting crime, but whatever. Moench uses the issue not to just give a recap of the villains in general, but how he’s used them in his run. Jason’s got a lot to say, but it seems like a major cop out Moench downgraded the character for months only to bring him back to spout exposition.

Still, it’s fine for what Moench’s doing, it just isn’t clear why he had to do it.

Cavalieri hits new silliness in Green Arrow but the art’s great. Except the goofy villain.

C 

CREDITS

Know Your Foes; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein. Green Arrow, Old Enemies Die Hard; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 399 (September 1986)

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It’s a depressing issue, but Moench’s ambitious in that depression. He plays some of the thriller scenes like a melodrama–a guy storming over to have it out with the murderer of his girlfriend–while having Batman moon over Catwoman.

Most interesting is the scene where Bruce Wayne, cowl off, calls Catwoman on the phone and comes off desperate. Moench’s trying real hard at it.

He doesn’t make it. Not with that scene, not with the two or three breakup scenes in the rest of the issue, but he tries real hard. It’s too bad because it feels like Moench doing a course correction for the series, which had toyed with bringing a female compatriot in for the boys.

Sadly, no, Moench just wasted months hinting at it.

As his run winds down, there’s not much left for him to resolve. Batman’s going from pre to post-Crisis very quietly.

C+ 

CREDITS

Strike Two!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Albert De Guzman; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 565 (August 1986)

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Colan’s really slipping. His faces are getting lifeless and awkward. The scene where Jason is making out with his girlfriend, the girl looks like a mannequin.

Moench goes on and on about love this issue in the very close to Batman third person narration. He’s got a serial killer shrinking ex-girlfriends heads, all sorts of romance. Batman and Catwoman are fighting, she’s had enough of his lack of trust. On and on. But Moench hasn’t set up the series for this arc to have much impact. It definitely should, but it doesn’t. Maybe because the relationships–except Jason, who’s got game, apparently–are so chaste. I think Jane Austen would’ve gotten more indiscreet than Moench.

The story’s fine, it’s just meandering.

The Green Arrow backup has some nice Stan Woch art and a really dumb story from Cavalieri. It ends with some guy benevolently holding a woman hostage. Seriously.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Love Killing; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, Death by Misadventure; writer, Joey Cavalieri; artist, Stan Woch; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 398 (August 1986)

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Moench finally starts dealing with some things this issue–Jason finally stops being such a little turd and Catwoman finally stops letting Batman treat her like half a partner. There’s a big showdown between Batman and Catwoman; what’s unspoken is how Bruce Wayne figures in. Batman gets to know Selina’s life, she doesn’t get to know (or share) his. It’s a good scene.

The Two-Face story comes to an end with an intricate plan from Batman to capture Harvey. Except, in this plan, there’s very little interaction between them during the majority of the issue. They have a showdown. Until then, it’s sort of goofy because Batman and Catwoman are following him through Gotham on motorcycles. Mandrake draws Batman’s figure odd, so it reminds a little too much of the TV show.

Speaking of Mandrake, some of his figures are really rough, but his Catwoman pages are absolutely phenomenal.

B 

CREDITS

About Faces!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 564 (July 1986)

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Colan’s art seems to have stabilized quite a bit. In a lot of ways, it’s less ambitious and a waste of his talent, but at least there aren’t any awful Jason panels. Instead, Jason’s barely in the comic. Moench sends him out on a date because he’s so perturbed at Batman hanging out with Catwoman all the time.

Catwoman, in the meantime, is perturbed Batman doesn’t treat her as a full partner. Batman’s oblivious to all these things, of course. He’s too busy trying to work up a plan against Two-Face, which Moench hides from the reader to get a surprise (or two).

It’s an okay enough feature, but it feels padded. Moench’s either avoiding a lot–like Bruce Wayne–or he’s just bored.

The Green Arrow backup has a terrible story. Inker Steve Montano and Rodin Rodriguez give Moore’s a more static quality; it’s still good, but different.

