Comics Reviews: Batman 349, Detective 516, Brave & the Bold 188, Firestorm 2

Batman 349 coverBatman #349 – “Blood Sport” – Gerry Conway/Gene Colan/Alfredo Alcala

This one starts with Batman swinging around Hollywood, and I mean literally swinging, on his Batline. He’s in La-La Land to check out the Crime Academy, a school for crooks which he’s managed to infiltrate as Matches Malone. After killing some time, he calls home but there’s no answer. Batman finds that strange, since either Dick or Alfred should be there. But as we saw last issue, Dick (aka Robin) trailed his former girlfriend (Dala) to a spooky old country house where he got bashed on the head. Robin wakes up tied to a chair and Dala comes in to check on him. She’s acting really weird, like something out of an old horror movie (and Robin did see a weird ritual being performed in the mansion’s living room). Dala (who seems to know Robin and Dick Grayson are one and the same, but doesn’t care) kisses Robin and leaves; he wonders how he could’ve been soAlfred talks to Chance stupid as to think she was in love with him. I’d say he’s more stupid for coming to check the mansion without letting anyone know where he went. We now go to Boston, to see why Alfred wasn’t home when Batman called. He went to see Christopher Chance (aka Human Target), a guy who impersonates people at risk to save them from danger. Vicki Vale has figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and plans to publish that information unless Alfred can find a way to refute it. Of course, Alfred can’t tell Chance that without blowing Batman’s secret identity, so he just tells Chance that he wants him to impersonate Bruce Wayne because Bruce might be in danger. Alfred says Bruce has a heart condition, so he’s come to Chance to deal with the problem without letting Bruce know. Chance knows Alfred is hiding something, but takes the job Bard and Gordon talkanyway, intrigued by the challenge. Back in Gotham, Barbara Gordon brings private detective Jason Bard to see her father, former Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. Since losing his job, Jim has taken to moping around in his bathrobe and letting himself go. (Seriously, he looks like Foster Brooks.) A news report on TV gets Jim worked up, though; the new Commissioner (Pauling), who Jim knows was associated with the Gotham Tobacconists’ Club years ago, has just decreed that all cops must retire after twenty years of service. Jim thinks that’s crazy, since the department would be losing all its best people. Bard offers Jim a job with his P.I. Firm and says their first case should be checking into the mayoral election. Jim agrees. In the Gothic mansion, Robin manages to knock over a lamp and start a fire, burning through his ropes. Dala and one of her acolytes come in to stop Robin from leaving and he finally learns the horrifying truth … Dala and her clan are vampires. (Hey, with Gene Colan on art, there had to be a vampire tale sooner or later.)Robin finds vampiric victims Robin tosses one guy through the window and tackles Dala, who bites his neck. He throws her off and gets jumped by another vampire, who he manages to light on fire. Robin finds it hard to believe he’s fighting vampires, but when he finds a couple of victims trussed up and drained of blood, he starts to think it must be true. Robin crashes through a window and heads for the road, where he keels over. A car stops and he’s picked up by a priest (hell of a coincidence, if you ask me); Dala watches but doesn’t seem too worried, since she already sank her fangs into Robin. At the hospital, the priest tells the doctors to keep their mouths shut about Robin being there, and especially about the wounds on his neck, which the priest recognizes as the mark of the vampire. We’ll see if Robin turns next issue.

Catwoman – “The Man, the Bullet, the Cat, Part II” – Bruce Jones/Trevor von Eeden/Larry Mahlstedt

Last issue, Selina (Catwoman) Kyle was hired to protect a candidate for president of a union (Daniel Brown) from being killed. She rigged up a Brown is shotspecial mirror so Brown could give his speech without risking his life, but on the night of the speech, Selina was delayed and when she arrived she found Brown had just been shot. Brown’s not dead yet, but his wife (Janice) and running mate (Simmons) blame Selina for not protecting him. Selina does feel responsible, but wonders if Simmons might have something to do with the shooting, since he was there when the mirror was set up. Someone sends a hail of bullets through Selina’s window and she’s about to give chase, but wonders if somebody is trying to draw her away from Brown, leaving him unprotected. Brown is paralyzed from the waist down, but insists on rescheduling his speech. Selina says she has a foolproof way to protect him and over the next couple of weeks she puts up a bulletproof bubble from which Brown can give his speech in complete safety. Right before Brown is to give his speech, Simmons goes inside the bubble to talk to him. Selina makes sure to frisk Simmons and warns him not to touch Brown, but she notices SimmonsJanice takes a fall putting his hand over the microphone, even though the PA system isn’t turned on yet. Not long after Brown starts his speech, cyanide gas spews from the microphone and fills the bubble. The power to the door has been cut so they have to pry it open and when they do … the bubble is empty. Selina had rigged a trap door in the stage so Brown could be lowered down at the first sign of danger. She knows Simmons planted the gas in the microphone, but Simmons says it was all Janice’s idea; she thought her husband was too moderate to win, so she hired a sharpshooter to cripple him (for the sympathy vote) and planned for Simmons to inherit the post after they finished Brown off. Janice tries to flee, but falls down the open trap door. She doesn’t die, but her spinal cord is broken, so she’ll never walk again. Poetic justice, I guess.

