Thursday, November 29, 2012

John Collier on TV Part One: Alfred Hitchcock Presents-"Back for Christmas"

by Jack Seabrook

John Collier was born in London in 1901. He began his writing career as a poet, then had some success with his first novel, His Monkey Wife, published in 1930. In this novel, the protagonist is tricked into marrying a chimpanzee and discovers that life with her is preferable to life with the vapid women he meets. Collier moved to Hollywood in 1935 when he was hired to write the Katherine Hepburn film, Sylvia Scarlett; he continued to write screenplays and, eventually teleplays. Other screenplays included The African Queen (1951), which was credited to James Agee and John Huston but on which Collier and Peter Viertel also worked, and I Am a Camera (1955), which later inspired the Broadway musical and film, Cabaret.

Collier is best known for his short stories, many of which were collected in Fancies and Goodnights (1951), which won an Edgar Award and an International Fantasy Award the following year. Like His Monkey Wife, many of his short stories exhibit a misogynistic theme, though Paul Theroux wrote that it is "such a wickedly cheerful kind it is irresistible." Collier's stories were adapted for radio and later for television, as early as a 1946 episode of Lights Out. Five of his short stories were adapted by other writers for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, while Collier himself adapted three stories by other writers: two for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Collier did not adapt any of his own stories for the Hitchcock TV series.

John Collier died in California in 1980. In this series of nine articles, I plan to examine each of the episodes of the Hitchcock series either adapted from a Collier story or adapted by Collier from the work of another author. The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from a Collier story was "Back for Christmas."

"Back for Christmas" was first published in The New Yorker on October 7, 1939 (I am using the version collected in the 1961 Bantam paperback edition of Fancies and Goodnights; sources report that Collier rewrote some of the stories in this volume for republication in book form, but I do not know if this story was one of them). The story begins as Dr. Herbert and Mrs. Hermione Carpenter host a party for their friends. The Carpenters are about to leave for America and their friends insist that they must be back in England for Christmas. After everyone leaves, Dr. Carpenter calls his wife upstairs and murders her as she leans over the bathtub, bashing in her skull with a length of lead pipe.

He strips naked to clean up the mess and has to go to the cellar to turn on the water supply, which his wife had shut off as part of her preparations for travel. While he is in the basement, the Wallingfords stop by to say farewell. He hides until they leave then cleans up the body, disposing of it in pieces in a hole that he had claimed was being dug for a wine cellar. He drives off alone, secure that he will get away with his crime. He thinks of a woman named Marion, who is waiting for him in Chicago, and plans to write letters home as if he were Hermione in order to cover his tracks.

John Williams and Isobel Elsom
In a New York hotel, he reviews letters that have arrived for him in the mail. The last letter is from a builder, whom his wife had hired as a surprise to excavate the cellar and build a sunken wine bin as a Christmas present for him. He realizes that the excavation will reveal his wife's corpse and he will indeed be summoned back to England for Christmas.

While this twist ending and the theme of the murderer getting his comeuppance seem perfectly tailored for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the teleplay was not the first time that "Back for Christmas" had been adapted for broadcast. In fact, it was adapted for radio and broadcast four times: first, on December 23, 1943, starring Peter Lorre, as part of the Suspense radio series; second, on December 24, 1947, starring Paul Frees, as part of the Escape series; third, on December 23, 1948, starring Herbert Marshall, this time back on Suspense; and finally, on December 23, 1956, again starring Herbert Marshall and again on Suspense.

Prior to the fourth radio show, however, it was adapted for television by Francis Cockrell and broadcast on CBS on Sunday night at 9:30, March 4, 1956, as part of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Alfred Hitchcock directed this episode, the fourth of the season that he directed himself. While the skeleton of the short story remains, the details of the television show are quite different than those found in its source.

Note the pipe in Herbert's mouth as he digs.
The show opens in the cellar, as the camera pans across the room to rest on Herbert, knee deep in the hole he is digging. He wears suit pants and a vest, and the first shot shows him smoking a pipe, though the pipe disappears with the first cut in a continuity error. Hermione comes down to see him; he is too tall for the cramped space, symbolizing both the boundaries that exist in his life and hinting at the freedom he will seek in America. Before Hermione enters the picture, Herbert is a man, digging and measuring with confidence. Once she appears, he is henpecked and bowed, his eyes downcast. In a shot that shows off Hitchcock's mastery of the camera, Herbert looks down at the hole and the camera assumes his point of view, slowly panning along the length of the hole and then up Hermione's body, making the hole's ultimate purpose clear right away. In the story, Herbert's murder of Hermione comes as an unexpected surprise; in the TV show, it is obvious from the first scenes what he plans to do.

Even the twist ending is foreshadowed as Hermione tells Herbert that she as a "nice surprise" for his lunch. After Hermione goes back upstairs, Herbert checks what appears to be a joint passport and confirms that his wife's height is 5'4"; he allowed an extra two inches in the hole and comments, "no use crowding." Herbert's henpecked nature is highlighted in the second scene, as he has lunch with Hermione and allows her to dictate to him how much he likes Shepherd's Pie, despite his weak protestations. Hermione is extremely well organized and plans everything out in detail; Herbert clearly despises her yet she is wholly unaware of his feelings.

