BATMAN #352

(OCTOBER 1982)

BATMAN TAKES TO THE SKY
KUPPERBERG & CONWAY DIP TO THE PAST
(Part One)

"The Killer Sky!"
(23 pages)

Part 1 of 2 (story continues in Detective Comics #519)

Cover pencils - Jim Aparo
Cover inks -
Jim Aparo
Cover colouring - Anthony Tollin

Story - Paul Kupperberg (plot by Gerry Conway)
Art - Don Newton
Inks - John Calnan
Colours - Carl Gafford
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano

Second feature - none
Letters page - "Batsignals" (2 pages)

 

NIGHT.

PEOPLE TEND TO AVOID THE CITY IN DARKNESS,
FEARING THE UNKNOWN WHICH
LURKS MENACINGLY IN EVERY SHADOW.

 

BUT NOT THE... BATMAN.

THE NIGHT IS HIS FRIEND... THE SHADOWS HIS ALLIES.

HE LIVES FOR THE COMING OF THAT
COMFORTING BLANKET OF BLACKNESS
TO
SHROUD THE STREETS AND ALLEYWAYS OF GOTHAM.

THAT, AFTER ALL, IS WHEN THE LOWER DENIZENS OF THE DARK COMES OUT TO PLAY --

-- THAT IS WHEN THE BATMAN COMES ALIVE !

(From the splashpage of Batman #352)

PLOT SUMMARY

As Barbara Gordon visits her father - former police commissioner James W. Gordon - in hospital where he is recovering from a stick-up by two crooked police officers who severly beat him up a few days back, newly appointed commissioner Pauling appears on the scene along with McCloksky, one of the police officers who laid hand on Gordon, and openly threatens Barbara that her father will soon be much worse should he not drop his investigation into suspicions of fraud and blackmailing concerning the recent majoral elections.

 
 
Pauling's nerve to come out quite openly about his involvement in the beating up of her father is of course founded on the assumption that they are alone, but the Batman - keeping a vigil outside the window of Gordon's room - has overheard the threats and in turn lets Pauling know that he will become a target for the Batman if anything happens to the former commissioner...

After Pauling and his goon - somewhat shaken by the encounter - have left, Gordon updates the Darknight Detective on his investigations so far and the many circumstantial evidence he has gathered, but that he still lacks actual proof and therefore needs the help of Batman - who is more than happy to offer his services (besides still addressing Gordon as "commissioner").

Meanwhile, somewhere in the North Atlantic, the dumbfounded crew of a surfaced submarine witness a Zeppelin appearing out of the dense fog which clings to the water surface. Initially amazed by the anachronistic flying machine, the crew is soon stunned as the entire submarine is pulled out of the water by what seems to be a powerful magnetic beam coming from the Zeppelin - and as the modern warfaring ship is virtually docked to the vintage cigar-shaped flyer, the latter sets off into the distance...

Back at Wayne Manor, Alfred explains his fears and motives that had him hire Christopher Chance a.k.a. the Human Target in order to impersonate Batman (and thus counteract rumours spread earlier by Vicki Vale that she had photographic evidence of the Darkinght Detective's secret identity). He is more than just relieved to note that his master not only understands but actually appreciates what Alfred has done, and when Chance appears on the scene, Bruce Wayne plays the bored playboy to perfection, dispelling the Human Target's suspicions that there might be more to Wayne than meets the eye...

Meanwhile, at the offices of the Gotham Picture News, editor in chief Monroe takes a rapping from "Boss" Thorne over the story which alledgedly should have proven that Bruce Wayne is Batman but then completely backfired (only due, as readers know, to Alfred's idea of hiring the Human Target to impersonate Wayne, making it possible for the (fake) millionaire and (real) Batman to be seen at the same time in the very same location). Thorne leaves in anger, and the utterly terrified Monroe sees no way out of all of this than to put an end to his life with a gun.

 
Later that night, Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale attend a fireworks party on a ship when the good mood is abruptely broken by a Zeppelin appearing out of nowhere. The dirigible seems to be pulling a navy ship right out of the water, and as confusion diverts the partygoers attention, Bruce Wayne slips under deck... only to emerge within seconds as - the Batman.

As the navy ship is drawn ever closer to the Zeppelin, Batman swings in with a rope and pulls himself up onto the dirigible, whilst below Vicki Vale - who has not missed the occasion to take a few snapshots - wonders where Bruce Wayne has gotten to...

Meanwhile, Batman has taken out one of the airship's engines and thus reduced her speed. However, he is spotted by one of the henchmen aboard the dirigible and almost sent plunging down to earth - a fall stopped only by the use of a grapple hook which digs into the airships outer casing.

 
 
During the ensuing fight, Batman manages to take out the second engine, and the airship crew are forced to turn their attention to balancing the dirigible - believing they have lost the Batman.
 
 
And actually, they are not mistaken, but a badly battered and bruised Batman just about makes it back to the Batcave, where a most upset Alfred and a worried Robin take care of the Darknight Detective.

