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  1. #76
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Batman #355


    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

    Grade: B-


    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.


    The Bad

    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.
    Last edited by shaxper; 11-24-2010 at 05:22 PM.

  2. #77
    Senior Member Jolly Mon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    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.
    Sad indeed. I remember the ad itself from other comics of the time, but do you by any chance have a scan of the in-story panels? Early product placement, and fairly blatant at that.

  3. #78
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jolly Mon View Post
    Sad indeed. I remember the ad itself from other comics of the time, but do you by any chance have a scan of the in-story panels? Early product placement, and fairly blatant at that.
    Here you go. Sorry for the crummy pictures, but the lighting in my office is less than ideal for this.

    The first panel, where it's not entirely clear what he's got:

    http://i292.photobucket.com/albums/m...0/100_2017.jpg


    The second panel, where it's obvious only if you're looking:

    http://i292.photobucket.com/albums/m...0/100_2012.jpg


    A lot more obvious here:

    http://i292.photobucket.com/albums/m...0/100_2014.jpg


    You can't miss that Dick's thrown something away, here, though it's no longer clear what it was:

    http://i292.photobucket.com/albums/m...0/100_2018.jpg
    Last edited by shaxper; 10-08-2010 at 07:25 PM.

  4. #79
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Don't kill me, Jim, but I'm skipping Detective #522. In addition to Conway being in another writing slump and his working on that issue with my all-time favorite artist, Irv Novick, this issue features the return of the Snowman, the second most terrible thing that Conway's run has given us thus far (The Sportsmaster being even worse!). I decided to jump directly to the next Batman issue and then see if I'd missed any important developments. Fortunately, I didn't.


    Batman #356

    "The Double Life of Hugo Strange"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Dick Giordano

    Grade: C+


    Though the beginning promises that this will be "a climactic episode in the epic legend of The Batman," I fail to see how. Hugo Strange has decided to assume Bruce/Batman's life (he knows his identity) and tries to do so by driving Bruce insane. It's been done so many times before, most recently in Batman #304, where The Spook tried to convince Bruce he was a ghost, and in Batman #326 and 327, where Prof. Milo locked Batman in Arkham and tried to convince him that he was insane. In both cases, the general premise seemed like a good idea, but it ultimately proved to be a stale one, and the execution wasn't original enough to save it.

    That's certainly true here, as well. As Bruce arrives home, only to find Alfred trying to kill him, seeing Alfred dying and coming back as if nothing was wrong, and then seeing the same thing repeat with Dick, you keep waiting for a GOOD explanation. After all, Strange is a doctor. Maybe this is medically induced. As I read this, I remember clearly thinking "Don't just be robots. Don't just be robots." It's about the lamest, least creative, and most generic solution to the problem possible, and that's exactly the direction Conway took.

    I could rip apart the specifics of this story (and there were so many illogical moments), but why bother? The story just isn't worth it. By the end, Strange is presumed dead, and everything is back to normal. "Climactic episode" my butt.

    It's worth noting that, while Newton continues as the penciler for this issue, Alcala is replaced by Giordano as his inker. The art in this issue is certainly GOOD, but it lacks all the pizzaz of the previous issues. Who would have thought it would ever be a disappointment to get Giordano on art, but this time it is.

    Still, the competent art is really all that saves this from being a thoroughly generic, lackluster Batman entry.
    Last edited by shaxper; 11-24-2010 at 05:27 PM.

  5. #80
    Senior Member MDG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jolly Mon View Post
    Sad indeed. I remember the ad itself from other comics of the time, but do you by any chance have a scan of the in-story panels? Early product placement, and fairly blatant at that.
    I remember my disillusionment when I realized Cap's Hobby Hints and Cap's Hobby Shop became opportunities for DC to shill for its advertisers.
    "It's just lines on paper, folks!"

  6. #81
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Detective Comics #523


    "Inferno"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Gene Colan and Tony Dezuniga

    Grade: B-


    I decided to give Detective another whirl this issue since Colan had replaced Novick, and the classic villain (Grundy) had a lot more potential than a Conway original like The Snowman. All in all, the story was enjoyable, though there were peculiarities as well.

    For example, Batman arrives at the scene of a store break-in, dramatically proclaiming to the shop owner that "Every man has someone who hates him--even to the point of murder," only to randomly decide, two panels later, that "Carstairs [the owner] could be right after all...it looks more like the work of a madman than someone pursuing a vendetta." What the heck was that all about? Since when does Batman shoot his mouth off without taking half a second to examine the scene of the crime, and why would Conway bother to depict it, other than for the sake of bad melodrama?