Detective 516Detective #516 – “Final Exams” – Paul Kupperberg, Gerry Conway/Don Newton/Frank Chiaramonte

Last issue, Batman went to Los Angeles to check out the Crime Academy, a school for criminals. He disguised himself as Matches Malone (a crook alias he’s used many times before), but found out he’d have to be careful because some guys with a grudge against Matches are also attending the Academy. This issue opens with the Headmaster teaching his students how best to kill Batman, using a stunt man to demonstrate; luckily the guy was given a bullet-proof vest to wear. Back in Gotham, Boss Thorne plays pool with Monroe, the editor of Picture News Magazine. Monroe told Thorne that one of his reporters (Vicki Vale) claims to have photographic proof of Batman’s secret identity, but she wants some time to make sure her evidence is sound before she turns the photos over. (Vicki’s hesitation isThorne hallucinating due to Alfred’s claim that he can refute her evidence, as we saw in the Batman tale above.) But Thorne wants the photos now and pressures Monroe to get them. Thorne has another hallucination of the man he killed, Hugo Strange, taunting him … or is it a hallucination? Monroe pushes Vicki to turn over the photos, basically threatening to fire her if she doesn’t. She’s pissed off at his attitude and refuses to give him the photos. In L.A., Matches is hanging out with a couple of crooks, hitting a club downtown to unwind. He sees some guy beating the shit out of someone on a billboard ledge across the street and makes an excuse to the punks. Matches changes to Batman and jumps the thug on the billboard, but the guy seemed ready, almost like he expected Batman to show up. Batman kicks his ass and joins the crooks in the club as billboard fightMatches Malone. They pretend to buy his excuse for ducking out, but it seems like they’re suspicious. In Gotham, Vicki tells Alfred he’d better come up with his proof to refute her suspicions fast or their deal is off. Elsewhere, Jim Gordon has just joined Jason Bard’s P.I. Firm and they celebrate their new partnership. But Bard is worried that Gordon is fixated on bringing down new mayor, Hamilton Hill. In L.A., Matches Malone shows up for class at the Crime Academy (which uses an old Hollywood studio backlot) and is told by the Headmaster that he’s playing Batman for their lesson tonight. Matches notices the guy from the billboard in the class and realizes the Headmaster is onto him. He plays along and when he goes to change, the trailer is riddled with bullets. Since he was expecting it, Matches manages to slip out before the destruction and change to Batman. The crooks start hunting through theHeadmaster realizes he's outclassed backlot for him and he takes them out a few at a time, whittling down the odds. The Headmaster and the last student standing (who’s armed with a flamethrower) decide to get the hell out of there, but Batman tracks them relentlessly. They wind up in a wax museum and Batman takes out the final student, leaving the Headmaster to use the flamethrower against him. The Headmaster melts a lot of wax movie stars, but can’t kill Batman; he ends up cowering in a corner, giving up without any further resistance.

Batgirl – “Sleep While the Serpent Smiles” – Cary Burkett/Jose Delbo/Joe Giella

Last issue, Batgirl confronted the villainess Lady Viper (who can turn herself into a snake from the waist down) and was bitten. As this issue opens, the venom coursing through Batgirl’s veins makes her drowsy and she realizes she’s been poisoned. She uses the snakebite kit from her utility belt to suck the poison from her wound, but knows she needs to get to a hospital fast. It’s weird she doesn’t have some kind of universal anti-toxin like Batman does is his utility belt. She gets on her Batcycle, but keels over before she can go anywhere, and is found (and recognized) by a homelessBatgirl wakes up with a snake tail woman. At the Humanities Research and Development offices, Barbara Gordon’s coworkers wonder where she is. One of those coworkers (Barton, the guy who constantly acts like an asshole) receives a letter that freaks him out. Elsewhere, a hobo gets the shit scared out of him when he tries to jump in a boxcar that’s already occupied … by Lady Viper. Days go by and Lady Viper robs places all over Gotham, terrorizing people and leaving the cops baffled as to how to catch her. Batgirl has nightmares of being consumed by Lady Viper and finally wakes up in the sewers, surrounded by homeless people. (These are the same homeless people who helped Batman in Batman 307.) They tell Batgirl she’s been out of it for days, but she soon realizes her problems are worse than she thought … Lady Viper’s attack has caused Batgirl to turn into a snake from the waist down. We’ll see if she develops a taste for mice next issue.