C+ 

CREDITS

Double Crosses; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, This Masquerade; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inkers, Steve Montano and Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Todd Klein. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 397 (July 1986)

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Mandrake draws Two-Face’s head a little wide–probably to give himself room–but otherwise his art has gotten rather refined. There are some excellent panels this issue; Mandrake is able to do the more outlandish superhero ones too, which is nice. Moench doesn’t write many of them, but they’re there.

Speaking of Moench, he’s trying things again. While he’s again reduced Robin to whining about Catwoman, there is a whole subplot about Circe. She’s the model with the burned face; she’s stripping–in mask–to make ends meet. Catwoman has a reaction to it. Moench doesn’t seem to get having Catwoman, in scant garb, considered about the objectification of women is a little off, but it’s an honest response from her at least. Just problematic.

Moench’s focus on her in the supporting cast has reduced Gordon to background. Even Bullock gets a courting subplot.

Still, it’s perfectly serviceable stuff.

B- 

CREDITS

Binary Brains; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 563 (June 1986)

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Finally, a villain Moench can write–he does a great job with Two-Face this issue, just great. It makes up for Batman not really having a story. He and Catwoman are out on case, there’s something mysterious going on with Jerry Hall. Sorry, Circe.

Meanwhile, Jason is ready to tell some girl he goes to school with all about Robin. As disastrously bad as Moench writes this particular character arc–all the anti-drug messages really make me miss Jason and Nocturna’s awkward, but at least ambitious, doomed relationship. Anyway, as bad as Moench writes Jason in high school… it’s nothing compared to how Colan pencils him. Jason’s this fat little cherub. Maybe Smith was overextended and couldn’t ink properly.

Generally okay art otherwise. Not great Colan, but decent.

Cavalieri tells the Green Arrow backup through flashbacks to cut down on action. It’s lame but Moore’s pencils are breathtaking.

B 

CREDITS

Free Faces; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, Winner and Still Champion; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 396 (June 1986)

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Robin is such a little punk this issue Gordon finally yells at him. Moench has given up on Bruce Wayne and Jason Todd the past few issues–given up on any Robin characterization besides him being impertinent–but it doesn’t actually hurt the comic much. Moench wasn’t good at the regular people stuff anyway.

Mandrake’s art has a lot of energy. I love the work he puts in on expressions, whether they’re full panel or just a medium shot.

This issue finishes the “Film Freak” story–probably the worst of Moench’s villains and most of them are so terrible, being worst is an accomplishment (the Night-Slayer was a doozy). There’s a lot of action, a tight pace, a surprise third act… right after a surprise in the second. Moench’s on his plotting game at least.

It took him too long to find the partner dynamics he could write well.

B- 

CREDITS

Box-Office Smash; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 562 (May 1986)

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It’s hard to recall the feature story after the fantastic art on the Green Arrow backup. Moore does an amazing job. It’s packed with content too, so there’s a lot of variety. It’s not good content; since adding Black Canary, Cavalieri is struggling with a storyline and the basic characterizations. But great art. Just great.

On the feature, Colan continues his downward slide. There are occasionally good panels and often great composition in long shots and medium shots, but Colan and Smith aren’t bringing the detail anymore.

It’s a tense issue. Moench writes his villain to be more of a spree killer than a supervillain, which is a nice change. There’s a lot more talk about Robin’s jealousy over Catwoman, but no sign Moench knows where to take it. Not even Robin and Bullock are amusing together.

The feature has some moments; Batman and Catwoman do make a good team.

B- 

CREDITS

Reeling; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, The Criminal Element; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Agustin Mas. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 395 (May 1986)

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Moench tries for way too much this issue. First, he’s got a new villain for Batman to deal with, then he’s got Batman and Catwoman smooching at the Bat-signal. Robin’s jealous so he teams up with Harvey Bullock. So both teams are investigating, Robin’s being nasty to Catwoman, but then it all turns out it’s a Hitchcock homage with Vicki and Julia.

Any number of those items could fuel its own issue–or easily half issue–but Moench throws them all in here. Oh, I forgot his lame, film-quoting villain. Moench overstuffs the issue; it comes as a surprise even, which is a plus. At first, it seems like Julia and Vicki are around as filler for a scene, not the protagonists of the cliffhanger.

