Detective Comics 438 (January 1974)
"A Monster Walks Wayne Manor"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jim Aparo
A huge beast seems to be stalking Wayne Manor and when Alfred is attacked by the apparition, Bruce Wayne calls in ghostbuster Dr. Vanov. Turns out the monster is Ubu, servant of Ra’s Al Ghul, who has survived the huge explosion that ostensibly killed Ra’s. Knowing Batman’s true identity, Ubu travels to America to kill Bruce Wayne.
Jack: I'm glad I wasn't the only one who made the Ubu connection. There is so much junk in my head! I loved the atmosphere in this story and felt like we were right back in O'Neil/Adams territory. I also love the Mike Kaluta cover with the main scene in a circle and the heads along the bottom.
"The Manhunter File: Chapter Two"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson
Interpol agent Christine St. Clair continues her pursuit of the elusive assassin known as Manhunter.
Jack: I was happy to see the use of the Japanese Shuriken, known to 1970s kids like me as a Ninja star. I can't remember if this Manhunter series came before or after Marvel's Master of Kung Fu, but I do remember loving it all--my dad used to take me and my little sister to grindhouses in Newark, NJ, to see kung fu movies on weekends. No wonder I'm nuts. As for the Manhunter story, I love Simonson's creative panel and page designs and I agree with Peter that the art is unique for its time.
|One of many reasons to love Gil Kane!|
PE: This is as good a time as any to discuss Archie Goodwin as editor. One only has to read the editorial in the "Batman's Hot Line" letters section of #438 to get an idea that Goodwin treated his readers with respect. It's almost as though he imagined his audience to be, God forbid, near voting age rather than barely able to read. In the editorial, Goodwin explains in detail why DC has initiated the 100-page format:
There's also a letter from Mike Shoemaker of New York telling (the editor) what's wrong with Detective Comics and why its sales are sliding. It's an excellent analysis, one that highlights all the problems Jack and I have discussed about the Batman books. The back-ups, the artists ("Have good artists [by good, I mean everyone but Frank Robbins, Don Heck, Dick Dillin, and Joe Giella..."]), everything. Archie addresses Shoemaker's issues (at times, admittedly, toeing the party line) and offers up hope for the future. Since we know that future will only last a year, we can hope that the man who takes over the vacancy learns a few lessons from Archie Goodwin.
Jack: Note that Peter only selected the letter that agreed with us to single out. Another letter writer this issue praises Frank Robbins and the Jason Bard series.
PE: That was the only letter that mattered, Jack.
Batman 254 (February 1974)
"King of the Gotham Jungle!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano
Scientist Kirk Langstrom decides he can control his Man-Bat alter-ego and helps Batman defeat a gang of burglars.
PE: Seems as though Man-Bat was a character that Frank Robbins just could not get a handle on. Is he friend or foe? Here he seems to be almost re-booted, with his ever-present wife absent. We don't even see Langstrom take his potion, he's just suddenly there to help fight crime with Batman. Whereas in the past, The Dark Knight has been forceful in his refusal to take on a mutant as a sometime partner, here he almost shrugs and sighs "Why not?" It's in this issue that we learn that Batman has gained super powers. How else to explain his leap from a rooftop into his waiting Batmobile? A ludicrous scene in a series that, for the most part, is grounded in reality. And it looks like Frank Robbins has been hitting the beatnik lounges again. From Batman's excited proclamations, "I've been jobbed!" to the final descriptive "Heavy!" the dialogue is about six to ten years' tired.
Jack: Batman introduces each of the stories in this issue with appropriate comments. For this one, he says "Listen, gang!" and tells "a swinging story of today!" At the end, the narrator (presumably still Batman) remarks that the Caped Crusader and Man-Bat make a "winning combo." While this story would have been average in the 1973 world of Batman, it pales beside what's been going on in Detective since Goodwin and Aparo took over.
"The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham!"
When a cab driver is killed by some holdup men, Robin taps the memory of a fellow college student to help solve the crime.
Jack: The backup series in Detective is much better at this point. It seems evident that Archie Goodwin, the editor of Detective, is aiming at a more teenaged reader than Julius Schwartz does with Batman.
|The Fabulous Forties|
|The Furious Fifties|
PE: In "The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom," a villain named "The Witch" murders mystery writer Erik Dorne and steals a manuscript he was working on. Batman and Robin discover that "the Witch" is actually Dorne's publisher, who's got a side job printing "subversive literature" extolling the virtues of the "fatherland." Dorne had discovered his publisher's secret and was blackmailing him. One of those strange one-off villains who really has no reason to be costumed in the first place.
|The Sizzling Sixties|
PE: In our trip to The Fifties, The Dynamic Duo belong to an elite Gotham Club called "The Bullet Hole Club," members of which must be shot and able to produce the bullet to join! The Sixties reprint, "The Man Who Stole From Batman" is noteworthy for two reasons: the first appearance of The Grasshopper(s) and also the first mention of "The Outsider," a presence that would be felt throughout a series of Bats stories in the 60s, culminating in the ludicrous resurrection of Alfred Pennyworth.