The show's third scene is where the published story begins, as the Carpenters host a tea party for their friends to bid them farewell. When asked about Los Angeles, Herbert describes it as "large, casual, very disorganized," the opposite of his life with Hermione. At one point, the soundtrack for the party scene devolves into a chatter of voices, recalling the dinner party scene in Hitchcock's Murder (1930); here, the point is that Herbert's mind is elsewhere and he is not really listening. More foreshadowing is provided when Hermione mentions another surprise that will require them to be back for Christmas.

After the party, Elsie the maid leaves and the Carpenters share tea. Herbert then changes his clothes and proceeds to the cellar, where he picks up a lead pipe and calls for Hermione. In a humorous scene, she insists that he come back upstairs and help her change a dust cover on a hanging lamp; their byplay as he steadies the small stepladder and she replaces the dust cover is quite amusing. Hermione insists that she can do a better job than the maid did but in fact her work is much sloppier; the irony of Herbert's helping her with this task is great, since he plans to murder her moments later.

In a marked departure from the story, Herbert summons Hermione to the cellar again, where he asks her to lean over the hole to make sure it is deep enough. He raises the pipe and strikes; she falls into the hole and the picture dissolves to a scene some time later, as he finishes smoothing the dirt over the hole he has filled in. He trudges upstairs to wash his hands, only to find the water turned off. This scene is much less suspenseful than the one in the story, were Herbert strips naked and murders Hermione over the bathtub upstairs. He discovers that she had shut off the water at the main and has to run downstairs unclothed and bloody, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the Wallingfords. On TV, of course, he could not be naked and he could not cut his wife's body into pieces, so instead Herbert murders Hermione in the basement, letting her body fall conveniently into the waiting hole and significantly cutting down on the mess. Herbert's method in the TV show actually makes more sense than his method in the story!

As Herbert, John Williams's facial expressions are wonderful as he hides behind the stairs in terror, listening to the Wallingfords' banal conversation, knowing that he is a few steps away from capture. The second half of "Back for Christmas" also expands on the short story, but in a different way. We see stock shots of an ocean liner arriving in New York Harbor, followed by shots of Herbert superimposed over more stock shots of the sights of New York. More stock shots follow as Herbert is superimposed over shots of a drive westward; in the story, he received the fateful letter at his hotel in New York; in the TV show, he makes it all the way to California and moves into the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

In the final scene, he sits on the outdoor patio of his hotel room, typing a letter to friends in England: "We are established in a charming flat and Herbert begins his work on Monday," it reads, demonstrating that he is pretending to be Hermione in the letter. A new colleague stops by and remarks that Herbert is drinking beer for breakfast, something he would not have been allowed to do under Hermione's watch. A maid arrives to clean up and he tells her not to move anything--he is fulfilling his earlier description of America as "disorganized."

The trick shot near the end of the
episode highlights the letters.
The show ends as he opens the bill and the camera slowly dollies in on his shocked expression before cutting to a closeup of the bill, which is dated December 1955. The camera zooms in on the bill and a rectangle of light highlights the phrase, "To excavating cellar floor"; the rest of the picture fades to black as the camera lingers on these words, moving from left to right along the page as Herbert's eyes might. This is the second trick shot of the episode (the first was the pan along the hole and up Hermione's body early in the show). The episode ends with a humorous closeup of Herbert's shocked expression as he mutters, "Back for Christmas. She said I'd be back for Christmas."

Francis Cockrell (1906-1987), who wrote the teleplay, wrote for the movies from 1932-1956 and for TV from 1950-1973. He wrote 18 scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Dangerous People," as well as scripts for One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits and Batman.

John Williams (1903-1983), who plays Herbert, was born in England and had a long and wonderful career as an actor. He was on stage beginning in the 1920s and in movies from 1930-1978. He appeared in three Hitchcock films--The Paradine Case (1947), Dial M For Murder (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955); he also won a Tony Award for his role in the stage version of Dial M For Murder in 1953, before the film was made. He made numerous TV appearances and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents 10 times, as well as appearing in episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller and Night Gallery. He was a regular on Family Affair, filling in for the ailing Sebastian Cabot as butler Mr. French's brother. Many remember John Williams for his popular TV commercial, "120 Music Masterpieces."

Isobel Elsom (1893-1981) played Hermione; she was on stage as early as 1911 and began her film career in 1915. She appeared in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947), as well as in My Fair Lady (1964). She was in five episodes of the Hitchcock TV series and also appeared on One Step Beyond and Thriller.

Others in the cast included A.E. Gould-Porter (1905-1987) as Major Sinclair; he matched John Williams by appearing in ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Glass Eye." Mollie Glessing (1891-1971) played the English maid, Elsie, and appeared in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as three episodes of Thriller.

"Back for Christmas" is easily available on DVD or online. It was later remade as an episode of Tales of the Unexpected; that version can also be viewed online.

