Monday, August 6, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 30: April, May and June 1974




by Peter Enfantino &
Jack Seabrook


Batman 255 (April 1974)
"Moon of the Wolf"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Former Olympic star Tony Lupus has been turned into a werewolf by Professor Milo, whose thirst for revenge against the Batman leads him to insist that Lupus kill the Caped Crusader if he wants the antidote that will return him to human form permanently.

Jack: It’s been seven months since the last Neal Adams story and, while this isn’t quite up to the level of the Joker story in Batman 251, it’s a feast for the eyes. Prof. Milo’s first appearance was in Detective 247 (September 1957), where he made Batman so afraid of Bats that he took on the identity and costume of Starman, according to the DC Comics Database. I haven’t read that issue so I don’t know if it’s the same Starman who flew around in the Golden Age and was revived in the 1960s with the rest of the Justice Society. Prof. Milo next appeared in “Am I Really Batman?” in Batman 112 (December 1957), where he exposed the Dark Knight to a gas that robbed him of his will to live. Len Wein revived this obscure character for this 1974 story and Professor Milo has had a busy career since then in comics and TV cartoons.

PE: It's refreshing to find a writer who has no problem with making a supernatural menace actually supernatural. In the earlier days of this strip, Lupus would have been revealed to be a guy in a mask who just really really looks like a werewolf. There's no sudden "realistic expository" at the climax here. This guy was really a werewolf! Janet Bonner, who gives us pre-teens our first look at a brassiere, may have owned a werewolf herself as vicious as that "dog" appears in our opening. And hurrahs to Batman for showing The Amazing Spider-Man how to catch a woman falling from a great height without breaking her spine (albeit in a verrrry far-fetched scene). I dug the art, as usual, but the story is nothing but a variation on I Was a Teenage Werewolf and has a few too many logic problems. Had Dr. Milo been working on the lycanthropy formula before Anthony showed up at his door? Was he just waiting for someone with bushy eyebrows and a hairy back to bring his problems to the good doctor? He must have, as the Alaskan Timberwolves were stolen pre-Lupus and the formula was ready to go on Anthony's first visit. Why go to such elaborate schemes to destroy Batman? I realize you have to have something very powerful to defeat The Dark Knight, but a werewolf? Wouldn't a Vibra-Ray or a Giant Celematric Robot be easier to whip up and control? I'll give Wein the extra credit for not copping out and making the wolfman a big hairy Italian guy with a dime-store mask, but I'd have preferred a stronger story for Neal Adams' Batman swan song. Adams would do only one more job for DC, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, before creating Continuity Associates, a latter-day Iger Studios (with much better pay, I'd assume). We've got some special things on the horizon to keep our attention but it's a shame to realize the Neal Adams era is over.

Jack: When the Comics Code Authority relaxed its ban on horror comics in January 1971, it opened the door for vampires, werewolves, and other monsters. Batman had already dealt with a sort of vampire in Man-Bat, so it’s not surprising that a werewolf would eventually pop up. The werewolf in this issue follows the classic “tragic hero” mold of Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man, feeling remorse for his actions while human but lacking any similar consciousness when under the moon’s spell.

PE: Poor Tony Lupus should have known he was fated to be a werewolf with a last name like that. Comic characters always seem to have that coincidental scientific mishap based on their last names (Otto Octavius comes quickly to mind). Take my advice and steer clear of Johnny Skeleton, Steve Bloodsucker, or Jasmine Harpy.

Jack: “The First Batman” is a key reprint this issue. Having first appeared in Detective 235 (September 1956), it tells the story of how Batman learned that Bruce Wayne’s father had worn the first Batman costume and how Batman finally discovered who hired the man who killed his parents. “The Duped Domestics!” from 1944 includes fun art by Jerry Robinson and an entertaining story in which Alfred pretends to be Batman to impress a girl who turns out to be Catwoman! 


PE: And since we now know that Bob Kane seemingly never drew anything but a paycheck (but he drew those excellently!) we should do the right thing and give credit where due. "The First Batman" was actually drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. According to Moldoff, in an interview published in Roy Thomas' Alter Ego #59, the artist ghosted for Kane from 1953-1967. He passed away this February. For those who want to see what Bob Kane's art actually looked like, "The Duped Domestics!", according to The Grand Comics Database, was a Kane creation. One look will tell you why he put his pen away and relied on ghost artists for the remainder of his "career." Well, he did take out the pen to sign the strips every month (and, of course, to sign those checks). I didn't read "The Duped Domestics" because I made a deal with my patience that I'd steer clear of "Alfred the Detective" stories after the last one I trudged through. As an interesting side note to the issue, though Julius Schwartz is listed as editor, former Marvel letterhack Marty Pasko is now answering the questions of fellow fans in the Letters to Batman column, including a bizarre missive from then-Batman scribe Elliott S. Maggin (yeah, I know the guy used to use an exclamation point instead of a period after his middle initial but I don't have to) about meeting Danny Kaye. 