PE: I got the most enjoyment out of the silliest yarn in the package, "The Son of the Joker" (reprinted from Batman #145, February 1962). Alfred decides he's going to chronicle the events in the life of a future Batman and Robin, the jobs taken over by, respectively, Dick Grayson and the fruit of a marriage between Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane (the original Batwoman), Bruce Wayne Jr. When a costumed clown claiming to be the son of The Joker terrorizes Gotham (well, terrorizes in a 1960s Comics Code fashion), the retired Bruce Wayne puts on his cowl one more time to visit the aged and similarly out-to-pasture Joker. Bats finds the Clown Prince of Crime watering his flowers and is quickly invited in for a glass of lemonade. Though The Joker claims he's just as appalled at this new villain claiming to be his son, we all know better. Most of us have read The Dark Knight Returns and know The Joker will never retire. Sure enough, we find out that the old man is behind the new kid in town (not actually his son, but I was hoping we'd get to hear who the lucky lady was) and, with a little help from the other old man, Batman II and Robin II defeat the gang and return Gotham to peaceful nights.
Most intriguing was the column, Behind the Scenes at the DC Comic World, where we learn of the Comicmobile, a van that drove around parts of New Jersey and Long Island selling DC comics to kids who couldn't find them at the store. A great article about this short-lived phenomenon can be found here.
"Night of the Stalker"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Vin & Sal Amendola and Dick Giordano
In an incident eerily reminiscent of his childhood tragedy, Batman watches as robbers murder a couple in front of their young son. Driven by revenge and perhaps slipping into a psychotic state, The Dark Knight stalks the killers, one by one.
PE: Wow! Coming so quickly on the heels of The Joker story (back in Batman #251), here's another grim fable that pulls no punches. A very Dark Knight on view here, mixing horror and noir. Just when you think you've seen the origin story done once too often, a writer as adroit as Steve Englehart gives it an extra knifing and a couple twists. The Amendolas' art is rough, almost primitive, but it has a wonderful Val Mayerik vibe to it and they shoot right to second place on my favorite Batman artist list after only one appearance! On his website, Steve Englehart reveals that it was editor Archie Goodwin's idea to have Batman remain silent throughout the entire story (he utters not one word) and, though the writer protested, he now looks back on the story as "some of my favorite writing."
Jack: The Amendolas also get a plotting credit and the story is said to be from an incident as described by Neal Adams. Did the great Mr. Adams see someone get shot outside a bank? Or did he see Batman almost get drowned in a swamp? I need to know! I was really impressed by the Amendolas' art on this story. Batman is presented as an avenging angel and he never says a word. Englehart's writing is excellent as well.
PE: That "inspired by Neal Adams" credit is a joke. Archie reveals in the letters page of Tec #441 that Vin Amendola once overheard Adams remark that he'd love to read a Batman story with a "fight in the water." Yep, that's it. Imagine all the six year old kids who should have got an inspiration credit in the 1950s when they wrote in to DC asking for stories where Batman fights dinosaurs, mirror images, and giant peacocks!
"The Resurrection of Paul Kirk"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson
Christine St. Clair's continent-hopping pursuit of Paul Kirk leads her to Marakech (sic) and the wounded object of her travels. Prompted by her request for information, Kirk tells the Interpol agent of his origin: a 1940s superhero asked by his government to retire. Unable to give up the adventure, he became a big game hunter in Africa where he met his fate at the tusks of a bull-elephant. Though technically dead, he is put in a cryogenic sleep for 25 years and thawed out by the brilliant Dr. Mykros, a surgeon and member of the mysterious "Council," a group comprised of the world's top ten brains. The goal of the "Council" is to "save the human race from itself." Kirk soon learns that a small army of killing machines has been cloned from his DNA and that fighting force will soon be used against him.
PE: What an incredibly intricate and fascinating puzzle we have here, one whose pieces are starting to come together. It's a shame that, looking back as I can 40 years later, the series will only last just a handful of installments. Goodwin does a grand job of tying his Manhunter in with the 1940s version (albeit providing his character with a bridging device "borrowed" from Marvel's Captain America) and capping it with a nice Ludlum-esque twist at the climax.
Jack: The series is beginning to make sense, so now we don't just have great writing and great art but also a plot we can follow. The Manhunter in flashback sure looks like the Simon & Kirby one from the 40s. The poor guy was brought back to life only to have to fight off an army of clones of himself!
|Sure looks like Simon & Kirby's Manhunter to us!|
Jack: The reprints are a mixed bag as usual. The Hawkman story is early Kubert art (1948) featuring The Ghost, a recurring Hawkman villain who always made me nervous. That floating top hat and monocle always freaked me out. The Atom story is another Time Pool adventure with tepid Kane art from 1964. The real treats are a Dr. Fate story from 1941 and a Kid Eternity story from 1946. I loved both of these Golden Age characters, who were revived in the Justice League comics beginning in the 60s. There is also a Batman reprint from 1965 and an Elongated Man story from 1966, neither of which deserves comment.
PE: The Golden Age art on the Dr. Fate (Howard Sherman) and Kid Eternity (Pete Riss) stories is worth four bits alone!
|Neil Young guest stars as the witch.|
|Great Golden Age splash page!|