Monday, October 29, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 42: May and June 1976

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Detective Comics 459 (May 1976)

"A Clue Before Dying!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by J.L. Garcia Lopez

Writer Elliot Quinn is having a bash in celebration of the book he's working on, "The Dreamhouse Murder." The shindig is being held in the same house the famed murder was committed in as this gives Quinn his mojo. Unfortunately, that book will have to be ghost-written since Quinn is found dead - shot in the jugular - at his writing desk later that evening. Luckily (or coincidentally), Bruce Wayne's name was on the invitation list and where he goes, so does The Batman. The suspects include: actor Walter Gaunt, Detective Dannay, secretary Lyle Keane, housekeeper Emma Rundle, and one Alfred Pennyworth (identified by Mrs. Rundle as exiting the room where Quinn's body was found). When Mrs. Rundle is found dead, by poker, in the parlor, the suspect list dwindles. Thankfully, the dead writer left a clue and Batman adds one plus one and that equals toupee! We eventually discover Quinn's murderer was also the guilty party in The Dreamhouse Murder and was afraid the writer would find him out. 

Jack: Martin Pasko’s tribute to Ellery Queen features a mystery writer named Elliot Quinn (E.Q., get it?) and a detective named Lt. Dannay, a nod to Frederic Dannay, one of the two men who wrote as Ellery Queen. The story itself is simple and the clues rather obvious. Still, having Batman solve an actual mystery with any clues at all is an improvement over having him herding horses or camels in Gotham City.

PE: Do I have to select either door, Jack? Bruce Wayne always seems to get invited to these whodunits. The only piece missing is Commissioner Gordon, who's usually at the party as well. Can a corpse actually point out a clue? And would that corpse actually have the wherewithal to point to a rug as a clue that his murderer wears a toupee?! That "startling" cover is a bit of false advertising. Alfred's guilt is discussed in about two panels (and he's certainly never asked by Bats to be a patsy), the cops haul him away (in his nightgown, no less), and nothing more is said about our favorite butler. In fact, as far as we know, he's still waiting to be bailed out.

"Scream of the Gargoyle!"
Story by Marty Pasko
Art by Pablo Marcos

To save his wife Francine, Man-Bat must first face the threat of Dr. Thanatogenos and his Devil-Bell.

PE: Thank goodness this is only six pages long as I had to read it twice to figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if I grasped it even after the double pass. So Thanogenitals turns out to be the demon-gargoyle, I guess. That should be a shocking development but leads to more head-scratching on this reader's part. What we end up with here seems to be five pages explaining what happened in the first chapter (last issue) and a one-page wrap-up. I argue that all action would stop for minutes on end as Man-Bat tries to pronounce the good doctor's name without skreeking (and how about the demon's "gleeking"!)

Jack: This conclusion to the Man-Bat two-parter is very quick and not terribly coherent, but the art by Pablo Marcos is nice. I find it hard to believe that the Langstroms are the only people in Chicago possessing mystic energy; I’ve been to the Windy City enough times to know better! It looks like the artists have stopped numbering pages—I wonder if this was intentionally done to make it less obvious that readers were paying 30 cents for 18 pages of new material. I also wonder if Pasko took the backup story less seriously, since the Batman lead story is credited to “Martin” while the Man-Bat backup is credited to “Marty.”

PE: Based on evidence presented in this issue, Jack, I'd say Pasko didn't take either one seriously.

Batman 275 (May 1976)

"The Ferry Blows at Midnight!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Tex Blaisdell

Batman is determined to crack the case of the mysterious crimes that have been occurring in Gotham. Luckily, the North American team is hard at work fulfilling its assignment as the last group to take a turn in the Underworld Olympics. Batman succeeds in foiling their attempt to blow up a ferry and then follows a spotter back to their headquarters, where the entire crew of international bad guys is rounded up.

