Monday, November 5, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 43: July and August 1976

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 277 (July 1976)

"The Riddle of the Man Who Walked Backwards!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua & Tex Blaisdell

Even while vacationing in Florida with a gorgeous doll named Susan, Bruce Wayne can’t avoid crime! He sees a sea monster rise from the ocean waves and investigates, only to be knocked out in a beachside cave. When he awakens, he is dressed as Bruce Wayne and the police arrest him for the murder of a fisherman. Bruce escapes from prison and Batman finds some dope smugglers on a boat. They toss him down a pipe underwater, but he manages to escape once again and bring the crooks to justice.

Jack: A great BEM cover highlights this fun issue, which features a little more of Bruce Wayne than we’re used to. I love a good sea monster story, and I also like seeing Bruce with a girlfriend who is more than just the usual bimbo. Monsters like the one seen here were running out of steam in the comic book world by this time—Marvel’s Man-Thing had been canceled the year before and DC’s Swamp Thing would be canceled later in 1976.

PE: You might love a good sea monster story but this ain't it, Jack!  The creature is actually one of the hoods and I'm assuming they're using this disguise to scare away any nosey ninnies. Sounds more like a certain Saturday morning cartoon featuring a talking dog and his hippie buddies to me. I find it hard to swallow that Bruce Wayne would say "There ain't no such animal." Silly little thing, I know, but it bothers me. Even harder to swallow would be Batman having Alfred bury him in the sand rather than hide behind the rocks with binocs. And what kind of romantic getaway is it if you have to bring your butler with you? This spoiled millionaire can't open a bottle of champagne or spoon some caviar onto a cracker by himself? In our final panel, he asks his gal, Susan, if they can skip a kiss and "go on from there." Ostensibly, Alfred is behind the bushes just in case he's needed. Batman's dispatching of one of the hoods via a huge monkey wrench around the neck is almost Michael Fleisher-esque!  And a million thanks to Julius Schwartz for letting us know that "skam" is underworld slang for "scheme, caper!" We'd have been lost without ye, ed.

"I'm gonna get me one"???

Detective Comics 461 (July 1976)

"Bruce Wayne--Bait in a Bat-Trap"
Story by Bob Rozakis & Michael Uslan
Art by Ernie Chua & Frank McLaughlin

There's some concern that Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped by an unknown party. Since Batman spends quite a bit of time with Wayne he's sure that the millionaire playboy is fine but he puts on the charade of looking for him anyway. His "search" leads him into the sewers where he's attacked first by rats and then Captain Stingaree. The Dark Knight is captured but when the evil captain unmasks him, he's revealed to be Robert Courtney!

Jack: Part two of the Captain Stingaree story is better than part one. Seeing Batman down in the sewers below Gotham City surrounded by rats is certainly an exciting visual, and I have to admit I'm curious as to how he is managing to get one of the Courtney Brothers to appear each time he's unmasked.

PE: I couldn't make heads or tails of this story. I'm still not sure what the point of Stingaree's plot is. Hopefully we'll find out in the concluding installment next issue. The art is running hot or cold. Chua (Chan) and McLaughlin excel at presenting Batman but crash mightily at "human" characters (then again, that pretty much goes for most of Batman's artists, doesn't it?). That cover is one of the biggest cheats of 1976, but it is a damn good cover. We don't get to see thousands of rats dine on The Batman. He scarcely pays attention when he encounters them. It is a good cover though. Robert Courtney is a dead ringer for Vic Morrow.

Blink and you'll miss 'em

"The Moneybag Caper!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Pablo Marcos & Al Milgrom

Tim Trench agrees to chauffeur mobster Big Willy Cline to the airport for a measly five hundred. On the way, they're ambushed and Willy is mowed down by machine-gun fire. In the end, as with all big mobsters, Willy was set up by his own henchman.

PE: I love how Tim Trench pretends to have scruples. He refuses to take Big Willy's money, thinking it's dirty dough, until Willy assures him it was earned at his own laundromats. Lots of humor throughout its too-short 6-page length. After Willy's goon sets him up and Trench figures the score, the man wants to know what happened to the 500 bucks. We see it being carted away in the jaws of a seeing-eye dog.

Jack: Another terrific little Tim Trench tale, with pouring rain, lots of violence, hard-boiled dialogue, double crosses, and most everything a guy like me likes to read. Trench's office is above a run-down movie revival house that is showing Duck Soup. I really hope we see more of Mr. Trench in Detective!

PE: Sorry, Jack, th-th-that's all for Tim Trench. I'm afraid we'll be back to the thrilling adventures of The Overly-Elongated Man next issue. You might be interested to know that Tim Trench made a few appearances in the DC Universe post-1976, eventually meeting his maker in the series 52 back in 2006.

