"Sign of the Skull"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Vince Colletta
Cosmo "Skull" Dugger suffers from a condition that prevents him from experiencing joy. He has created a machine to steal joy from other people and uses it on a baseball player, an award-winning actor, and a lottery winner; unfortunately, an unexpected side effect is that they all fall down dead the moment the gizmo's beam hits them. Dr. Faye Somers calls Batman to look at the latest victim's forehead--it has a small skull imprinted on it. Moments later, Batman stops some crooks from stealing the body of a man undergoing surgery. Batman finds Dugger's lair and hooks himself up to the machine that puts the joy back into his brain; however, he hooks the wires up backwards and discovers that every twinge of joy he feels is replaced by one of pain. Dugger kills another man to experiment on his body to try to figure out why his victims are dying. Batman slowly falls into a catatonic state, unable to move or speak without pain.
PE: A really silly story, even when you compare it to the other really silly stories we've had to endure with this title. A madman who steals joy via a Cerebro-type gizmo? Three men, all in good shape, drop dead of a heart attack, all three mysteriously have a skull emblem on their foreheads, and doctors and police see nothing strange about the pattern? Admittedly one of the world's great detectives, but are you going to tell me that me that he could pull Dugger's image out of a crowd of thousands at a baseball game? Why does the appropriately nicknamed Skull Dugger (you see, his last name is Dugger and the kids used to make fun of how smart he was and there's the whole skull on the foreheads thing...) feel the need to dress like Adam Strange? Dugger's origin is told in such a way that I thought for sure he was a villain in another DC title previously but, mercifully, this two-parter was his only appearance. Great cover though.
Jack: I enjoyed this story, mainly because of Mike Grell's art. I did not think that the authorities were ignoring the skulls on the foreheads--it seemed more like a cover-up by the medical examiner to me, something I hope we'll learn about next issue. Once again, with DC Comics of this era, the house ads and text items by Jenette Kahn and company are nearly as interesting (you might say more interesting) than the story. Kahn writes a column in January 1977 about how she knows a price hike is coming because of increased printing fees, but she admits that she doesn't know what the price will be on the comic we're reading. This sort of honesty is still very refreshing. There is also another profile of a DC Comics creator--this issue it's Bob Haney, who wrote tons of comics over his long career. These half-page profiles were very unusual at the time, in the days before the internet gave us instant access to everyone's biography.
"The Dead Yet Live"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin
Boss Thorne decides that Batman is a liability to his operations and must be dealt with. He gives orders to his men to take down The Dark Knight. Meanwhile, still reeling from the radioactive burns received from his tussle with Dr. Phosphorus (in #469 and #470), Bruce decides he needs to seek medical help or it will only get worse. He checks himself into the Graytowers Clinic and is immediately made to feel welcome. He's locked into his room, goes into a deep slumber and when he awakes he's told he's not in a clinic but, rather, an asylum. Turns out the joint is run by one of Batman's oldest arch-enemies, Professor Hugo Strange who, with the aid of a deadly Green Mamba, gets the jump on Batman. Not wanting The Dark Knight to go out without a protracted battle, Strange injects anti-venom into our hero and out go the lights. When he awakens, Batman is mortified to find out that Strange has unmasked him!
Jack: This is definitely a thrilling issue! The art is top drawer and the story matches it. I was a little surprised to see one of the guys at Boss Thorne's meeting compare Gotham favorably to New York City. For some reason, I always thought they were one and the same!
Bruce (on the phone): Silver? Hi, this is Bruce! Listen, I have to cancel out on tonight! I'm going into Graytowers--ah, you've heard of it? No, nothing major! Just some tests!
Silver (in a very revealing negligee): Well, after the other night, darling, I'd hoped you'd at least be suffering exhaustion! I know I am!
Jack: What about Magda, the nurse at Graytowers? Hotcha!
|Not your average four-color femme!|
Jack: It seems like Batman gets unmasked every few issues, but the person doing the unmasking is blind, or it's dark, or Batman has an amazingly lifelike mask on under his mask, or it's one of the triplets, or . . .and as for the timeline, what about the comment at Thorne's meeting that Ra's al Ghul tried to frame Batman for murder last year? That story arc ended over two years ago.
PE: Then, following that timeframe, Hugo disappeared approximately 19 years before. Again, pushing Bruce Wayne into, at least, his forties.
"Skull Dugger's Killjoy Capers!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Vince Colletta
Skull Dugger claims another victim when a gambler wins big. Bruce Wayne finds himself unable to enjoy anything without feeling pain, a problem that also extends to his efforts at crime fighting as the Batman. Batman fails to stop Skull Dugger from killing a man who comes into a large inheritance. Finally, Batman puts on a disguise and visits Dr. Tzin-Tzin in prison, where he tricks the magician into giving him an hour without pain. Batman confronts Skull Dugger, whose attempt to restore Batman to normal and then kill him only half works. Dugger is killed when Batman throws him into his machine. Bruce Wayne is now free to enjoy Alfred's cooking.
PE: This joke of a story continues to escalate in its inanity. Bruce Wayne orders Alfred to make his food taste terrible as that's the only way to enjoy it. Alfred has Bruce come in from outside because "it's much too pleasant" outside. It's like some superhero version of The Addams Family, only not so funny:
Bruce: Dreadful Alfred--thank you! Everything I dislike--half-cooked and unseasoned--perfect!"
What's amazing is that Dugger doesn't even try to be subtle or fade into the shadows. He's right there with his zapper box when a victim drops dead and even wears a purple cape to the reading of a will (where he poses as a reporter!). By the time I got to the climactic battle I was too confused and disinterested to care how it would play out. Something about reverse-joy machines. Mike Grell's pencils seem to have gotten steadily worse as well. Sure, his Bats looks good enough but the rest of the characters are lifeless and bland. This is easily a front-runner for worst story of the year and, as God is my witness, I hope it wins. I couldn't take reading something worse.
|Pay no attention to the bald skeleton-like guy|
with the laser beam and the purple tux.
|Holy bargain, Batman!|