Monday, December 31, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 51: September and October 1977

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 291 (September 1977)

"Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed? The Testimony of the Catwoman!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell

The underworld is abuzz with news that Batman is dead. Since so many criminals have taken credit for the murder and in so many places, a trial is held at a secluded estate in Gotham City. Ra's al Ghul is the judge, Two-Face is the prosecutor, and six Bat-villains comprise the jury. First up on the stand is Catwoman, who tells her tale of how Batman found her trying to go straight and she let him drown in an icy river. The jury doesn't buy her story.

PE: Another issue of Batman, another juvenile David V. Reed storyline, this one threatening to take up the next four issues and 68 pages. I'm not sure what's worse, a story concerning Batman chasing after art thieves or a long arc misusing the Rogue's Gallery yet again. Hard to tell, but the minute I saw Ra's al Ghul, one of Batman's most important and "serious" opponents, serving as judge on the trial, I was out of here. The only thing missing here was Bat-Mite and Krypto. Batman was actually missing as well. Why would all these dangerous (and in some cases, psychotic) criminals hang out together and serve as jurors on a mock trial? I smell another stinker of "Crime Olympics" proportion. The art, by newcomers John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell, is by the numbers, neither horrible nor exemplary. It just gets the job done. Blasidell cut his teeth on strips such as Little Orphan Annie.

Jack: As usual, I enjoyed this story. The art is almost Golden Age in its simplicity, which works well with this cast of characters. The Rogue's Gallery includes some interesting figure we've not seen in awhile, such as the Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy. Calnan and Blaisdell do a nice job of illustrating the very leggy Catwoman but their Ra's Al Ghul pales next to the Adams/Novick original.

Detective Comics 472 (September 1977)

"I Am The Batman!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

Having attained the true identity of The Batman, Professor Hugo Strange proceeds to milk the information for all it's worth. First, he cashes in many of Bruce Wayne's stocks then he hits on the greatest idea he's ever had: he'll sell Batman's identity to the highest bidder. Three figures, all hidden in shadows, opt in to the bid. Opening ante: one million dollars! Not wanting to play fair, Boss Rupert Thorne kidnaps Professor Strange and attempts to beat his secret out of him. Hugo is very resilient, resisting Thorne's interrogation and eventually succumbing to his torture. Meanwhile, Robin comes to the rescue of Bruce and Alfred, who are being kept in Strange's hideout.

PE: If not the blockbuster we witnessed last issue, this is another strong entry from messrs. Englehart, Rogers, and Austin. That cover is a bit misleading since there's no real appearance of a "new Batman," and becomes confusing since over at the Batman title, we're about to start a long arc on "Where were You on the Night Batman was Killed?" This story has nothing to do with that arc though. Monday Morning Quarterbacking lets us in on the fact that Hugo Strange is not dead (for those who don't mind a bit of a spoiler, it's revealed in Batman #356 (February 1983) that Strange used a form of yoga to slow his heart down and fool his captors into thinking he'd succumbed to their beatings). I wasn't sharp enough to see that The Penguin (or rather, The Penguin's umbrella) makes a cameo during the bidding scene, so thanks to Steve Englehart for pointing that out to me. I wonder who the other two bidders were. It's a testament to just how sharp Marshall Rogers's penciling is that he can make even Robin, the Boy Blunder, look cool and dangerous. Cool art or no, I'll never buy the old comic book trope that a man with a mask on can look just like the other man. In this case, Strange wears not only a Bruce Wayne disguise but a Batman cowl over that. In the letters page, Bob Rozakis reveals that Julius Schwartz has decided to separate the vibe of Batman and 'tec by accentuating the Golden Age atmosphere in this title. Thus, the appearance of the long-gone Hugo Strange. That's a good plan but let's see if it works with a campy villain like next issue's The Penguin.

Jack: I thought this was one of the best Batman comics I've ever read! Oddly enough, the Batman does not appear in it. We get Hugo Strange masquerading as the Batman and Bruce Wayne in a drugged state--but no Batman. It makes no difference to me, though, since the story and art mesh perfectly to make a truly exciting tale. Strange is a fascinating character, Magda and Silver are gorgeous, and Robin is as good as we've ever seen him. Even Boss Thorne strikes an air of menace. I can tell you who the other two bidders were--Boss Thorne and the Joker. If this issue is indicative of what we're in for in Detective, I can't wait for more! Too bad Batman is so weak in comparison right now.

Batman 292 (October 1977)

"Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed?  The Testimony of The Riddler!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell

The Riddler takes his turn on the stand and explains how he led Batman on a merry chase through Gotham that ended with him blowing the Caped Crusader to bits in a quarry. Two Face proves that dynamite is not ignited by fire and the jury gives E. Nigma the heave-ho.

