Monday, April 30, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 16: January and February 1972

by Jack Seabrook 
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 238 (January 1972)

"The Masterminds of Crime!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Win Mortimer (DC Wikia says Curt Swan & Charles Paris)
From Batman 70 (April-May 1952)

PE: A wacky story about a crime cartel that trains its villains a la the Olympics has lots of unintended humor. At least, I think it's unintended. 

"The Doom Patrol"
Story by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney
Art by Bruno Premiani
From My Greatest Adventure 80 (June 1963)

Every comic geek's dream come true

Jack: This is the first appearance and origin story for The Doom Patrol, a group that sure looks like it influenced the X-Men. I always enjoyed the Doom Patrol's exploits, and this is an exciting origin story.

PE: Wow! What a revelation. You said it, Jack. Seeing as how this predates X-Men #1 by three months, odds are that Jack and Stan saw a little (or quite a bit) that they liked in this story, from the wheelchair-ridden "Chief" to the "superfolk aiding a society that turned its back on them." I liked this initial outing though it suffers from quite a bit of padding to fill its 25 pages. Author Arnold Drake wrote one of my favorite horror films, The Flesh Eaters, and co-created the supernatural DC character, Deadman.

A gorgeous splash page by Cole.
"Oh Plastic Man!"
Story and art by Jack Cole
From Police Comics 14 (December 1942)

Jack: This is an excellent example of Jack Cole in his prime, a fun and kooky story that is more than a little bit influenced by the work of Will Eisner, whose shop produced this comic.

PE: I'm a big Spirit fan and Cole's work does remind me of Eisner's (he was, after all, one of Eisner's "ghosts" during World War II) but the story is disjointed (at least for me) and the one-liners are a little too fast and furious. Don't get me wrong, it beats hell out of 90% of the reprints DC was packing into these giants, it's just not prime Cole to me. Here's as good a chance as any to mention Jack Cole and Plastic Man by Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd (Chronicle, 2001), a wonderful look at the brilliant career and sad end of Jack Cole. The book also reprints all 14 nightmarish pages of Cole's infamous "Murder, Morphine, and Me." 

"Sargon the Sorcerer"
Story by John Broome
Art by Joe Kubert
From Sensation Comics 57 (September 1946)

Jack: Signed by Joe Kubert, this story shows off his clean lines even in 1946.

PE: Once again, I wonder why a comic book titled Batman doesn't feature more Batman. This is a cute enough strip but it doesn't belong here.

"Danger in the Totem's Eye"
Story by Arthur Adler
Art by Arthur Peddy and Bob Oksner

An unpublished story intended for Flash Comics 105 (March 1949), except that Flash Comics was canceled after issue 104 and thus this story sat in the files until 1972.

Jack: This six-page story featuring DC's Golden Age version of the Atom is most interesting because it had not been published when originally produced.

PE: It's also unique in that it features the DC Universe's dumbest bad guys. They throw a tomahawk at Al Pratt, watch him duck into a tepee, and witness Pratt's alter ego The Atom emerge, but can't put two and two together. They're amazed that the kid disappeared and the superhero showed up without their knowledge. Thugs are so much smarter in the 1960s Marvel Universe. I was not familiar with this character so I did a little . . . ahem . . . research and found out that Al Pratt had an atomic-powered right hook but was evidently not too popular with comic readers. He all but vanished after an appearance in All-Star Comics in 1951 and was killed off in Zero Hour (1994), one of those "lots of heroes in one place designed to shake up things" mini-series that DC would do almost weekly in the 90s.

"The Aqua-Thief of the Seven Seas!"
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Ramona Fradon
From Adventure 276 (September 1960)

Jack: A run of the mill Aquaman story.

PE: No Aquaman fan here. Sub-Mariner wins #1 Sea Hero in my book, though Captain Compass, Sea Sleuth, may be runner-up.

"The Legion of Super-Outlaws!"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by John Forte
From Adventure 324 (September 1964)

Superboy sure knew how to energize his team!
Jack: A story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes written by Edmond Hamilton, who was a prolific writer of science fiction and comics and also the husband of write Leigh Brackett.

PE: When I was a kid and I'd buy these 100-page Super Spectaculars, I'd read them just about cover to cover (and that includes the few Heeyaw, the Talking Burro strips that were reprinted) but I drew the line at Superboy. Superman  never floated my boat but Superboy and his Legion of Super-Heroes bored me to tears. Forty years later, I'm reminded why. Overly long and talky science fiction with uninteresting super characters and dim-witted villains. I think that about covers it. 

"Mr. Roulette's Greatest Gamble"
Story by David Vern
Art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris
From Batman 75 (February-March 1953)

PE: My first encounter with Vicki Vale, a reporter who looks and dresses nothing like any reporter I've ever seen but does fall in line with the glamorous slant the character was given in Tim Burton's Batman. As goofy and preposterous as this story is, I find it to be the most enjoyable Batman I've encountered on our trip. Little touches like the hissy-fit Mr. Roulette throws when Batman asks him, rather politely, to quit his dangerous game ("But you can't ask that! It's my whole life! No! I won't stop! And you can't make me! This is my house! Get out! Get out!") or the touch of conscience our hero gets when Roulette gets the drop on him and the lad with a heater ("I could probably jump him--but I can't risk Robin's life!" Hello? What have you been doing with this kid every night for the last ten years?) or, especially, the amusing climax where Mr. Roulette actually unmasks twice (and that's not counting the dead guy he made up to look like him). Tell me what kind of house can hold a pinball machine that big? Lots of mindless fun.

Jack: I have fond memories of this comic book, which was one of the first of DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars. The Neal Adams wraparound cover is one of the best comic book covers I have ever seen. The interior has no ads except for half-page house ads that are used to fill in where stories end at half a page. The comic is alternatively numbered DC-8 and it was a great source for Golden Age stories for a kid like me, eight years old when it came out and with no money or ability to track down the old comics. For fifty cents, it was a very exciting purchase! By the way, there is a great website devoted to the DC 100-page comics!