Jack: The fourth and final Underworld Olympics story is on par with the first three. The North American team consists of a Native American, an African-American, a Mexican bandito, a bald guy with an eye patch (Joey One-Eye), and a cowboy. David V. Reed is using plenty of “bat” this and “bat” that, including the Whirlybat, a nifty one-man helicopter that allows Batman to fly low and follow a crook. Reed is also slipping back into the old tradition of corny Bat-quips, such as this line from the Caped Crusader: “as they used to say in vaudeville, ‘dis must be de place.’”

PE: 4 issues wasted on this garbage? I still have no idea what the point of this arc was. Why were these underworld goons risking life, liberty, limbs and, in one case, a million bucks? For some silly "underworld olympics?" I'd applaud the wrap-up of this detritus but who knows what Julius Schwartz had up his sleeve next? It almost seems, as the 1970s wear on, that the Batman character (and the stories around him) is sliding back into the 1960s.

Detective Comics 460 (June 1976)

"Slow Down--and Die!"
Story by Bob Rozakis and Michael Uslan
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin

There's a nut loose in Gotham who believes that Batman is actually triplets and he intends to prove it. To his chagrin, Commissioner Gordon discovers someone has placed a bomb in his patrol car. An unknown voice over his C.B. tells him that if he, at any time, decreases his speed below 50 mph, the bomb will detonate. As with all cases large and small, Gordo's first call is to Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is enjoying the company of buxom Barbi Brendan aboard The Stingapee, "Gotham's hottest in-spot for the jet set." The Stingapee is a faux pirate ship (or is it?) run by Karl Crossman aka Captain Stingapee. When Bruce's Gordo-buzzer vibrates, he hightails it to the awaiting Batmobile (courtesy of Alfred) and heads to the open road to help Gordo. After an exciting mid-road transfer, Batman is able to open the hood of the car and defuse the bomb, but Gordon's car is wrecked and Batman is thrown to the road, dazed. An ambulance arrives but the paramedic turns out to be none other than Captain Stingapee himself. The Captain takes Batman hostage but our hero is able to damage a tank of ether and both are rendered unconscious. Stingapee revives first and unmasks Batman, who is revealed to be Michael Courtney. Who?

PE: Not nearly as bad as a/ it sounds and b/ the tripe that's been filling the pages of the two Bats titles lately. There's a lot of credibility-stretching stuff going on here (Bats' climb onto Gordo's speeding car hood, the fact that rich people would spend lots of money in a pirate ship, Bruce Wayne's outfit while aboard said ship) but the oddest to me was that Jim Gordon would be riding home in a patrol car. The surprise ending might have been more effective if the man unmasked had been someone we were more familiar with (no, I'm not suggesting Alfred) rather than a character that, as far as my admittedly bad memory goes, has never been introduced. Co-writer Michael Uslan has lived the dream life of every Batman fan, first as a comic collector, then as a writer, and graduating all the way up to executive producer of all seven of the big screen Bats flicks beginning with Tim Burton's Batman (1989) up through this past summer's The Dark Knight Rises. I'm not sure if this story was ever pitched at brainstorming sessions but, who knows, Hollywood loves Batman and pirates so maybe someday...

Jack: I don’t know where this kook got the idea that Batman is actually three brothers, but it’s nutty. The “surprise” ending where Batman is unmasked and turns out to be someone other than Bruce Wayne has been done many times before. At least now we know where the idea for the movie Speed came from! Most interesting is the character of Bruce Wayne’s latest girlfriend Barbi Brendan, who is clearly a takeoff on Barbi Benton, the Kim Kardashian of the 1970s. The lack of page numbers is already having an effect—the lead story is down to 11 pages, making the total of new material in this issue a paltry 17 pages.

They don't make 'em like this anymore

"The Cold-Fire Caper!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Pablo Marcos and Al Milgrom

Private Dick Tim Trench is asked by the beautiful Velma Grayle to hold onto a massive ruby for her friend. Trench smells a rat but agrees. He soon regrets his decision as bullets fly all around him.