PE: Another dim-witted chapter in The Death of Batman. The only suspense, aside from whether I'll be able to stay conscious during all four installments, is what part the real Batman plays in all this? I'll bet money he's in the courtroom (odds-on favorite would have to be Two-Face) but what possible conclusion can close out this saga? Why would Bats sit tight while all these bad guys have a party and celebrate his "death?" And, most important question of all, how is it that every one of Bats' Rogue Gallery (with the possible exception of Mr. Freeze and The Penguin, the latter of which is being used in 'tec at the moment) is out of jail at the same time? Is Arkham bone dry? Great cover, though.

Jack: You're right that Jim Aparo's cover is the highlight of this dreadful issue. It's too bad that Aparo rarely ventured out of The Brave and the Bold and over to Batman and Detective--he was one of the best artists to draw Batman in the '70s. What puzzled me about this story was the Riddler's makeup skills, which seem to rival those of his pointy-eared nemesis--his transformation into Bruce Wayne seems to include a wholesale revision of his facial bones. Also, what is Lex Luthor doing in the Batman Rogue's Gallery?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

John Collier on TV Part Three-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "De Mortuis"

by Jack Seabrook

Just two weeks after "Wet Saturday" came the next episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from a John Collier story; "De Mortuis" was broadcast on October 14, 1956. The story upon which it was based, with the same title, had been published first in The New Yorker's issue dated July 18, 1942. The title, "De Mortuis," is taken from the Latin phrase, De mortuis nihil nisi bonum; roughly translated, it means "speak no ill of the dead." Ironically, no one in the story is actually dead, at least not physically.

As the story begins, Dr. Rankin has just finished cementing over a patch on his cellar floor. He hears his friends Buck and Bud enter the house upstairs, looking for him to go fishing. They find him in the cellar and he explains that his wife Irene is out visiting and he has repaired the cellar floor where water was coming up. As the three men chat, the visitors begin to suspect that Dr. Rankin has murdered his promiscuous wife and buried her body in the basement. He angrily denies it but they admit that her behavior must have provoked him--they considered telling him the truth about her prior to their marriage five years before but chose to remain quiet.

Cara Williams as Irene
To the doctor, Irene is "innocent. Like a child," but Bud calls her "the town floozy"; no one has said anything to her husband, but she has lately been seen with more men, even "truck drivers." Buck and Bud assure Dr. Rankin that everyone will be on his side and that they will pretend that they were never there in order to bolster his alibi. After they leave, the doctor sits alone in the cellar, dejected; Irene comes home and he invites her downstairs to show her his work, telling her: "I'm afraid I'll have to take it all up again."

"De Mortuis" is another example of Collier's subtlety, in which he inverts the story of "Back for Christmas," where an unhappy husband murders his wife and buries her body in the basement. This time, the husband is happy because he does not know his wife's true nature; when he finds out, he plans to do exactly that which was suspected of him by his overly imaginative friends. A simple explanation of the story's title is that Buck and Bud speak ill of Irene, whom they think is dead, and by doing so inadvertently cause her death. A more shaded explanation might suggest that each of the story's characters is already dead in some way: Dr. Rankin, whose eyes are dead to Irene's deception; Bud and Buck, whose emotions are dead to the sensitivity of their friend; Irene, whose heart is dead to the harm caused by her behavior.

"De Mortuis" was adapted for television by Francis Cockrell, who had also adapted "Back for Christmas" and whose wife Marion adapted "Wet Saturday." Unlike the two earlier episodes, which followed the stories closely, the televised version of "De Mortuis" takes a rather different approach to its source material. The show begins as Dr. Rankin struggles with a heavy bag of concrete and takes it down to his cellar to begin mixing, all set to ominous music. His two friends arrive and make themselves at home, reading his newspaper and drinking his coffee. The kitchen is a mess, and one of the men comments that "Irene isn't much of a housekeeper." They agree that Dr. Rankin will find out about her sometime but they doubt he will do anything, because he is "innocent . . . a nice guy." As he fills the hole below, unaware that they are in his home, they discuss his wife's adulterous behavior and we see two flashback sequences, one narrated  by each man.

Robert Emhardt as Prof. Rankin
In the first flashback, Bud tells Wally (not Buck) about an incident when he witnessed Irene being picked up in a diner in the middle of the day by a truck driver. In the second flashback, Wally tells Bud about a time when he was on a group camping trip and he thought Irene was flirting with him. These scenes establish Irene as an attractive woman who dallied with many men; it also demonstrates that Wally and Bud seem to enjoy her antics, gossiping and hanging on each other's every word. Once they discover Rankin (a professor now, rather than a doctor) in the cellar, the story briefly follows Collier's original, until it takes another detour as Rankin shows his friends cages with rats that are the subject of his experiments. When he tells them that one group of rodents has responded by becoming aggressive and attacking each other, Bud instantly jumps to the conclusion that Rankin has murdered his wife and buried her in the cellar.

Henry Jones as Wally
The story continues as the three men move their discussion upstairs and Rankin realizes what his friends think he has done. He yells at them, asking "what are you talking about?" and challenges them to "dig up the cement . . . call the sheriff!" After they leave, he returns to the cellar, where he sits alone and dejected. Irene arrives home and he summons her downstairs. Much as in the conclusions to "Back for Christmas" and Wet Saturday," the teleplay spells out what the story only implies; Rankin lifts a pickax and we see his wife's legs descending the stairs; she asks, "Well, what is it?" and the picture fades out with a musical sting.