On the inside back cover was
a key to the cover!

Detective Comics 419 (January 1972)

"Secret of the Slaying Statues!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

A corpse is found in the harbor, weighed down by several gold statues of Batman. When The Caped Crusader infiltrates an Irish neighborhood to investigate (as Batman and as an Irish drunk), he discovers a drug smuggling ring led by an Irishman named McCourt, who keeps his large son caged in his basement. Batman discovers that the water-logged body was a message to the police that there are more than a few drug smugglers operating in Gotham.

PE: I was always under the impression that drugs could not be mentioned in a story approved by the Comics Code and yet here's a panel displaying a white powdery substance and the word DRUGS! very prominently featured in a word balloon. It's never stated whether the drug is cocaine or heroin but since horse was the narcotic of choice in the early 70s, I'll go with that. Anyway, while doing some research on the topic, I was quickly reminded not only of The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (which ran without Code approval in 1971) but, closer to home, The Green Arrow/Green Lantern wherein Speedy (hee-hee), Green Arrow's version of Robin, gets hooked on H. Not coincidentally, that story was also written by Denny O'Neil. To make a long story even longer, the Code was relaxed on several points, including drug use "if presented as a vicious habit," in 1971. Thank goodness for that or we'd never have seen such thinking.

Jack: Notwithstanding the Irish stereotyping, this is a weak story, especially for Denny O'Neil. We are introduced to the simple giant, but he just becomes a plot device by story's end.

PE: With a surname like O'Neil, you'd think the writer would know that not every Irishman is drunk, sings ancient ditties ("Oh Danny Boy, the pipes are caw-aw-lin"), and dresses in green. Well, I guess not every Irishman is as I described here. There is McCourt's son, the big and slow Paddy, a brute with an impossibly small noggin atop his brutish frame (think a clothed Irish Hulk). Paddy exists for no other reason than to be a cliched plot device. He's mentally challenged and McCourt is ashamed to be related to the boy. He can sculpt gold Batmans. That's it. Almost offensive, if you ask me.

Jack: Novick's art seems to be less than his best here as well. In one panel, Batman looks a bit like a Frank Robbins creation. Sad that Robbins is our go-to for bad art!

PE: Drug kingpin Liam McCourt asks Batman where he slipped up when Bats confronts him and seems astonished at the detective work of the Dark Knight. Passing out parcels of junk in front of anyone who happens to pass by seems to be the mark of a drug lord not long for that world but either no one had thought to tutor McCourt in the finer points of dealing or every Irishman is a dope (pun intended). That tutor might also have explained to McCourt that killing rival drug smugglers and weighing them down with gold Batman statues might bring the authorities sniffing.

Jack: If O'Neil was reaching for the same sort of pathos he found in "A Vow From the Grave" (Detective Comics 410), I think he failed.

PE: Miserably. What a mess. I expect the next Batman story will explain how our hero escaped the cage he's trapped in at the end of the story.

"Long Live the Kingpin!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Batgirl continues to investigate the murder of kingpin Floyd Marcus. Number one suspect is his stepson, Mike Marcus, but for some reason known only to Batgirl and Frank Robbins, our heroine is not buying that solution. This, despite eye witnesses and lots of proof pointing to the junior Marcus. Turns out she's right. The real murderer is rival kingpin, Larry "The Blimp" Cooper.

Jack: Another dopey Batgirl entry by Robbins and Heck. The "mystery" isn't much of one and the art is rushed.

PE: Oh goodness. I couldn't make heads or tails of this story and if a really intelligent literature reader like myself (I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull three times) can't come out the tail-end the wiser, how is some ten-year old 1971 comic fan supposed to? Perhaps, even after we've been subjected to so much Frank Robbins bilge, Jack and I still hope to find that undiscovered gem. We'll have to keep looking.

"The Return of Ben Franklin"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Ruben Moreira
From Detective Comics 213 (November 1954)

Jack: Stories like this are why I've never heard of Roy Raymond, TV Detective.

PE: How can you say that, Jack? I thought the three or four explanations that Roy came up with at the climax of the story for the faux Ben Franklin were unlike any I'd ever read. It amazes me the number of forgettable characters DC pawned off on an unsuspecting public (most of whom were grade school boys) in the 1950s and 60s. I'd love to see a book-length study of these fifth-tier heroes. Roy Raymond had a lengthy career as a support act and his grandson made an appearance (as a Jerry Springer-esque tabloid TV host) in a 1997 issue of Robin.

"The Human Target"
Story by ?
Art by Nick Cardy
From Gangbusters 61 (December 1957-January 1958)

Jack: With all of the good stories to reprint, why did they reprint snoozers like this?

PE: Where are all these "good stories to reprint," Jack?! If they're out there, they haven't mined them yet as of January 1972.

Batman 239 (February 1972)

"Silent Night, Deadly Night!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

On Christmas Eve, Batman comes upon a street corner Santa Claus lying in the snow. Someone has been robbing Santas all day long across Gotham City! Batman tracks the assailant to a Christmas tree stand and, after a scuffle, the man takes Batman home to meet his niece, Betsy. Uncle Tim has been caring for her but lost his job; he turned to robbery to pay the bills and blames toy manufacturer Richard Lee Evans for laying him off. Tim knocks Batman out, ties him up, and sets out to exact revenge on Evans. When Batman wakes up, he takes little Betsy out into the driving snow, intent on preventing a murder. With the help of a horse-drawn sleigh that appears out of nowhere he is able to reach Evans; Tim was merciful and did not harm the sick old man. They get him to the hospital in time, the sleigh vanishing without a trace.

Jack: A lovely Christmas tale of redemption. Novick's art is evocative, especially in the snowy scenes. I am a sucker for a good Christmas story and I loved the touch of using the unexplained sleigh, not to mention having the little girl call Batman "Sir"!