Batman Limited Collector's Edition C-25 (1974) 


Jack: This $1.00 tabloid-sized collection of reprints came out the week after Batman 255, at the beginning of January 1974. It was the first all-Batman treasury in the series of large dollar comics that DC had begun experimenting with in 1973. It featured six reprint stories, from "The Case of the Joker's Crime Circus!" (Batman 4, winter 1940) all the way up to "Ghost of the Killer Skies" (Detective 404, October 1970). I remember being very excited by these treasury editions, though adding $1.00 to the already-steep 50 cent comics DC was putting out sure put a dent in my funds at age 10.


PE: I vividly remember picking this one up at a local supermarket, Alpha Beta in California, which didn't have a rack of comics but would carry these over-sized things and the Marvel b&w magazines. The "Limited Collectors' Series" was published from 1972-1978, top-heavy with Shazam! and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas Specials, so I tended to avoid them. I did pick up the House of Mystery and a couple more but I always thought Marvel's version, the Treasury Editions, were cooler. Four more Batman collections would follow C-25, including a special all Ra's al Ghul issue. Comic historians still argue whether the nadir of the series was when Rudolph fell through a sky-hole and found himself in Topsy-Turvy land (#C-50) or the four-color exploits of Vinnie Barbarino and Arnold Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter!  (#C-57). I'll leave it you to decide.

Jack: I thought this was a new cover by Neal Adams until I compared it to a panel from Batman 251. It looks like the editors at DC recycled one of the great panels for this cover!


Detective Comics 440 (May 1974)
"Ghost Mountain Midnight!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Amendola & Dick Giordano

While lounging at Gotham's Playhour Club, Bruce Wayne witnesses the attempted kidnapping of an employee by a pair of hillbillies. Transforming to his alter ego, Wayne confronts the men and temporarily wins the freedom of the girl, Sarah Beth Tull, before being bashed from behind by one of the men. Turns out that Sarah Beth is being taken back to Ghost Mountain by her two brothers as a part of an ancient ceremony. A cousin has been found dead, torn to shreds, and Sarah Beth's grandmother is convinced an unholy Indian spirit is at work and demanding a sacrifice. Batman arrives to save the day just as the hairy monster arrives to snack on the terrified young girl. The Dark Knight discovers that the monster is only a huge bear, disfigured in a fire and driven mad from hunger. A second fire puts the bear out of its misery and, in the end, Batman discovers that a local sheriff had been using the animal's cave for a still and murdered Sarah's cousin when he stumbled upon it. Mystery solved, beast destroyed, Sarah can sigh in happiness and head back to her job as a playtoy to all of Gotham's horny millionaires.

Jack: It only took a few months until the cover price for these 100-pagers went up to 60 cents, further depleting the funds of 10-year-olds everywhere. The lead Batman story is not bad, but the art is not up to the high standard set last issue. Still, it's nice to see Batman out of his element and tramping through snowy woods.


PE: I wonder if Archie Goodwin had a copy of The Hillbilly Guide to Phonetics, since he nails those Southern accents to the wall! "You shore are a big gah, Bayt-Mayn. Hit'll take me quat a whall to whoop yoo!" But he obviously doesn't know you can't shoot a phone out of a man's hand with a shotgun without taking the vic's hand and part of his face as well. While I'm usually one of Archie Goodwin's staunchest supporters, I'll not stand up for him on this one. "Ghost Mountain Midnight" is a badly-written sketch filled with cliched characters (the DC redneck is an easy stereotype to bring up in a pinch) and a reveal lifted verbatim from a classic episode of TV's Cheyenne called "Big Ghost Basin" (based on a short story by my favorite western writer, Steve Frazee). The art is horrendous but, I suspect, based on Almendola's job in the last issue, it's due to Dick Giordano's inks. If I've learned anything after reading over 80 Batman comic books so far in our run, it's tough for an artist (save Frank Robbins) to screw up the look of the Batman character. Here, save a couple Adams-ish panels, he appears beefy and lacking in detail. The supporting cast makes out even worse (see aforementioned comments on DC rednecks). A big disappointment to me, based on the talent involved. 

"Rebellion!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson


When they are attacked by Interpol agent/Council member Damon Nostrand, Paul Kirk (aka Manhunter) and Christine St. Clair are forced to kill the rogue agent. Manhunter then relates to Christine how he turned against The Council. When they examine the wreckage of Nostrand's vehicle, they find his hotel key. Visiting his room, they find international Wanted posters for the two of them.

