Batman 258 (October 1974)
"Threat of the Two-Headed Coin!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano
Angry at the way he sees America changing, General John Harris pays to have thugs spring Two-Face from the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Two-Face gets his hands on an atomic bomb and sneaks it into Congress, where he threatens to blow up the seat of the U.S. government unless he is paid two billion dollars. It's up to Batman to use his wits and fists to stop Two-Face and save the nation.
PE: Two-Face is the fourth of the Rogue's Gallery to be resuscitated by Denny O'Neil and the third consecutive one to be mishandled. Maybe it's the absence of Neal Adams that hampers my enjoyment of these revamps. I was the one whining about Batman hunting down tax dodgers and vending machine vandals and I got my wish granted for the old villains to return. It's just not what I had hoped for. I wanted the dark, edgy Joker from #251, not the Catwoman from ABC-TV. There's absolutely nothing new to this story, the dialogue is bland and corny, and the art's not all that great either. Only one scene stood out for me and it was for a wrong reason: bizarrely, very close to the climax, Robin tells Batman that he has to get back to Hudson University immediately to study so The Dark Knight will have to find and dismantle Two-Face's bomb all on his own. Never mind the millions in peril, this kid has to get his homework done or he's gonna get a B in history! Is this Denny trying desperately to tap into the kind of continuity that runs wild over at Marvel despite being told these stories must be stand-alones?
|Attack of the Weird Heads|
Jack: The reprints this issue are much better than those in Batman 257. They include five Batman and Robin stories, ranging from "The Three Racketeers!" (1942) to "7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City!" (1967). As usual, the older the better with the Batman reprints. There is also an extra letters page called "Rally 'Round Robin," in which readers debate whether to keep Robin in solo stories or put him back together with Batman.
Detective Comics 443 (November 1974)
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson
After the brutal murder of his good friend, detective Dan Kingdom, and the assassination of the prime minister of Congola at Wayne Manor, Batman teams up with Manhunter to bring down The Council.
PE: Unlike previous installments of Manhunter, this chapter never gels. It always feels like two separate Archie Goodwin scripts, one for a Batman story involving Kingdom and Congola and the other, an attempt to wrap up the Manhunter series before Archie heads to Marvel. Because of that, it's a very confusing read. Simonson's art, as usual, is a plus with the exception of his awful rendition of Bruce Wayne. Even though it appears that Manhunter is killed in an explosion in the story's climax, the character was resuscitated in 1999 for Manhunter: The Special Edition. In this later story, we find out that it was actually one of Paul Kirk's clones that was vaporized. In the letters page, Goodwin allows that there was never enough room to tie together all the plots and threads he and Simonson and concocted and, alas, some of those threads are left to dangle.
Jack: You won't catch me criticizing Bernard Baily or The Spectre! I love this strip and its primitive art. I have also been reading the All-Star Comics Archives, where I get more of The Spectre, and I am fascinated by his seemingly unlimited powers. He can get big, he can zip up into outer space, he can walk through walls--he is one crazy dude. I recall that when Mike Fleisher took over the character in the '70s things got pretty gruesome. By the way, did you catch the caption where the Spectre is referred to as "The Dark Knight"?
PE: The longest reprint, and probably the most important, would have to be Steve Ditko's "The Coming of the Creeper!,"a barely-written, badly-illustrated origin story that first appeared in Showcase #73 (March 1968). The character's moniker is derived from the old Marvel chestnut: the bystander (in this case, a beat cop) who makes an offhand remark (to himself, no less) about this guy being a "creeper!" Two pages later, half the city is calling him "The Creeper" despite the fact that Joker, Jester, Laugher, or Howler would have been more appropriate. The Creeper's costume looks a bit like one of Ditko's other creations, Kraven, the Hunter.
Jack: Barely written? Badly ILLUSTRATED? This is classic Ditko! I love a good origin story and this one fits the bill. The Creeper's costume is so colorful and the other characters are so crazily drawn that I can't help loving this story. With the benefit of hindsight I can see early signs of Ditko's Objectivist politics creeping (sorry) in around the edges of this story, but this is the introduction of a major DC character and thus a key story. I admit that it's funny that whenever the Creeper makes his costume invisible there is a handy fern for him to stand behind.
Other reprints include a Golden Age Green Lantern tale that is not one of Alex Toth's better efforts, and a very early Batman story notable for a rotund Alfred who calls Batman "Mawster." The really sad news in this issue comes from Archie Goodwin, who announces that he is leaving DC and turning the editor reins back over to Julius Schwartz. Farewell, Archie--it was a terrific year!
Batman 259 (December 1974)
"The Night of the Shadow!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano
It's 1939 and young Bruce Wayne is traumatized by the gunfire that erupts when he witnesses the Shadow defeating a jewel thief and his henchmen. Flash forward to 1974 and the jewel thief has been released from prison. He attempts vengeance on Bruce Wayne and a nurse who had been at the scene of the earlier crime, but he fails to reckon with the Batman and his mysterious helper, the Shadow.
PE: Simultaneously a sequel and a prequel to "Who Knows What Evil--?" (#253), "The Night of the Shadow" takes us back to Bruce Wayne's childhood and a close encounter with a shadowy legend. It's noted that the encounter takes place 25 years earlier but Willy Hank Stamper looks no older when he's released from jail than when he went in. A lot of silly coincidences collide here: though Bats and Gordon have been working together for years, it's only on this night that The Dark Knight reveals he has a hatred for firearms, as if Gordon wouldn't know by now; on this night, Bruce Wayne decides to visit "poor old Mildred" who "never quite recovered from the shock of that gunfight 25 years ago," only to find Stamper heaving the old broad off the roof; and on this night, luckily enough, the jeweler involved in the heist a quarter century before is right by Mildred's side.
Jack: OK, Bat-grouch, this is MUCH better than the past few issues of Batman, which have featured less than stellar returns of Catwoman, the Penguin and Two-Face. The Shadow's use of guns is a refreshing change for the Batman strip and any time we get a flashback to the 30s and a little addition to the Bat-mythology it's fine with me. Bill Finger died January 18, 1974, and this issue was released at the end of August of that year.
Jack: "The Great Batman Swindle" was written by Bill Finger, to whom this issue's new story was dedicated. He also wrote "Two Batmen Too Many!" where the Atom and Elongated Man wear Batman costumes to help the Caped Crusader, and "The Failure of Bruce Wayne!" the last reprint this issue. It's nice that the editors paid tribute to Finger by reprinting four of his stories; it's odd that they continued to perpetuate the illusion that Bob Kane drew stories that he obviously didn't draw by adding new boxes crediting him as the artist! I'm surprised you did not mention the two pages of suggestions by readers for a new costume for Robin. The various outfits appear to have been drawn by the readers as well.
|The Natural Trading Company???|
|And it was a good fanzine, too!|