Perhaps due to the changes in the story, "De Mortuis" is not as successful as the two Collier adaptations that had come before it. The show seems forced and drags in spots. Director Robert Stevens tells the story in a straightforward manner, with two noteworthy shots. There is a nice camera move near the end of the show where Bud and Wally step aside and the camera dollies in on Rankin's face, and there is a menacing low angle shot of Rankin framed in the cellar door as he challenges his friends.

Philip Coolidge as Bud
The casting is very good. As Professor Rankin, Robert Emhardt (1913-1994) is overweight and sweaty, able to seem both innocent and dangerous at the same time. Emhardt was a founding member of the Actors Studio and his career on TV and in film stretched from about 1950 to the early 1980s. In addition to seven episodes of the Hitchcock series, he was seen in a Twilight Zone and an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Cara Williams (1925- ) is suitably voluptuous as Irene; she was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress for her role in the Defiant Ones (1958) and appeared four times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents--her role in Robert Bloch's "The Cure" was similar to her role in "De Mortuis."

Haim Wynant as the truck
driver lights Irene's fire
Bud, the tall, thin friend, is played by Philip Coolidge (1908-1967), who appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock series, as well as an episode of The Twilight Zone and Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). Wally, the shorter friend, is played by Henry Jones (1912-1999), an instantly recognizable character actor who had a 50-year career on television and in the movies. In addition to six episodes of the Hitchcock series, he appeared in episodes of seemingly every TV series, including The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He also appeared in Hitchcock's 1958 classic, Vertigo.

Finally, making a brief appearance as the truck driver who picks up Irene is Haim Wynant (1927- ). He later changed his stage name to H.M. Wynant and is remembered for his role in The Twilight Zone episode, "The Howling Man."

Like "Back for Christmas" and "Wet Saturday," "De Mortuis" was adapted for radio and television both before and after it appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was seen on the TV show Lights Out on September 1, 1946, but this episode seems to have been lost. It was adapted for the radio show Suspense and broadcast on February 10, 1949, starring Charles Laughton. This episode can be heard here. Back on television, it was broadcast as part of the Suspense series on June 12, 1951; this episode has also been lost. On radio again, it was broadcast on the Short Story series on May 26, 1952; this episode may be heard here. On television, it appeared as the February 17, 1955 episode of Star Tonight under the title "Concerning Death"--I have not been able to find a copy of this available for viewing, but since it was shown in 1955 it may be in an archive somewhere. Finally, decades after the Hitchcock show, "De Mortuis" was remade as "Never Speak Ill of the Dead" and broadcast as the May 24, 1981 episode of Tales of the Unexpected. It may be viewed here.


Collier, John. "De Mortuis." Fancies and Goodnights. New York: Bantam, 1961. 9-15. Print.
"De Mortuis." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 14 Oct. 1956. Television.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.
"My Old Radio - The Best OTR Ressource on the Web." My Old Radio - The Best OTR Ressource on the Web. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.
"The New Yorker." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Jumbo-Sized 50th Anniversary Issue!: July and August 1977

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 289 (July 1977)

"Sign of the Skull"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Vince Colletta

Cosmo "Skull" Dugger suffers from a condition that prevents him from experiencing joy. He has created a machine to steal joy from other people and uses it on a baseball player, an award-winning actor, and a lottery winner; unfortunately, an unexpected side effect is that they all fall down dead the moment the gizmo's beam hits them. Dr. Faye Somers calls Batman to look at the latest victim's forehead--it has a small skull imprinted on it. Moments later, Batman stops some crooks from stealing the body of a man undergoing surgery. Batman finds Dugger's lair and hooks himself up to the machine that puts the joy back into his brain; however, he hooks the wires up backwards and discovers that every twinge of joy he feels is replaced by one of pain. Dugger kills another man to experiment on his body to try to figure out why his victims are dying. Batman slowly falls into a catatonic state, unable to move or speak without pain.

PE: A really silly story, even when you compare it to the other really silly stories we've had to endure with this title. A madman who steals joy via a Cerebro-type gizmo? Three men, all in good shape, drop dead of a heart attack, all three mysteriously have a skull emblem on their foreheads, and doctors and police see nothing strange about the pattern? Admittedly one of the world's great detectives, but are you going to tell me that me that he could pull Dugger's image out of a crowd of thousands at a baseball game? Why does the appropriately nicknamed Skull Dugger (you see, his last name is Dugger and the kids used to make fun of how smart he was and there's the whole skull on the foreheads thing...) feel the need to dress like Adam Strange?  Dugger's origin is told in such a way that I thought for sure he was a villain in another DC title previously but, mercifully, this two-parter was his only appearance. Great cover though.