Another problem is Mandrake. He’s too loose this issue, his figures too exaggerated. Hurried might be all right, but the art seems rushed.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Film Freak; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, John Workman and John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 561 (April 1986)

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Because the world needs more anti-drug messages. Jason really likes the new girl at school, but she wants to do drugs. Can Jason–and Robin–convince her to stay square?

It’s hard to say whether Moench wanted to tell a Jason story or wanted to do a drug prevention story. He hasn’t shown Jason at school before, so he has to introduce the bully as well as the girl. Jason’s such a poorly realized character, why would his school be any different. And why would he be in public school? And if he’s not in public school, why couldn’t the bully just steal his mom’s prescription drugs instead of robbing a pharmacy?

Worse, Colan is real lazy. Inkers Smith and Ricardo Villagran don’t do much to fix the problems either. The super-balding Bruce is a particular eyesore.

Beautiful pencils from Moore on Green Arrow. Shame about the story.

D 

CREDITS

Flying Hi; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inkers, Bob Smith and Ricardo Villagran; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, In the Grip of Steelclaw!; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Agustin Mas. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 560 (March 1986)

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This issue has Batman tricking Robin and Catwoman into teaming up. They aren’t getting along–all because of Jason–so Batman has to set a trap for them. Moench tells the story from the perspective of a spider in the Batcave.

It’s sort of nutty. But it’s also kind of great. Robin refers to Nocturna as “his mother of the night” or something silly–like he’s a goth or something. Robin as a goth. It’d be awesome. No, Moench doesn’t go there but he does try to do something really difficult. He tries to look at Jason’s grief. That alone gets the issue respect.

The art is good. Colan and Smith have a great time with Selina and Bullock as far as detail. And there’s a quick Batman origin recap. It’s nice looking.

The Green Arrow backup has great art, strange story. Not bad (yet) but very gimmicky and strange.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Batman Nobody Knows; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, …Me a Bad Guy…?; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 394 (April 1986)

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The Gulacy art continues, albeit in a far less interesting environment. Batman, the KGB agent and Robin have to stop the villain from poisoning the city. It seems a much simpler story–if it weren’t a Soviet assassin as the villain, it could be the Joker. And some boring looking Soviet guy isn’t the best use of Gulacy.

Moench tries really hard to show the common links between Americans and Russians; it’s warm and fuzzy eighties peace-nik stuff. It’s okay, mostly thanks to Gulacy’s art, but without it I can’t imagine the book being very entertaining.

Where Moench is interesting is Robin. Jason Todd has changed completely at this point, just a background object as opposed to Bruce’s would-be adoptive son. He even calls Bruce “boss” at one point. Moench’s really pulled the plug on the adopting business.

It’s a fantastic looking comic book with a serviceable script.

B+ 

CREDITS

At the Heart of Stone; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Paul Gulacy; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 393 (March 1986)

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Some lucky person out there, hopefully, has the original pages to this issue. Paul Gulacy guests and he does amazing work. There’s a lot of design influences, but all of them work. Well, sort of. They’re great, but they lead to the dialogue filling most of them. Moench writes a wordy script this issue and there’s not the right space for the words.

Batman is doing a mission for the CIA–again no Jason appearance–and he basically plays James Bond. He even hooks up with a female KGB agent. They have some good banter, but there’s way too much exposition. Even without Gulacy’s grand composition, Moench’s script has enough story for two issues.

The story is regularly silly, but the art makes everything a wonder; Gulacy delivers a gorgeous comic book.

The issue is also the first in Moench’s run so far not to continue over in Detective Comics.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Dark Rider; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Paul Gulacy; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 559 (February 1986)

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The art continues to slide. Someone took the time to give Green Arrow detailed eyeballs, but the composition is weak. It doesn’t even look like Colan.

The writing isn’t much better. Moench’s got Green Arrow and Black Canary guest-starring (instead of appearing in a backup) and he writes them something awful. I wonder how much time he spent thinking of the Bat-Fascist combinations for Green Arrow to hurl at Batman. Bat-Ronnie has to be my favorite.

