Monday, June 4, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 21: November and December 1972

by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino 

Detective Comics 429 (November 1972)

"Man-Bat Over Vegas!"
Story and Art by Frank Robbins

Victims of a "giant mutant bat" have been found in the streets of Las Vegas, all blood drained from their bodies. When Bruce Wayne gets wind of this, his first inclination is to call Kirk Langstrom (aka the "giant mutant bat" Man-Bat) for his opinion. Just as he's dialing the phone, the scientist pops up on a Las Vegas news station. Now convinced that Langstrom has reversed the process that cured him of his vampiric tendencies (in Detective #416), Batman heads for Sin City. Once there, he convinces the girlfriend of the Man-Bat's latest victim to act as bait to bring Langstrom out of hiding. The lure works and Batman is able to fend off the giant bat before both hurl through a glass ceiling into the casino below. The most important clue as to the bat's real identity becomes a band-aid torn from the its wrist: the same band-aid worn by Kirk Langstrom's wife, Francine while she was being interviewed on TV! Now Batman learns the frightening truth that Francine Langstrom is the blood-drinker.

PE: Holy moley, I feel like the scales of justice. One hand holds Frank Robbins the artist, the other Frank Robbins the writer. I've always been convinced (and the evidence surely backs up my findings) that Robbins is deadlier with a pencil in hand rather than a typewriter. Now I'm not sure. Those scales are tipping back and forth. Robbins doesn't even try to add one whiff of originality to his rip-off of the then-recently broadcast The Night Stalker other than maybe the crazed radio reports of "the smart money has it that the 'Vegas Raider' is a nuclear-created . . . monster mutant vampire-bat!" Really? A nuclear test one week and the next week we've got mutated vampire-bats? The funny thing is that Bruce Wayne scoffs at reports of a mutant bat when he's fought The Man-Bat before so, in his goofball DC Universe, anything should be possible.

Jack: A vampire in Vegas? Where’s Kolchak?

PE: I think he's investigating the same murders.

Jack: This story should have been called “Woman-Bat Over Vegas!” Or better yet, “Still more clunky art by Frank Robbins.”

PE: Well, let's not forget the clunky dialogue. Kirk Langstrom suddenly talks like Moon Doggie. "Dig?" How about the awkwardly phrased: "Thank you, professor--and your lovely wife, Francine!" And the clunky logic: Francine becomes the She-Bat when the moon is out, right? Well, I'm not sure. She enters a cave (and out of the direct rays of the moon) but retains her vampire form until the moon is covered with clouds. She then reverts back to her beautiful human form until the cloud covering moves away from the moon. But the moon is out regardless, so why the flip-flop? Yeah, I know. It's a comic book. Or the, to put it mildly, abrupt climax? From start to finish this is an all-around disaster.

"Case of the Loaded Case!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck and Joe Giella

Jason Bard discovers a briefcase loaded with a hundred thousand bucks and a message from Wall Street analyst Harrison Baron. If Bard can safeguard the money for 24 hours, he can keep 10% of the greenbacks. Easier said than done.

Jack: Who thought this was a good idea for a series? A complete waste of eight pages. At least Robbins didn’t draw this, too!

PE: Utter crap. Julius Schwartz must have owed Frank Robbins one hell of a big favor. Like the Man-Bat lead-off, this has got a very abrupt ending. Usually that bothers me but I'll make an exception for these two "stories."

Batman 246 (December 1972)

"How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick, Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano

Batman is summoned by a fake Bat Signal to Gotham’s tallest building, only to see Robin fall to his death after being shot with an arrow. Fortunately, it was just a dummy Robin, but a note pinned to its chest promises another Robin death the following night. Batman telephones Robin’s boarding house at Hudson U and learns that he is nowhere to be found. The next night, another dummy Robin is killed by a magician’s sword. After two more nights where dummy Robins are drowned and hanged, Batman figures out that a criminal who was just released from death row is the culprit. He tracks the killer to a wax museum and saves the real Robin from beheading.

The Caped chicken!
Jack: Batman engages in some pretty strange behavior in this tepid tale. When the first Robin falls with an arrow in his chest, Batman does not rush to see if he is still alive—he runs for cover, fearing he might be next! That is not the Caped Crusader we know and love. When Robin is drowned, Batman cuts a chain between a rock and the body—why not just check to see if it’s a dummy and let it sink? This is a pretty bad story.