Jack: I enjoyed this story, mainly because of Mike Grell's art. I did not think that the authorities were ignoring the skulls on the foreheads--it seemed more like a cover-up by the medical examiner to me, something I hope we'll learn about next issue. Once again, with DC Comics of this era, the house ads and text items by Jenette Kahn and company are nearly as interesting (you might say more interesting) than the story. Kahn writes a column in January 1977 about how she knows a price hike is coming because of increased printing fees, but she admits that she doesn't know what the price will be on the comic we're reading. This sort of honesty is still very refreshing. There is also another profile of a DC Comics creator--this issue it's Bob Haney, who wrote tons of comics over his long career. These half-page profiles were very unusual at the time, in the days before the internet gave us instant access to everyone's biography.

Detective Comics 471 (August 1977)

"The Dead Yet Live"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

Boss Thorne decides that Batman is a liability to his operations and must be dealt with. He gives orders to his men to take down The Dark Knight. Meanwhile, still reeling from the radioactive burns received from his tussle with Dr. Phosphorus (in #469 and #470), Bruce decides he needs to seek medical help or it will only get worse. He checks himself into the Graytowers Clinic and is immediately made to feel welcome. He's locked into his room, goes into a deep slumber and when he awakes he's told he's not in a clinic but, rather, an asylum. Turns out the joint is run by one of Batman's oldest arch-enemies, Professor Hugo Strange who, with the aid of a deadly Green Mamba, gets the jump on Batman. Not wanting The Dark Knight to go out without a protracted battle, Strange injects anti-venom into our hero and out go the lights. When he awakens, Batman is mortified to find out that Strange has unmasked him!

PE: Absolutely first class in story and art. Engaging and suspenseful with a kicker of a finale, this story would have elevated the art of Frank Robbins (okay, I'm exaggerating) but, luckily, it's graced with the wonderful art of Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. There's a short interview with Terry Austin about the difficulties of working with Marshall Rogers (and editor Julius Schwartz) in Michael Eury's The Batcave Companion (TwoMorrows, 2009), an indispensable guide to the Batman eras of the 1960s and 1970s. Anyone obsessed with The Dark Knight (as I am) probably already owns this volume but, if not, you owe it to yourself to pick it up.

Jack: This is definitely a thrilling issue! The art is top drawer and the story matches it. I was a little surprised to see one of the guys at Boss Thorne's meeting compare Gotham favorably to New York City. For some reason, I always thought they were one and the same!

PE: Love the decidedly non-CC approved pillow talk between the very sexy Silver St. Cloud (Marshall Rogers was the 1970s master of GGA, methinks) and Bruce:

Bruce (on the phone): Silver? Hi, this is Bruce! Listen, I have to cancel out on tonight! I'm going into Graytowers--ah, you've heard of it? No, nothing major! Just some tests!

Silver (in a very revealing negligee): Well, after the other night, darling, I'd hoped you'd at least be suffering exhaustion! I know I am!

Jack: What about Magda, the nurse at Graytowers? Hotcha!

PE: More comic book creator name-dropping. This issue we learn that there's a Finger Alley in Gotham and one of Wayne's friends is named Jerry Robinson. The idea that this group would shut Bruce Wayne into an asylum and leave him with his suitcase stretches the credibility factor a tad. The return of Hugo Strange brings up some interesting questions (similar to those raised out at the Marvel University blog now and then) about comic book timelines. The last appearance of Strange was way back in Detective Comics #46 (December 1940) so one wonders how long he's been gone in the DC Universe scheme of things. And why, getting back to the real world for a moment, would it take so long to resurrect one of Batman's original Rogue's Gallery members? Strange will go on to be a recurring guest villain from here on out. Was the good Professor the first super-villain to discover that Bruce Wayne and Batman shared the same undergarments?

Not your average four-color femme!

Jack: It seems like Batman gets unmasked every few issues, but the person doing the unmasking is blind, or it's dark, or Batman has an amazingly lifelike mask on under his mask, or it's one of the triplets, or . . .and as for the timeline, what about the comment at Thorne's meeting that Ra's al Ghul tried to frame Batman for murder last year? That story arc ended over two years ago.

PE: Then, following that timeframe, Hugo disappeared approximately 19 years before. Again, pushing Bruce Wayne into, at least, his forties.

Batman 290 (August 1977)

"Skull Dugger's Killjoy Capers!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Vince Colletta

Skull Dugger claims another victim when a gambler wins big. Bruce Wayne finds himself unable to enjoy anything without feeling pain, a problem that also extends to his efforts at crime fighting as the Batman. Batman fails to stop Skull Dugger from killing a man who comes into a large inheritance. Finally, Batman puts on a disguise and visits Dr. Tzin-Tzin in prison, where he tricks the magician into giving him an hour without pain. Batman confronts Skull Dugger, whose attempt to restore Batman to normal and then kill him only half works. Dugger is killed when Batman throws him into his machine. Bruce Wayne is now free to enjoy Alfred's cooking.