Black Canary acts as mediator, then Catwoman shows up and she and Dinah hit it off. Why? Because they’re women and they like to talk about their men? There’s no actual reason.

Even worse–and their adventure’s lame too so to be worse is an achievement–is Jason. He doesn’t appear, being mad at Bruce for teaming up with Catwoman (or so says Alfred).

It’s a lousy team-up, lousy comic.

D+ 

CREDITS

It Takes Two Wings to Fly; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 392 (February 1986)

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I’m not sure how I feel about Jan Duursema inking Mandrake. Somehow the vibrancy of the art is gone; the action scenes feel static. Maybe the best sequence is a car accident, just because of the motion has to be included.

That quibble aside, it’s a genial issue. Batman and Catwoman–she’s a vigilante now, much to Bullock’s chagrin–spend a night on the town. It’s supposed to be romantic, but they end up having to fight crime. Moench doesn’t get the tone deafness of it–they have a cute banter scene, are about to kiss, have to stop and go prevent an incredibly violent rape.

Not cute stuff.

Moench’s trying though, he’s definitely trying. The issue is all one night, so there’s no opportunity to see what he’s doing with Bruce Wayne. Bruce seems downgraded, but who knows.

Good characterizations–Bullock and Catwoman especially.

The comic’s bland and fine.

B- 

CREDITS

A Town on the Night; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Tom Mandrake; inker, Jan Duursema; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 558 (January 1986)

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Moench paces the feature pretty well–Batman’s taking Catwoman to the hospital while Robin hangs out around Nocturna’s observatory. Throw in Robin having the save a guy obsessed with Nocturna and Batman having a little dust-up with the Nightslayer again (seriously, terrible villain).

The nicest stuff is actually with Bullock, who has to deliver bad news to a new widow. Moench also focuses on the romance between Batman and Catwoman, but doesn’t actually give them any time to develop together. They’re either fighting someone or she’s in a hospital bed. It remains to be seen what Moench’ll do once she’s out of the bed.

The art, from Colan and Smith, is rather nice. Robin’s got some good moments, though the Jason Todd angle of the character has almost disappeared at this point.

Truly terrible Green Arrow backup, written by Dean R. Traven. Even Trevor von Eeden’s pencils are lazy.

B 

CREDITS

Strange Loves; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Believe Everything I Hear; writer, Dean R. Traven; penciller, Trevor von Eeden; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Agustin Mas. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 391 (January 1986)

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I could kind of guess the finish. Not all of it–Catwoman coming into play is a surprise, especially after Moench gives her a nice farewell with Batman at the open–but it’s predictable. I wonder if it was editorially mandated or if it was always Moench’s idea.

Mandrake is really impressive this issue. There are no scenes with Robin looking like a chimp; there are some crazy “Batman with eyeballs” panels full of despair. Mandrake also draws Batman as something of a behemoth in the action scenes. It’s visually compelling to be sure.

And Moench writes an effective script. He’s able to whitewash the things he never spent enough time on and turn them into backstory for better moments. He’s sort of fixed his two big problems–Robin and Batman as realized characters. These last few issues, he’s fixed them. Jason too.

Maybe not Bruce, but baby steps.

B 

CREDITS

Death Comes as the End!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 557 (December 1985)

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I think Smith’s got to be doing more of the finishing these last few issues. The panels are much smoother than usual Colan panels.

Again, absurd melodrama and, again Moench makes it work. Batman’s proclamations of love for Catwoman work even better because she hasn’t been a character in the comic for so long. Moench’s parade of other women for Bruce and Batman have distracted from her. Better yet, her absence means Moench didn’t have a chance to mess her up like Vicki or Julia.

There’s a lengthy recap from Bullock regarding Catwoman and Nocturna. It’s sort of a waste, sort of not. The art’s good and Moench writes Bullock dialogue well. Then the comic just sort of becomes talking heads. It’s definitely a bridge story, but good art and ambitious superhero melodrama writing make it worthwhile.

