Why does Steve Englehart’s writing sound like he’s doing a spec script for “Batman: The TV Show” cliffhanger narration? I can’t decide if it’d be better if he’s serious and thinks it’s good writing to treat your readers as infantile or if he’s doing it because he’s being condescending to the material. Either way… lousy start.
Especially since I only started reading this era of Detective for an Englehart run.
From the first page, it’s a lot. There’s the narration, but there’s also Englehart doing a flashback on the second page to right before the first page. Alfred passed out when bringing Batman his morning snack. It appears sensational at first, then, you know, medically concerning. Maybe Alfred hit his head.
Batman can’t get an ambulance because there’s an epidemic all of a sudden. People collapsing all over Gotham, so he rushes Alfred to the hospital as Bruce Wayne because Bruce Wayne “pays his way.” But, again, is Englehart being silly, or did he just finish reading some Atlas Shrugged for inspiration?
A new villain is poisoning the city—Mr. Phosphorous—no, wait, Dr. Phosphorous—and he’s not going to stop. So Batman goes home (his Bruce Wayne caring for Alfred thing does not warrant a scene of concerned Bruce, it’s nonce) and investigates what poisoned Alfred. It takes Batman longer than it should. Like, it’s one of those Bob Rozakis “you-solve-its” only Batman had to cheat on the last page and turn the comic upside down.
He’s able to go confront Doctor Phosphorous, who’s got a hilarious way of poisoning the people, and they have a big fight. Only Doctor Phosphorus is really hot, and it hurts to fight him, which leads to Batman wrapping his non-heat or flame-resistant gloves in his cape. The cape is heat and flame-resistant. It’s a poorly designed outfit or something, doesn’t matter. Neither does Batman’s next way to compensate.
The scene ends with Doctor Phosphorous running off while Batman whines at him to stay and fight; Doctor Phosphorous says you have to come back next issue, silly, it’s a two-parter.
The backup is Doctor Phosphorous’s origin, which unexpectedly ties into the main story. Phosphorous knows the city council guy who’s giving Gordon shit about Batman being a deputized vigilante—a different city council guy than a few issues ago; apparently, each Detective writer has to introduce their own similarly smarmy white guy whine. The city council’s corrupt and caused Doctor Phosphorous to become Doctor Phosphorus (sort of, he’s the one who thought he’d inspect a nuclear power plant on his own). So to pay him back for ruining his life, the city council has to set up Batman.
It’s a complicated, petty politics story arc, with narration written for a very bored narrator to read. At times it feels like Englehart must’ve tested the lines aloud and liked the terrible way they sound.
Al Milgrom inks Walt Simonson pencils. It doesn’t go well for Batman or the people, but Doctor Phosphorous is all right. The art stylizes the people strangely—some guy’s got Norman Osborn hair—and Batman’s awkwardly bulky. Phosphorous is a glowing skeleton. They do best with him.
It’s a bad comic. Like, even for this era of Detective… it’s a bad comic. What have I gotten myself into?
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