PE: This joke of a story continues to escalate in its inanity. Bruce Wayne orders Alfred to make his food taste terrible as that's the only way to enjoy it. Alfred has Bruce come in from outside because "it's much too pleasant" outside. It's like some superhero version of The Addams Family, only not so funny:

Bruce: Dreadful Alfred--thank you! Everything I dislike--half-cooked and unseasoned--perfect!"

What's amazing is that Dugger doesn't even try to be subtle or fade into the shadows. He's right there with his zapper box when a victim drops dead and even wears a purple cape to the reading of a will (where he poses as a reporter!). By the time I got to the climactic battle I was too confused and disinterested to care how it would play out. Something about reverse-joy machines. Mike Grell's pencils seem to have gotten steadily worse as well. Sure, his Bats looks good enough but the rest of the characters are lifeless and bland. This is easily a front-runner for worst story of the year and, as God is my witness, I hope it wins. I couldn't take reading something worse.

Pay no attention to the bald skeleton-like guy
with the laser beam and the purple tux.
Jack: This is a pretty weak conclusion to the two-part story. Skull Dugger is so weird-looking that it strains credibility to suggest he could melt into any crowd, especially when he gets right up front and points his box at someone's forehead and a laser beam shoots out! And what about the return of Dr. Tzin-Tzin? This guy has super-duper magic powers! Finally, it should be noted that Batman kills Dugger at the end and has a big grin on his face. This is a far cry from the Batman of only a year or two ago who broke into a sweat when someone tried to put a gun in his hand.

There was also a one-shot published during the Summer of 1977 called 5-Star Super-Hero Spectacular that featured "all-new" stories starring various DC heroes. In this case, the tales featured The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Atom and our favorite crime fighter. The 17-page Batman story ("The Dead on Arrival Conspiracy" written by Martin Pasko and illustrated by Mike Nasser was originally scheduled for the never-released 8th issue of Kobra (what would have been June 1977). 5-Star was conceived as an annual dollar comic featuring "the mightiest heroes of all time" but was quickly retitled DC Special Series and was actually published bi-weekly for a couple months before settling into a nine-times a year schedule. We'll tell you more about this series when we come to their 15th issue in the Summer of 1978.

Holy bargain, Batman!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 49: May and June 1977

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Detective Comics 469 (May 1977)

"By Death's Eerie Light!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom

Alfred has been struck down by a mysterious ailment and when Batman calls for an ambulance he discovers that Alfred's not alone. Several others in Gotham have been stricken with the same malady. Delivering his faithful butler to the hospital as Bruce Wayne, he quickly finds a deserted broom closet and exits as The Dark Knight--just in time, as he literally runs into Commissioner Gordon, who gives him a rundown on the new plague befalling Gotham. The epidemic is the work of a Dr. Phosphorus, who warns that the citizens of Gotham will pay for their sins. While meditating, The Dark Knight hits upon how the virus has been transmitted to the people: through Gotham's drinking water. As the method becomes apparent, a phone call interrupts his thoughts: Gordon ringing to let The Batman know that he, the Commissioner, is the latest victim. Heading down to the Gotham water reserve, our hero is confronted by the one and only Dr. Phosphorus, a glowing skeleton whose body gives off deadly, burning phosphorus. The two battle to a standstill and Phosphorus escapes, vowing to return to finish the job.

Jack: It looks like it's reboot time again, since a note on the splash page states "Presenting the Batman You've Been Waiting For." The brief period in which Detective returned to bi-monthly status is over; now it will be published eight times a year. Steve Englehart has come over from Marvel as the new writer and Walt Simonson returns after a long absence to take over the pencilling chores, with art by Al Milgrom. The final product is not bad, but it's a far cry from the top-drawer Batman tales of O'Neil/Adams or Marshall Rogers. Simonson's art seems hurried and not as striking as it did on the Manhunter series. Englehart's writing is solid, though at 11 pages it's hard to get much of a story going. I'm looking forward to seeing were these two take the Dark Knight next!

PE: If quizzed without credits, I'd never have guessed there was Walt Simonson in there anywhere! Like you say, Jack, it ain't bad but it's cartoony at times. Nice to get a new villain even though he's a bit sketchy and his powers reminiscent of other villains (Marvel's The Molten Man and Molecule Man come to mind). I like that Englehart has Bruce Wayne enter the hospital with Alfred in arms as "Bruce Wayne gets the best wherever he goes" and then notes that Wayne's words may be callous or arrogant but that we shouldn't "judge him too harshly!" Indeed, this is the guy who probably donated the money to build the hospital. He should get preferential treatment.

"The Origin of Dr. Phosphorus!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom

Dr. Phosphorus reveals to Gotham surgeon Dr. Bell just how he became an evil menace through a series of bad breaks and worse investments.

PE: A rushed but satisfactory origin tale but I'm curious as to why the parties in charge chose to split this from the main feature. Why not make it one long story? Here we get our first look at the influential Boss Thorne, an underworld mob leader who was, more than likely, the basis for Jack Palance's Carl Grissom (in Tim Burton's Batman). Thorne will come to play a major part in the title in the months to come.

