Monday, July 2, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 25: May, June and July 1973

by Jack Seabrook 
Peter Enfantino 

Batman 249 (June 1973)

"The Citadel of Crime"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Batman suspects that an abandoned castle on an island near Gotham is the cover for a big underworld gun supply depot. As Bruce Wayne, he sets up a floating cabaret on his yacht for his fellow wealthy citizens. A fireworks display fails to mask proof of the gun running, and Batman thwarts the operation and catches the millionaire behind it.

PE: YE-AH! So Batman has his own checking account at the Bank of Gotham? Really? Let's analyze that for a bit, go over the possible holes in that theory. He's written a check for a hundred grand which means he obviously has to deposit that money. This is before the days of direct deposit and he wouldn't have Alfred bring the money in (he might make that little hippy ward of his though) so, ostensibly, he walks into the bank with a sack of cash. It has to be currency or there'd be a paper trail otherwise. That's quite a lot of cash and that should raise questions with the government, never mind the bank manager. Does he pay taxes or does he file under Gotham's "Superhero Capital Gains Exemption"? If he's got at least a few hundred grand in that bank, all roads lead to the Feds and from there to Bruce Wayne. Oh, the story? Meh.

Jack: The Marla Manning subplot is painful. Why does Bruce Wayne have to develop a reputation as a cheap, callous millionaire just to get in with the members of an exclusive club? Don’t they all know him by now? P.S.: May 1973 is the first month so far in the 1970s without a Batman or a Detective being published.

"Case of the Kidnaped Crusader"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin

Consumer advocate Tom Carson disappears during a test drive with one of Dick Grayson’s fellow students. It takes Robin, the Teen Wonder, to solve the case.

PE: I am convinced that Frank Robbins recommended Elliot Maggin to Julius Schwartz to make his own writing look better. The only bright spot of this otherwise tedious strip is that it answers one of the Top Ten Fanboy questions: Do Teenage Superheroes get Acne?

Jack: McLaughlin’s inks give Brown’s pencils an angular look that they don’t usually have, but the story is forgettable. Carson was last seen on Detective 415, when Batman had to prove he (Carson, that is) was not guilty of a crime.

Detective Comics 435 (July 1973)

"The Spook Strikes Again!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Disguised as Big Turk Ramis, Batman lies in wait for The Spook but the scary bad guy isn't buying the disguise (could it be the big bat ears sticking out of Turk's skull?) and heads out the door. Before he can get very far, Batman unmasks The Spook, only to find it's prison-guard Jim Baines, who's been hypnotized by the real Spook. The ruse was all just to distract Batman long enough for the real Spook to help the real Turk bust out of the pokey. But the question is, how did the duo break out of a cell that was advertised as "escape-proof?" The answer is a false floor that leads down into the sewers below the prison. That's not the end of The Spook's secrets though as The Dark Knight stumbles onto a vast network of underground passages and hidey-hos. After a bit of trickery on Batman's part, The Spook is taken into custody but, once fingerprinted, it becomes evident that the mystery surrounding this villain has just begun.

PE: I love how Bats takes his Big Turk Ramis mask off and he has his Batman mask on! Now how in the world did he hide that pointy nose and those extremely... rigid ears? I'm dying to know. What's even more mystifying is that he actually asks The Spook "How'd you know it was me?!" Speaking of disguises, The Spook has an ultra-cool one but the realist in me asks if his face is set in shadows or if he has a flat black mask. Novick & Giordano do their best to make The Spook look exactly like a Saturday morning cartoon with his hood and huge blue eyes swimming in a sea of black shadows.

Jack: I like this two-parter! It veers close to Scooby-Doo territory, especially in the abandoned subway section scene, but the ambiguous ending worked. Novick and Giordano turned in a solid job on the art and the story was tricky enough to stay interesting. The Spook will return very soon in Batman!

