SPOTLIGHT ON ...

DETECTIVE COMICS #509
(DECEMBER 1981)

"Nine Lives has the Cat..."
(Part 1 of 1)
(19 pages)

Cover pencils - Jim Aparo
Cover inks -
Jim Aparo

Story - Gerry Conway
Art -
Don Newton
Inks - Dan Adkins
Colours -
Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano

Second feature - Batgirl, "The Fires of Destruction!" (7 pages)
Letters page - The Batcave (1 page)

 

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER ALERT !

As the splash page introduction puts it, this is a story of endings - and beginnings - in the legend of the Batman, and it opens with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle together after an evening out on the town and in harmony with their romantic feelings for each other.

 
However, they are not alone and actually being watched by a pair of hateful eyes from out of the shadows. As Selina breaks away quite suddenly and bids Bruce goodnight abruptly, Gotham's fashionable millionaire wonders what caused this rupture - was it Selina's memories of her life as Catwoman or was it something she sensed in him and his alter ego?

Back at Selina's apartment we learn that she herself thought that Bruce changed completely upon the mere mentioning of the word "Catwoman", but she has no time to further pursue those thoughts as an intruder breaks into her dewllings - and it is no one else than Cat-Man, whom Selina thought dead. However, just like his feline role-models, Cat-Man himself seems to have nine lives. He immediately attacks Selina, and in the ensuing struggle she catches a glimpse of Cat-Man's face and notices with horror that one half is terribly disfigured...

The scene switches to Gotham General Hospital, where Batman pays a visit to Dr Thirteen, the "Ghost Breaker", who had helped him and Commissioner Gordon link what appeared to be a ghost haunting Wayne Manor to Man-Bat (as told in Batman #341-342).

Dr Thirteen is now suffering from partial amnesia after a fall, which is a stroke of luck for Batman as the Ghost Breaker had discovered the secret entrance to the Batcave and thus Bruce Wayne's secret identity in the course of that investigation.

 
 
As both Commissioner Gordon and Batman seem rather unnerved about the upcoming mayoral election - with both candidates having law and order issues as the main point on their political agenda - the Darknight Detective investigates an alarm at the Wayne Research Institute facilities, located at the tip of Long Island. Because biological research is an important part of the Institute's research, Batman first suspects that Poison Ivy might be involved, but the fact that the locks have been forced open and the alarm system sabotaged points to a different modus operandi. Batman checks on the piece of the Cat-Man's cape which is kept at the facilities in order to reserach its apparent healing effects - an effect the cape has obviously also had on Cat-Man himself who hurls himself at Batman from out of the shadows...
 
  Cat-Man was once a jungle game hunter named Tom Blake, and like a cat he is quick and cunning - as Batman once again is forced to acknowledge as the fight between the two masked men shifts into top gear and he is caught off guard in a brief moment of not keeping up his defenses.

As Batman regains consciousness, he finds himself tied firmly to poles rammed into the ground of the beach and a triumphant Cat-Man telling him that he will drown as the tide is now coming in... and that is all Cat-Man wants: to see Batman dead, in revenge for their last encounter (which also saw Catwoman partaking in the fight) and which sent Cat-Man falling into a geysir. Only thanks to his wondrous cape did he recover, but as the Catwoman had torn a piece off his cape the healing was not complete - hence his terribly scarred face. Cat-Man leaves Batman behind to drown as a lonely victim, but after a lengthy struggle in the rising tides of the maritime waters, the Darknight Detective manages to break free with a final effort.

Later that night, on the East Shore of Gotham Harbour, one lonely anchored ship is all there is to see - until a silhouette glides out of the dark waters and heaves itself up on deck: the Batman!

 
On deck of that very same vessel, Cat-Man is bitterly lamenting his disfigured face to a bound Selina Kyle who simply reminds him that they had both thought he'd used up his nine lives before (going back to Detective Comics #325) and that there could now be no more than one single life left for Cat-Man. The former game hunter is, however, in no mood to listen to Selina's reasonings and again dons his mask, threatening to disfigure her before he will eventually kill her. It is here that the Batman steps in, and during the fight on the deck of the ship Cat-Man is hurled into the water as Batman swings the mast boom at him. Cat-Man, however, can't swim...
 
The next morning, Selina Kyle makes an exit too as she leaves Gotham by train, explaining to Bruce Wayne that she is still haunted by her past and that somehow, somewhere, she is still Catwoman. As she boards the train, Bruce stays behind in silence as she tells him that she may be back - sometime, maybe.

