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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Batman Family 18 - Batman in the sewer, Robin gets dumped, Batgirl vs Madame Zodiac, Man-Bat retires, and the Huntress fights fire

Jim Starlin does the cover for Batman Family 18 (June/July 1978), in which Batman and the Huntress begin solo series.

Denny O'Neil, Michael Golden and P Craig Russell open the issue with a story in which it looks like Batman gets killed. He doesn't. It's an actor hired to play Batman by an aging actress at a press conference where she is announcing that she is going to play Quasimodo and showing off a golden mask of the character.

Thieves steal the mask, kill the actor and kidnap her assistant. Batman comes onto the case, but by then the news has already hit the radio about Batman's death. Throughout the story we follow a radio newscaster, a guy renowned for keeping his cool, although as the story goes on we see how frazzled he gets.

Batman pursues the men behind the murder and theft down into the sewers. A huge storm hits Gotham at the same time, making the sewers a deadly dangerous place to be. It makes for a solid and suspenseful tale, and the art is just excellent.

The actress herself turns out to be the mastermind behind the events. Batman suspected this early on, when she commented, towards the start of the story, that when he caught the killers Batman "wouldn't be able to stand the smell," showing an awareness of where they went. 

Overall it's a fairly sad tale, but brought to an upbeat ending as the radio newscaster composes himself before leaving work, maintaining his ultra-cool image.

Bob Rozakis, Juan Ortiz and Dave Hunt handle the Robin story, in which one of his fellow students gets murdered. Dick leaves the class and changes to Robin to catch the killer. He does string the guy up, but the killer gets murdered as well, before Robin can question him.

The story has to do with smuggled art and counterfeits, but there is more drama in terms of Dick's relationship with Lori Elton. She has reached her limit with Dick running off all the time. When he questions her about their friend's dying words, which she heard as she held him in his last moments, Lori is furious that Dick could be so cold.

Robin has a triumph, figuring out the case and bringing down the villains.

But it doesn't feel like much of a victory when he sees Lori with another guy at the end, Dave Corby.

Rozakis and Ortiz also handle the Batgirl story, with inks by Vince Colletta. Barbara Gordon is having romantic problems as well. She is out on a date to view a meteor shower when she spots armed men approaching the Pentagon. She ditches her date and switches to Batgirl to investigate.

Sure enough a small army is attacking the facility. She takes most of them down, but then, in the centre of the structure, finds Madame Zodiac. The woman now displays a much wider and stronger range of powers than she had in the previous issue, as she is drawing energy from the Pentagon itself, a massive mystical pentagram.

Batgirl goads Zodiac into using her mental blasts to do even more damage to the structure, as she tries to kill Batgirl. The more damage she does to the building, the weaker the pentagram becomes, until the villain winds up losing her powers. Madame Zodiac cannot understand how Batgirl could defeat her when the stars had forecast her victory. Batgirl wonders if the meteor shower affected her reading.

Madame Zodiac returns in 1982 in the pages of World's Finest Comics.

Rozakis, Danny Bulanadi and Romeo Tanghal have Kirk Langstrom make a big decision in the Man-Bat story. Now that he and Francine have a baby daughter, Kirk feels it is time for him to settle down, get a real job, and put aside being Man-Bat. Despite the fact that it is his decision, and Francine is ok with him still becoming Man-Bat if he wants to, he spends much of the story wallowing in self pity.

And despite his decision, that night a flying bat creature goes out to fight crime anyway. Francine is sure that this was Kirk, but he denies becoming Man-Bat. Snafu escapes from prison and goes back on a crime spree, though the character does not look nearly as good as he did when drawn by Marshall Rogers.

But even without Rogers the end of the story works well, as we see Kirk fast asleep while Snafu is facing a bat-creature. But it's not Man-Bat who is back in action, it's Francine, as She-Bat.

The story continues in the next issue.

Paul Levitz, Joe Staton and Bob Layton close out the issue as the Huntress begins her first solo series. We see Helena Wayne at her office, a lawyer with Cranston, Grayson and Wayne. The firm specializes in research and litigation in the public interest. Wealthy left wing lawyers.

A fair bit of time is spent on explaining the firm, and introducing some of the other lawyers there. Helena has to deal with partners who feel she is only there because of her family's name and money, and clearly resenting her for being a woman. Things as Huntress are a bit easier. Someone has been setting buildings on fire, and as Huntress she gets into the action to save people.

As the story ends Helena sees someone giving a child a bomb to plant to set off another fire. She tries to see who did this, but the person gets away before she can get close enough to identify them.

The story continues in the next issue.

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