PE: I've read better "Christmas tales of redemption." In the mid-70s, Warren's Creepy would publish a special Christmas number, filled with superior Holiday Horror stories. With those in the back of my mind, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" comes off as cliched and uninspired. Batman's never been so wishy-washy as here. One moment he's ready to take Uncle Tim off to the pen, the next he's giving him a Christmas hug and telling him all will be fine. This after taking a couple of blows to the noggin. Maybe it was those blows to the noggin? When Batman asks Tim why he doesn't have a job, the man launches into a tirade about the toy maker who laid him off. Bats seems to be satisfied with this answer rather than pressing the man to find another job!

Jack: Wow! What a grinch!

"The Loneliest Men in the World"
Story by Don Cameron
Art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
From Batman 15 (February-March 1943)

Jack: This is one of the oldest Batman stories reprinted to date since they began running reprints in Batman and Detective. It's charming and more enjoyable than some of the stories from the 50s and 60s.

PE: It's a little too long but it'll put a twinkle in the eye and a smile on the face of its reader.

Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano

Robin is giving Dick Grayson's college pals a tour of Gotham City's famous Bleeker Street when they happen upon an altercation between some "Jesus Freaks" and Rich Asher, a young man resisting conversion. Robin intervenes and calms the situation, then accompanies the young religious folk to their apartment. While there, he has a vision of Terri Bergstrom, who tells him to find Asher's father. Robin sets out to find the man, wondering about Terri's psychic powers.

Jack: The debut of Rich Buckler on the Robin strip is impressive, and the story is weirdly interesting. I can't recall "Jesus Freaks" appearing in a Batman comic before, but they were certainly a part of the landscape around 1972. I'm intrigued to see where the subplot with Terri leads.

PE: It's certainly better than most of the Robin solo swill. You could tell that Mike Friedrich and Denny O'Neil sat down and read their New York Times before hitting the typewriter. I think every Robin-solo has revolved around a "hot topic" of the day: drugs, riots on campus, now religious zealots (albeit, zealots who turn into hotheads at the drop of a dime).  Next up: Robin burns his bra and buys a Pet Rock.

Jack: Or a mood ring.

Detective Comics 420 (February 1972)
"Forecast for Tonight . . . Murder!"
Story and art by Frank Robbins

Night at the docks. Batman seeks an assassin coming in on a freighter: a would-be killer who sets off Geiger counters and is blind in one eye and whose target is Gotham diamond merchant Piet Van Doorn.  The tycoon orders Commissioner Gordon to give him a 24-hour guard so The Commish asks Batman for a personal favor. Working on a tip, Batman stakes out the docks but unfortunately, the assassin eludes him at the dock. Fortunately, it's learned that the killer will be arriving in a most peculiar fashion: packed in a coffin. As Van Doorn confides to The Caped Crusader, the man issuing threats has been dead ten years. It doesn't take much to find the funeral parlor the casket has been taken to and The Caped Crusader is soon staking out a mortuary. Sure enough, as night falls, the "corpse" rises to perpetrate his crime

Jack: The story is pretty good, but the art is classic Robbins--some wacky poses that look like skeletons in costume, lots of heavy black ink and shadows, and an overall sketchiness that is quite different from the sketchiness we associate with Don Heck. I have to admit that I am able to appreciate Robbins's art more as an adult than I did when I was young and reading comics in the 1970s. I am fighting my knee-jerk negative reaction and trying to give it a chance.

PE: Ironically (or maybe not since we've been complaining about Robbins' sub-par writing for months now), it wasn't the art that made me want to scream but the story (or lack thereof). I had to re-read the first three pages three times to make sure I hadn't missed the panel where we learn the suspect is blind in one eye. The goofball "accents" were annoying as well and the climax is filled with expository upon expository. The art's not bad here. Don't get me wrong, I won't be pushing TwoMorrows to publish The Art of Frank Robbins anytime soon, but a few of the segments had me murmuring "Hmmm" out loud. Batman's initial meeting with Van Doorn is nicely staged , with the tycoon firmly, and comfortably, ensconced in his vault. Robbins's heavy use of blacks works perfectly when dealing with a horrific subject like a one-eyed "corpse" rising from a coffin. Batman's way too thin for my tastes though.

Jack: The letters column in this issue features readers' critiques of Robbins's art on the Man-Bat story in Detective 416. Surprisingly, many of the readers really liked it! Some hated it. There were no opinions in between. The editor points out that Neal Adams did the coloring on the Robbins art in the Man-Bat story. I did not know that Adams did coloring on other artists' work.

PE: One of the naysayers on that letters page was Bob Rozakis.

"Target for Manana!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Barbara Gordon accompanies Jason and her father to Mexico, where they are to attend a Narcotics seminar. Where Babs goes, Batgirl is sure to follow. Once in Mexico, though, Babs and The Commish run afoul of crime overlord Odds Lanyon and a carjacking ends in Commissioner Gordon being blackjacked. Will Barbara have time to change her clothes and do her hair before further harm comes to her pop?  
Jack: When did Jason start calling Batgirl "Bee Gee"? And just how deep is their love?

PE: Ah, disco references, Jack! Now I know what kind of clothing you were wearing in 1978. It goes to show how dumb Jason is that he can't put two and two together and figure out that his girlfriend's initials are also Bee Gee. Coincidence? I think not. And speaking of the two lovebirds, if I was Jason I'd be pretty jealous if I found out my BeeGee was soaking up Too Much Heaven on the tiles with a hunky Latino in the "romantic wonders" of Montezuma.

Jack: I never made the connection between Barbara Gordon's initials and those of Batgirl. My detective skills still need polishing.

"X Marks the Mystery!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Certa
From Detective Comics 215 (January 1955)

PE: Captain Compass (yep, I feel the same way) is given a map for a treasure and decides to have a go so that he can find money for his favorite charity. 

Jack: A snoozer featuring Captain Compass, Sea Sleuth.

PE: Say that three times fast. Captain Compass can hold his breath underwater for five minutes with no residual effects but the incredible part is that he knew the map was a fake from the get-go (one of the clues was Napoleon Rock and Napoleon hadn't been born when the map was supposedly drawn) and still risked his life so he could have the bad guy arrested. We find this out in one of the wordiest expositories in the history of DC Comics. If I was a juvenile comic reader in 1955 and this was the only kind of entertainment around, I'd join a street gang.