PE: But this strip lives in Scooby-Doo land, Jack. The obvious reason why we enjoyed this adventure as opposed to most of Frank Robbins' scripts is that this has a touch of the macabre. The supernatural aspect, of course, is explained away but it's still an improvement over maniac truck drivers or art thieves. The real identity of The Spook could have been a big reveal, a la The Green Goblin, but since there's no continuity to speak of in the DC Universe as of this point in time, he's just a face to us. The final reveal though is certainly more intriguing than what I thought it would be: a disgruntled sewer worker or a disgraced librarian. The real lapse in reality here is not the fact that this shadowy villain retrofitted an entire underground world for his own devices but the fact that he'd stop the action long enough to tell Batman some of his "supernatural" secrets simply because our hero asks him! "So, you wanna know how I walk on walls? Hee hee, well, here's how I do it! With suction cups!"

Jack: Detective Comics began in March 1937 and was a monthly comic for 36 years (36 x 12=432 issues), but it finally switched to a bi-monthly as of this issue, #435. The indicia of issue 434, dated April 1973, says it is monthly. The indicia of issue 435 say it is bi-monthly, with a date inside of June-July 1973 and a cover date of July. Detective would remain a bi-monthly for about a year and a half, reverting to monthly with the April 1975 issue (446). Why did Detective finally go bi-monthly in early 1973? Our New Criticism study of the comic would suggest it was due to a decline in quality, but that’s unlikely. We do know that sales of DC comics declined across the board following the unsuccessful attempt to raise the cover price to 25 cents in 1971 and 1972. Perhaps cutting back publication of Detective was part of the fallout.

"Case of the Dead-On Target!"
Story and Art by Frank Robbins

Jason Bard investigates the mid-air murder of sky diver Rip Williams.

PE: I thought no way will Robbins do it but, yep, when Rip Williams hits the ground he makes a body-shaped hole just like in the Road Runner cartoons. Another dopey Jason Bard story capped off by an expository so long it threatens to bust out of its panel.

Jack: Frank Robbins must have been frustrated that no one was illustrating his Jason Bard stories properly so he decided to do it himself. And it’s not half bad! Of course, the idea that Bard would have to go up in the plane and re-enact the crime in order to solve the murder is patently ridiculous, and the characters looks like rejects from a Bee Gees concert, but for some reason I did not mind this story. Perhaps it’s the incredibly low bar set by prior Jason Bard case files.

At least she did not forget him...

Batman 250 (July 1973)

"The Deadly Numbers Game!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Odd thefts of unusual items plague the city of Gotham, but Amos Raven’s Historical Waxworks Museum is the beneficiary of the stolen items and attendance surges as a result. Batman figures out that there is a pattern to the crimes and he is able to stop the culprit just in time before he murders an innocent young woman. It turns out that the crook is an inquiring newspaper reporter who wanted to help the museum’s owner who had raised him from a child.

PE: Slow week in Gotham when a story on the six o'clock news about a hatchet has all of the city showing up to the wax museum the next day! I was like, this town ain't swingin' much, dad! If you study the dialogue in that panel below you'll uncover the "Frank Robbins is a hipster" fraud. "Like wild, man! Aren't those the hot oysterettes (hipster dialect) which were lifted last night (non-hipster dialect)?" Frank Robbins watched a lot of TV, I'm guessing.

Jack: One of the less plausible Frank Robbins plots, and that’s saying something! (It's saying you still haven't taken that vacation yet, Jack!-PE) I can buy the reporter committing all of the crimes, but why would he stoop to murder? We’re supposed to believe he is doing it out of the goodness of his heart in order to help his adopted father, whose old-fashioned museum can’t compete with the X-rated movie houses in the neighborhood! Only Fantastic Frank could come up with this one!

PE: Never mind the attempted beheading, what about the poor little six year-old at the police precinct reporting his stolen birthday cake? It's lucky Batman was there to witness this felony. I should have known Robbins would drop the ball when it came time to revealing where the stolen planet Uranus was located in the museum. I guess I'm just repeating myself when I say it can't get much worse than this.

"Return of the Flying Grayson!"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin

After some local kids buy a poster of the Flying Graysons, Dick is reminded of his childhood and the accident that took the life of his parents. His acrobatic skills come in handy later on, when he has to stop a truck driven by an art thief from killing the same kids!

