I went into this issue expecting the back-up—Black Canary versus the Calculator, continuing writer Bob Rozakis’s back-up from last issue—to be better than the feature, which wraps up guest star vigilante the Black Spider’s first appearance. I was wrong. While the feature is not good at all, the back-up is even worse.
The feature starts with writer Gerry Conway resolving the last issue’s cliffhanger, which had Batman about to be run over by a passenger jet. Luckily, the jet didn’t run him over; tres exciting. After some quick fisticuffs with the Black Spider, ending with Black Spider beating Batman once again—without the “gunshot wound to the shoulder” excuse because Black Spider takes him out with a kick to the knee—Batman has to figure out where the vigilante will strike next.
Luckily, Batman has some streetwalkers he can ask. The story’s take on the informant is simultaneously objectifying and moralizing. Most amusing, when she tells Batman giving him information will result in her death, he’s okay with it, continuing Conway writing Batman as a dick. In his one scene with Alfred and two with Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s more concerned with the problem of vigilantism than being rude to them this issue, however. There’s lots of soapboxing from Bats about why vigilantes are dangerous, but deputy policemen like him are jim-dandy.
The thread is a strange attempt from Conway to give the comic some heft. Apparently, the editors and Conway didn’t realize they could just as well not address it, but the reveals on Black Spider aren’t enough to fill pages. Frank Castle Jr., he ain’t. Black Spider is, as predicted, a Black man; he had a friend who got hooked on junk and went from one tragedy to another.
There’s a moment where Batman’s confused at junkies having other qualities to hammer in more moralizing. Again, Conway could’ve skipped the moment—he had that ability—but instead, he just reinforces the problems with the story.
Ernie Chan and Frank McLaughlin’s art isn’t as bad as last time, but only because Batman doesn’t have as many action sequences. Conway’s finale for the issue seems more appropriate for a Spider-Man, though Black Spider doesn’t have any webs. It’s a slight, severely undercooked story.
And leagues better than the back-up, which is six pages of atrocious dialogue and storytelling. It starts with Black Canary blowing off the Atom reporting on last issue’s adventures because she’s got better things to do. Except then, the Calculator immediately ambushes her, and she realizes she should’ve paid attention.
The Rozakises (Bob got an assist from wife Laurie) write Black Canary like an asshole but then have Calculator be a sexist piece of shit to her. His supervillain plan for this story’s goofy but also barely explained. Instead, there’s just fighting and misogyny.
The art, from Mike Grell and Terry Austin, is good… way better than the script deserves. It ends, like last time, with Calculator plotting his next move from a jail cell; presumably, they won’t explain the prison escape next time either.
Besides the Grell and Austin art, the issue’s the pits.