"The Man Who Robbed a Thousand Minds"
Story by ?
Art by Mort Meskin
From Gangbusters 57 (April-May 1957)

Jack: Not a bad little story about a crooked mentalist.

PE: While the story is outlandish (but, when we're dealing with these back-ups, what isn't?), the art shows some pizzazz. Mort Meskin drew a lot of comics for National (DC) in the 1940s and 50s and caught the eye of none other than Steve Ditko, who said of Meskin's work: "I loved his stuff!"

Monday, April 23, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 15: 1971 wrapup

by Peter Enfantino &
Jack Seabrook

The year of 1971 began with both Batman and Detective Comics at fifteen cents a copy and running 32 pages. Due to declining circulation, the price went up to twenty-five cents with issues dated August 1971 and the page count increased to 52 pages, though the added pages were filled with reprints from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Batman still published ten issues a year, with none in April or October. As in 1970, the January and July issues were Giant Batman, all-reprint issues, with cover dates of February and August but indicia dates of January-February and July-August. The Giant Batman issues were twenty-five cents and ran 64 pages. As a result of this schedule, Batman only published six issues with new stories, while Detective Comics continued to publish twelve monthly issues with new stories in the course of the year.

Important developments for the Caped Crusader in 1971 included:

*Batman: From the ‘30s to the ‘70s, a hardcover collection of Batman reprints, was published in October. It included three stories from 1970—“The Secret of the Waiting Graves” (Detective Comics 395, January 1970), “Man or Bat?” (Detective Comics 402, August 1970), and “The Demon of Gothos Mansion” (Batman 227, December 1970). Note that the first two stories were illustrated by Neal Adams.

*Man-Bat made two appearances, in Detective Comics 407 and Detective Comics 416.

*The Creeper appeared in Detective Comics 418.

*Ra’s Al Ghul appeared twice, in Batman 232 and Batman 235.

In Detective Comics, Batman appeared in 11 new stories by himself, ranging from 15 to 18 pages. He appeared in one 15-page story with Robin. Batgirl appeared in 12 solo stories, ranging from 7 to 8 pages each. Batman’s Hot Line was the letters column in Detective, running one or two pages in every issue.

In Batman, the Dark Knight appeared solo in eight new stories, ranging from 15 to 25 pages long, while Robin appeared in 7 solo stories of 7 pages each. New issues featured Letters to the Batman (one or two pages each in all new issues), while Giant Batman issues featured (what else) Giant Batmail.

Covers for all of the new issues of Batman and Detective Comics were drawn by Neal Adams solo or with Dick Giordano. The covers for the Giant Batman issues were drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson (228/G-79) or by Dick Giordano (233/G-85).

Frank Robbins wrote by far the most stories—22, counting Batman and Batgirl. Mike Friedrich wrote six Robin tales, Denny O’Neil wrote eight Batman adventures, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman wrote one Batman story, and Bob Kanigher wrote one as well.

Irv Novick was the champion penciller, drawing 13 stories in all, including Batman and Robin. Don Heck contributed eleven Batgirl stories, while Neal Adams drew six Batman stories—three in each title. Bob Brown drew six Batman stories, Gil Kane drew one Batgirl story, and Frank Robbins drew one Batman tale.

Inking was done mostly by Dick Giordano, who completed 27 stories in all. Don Heck inked his own pencils seven times, Frank Robbins did the same on one occasion, Frank Giacoia appeared twice and Vince Colletta appeared once.

Elsewhere in the DC universe in 1971, Neal Adams drew Batman on the covers of the following comics:

The Brave and the Bold 95 and 99

The Justice League of America 87-89, 91-92, 94-95

World’s Finest 202

Jack: The biggest news of the year was the price increase to 25 cents and the expanded page counts. The biggest disappointment was that Neal Adams only drew six stories.

PE: Having not been a DC fan growing up in the early 70s, I have no yardstick to measure exactly how good (or bad) 1971's Batman stories are compared to, say, Teen Titans or The Flash. I have no patience for Superman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, or any of the Distinguished Competitor's largely SF-based populace, so I'd not be able to stomach a Marvel University-style blog on DC. Having said that, characters like The Creeper, Man-Bat, and Ra's intrigue me even if they haven't been handled correctly yet. When it comes time for me to sum up my feelings towards the 1971 Batman, then, two words bring a smile to my face and an almost child-like glee (Neal Adams) and two words bring dread (Frank Robbins). 1972 will probably look quite a bit like 1971.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Robert Bloch on TV Part Thirteen-The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "The Sign of Satan"

by Jack Seabrook

If “A Home Away From Home” was a textbook example of how to take a short story and expand it to make a very satisfying hour of television, “The Sign of Satan” is the opposite. Adapted by Barr
é Lyndon from Robert Bloch’s 1938 short story, “Return to the Sabbath,” this is not one of the better episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in spite of the lead role being portrayed by horror star Christopher Lee.

“Return to the Sabbath” was published in the July 1938 issue of Weird Tales when Bloch was only 21 years old, and it shows many signs of a young writer still trying to find his voice. (The story was published under the pen name of Tarleton Fiske.) The tale is narrated in the first person by an unnamed Hollywood public relations man, who tells the story of how he and studio assistant producer Les Kincaid stumbled upon a horror film called Return to the Sabbath when they stopped in a seedy Los Angeles burlesque house three years before. The film showed scenes of horror much more realistic than those typically seen in Hollywood productions, and the Black Mass portrayed onscreen left the audience stunned.

The narrator and his friend track down the film and learn that it was imported from Europe and shown by mistake; the star, Karl Jorla, is quickly signed to a contract and brought to America. On arrival, Jorla is as cadaverous in real life as he was in the film. He insists that he be the subject of no publicity and tells the narrator that the film was made by real devil worshippers, who are angry that it was shown to the public. The cultists blame Jorla and the film’s director, and Jorla is certain they are after him.

