Scrags Donovan has come to Gotham and Commissioner Gordon is itching to find out why. His solution: put The Batman onto the trail of the "big-time muscle goon from Detroit." The trail leads to a small shack in the harbor where Batman witnesses the planning of a heist at the opening of a new Gotham theater. The victims: Gotham's elite. During the robbery, Batman discovers that one of the masked crooks is none other than his great love, Talia al Ghul! As Talia attempts to escape, The Caped Crusader is forced to shoot her in the back in full view of the patrons. Bereaved though he is, The Batman refuses to be taken into custody by Gordon and becomes a stalked fugitive.
PE: The first chapter in an epic five-issue arc. Epic in that, previously, a two-issue story would be almost unheard of. It's an uneven but enjoyable opening blast that will see the return of Talia's famous pop fairly soon and the obvious "real story" behind her "murder" (do I really have to throw out a SPOILER ALERT before supposing that Talia isn't actually finis?). Roger Barton and Elizabeth Baylor? Sounds like one of those really bad CRACKED parodies. Jim Aparo's art is fan-frickin'-tastic and I wish that I had discovered his work years ago. Like some aspects of O'Neil/Adams, I see lots of points of inspiration here for Christopher Nolan.
A glimpse of a strange woman in a mirror leads The Elongated Man into a locked-room mystery.
Jack: I enjoyed it, especially some of the crazy stretches Elongated Man did! It's light, humorous fun and Chan's art is pretty slick.
|Every boy's fantasy?|
|Every man's fantasy?|
Jack: As soon as I started reading the Star Hawkins story, I recognized Mike Sekowsky's art, which always takes me right back to the Justice League of America. Sekowsky drew the adventures of the JLA from 1960 to 1968. The reprint of "Dick Grayson, Detective!" from 1950 comes with an editor's note telling us that Robin will appear solo in every issue of Detective from now on; I'm not sure if this is a promise or a threat. My favorite reprint, of course, is Kid Eternity, which is one of the goofier Golden Age series. Reading this issue of Detective and knowing that it's the first one where Julius Schwartz took over again as editor after Archie Goodwin left, it feels like we've jumped back a year. The reprints aren't as good as they were in 1974 and the editor's notes almost seem a little snippy, as if Schwartz was telling his readers that Detective was now going to get back on track after a year in the wilderness.
PE: I'm not sure which emotion I'm feeling strongest: disappointment that this Joker story comes nowhere near the heights of "Five-Way Revenge" or relief that it isn't the flaming disaster like any one of the previous Rogues stories by O'Neil. There's really nothing much to the tale, though Two-Face's cameo is a nice surprise as is the elevation of Arkham to more than just a mention. I will say, though, that if I have to wade through mediocrity, let it feature the Rogues rather than mob bosses and truck hijackers. It could be argued that half this script was written by Henny Youngman. Take this story... please.
PE: My favorite reprint this issue is the delightfully goofy "The Grade A Crimes!" complete with hard-partying milk magnates and milking machines that conceal rare "jools." I was completely surprised when Batman identified the chief crook as dairy billionaire Winthrop despite his elaborate, Robin-influenced disguise. Never mind the shock of white hair and the fact that he's wearing the same blue suit he was wearing at the party earlier!! Throw in an art job by Dick Sprang and this story is the definition of 1940s Batman.
|Winthrop, Milk Magnate...|
|...but not a very bright criminal.|
PE: And here's an appropriate time to point readers in the direction of an excellent Robinson bio I stumbled on this week in a remainder bookshop, Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics (Abrams, 2010). It's a fascinating history of The Joker's creator and a look behind the scenes of the comics industry by one of its relatively unsung heroes.
Wanted by police for the murder of Talia Al Ghul, Batman must keep a low profile but still seek out pieces to the puzzle. He knows he didn't pull the trigger (despite holding the weapon) so he heads for the only man who can provide some answers: Talia's father Ra's, currently being held in Gotham Prison. Breaking in to the yard is no problem for the man who helped devise the security and soon he's facing Ra's himself. If The Dark Knight hoped for help from one of his most dangerous foes, he was kidding himself. Ra's reveals that he was responsible for his own daughter's death then commits suicide. Batman must escape down one of The Spook's abandoned tunnels to avoid capture by the guards.