Later on, Bruce Wayne recalls how he was able to slow down his fall with his cape to the navy ship below the Zeppelin, and how he continued his way down from there with the help of the vessel's anchor, finally reaching the safety of solid ground - only to watch the dirigible drift off into the night sky.

 
  But as the grapple hook used to prevent his fall also contains a tracking device, the Dynamic Duo are nevertheless hot on the trail of whoever commands that airship.

Following the signal in the Batmobile, Batman and Robin take to the forests on the outskirts of Gotham, but as they drive deeper into the Jersey Woods their vehicule suddenly hits a landmine. Whilst the Dynamic Duo escape unharmed, the Batmobile is a total loss.

Meanwhile, deep in the forest, a huge hangar has been erected on a clearing, and inside Colonel Blimp just steps off the Zeppelin, proclaiming to his henchmen that the lighter than air dirigible has proven both its worth and its might, and that this is just the beginning of making everybody pay for what they have done...

 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Midway through the story, as Batman climbs the dirigible, he wonders "who concocted this insane scheme" - and this really sums it up nicely. Even by comic book standards of suspending your belief (plus, in this case, the laws of physics), a Zeppelin pulling heavy duty seagoing vessels into the sky by means of some mysterious magnetic force sounds rather far fetched. It really is the sort of story device one would normally associate with some 1930s serial, and within the context of a Batman comic book you either roll with those kind of punches - or you don't.

Judging from the letters printed in Batman #357 the majority of readers at the time seemed to enjoy Colonel Blimp's criminal escapade for most of what it was worth. One writer felt that "'The Killer Sky' was a superior Batman story", whilst another simply stated that "Batman #352 was a joy to read", adding that it reminded him "of the old scripts by David V. Reed and Denny O'Neil (...) because it was down to earth." Leaving praise and involuntary metaphorical jokes aside, even those who didn't like the dirigible's captain that much found points of merit in Gerry Conway's plot and the script by Paul Kupperberg (who was 27 at the time): "My dislike for Blimp and the major plotline around him is belied by my praise for the thoroughly engaging action scenes he prompts."

Nobody at the time seemed to put Batman's encounter with Colonel Blimp into perspective - in essence missing the point that Gerry Conway was continuing his quest of digging deep into the Darknight Detective's past and unearthing his very first villains.

First, there was Doctor Death - Batman's very first arch-villain from Detective Comics #29 (July 1939), reintroduced to the Batman Universe in Batman #345 (March 1982) after an absence of 43 years. Then came the vampiric Monk and Dala, first seen in Detective Comics #31 (September 1939) and reappearing again for the first time since in Batman #349 (July 1982). As for Colonel Blimp, he is clearly modelled after the Darknight Detective's third super-villain in chronological order, even though the captain of "the dirigible of doom" featured in Detective Comics #33 (November 1939) was one Professor Carl Kruger, suffering from "Napoleon Syndrome" yet aided by his loyal Scarlet Horde - which, of course, explains his later incarnation's rather garishly coloured outfit.


Professor Carl Kruger in Detective Comics #33 (1939) and Colonel Blimp in Detective Comics #519 (1982)

Conway and Kupperberg did however modify the villain's motives and modus operandi: whereas Kruger used a "death ray" from his Zeppelin in 1939, Blimp has toned down his actions somewhat by employing a mere magnetic force field.

The choice of name seems to be a tongue in cheek wordplay as blimp is one of many terms (first coined, according to the Oxford Dictionary, by the Royal Navy in 1915) used to name non-rigid and free-floating aircrafts - others being zeppelin or dirigible; a reference to the 1930s British cartoon character Colonel Blimp seems unlikely as the two characters share no common trait - the 1930s Blimp was a satirical portrait of British establishment, whereas Batman's Colonel Blimp is ultimately revealed to seek revenge for his father.

If that background can't save the story for some readers of today, the artwork should go a long way in that respect. Don Newton's pencils have an extraordinary dynamic flow, and some panels just stand out as iconic portrayals of the Batman - the splash page sets the tone, and if Batman #352 may have one or two issues in claiming that status for its story, the artwork is classic Bronze Age beyond a doubt and gives it all a tremendously entertaining spin.

 
RECOMMENDED READING - Whilst the story involving Colonel Blimp may not be everybody's cup of tea, the stunningly atmospheric artwork alone is worth reading this comic book.
 

FACTS & FIGURES

Batman #352 continues the plot and story crossovers between Detective Comics and Batman launched in early 1982 and was one of only very few issues not coloured by Adrienne Roy between 1982 and 1995.

 
It was sold in two variant version: a newsstand edition (with a barcode on the cover) and a direct market edition (with the barcode area left blank and displaying the DC bullet logo plus the blurb "WHERE THE ACTION IS") which also carried a UK price of 20p.

"The Killer Sky" was reprinted in 1983 in Semic AS's Norwegian Superserien #7 and #8, and as a French version for the Canadian market in Batman #6, published by Editions Heritage in 1983. It was also published for the Mexican market by Editorial Novaro in May 1984 in Batman #1245, a monthly they first put out in 1954.

Batman #352 has so far not been reprinted in a collected edition since its original publication.

 
 
 

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