Jack: It’s neat to be reminded of Robin’s origin, but that’s about all that’s worth mentioning in yet another backup story filler.

PE: Those kids sure are fast walkers. They watch the truck speed by them and then two panels later it's about to tip over on them. These stories only make me scratch my head over the timelines in comic books. How long has elapsed in the DC Universe since Grayson's parents were killed? Twelve years? If that's so, let's put Bruce Wayne at 30-ish when he rescued little Dick from a life as a street urchin. That would make him 40-45. That's where the aging process breaks down for me.

"The Batman Nobody Knows!
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Dick Giordano

On a camping trip with three boys from the ghetto, Bruce Wayne gets to hear their descriptions of Batman’s unusual appearance and abilities. When the real Batman appears, the boys tell Wayne that he looks nothing like the Caped Crusader and should stop playing games!

Jack: This six-pager took me by surprise! It’s a charming little tale about childrens’ perceptions, nicely illustrated by Dick Giordano. The twist ending was clever as well. It’s a shame that the best story in this issue had to come last! Don’t worry, though, because next issue . . .

PE: YE-AH! I'm not sure if it was the length of the story but this is the best Frank Robbins has offered up yet in the 1970s. Now put it in the rear view and bring on...


Greg M. said...

Hey guys!

All your comments about Issue 249 and Bats and the Feds reminded me about an issue of Superman (or maybe Action Comics) that actually asked that question. A Fed Tax Collector determined that Supes never filed taxes, and assessed him to pay a couple of million dollars. He was unable to, but then the Fed guy's boss said that Supes could use the world's population as dependents, and so not have to pay anything.

I'm not saying that Bats could use the population of Gotham City as his dependents. I just thought you'd like to hear someone else thought of that.

Great column, guys. Can't wait for next week!

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for the tip on the Supes story, Greg!
If only every week were like next week!

Greg M. said...

Maybe you should just keep throwing issue 251 at the beginning of every post from next week on. Just to show that, you know, this is how good the comics could be. :-)

Peter Enfantino said...


Jack and I try to stay four weeks ahead of schedule so we're already into the reading of 1974 and, I'm glad to say, there's some more good stuff on the horizon. But I'm sure you knew that already since you seen to be a big fan of the era.

Greg M. said...

I know there will be. The 100-pagers are coming up, as are returns of most of Bats' Rogues Gallery. Plus changes behind the scenes on both titles.

And then there's the Englehart/Rogers/Austin run on Detective. If Bats #251 is a home run, then their work on Detective is a grand slam.

But that's for you guys to tell me when you hit '77/'78... :-)

mikeandraph87 said...

Hi,I run a thread called Precrisis-Batman/Detective Comics Discussion Thread as I used to on until it pulled the plug on its MB. Anyway it was started up again and its dedicated to Batman 1939-1985 and related subjects. I admit my favorite decade of anything Batman is the 1970s' and I would love tohave you register at the new DC Comics MB and join us in conversation. Please consider.

Jack Seabrook said...

I took a look at your thread and it looks like fun!

Marty McKee said...

"The Batman Nobody Knows" turned up in one of the BEST OF DC compilations of the 1970s. IIRC, it was reprinted in a treasury edition, not one of the digests. Wonderful little story. Glad you guys liked it.

mikeandraph87 said...

Thanks,Jeck. I hope for you and Peter to come on over and join in the fun. The more the merrier they say! Not to mention knoweldge we could gain for you guys!

Peter Enfantino said...


I checked out your thread as well. I'm not sure there's anything I'd know that could add to the discussion. It seems as though all the Big BatBrains are all gathered in one place at your thread!

mikeandraph87 said...

Well, there is this guy that went by IndiaInk that did not follow from I go by Robin4084 over there to honor my favorite DC character in his best guise. I apologize for hi-jacking your comment section,but I discovered this and was hoping you guys would sign up over there and lurk. When you feel like you have something to say who is to say your two cents will not be $1000? I will be following your read through and its the perfect suppliment to the thread in question. Stay cool in this hot weather and hope to "see" you over there. :D-mike&raph87/robin4084