Jack: Tucked at the very end of this huge issue is a great eight-page story! This series gets better with each installment, as the events are clarified and the characters are fleshed out. It's so edgy, both in writing and art, that it doesn't seem like a DC series--more like something Charlton would have featured around this time.


PE: You're exactly right, Jack. The series reminds me of Steve Ditko's The Question, first published by Charlton and later DC. The art is still crude Simonson (he'd perfect his trade within the next decade and then blow everyone away with his version of Thor in 1983) but it's very effective and perfectly suits Simonson's wild science fiction/espionage tale. Where the heck are we going in this series? Part of me can't wait to find out but that other part of me knows it doesn't have many more installments before it's shut down when Goodwin jumps ship again. Can all these intricate threads actually be tied together in a satisfactory way before the plug gets pulled? Love St. Clair's get-up by the way, very Emma Peel by way of The Black Widow.






Notice the bored cop on the bottom left of this panel.
Classic Alex Toth!
Jack: The reprints this issue range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Fortunately, there's much more quality than dreck. The Hawkman story from 1964 is standard fare for the era, but the Doll Man story from 1948 includes gorgeous art by John Spranger and a wonderfully demented villain called the Undertaker. It's followed by "Too Many Suspects," a 1949 story starring the Golden Age Green Lantern, with art by Alex Toth that is just superb. The last reprint is the worst--it concludes the "story arc" (if you can call it that) about the Outsider, which surely must be one of the low points of Batman in the '60s. The Outsider turns out to be none other than Alfred the Butler, resurrected, altered, and driven mad by radiation! Robin says a lot of "Holy" this and "Holy" that, and by the end of the story Alfred is back to normal and living with Bruce, Dick and Aunt Harriet in Stately Wayne Manor. It's no coincidence that this story came out between the end of the first season and the start of the second season of the Batman TV show in mid-1966.




PE: Don't forget our first look at the original Manhunter series by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, which shows us that Nazis could be cute but bumbling oafs long before Raiders of the Lost Ark. Their "accents" drift in and out from panel to panel. One sequence has two of the Nazi henchmen waiting to ambush Manhunter, one in full Nazi character, the other a bit more modern American:


Nazi #1: Doctor Heinnig is smart at dot! Ve von't take a chance on joost vounding him mit a bullet... instead ve shoot at der target...


Nazi #2: Yeah! And when we hit it, the dynamite down under explodes!

Manhunter escapes the dynamited tower and is thrown clear. Luckily the dust surrounding the tower hides M.H. from the bad guys and he's able to leap up from under the detritus and capture the two swine. Later, he finds their underwater diving gear (those old Captain Nemo things with the huge head and weighted boots) and attempts to (get this!) retrace their steps on the ocean floor to find out where they came from. He manages to find the U-Boat but his presence is discovered by the Nazi manning the periscope and he's brought on board. Big mistake for the Ratzis as M.H. uses a little ingenuity and several sacks of flour to put an end to this little piece of the Nazi menace. It's a charming little story, filled with several unintentional (I assume) laughs and silly characters. I'm not an expert on artists and I thank the Comic Gods daily that the editors decided at some point to begin giving credit to the creators of each strip. I'd never, in a million years, assign the name Jack Kirby to this story. I know it's twenty years until the Marvel Age begins, but his style is so different from what we'll be seeing some day, it's startling. In "Batman's Hot Line" Steve Beery contributes an excellent essay on why he shouldn't have to pay half a Washington for a magazine filled with bad reprints and only twenty pages of new material. His points are well-taken, Archie admits, but economics force DC into this situation for the foreseeable future. 

Batman 256 (June 1974)

"Catwoman's Circus Caper!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Robin joins the circus to solve the murder of acrobat Billy Byrd, but when Catwoman appears on the scene, the Teen Wonder is left unconscious and locked in a cage with man-eating tigers! It’s up to Batman to rescue his pal and solve the mystery.

PE: Ugh! Where to start? This story reminds me that not all members of Batman's Rogues Gallery are ripe for resurrection, at least not in the hands of the 1974 Batman/Detective staff. Taking equal parts Batman: The ABC-TV series and the detective elements that make Frank Robbins unreadable, Denny O'Neil again makes me wonder if I'm not overpraising his oeuvre based on one spectacular story. One would be forgiven for mistaking the lead-off for one of the subsequent reprints in this issue. I'd love for Denny to explain how Catwoman hid her high pointy mask and multi-angled bodysuit under her Nelias disguise but I have to believe he's pulling our collective tail and tipping his hat to the camp of 1960s Batman. Perhaps O'Neil saw no other way to present a story starring Catwoman. If so, that does not bode well for his upcoming Penguin and Two-Face visits. The real test, for me, will be the return of The Joker in #260. If The Clown Prince of Crime is reduced to a buffoon rather than the homicidal maniac of "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge," we're in for real trouble. While he's explaining all that to me, he can offer his argument for a Batcave with framed photos of Catwoman and Talia on the wall (ostensibly with "All my Love" signatures on each). Who snapped the pics?