Sources:
Archives.newyorker.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. 
"Back for Christmas." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 4 Mar. 1956. Television. 
Collier, John. "Back for Christmas." Fancies and Goodnights. New York: Bantam, 1961. 182-87. Print. 
"Escape and Suspense!" 'Escape and Suspense!' N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.escape-suspense.com/2007/12/escape---back-f.html>. 
"Ghost Radio." Ghost Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. http://ghostradio.wordpress.com/tag/back-for-christmas>. 
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print. 
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>. 
"JerryHaendiges Vintage Radio Logs." Suspense .. Episodic Log. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.otrsite.com/logs/logs1003.htm>. 
"John Collier." Contemporary Authors. Gale, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. 
"Listen to Audio." Suspense. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://archive.org/details/OTRR_Suspense_Singles>. 
N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.old-time.com/otrlogs2/sus.log.txt>. 
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.


















Monday, November 26, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 46: The 1976 Wrap-Up



by Peter Enfantino

& Jack Seabrook


1976 was an uneventful year for Batman and Detective Comics. In contrast to prior years, which had seen frequent changes in page count and price, the comics in 1976 were of standard length all year long, and each title had twelve monthly issues. Starting the year at 25 cents a copy, they went up to 30 cents a copy with the March (Detective) and April (Batman) issues and there they remained.

Julius Schwartz was editor of both titles all year. Batman featured one long story per issue; initially, these were 18 pages but by midyear the page count had been cut to 17. Detective continued to feature a Batman lead story and a six-page backup story with a rotating cast of featured players. The lead stories began the year at 12 pages and shrank to 11 pages by midyear. Covers for Batman were drawn by Ernie Chua (10), Jose Garcia-Lopez (1) or Dick Giordano (1). Covers for Detective were drawn by Chua (8), with one each by Chua/Vince Colletta, Giordano, Mike Grell, and Chua/John Workman. All twelve stories in Batman were written by David V. Reed, who also wrote one of the lead stories for Detective. The other lead stories in Detective were written by Elliott S. Maggin (3), Bob Rozakis/Michael Uslan (3), Gerry Conway (2), Denny O’Neil (1), Marty Pasko (1) and Len Wein (1). Pencils in Batman were by Chua (10), Garcia-Lopez, and Irv Novick, while inks were by Tex Blaisdell (6), Chua (3), Frank McLaughlin (2), and Frank Giacoia.

Pencils on the lead stories in Detective were by Chua (8), Garcia-Lopez (2), Giordano, and Grell. Inks were by Frank McLaughlin (5), Chua (2), Colletta, Garcia-Lopez, Giacoia, Giordano, and Grell. Recurring guests in the Batman lead stories included the Riddler, Robin, and the Spook. The Underworld Olympics were featured in a four-issue arc. Each issue of Batman included a one page letters column called Letters to the Batman, edited by Rozakis with occasional help from Schwartz. Jenette Kahn took over as publisher with the September issues and a one page news feature called the Daily Planet began to appear that month.

While the Batman stories in the two titles did not demonstrate much variety in 1976, the backup stories in Detective certainly did. The rotating slot featured stories with Elongated Man (5, including a co-starring appearance), Man-Bat (2), Tim Trench (2), Atom, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Hawkman. The stories were written by Rozakis (6, including one with his wife Laurie), O’Neil (3), Pasko (2), and Bridwell. Pencils were by Pablo Marcos (4,) Grell (2), Schaffenberger (2), Chua, Garcia-Lopez, Marshall Rogers, and the Union Studio. Inks were by Terry Austin (4), Al Milgrom (2), Schaffenberger (2), Blaisdell, Colletta, Garcia-Lopez, and Marcos.

Each issue of Detective included a one page letters column called Batman’s Hot Line, edited by Rozakis. Recurring guests in the Batman lead stories included Captain Stingaree (3), the Black Spider (2), and Signalman. The Calculator appeared in four backup stories as the villain. While 1976 would hardly qualify as a banner year for either title, it was unusual for the 1970s in that each published 12 monthly issues in the standard comic book size. David V. Reed was the most prolific writer and Ernie Chua was the most prolific artist.

Batman (or related characters) continued to appear in a variety of DC comics this year. Six issues of Batman Family were published, five with covers by Chua. The Brave and the Bold saw eight issues, with covers by Jim Aparo, while the Justice League of America issued 12 monthly books, all with Chua covers. Man-Bat came and went after two issues; Aparo did both covers with help from Chua on one. World’s Finest came out 7 times, all with covers by Chua. The Joker came out four times before being canceled with issue number nine; Chua did all four covers. He also did the covers for all three issues of Super-Team Family and also an issue of DC Super-Stars that included Batman. Super-Friends began and had two issues with covers by—who else?—Chua. Finally, a Limited Collector’s Edition (C-44) came out in June and featured Batman reprints. The Dark Knight was certainly all over the newsstands as America celebrated its bicentennial!