Jack: I don't think we've ever seen a backup feature in Detective that was a supplement to the lead story! It's neat to get the origin story of the villain, although it's basically just another atomic energy accident, and I like the way it ties in with the lead story and looks forward to next issue's tale. A final note says that, as of next issue, Batman stories will be full-length. I think we can agree that this is a development that was long overdue. The sales figures report that Detective was selling an average of 146,000 copies per issue.

PE: Well, I'm jumping for joy that we don't have to read any more execrable tales of The Elongated Man (and Frank Robbins seems to be in our rear view mirror as well) but this is not the end of the back-up feature. It's just a respite.

Batman 287 (May 1977)

"Batman-Ex--As In Extinct!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Bob Wiacek

Bruce Wayne attends a posh museum reception until he has to intervene as Batman when a giant mechanical Pterosaur bursts out of a statute of Napoleon. Batman deduces that the Penguin has returned. The Feathered Fiend strikes next at a movie theater, where an Archaeopteryx bursts through the giant screen. A Diatryma suddenly appears at the Gotham Docks. Batman puts all of the puzzle pieces together and makes it to the next crime scene in time to confront the Penguin, who manages to escape with motorized umbrellas. What is the Penguin's dastardly plan? Stay tuned!

The Case of the
Missing Nose
Jack: The less-than-exciting return of the Penguin makes me wonder if editor Schwartz was paying attention to his own notes over in Detective heralding the Batman we've all been waiting for. Here in Batman, it's the same old thing, as David V. Reed presents another by the numbers tale featuring a member of the Rogues' Gallery. Bob Rozakis, in the letter column, writes that Ernie Chua has left DC and that Mike Grell will be the new regular artist on Batman, which is good news, though he has a problem with noses at some spots in this issue. The sales figures report that Batman  was averaging 178,000 copies sold. More interesting (to me) than the story is the editorial by Jenette Kahn, who explains that the time from when a script is assigned to when sales figures come in was a staggering 11 months! These comic book publishers were really working in the dark. This proves that when Stan Lee wrote that a new comic was a smash hit he was almost certainly making it up!

The Penguin does not
have the same problem.
PE: Not even Mike Grell can save this soggy slop. The Penguin's inexplicable plan based on numerology, famous figures, and Gotham addresses seems better suited to The Riddler or possibly a new villain (The Numerologist?) but I can't make heads or tails of the story nor, half way through, do I want to. Reed shows he can't craft suitable stories using the Rogues any better than Frank Robbins or any of the other previous Bat-writers, so we're left to wonder if these villains ever actually starred in any good comic stories at all. Not that a man dressed like a penguin seems like much of a menace anyway.

Batman was aiming
at a juvenile audience.

Detective Comics 470 (June 1977)

"The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom

While breaking up a robbery, Batman is issued a subpoena to appear before the court, courtesy of the Gotham City Council and Boss Thorne. Meanwhile, Dr. Phosphorus continues his reign of terror by taking control of Sprang Memorial Arena, an indoor music venue, and pumping poisonous gas into the crowd of thousands. Eventually, Phosphorus and Batman duke it out at a power plant where the mad radioactive genius falls to his death.

PE: When we get a look at the "new" Batcave, it sure looks like the old one. How does Julie Schwartz justify large pennies and fake dinosaurs when presenting "the new Dark Knight" for the umpteenth time? This, along with the sudden reappearance of Chief O'Hara (last seen wearing beach clothes on the set of the ABC series) and the Batboat give me a sneaking suspicion that, for some reason, Julie was getting nostalgic for a decade earlier when Batman was all the rage. Love him or hate him, Christopher Nolan wisely ignored the campier aspects of The Caped Crusader and gave us a hero only the 1966 crowd disliked. First appearance by Silver St. Cloud, a future love interest of Bruce Wayne's who will, one day, learn his deep, dark secret. Amazingly, the issue's biggest set piece, the Sprang Arena attack, where thousands are in jeopardy, is dismissed with a caption box that reads "we need not detail the ensuing pandemonium" and a one-liner from Chief O'Hara to Batman on the phone. How could Englehart have brushed aside what could have been a chilling sequence, perfect to emphasize the grave danger that faces Gotham should Phosphorus be left to roam the streets? Equally, the climax is rushed after a few panels of battle. After setting us up with a nice first chapter, Steve drops the ball here. Of course, the real culprit, as always, is the page limits. This easily could have been stretched to a three-parter without much filling.

Jack: Lots to like this issue--the changes are all good. Following last issue's brief scene where Bruce Wayne revealed that he had moved some of the furnishings from Stately Wayne Manor into his place in Gotham City, this issue shows that he has built a new Batcave below the city streets on the site of an abandoned subway tunnel. Chief O'Hara is also back, as are page numbers (which disappeared when the page count dropped to 17). The story is not terribly original and it looks like Simonson is being held back from being as creative with his layouts as he was in Manhunter, but the series seems to be on the right track. There is a nice nod to the past with the Sprang Memorial Arena; Dick Sprang was one of the great Golden Age Batman artists, who retired in 1963 but lived till 2000. The story is 17 pages, eliminating the need for a backup feature. Most interesting is the Publishorial by Jenette Kahn, who explains the history of Batman and gives credit (as we have in the past) to O'Neil and Adams for breathing life back into the character.