Gia Scala as Kitty
As the time to make his Hollywood debut draws near, Jorla becomes increasingly nervous, especially after he learns that the director of Return to the Sabbath was murdered in Paris and his body mutilated. Cult members begin trying to break into the studio to get Jorla, who disappears. When it’s time for his big scene to be filmed he has not been seen for three days and the decision is made to shoot around him. However, as the scene is shot, Jorla—in astonishingly accurate makeup as a decaying corpse—emerges from a crypt, rises up, and falls into a pit.

The crew rushes over to the edge of the pit, looks in, and sees nothing. Jorla is gone! The production shuts down and the news is hushed up. When the film is developed, all that is seen is a red scar of an inverted crucifix that had been displayed on the corpse’s chest. On the soundtrack, there is a murmuring voice that repeats an address in Topanga Canyon. When the police go to the address, they find Jorla’s body, dead at least three days, with the same scar on its chest. 

“Return to the Sabbath” is the work of a young Robert Bloch, consciously imitating his idol, H.P. Lovecraft, while writing for the best of the weird mystery pulps. The Hollywood angle is new, and would continue to pop up throughout Bloch’s career, but the writing does not yet reach the lyrical style that Bloch would develop by the late 1940s, nor does it hint at the sardonic, punchy prose he would go on to master in the 1950s and beyond. Instead, the story is filled with ellipses intended to leave horrible details to the reader’s imagination, as well as purple prose like: “The grave was moving!” and “Something emerged from the crypt!” It is an entertaining story that builds up to the twist ending where Jorla’s specter reveals the location of his body, dead at least three days. 

Costumes by Ed Wood?
Years later, Bloch wrote that he adapted his own stories for television unless he was busy working somewhere else. That must have been the case in early 1964, when “The Sign of Satan” was likely produced. The program was aired on May 8, 1964, near the end of the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but the teleplay was not by Bloch—it was by Barré Lyndon. Sadly, there is very little about this show that is done right. It begins promisingly, with spooky music highlighting a scene from the European film with Jorla emerging from a coffin flanked by two robed men with candles. The full moon obscured by clouds briefly recalls Buňuel's surrealist shocker Un Chien Andalou, but the scene quickly deteriorates into a shoddy horror cheapie, with particularly embarrassing outfits on the young female cultists. 

Unlike the story, where the narrator and his friend stumble upon the film in an out of the way place and work to discover its origin, in the teleplay the producer, actress, and publicity man watch it in the producer’s living room and are already aware of its source. Jorla is brought to Hollywood and he is played by Christopher Lee, with his hair dyed jet black and very large eyebrows used in an attempt to make him appear exotic. Lee also affects a European accent that sounds more Hungarian than Austrian.

Since the episode is titled “The Sign of Satan,” Lyndon’s script takes every opportunity to have characters utter that phrase and show evidence of the “sign,” which appears to be a couple of curvy horns. At one rather embarrassing moment, Lee demonstrates the sign by clasping his hands together and putting both thumbs up, anticipating a favorable review by Siskel and Ebert that was unlikely to come. 

Jorla demonstrates the sign of Satan.
The program's direction, by Robert Douglas, is static and pedestrian, and by the halfway point it is little more than something one would see in a below average cop show of the time, as Lee drives down a street, gets out of his car, walks down an alley, etc. There is also a poorly executed scene where Lee locks himself in his room, takes a nap, and is attacked by a cultist who finds it very easy to break in. Although Lee is a head taller than his attacker, he has to be rescued by a studio guard who breaks into the room.

Even the final scene, which should have been the best part, is mishandled. Kitty, the actress starring in the horror film, approaches the crypt. The doors open briefly, revealing Jorla, who murmurs “To Pan Ga” and a series of numbers before the doors close. He does not look like a rotting corpse; he does not even look particularly unhealthy. When the crew views the footage it seems like padding, since the same scene is replayed almost verbatim. Unlike the story, where the image of Jorla disappears from the film but his voice is heard, the soundtrack in the televised version is also blank, and it is up to the script girl to look in her notes for the address where Jorla’s body is found (17259 Topanga Canyon). Finally, when the body is discovered, it is covered with a blanket that bears the sign of Satan—we do not even see Lee’s supposedly mutilated body.

Mediocre stories often make great films, and great books often disappoint when adapted for the screen. “Return to the Sabbath” is an average story that suffers in being adapted for television. Barr
é Lyndon (1896-1972) was the pseudonym of Alfred Edgar. He wrote the screenplays for several good films, including the Laird Cregar vehicles The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) and George Pal’s The War of the Worlds (1953). He penned three episodes of Thriller, including the Bloch adaptation, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," as well as two Hitchcock hours. “The Sign of Satan” came near the end of his career, so its shortcomings should be forgiven.

Director Robert Douglas (1909-1999) had a long career as an actor in film before becoming a prolific director of episodic television. “The Sign of Satan” was one of four Hitchcock hours he helmed.

Christopher Lee, star of “The Sign of Satan,” will turn 90 this May, and is well known as one of the all-time greatest horror movie stars. Knighted in 2009, his film career began in 1947 and continues to this day. While he appeared on TV many times in the 1950s, his appearances in this medium after 1960 are rare. It is unfortunate that his talents were not used to their fullest in “The Sign of Satan." Still, having appeared in Horror of Dracula, the Star Wars series, the Lord of the Rings series, The Man With the Golden Gun—his career has been so long and so successful that it hardly needs to be discussed. Suffice it to say that Lee is one of the great film stars of our time. He even has his own website.

Gia Scala (1934-1972), the attractive actress who plays Kitty, had an undistinguished career but appeared in two episodes of the half-hour Hitchcock series, including playing the role of William Shatner’s doomed fiancé in “Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?” 

Gilbert Green as Max Rubini
Other cast members include Gilbert Green as Max Rubini, the producer, and Myron Healey as Dave Connor, the public relations man. The story, "Return to the Sabbath,” has been reprinted several times, in such collections as Opener of the Way (1945), Horror 7 (1963), 65 Great Tales of Horror (1982) and The Early Fears (1993). “The Sign of Satan” may be viewed online here.