Circulation figures:

Detective Comics            148,000
Batman                            168,164
Superman                        235,430
Amazing Spider-Man      281,860


1976: THE BEST (AND WORST) OF THE YEAR


Best Script: Denny O'Neil, "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" (Detective 457)
Best Art: Dick Giordano, "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" (Detective 457)
Best All-Around Story: "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" (Detective 457)

Worst Script: David V. Reed, "Gotham City Treasure Hunt" (Batman 274)
Worst Art: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin "The Corpse Came C.O.D." (Batman 271)
Worst All-Around Story: "The Bank Shot That Baffled Batman" (Batman 273)
Special Achievement for Awfulness: "The Underworld Olympics" arc (Batman 272-275)













Monday, November 19, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 45: November and December 1976


by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino


Batman 281 (November 1976)

"Murder Comes in Black Boxes!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Tex Blaisdell

When foreign intelligence agents from three countries are killed in a seemingly random car accident, Batman is called in to investigate. He discovers that each of the men tried to send him a coded message right before they died. Batman saves Pamela Drew, fiancĂ©e of Aldo Fondi, one of the dead men, from becoming the next corpse. The Caped Crusader tracks the dead man’s movements to Budapest, where he meets a group of freedom fighters and learns that Fondi had been working to help noted Hungarian nuclear physicist Lucas Nagy to defect to the West. The story ends with Batman trapped by the Hungarian secret police.

PE: The dialogue is as awful as usual (Bad guy: "The Batman!?" Batman: "Now you found out!"), as if the characters are reading badly-written cue cards off-panel rather than talking like real people. Having said that, I appreciate David V. Reed for trying something a little different this time out: taking Batman out of the streets of Gotham (and his achingly dull fight against mobsters, horse thieves, and fiends who prune their neighbor's rose bushes without permission) and making him a globe-hopping espionage seeker. I'm not sure, in the long run, this adventure will be any more entertaining than the recent fare but, hey, it's different. I'll take that for now.



Jack: In a story with mediocre art and exchanges such as “But it’s cold!” “So is death!,” it’s hard to believe that anything interesting happens, but I agree that it’s a refreshing change of pace to see Batman head to Eastern Europe. 



Detective Comics 465 (November 1976)

"The Best-Kept Secret in Gotham City!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank Giacoia

In a flashback to years before, we find out that The Batman, worried that Commissioner Gordon could be in danger from the mob just for knowing The Dark Knight, set up a plan for the inevitable. If Gordon should be pressed by super-villains or the mob, he is tell them that Batman's real identity is real estate agency owner Neil Merrick and that's all he knows. In the present day, a shady character enters Merrick's faux-business office looking for the man. A secretary presses a button and Bruce Wayne is watching hidden camera footage of the interested gentleman. Wayne knows that this can only mean one thing: the mob has Gordon. Using his undercover sources and a little detective work, Batman discovers that gangster Little Dutch is behind the commissioner's abduction. The Caped Crusader makes quick work of Dutch and his goons and saves Gordon's hide yet again. As Batman swings away into the night, Gordon ponders what his old friend would think about his own guesswork as to the real identity of the hero.

PE: Once again, it seems we're deep into another one of Julius Schwartz's "crime bosses, crime bosses, and more crime bosses" demand to his writers. Nary a costumed villain in sight until this title gets a radical revamping at the hands of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers in 1977. (What about next issue?--Jack) To be fair, this isn't a horrible story, just an unremarkable one. As with many of these shortened Batman stories in Detective, there simply aren't enough pages to get a proper plot working. It's a set-up, a battle, and a quick resolution with no consequences shown in the next installment. Silly details like the faux office for "Mr. Merrick" don't help either as your mind strays from what little story is presented to questions like "So who is the secretary, does she have a real job, and how do you explain to the woman that she's there only to push a button if someone should ask for Merrick by name?"


Jack: While the plot of this story is nothing special—Commissioner Gordon is kidnapped and Batman tracks him down and rescues him—there are some interesting things going on. First of all, the flashback to when Gordon had darker hair suggests a closer and more believable relationship between him and the Caped Crusader than what we often see when Gordon is quick to believe that Batman is a killer or responsible for whatever bad thing has just happened. Second, Batman’s use of “the Boards” is neat—he puts up coded messages on bulletin boards around town to gather information from informers. Finally, Gordon thinks he may know Batman’s secret identity but does not discuss it with the Dark Knight. Too bad these interesting sidelines are plunked in the midst of a routine story (and completely forgotten in the next-PE).

"The Elongated Plague!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Ernie Chua & Terrry Austin

On his way to a comic convention where he's the guest of honor, Ralph Dibny, The Elongated Man, runs into The Calculator, who zaps him with a ray that makes Elongo's stretchability contagious. Once Ralph arrives at the Con, many of his fans begin to feel very elastic. Ralph learns the secret of The Calculator's ray and is able to force the mad genius into putting all the stretched-out kids back to their normal overweight selves.

PE: At the risk of beating a dead horse, this story has the same structure as the last two stories featuring The Calculator and there are a few more to come. The crazy bad guy (an obvious "homage" by Rozakis to the old Fantastic Four villain, The Mad Thinker) breaks out of his imprisonment more times than Harry Houdini. You'd think they might keep an eye on the guy. The convention stuff is pretty funny and, if I'm not mistaken, the paunchy old guy in the Superman outfit is supposed to be editor Julius Schwartz. The only stretch to the credibility might be the comparative trim and leanness of some of those con attendees. Folks, I've been to a lot of cons and...

Jack: The most interesting thing about this installment of the Calculator story arc is the comics convention that the Dibnys attend; it seems to be populated by DC Comics VIPs. I think the guy in the Superman costume may be Julie Schwartz, and the official at the end looks like Dick Giordano.