Brave and Bold 188 coverBrave & the Bold #188 – “A Grave as Wide as the World” – Robert Kanigher/Jim Aparo

This one starts with Batman standing in an open grave about to be shot by a horde of Nazis … so, you know, a typical weeknight. He’s saved when Thorn shows up out of nowhere, taking some of the Nazis out with her poisoned darts and ducking behind a gravestone as the rest try to blow her away. We then go into an extended flashback to show how we got to this point. It started with some Nazi (Kuller) who’d been in captivity for thirty years being questioned by Der Fuhrer himself, Adolf Hitler. Hitler wanted to know the location of something important, a secret Kuller had kept from his Western interrogaters all these years. After getting the info, Hitler killed Kuller and we find out (surprise, surprise) it wasn’t really Hitler, just some other Nazi asshole dressed like him to get Kuller toBatman and kids clean up the environment talk. In Gotham, Bruce Wayne shows up at the Settlement House (which I think is a fancy term for orphanage) to take some boys out for the day. But these kids are too cool to hang out with an establishment square like Bruce, so he leaves and comes back as Batman. He takes the kids for a jaunt in the Batmobile (most of them not wearing seat belts) and they end up cleaning up a bunch of trash around a lake as Batman lectures them on the destruction of the environment. (Or Bob Kanigher lectures us, either way.) On the way back, Batman hears on the radio that Kuller is dead and that he took his secret to the grave. Batman fills the kids in on what the big secret was … Kuller was a Nazi spy who stole a canister of Inferno-1, a deadly nerve gas. Kuller was tracked down by the cops, but never revealed where he hid the nerve gas, so birds attacking Rose Forrestif someone finds it they can pretty much hold the country hostage. Batman drops the kids off and goes to look at Kuller’s body. He uses the old wives’ tale of someone’s eyes holding the image of the last thing they saw to figure out Kuller’s last vision was of Hitler. Batman knows Hitler died in 1945 so he asks about who saw Kuller last. He finds out an orderly at the hospital (Phillips) was the one who discovered Kuller’s body, but he’s gone on vacation with his girlfriend. The administrator just happens to have a photo handy and Batman sees the very Aryan Phillips is wearing an SS Death’s Head ring … not exactly inconspicuous. On the way back from the hospital, Batman passes a lake where birds nest every year and sees a flock of them attacking a woman. No, it’s not Tippi Hedren (though there is some resemblance), her name is Rose Forrest and she doesn’t know why the birds suddenly wentThorn's origin nuts. Batman shelters her in the Batmobile and the birds all drop dead from over-excitement. Batman takes Rose home and waits until she falls asleep, then leaves. As soon as he’s gone, Rose gets up in some kind of trance and goes to a hidden room where she transforms into Thorn. We get a recap of her origin: her father was a cop killed by gangsters and that made her personality split. The Thorn persona manifested with a desire to eliminate all criminals, to avenge her father, but her regular Rose Forrest persona has no idea about her violent alter ego. Batman is curious about the crazed birds so he goes back to the lake to check it out. Turns out the lake was poisoned with a tiny amount of Inferno-1, which causes violent madness Batman pounds Nazisand death. Batman assumes whoever found the canister Kuller hid must’ve poisoned the lake as a warning. Later, he sees a news report about Rose Forrest’s father’s grave being desecrated and his remains stolen. He goes to check it out and gets jumped by Nazis, which is where we came in. Batman takes advantage of Thorn’s distraction and starts pounding the shit out of the Nazis. The last one tries to toss a grenade, but Thorn takes him out with a dart, and the dropped grenade blows the Nazis to hell. Batman gets a report about Phillips’s car being found in the nearby town of Rockport. Thorn asks to go along, but Batman says it’s too dangerous and leaves her behind; kind of stupid, seeing as how she just saved his ass … twice. But something tells me Thorn won’t give up that easily … we’ll find out next issue.