    Weirder still, the issue begins with an unnecessary depiction of a broken, completely naked mannequin, strewn across the ground, and clearly set up as the primary focus in the foreground. It absolutely looks like a dead, raped woman; perhaps a little too mature for a comic that was still being read by kids. As the story progresses, it turns out that Grundy has been collecting these "toys" and discarding them once they're "broken." The story takes pains to explain that all Grundy is doing is twisting their heads off, but that's not what the art is telling us. Why, then, is he stripping them???

    The art by Colan is solid (as one would expect), but Dezuniga (I'm assuming this must be Dezuniga) keeps adding zip lines to his panels, and it's really distracting. When Alfred does a double-take, he shouldn't have two heads and a bunch of lines running between them. This isn't Beetle Bailey.

    This issue does feature the first cameo appearance of Killer Croc, though even his entrypoint is odd. Croc (hidden under a trenchcoat and hat) asks one of his lackies why he is nervous, and the lackie goes on to explain that Grundy randomly found the gang and is now tailing along. The lackie clearly doesn't like this. So when Croc instructs him to ditch Grundy (which, you'd think, is exactly what the lackie wants help doing), he becomes defensive and tells Croc to "take a walk," at which point, Croc does. What the heck was that all about?

    One final oddity is how Colan tries to insert more tension into the Batman continuity now that nearly all of the plot lines are resolved. Suddenly, Gordan is tired after his fight to get his job back (if anything, he was reinvigorated the last time we saw him), and Bruce is more stressed than ever, even after giving up the Wayne Foundation, and devoting entirely too much energy into being Batman (of course, this all comes from Alfred's thoughts. We never SEE it anywhere!). Conway's clearly trying too hard to keep things interesting, here.

    Oh, and we're given an origin for Grundy that makes absolutely no sense. He simply formed out of the sewer. That can't be right. Where'd the suit come from? The man is clearly undead.

    The struggle between Batman and Grundy concludes as Batman tricks Grundy into walking into a giant incinerator and then driving off without checking to see if Grundy was destroyed. Just beautiful.


    "Mob Rule!"
    writer: Joey Cavalieri
    art: Irv Novick

    Grade: D-


    Why, oh why, did I come back for another Cavalieri Green Arrow backup? The issue begins with Ollie breaking up a legal union strike. He tries to be diplomatic, but he fails in the most transparent of ways: "You've all got beefs...and they're all legitimate beefs...but the place to settle them is the conference table...not the streets! Clear?"

    Gotta love it.

    Of course, it turns out that the discontent is all being caused by a new villain called...get this..."Machiaveli," and he's actually dressed like Machiaveli. Along with his assistant, "The Executioner," he plans to turn Star City against itself for his own gains. It's "To be continued," though I won't be back to see how it ends.
    Last edited by shaxper; 10-10-2010 at 07:13 AM.

  7. #82
    Frugal fanboy Cei-U!'s Avatar
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    shax, the Grundy seen in Detective #523 is not the Earth-Two JSA foe but one of a series of clones created when the real Solly visited Earth-One waaay back in Superman #301 and left bits of his undead flesh behind in Metropolis' sewers. So in this case Conway's explanation is accurate. As for his clothing, I presume he came by it the same way the original did: by murdering someone at random and stripping the body.

    Cei-U!
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  8. #83
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cei-U! View Post
    shax, the Grundy seen in Detective #523 is not the Earth-Two JSA foe but one of a series of clones created when the real Solly visited Earth-One waaay back in Superman #301 and left bits of his undead flesh behind in Metropolis' sewers. So in this case Conway's explanation is accurate.
    Accurate? Yes. Clear? Not at all. He really, really could have explained this better. His summary made it seem as if the sewer itself had spawned Grundy, not some remnants left behind within it.

    All the same, thank you for the explanation!

    As for his clothing, I presume he came by it the same way the original did: by murdering someone at random and stripping the body.
    heheh. Someone who wore the exact same clothes as his Earth 2 counterpart.
    [/QUOTE]

  9. #84
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    The Pre- #357 Chat

    As soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to sit down to read Batman #357 for the first time...and I'm scared.