Batman 282 (December 1976)

"Four Doorways to Danger"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Tex Blaisdell

After making short work of the secret police, Batman escapes disguised as one of them and heads off in his private plane to Burundi, where he tracks the movements of Nkuma Senghor, one of the three dead agents. Flying to a remote village, he barely escapes a stampede of Cape Buffalo before disguising himself as a friar and locating a church that serves as cover for an operation to make a nuclear bomb. Batman destroys the operation and flies off to Panama, the country where the third dead agent hailed from, suspecting that he is about to find the last piece of a puzzle in a plot to blow up the Panama Canal. The story ends as Batman is apparently shot to death and his plane plummets earthward.

PE: Wow! David V. Reed has me very intrigued to see where this three-part adventure is going. This middle part reveals that the men Batman is tracking are building or have built a bomb to destroy the Panama Canal, a plot device that brings The Caped Crusader effectively into the real world for a bit. Batman has faced forms of terrorism before in the two titles but not in such realistic terms (although Reed can't help throwing in silly comic book cliches like the signs on the four doors identifying the materials for the bomb). There are a lot of cliffhanger thrills packed into this installment as well. The buffalo stampede, in particular, is very well illustrated. I'm not sure what this all has to do with Gotham but I'll tune in next month for the conclusion. I'd sure like to see where Batman keeps all those disguises he dons. The cover's a cheat, by the way. No scene even close to this takes place in this issue.

Ernie Chua was getting very tired.
Jack: The creators of Batman around this time sure loved their stampedes! At least this time it’s not on the streets of Gotham City. Batman’s disguise as a friar might be more effective if he took off his domino mask. I suspect that Ernie Chua was having a hard time meeting the demands put on him by DC to crank out about a thousand pages per month, because his art is really shoddy in spots, and we can’t keep blaming the inkers!
Batman decided to borrow Robin's mask.


Detective Comics 466 (December 1976)

"Signalman Steals the Spotlight!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ernie Chua and Vince Colletta

A villain from the Golden Age of Batman, The Signalman hasn't been seen for fifteen years but he's now back to launch a new reign of crime. First, he causes a double train wreck in order to steal the priceless Heart of Allah ruby, then he attempts to steal the proceeds from the week's big football game. Batman is able to separate the man from his money but not before the villain causes a panic in the stadium. Restoring calm, The Dark Knight realizes The Signalman has escaped but knows it's only a matter of time before their paths cross again. Sure enough, the next night The Signalman steals the solid gold Citizens' Achievement Award from out of the hands of a young boy but runs right into Batman as he's exiting stage left. Once again, through trickery, The Signalman gets the upper hand on Batman and trusses him up inside the Bat-Signal, waiting for Commissioner Gordon's inevitable arrival. The Caped Crusader is too crafty, though, and escapes a fiery death. He catches up to his enemy on a windy mountain road just after the sixth-tier villain has committed his ultimate heist: the theft of a fortune in jewelry from a crypt in Gotham Cemetery. Eventually, The Signalman is killed when his speeding car plunges hundreds of feet off the dangerous road.


PE: Just when I complain that we're getting nothing but mobsters and jewel thieves, we get this oddball story written by future regular Batman scripter Len Wein. The Signalman's resurrection is the kind of stunt that Roy Thomas used to pull over at Marvel, taking a little known Golden Age villain (or hero) and rebooting him for the Silver Age. Alas, Roy would usually pick characters that had some kind of hook or uniqueness to them. If there was a lack of pizazz, Thomas could usually be depended upon to infuse some into the character. Wein takes a justifiably forgotten villain who appeared, if I've got my facts straight, only three times in the Golden Age Batman comic book and then disappeared. He'd disappear again after this one until a mention in DC's maxi-series, Identity Crisis, where's it's revealed that he apparently survived his mountain plunge. I can't figure out what the villain's M.O. is and not for lack of trying. At the beginning of the story, it seems that he's called The Signalman because he can mess with train signals but, later on, Batman says he's figured out the crook's pattern, as though he leaves clues a la The Joker and The Riddler. That particular aspect of the character isn't explained nor is where the guy's been all these years. Jail? I'd think Gordo would mention a jailbreak or parole. In any event, it's not a very good story and the art looks rushed and unfinished in spots.

Jack: Does Signalman count as a member of the Rogues’ Gallery? The internet tells me he appeared once before this under his own name and another time as the Blue Bowman. He has appeared here and there since being revived in 1976. I can’t really tell what his gimmick is, which is a problem. When he tied Batman to the Bat Signal, it seemed like a throwback to the TV show, and not in a good way. Len Wein did such a good job with the Talia 5-part series that I expected better of him when I saw his name in the credits this time around.

"Take Me Out of the Ballgame"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

The Calculator has escaped prison for the 40th time in ten days and this time he's heading for game seven of the World Series. Luckily, The Green Arrow and Elongated Man are there to break up Calc's nefarious scheme of stealing every ball that crosses home plate. By the end of the day, The Calculator is heading back to... you guessed it... prison.


