PE: On the letters page, there's correspondence from future novelist and television writer Alan Brennert (L.A. Law, The Twilight Zone, China Beach).
"The Hollow Man"
written by Frank Robbins
art by Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson
In a story continuing from last issue, Batgirl is hunting the deadly Orchid-Killer, a man who dates and murders redheads. A succession of really bad dates doesn't deter her in the slightest. She finally manages to score a meet with the real deal only to have the trap fouled by Jason Baird, who's been following Barbara on her dates. Eventually, a little detective work leads Batgirl right to the killer who, it turns out, has been under her nose all the time.
Jack: Can I rave a little bit about the art by Kane and Anderson? It's page after page of dynamic layouts and creative angles, with superb draftsmanship. Even if this issue didn't feature Adams's best work, the combination of Adams and Kane makes this a real visual treat.
PE: Oh yeah, as with the opener, the art is fabulous and makes up for a weak story filled with dopey turns. Do you think every computer dater-turned murderer leaves his actual street address with the company? Wouldn't a master detective like Batgirl be able to tell if someone is wearing a mask, especially if that someone gets real close to her? Hopefully, we won't get too many final-panel expositories, like we got here, in the future.
Batman #220 (March 1970)
"This Murder Has Been Pre-Recorded"
Batman races to a midnight rendezvous at a telephone booth. A taped message contains a killer's confession, and the booth explodes! Batman narrates the events leading up to the blast. The day before, Bruce Wayne had received a visit from feature reporter Marla Manning, who reported on the murder of Tom Sloane. He had been blown up after turning the ignition key in his car. Marla investigated the Nova Demolition Co. and began receiving threats to "lay off--or else!"
Bruce decides that this is a job for Batman, who pays a visit to Sloane's widow, finding her being menaced by a gunman. Batman fights the gunman but is unable to prevent his escape. Mrs. Sloane refuses to identify the criminal.
Batman then talks Marla into planting a story that will smoke Nova out. The trick works, and Nova calls to set up a meeting, where he will supply Marla with proof of Sloane's killer.
That night, Marla goes to the meeting spot and Batman appears, taking her place for the rendezvous. The confession is played, the phone booth explodes, and Nova appears, holding Marla at gunpoint. Batman takes him by surprise and knocks him out. Batman reveals that he had placed a dummy in the phone booth.
Sloane's widow later admits that Nova had saved her husband's life in Vietnam and then blackmailed him when they both came home. When Sloane rebelled, Nova killed him.
Jack: This one didn't bother me much. It was clear that Batman did not die in the explosion because he was narrating the story. So the mystery was one of what really happened at that phone booth?
Jack: Re-reading these old Batman stories gives me a new appreciation for Frank Robbins. I did not realize he was a decent writer, since his art in later Marvels was so bad.
Jack: It did seem pretty obvious that Nova was the killer all along. I was more interested in how Batman got out of that doggoned phone booth without getting blown up!
Jack: Pasko was also responsible in the 1980s for the atrocious reboot of E-Man. He was eventually taken off of that series.
Detective Comics #398 (April 1970)
"The Poison Pen Puzzle"
written by Frank Robbins
art by Bob Brown & Joe Giella
Bruce Wayne is traveling incognito aboard a plane when the stewardesses start chirping about autographs. The millionaire playboy sighs and thinks something about sunglasses and disguises before discovering these girls don't want any part of him. Bruce happens to be sitting next to best-selling writer Maxine Melanie, author of the hippest tome in the world, The In People of Out City, a thinly disguised expose of Hollywood movie stars that's created quite the buzz. Wayne is not impressed and dutifully tells Melanie that if he has anything to do with it (and he does, since the studio that bought the rights is in bed with Wayne Enterprises), a film will never be made of her book with his money. When he confronts Seven Star Pictures board members, they call him a hypocrite since he's complaining loudly about a book he's never read. Conceding that point, Wayne goes off to the book store to get a copy, happening upon Maxine Melanie signing copies. The millionaire happens to be in the right place at the right time as the author is poisoned by an old woman who's not really an old woman.
Very shortly after, Loren Melburn ("Grand old dame of Seven Star Pics") and her husband, Dorian, confess to the murder. Batman's not buying that the elderly Mrs. Melburn has the muscle to put him on his back. In the end, it's yet another of Seven Star Pics' old legends of the screen that turns out to be the culprit.
PE: Things are slow around the DC story offices in early 1970. Only explanation I can see for getting Batman involved in a mystery involving a thinly veiled Jacqueline Susann. The fire usually reserved for child molesters and drug runners is laughably here on display when Bruce Wayne becomes irate over his corporation's dealings with a film studio about to greenlight a movie based on the shocking expose. The sequence where he bursts into his board meeting to preach to his underlings the horrors of a book he's never read is pure camp. It's also a subtle stab at censors, but isn't Batman supposed to be on the side of right? Could the Caped Crusader have taken a bite of hypocrisy and found it tastes bitter? Hmmm... there may be more here than meets the eye in this story after all. Umm, no. That's about all the brain food you'll find here as the story quickly descends into bottom-of-the-barrel drivel.
Jack: Bad story, bad art. Not worth reading! My favorite page is the one where the old film stars' butler shows up--colored yellow, no less (but he is Oriental, Jack!!-PE).
PE: Jack, you're being too kind with the word "bad." This is awful art, generic and devoid of any life or character, the kind you'd find in advertisements or on cereal boxes. I will say I was taken by the panel (reprinted below) showing a nonplussed Bruce Wayne trying to figure out his passenger in the seat next to him. For one panel, there's a spark of life. Ironically, it's a scene lacking any action. Immediately thereafter, Wayne goes back to looking like a multitude of actors himself, chiefly Hal Holbrook. Imagine a playboy millionaire who looks like an aging character actor. The story is almost Ed Wood-ian in its stupidity. Halfway through the story, Dorian Melburn flips Batman over his shoulder and remarks that its the second time today he's done it. This despite the fact that Bruce Wayne and not Batman was in the store for the first flip. This would mean Melburn knows that Wayne and the Caped Crusader are one and the same. Though Batman brings the odd statement up, the matter is dismissed. By the end of the story, I defy any reader to make heads or tails of this story. Suddenly, "Return of the Bat-Mite" isn't so awful anymore.
written by Frank Robbins
art by Gil Kane & Vince Colletta
Has one of Dick Grayson's fellow students been exposed to a big dose of radiation thanks to a moon rock? It's up to Robin to find out.
Jack: Sure, the story is dopey, but those Kane layouts! I don't think Colletta's inks are quite as luxurious as Murphy Anderson's were last issue.
PE: I'll agree the art is Kane-tastic but wouldn't it be great if it had something readable accompanying it? I'm taking away from these Batgirl and Robin solo stories that these sidekicks are useless without the big guy. They're constantly being stomped into the ground. From the climax of this story (to be continued next issue) I've a feeling we're gonna be exposed to more of that hip-talkin' Dick and the student body clashing with "the man." Makes you wish for the good old days of the 60s when it was the commies that held such disdain with comic book writers.
Jack: You are so square! Dick was in touch with the kids who were now and happening (I'm square? All I have to say is "Yo!"-PE)!
PE: On the letters page are contributions from future DC writer Mike Barr, who chronicled Batman's adventures in Brave and the Bold for several years, and Howard Leroy Davis, who wrote several critical pieces on comic series for a wonderful fanzine called Comic Effect.