Friday, July 15, 2016

Tales From the 50 Cent Bin! - Batman: Venom

I think it is time to get back to some of that Batman goodness if there is such a thing. Today’s story comes from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, a comic series that had stories that weren’t too connected to Batman’s current status. The series started around the release of the 1989 Batman movie.  It usually had stories that showed Batman in his early years or at least it started out like that. Last year, I looked at “Gothic,” one of the arcs from this series. Today’s five-parter is called “Venom” and it went through issues #16-20 of that series. Like “Gothic,” I found this series in the cheap bins one day.

The writer of the story is well-known Batman writer, Denny O’Neil. He revitalized the character in the 70’s. I also think he was an editor on the main Bat-books at this time too. The layouts were handled by Trevor von Eden. The pencils were done by Russell Braun. The inking was handled by well-known artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name!). If you’re wondering why I’ll add “praise be his name” to Garcia-Lopez’s name, blame Charles Niemeyer. So, let’s see what happens to Batman when he enters an after school special about drugs.

Batman: Venom
Writer: Denny O’Neil
Layouts: Trevor von Eeden
Pencils: Russell Braun
Inks: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praise be his name!)
Colors: Steve Oliff
Letters: Willie Schubert

The story starts out with Batman on the trail of a kidnapped girl named Sissy Porter. The kidnappers left the girl in a deep cavern and it’s beginning to flood. Batman does what he can to save Sissy but he is unsuccessful and she drowns. After he recuperates at Wayne Manor, he goes to see Sissy’s father, Randolph Porter.  He’s a doctor and seems unusually unfazed by her death. Batman finds him working on a strength-increasing steroid and he offers Batman some. Batman refuses at first. After some unsuccessful encounters with criminals as well as the guilt of the young girl’s death on his shoulders, Batman returns to Porter and takes some of these pills.
Bryan Cranston, is that you?

The drugs (I don’t think it’s actually called “Venom” in-story) increase Batman’s strength by a lot. For a while, he’s kicking butt and taking names all over Gotham. He even disguises himself in a trenchcoat and heads out to beat some heads. Over time, it does start to affect him mentally. He starts to depend on the drugs too much. It even gets to a point where Alfred quits because of Bruce’s addiction. Even Commissioner Gordon, who Batman hasn’t been in contact with for some time, knows something isn’t right.

Eventually, Bruce runs out of pills and heads back to Porter. It’s here where he meets General Thunderbolt Ross… oh, wait. It’s actually retired General Slaycroft. He also runs into General Slaycroft’s mentally challenged son, Tommy. We find out later that Slaycroft has teamed with Porter in order to do some illegal experimentation with these performance enhancing drugs. Batman asks for more pills and Porter will give him some for one thing: the death of Comm. Gordon. Batman strangely accepts this.

Later, Batman finds Gordon and tells him about Porter and Slaycroft instead of killing him. He decides to head back and apprehend the two criminals. He tries to apprehend him but Porter uses Batman’s addiction against him and hands him some more pills. After they escape, Batman realizes how bad he’s gotten on this stuff. He calls Alfred to apologize and Alfred does meet him at the Manor sometime later. Realizing he needs to kick his addiction, Bruce locks himself in the Batcave for a month while Alfred waits.
Man, I wish I could grow my hair like that in a month!

During Bruce’s rehab, Porter and Gen. Slaycroft head to the island of Santa Prisca. There, they use the enhancement drugs on Tommy and ultimately make him into an obedient super soldier. They even have Tommy kill this one island girl that took a liking to him. They do these experiments to other men as well and ultimately create a small army. Time passes and Bruce comes out of the Batcave weakened but weaned off of the drugs. After he takes some time to get back into shape, he heads to Comm. Gordon’s office and tells him that he’s heading to Santa Prisca to bring Porter and Slaycroft to justice.
Porter: Slaycroft, do you have some big, green behemoth to chase down for your next appointment?