As Bruce smilingly accepts Alfred's offer of buying him a cup of hot tea to counteract the moment's numbness, he is unknowingly being photographed by a mysterious woman who leaves the scene thinking to herself that after all these years she now has the evidence she needs to prove once and for all - that Bruce Wayne is Batman...

 
 
 
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

A grippingly good Batman story combines a coherent plot and well paced storytelling with an interesting and complex villain. Detective Comics #509 has to make do without the latter but the resulting stand-alone and done-in-one story still comes across as a good example of why the Batman comic books of the early 1980s were - and still are - highly enjoyable Batman fare.

 
  Cat-Man first crossed Batman's path in Detective Comics #311 (January 1963), which fell squarely into one of the most laughable periods of the Darknight Detective.

Having been put into storage after appearing in three issues of Detective Comics in 1963/64, Cat-Man enjoyed something of a comeback in the early 1980s when writer Gerry Conway was looking at the repertoire of Batman's Golden and Silver Age villains which had become more or less forgotten in most cases.

Naturally, Conway's Cat-Man is no longer the 1960s oddball gimmicky villain who rides a giant mechanic cat. His only goal and purpose is to kill; Batman first, and then Selina Kyle. That unchecked hatred is all because of his disfigured face which, in turn, is all because a small piece of fabric was torn from his "magic" cape.

 
It is this piece of clothing which is the only major problems this issue has. First of all, it requires the presence of some undefined supernatural element of "magic" (always a weak way to explain things) for the story to remain plausible. It is not how things generally work in Batman's world, but strangely enough it is Cat-man himself who makes it extremely hard to accept that plot device as his approach to achieving his goal of murdering Batman is so erratic that his actions seem even less plausible than anything to do with magic.
 
If he is so driven by his hatred, why should Cat-Man bother to tie up his victim and not stay on to make sure his plan actually works, rather than e.g. simply stabbing him in the old-fashioned no-fuss way? Of course, it is the comic book villain's way of doing things to the hero, but the personality and actions of Cat-Man come across as being very incoherent by any standards - and hence ultimately even cheesy.

As a result the story is driven by a villain who never kicks into second gear. So why does Detective Comics #509 work anyway?

As comic books are a visual form of storytelling, the highly attractive and slick artwork by Don Newton is definitely part of the saving grace. This is the Bronze Age Batman at his best, with dynamic layers of clear lines and classic poses and a flow and movement to each and every page. Newton truly excels at drawing the Darknight Detective, and as he is given ample opportunity to do so, Detective Comics #509 thus becomes a joy to behold.

Batman villains are always a matter of taste, but Gerry Conway has enough plot cards to play that there's still plenty a-happenin' even for those who can't quite get into the main story's driving character. There's a constant stream of subplots to create interest and atmosphere, with plot devices and props galore.

 
 
One very nice touch which Conway perfected to the highest during his 1980s run on Detective Comics and Batman was the "visual flashback", which generally either referred to past events in a previous issue or gave some background information on a villain (usually his origin) or a situation (usually explaining the root cause). It was a great alternative to just having the characters narrate that content or setting it down in an exposition textbox, often adorned with a simple editorial statement of "see issue so-and-so".

Don Newton had an absolute knack for the composition of these visual flashbacks, and Detective Comics #509 gave readers not one but two such examples (covering the "haunting" in Wayne Manor from Batman #341-342 as well as Cat-Man's fall into the geyser in Batman #342). If you had missed the content in question, Newton provided you with some extra visual impression of what was being relayed - a real treat.

 

 
The cliffhanger at the end of Detective Comics #509 - the mysterious woman secretly taking pictures of Bruce Wayne and obviously just one step away from revealing his secret alter ego - ends with a pointer not to the next issue of Detective Comics but rather to Batman #343. It is the first glimpse of what would become a regular feature as of Detective Comics #510: plot and storyline cross-overs between Detective Comics (usually on sale on the second Wednesday of a month) and Batman (usually on sale on the fourth Wednesday of a month).
 
 

FACTS & TRIVIA

Detective Comics #509 went on sale 24 September 1981 and was published in 1982 by German publisher Egmont Ehapa as "Neun Leben hat die Katze" in Batman Taschenbuch #16 and as "Nine Lives has the Cat..." in Batman #6 in 1983 by Federal for the Australian market. Editorial Navaro of Mexico not only reprinted the story but also used the cover for their Batman #1209.

The Batman feature has so far not been reprinted.

Conway and Newton's visual flashbacks also somewhat softened the fact that Dick Giordano got his references wrong (pointed out also by a reader in the letters page of Detective Comics #514) by refering readers to Detective Comics #325 instead of Batman #342 for the last encounter between Batman and Cat-Man.

 

 

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(c) 2011-2017

 

uploaded to the web 30 September 2017