It premiered on Friday, May 8, 1964, at 10 p.m. eastern time on CBS. Right before it, at 9:30, “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” premiered on The Twilight Zone.


Bloch, Robert. "Return to the Sabbath." 65 Great Tales of Horror. London: Octopus, 1981. 43-54. Print.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.

IMDb. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

"The Sign of Satan." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 8 May 1964. Television.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

"Yankee Classic Pictures." Yankee Classic Pictures. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <>.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 14: November and December 1971

by Jack Seabrook 
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 236 (November 1971)

"Wail of the Ghost-Bride!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

After reading about the 1930 death of Gotham heiress Corrine Hellbane, who was said to have fallen off of an ocean liner on her honeymoon, Bruce Wayne thinks he sees her ghost--first, outside the window of the airplane on which he is flying, and later, reflected in a store window while he patrols Gotham City as Batman. Coincidentally, Hellbane Manor is about to be razed, and Bruce is invited to a charity event where contributors can wield sledgehammers to get the job started. During the event, Bruce is knocked out and Batman must investigate. He discovers that the widower of Corrine Hellbane is determined to prevent the discovery of his late wife's skeleton, which he had walled up in the house. The story of her death at sea had been a ruse that he had cooked up with his girlfriend, who happens to have set up the charity event.

Jack: Another in a string of Batman stories that may have supernatural elements, or they may not. The Novick/Giordano art is serviceable and the story is above-average for a Frank Robbins effort. It relies a little bit too heavily on coincidences, but overall I found it enjoyable.

PE: There's no logical solution in sight for the ghostly haunts and yet, despite his run-ins with the supernatural in the past, Bats looks under rugs, in dusty corners, and above musty cabinets for a rational explanation. It's not a bad story but it's a little too similar to those other "could it be a ghost?" stories.

"Rain Fire"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Identified as the one who shot the cop, Pat Whalon sets a brush fire in the commune and escapes. Robin rounds up community members to fight the blaze and then catches Whalon.

Jack: The tale of the hippie commune finally comes to an end after three issues. There is nothing particularly notable about these stories, except that Robin seems to suspect burgeoning college girlfriend Terri of having some sort of powers that remind him of a fellow member of the Teen Titans.

PE: It's nice to know that, even in 1971, all it took was a big brush fire to bring peace between long-haired hippies and the old fogies who hated them so much. Inspirational. Alas, this yawn-inducing solo arc breaks no new ground a la O'Neil's Green Arrow/Green Lantern stories (which it obviously attempts to mime).

"While the City Sleeps" (from Batman 30, August-September 1945)
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris

Jack: Batman takes Robin out to see what goes on in Gotham at night--kind of a Dark Knight version of Wait Till the Moon is Full.

PE: Boy, these 1940s stories were corny. Batman takes Robin around to all the all-night joints and the Boy Wonder is astonished to find out that hospitals have to stay open all night. Kid needs to get out now and then. Our villain, Hush-Hush Bodin, proves Marvel wasn't the first comics company to name a bad guy after his dopey gimmick (Hush-Hush never likes to hear others talk loud).

Detective 417 (November 1971)

"Batman for a Night"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Bob Brown & Dick Giordano

Thrill-seeking journalist Jan Paxton, a chameleon who reshapes himself for each assignment, wants to be Batman for a night. After a quick workout, The Caped Crusader agrees and loans Paxton a suit and the Batmobile for a night on the town. Paxton realizes quickly just how hard a job crime-fighting can be and he's thankful he's packed a heater when he runs up against a gang of truck hijackers. Enraged, the real Batman (who's been overseeing his protege in the shadows) swings in to wrap up the crew and deliver a speech on morals and handguns to a cowering Paxton. The next day, Paxton's sister, Trina, is murdered in a bank robbery and Paxton swears vengeance on the men who killed her.

After a bit of detective work, the boys dress up as Batmen and nab the gunman at his favorite hangout, the bowling alley. Jan Paxton can now bury his sister with pride.

PE: Forget the "Attack of the Purple Zebra-Men" or "The Joker's Spaceship"-type nonsense stories that DC threw at us in the Forgettable 50s and Silly 60s. That was a different time. The 1970s, according to Julius Schwartz's "new look," were supposed to represent a more serious, realistic Batman Universe. This story throws all logic in the trash. Paxton asks Commissioner Gordon to set up a meeting with Batman so's he can moonlight as The Dark Knight. Gordon says, "Hey, no problem. I can set that up. Come on over to my place tomorrow night!" Not for one second does Gordon think his buddy Bats will foreclose on the Bat-signal for such an intolerable insult. And, evidently, Gordon is right! So Batman would let Jan Paxton dress like The Dark Knight, drive the Batmobile, and risk his life for kicks? Nope, not the Bats I know. "Batman for a Night" is for those readers who have a high tolerance for "Yeah, right" moments. The "real" Batman would dissuade Paxton from risking his life and, failing, tell him he'd have to do it sans Bat-suit. A variation of this theme was seen (and handled correctly) in The Dark Knight. And since when does Batman address himself in the third person?

Jack: I did not dislike this story as much as you did! Sure, it's far-fetched, but the art is solid and the pace is quick. The only thing I did not get was how the bad guy can be shooting at Batman in the bowling alley but not hitting him. I was expecting some sort of bulletproof Bat-vest to be revealed.

PE: It's amusing then that, after giving Paxton carte blanche with his identity, suit and Batmobile, the real Batman would be outraged that the phony would use a gun and "smear Batman's good name." It does provide the only standout panel in the entire story (reprinted below). Paxton, incidentally, is an obvious "homage" to real-life thrill-seeker George Plimpton (1927-2003).

Jack: I agree with you about George Plimpton but I'm not sure I'd call him a thrill-seeker--more an investigative journalist, kind of like a forerunner of the reporters embedded with the troops overseas.