Jack: This is the first appearance of artist Marshall Rogers in Detective, which is a milestone in itself. Pretty soon he’ll be part of the team making Batman stories exciting again. Sadly, the 1976 World Series was not hijacked by Signalman, nor did it go the full seven games: the Reds swept the Yankees in four straight.

PE: Enough of this silly nonsense already. Not even the excitement of seeing Marshall Rogers' debut in the title that would propel him to comic book fame can save this dismal waste of paper. Why would Rozakis map out a multi-issue, multi-hero arc that starts nowhere and stays right there? We'll see if any of this makes sense when it culminates in #468 but I'm not laying any money on it.

Jack: Raise your hand if you, like me, remember receiving DC comics in those half-size brown wrappers where they folded the comics lengthwise and creased the cover.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ray Bradbury on TV Part Eight: Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour-Overview/Episode Guide/Rankings

"And So Died Riabouchinska"
by Jack Seabrook

Ray Bradbury had a hand in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Three of the half-hour episodes had teleplays by Bradbury that were based on his stories ("Shopping for Death," "Design for Loving," and "Special Delivery"), while one of the hour episodes did as well ("The Life Work of Juan Diaz"). One half-hour episode was adapted by another writer from a Bradbury story ("And So Died Riabouchinska"), while one hour episode followed the same pattern ("The Jar"). Finally, one half-hour episode was adapted by Bradbury from a story by another writer ("The Faith of Aaron Menefee").

"Special Delivery"
The Bradbury episodes had many highlights: the camerawork in "Shopping for Death" and the performance of Jo Van Fleet; Claude Rains's wonderful work in "And So Died Riabouchinska"; the impressive split screen effects and Norman Lloyd's performance in "Design for Loving"; the creepy feeling and spooky camerawork in "Special Delivery"; and Sidney Blackmer's star turn in "The Faith of Aaron Menefee." "The Jar" is the better of the two hour episodes and has wonderful performances and a great score by Bernard Herrmann; Herrmann's score is also a highlight of "The Life Work of Juan Diaz," as is the performance by Frank Silvera.

Episode Guide:

Episode title-“Shopping for Death”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-29 January 1956
Teleplay by-Ray Bradbury
Based on-“Shopping for Death” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-MacLean's 1 June 1954
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"The Jar"

Episode title-“And So Died Riabouchinska”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-12 February 1956
Teleplay by-Mel Dinelli
Based on-“And So Died Riabouchinska” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-The Saint Detective Magazine June-July 1953
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"Design for Loving"
Episode title-“Design for Loving”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-9 November 1958
Teleplay by-Ray Bradbury
Based on-“Marionettes, Inc.” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-Startling Stories March 1949
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

Episode title-“Special Delivery”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-29 November 1959
Teleplay by-Ray Bradbury
Based on-“Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-Galaxy October 1962
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"Shopping for Death"
Episode title-“The Faith of Aaron Menefee”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-30 January 1962
Teleplay by-Ray Bradbury
Based on-“The Faith of Aaron Menefee” by Stanley Ellin
First print appearance-Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine September 1957
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

Episode title-“The Jar”
Series-The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date-14 February 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges
Based on-“The Jar” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-Weird Tales November 1944
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

"The Life Work of Juan Diaz"
Episode title-“The Life Work of Juan Diaz”
Series-The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date-26 October 1964
Teleplay by-Ray Bradbury
Based on-“The Life Work of Juan Diaz” by Ray Bradbury
First print appearance-Playboy September 1963
Notes
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

"The Faith of Aaron Menefee"

And finally, rankings (from best to worst):

Alfred Hitchcock Presents:

“The Faith of Aaron Menefee”
“Special Delivery”
“Shopping for Death”
“Design for Loving”
“And So Died Riabouchinska”

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour:

“The Jar”
“The Life Work of Juan Diaz”

COMING IN TWO WEEKS: JOHN COLLIER ON TV PART ONE-ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: BACK FOR CHRISTMAS


Monday, November 12, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 44: September and October 1976



by Peter Enfantino

& Jack Seabrook



Detective Comics 463 (September 1976)

"Death-Web"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin

Batman busts up a million-dollar heroin deal but the dealer, a pimp named Slinky, is killed in a car bombing. The Dark Knight suspects that this is more than a territorial feud and becomes convinced of it when the #1 suspect, the pimp's boss, is shot dead. This time, Batman is able to track down the shooter, a masked vigilante calling himself The Black Spider. The killer at first hopes the Caped Crusader will fall in with him in his nightly street cleanings but Batman scotches that idea fast. Weakened by blood loss from a bullet wound, Batman is easy prey for the Spider and is left helpless on a runway, a plane about to land and put an end to his fabled career.