As is usual, Green Arrow has some silly writing and some good art.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Bleeding Night; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Zen and the Art of Dying; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 390 (December 1985)

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I think Mandrake draws Robin like a chimp in his scenes with Nocturna to show he’s a kid. Or he just draws really ugly expressions for kids. Everyone else has great expressions–this issue is the height of soap opera, yet incredibly effective. The whole “red skies” thing and how it plays into the daily lives of the extraordinary….

There are a lot of good scenes this issue. First, Batman and Nocturna. Moench finally gives Batman something reasonable to think about–his inability to settle down with women. Then there’s a great scene with Robin and Bullock. They’re a better team than Batman and Robin the way Moench writes them, with Robin being more honest with Bullock than anyone else. It’s the only time Jason has a personality.

The finish with Catwoman going after Nocturna? It’s awesome stuff.

Moench and Mandrake make a goofy superhero soap opera sublime.

A 

CREDITS

Women Dark and Dangerous; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 556 (November 1985)

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There’s some fantastic art from Colan and Smith this issue. Moench’s still got his weird relationship between Jason and Nocturna, but Colan sure does draw it well. When Batman finally shows up–after discovering Nocturna is a crime boss–and Moench’s script has him inexplicably drawn to her… the art is what sells the scene.

The Nocturna art is just gravy. The best part of the issue is Bullock’s theory about Robin being Nocturna’s son–not Jason Todd, but some other kid. He’s ranting and raving and Colan and Smith draw the whole thing with an Eisner bent. It’s just fantastic; full of energy.

Batman and Robin, however, don’t show up much. Robin’s just there for the setup, Batman’s just there for the finish. Nice Batman fight scene though.

The Green Arrow backup is lame; Cavalieri resolves a lengthy subplot and it’s boring. Nice art from Moore and Patterson though.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Bleeding Night; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Zen and the Art of Dying; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 389 (November 1985)

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Mandrake is getting better. The first half of the issue, except maybe some of the Batman stuff–the proportions are off–it’s good and Mandrake’s got some interesting expressions. They give the comic a lot more depth.

Why does it need help with depth? Maybe because Moench’s storyline–Bruce decides to get rid of all the women in his life in order to find a mother for Jason. You’d think he (and Moench) would be doing something like the dating game with all Bruce’s romantic interests… But no. Instead Moench even pushes to objectify Nocturna, who is in the book as Jason’s surrogate mother figure.

Yeah, but objectify I mean there’s a poorly drawn scene where Robin finds Nocturna seductively posing, cuddles to her, calls her mom.

It’s really messed up.

And Mandrake tanks on Robin’s expression. He looks like a chimp.

Still, Moench’s formula is reliable, refined and entertaining.

C+ 

CREDITS

Red Skies; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 555 (October 1985)

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Gene Colan and Bob Smith are back on the art and it’s a strange return for Colan. It’s a lot of action and Colan goes a lot more dynamic than he usually does. There are some fantastic panels in this issue. Nice page layouts too. It’s a winner on the art.

Moench writes Jason’s diary; he’s obviously trying to get a handle on the character. It almost feels like a writing exercise, given all Jason’s distinct slang. It’s not quite a full personality but Moench seems aware Jason is lacking as a character.

And Moench’s slightly successful. There’s some very good insight, but then he offsets it with some unlikely nonsense. Only the nonsense is serious.

The Green Arrow backup is written by Elliot S! Magin and has Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano on art. It’s a throwback story, innocent Ollie, but they don’t play it up. Simple but filling.

B- 

CREDITS

Returning Reflections; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, The Case of the Runaway Shoebox!; writer, Elliot S! Maggin; penciller, Dick Dillin; inker, Dick Giordano. Editors, Len Wein and Julius Schwartz; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 388 (October 1985)

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It almost doesn’t feel like Moench is writing the comic. He is, obviously, since there’s the avoidance of any new plot for Jason and an awkward comment about Alfred’s daughter. Jason calls her a honey or something. But the comic has Flash villains visiting and Moench writing about how incapable Batman is against them.