PE: Paxton and Batman have only one clue to go on to find Trina's killer: a college ring. The boys scour the police files (which, evidently, used to be open to anyone who wanted a look) and, because they're looking for a college grad, they hit upon a bank heister with the nicknames "Brains" and "The Professor." They somehow know they've just found their man. This is Detective Comics after all. The real howler comes when the Dynamic Dunderheads stake out their man at his bowling alley from behind the pins! Batman doesn't recognize "The Professor" from his mug shots so he immediately deduces that the man has had plastic surgery! But, as Bats notes, "one thing he can't hide! A Phi Beta Kappa ring!" I'm still trying to figure out how Paxton evades those bullets at point blank range (after successfully dodging a thrown bowling ball). Though this was never more than a dopey story to begin with, at this point it became a "howler." Easily the stupidest Batman story we've endured during our two-year stretch so far. Ulp! There was that Ed Wood-ian fiasco about the guy who could see with his fingers. Okay, "Batman for a Day" takes the Silver Medal.

Jack: I guess you're not counting some of the Batgirl or Robin classics when you rate the worst! Remember the midi-maxi-mini mystery? How about Batman going up against the revolutionaries holed up in the building?

"A Bullet for Gordon"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon team up to catch a gang of cop killers.

Sure looks like a Frank Robbins' Batgirl to us!
PE: I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Frank Robbins had a hand in the art as well. The story's a serviceable time-waster on its way to the shocking climax (for me, at least), where Gordon reveals to the reader that he knows his daughter's got a night job. I'm not familiar with the Batgirl "mythos," having never read any of the stories growing up, but if this angle plays out (rather than being wiped out with the "amnesia" angle) the series could at least be a bit interesting in the future. My fingers are crossed.

Jack: I thought this was an above-average Batgirl story. The interplay between BG and Commissioner Gordon is interesting, and I wondered how he could be so blind as to not realize Batgirl was his daughter. For once, this series has promise!

Alfred's first solo. Batman #22.
"Alfred, Armchair Detective!"
(from Batman 31, October-November 1945)
Story by ?
Art by Jerry Robinson

PE: Alfred figures he can catch a gang of thieves faster than the cops. The comic book equivalent of Murder, She Wrote, Alfred Pennyworth's solo career lasted a grand thirteen episodes (from Batman #22-36, missing only #35; covering the period from  April 1944 to September 1946).

Jack: Alfred goes undercover as Benny Da Mope in this cute 4-pager.

"The Mystery That Edgar Allan Poe Solved"
(from Gang Busters 49, December 1955-January 1956)
Story by ?
Art by John Prentice

PE: Sgt. Frank Speares, voracious mystery reader, tries to crack the case of the looted tenth floor office. How could a gang break into a heavily guarded office building and make off with $50,000? With a blimp, of course! Overlong and preposterous.

Jack: Pretty pedantic stuff. These non-Batman-related stories in Detective are not very interesting to read.

Batman 237 (December 1971)

"Night of the Reaper!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Dick Grayson and some college friends have gone up to Rutland, Vermont, for the weekend to enjoy the annual Halloween parade. After the group encounters some muggers, Robin sets out to investigate. He finds a Grim Reaper wielding a scythe; after a tussle, Robin falls down a rocky incline into a stream. Batman finds him there and takes him to a mansion where he is seen by Dr. Gruener, who has brought Batman to the remote location to capture Nazi butcher Colonel Kurt Schloss, who Gruener saw while shopping for a costume for his daughter.

After discovering a second victim of the Reaper, Batman finds that more Nazis are hunting Schloss, who they blame for squandering Nazi treasures. Batman deduces that the Reaper is really Dr. Gruener, who is seeking revenge for the atrocities of the Nazi death camps. Just as Gruener is about to kill one of Dick Grayson's friends, he is stunned to see a Jewish star. Horrified at what he has become, he slips and falls to his death.

Jack: I hate to be the one to criticize an O'Neil/Adams/Giordano story, especially one that runs a full 25 pages, but this story is a mess! Starting with the credits, which tell us that the story comes from an idea by Berni Wrightson with an assist by Harlan Ellison, it all seems like an in-joke that is completely obscure to me 40 years after the fact.

PE: This one meanders all over the place, Jack. It had me scratching my head and wondering if I'd nodded off at some point. Batman shows up in the midst of Robin's troubles when he swears he's heard a noise. He hadn't been introduced in the story yet so we have no idea where the heck he was when he heard the noise. When Schloss's car blows up, Batman turns around to find Robin, who he'd left recuperating in bed. Why would Schloss, who's trying to keep a low profile, go to all the trouble of murdering Batman and Robin? That would certainly turn attention in his general direction. It makes no sense whatsoever. The final reveal of the Reaper's true identity is another head-shaker. Why go to all the trouble of dressing up as The Grim Reaper (including painted limbs)? And the idiotic Alan character ("Weren't those floats so cool, dudes?") who wanders from one murder to the next? Why would a murderer leave this guy as a witness? The entire structure of the story, which begins as a Robin solo story, briefly becomes a team-up, and eventually winds up a Batman story, is extremely wonky.

Jack: Who are all these people? DC artists, writers, friends? Harlan Ellison? Who knows? The mystery of the Nazis and the Jewish doctor doesn't make a lot of sense. Thank goodness for the usual beautiful Adams art, but it's wasted on this story.

PE: We are totally in sync on this one, Jack. I'm fairly sure the guy who resembles Cain the Caretaker of The House of Mystery in the bottom right of the party photo is supposed to be Ellison and I'm just guessing that the pretentious-looking chap is O'Neil but, forty years on, who knows? And would a 1971 Batman reader even know who Ellison was or what O'Neil looked like?

Jack: I did get a kick out of the party goers dressed as superheroes, especially Havok passed out on a couch.