    You see, when I first started reading comics in 1989, I walked in just in time for Death in the Family. Robin had been a favorite character of mine long before I started reading, and so the tragic death of Jason Todd really spoke to me, as did his defiant, angst-ridden journey for truth and identity, which the pre-teen in me understood with great severity. Dick Grayson was the classic Robin, of course, and I grew to like Tim Drake, but Jason Todd sort of became my Robin, and as I slowly bought up back issues of Batman (compiling a full run from 400 to current, which was around 440 back then), I thoroughly enjoyed monitoring Jason's development as a character in reverse.

    Naturally, I had no idea what Crisis on Infinite Earths was, nor would I have understood the concept of a "Reboot" even if I had, so when I read Batman #406 for the first time, I assumed the portrayal of Jason's origin in flashback was nothing more than a retelling--and a lousy one at that. I did own Batman #368 (the issue in which Jason first became Robin), so I knew this wasn't his actual first appearance, and I therefore reasonably assumed that, a few crappy issues in the early 400s aside, Jason had always been depicted uniformly as the difficult, strong-headed, but over-all empathetic young hero that I'd seen leading up to Death in the Family.

    Of course, over the years, I learned about the sham of a marketing campaign that Death in the Family actually was, that those crappy retellings of Jason's origin were the definitive post-crisis Jason Todd until he started developing a real personality just prior to Death in the Family, and, above all else, that the Jason who had existed prior to those issues was an entirely different character, most commonly perceived as a carbon copy of Dick Grayson with red hair.

    It's one devastating thing to know all this, but I imagine it's another one entirely to actually experience it first hand, to discover with the heart as well as the brain, that the character I'd always loved and believed in really only existed for around 7 issues and was otherwise someone else entirely. On a larger scale, actually experiencing it would, once and for all, topple my childhood idyllic assumption that comic book characters and continuities were rich and uniform, well planned and organic. I used to read Batman #450 and actually believe that there were four hundred and forty nine uniformly quality episodes of continuity carefully building up until the moment I was holding in my hands. This has, of course, been disproven for me a thousand times in the course of being a comic book reader, but Batman was the first comic and continuity I ever cared about, and I still haven't read the actual issues linking the past I know about the Batman titles to the issues I actually grew up with. I can still claim ignorance in my heart, even in spite of what my mind knows, up until the moment I first see Jason Todd in the next issue.

    I'm incredibly excited, incredibly scared, and, above all else, prepared to have my expectations trampled upon. I sincerely hope that I can find something about the pre-Crisis Jason that is both unique and likable that others have missed; something that will allow Jason to remain special to me. However, the truth of the matter is that this CAN'T be the Jason I grew up with; it can't be the Jason I want it to be, and so, no matter what I read, I will inevitably be profoundly disappointed. The character and the history I dreamed I'd find in these issues as a boy simply doesn't exist, and I'm going to have to finally accept that.

    Chances are, Jason will only make a small cameo in this issue and won't get any chance to develop a personality for many issues to come, but rational expectations have less than nothing to do with my anticipation here.

    For those of you who think I'm making a big deal about this, just understand that, while many of you latched on to Superman, Batman, Captain America, or Spider-man as the heroes of your pre-adolescence, I arrived in comics at a unique moment which led me to latch onto Jason Todd, specifically the post-crisis version. In reading these issues, I'm about to watch the history/legacy behind the character that I'd always imagined shatter into nothingness.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I'm about to be deflowered.

    Wish me luck...
    Last edited by shaxper; 10-10-2010 at 11:43 AM.

  10. #85
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Well, this issue provided me with absolutely no read on Jason Todd, so I guess I can breath a sigh of relief for now. He doesn't ever talk in the issue, and the only two panels he appears in show him from a distance. Even then, some uncharacteristically inconsistent art between pages prevent me from even getting a sense of what he looks like, or even how long his hair is.


    Batman #357

    "Squid"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Alfred Alcala

    Grade: B

    Perhaps finally sensing where his strengths as a writer lie, Conway has backed off from his typical costumed villain stories and, instead, attempts to re-immerse himself in the murky waters of organized crime that he explored so well in the "Boss" Thorne storyline. Now, he's turning his spotlight on "Boss" Tony Falco, and the power vacuum he left when Batman apprehended him back in Detective #499 (which I have not read). Naturally, Falco hasn't been mentioned once in the 57 consecutive issues of Batman I've read, yet everyone's commenting on his power vacuum in this particular issue.

