Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ernie Chua (Chan) & Dick Giordano & Co.
PE: Denny O'Neil's slide from greatness continues. The dialogue in this poor excuse for a story would be laughable if it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. At one point, Batman tells three assailants: "Sometimes I think you guys' dialogue is written by an echo-chamber." I have no idea what the hell that means but, seriously Denny, "you guys' dialogue" from Batman? Was this delivered with a New Yawk accent? An 8-year old would have been able to see the "twist ending" coming and I hesitate to use the word art when coming anywhere near the chicken scratches in this issue (in one panel, two "extras" look as big as the canyon that Devil Dayre will be jumping). Who exactly was "Dick Giordano & Co."? Not someone who will come forward and claim the fame, I would guess.
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ernie Chan & Dick Giordano
Tipped that answers to the murders of Ra's and Talia may be in waiting at Gaston St. Lucifer's Circus Extraordinaire, Batman hits the big top in disguise. There he finds a mysterious and deadly assortment of carnival characters: Sireena, the Sensuous Snake-Charmer; Grobo, the Strongest Small Man in the World; Shondu, the Human Corkscrew; and Slapleather Smith, the Sharpshooter. All are commanded by a tall, thin, and strangely familiar barker. As Batman delves deeper, he discovers that the troop is a disguise for Ra's, Talia, and goons. Once cornered, the Ghuls confess to framing The Dark Knight in an attempt to get him to join the League of Assassins. With the help of The Creeper, the Caped Crusader is able to round up Talia and her henchmen but Ra's perishes in a tent fire. Batman is cleared of all suspicion when Commissioner Gordon arrives on scene.
PE: Not a satisfying conclusion to an arc that has taken up five issues but admittedly better than the usual standard 1975 Batman fare. The motivation behind Ra's's caper seems suspect since he must be sure already that Batman would never join his League of Assassins, fugitive or not. And there's nothing that says "this ain't goin' nowhere" like a last-page expository on the level of this issue. Did it just occur to Bats that the coroner would have been under the influence of a hallucination gas and that's how the bodies appeared dead? Let's examine that for a moment. Several people would have had to be gassed. When the coroner performed the autopsy, where did the imaginary vital parts go? In an imaginary tray? Ostensibly, the mortuary people and grave workers were hired by Ra's. I'll accept that. But why bother putting in "dummies on a special swivel-pivot" (Batman's explanation as to why there were bodies in the coffins) if, eventually, The Dark Knight will be facing Ra's and Talia anyway? There are just too many inconsistencies in the story for me to believe that even a mastermind like Ghul could pull this one off when all the paperwork involved in the murder of key figures like Ra's and Talia is enormous. Yeah, I know, it's a comic book! Just call me Bat-Grump, Jack. I do like the guesting of The Creeper (who's beginning to grow on me) and the twist reveal of Ra's's carnival identity.
Jack: I like that the wrap-up to the five-issue arc is a full-length story, but the plotting is a little bit creaky. An "A" for effort goes to Len Wein for coming up with the idea and working it out over five issues, even though they didn't always seem to be proceeding in a direct line toward the conclusion. The final revelation that Ra's al Ghul cooked the whole thing up in order to blackmail Batman into joining the League of Assassins and getting together with Talia is a bit of a surprise but also seems like it was inevitable. Ra's should have known it wouldn't work but still he tried. I would have been happier if the same artist had drawn the whole series.
PE: Jack Ryder (aka The Creeper) makes a cameo appearance here, handing out info to a disguised Batman on a seedy street corner. I thought, until the name reveal, that Ryder was Superman in disguise with the one curl hanging across his forehead. Batman's "Hang in there, Creeper!" farewell at the climax seems out of character but that could just be a personal hang up. I like to think of The Dark Knight as the laconic loner rather than a with-it hipster.
Art by Rich Buckler & Bernie Wrightson
Jack: After last issue's low point, this issue's story is a shocking return to form for Batman! This is Mike Fleisher's only credit on Batman or Detective in the 1970s, and it's in keeping with the dark, violent tone he had set the year before in the Spectre series that had a controversial run in Adventure. Up to this point, Rich Buckler had only drawn Robin backup stories. By July 1975, he was already drawing Deathlok over at Marvel. Berni Wrightson drew the great cover for Detective 425 back in 1972 but this issue of Batman is the only time we'll see him draw an interior story in this decade. Whatever the reason for this trio's getting together to produce this issue, it's a welcome bit of darkness in the Batman universe. The deaths (which turn out to have been faked) are gruesome and they are staged with relish. I have to admit I really enjoyed this story on all levels! I'm surprised it got past editor Julius Schwartz, because this issue is most assuredly NOT for kids.
PE: It's too bad we have to get that lame exposition from Bats at the climax explaining how he rigged the fake deaths:
"I discovered all three booby-traps in advance of the murders! I unwired the carousel, put a papier-mache boulder in the steam shovel...and had the special effects man rig up a phony explosion with a flare and recorded sound!"
Detective Comics 449 (July 1975)
"Midnight Rustler of Gotham City!"
Story by Elliott S. Maggin
Art by Ernie Chan & Jose Garcia-Lopez
Amidst a severe meat shortage, Commissioner Gordon asks his best friend Batman to look into a series of cattle thefts at Gotham slaughterhouses. A tip leads to an illegal cattle boat run by a small-time hood named Tad Wolfe but Batman seems unsure that Tad is behind the complicated rustling scheme. A strange dream involving a shaman that the Caped Crusader had met years ago leads him to the real brains behind the robberies: Tad's brother, millionaire trucking magnate Zach Wolfe. When Batman confronts Zach, the man commands his rustlers to release the cattle on Gotham roads. With the help of a gallant steed, Batman is able to round up the rampaging livestock, ensuring at least one more day of unhealthy dietary habits for Gothamites.
Jack: The cover looks like one of those where Julius Schwartz commissioned it and then had someone come up with a story to match. Fortunately, we do get Batman up on that white horse eventually, even if it's only for half a page as he helps the cops round up some wayward cows. What is really weird about this story is Bruce Wayne's dream about the old Indian medicine chief he met years ago in New Mexico. It seems like something out of an O'Neil/Adams story circa 1970-1971 but it's not. Chua's art continues to be good, especially when he lets loose with a page or two of dialogue-free action. This issue's inker is Jose Garcia Lopez, whose first DC credit was just the month before; this is his first work on a Batman story.
Jack: Did the ballot have an exclamation point after the S?
"The Mighty Man Who Walked on Air!"
Story by Mary Skrenes
Art by Dick Giordano
While on holiday in Florida, Ralph and Sue Dibny are continuously confronted by a man who can seemingly walk on air.
PE: The science of The Flash eludes me. If he's running so fast he appears to be walking on air, how can Ralph and Sue see him? If Sue contacted The Flash to help set up the mystery for Ralph's birthday, did they already know about the bombing that Hardboiled Harry The Bomb had planned? This whole story makes my head hurt real bad.
Jack Davis art is always worth a look!