Jack: I didn't mind this story as much as you did. It's nice to see Catwoman return; after all, she has been missing throughout the '70s up to this point. I like her costume and I like the way she (once again) is not guilty of any serious crime. Novick's art is not as impressive as that of Adams or Amendola, but it's always solid.

No framed photos of Mr. Freeze?

"If Bruce Wayne Had Not Become the Batman"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Pat Broderick

What if a bat had not flown by Bruce Wayne's window when he was thinking about becoming a costumed avenger? Five other options are shown.

Jack: Though the art is uncredited, this and the table of contents page are among the first published work by Pat Broderick, who would later draw for both Marvel and DC. The other choices for Bruce Wayne include The Scorpion, The Stingray, The Owl, The Shooting Star, and The Iron Knight. There are some pretty good ideas here!

PE: The reprints this issue focus on Batman's trophy room. I'd always wondered where that giant penny came from. Wisely, the majority of the stories were taken from the 1940s, an era a little easier to digest than the 50s and 60s. The best of the bunch, "Dinosaur Island" (from 1946), gives conclusive proof that Michael Crichton was a Batman fan when he was a kid and also shows that Bob Kane might have drawn some good stuff at one time (at least until some other artist comes out of the woodwork and lays claim to this story). Batman and Robin accept a $5,000 challenge (with the spoils to go to charity): they must play tag with an island full of mechanical dinosaurs but, unknown to the daring duo, an erstwhile crime kingpin lays some deadly traps in an effort to rid Gotham of its Number One crime-fighter. On the letters page, we're introduced to the sad story of James T. McCoy, a young man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy who has been a constant on the letters pages of both Bats titles. Here James is represented by a letter of praise for The Shadow story back in #253. Immediately following is a letter from his sister, Kathleen, informing Marty Pasko of the passing of James. Pasko's heartfelt response is to say that DC has lost a member of their "special family."

 Jack: "The Penny Plunderers" is another good one, a Golden Age yarn about a crook obsessed with pennies. In "The Thousand and One Trophies of Batman!" we see Batman and Robin up on ladders polishing the giant penny. What was Alfred doing? Chasing after another super villain in a skirt? This story also features the original Dr. Doom, before he became a Marvel super villain.


PE: We're given a "Bat-Puzzle" this issue. We've reprinted it below for your browsing pleasure but for safety's sake we've included the answers so you don't accidentally write on your computer screen. That's us, always thinking of our readers.


Jack: One neat thing we're seeing develop as we read along through the '70s is the appearance of fans as contributors to the comics. For instance, prolific letter writer Bob Rozakis composed the Bat-Puzzle, and Pat Broderick broke into the business by becoming a member of the junior bullpen after attending a New York comic convention.
The original Dr. Doom
  


Jack: The tabloid-sized reprint of Action Comics #1 came out at the same time as the Batman treasury edition. This was the first time most of us had seen this classic comic, and I "treasured" it. I could not believe (and I still can't) the stories about collectors being fooled into thinking it was the real thing. but it supposedly happened.




PE: What's harder to believe is that, according to that ad, Action Comics #1 sold in the early 1970s for $1800. Where's that time machine when you need it? Last December, a mint copy sold for $2.1 million!




4 comments:

Greg M. said...

Another great column, guys.

Peter: I have the Joker story you're talking about, and I think it's going to go down a lot better than the Catwoman story. Sure, it's no Five-Way Revenge, but it is a decent little story. It was later reprinted in Best of DC's Digest #14: Batman's Villains.

And I'm beginning to wonder if the Council that Manhunter is up against is the same Council that Nemesis later goes up against.

Just a thought...

ambignostic said...

C-25 isn't the last place DC would reuse that fabulous Neal Adams drawing of Batman running. I'm sure I've seen it in a half-dozen other contexts [citation needed]. And for good reason! What an iconic (if improbable) pose.

Jack Seabrook said...

Greg, I don't know about Nemesis--my post-1979 comic knowledge is minimal.

Greg M. said...

Jack,

Nemesis was the back-up feature in Brave & the Bold starting in issue 166, and running all-the way to issue 193. It was a really great run, with art by Dan Spiegle. The synopsis is simple: The Council was a group of criminals who arranged for the assassination of a legendary Federal Agent. Nemesis sought to avenge the death. He and Batman crossed paths twice, and his character remained (off and on) for decades. You should check it out.