Jack: This is a great little strip! In six pages, O’Neil, Marcos and Milgrom paint a good, hardboiled picture that reminded me of something out of a 1970s Charlton comic crossed with a Max Allan Collins novel. This is more adult than the usual Detective fare and it’s a lot of fun!
PE: I was a bit less entertained by this strip than you, Jack, but I guess I've read more quality detective fiction than you. Your Max Collins reference is spot on and I'd throw in more than a heaping helping of Dirty Harry Callahan as well (that's quite a trick Trench pulls off, firing those deadly .357s without breaking a wrist). I'm open to more cases with Tim for no other reason than it leaves no room for The Elongated Man.

Batman 276 (June 1976)

"The Haunting of the Spook!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua

The Spook returns to drive Batman crazy with his disappearing tricks. Using subliminal messages, he hopes to get Batman so riled up that he will kill the Spook—or seem to, since the Spook can feign death. The Dark Knight turns the tables, however, and it is up to Commissioner Gordon to figure out a way to keep the Spook locked up this time.

Jack: I think the Spook qualifies for the Rogues’ Gallery by now, after this, his fourth appearance. As before, his tricks don’t seem very plausible and the explanations behind them are pretty far-fetched. It’s almost funny when Batman tries to use the Spook’s methods against him, since the fake Batman ghosts that appear outside a window look completely phony. Still, the Spook is a fun villain and the story is entertaining enough. Like this month’s Detective, Batman is now down to 17 pages of new material.

PE: I should applaud that! Good trick that dolphin leap Batman executes under the Kingsboro Bridge, a move I doubt even a 1976 Gold medalist could pull off. Our favorite cop, Commissioner Gordon, has moved from convincing The Dark Knight he should handle all the dirty jobs Gordo and his donut crew can't to ordering Bats to strongarm their mutual buddy Bruce Wayne!
Gordo: Never mind this Spook menace! Tomorrow the Gotham Assistance Corporation is meeting to consider the department's budget! Bruce Wayne is representing his bank at that meeting! You've got more influence with him than I have! Explain the situation...

Bats: ...about the Spook...
Gordo: Blast The Spook... Now... Get going!

I guess we know who wears the pants in this relationship. The motive behind The Spook's latest haunting is revenge. He goes to amazing lengths to push Batman into humiliation. This is an old plot line, one we've been "enjoying" over at Marvel University time after time. These crooks are such dopes.

Not very convincing!

Limited Collector's Edition C-44
also came out in June 1976
and featured reprints of
4 Batman stories

Straight from Red China!


Yankee Cowboy said...

Do you guys actually physically own these comics?

Greg M. said...

Another great column, folks.

I really enjoyed The Spook stories,and think he was probably the best new villain they came up with in the 70s. He's definitely a lower-tier member of the Rogue's Gallery, though.

As for the Underworld Olympics, I can't help but think that with 1976 being both the US Bicentennial and an Olympic year proved too much for Julie to resist. Perhaps he thought the US should have had at least one of the Olympics that year? I have no proof, of course, but it certainly seems like such a "Julie" thing to do.

Keep up the great work.

Peter Enfantino said...


I have runs of both Batman and 'Tec from 1969 straight through 2008 and I also have them on files so's to read them on a kindle.

Matthew Bradley said...

Barbi Benton! She was the first girl I ever remember parlaying her position (as it were) as a PLAYBOY model--but never a Playmate--into being Hugh Hefner's main squeeze. According to Wikipedia, the two cohabited from 1969 until 1976, the year this issue appeared. I can confirm that she made a huge impression on those of us whose fathers were hip enough to share their subscriptions to PLAYBOY.

I'd also like to point out that the Tim Trench(coat) story pays direct tribute to author Raymond Chandler. The name "Velma Grayle" is from his thrice-filmed Philip Marlowe novel FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. Who can forget ex-con Moose Malloy's relentless refrain, "I want you to find my Velma?"

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Greg! Can we all agree that Matthew's dad was the coolest ever?