Uh oh! Warning! Danger! Warning! Look at that cover! Another price hike, this time to 35 cents! This is getting alarming. I may not be able to keep buying comics much longer at this rate. Or I may have to get a part-time job after school!

PE: Cripes! The price has more than doubled just since we've been on watch. I say we bail.

Batman 288 (June 1977)

"The Little Man's Hall of Fame!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Mike Grell and Bob Wiacek

The Penguin is confident that he will anticipate Batman's next move and defeat him. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is still being followed by journalist Chester Cole for a magazine profile. Batman interrupts a robbery in progress but is tripped up when Cole suddenly enters the room. The Penguin puts Batman and Cole at the bottom of an empty chemical tank and sends a pair of mechanical vultures to kill them. The Caped Crusader beats the birds and uses the parts to fly himself and Cole out of the pit. He surprises the Penguin in the middle of another act of pilferage and ships him back to jail.

Jack: The story is still dopey but Grell's art is better this month, looking more like his work on "Heart of a Vampire" from January 1976 and the Calculator stories from more recent issues. One thing that always struck me about his art is that so many characters seem to be sporting what we used to call "flare" pants--it looks very '70s. There is a nicely drawn fight sequence near the end that features some dramatic layouts.


PE: Another weak Rogues' Gallery tale by David Reed redeemed, as Jack has pointed out, by some nice graphics by Mike Grell. The standout being the panel (reprinted below) of a Hawkman-like Dark Knight ascending with reporter Chester Cole in tow. Worth the read for that panel alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

John Collier on TV Part Two: Alfred Hitchcock Presents-"Wet Saturday"

by Jack Seabrook

The second episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from a story by John Collier was "Wet Saturday," which was the first episode of season two, on September 30, 1956. The story upon which it was based had been published originally in The New Yorker on July 16, 1938.

This very British tale, which has been described as a satire of family life, begins on a rainy day in July, as Mr. Princey speaks to his assembled family: his wife, whose name is never revealed; his "hulking" son, George; and his "cloddish" daughter, Millicent. Princey feels little love for any of them but saves especial scorn for Millicent; he thinks that her "features were thick, her jaw heavy, her whole figure repellently powerful." It is her physical power that has led to the current situation: Princey's "austere pride of position in the village, his passionate attachment to the house" are threatened because Millicent has killed Withers, a man she loved, in the family stable, and his body lies there waiting for Princey to decide what to do next. Withers had stopped by on this rainy Saturday to tell Millicent that he, a curate, had heard from the bishop that he was to have the vicarage and could now marry. When he told the young woman that he planned to marry someone other than her, she hit him over the head repeatedly with a croquet mallet.

Into this scene of familial discord stumbles Captain Smollett, who walks in just as the discussion rages. Princey and George ask Smollett to accompany them on a visit to the stable, where Princey tells Smollett what happened. Holding the captain at gunpoint, Princey forces Smollett to incriminate himself in the murder by leaving evidence; ostensibly, this is to ensure Smollett's silence.

After returning to the house, Princey tells his family that they can rely on Smollett; after the captain departs, Princey telephones the police and asks them to "send someone at once" because "something rather terrible has happened up here." The implication is that Princey will frame Smollett for the crime, thus preserving his family's position in the community and shielding his daughter from being punished for her crime. (Read the story here.)

"Wet Saturday," like "Back for Christmas," was published in a popular magazine (The New Yorker) where it would have received a great deal of exposure. It was adapted for radio and performed three times in the 1940s on the Suspense series: on June 24, 1942, starring Clarence Derwent; on December 16, 1943, starring Charles Laughton; and on March 20, 1948, starring Dennis Hoey. Follow this link for an interesting article on the radio adaptations that includes links that allow one to download and listen to each of them.

The producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents chose "Wet Saturday" to adapt for television. The teleplay was written by Marian Cockrell and the show was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. This episode was rehearsed and filmed over a three-day period from August 22 to 24, 1956; it was broadcast just over a month later on CBS on Sunday evening, September 30, 1956.
Crazy Millicent stuffs sandwiches in 
her mouth as her father pontificates.

