Monday, November 18, 2019

BATMAN #330 & #331

"TARGET!" | "CLOSED CIRCUIT!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Dialogue: Michael Fleisher (issue 331)
Penciler: Irv Novick | Inkers: Vince Colletta (issue 330 & Frank McLaughlin (issue 331)
Letterer: Ben Oda | Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Paul Levitz

And now we rejoin our story, already in progress... or so it seems when one dives into this issue. Don't get me wrong -- the story begins cleanly, with a setup introduced on the first page (specifically, a crook Batman sent up the river years ago is scheduled to be executed the next day, so he puts out a bounty -- he will pay ten million dollars in gold to anyone who can off Batman before he dies). But in terms of sub-plots, something's a bit off. Robin arrives early on to assist Batman in avoiding the various assassins who are now gunning for him. So far, so good -- until suddenly, Batman gives his partner the cold shoulder, and Robin realizes it's because this is the first time they've interacted since he announced that he was dropping out of college.

Now, look -- we haven't been reading every Batman-related story that came out around this time. Yes, we've covered BATMAN consistently; every issue dating back nearly two years now. And we've looked at a lot of consecutive DETECTIVE COMICS issues as well... but only the main stories. Both these series ran backup features, off-and-on, usually starring Robin and Batgirl. And I have to assume that Robin dropped out in one of those -- which is fine! But what strikes me odd about this is that Wolfman's script mentions it casually, almost in passing, as if we're supposed to know about it. And to the reader of 1980/81, that may well have been the case -- but you can't assume that all readers have been picking up every issue of every comic.

Basically, what I'm getting at here is that a little exposition about the dropout, accompanied by a footnote, would've been nice. Footnotes, while kind of rare in these old Batman tales, were not unheard of. They popped up now and then in the Julie Schwartz issues, and during Archie Goodwin's run as well. Paul Levitz, on the other hand, doesn't seem terribly interested in using them -- I don't believe any have shown up in the issues he's edited, even when events from other stories are referenced.

And now, on with the issue: Batman eludes all the assassins, of course -- but that story is really just window dressing for the events Wolfman actually wants to cover: the sudden distance between Batman and Robin over the Teen Wonder's decision to quit school, amplified when Talia mysteriously appears to help Batman partway through the issue. Robin, it seems, has "never" trusted Talia -- not that he's ever really met her outside of the events of "Daughter of the Demon" and "Hail Emperor Penguin" (in which she actually helped the Dynamic Duo win the day).

(And hey, speaking of editor's notes: this issue was published roughly concurrently with the earliest installments of NEW TEEN TITANS, also written by Wolfman, where Robin's dropping out is also mentioned as a point of contention between him and his mentor. Neat!)

One thing I like about Wolfman's handling of this situation, by the way, is the fact that even as there is tension between them, Batman and Robin continue to operate as a well-oiled machine in a fight. It's a nice touch. Batman may be disappointed in his ward, but that doesn't stop him from providing cues for the Teen Wonder to read, allowing them to take out a bad guy with minimal fuss before they go back to arguing.

Issue 331 finds Batman up against a new super-villain called the Electrocutioner, who goes around killing bad guys who have gotten out of jail or been cleared of crimes on technicalities. Wolfman seems to be setting this character up as a mystery for another day, as the we never learn who is behind the Electrocutioner's mask during the issue. I'm not sure when or if anyone ever followed up on the idea, though. Wolfman only has four issues left on BATMAN, and I'm pretty sure Electrocutioner doesn't factor into any of them. And I know that Wolfman never explored the character himself in the first few years of NEW TEEN TITANS.

Running through both these issues, besides the "Robin drops out" thread, are a few sub-plots: one, Lucius Fox is beaten after following his son, Timothy, when the teen goes to meet with his gang. Robin begins a solo investigation of the situation after Batman is all too eager to pin the blame directly on Timothy (clearly projecting some of his own frustration with his ward onto Lucius's son). In the process, the Teen Wonder learns that Wayne Enterprises owns several tenements in Gotham, and that the leader of Timothy's gang has been working for Gregorian Falstaff.

Second, Bruce Wayne's new secretary, Caroline Crowne, is also revealed to be an agent of Falstaff, swiping sensitive files off her boss's desk and providing them to his rival. This seems completely at odds with Len Wein's original intention for Caroline -- when he introduced her, she seemed like a normal girl who had a romantic interest in Bruce. But here, she's quite conniving and that crush that was hinted at in her debut scene has completely vanished.


And then there's Talia. As noted above, she shows up during the events of issue 330 to help Batman out, and her presence immediately amplifies the wedge already driven between the Dynamic Duo. Weirdly, there she says that she has wanted for nothing since Ra's al Ghul's recent death, telling Robin that he left her millions. But she shows up again at the end of issue 331, suddenly telling Batman that she's had nowhere to live since her father's passing, and she wants to shack up with her beloved. I'm wondering if there was some miscommunication between Wolfman, who only plotted this installment, and Michael Fleisher, who scripted it -- but I guess we'll learn more next time. What's important is that Talia's arrival, and Batman's willingness to entertain her as a houseguest, sends Robin storming out of the Batcave (in a moment that seems better suited to have been the cover of this issue rather than of #330).


Next week, Wolfman's run enters its final stretch with the first two chapters of a four-part serial called "The Lazarus Affair".

3 comments:

  1. I've been consistently entertained by your reviews of some vintage "Batman" comics, and this review isn't an exception.

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  2. Marv Wolfman did in fact follow up on Electrocutioner, in Vigilante-the Adrian Chase version that debuted in New Teen Titans, actually. As I rather doubt that was the initial plan, I figure Wolfman just picked that one up from his Batman run and ran with it.

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    1. Interesting; thanks for the info! I didn't bother to look up the Electrocutioner after writing this post, but I figured he had to have shown up somewhere.

      I can't figure out if I think Electrocutioner is a cool name or a dumb one. It somehow straddles the line perfectly...!

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