Before jumping into the actual issue, I should discuss "Superman in 'The Case of the Snake Shapes,'" a one page story/advertisement for K-Mart's new Snake Puzzle toy, and executed in the same style as the Hostess Cakes ads that (sadly) stopped a few months back. Unfortunately, this ad is a lot less tactful. Whereas, in the Hostess ads, the heroes never actually ate nor endorsed the products in question, Superman's quest to stop the Toyman in this adventure leads him to play with and espouse the wonders of the Snake Puzzle Toy with far more affection than he ever showed to Lois Lane, as he stands in the K-Mart toy section and uses it to figure out where the Toyman is hiding (I'm not kidding!). Why it's necessary to discuss this thoroughly shameless ad before getting to the primary story in this issue will become apparent soon enough...
""Never Scratch a Cat"
writer: Gerry Conway
art: Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala
It wasn't just a bad dream. Selina is still an emotional wreck without the man she loves this issue, and any hope that it was due to some disease or transformation she was undergoing is squelched by the end. She really is just that pathetic. Fortunately, Newton takes his art to the next level again, providing powerful moment after powerful moment, often working in the absence of any of Conway's dialogue and, in one instance, providing a full page panel of Batman socking a giant panther. You just can't beat it.
The plot in one ridiculously long sentence: Selina attempts to run Bruce and Vikki off the road while they're on a date (and, yes, Conway gave her a Cat Mobile. What is this--The Atom Age???), and has a last minute change of heart and saves them from drowning, leaving Bruce to sit by Vicki's side in the hospital, depending upon Bard and Gordan to stake out Catwoman's place, but Bruce breaks for a good heart to heart with Dick about whether or not people are responsible for each other's actions (as Selina claims that Bruce is), and then he goes to Selina's place, battles her giant panther, and discovers that she's moved to a new hideout, so he follows her there, they duke it out, and then they come to realize they're both hurting from the breakup and make their peace. End of crappy story. Oh, and Gordan gets reinstated as police commissioner.
The Good about this story:
Bruce and Dick's borderline philosophical discussion about whether or not people should be responsible for each other was intriguing and powerful. Dick goes on to muse that having Bruce be responsible for his welfare was good for Bruce, too. As he explains, "I think--having me underfoot all those years---kept you sane." As heavy and intriguing as that statement is, it's followed by a surprising coldness on the part of Bruce as he drives off, angry both with Selina and with himself for failing her. As he leaves, Alfred comments "I've never seen the master quite so cold, young sir. Except when he speaks of Joe Chill." Nice little continuity point there, as well as a clear depiction of how much Selina has meant to Bruce, though that's hard to understand considering her characterization in these issues.
There's also a nifty point of continuity in this discussion. It's FINALLY acknowledged that Dick leads the Titans! Though, when Bruce expresses concerns that all the help Dick has lent him as of late must be harming his relationship with the Titans, Dick protests "Bruce, my first duty as Robin is to you." I take major issue with that statement. It's as if the Bat titles finally acknowledge Robin's other home just so that they can trash it in contrast. That title is where Robin truly found himself and, I believe, most of his bronze age fans. He's still just Bruce's young and somewhat immature lackie here.
Finally, I really liked how Conway handled Gordan's reinstatement as commissioner. After Barbara and Jason Bard discuss why Hill is backed into a corner and has to take Jim back, going so far as to comment, "Now Hill wants to see him...what I wouldn't give to see that--!" the scene we're given is a stark contrast, in which Hill offers no apologies, explains his situation as a tirade, and gives Gordan his badge back with the most sickeningly sarcastic smile I've ever seen (go Newton and Alcala!). I can't wait to see where this is going.
Obviously, Selina's depiction, the thoroughly anti-climactic ending, comparing Selina's importance in Bruce's mind to Joe Chill and the murder of his parents without giving any hint of a relationship that warrants that treatment (after all, Conway's undone all the characterization and dynamic that Wein gave them), and, of course, the damn Cat Mobile.
The Just Plain Sad
Okay, let's go back to the "Case of the Snake Shapes" ad. If you didn't think DC had whored out it's beloved heroes enough with that ad, look closely at Bruce's conversation with Dick in the Batcave. What's that thing that Dick is playing with in four different panels across three pages? Well, what do you know!--It's K-Mart's new Snake Puzzle toy.