PE: I loved the fact that Spider-Man and Captain America are present on the float and at the party (as well as the aforementioned Havok). I wonder how that was worked out, seeing that the two companies were generally at each other's throats at the time. Did DC have to send over a "You can lampoon us anytime you want for a total of two panels" card to Marvel for the rights clearance? I had a chuckle that the fat guy was in a Batman suit rather than in one of the Marvel costumes. You'd think if they're going to show an out of shape hero, it'd be one of the competitor's. Thor's headpiece has seen better days, of course.

"The Screaming House" (from Detective Comics 37, March 1940)
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Lost on a backwoods road, Batman stops at a lonely old house to ask for directions. As he's exiting his car, he hears screaming coming from the house. Investigating, he finds a trio of thugs torturing a man with a hot poker. He makes quick work of the thugs and loosens the captive's bindings but, when he turns his back, The Batman is knocked cold by the man. When The Dark Knight comes to, he discovers that the tortured man has murdered his tormentors and fled. Batman is obviously perplexed by this turn of events.

PE: An incredibly violent story. There are shootings, stabbings, and a knife through the back of the skull and the consequences, blood and all, are not shied away from. This was only the 11th appearance of Batman in Detective Comics and the strip was obviously still seeking its niche in the comic book world. The writing is atrocious (and that goes for the punctuation as well) and the art is rough (Kane--that is, if it was Kane--couldn't draw uncowled figures if his life depended on it) but exciting nonetheless. This character, skeletal as his back story may have been at the time, must have been like a double-shot of whiskey to the casual comics fans of 1939. Since I only have the original appearance and not the reprinting, I'm not sure if the gore and violence remained untouched in 1971. As a historical footnote, the next story in the chronology introduced Dick Grayson and Robin.

Detective Comics 418 (December 1971)

" . . . And Be a Villain!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

Batman is investigating the robbery of several pharmaceuticals when he is attacked by The Creeper, a strange cat who Bats had thought was an ally. The Creeper is stealing large doses of Monofragilic Acid in the hopes that Dr. Ishmael Yatz, the son of the man who had transformed him into the oddity he's become, can throw together a cure for him. Unbeknownst to The Creeper, Dr. Yatz intends to sell the formula to "a certain private espionage organization" as an ersatz Super-Soldier Serum. Batman comes to the rescue just as Yatz has poisoned his father's creation and, in the end, The Creeper is able to revert back to his human form.

Jack: I don't remember the details of The Creeper's origin and back story, but this tale--which might fit better in an issue of The Brave and the Bold--explains things well enough to get me caught up. It is "respectfully dedicated to Steve Ditko," who created The Creeper, though what I have read about Ditko makes me think he might not have appreciated it.

Novick went a little bit overboard
with the cape in this shot!
An attempt to draw
like Ditko?
PE: I have never read a Creeper story before and must say that this story doesn't light a fire under me to pursue further adventures. It's a hodge-podge of bad writing and weak characterization. Batman dresses as an old man to gain entry to Yatz's lab.  He drives up in an old car elaborately made up, gets out of the car and knocks the guard unconscious. He then drops the disguise and dons his Bat-garb. Why bother? And why do the henchmen of the "certain private espionage organization" call the doctor "the Yatz creature"? I was expecting them to drop their disguises and jump in their spaceships back to Venus.

Jack: As I read this story, I found myself wishing it had been drawn by Neal Adams. Novick and Giordano did a good job, but there are times when all of their faces tend to look the same.

PE: Yeah, I completely agree. Nice in-joke, the "Fantino Narrows Bridge." I blush with modesty.

Jack: Denny O'Neil takes a page from the Frank Robbins playbook here--The Creeper is stuck in his Creeper personality due to an injection of serum, something that reminded me of Man-Bat.

"The Kingpin is Dead!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Attending the premiere of "The Stepfather," Hollywood's big-screen adaptation of the life of Gotham mafioso Floyd Marcus, Barbara Gordon witnesses the slaying of "The Stepfather" himself.

Jack: An entertaining little story! The Godfather becomes The Stepfather and the Mafia is replaced by the (presumably) Jewish mob, but the whole idea of a shooting at a movie premiere is fun. I like that Commissioner Gordon knows that Batgirl is his daughter--no between-issue amnesia here!

PE: Roving reporter Guy Townes remarks that Police Commissioner Gordon was a rookie cop during the "Roaring Twenties." Are we to believe that Gordo is pushing, if not already, seventy? Call me nuts, but I find Don Heck's artwork improving with each installment.

"The Case of the Careless Caretaker" (from Gang Busters 40 June-July 1954)
Story by ?
Art by George Papp

Jack: I figured this one out! I knew that sticking your arm in a tank of piranhas would not be a good idea. The art on this reprint is pretty good and had an EC flavor in a couple of panels.

PE: Well, I think you may have misread the moral of the story, Jack. If you're going to murder someone, don't use piranha as your alibi. Simple as that. Artist Papp co-created Green Arrow and, according to author Mike W. Barr (in Comic Book Artist #5, Summer 1992), was one of the artists fired by DC Comics in 1968 for asking for retirement benefits. These comic companies could sure be classy people.

"The Case of the Terrified Tenderfoot!" (from Dale Evans Comics 1, September-October 1948)
Story by Joe Millard
Art by Alex Toth & Frank Giacoia

Jack: Bad writing ("Pull up your socks, buster!") but nice art by Toth.

PE: Dale Evans Comics?! This was Sierra Smith, Western Detective's first  of 23 adventures, all but one appearing in the no doubt super-exciting Dale Evans Comics! Sierra was assisted in his noirish quest to eliminate do-badders in the West by his beautiful blonde assistant Nan and their horse, Strawberry Muffin. Alright, so there wasn't a horse. If I'd have written it, there'd have been a horse.

Jack: Fred Hembeck, future cartoonist, has a letter in this month's letters column.

PE: As a follow-up to Hembeck's letter: Fred mentions the resemblance of the female character in "Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse" to Claire Trevor in Key Largo. Julius Schwartz runs Denny O'Neil's original notes to the story and he indeed mentions that he's envisioning Trevor!

DC was trying to be creative to increase sales.

It's interesting that DC did so well!