If one ever wondered how long a short story should be in order to fit a twenty-four minute (approximately) television slot, one would find the answer in "Wet Saturday," because the television show is as faithful an adaptation of a story as I have ever seen. From start to finish, the teleplay follows what is on the printed page, with very minor changes. As usual, in television programs from this era, characters are more physically attractive onscreen than their descriptions on the page warrant; George Princey is more handsome than hulking, and Millicent, his sister, is pretty, though actress Tita Purdom portrays her in a way best described as a basket case. One notable change that probably results from a decision that American audiences would not understand British terms is that Withers is changed from a curate who has just been assigned to a vicarage to a schoolmaster who is out hunting butterflies. It is also possible that the television adapters thought the murder of a schoolmaster might be more palatable to television audiences than the murder of a clergyman. "A white rat in a dog collar" becomes "a knobby-kneed clown with a butterfly net," removing one of several references to rats from the TV show.
John Williams as Captain Smollett

Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays Princey in a manner that suggests that he is an attorney, going over every fact and analyzing every detail. The implication that Princey may be a lawyer in his work life is not made in Collier's story; it may be a decision by Hardwicke, though it is never spelled out explicitly.

The only real addition to the story in the televised version is a scene where we see Princey and George in the stable. George hides the body while Princey wipes Millicent's fingerprints off of the handle of the croquet mallet. Princey inspects the sewer grate (a piece of flagstone in the story) and sees a rat scurry across the floor, giving him an excuse for having gone out to the stable (he later tells Smollett that they went out to shoot a rat).

There are a couple of humorous moments added to the show, both courtesy of John Williams, who plays Captain Smollett. The first is a brief bit when Princey tells Smollett to finish his drink and Smollett says he will finish it later, then looks into his empty glass and mutters a disappointed "Oh!" The second is when Smollett decides to leave and announces that he will "go along now--it's stopped raining," yet through the windows behind him the pouring rain is clearly visible. The indignities to which Smollett is subjected are amusing, from being punched in the face twice by George to allowing the young man to pluck two hairs from his head to plant on the body. The droll manner and expressions of actor John Williams provide the perfect setting for these scenes.

One minor problem with "Wet Saturday" is the use of stock music phrases to underscore surprising or humorous events; this occurs throughout the early seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and can be either charming or annoying, depending on one's point of view.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Princey

As in "Back for Christmas," the subtlety of Collier's story may have been thought to have been too difficult to grasp for 1956 television viewers, necessitating an added final scene with dialogue where Princey explains his plan in detail to his family. Millicent stuffs sandwiches in her mouth, much to her father's annoyance, as he sets out the story that they will tell the police. This scene is unnecessary but does not harm what is, overall, a strong episode of the series and a second faithful adaptation of Collier's work. Hitchcock's concluding remarks add a humorous twist; he states, tongue in cheek, that Millicent later re-enacted the crime for the benefit of the police, this time using the croquet mallet on her overbearing father.

George and his father address Captain Smollett
Marian Cockrell (1909-1999), who adapted "Wet Saturday" for television, was a novelist who wrote books for children and adults. Shadow Castle (1945) is considered a classic fantasy for young women. Ms. Cockrell wrote eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as four for Batman. Her career in television lasted from 1955 to 1966. Her husband, Francis Cockrell, had adapted Collier's "Back for Christmas" for the Hitchcock series earlier in 1956 and would write many more teleplays for this show. Her daughter, Amanda Cockrell, is also a novelist; her website includes a mention of her mother (access it here).

Alfred Hitchcock directed "Wet Saturday" and appears to have added very little beyond his usual flawless staging and camera placement. There are no trick or showy shots as there were in "Back for Christmas"; his influence is chiefly felt in the choice of story and in the casting of Sir Cedric Hardwicke and John Williams, actors with whom he had previously worked. Articles on "Wet Saturday" that attribute its themes to Hitchcock ignore the fact that it is a very close adaptation of its source story by John Collier.
Jerry Barclay as George

Sir Cedric Hardwicke (1893-1964), who portrays Princey, had a long and distinguished career on stage, appeared in films from 1931 to 1964 (along with a couple of earlier appearances in silent films) and was seen on television from 1949 to 1964. He was knighted in 1934 and his films include Karloff's The Ghoul (1933), Laughton's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Chaney's The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Lodger (1944) with Laird Cregar, and Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) and Rope (1948). He appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as one each of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

John Williams returns for a second time in an adaptation of a Collier story, following his starring role in "Back for Christmas." Norman Lloyd called him "the definitive Hitchcock actor . . . the underplaying, the subtle humor, the indirect approach that he had" appealed to the master of suspense.

Tita Purdom plays Millicent; she appears to have had a brief career, with credits going only to 1959. A news article dated February 20, 1956, says that she was 27 years old and about to file for divorce from actor Edmund Purdom.
This publicity photo depicts Tita Purdom in 
scene that does not occur in the episode.

Jerry Barclay (1930- ) plays George; his career ranges from The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), in which he played a junkie, to Whore (1991), in which he played "dead trick in car." His portrayal of George is quite amusing.

"Wet Saturday" can be viewed online here or purchased on DVD here. It was remade as an episode of Tales of the Unexpected starring Fritz Weaver; it was broadcast on July 7, 1984, and may be viewed online here.


Collier, John. "Wet Saturday." 1938. Fancies and Goodnights. New York: Bantam, 1961. 84-90. Print.

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

IMDb., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

"Wet Saturday." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 30 Sept. 1956. Television.

"Wet Saturday." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.