He and Alfred take a small plane down to the island. They try to do some reconnaissance on the villains’ fortress, but their plane gets taken down by a missile. They use parachutes to escape their downed plane. Bruce uses this time to change into uniform and takes out some of Slaycroft’s men. He eventually finds out that Alfred has been captured. The villains stick Alfred out in the ocean with some sharks to bait Batman. Batman gets out there and is able to free Alfred but he gets captured by Porter’s soldiers. Batman is forced to fight Tommy and tries to beat him but fails. Batman gets locked up in a flooding room. Porter gives him a way out but in order for him to escape, he has to take the pills.
Hmm... maybe some unintentional foreshadowing for Bane?

It takes some time, but Batman uses his thinking to get out of the flooded room. He finds Porter, Slaycroft, and Tommy in their office where Slaycroft is trying to force the drug’s formula out of Porter. A fight breaks out and it all ends when Porter makes Tommy kill his father. Porter even took a stronger batch of the drug during the scuffle. Batman takes Porter back to Gotham City where he is arrested. Later, Batman meets Gordon and finds out that Porter died in prison from withdrawal symptoms. The story ends with Batman thinking about Sissy Porter and Tommy.

While I had a couple of criticisms about it, I thought this was an interesting story for Batman. It’s not every day where you read about a superhero like Batman getting addicted to drugs. I thought the story was written well especially on Batman’s side. I liked how Alfred and Gordon were used here. I will say that it does have a bit of a “Public Service Announcement” feel to it. Heck, I actually ran into some of those PSAs in the issues. The story definitely has  a pretty dark feel to it even when Batman turns into James Bond towards the end. Heck, it’s about addiction and that can get pretty dark.

While everyone thinks of Batman as being this dude who’s perfect in everything, he is just a man. The fact that he can only do so much gets to him here. Does it seem out of character for Batman to even consider taking drugs? Maybe, but O’Neil does give some valid reasons for this. Not only is he pretty vulnerable at this point in his career, he literally saw a little girl drown to death in front of his eyes. All of that goes into his decision to take the drug. Also, with this Batman being at the beginning of his career, it would make sense that he would try to find ways to be better. Still, it does seem weird that he’d accept drugs from just some random bloke down the street. Maybe he checked Porter out at “Pushers-R-Us” something.

If I had one criticism, it would be the villains. The villains themselves are a little lackluster. Slaycroft is your stereotypical former military dude gone off the deep end. I also wonder why he was literally made to look like General Ross from The Incredible Hulk. Maybe the fact that Slaycroft was involved with hulked up super soldiers helped. Porter was a little better. He was essentially the brains of the operation and he used his ways to fool everyone including Batman. I will say his little trap towards the end was pretty dumb. I get why he did what he did but you know you can’t leave Batman in a room by himself!
Porter: Not a great thinker...

I thought the artwork was really good here. The layouts were pretty cohesive and moved the story along well. The pencils, inks, and colors were pretty good. When it got dark, it got dark. I can see why Braun was later brought on to do a series called The Boys. I’ve never read that series but I’ve heard it gets really dark. Batman looked at his best and his worst (story-wise) here. When he got hooked on Venom, he had this weird smile on his face. It was actually a little creepy to see Batman that excited over anything. The action scenes were pretty cool as well. It’s the small scenes that sell the story for me though. Seeing Batman go through the motions of the addiction was interesting.

Overall, I liked this story. It took Batman down a dark, weird path. If you’re curious, check it out. I know that there’s a trade of the story out there. One last thing is that this wouldn’t be the last time we saw the drug pop up. It was later used for a luchador-looking powerhouse by the name of Bane. Well, I need to go clear out some stuff in the backyard. Peace, God Bless, and don’t accept random narcotics from random dudes down the street.
Batman on any narcotic or being written by current Frank Miller is scary.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome retelling. I read this when I was much younger