PE: But, Jack, the best thing about that scene is that Batman doesn't actually cut loose Robin once he sees the message from his tormentor! He doesn't even make sure it's another dummy. It could very well have been the bad guy's plan to have Batman assist in the murder. Another nice art job by Novick and Giordano but the length of the cape is really getting ridiculous. Yeah, it looks very cool but is impractical to a running, jumping, flying, and swimming superhero. Batman's sudden awareness of what he's going through and who's doing it to him is confusing and asinine, the worst kind of writing. Well, the worst kind of writing is what makes up the bulk of this 23-page waste of time. Only bright side: no swingin' Robin back-up this issue!

Jack: The switch to Dick Dillin pencils occurs on page 18 and he contributes the last six pages. I like Dillin’s art and hope to see more of it.

PE: Even serial killers dress as super villains in Gotham. I have no idea what is supposed to be happening to Emil Ravek in the climax. Does Batman kill him?

Jack: It's not clear. Batman swings Ravek around by his hood, which tears off, leaving Ravek to fall and apparently hit his head on a wall, landing on the scales of justice. He looks pretty dead, but maybe he's just out cold.

Nice Dick Dillin art.

Detective Comics 430 (December 1972)

"Clue of the False Faces!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Bob Brown and Nick Cardy

When Batman breaks up an assassination attempt, he's conked on the head and loses his memory. Trying to determine exactly who he is under the mask, The Dark Knight takes a quick peek only to find he's a balding redhead with a nasty scar across the bridge of his nose (since we, as readers, don't have amnesia, we're 100% sure this is not Batman's usual secret identity!). Using the bit of master detective still lodged in his brain, the Caped Crusader uses the police master identification file to discover that his "true identity" is petty car thief Jobo Larch (again, if you're a regular reader, you know something irregular might be going on!). The only way to get to the bottom of the mystery is to retrace the steps of Jobo Larch.

Jack: Nick Cardy inked this story and the combination of his inks and Bob Brown’s pencils makes for some strange variations in art quality. Cardy began in the Eisner/Iger shop at age 18 in 1939, so he certainly was in the comic biz for a long time, and he was a DC mainstay. He is still kicking at age 91 and he still makes appearances at conventions.

We both have had this feeling!
PE: Oh dear, and here I thought amnesia stories were a trademark of Marvel Comics. Actually, selective amnesia here, as Batman remembers mundane things like an officer's name but can't remember the important stuff like Bruce Wayne's favorite golf course. Since he's got amnesia and can't remember anything about his aka, why is Batbrain so sure he can't be a car thief in his spare time? What kind of names do the underworld heavies have in Gotham? Jobo, Aldo, Gort and Rack. 

Jack: Peter, do you agree that the quality of Detective Comics has been plummeting? We started in January 1970 with a Neal Adams classic and now we have Brown and Cardy illustrating another bump on the head causes amnesia story. I think that the long monthly run of this series will be interrupted in 1973 and I have to wonder if the declining quality led to declining sales.
Get me some of that cream!

PE" Seriously. Amnesia or no, wouldn't you feel make-up on your face? And wouldn't it begin to melt after a while in the humidity of that suit? I'm beginning to wonder if my nostalgia for the "wonderful Batman comics of the 1970s" should be filed next to "Gosh, those Bay City Rollers were a great band, weren't they?" Nice imaginative twist there in the end when The Dark Dope removes the, by now, several layers of make-up and looks at his true self in the mirror, immediately lifting the veil of amnesia. If only our top amnesia therapists read Batman.

Jack: Does this mean you are having second thoughts about the Bay City Rollers blog? What should I do with my YouTube link to "Saturday Night?"

"The Haunted Studio Mystery!"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Dick Giordano

Ralph Dibny (aka The Elongated Man) and cutie wife, Susie, decide it's a beautiful day to jump the fence at an abandoned Hollywood studio where, the following day, millions of dollars of movie props will be auctioned. Once they get into the sound stages they find something very peculiar: exact reenactments of famous scenes from the studio's films. Well, almost exact.

PE: I love the fact that Elongated Man has no problem breaking into the studio lot and, when questioned by his wife, says "Hey, there's no sign around that says, 'No Trespassing, right?'" By that logic, half of the bad guys he goes after should be let free.

Jack: Average story, nice art, but MUCH better than another Jason Bard entry!

PE: I checked my brain at the door for this one and found it charming. The expository is one of the dopiest I've ever read but I loved all the dopey name-switches for the famous Hollywood stars (The Hartz Brothers are comprised of Beppo, Banjo and Gruffo!) and Ralph Dibny's sense of self-importance and inflated ego is a breath of fresh air. He certainly seems to be more fun than his Marvel counterpart. Out with Bard, in with Dibny, I says.

Jack: Elongated Man is a pretty weird idea for a super-hero. He does an awful lot of stretching that neck! And his twitching crime detector of a nose reminds me of Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great, great blog. Hope you review more pulp mags.

Cheers from Mexico.