Nemesis – “Gladiator’s Gauntlet” – Cary Burkett/Dan Spiegle

Last issue, Council member Kingston kidnapped Marjorie Marshall to lure Nemesis to his estate in Houston, where he’s set up numerous traps and ambushes. (Kingston fancies himself a modern Roman emperor and sees this as a gladatorial combat.) Kingston has cameras to show his fellow Council members (Scarfield and Maddoks) his triumph, but Maddoks isn’t too happy; whoever kills Nemesis will be made head of the Council, and Maddoks is worried about losing prestige (and territory) if Kingston wins.Nemesis attacks Nemesis notices the ambush and takes out some thugs (with non-lethal sleep bullets, as usual) before almost falling into a pit trap with spikes at the bottom. (If you’re thinking that’s very D&D, Nemesis makes the same observation.) He’s confronted by Kingston’s four “gladiators”, assassins who use various esoteric weapons. Nemesis takes out the martial arts master and tosses a guy with a hook hand into the spiked pit. He pulls the guy with the whip into the path of the knife-thrower and kicks the knife-thrower’s ass too. Nemesis threatens the guy, who tells him there’s a secret passage in the wall. Kingston is happy, since he’s wired the passage to explode as soon as Nemesis opens it. But Kingston better not get too complacent; Maddoks has an inside man (Sheffield) on Kingston’s staff and has just ordered him to blow Kingston’s head off.

Firestorm 2 coverFury of Firestorm #2 – “Rage” – Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rodin Rodriguez

This one starts with Firestorm in Central Park, ruminating on last issue’s action. A kid (who’s really jazzed about his latest score on missile Command—ah, the 80s) almost breaks his neck gawking, but Firestorm saves him and fixes his bike. We get a recap of last issue where Ronnie Raymond’s teacher (John Ravenhair) turned into Black Bison and went nuts at a museum, using a coup stick to bring various exhibits to life. Firestorm has been looking for Black Bison, but can’t find him so Professor Stein suggests they give up. Firestorm goes to Stein’s office at Concordance Research before splitting into Ronnie and the Professor. After running into one of Stein’s coworkers (Harry Carew), they see a news report with Doreen Day telling a reporter what happened at the museum and wondering where her boyfriend disappeared to. Ronnie figuresRonnie puts the frog down Cliff's shirt he’d better get back there and leaves. Stein keeps watching the news, where the reporter talks to Senator Walter Reilly, the guy who donated the Native American artifacts to the museum. At Bradley High, Doreen and local asshole Cliff Carmichael are recovering from the excitement at the museum and trying to console Vanessa Tremont, school counselor and John Ravenhair’s girlfriend. Ronnie returns and stuffs a frog down Cliff’s shirt as payback for Cliff doing the same to him at the museum. Cliff remembers he has a hole in the seat of his pants—from a prank Firestorm pulled on him—and goes off to change, leaving Doreen to give Ronnie shit for making her worry about him. Later, Professor Stein goes to see Walter Reilly, to warn him he might be Black Bison’s next target. Stein meets Lorraine (the Senator’s daughter) Black Bison takes Lorrainewho remembers Stein is the guy who tried to design a safe, fully-automated nuclear plant. Before Stein can talk to the Senator, Black Bison shows up, knocks Stein out and grabs Lorraine. He tells Reilly he stole Black Bison’s heritage, so now he’s stealing Reilly’s future … his daughter. Ronnie is at home—alone again, his dad’s working, as usual—and Stein calls from the hospital to tell him what happened. The cops think Stein might’ve had something to do with the kidnapping, so he says they need to find Lorraine fast. Ronnie initiates the Firestorm matrix, making Stein vanish from the hospital, and they head out to find Black Bison. Stein tells Ronnie that his prank on Cliff last issue wasn’t so childish after all, it was actually a good way to relieve the pressure of being a superhero. The cops have Black Bison surrounded in Central Park and Firestorm gets there just in time to save the cops from being trampledstatues come to life when Black Bison animates the horses on a carousel. Bison blows Firestorm away with a gust of wind and he lands in the Storybook Village part of the Children’s Zoo. Bison animates the Alice in Wonderland statues and they start beating the shit out of Firestorm as TV cameras film the whole thing. The report goes out live across the city and Vanessa heads for the Park, hoping she can get through to whatever’s left of the John Ravenhair she loves. Firestorm blasts the animated statues apart and tries to grab Black Bison, but he’s grabbed instead by an animate caterpillar statue. Before Bison can kill Firestorm or Lorraine, Vanessa shows up to reason with him. When another statue menaces her, John Ravenhair’s consciousness finally rebels against Firestorm rips the talisman from Bison's neckhis great-grandfather’s spirit, which has been directing his actions the whole time. As the two spirits struggle within Black Bison, Stein notices Bison’s necklace glowing. Firestorm busts loose and pulls the necklace from Black Bison, tossing into a nearby lake. That ends the struggle, allowing John Ravenhair’s psyche to resume control of his body. Lorraine gives Firestorm a big smooch, which kinda freaks him out; he could do a lot worse, Lorraine is pretty hot, even with that goofy 80s perm (which was the height of chic back then). John apologizes to Vanessa, saying his great-grandfather commandeered his body, but Vanessa says it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re back together now.

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