PE: Len Wein's multi-part Bat-Murderer storyline is running circles around the flotsam found over in Batman. Sure, there are plot holes galore here (Have they done that autopsy on Talia yet? Would Batman really leave The Spook's tunnels open under Gotham Prison?) but the story is intriguing and it's helped enormously by Jim Aparo's exciting art.
Jack: This is promising to be an entertaining story arc! I was a little bit surprised to see Ra's Al Ghul in a cell in a Gotham City prison, but I have a feeling there's more going on than meets the eye. The twelve pages of this story flew by and Jim Aparo's outstanding artwork was a big factor. I liked that Batman escaped from the prison guards by using one of the Spook's secret exits. Len Wein is doing a nice job of tying together characters and events in the Bat-universe.
PE: You bring up a good point about Ra's and his current mailing address, Jack, as the last we saw of him he was dying on a mountain in Switzerland (Batman #244, September 1972) so the what the heck's he doin' in a prison in Gotham City looking like his old self? I suspect (read that as hope) Wein has a good explanation for this and the obvious faux-murder of Talia when the writer winds up the saga in a few issues.
The Fiftieth-Anniversary replaying of the famous Hudson University Beavers game that put the school on the map promises to be explosive...literally! Only Robin, The Teen Wonder can save the day and the team.
Jack: This is the first story credit for prolific letter writer Bob Rozakis, who has been seen previously in some of these comics contributing filler pages. It's also the first time we've seen Mike Grell's art, though he started working for DC in 1974 on some other books.
PE: I've become convinced that Frank Miller couldn't deliver this strip from the town of Mediocrity.
Jack: The reprints are a disappointing bunch, highlighted by another Star Hawkins adventure and a short Dr. Mid-Nite story from the Golden Age. For some reason, E. Nelson Bridwell must have felt compelled to reprint stories with run of the mill detectives rather than costumed heroes, and I find them pretty dull for the most part. The best news this issue is the announcement that Detective is returning to monthly status with the next issue!
PE: Now who's the Bat-Moaner, Jack? I liked the second Star Hawkins story for the same reasons I liked the first. It's a goofy, light sf yarn and its star, Hawkins, pretty much takes a back seat to his robotic secretary, Ilda. Usually, I'll admit, I don't like this sort of thing but this strip tickles my funny bone and manages to reach down deep and contact the twelve-year old in me. I also really dug the dynamic Dan Barry art on the Marty Moran story ("The Human Bomb!" from Big Town #2, February 1951), despite my fuzziness on exactly who Marty Moran is. Was he a newspaper man or a cop? He seems to have the run of the town and police force at his beck and call. Barry's style reminds me a lot of Alex Raymond's, which is appropriate since Barry worked on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip, created by Raymond, in the early 1950s. According to the GCD, the Marty Moran feature began life in Big Town as a "Steve Wilson" strip but was retitled "Marty Moran, Headline Hunter" for the reprint here. Why this was done is a guess on my part but, since Big Town was based on a radio program (and later a series of films), rights to the characters' names might have needed reacquiring and that spells $$.
|The Human Bomb was an early version of today's|
suicide bomber who used the suit to commit crimes.
From Bob Brown's Dr. Mid-Nite story (1948)
|More dynamic Dan Barry art!|
Bruce Wayne pays a visit to Hal Hemingway, an old friend and ex cop now working as a security guard at an industrial plant. Crooks show up and rob the plans for a new Fasion Reactor, despite Batman's best efforts. Hemingway disappears and Batman goes undercover to join the crooks and find him. The gang is onto the Caped Crusader, and Hemingway dies protecting Batman from a hail of machine gun bullets. Batman unmasks the real culprit: the plant manager.
Jack: In a short break from the return of the Rogues' Gallery, we're back to run of the mill crime stories. This one never gets going and the death of poor Mr. Hemingway is meant to be tragic but just seems to have been done before. Fasion Reactor? Were they worried that the makers of the non-existent Fusion Reactor would sue?
Jack: Five Batman and Robin reprints round out this issue, the last of the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars in the 15-month run where Batman and Detective Comics went to 100 pages per issue. My favorite reprint is "A Christmas Peril!" from 1945, illustrated by Jerry Robinson, in which Batman and Robin teach a rich young man named Scrooge the true meaning of Christmas. It gets me every time!