    Essentially, a character named The Squid, a dangerous aspiring crime boss with a pudgy, short build, odd clothing, a sense for the theatrical, and a less than intimidating accent, is attempting to fill Falco's shoes. He's an interesting enough character, but I can't help but feel that he's just another Penguin.

    The story is written quite well, depicting a lot of the fear and confusion within the criminal world as The Squid's reputation precedes him, finally building up to his highly anti-climactic introduction. All in all, it was nice to take a break from Batman's perspective and immerse myself in the point of view of Gotham's criminal world, and it was well done.

    Storywise, we also see the introduction of the Todd aerialist family, see Killer Croc's man threaten the circus' owner to join his protection racket (you just know where all this is going, especially as Dick is watching in the audience), and we see Batman get Tony Falco out of a trap (using predictable, practically trade-marked strategy), and get himself captured by The Squid.

    There are problems with this story, including at least one odd jump in time, where Falco is about to be interviewed in one frame and then is receiving a verdict in front of the judge in the next, a thoroughly overly ambitious extortion attempt as Croc's man tries to shake up the circus owner for $10,000 a night (how much does he think Circus' make???), and a sincerely disappointing climax in which five of The Squid's random thugs easily take down Batman in a fair fight.

    Additionally, as noted earlier, there's a lot of inconsistency in the art across pages.

    All told, though, the tone of this issue was well-crafted, the plot is interesting, and Conway has finally succeeded in kicking up some interesting new over-arching plot lines for us to keep an eye on.
    Last edited by shaxper; 11-24-2010 at 05:29 PM.

  11. #86
    Senior Member JKCarrier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    However, the truth of the matter is that this CAN'T be the Jason I grew up with; it can't be the Jason I want it to be, and so, no matter what I read, I will inevitably be profoundly disappointed. The character and the history I dreamed I'd find in these issues as a boy simply doesn't exist, and I'm going to have to finally accept that.
    The two versions of Jason are so drastically different -- they literally have nothing in common but the name -- that you might as well consider them separate characters. I love pre-Crisis Jason, and I think his growing relationship with Batman is a big part of what makes Moench's run so enjoyable.
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  12. #87
    Gotham Guardian Captain Jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    I sincerely hope that I can find something about the pre-Crisis Jason that is both unique and likable that others have missed; something that will allow Jason to remain special to me. However, the truth of the matter is that this CAN'T be the Jason I grew up with; it can't be the Jason I want it to be, and so, no matter what I read, I will inevitably be profoundly disappointed.
    My experience was just the opposite of yours. I encountered the pre-Crisis Jason first, at the time these books were originally published. So, I resented it when they threw out the original character that I'd become fond of (for what I considered "no good reason") and replaced him with someone who was (intentionally) not very likable.

    Quote Originally Posted by JKCarrier View Post
    I love pre-Crisis Jason, and I think his growing relationship with Batman is a big part of what makes Moench's run so enjoyable.
    Ditto.

    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post

    Batman #357

    "Squid"
    writer: Gerry Conway
    art: Don Newton and Alfred Alcala

    Essentially, a character named The Squid, a dangerous aspiring crime boss with a pudgy, short build, odd clothing, a sense for the theatrical, and a less than intimidating accent, is attempting to fill Falco's shoes. He's an interesting enough character, but I can't help but feel that he's just another Penguin.
    I always thought he was a tip of the hat to Will Eisner's old Spirit nemesis, the Octopus.
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  13. #88
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Jim View Post
    I always thought he was a tip of the hat to Will Eisner's old Spirit nemesis, the Octopus.
    Not familiar with the character, but maybe Penguin was a rip-off of The Octopus?

  14. #89
    Run Runner shaxper's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Jim View Post
    My experience was just the opposite of yours. I encountered the pre-Crisis Jason first, at the time these books were originally published. So, I resented it when they threw out the original character that I'd become fond of (for what I considered "no good reason") and replaced him with someone who was (intentionally) not very likable.
    I wonder if that wouldn't be worse, agreeing with your perspective once I read further and growing to resent the character I grew up anchored to.

  15. #90
    Gotham Guardian Captain Jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shaxper View Post
    I wonder if that wouldn't be worse, agreeing with your perspective once I read further and growing to resent the character I grew up anchored to.
    Oh, I don't expect that to happen, nor should it. I was just pointing out that, just as your perspective is shaped by your past, others can have the exact opposite perspective, shaped by their past. Neither of us is really objective here.
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