Wednesday, August 15, 2018

MB33: Batman #348

Batman #348 (June 1982)
cover: Jim Aparo (signed)
title: "Shadow Play!"
writer: Gerry Conway
artists: Gene Colan & Klaus Janson
letterer: Ben Oda
colorist: Adrienne Roy
editor: Dick Giordano 

The story begins as Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred are in the middle of moving the souvenirs back into the Batcave underneath stately Wayne Manor from where they had been stored under the Wayne Foundation in downtown Gotham. They lose their grips on the gigantic 1945 Penny souvenir and it rolls away from them. They are then interrupted by Francine Langstrom and her daughter Rebecca, who storm into the mansion demanding that Bruce Wayne finish what he started: namely, he had promised to help find and cure her missing husband, Kirk. She then promptly faints.
Twenty-five minutes later, Bruce has changed into Batman. He blindfolds Rebecca and leads her into the Batcave. He hopes that her presence will help convince the deranged Man-Bat that his daughter is NOT dead. Batman relates the origin of Man-Bat and how he had taken an overdose of the bat serum and had turned himself crazy. He is going to go spelunking into the cavern and hopefully find Man-Bat and force him to take an overdose of the bat-serum antidote.
 As Batman and Rebecca head off into the darkness of the cavern, Man-Bat himself flies out after them. He had been sleeping on the ceiling directly above their main area and had over-heard everything. Dick and Alfred know that Batman is on his own.
In the first of two interludes that has nothing to do with the Man-Bat story-line, Barbara Gordon is trying to to cheer up her father, the former Police Commissioner, who lost his job when Hamilton Hill became mayor of Gotham City. She decides she needs to call in Jason Bard (who just so happens to be Man-Bat's former partner). Secondly, Vicki Vale has a meeting with her Picture News' editor. She tells him that she will not show him or sell him the photos that purport to reveal Batman's real identity until she meets with the potential man herself. As soon as she leaves, her editor calls "Boss" Thorne to tell him of the situation.
Page 11
Five miles under the grounds of stately Wayne Manor, Batman and Rebecca are unsuccessful in finding Man-Bat. He decides to light up some dried moss to start a fire and is shocked to find that Man-Bat has been following them all this time.
Man-Bat attacks Batman, and Batman falls off the cliff. Man-Bat denies that Rebecca is his daughter, still claiming that she is dead. He does fly off with her, though.
Page 13
Batman climbs back up, feeling guilty for placing Rebecca in danger by bringing her along. He hears her scream and rushes in her direction.
Batman finds Man-Bat and attacks. When Rebecca slips and falls into a crevice and screams, "Daddy!" Man-Bat is jarred back into reality. He saves her then holds her as Batman feeds him the antidote.
Later, Kirk and Rebecca are at Francine's side when she awakens from her sleep.

This is the 33rd appearance of Man-Bat. If you have been following along as we review and recollect on his publishing history I hope you will agree with me when I say: this story is awful!

Don't agree with me? Let's look at the motivations of the lead characters. First, Man-Bat is in Crazytown and has been for the past four appearances or so. His psychosis of blaming Batman for his daughter's illness was one thing, but this full-blown hatred of his idol and delusion that his daughter is actually dead....where the heck does THAT come from?

I'll tell you where it comes from: writer Gerry Conway and editor Dick Giordano needed to establish beyond any doubt that Man-Bat was a menace, that's where it came from. We need that set-up so that twenty pages later they can create a happy ending for him by having his daughter save him and him in turn saving her. Fine. Unfortunately, it all seems so obviously staged. This reads like Conway had to finish up the Man-Bat story-line from six months ago, so he decided to quickly wrap it up in one issue with not so much interest in actual continuity. And to this die-hard Man-Bat fan, it just doesn't work.

And that's just the main objection I have with this story. Let's look at some of the other minor points that chip away at the quality of the story.

What kind of security does the Wayne Manor have if Francine and Rebecca can just walk right into the house? Isn't there even a fence around the grounds? (This is a rhetorical question, as we actually saw a fenced grounds back in Batman #341.)

Bruce Wayne seems to be continuing the charade of not telling his secret identity to the Langstroms, but he very clearly talks to Dick and Alfred as if Rebecca was not there. While Bruce is dressed as Batman, Dick clearly calls him "Bruce." By this point she has been brought to the cave by Dick and sees him NOT IN HIS ROBIN UNIFORM with Alfred in the Batcave. Methinks this was some type of editorial oversight.

Speaking of Dick Grayson, why isn't he suiting up as Robin and going along? I vaguely recall some arguments that Dick and Bruce were having at about this time, but he's clearly there and available, so to NOT go seems strange. And in fact, Batman could have used him. 

Speaking of continuity questions, nothing is mentioned about Robin having met Man-Bat before. Likewise, Robin and Alfred already know the secret origin of Man-Bat, so for Bruce to tell them (in order to tell the reader) is just ignorant. In my head I hear Dick and Alfred saying, "We know this story. Get on with it!" And although Batman tells us about the first time Langstrom turned into Man-Bat, he barely even mentions what we learned in Man-Bat's last appearance, about overdosing on the bat serum and going bat-shite crazy. And nothing is mentioned about Rebecca's acute hearing it gone? Did she lose it when she regained the ability to sleep? Why do I care, since Conway and Giordano clearly don't.

As for the art.....I may get in trouble for this, but Gene Colan is very hit or miss with me. I like his stuff for its atmospherics, but he isn't much of a story-teller. Take a gander at pages eleven and thirteen I reprinted above. I absolutely hate them. Page eleven is not worth the ink it took to print it: he's Batman, we get it. Page thirteen you could argue that the use of white space is for dramatic effect. Or I would argue that it is either laziness or lack of understanding of the surroundings. Batman, Man-Bat, and Rebecca are supposed to be in an underground cave. They look like they are hiking in the mountains. Colors in yellows and oranges don't help set the mood.

Obviously I am not a fan of the "Man-Bat as Menace" concept. I much prefer Man-Bat as an awkward but lovable super-hero wannabe. I think he had huge potential as "the muscle" for Jason Bard, Private Detective. Hopefully now that this "Rebecca-was-sick-so-Man-Bat-got-crazy" story-line is FINALLY over, we can get back to a heroic Man-Bat. Here's hoping!

Man-Bat Trivia Notes:  
  • Although Robin is on the cover, he does not appear in this story. Unfortunately. 
  • The Giant Penny first appeared in World's Finest Comics #30.  
This story has been reprinted in the following collections: 
Batman in the Eighties TPB
Batman: Secrets of the Batcave TPB
Tales of the Batman: Gene Colan HC

Man-Bat was created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams

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