Huggy Bear's second cousin?
PE: "A city is like a living thing, with its arteries and cells, its muscles and its fat. It's health... and its disease. Like all cities, Gotham has its clots of cancer..." Has a ring to it, doesn't it? Gerry Conway, like most major comic writers in the 1970s, played the game of musical chairs with DC and Marvel. He's best known for killing Gwen Stacy (an act he received death threats for -- my eleven-year old crayon scrawlings may have been among them but nothing can be proven) in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and, as an encore, putting The Green Goblin to rest the following issue. In '76, Gerry wrote the first DC/Marvel crossover, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. "Death-Web" was written after Conway returned from a very brief stint as editor-in-chief of Marvel (lasting just a month and a half) and carries all the pros and cons of mid-70s comic writing. It's miles above most of what we've been reading in these titles the last few years but it also contains some annoying cliches (like the black pimp dressed in Huggy Bear clothes named Slinky). Blink and you'd miss Conway's tenure on Detective in the '70s. The writer will contribute only three scripts this decade but will take over scripting chores during a celebrated run on both Batman and Detective from 1980-1983. Someone tell me if Marvel's lawyer was in the Bahamas the month this issue came out. The Black Spider, complete with red hood and web designs? Written by Spider-Man's longtime chronicler? Looks pretty close to Peter Parker's alter ego to me. The Reeves character has outgrown his usefulness (if he ever had any, that is), now reduced to showing up every time Batman gets beaten or framed and uttering half-sentences like "Should be jailed!" How long until we get to the inevitable "He's really the Joker in disguise!" story? There has to be a reason why Julius Schwartz wants this character continued but I'll be damned if I can figure it out.

Nope, looks like a completely original character to us!

Jack: Gerry Conway’s first Batman story for Detective features the above average amount of violence one would expect from the author, but it also features more characterization and interesting plot than most Batman stories of this era. Stereotypical pimp Slinky Hamilton is blown up by a car bomb and it looks like the Back Spider is responsible. The Black Spider appears to be a vigilante of the sort that was popular in the 1970s in the wake of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish (1974). Batman is grazed by a bullet to the shoulder and feels the effects in his next fight. This story shows a Marvel influence, with the Caped Crusader looking a little bit human. I am looking forward to seeing where this goes next issue!

"Crimes by Calculation"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Mike Grell and Terry Austin

Scientist Richard Bagley is discussing his breakthrough invention, The Quake-Breaker, to a less than packed house at Ivy University. Among those in the paltry audience is Ray (The Atom) Palmer. Just as Bagley gets to an interesting tidbit about his gizmo, which would channel the power of earthquakes into "good use," his speech is interrupted by a costumed criminal going by the name of The Calculator. Utilizing the power of computer data, The Calculator can predict events to come. Bagley hightails it but The Calculator is right behind him. Palmer suits up but proves to be no match for the villain. An earthquake opens up a fissure in the earth and Bagley falls to his death. Enraged, The Atom pulverizes The Calculator and sends him to jail. But that may have been what the evil genius wanted in the first place. We'll see.

Jack: Pocket calculators were all the rage by 1976, so it’s not surprising that DC would introduce a corny villain named the Calculator. That aside, Mike Grell’s art is really sharp in this six-pager, and he draws the Atom as well as anyone in recent memory. The Atom’s compact size helps Grell avoid the long, lanky bodies that could sometimes mar his artwork.

Next stop: Main and 5th Street!

PE: You'd have to look high and low (or maybe just in the Detective lead-ins) for a dopier villain than The Calculator, whose headgear simultaneously shoots out jets of fire and tells you what the next stop on the bus line will be. Rozakis was obviously poring over old issues of The Fantastic Four and figured he could do a better version of The (Mad) Thinker than Jack and Stan. He was wrong. Turnabout is fair play though, I guess, since The Atom was "borrowed" by Stan for Ant-Man. Fifth-tier villain notwithstanding, I enjoyed this goofy little adventure and thought the death of the innocent scientist particularly grim (once Bagley falls into the crevasse, The Calculator closes it). Grell and Austin are easy on the eyes as well. 

Jack: DC is now featuring a one-page house promo called The Daily Planet, with news of upcoming comics and an abbreviated checklist. This was one of their occasional attempts to copy Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins. The really big news, though, is in tiny print at the bottom of the splash page—Jenette Kahn is now listed as publisher, a change that would affect the entire comic industry for decades.


Batman 279 (September 1976)

"Riddler on the Rampage"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Tex Blaisdell


The Riddler escapes from jail during a riot and Batman is after him, aided by Robin, who is back from school to do some research. The Dynamic Duo follow the clues and capture the Riddler at the Gotham Museum of Art, where he is in the midst of trying to steal a solid gold jeweled sphinx.

Jack: The key to a good Riddler story is having good riddles. I like the explanation for why a clock is the most modest of all mechanisms: because it covers its face with its hands. The story is basically a long chase with art by Chan and Blaisdell that is serviceable but no better. It’s nice to see Robin working with Batman again, though, and I’ve always liked the Riddler from the TV show, so this issue gets a pass.

PE: Barely a pass. It reminds me of one of the 1950s issues and that's not a good thing. Appropriate since Reed got his start writing Batman in that decade. I give extra credit to the writer however since most of the riddles and clues are more clever  than silly. The art's awful though and I'd suspect that's due to Blaisdell's inks since we've seen what Chan (Chua) can do on his own (or with another inker). 


Us too!