Jack: Notice the banner across the top of the covers of the July 1976 issue. There were 33 comics in all that sported the banner that month, and if you cut off at least 25 and mailed them in you would get a Superman belt buckle. You would also mutilate your comics. By July 1976, I was 13 years old and old enough to know better, unlike about 6 years before, when I was cutting out the coupons for Palisades Amusement Park.

Batman 278 (August 1976)

"Stop Me Before I Kill, Batman"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Tex Blaisdell

Inspector Kittridge is visiting from Scotland Yard and works on a case with Batman. A madman called the Wringer twists the heads off of a series of increasingly large dolls and he tries to remove Batman’s cranium as well! Inspector Kittridge gets it all wrong, but Batman figures out the obscure clues and prevents the madman from murdering the stockbroker who lost all of his money.

Jack: Much like the prior issue of Batman, this is harmless fun. The visiting British inspector adds a foil to the Caped Crusader, who seems to go around talking to himself a lot ever since Robin went off to college six years ago. The Wringer, who is so named because he wrings necks, is torn between carrying out his murderous plan and providing Batman with the clues necessary to prevent him from doing it. I’m not sure why the Wringer got tongue-tied when he tried to talk to Batman, but the story is fun in any case.

PE: It is silly nonsense but it's an entertaining read, something I'll latch onto and cherish around this place. The Wringer is a dead ringer for the old Daredevil villain, The Jester (who was a rip-off of The Joker, so fair play I say), and gets his name just like all the old Marvel villains. The Inspector names him: "Back in London, we once had a Jack the Ripper... you might call this one Jack the Wringer!" and Batman concurs: "Good name... The Wringer." The Throttler, The Mannequin-Killer, and The Neck-Squeezer were already taken. 
Kind of how we feel after reading
almost seven years of Batman comics!

Detective Comics 462 (August 1976)

"Kill Batman--In Triplicate"
Story by Bob Rozakis & Michael Uslan
Art by Ernie Chua & Frank McLaughlin

Batman finally gets to the bottom of the Captain Stingaree case after he finds Robin delivered to City Hall in a giant ice cube. While thawing out The Boy Wonder, Batman notices he himself is starting to freeze up.  He quickly has the final Courtney brother, Jerome, dress as The Dark Knight so that he can become a human popsicle and be carted off to Stingaree's hideaway. There the real Batman saves the day and explains that he's been assisted by The Flash throughout this adventure.
Jack: So much happens in these eleven pages that it's a shame it makes very little sense. Captain Stingaree was the black sheep fourth Courtney brother who decided his three brothers must be sharing Batman's secret identity? Batman gets the Flash to help him by tricking the Captain into thinking there were actually six Batmen? My head is beginning to hurt. At least the pictures look nice. We hadn't seen Robin in awhile and it was good to have him swing by for a visit. This story is only ten pages long. Can that be right?

PE: Rubbish, absolute rubbish. Does The Flash's involvement explain how Batman was able to escape and leave a Courtney brother each time for capture? This story line was so confusing and dim-witted (The Batman brings in The Flash and triplet investigators?) that I think I'd rather read a sequel to the Underworld Olympics saga. Did I just say that?

"Clue of the Talking Orchid!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Union Studio & Vince Colletta

On the way into a movie premiere, Sue Dibny is given an orchid to wear. Once she and Ralph sit down, they notice the orchid is talking. Smelling a rat, Ralph Dibny changes into his Elongated Man outfit and goes to investigate. He discovers the woman who gave Sue the flower actually isn't a woman and isn't a very nice guy to boot. He claims that an associate has kidnapped Sue and will kill her unless Elongo does a dirty job for him but some good ol' ingenuity saves the day.

Jack: The story isn't half bad, but whoever was part of the "Union Studio" that pencilled this short story never appeared again under that name, according to the DC Comics database. It's a good thing, because the art is pretty weak. One panel looks like an Infantino swipe, and much of it looks a little bit like Schaffenberger, but I can't say for certain who pencilled this or how much Colletta had to do to clean it up. This story is six pages long, making the new material in this issue a mere 16 pages, unless I'm missing something.

PE: I'd have to say that, despite its obvious aim at the nine-year olds, this was the most entertaining Elongated Man story I've read thus far. Now, to qualify that statement, before I read this installment I'd have said six blank pages were more entertaining than an Elongo story, but there's some bits here to like. Chief among them would have to be the truly queasy shot of our hero's elongated eyeballs serving as periscopes.

Are there any copies still floating around?

PE: Just something else Bob Kane put his name on and probably had nothing to do with. Was Bob Kane the Milli Vanilli of the comic book world?