Robin even talks to Bullock about how they can’t handle superhero villains. Except neither villain is super-powered; it’s Captain Boomerang and Mirror Master. There’s also an odd scene where Mirror Master is scared of some thugs. Reading the issue, it’s hard to see where Moench’s going with anything.

The problem might be the subplots–there aren’t any active ones except Bruce’s love life, which is on a far back burner. Sadly, Moench doesn’t have anything good for the front most ones.

Mandrake’s art is okay. Good composition, not great detail, but lots of enthusiasm. Lots.

C 

CREDITS

The Round-Trip Looking Glass!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 554 (September 1985)

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Janson art again. It’s just phenomenal. He’s even figured out he doesn’t like doing splash panels with bland superhero poses so instead he’s doing complex panels indicating lots of movement. The way Janson draws Robin beats how he draws Batman; he’s very enthusiastic about all the movement.

The feature story is actually rather confusing. Not throughout, when Batman, Robin and Harvey Bullock are trying to get on an ocean liner to save hostages, but when Moench gets to revealing why the hostage takers are in town. I had to read like maybe three times and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right.

But with the art–and the banter between Robin and Bullock–who cares. It’s a fine outing.

And then, in Green Arrow, Black Canary gets a new eighties costume and the Canary Cry. It’s not a great story, but the artwork’s excellent and it amuses well enough.

B- 

CREDITS

Port Passed; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Klaus Janson; letterer, Todd Klein. Green Arrow, Crazy from the Heat II: The Past is Prologue; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 387 (September 1985)

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The art is uneven. Mandrake has some excellent composition and okay panels, then some not so good of either. He can’t do the action scenes; his Batman and Robin fighting thugs looks like scene out of the Adam West TV show.

But even with uneven art, it’s a great issue. Two high points–the epilogue where Jerry Hall–sorry, sorry, I mean, Alicia–sorry, no, it’s Circe here. Circe. Anyway, Circe gets back some measure of vengeance. Very cool.

Other high point? This weird scene with Bruce discovering Vicki is very buff now and he’s all about the muscle gals. It’s out of place in the story–she’s at his costume ball so he can put her in danger from the Black Mask–but very amusing. Moench does get in some good subtle digs from time to time.

The duality between Black Mask and Batman’s neat too.

It’s quite good.

B+ 

CREDITS

Ebon Masquery; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 553 (August 1985)

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It’s an issue of amazing art. Klaus Janson isn’t doing a lot of detail on faces, which is not good, but his composition is breathtaking. The way he translates Moench’s script–sort of sapping out the sentimentality and enthusiasm–this issue is a mix between superhero idealism and melancholy cynicism. It’s beautiful. Janson’s also got the best Jason Todd Robin anyone’s drawn so far.

Moench’s script is fine. There’s too much with the Black Mask and the New Age mumbo jumbo Moench throws in, but the story moves great. It evens out. There’s an odd moment where Julia (Alfred’s daughter) apparently tells Lucius Fox a black joke.

Also, another plot detail to show up in Burton’s Batman–the corrosive acid on faces and subsequent masks.

The Green Arrow backup, with Black Canary losing her nerve, has some awesome mainstream art from Moore and Patterson. The script’s well meaning but slight.

B 

CREDITS

The False Face Society of Gotham; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Klaus Janson; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Crazy from the Heat; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 386 (August 1985)

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Tom Mandrake does the art for the issue. He’s unsure of himself but always interesting. He shifts styles a lot throughout–this issue tells the origin of the Black Mask. In a lot of ways, it feels more like an old Spider-Man than anything else. There’s something very Ditko in how Mandrake draws Black Mask.

And Moench has a good time of the origin retelling too. He finds a nice, slightly disturbed voice for the narration and off he goes. There are some contrived details and the Black Mask’s dialogue in talking to himself isn’t great, but it’s a rather enjoyable issue.

Moench often has more success with these comics when he pushes himself. There’s a rabies hallucination in a flashback–Moench’s definitely pushing the plotting this issue.

When Batman does show up, it distracts from a bad detail or two; the issue goes out on a high note.

B 

CREDITS

Black Mask: Losing Face; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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