BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #18

At about this time, the next issue of BATMAN FAMILY came out, and I bought it at my trusty, reliable 7-11. I had been purchasing BATMAN FAMILY regularly almost since the beginning, and though I missed the vintage reprints in the transition over to the new Dollar Comics format, that didn’t stop me from partaking. Some of that, I think, was due to the series that debuted in this issue, one devoted to the daughter of the Earth-2 Batman, the Huntress. I was a sucker for the Justice Society, and with ALL-STAR COMICS having ceased to find distribution in my area, a regular dose of Helena Wayne was about as close as I was going to be able to get.

There were five stories in this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, and apart from the Huntress one, I can’t say that I recalled any of them before cracking the book back open for this piece. The lead Batman tale is noteworthy in that it’s a full-length story illustrated by Michael Golden and P. Craig Russell, two of the best artists of the period. Golden was something of a wunderkind in this era, but I was always a bit on the fence about his work. I could recognize it, and his stories would always have a few images that would remain with me indelibly. But I didn’t become a fan, didn’t seek his work out especially. Not sure why that is, other than personal taste. Golden would go on to have a huge influence on the popular artists that came after him, and was one of the few people who were pushing the graphics of the DC titles forward during a relatively staid period.

It’s a pretty good story by writer Denny O’Neil as well, ostensibly about Batman pursuing a gang of criminals and their hostage into the sewers beneath Gotham–sewers that are going to flood, so the water level is creeping ever higher. But what Denny really does here is a Will Eisner riff, in the person of radio personality Barry Dark, who is saved from a mugging by Batman in the opening, and who acts as a greek chorus and commentator on the twists and turns of the adventure in real time. It feels very much like a modern Spirit story, especially in that Batman isn’t presented as being overtly superhuman in it. He’s in as much danger of drowning in his efforts as the men he’s chasing.

Next up is a relatively sedate Robin outing in which the Teen Wonder has to hunt down the parties responsible for the assassination of one of his fellow students–seriously, the guy is sitting maybe six feet from Dick Grayson when he is shot by a high-powered rifle. The plot is ultimately all about some bad guys who are in possession of artwork once stolen by the Nazis who are trying to fence it–the killed student recognized one of the paintings they were attempting to move. But there are hints that something larger is at play, something that will come out in next month’s Robin adventure. But we’ll get to that eventually.

This was followed up by a similarly lightweight Batgirl adventure. In this one, Congresswoman Gordon finds herself drawn into a plot by Batgirl’s old enemy Madame Zodiac to cast one of her sinister spells from within the Pentagon itself–using the structure’s distinctive shape as a part of her incantation. You wouldn’t think that Batgirl would fare so well against a sorcerous opponent, but Babs puts her down with no difficulty in a dozen pages. Go figure.

The promotion of Michael Golden to handling the lead Batman story in this issue meant that he wasn’t available to tackle this month’s Man-Bat story, which is a shame, as he was one of the key reasons why that series was memorable. Here, a young Danny Bulanadi tries his best, but in the years to come he’d segue more towards being an inker, and it’s not hard to tell why. His work in this story is fine, but it’s all a bit stiff and posed. The story is all about Man-Bat deciding to retire from crime-fighting after the birth of his daughter. But while he’s sleeping, somebody is going out and hunting down the criminal element as Man-Bat. Is it Kirk Langstrom himself, sleepwalking? Or some copycat? We’d have to wait until next month to find out.

Finally, the book closes out with the Huntress, done by the team that had originated her: writer Paul Levitz and artists Joe Staton and Bob Layton. It’s the first of a three-part adventure in which the Huntress tracks down an arsonist who is setting fire to Earth-2 Gotham. As antagonists go, this wasn’t the most exciting thing Helena could be up against, but it did serve to bring her more in line with the overall aesthetic of the Batman universe, and the story was well done. This is a typical first installment, establishing the character and her world and setting her out on an adventure.

In addition to two separate letters pages, the issue also included yet another SUPERMAN THE MOVIE report, giving prospective audiences details about the coming magnum opus. Once again here, the printing in these books is so lousy that the one black and white photograph they run of Jor-El and Lara seems more like a smudge–and nothing that was going to get anybody excited about seeing this film. But it does put an exclamation point on just how cheaply and crudely these books were being reproduced. Even the daily newspaper could reproduce a decent photograph, despite being on paper stock equally crummy.

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