"The Malay Penguin!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin
The Penguin is back in town and Batman is sure the feathered fiend's next target is the rare Malay Penguin, a piece of art on exhibit at the Reed Galleries in Gotham. But the bird is a slippery one and what may seem to be evident isn't always. Luckily for Gotham art lovers, The Batman is always one step ahead of his arch-enemies and deduces that The Penguin is actually planning a different heist: the hijacking of a jet carrying some very important businessmen. The Dark Knight and Robin intercede before the dirty bird can carry out his nefarious plan. Ironically, after he's been nabbed by the Dynamic Duo, The Penguin reveals to Robin that he had actually stolen The Malay Penguin weeks before and the statue in the gallery is a fake! Meanwhile, across town, Mob boss Rupert Thorne is seeing ghosts!
|If you gotta have a Penguin, this is the way to present him.|
|Look out, Neal Adams, you may have competition!|
Jack: I agree with you up to a point. The opening pages, with Batman and Robin fighting hoods on a foggy pier, definitely has an early Bob Kane feel to it, and Rogers does much better with people in costume than with people out of them. His depiction of a shirtless Robin is laughable, yet for every man he draws only adequately, there is a woman (Silver St. Cloud) whom he draws beautifully. I thought it was funny that the owner of the museum where the Malay Penguin is being exhibited spared almost no expense on security precautions but drew the line at security cameras because they were too expensive--and this was only 35 years ago! Austin has the same problem that many other Bat artists we've seen in this decade have with overdoing the Batcape for effect, and I will stick with Neal Adams as the best Bat artist, but this story is the third issue in a row of Detective to rate four stars out of a possible four in my book.
Batman 293 (November 1977)
Lex Luthor is the third arch criminal to testify in support of his claim to have killed Batman. He staged a robbery at the Gotham Museum of Art to draw Batman's attention so that he could shoot a Maser beam from a satellite orbiting the planet. The beam erased Batman's consciousness and replaced it with that of Superman. Luthor then beat Batman to death, thus eliminating Superman, whose body was indestructible. Unfortunately for Luthor, Superman testifies next and explains that he and Batman were wise to the plan all along and that it failed miserably.
Jack: That was what struck me from the first page--how awful Calnan and Blaisdell's Superman looks! I'm surprised that DC allowed this to get published, since I recall reading that they used to have Curt Swan re-draw Superman's face on the work of other artists to ensure a consistent look. On a more interesting note, the letters column changes its name to "Bat Signals" with this issue, after having been "Batman's Hotline" since at least January 1970, when we started this project. Also, a note on the "publishorial" page reports that the DC Direct Currents Hotline had been too successful and had to be shut down. If one can believe what is written here, kids across America were racing home from school every day to call the hotline for the latest DC news and the phone company was so flooded with calls that it asked DC to shut down the service. Part of me wants to believe that this is true, while the other part thinks it may just be hype.
"The Deadshot Ricochet"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin
Tossed in the pokey after his run-in with The Batman and Robin (last issue), The Penguin is boasting to con Floyd Lawton that he's not long for the prison. When asked what he's talking about, the bird offers up a trick monocle that produces a ray beam that can cut through walls. Lawton snatches the eyeglass and makes his getaway. Not just another hood, Lawton is, in fact, one of The Batman's first nemeses, the assassin Deadshot! Picking up some new spandex for the 1970s, Deadshot begins what he hadn't finished years ago: taking The Batman's head for his trophy cabinet. Though he's trained for years in prison, it takes much more than that to conquer The Dark Knight and Deadshot finds himself off to prison a short time after he's broken out. Meanwhile, other cans of worms have opened: Boss Thorne has a second encounter with the "ghost" of Hugo Strange; The Batman's deadliest foe is back; and Silver St. Cloud, Bruce Wayne's beau of the month, has discovered how her boyfriend stays so fit and trim.
PE: Sly Steve Englehart echoes my feelings when he writes "We won't be seeing The Penguin again for a while--and it's probably just as well!" Amen! The Batman's confrontation with Boss Thorne is why Steve Englehart is the best Batman writer so far this decade. Englehart gets the Dark Knight vibe, almost as though he'd been boning up on early 1940s 'tecs whereas other writers have had no clue, seemingly watching reruns of that TV show instead. This is a dangerous city where bad things can happen to good people.
There's also a bit of foundation laid for Silver's eventual discovery of Bruce's hobby with a nice bit of foreplay between the two lovers in a restaurant (and that haunting final "It was Bruce" after The Batman's battle with Deadshot). Silver's obviously suspicious of Bruce's involvement with The Dark Knight but perhaps doesn't want to appear foolish by coming out and asking her beau. Englehart continues to mine the pages of those old comics as evidenced by a reference to one of Bruce's old loves, Julie Madison (from Detective Comics #31!) and, of course, the return of Deadshot, a bad guy not seen since Batman #59 (July 1950). (According to Englehart in an interview that appeared in The Batcave Companion [TwoMorrows, 2009], it was Julius Schwartz's suggestion to reboot the long-forgotten criminal).
Throw in more ghostly apparitions and the cameo of a certain clown prince of crime and you've got yet another prize package fit for enjoying thirty-five years on. Deadshot's original costume, a tux and top hat, might have been a bit silly for a villain (not to mention a bit cumbersome when he has to turn tail and run for it) so an upgrade was obviously necessary. Unfortunately, though the get-up is very fetching, it's a tad too close to the design for Marvel's Deathlok, the Demolisher, to warrant any claims of originality.
Jack: For once, I was sorry to see Robin go, now that Englehart/Rogers/Austin have once again made him an interesting character. I do understand why he left, since I too would respond immediately to a summons from Wonder Girl. I agree that it's neat to see characters from Batman's distant past being worked back into the mythology; the lack of continuity had been one of our complaints a few years ago. I like the Silver St. Cloud character but I had to look twice when she referred to the "freakin' authorities"--that doesn't sound like the way she would speak. So far, the Englehart run of Detective is terrific--let's hope it lasts longer than the Goodwin run!
|The original, dapper Deadshot from Batman #59|
|The new, "improved" Deadshot the Demolisher|
"Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed? The Testimony of The Joker!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell
Batman's number one foe, the Joker, is the fourth criminal to testify that he killed Batman. While robbing a furrier one night he witnessed Batman defeat a petty thief. The next night, he went back to the furrier and faced off against Batman, killing him with an injection of laughing toxin and then wiping away his facial features with acid. After leaving the courtroom, Two-Face removes his disguise and is revealed to be Batman, who finds and captures the Joker. Batman explains to Commissioner Gordon that the trial was an elaborate ruse to figure out who had killed a harmless young man whose hobby was dressing up as Batman and acting out his escapades at the scenes of prior crimes.
PE: Rather than spend any more of your time telling you why this arc is insipid, juvenile, and a waste of paper, I'm inclined to put my tongue between my lips and describe it as thus: <rude noise>, but I'll take the high road and avoid the childishness just this once. I wish I could ask the late Julius Schwartz why he thought stories like this, putting four super-villains on trial for the supposed murder of Batman, signaled the age of a new Batman (one that the readers had been clamoring for, evidently) as he exclaimed in an issue not too far in the past. As Roger Daltrey once said, "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss." The inexplicable thing here is that, over at Detective, those changes are showing up in spades. Perhaps Julie simply wanted to keep his options open. I suspect we'll be seeing the version of The Joker I enjoy in February's 'tec. As for the startling revelation that Two-Face was actually The Batman all along: nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, told you so!
|Another Neal Adams illustration for the|
Saturday morning cartoon lineup
|Is it too late to write?|