Detective Comics 464 (October 1976)

"The Doomsday Express!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin

Escaping death by jet airplane, The Batman once again tries to stop The Black Spider from assassinating a drug dealer. As before, The Dark Knight is just one step too slow and the big-time Parisian junk seller is shot dead as he gets off the plane. Batman decides he has to find out what's motivating The Spider. Thanks to a very well-connected hooker, The Dark Knight discovers that a buddy of the Spider got hooked on horse and accidentally shot his own father. Since that day, the vigilante has tried to rid the world of dope pushers. Later, during a tussle atop a speeding subway train, Batman unmasks The Spider and guesses his real identity as "the buddy." The Spider, attempting to set off a bomb on the train, is killed and Batman is left to wonder who was the villain in this case.

PE: Writer Conway gets around to exploring an area that would be revisited countless times in the future: what gives Batman, clearly operating outside the law, the right to dress up and take down villains? Obviously The Spider's methods are a bit more extreme but, at times, Batman's had blood on his gloves as well. Commissioner Reeves (when did he get a promotion?) exclaims that Batman is nothing but "another costumed vigilante" and The Dark Knight finds he can't argue with that. Some deep thinking here for the twelve-year olds. Hats off to Gerry Conway.


Jack: Part two was even better than part one! Is this the same comic book we’ve been suffering through recently? The Black Spider murders a heroin dealer, Batman visits a hooker to get background information, and the Black Spider turns out to be an African-American former junkie determined to wipe out anyone trafficking in heroin. I must admit I suspected the Black Spider’s race when he told Batman, “I’m done with you, man!” Maybe it’s just my ear for dialect.

PE: Or the fact that you read too many bad comic books when you were a kid (a habit you've yet to kick, I fear). I wonder if Stan and Jack knew what they were doing when they created The "Black" Panther. How long before an African-American hero (or villain) had a moniker minus the "black?"

Jack: Just ask Black Goliath.

"A Hot Time in Star City Tonight!"
Story by Bob and Laurie Rozakis
Art by Mike Grell and Terry Austin

The Black Canary heads to Star City for its tricentennial celebration but gets waylaid by The Calculator, who manages to synch The Canary's sonic scream to a raging heatwave. The Canary uses her super intelligence (and great legs) to once again put the fifth-tier villain behind bars. But how long will his imprisonment last this time? We'll see.

Exactly two reasons to read The Black Canary.
PE: 526 degrees will melt the gizmo on The Calculator's chest but not his chest itself? All these two could work up was a bit of sweat? I smell a rat. The Canary's got a great set of gams and Grell and Austin know how to show them off but The Rozakii don't deliver the goods this time. 

Jack: I am always glad to see Black Canary for the same reason I am always glad to see Zatanna—in fact, their outfits are strikingly similar. It’s interesting that the Calculator arc is spanning different superheroes in these back-up stories in Detective. I was a little concerned about some of the temperatures reached in Star City (526 degrees?) but this was not a bad little story.

PE: The mini-stories starring The Calculator will culminate in a big battle with Batman (and the rest of the Justice League) in Detective #468. In the letters page, Bob Rozakis puts the kibosh on any further adventures of Jack and Peter fave Tim Trench, Detective, explaining that most of the reader reaction was unfavorable. Yet these bozos loved The Olympics of the Underworld? You can't make these things up, folks!



Batman 280 (October 1976)

The Only Crime in Town!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank Giacoia

Batman is in the middle of foiling a robbery when the crooks throw up their hands and give up precisely at one a.m. Conferring with Commissioner Gordon, Batman learns that there seems to be a curfew on crime between the early morning hours of one and two. Batman receives a tip that a criminal plans to pull two jobs during the curfew and the Caped Crusader deduces that a valuable coin collection is the target.

Jack: Aside from the run of the mill plot and sometimes awkwardly “hip” dialogue, such as Batman telling a crook to “stay cool,” the most interesting things about this issue are Frank Giacoia’s inks and the ads. Giacoia’s inks over Chua’s pencils have a real 1960s Batman look that reminds me of Carmine Infantino’s work. The internet tells me that Giacoia and Infantino knew each other well, but I don’t see any Batman credits for Giacoia in the 1960s. Perhaps he was paying homage to the recently departed DC publisher. The ads in this issue are fantastic! Aquaman shills for Hostess Twinkies, DC promotes four comics that are tie-ins to TV shows, a couple of new dollar editions are out, Bugs Bunny invites us to visit Jungle Habitat, a book called Very Special People is on sale, and we can order our very own Batman utility belt! Once again, I wish for a time machine.

I'm blowin' town--stay cool!
PE: Ulp! I couldn't agree with you more, Jack. Thank goodness there's more pages for ads, letters, and in-house promotion than actual story here. This one darn near put me to sleep with its unending wrap-up expository. As good a detective as The Dark Knight is, how the heck could he know all the behind-the-scenes info he spouts in the final seven frames? The letters page lately has been aflutter with "who is David Reed?" questions. Reader Nick A. Grassel does some ace detective work (reading through old issues of "Bill Bower's excellent fanzine Outworlds" - an endorsement I most heartily second) and discovers that Reed is actually pulp writer David Vern (aka Vern Reed), whose agent back in the 1940s was (coincidence?!) Julius Schwartz! David Vern Reed wrote science fiction stories for Amazing, Fantastic Adventures, and other top pulps.


Infantino-esque
Real art


More Neal Adams PSAs: