Monday, March 18, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 62: March and April 1979

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 309 (March 1979)

"Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin

Christmas Eve in Gotham City is not so happy for young Kathy, whose last five dollars are snatched along with her purse by some hoodlums. Blockbuster grabs the purse and tracks her down after she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Batman trails the giant, not knowing that Blockbuster's aim is to save the girl. The Dark Knight loses a fight with the big galoot, who appeals to a street corner Santa Claus for help before running out onto the frozen Gotham River, chased by the Batman. The ice breaks under Blockbuster's weight but he manages to toss Kathy to safety before disappearing under the water.

Jack: Memo to the people in charge of Gotham City's suicide prevention hotline: don't put Batman in the call center! One question from him and Kathy hangs up, ready to slip into oblivion. Blockbuster comes out of nowhere--apparently, his were the giant hands thrusting out of the grave at the end of last issue. He lumbers through the story like King Kong, the misunderstood giant who just wants to care for the pretty blonde, before doing an Eliza on the ice floe and finally sinking like the Son of Kong. Replacing Dick Giordano with Frank McLaughlin lets the weaknesses emerge once again in Calnan's art, and Len Wein's story is filled with cliches. Even though I've gone on record liking Christmas tales, this is the bottom of the barrel.

PE: Truly lousy stuff, Jack. The art by Calnan and McLaughlin is primitive, with Blockbuster resembling early Tom Sutton (not a good thing), and cartoony. The story is a jumbled mess.Were we even told who Blockbuster was? I know he had something to do with S.T.A.R. last issue (Batman tells us so) but, unless I fell asleep again while reading, the only hint as to his identity is in the final panels last issue when one of the scientists mentions the name Mark Desmond. The Comic Book Database tells me that Desmond/Blockbuster had recently appeared in a couple issues of The Batman Family but how would a regular reader of Batman know what was going on?  And for a chick who'd just downed a full bottle of "Sleep Easy," Kathy Crawford manages to get around town alright. The one cliche Len managed to avoid in this story was to reveal that Kathy was Blockbuster's sister or wife (or both maybe, judging by the look of the backwoods giant). I kept waiting for that juicy tidbit to drop but, alas, it was not meant to be. And how about Batman's Christmas present to Gordo? A full canister of tobacco. You wouldn't see Adam West giving Neil Hamilton a can of weed on that show.

Jack: Two interesting notes this issue: Irv Novick returns next time out, and this is the last time we'll see Julius Schwartz as editor of this title. Except for the year when Archie Goodwin edited Detective, Schwartz was in charge for nearly 15 years and presided over some pretty good runs in a sea of mediocrity: O'Neil/Adams and Englehart/Rogers, to name the two that stand out the most.

Detective Comics 482 (March 1979)

"Night of the Body Snatcher!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and P. Craig Russell

Having transferred his brain into a mighty white gorilla, madman Simon Xavier has deemed it's not the last stop on the New-Body Express. Next up for Xavier: The Dark Knight. The nutty apeman explains to Batman that he plans to transfer his own "intellect" into The Caped Crusader, leaving our hero to fend in the old body of Xavier. While the ape's back is turned, Batman escapes his bonds and destroys the brain-transfer machine, leaving the laboratory in flames. The two take their battle outside, high atop a skyscraper where fate, in the form of a security officer, intervenes and the big monkey is shot to death.

PE: There's not much substance to the story but who cares? We're lucky to get Starlin and Russell on art and sometimes that's all you need. The talking gorilla is obviously an homage to the 1960s DC Comics that so many DC fans love.

Jack: I was going to make some snarky Gorilla Grodd comparisons, but Starlin and Russell's art takes a ridiculous premise and make it into an exciting story, albeit one that is almost all fighting. There is genuine pathos  when Simon realizes he's trapped forever in the gorilla's body.

PE: On the inside cover, Paul Levitz explains the whys and wherefores of the Detective Comics/ Batman Family merger that began last issue. The obvious reason, falling sales of one or both of the titles, is side-stepped in favor of the following explanation: "We hope that the synthesis will prove better than either (of the two titles) by giving us a magazine that has the depth of character possible in the Batman Family concept together with the impact of the grand old tradition of Detective Comics." Based on this and the previous issue, I'm not buying into the logic. The two titles are, ideally, the polar opposites: BF presents stories for those who feel the world would be a better place had that show still been broadcast in 1979 while 'tec is for those who like their Knights Dark.

"A Quick Death in China!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Heck and Frank Chiaramonte

Chinese super-terrorist Wo Fong continues to hold Barbara Gordon and newswoman Leslie Tauburn in an effort to smoke Babs's brother, Tony, out of hiding. Luckily for Babs, Wo is convinced that Leslie is Batgirl and leaves the suit in the open. Batgirl makes an appearance and is set upon by the Sino-Supermen. Tony Gordon arrives in the nick of time but makes the ultimate sacrifice for his sister when Wo Fong's fortress blows sky high.

PE: There's nothing remotely interesting or original in this nonsense. Though I prefer Heck's pencils here rather than over in the Marvel Universe, that may just be because I don't care about these characters nor what he does to them. Heck seems to be in a state of disarray; at times his art resembles that of Alex Toth (a good thing) and at times... well, it doesn't (not a good thing). We're being filled in on a little more information we (blissfully) missed out on by not making Batman Family part of our journey here. I can see why Babs was elected to Congress; nothing gets past her, as when the faux Fu Manchu storms into her cell and she thought balloons: "Wo Fong! He must be behind this!" I've still no idea where Tony Gordon came from.

Jack: Either you like Don Heck's art or you don't, and I think I'm edging toward the "don't." At least it's better than the Rozakis script, which includes Tony Gordon thinking: "I'll bet yen to yoyos that Babs is inside!" Did Tony grab a Sino Supergirl outfit? He looks fetching in a sleeveless blue top and red miniskirt!

"The Eternity Book"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Michael Golden and Dick Giordano

A dying bookseller summons Etrigan, the Demon, to recapture The Eternity Book, an ancient tome from Merlin the Magician's private library. The book has been stolen by one of The Unliving and Etrigan tracks him down and destroys him, but before he can get hold of the book it is snatched up by Baron Tyme.

Jack: I was a fan of Kirby's series The Demon when I was a young sprout and it first ran in the early '70s. This reboot doesn't have much of a story but the art is outstanding, especially the double splash page. It has nothing to do with Batman and is more than a little reminiscent of Dr. Strange--is it a coincidence that Steve Ditko will take over as artist next issue?

PE: For once, I was grateful for the long "Here's what this character is all about" recap and mini-origin that made up the centerpiece of this adventure. I was never interested in Kirby's DC Universe so didn't have the occasion to read a Demon story. What I saw here I liked a lot. Golden and Giordano do a great job of evoking that House of Mystery vibe I ate up like candy in the early 1970s and the story kept me turning pages. It's such a fabulous piece that I'm sorry a new artist will be assigned to the feature effective next issue. That last shot, of Baron Tyme, is very Ditko-esque.

"Bat-Mite's New York Adventure!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Michael Golden and Bob Smith

Bat-Mite becomes a pest at the DC Bullpen until the staff agree to feature his adventures in Batman Family.

Jack: This throwaway tale reminds me of those silly stories in the back of Marvel annuals of the late '60s. We get a look at some of the DC staff and they look very much like hairy guys from the Disco era. Bat-Mite had not been in a story since 1967 and would not be in another till 1992's "Legend of the Dark Mite," which I must admit sounds pretty funny.

PE: I really didn't think I was gonna like this... and I really didn't. Rather than the silly stories at the back of the Marvel Annuals (I know which ones you're referring to, Jack), this waste of paper reminded me of the crap that Marvel pumped out during "Assistant Editor's Month" in January 1984. Who can forget thrilling to the adventures of "Daringdevil, The Man Without Ears" or Captain America fighting The Three Skulls (MoSkull, Larry-Skull, and Curly-Skull)? I'm still trying.

"The League of Crime!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Juan Ortiz and David Hunt

Amateur time
The League of Crime is trying out two villains who wish to join their ranks. The Raven is given the task of stealing helium from a balloon carrying two occupants. Robin arrives to save the day in his Whirly-Bat but once he's defeated this villain, another one, The Card Queen, pops right up. The villainess gets the drop on Robin and escapes with the dough but the leader of The League, Maze, vows she'll be found

PE: If not told otherwise, I would have assumed this was a reprint from "The Golden Age" of DC but the more I read of these back-ups, the sneakier the feeling that this is the kind of story the editor wants: stories written in the style of the 1960s. This is one of the worst written and illustrated stories we've come across. Everything about is amateur. I have no idea who Maze is so all the suspense built up to his reveal at the climax is lost on me. Can we please go back to single-story issues?

Jack: This story is dreadful and reads like Rozakis had to put something down on paper to fill the last 12 pages of this issue. The art is like something from the bad old Bat days of the '50s and '60s.

Batman 310 (April 1979)

"The Ghost That Haunted Batman"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

After failing to stop the Gentleman Ghost during a jewel robbery, Batman goes undercover as a British butler to track down Alfred, who has disappeared. It seems Alfred has fallen under the spell of fellow Britisher the Ghost, whose powers are not quite strong enough to make Alfred shoot his employer. Batman chases the Ghost, whose carriage careens off a cliff--but the Gentleman's laughter continues to echo through the night.

Jack: I saw the Gentleman Ghost on the cover and was hunting for the usual "JA" signature of Jim Aparo, thinking that it would be cool if Joe Kubert drew this cover, since he was the Ghost's best artist in the Silver Age. Lo and behold, there under the front wheel of the carriage is Joe Kubert's signature!

PE: Ah, if only Kubert had illustrated the interiors as well. Not saying that I don't trumpet the return of Irv Novick (hell, after Calnan, I might have begged Frank Robbins to come back from Marvel) but to see Kubert tackle The Dark Knight would be something special!

Jack: With Dick Giordano inking, it's a welcome relief to have Irv Novick return to the art chores on Batman after we suffered through John Calnan's efforts. The story is still a little shaky, though Wein is trying to develop a few subplots in the background (Bruce Wayne's competitor; Selina Kyle). I always loved the Gentleman Ghost, even if he does come off a bit like the Spook (or a Scooby-Doo villain) in this issue. A quick bit of online research reveals that he actually is a ghost, something I never knew.

PE: The delight, I find, in villains like The Gentleman Ghost is trying to decipher whether there's something supernatural going on here or not. All signs point to the beyond but we know that, even with a climax that spells death for someone just dressing up like a ghost, these bad guys can survive the worst of calamities. Intriguing then, Jack, that you say this guy actually is a spectre. I'm going to log into eBay now to bid on a Gentleman Ghost action figure!

Jack: Annual sales figures are published in this issue--Batman sold an average of 125,421 copies in the preceding year. As the prices rise, the sales fall.

PE: And as the sales fall, so do the illustrated pages, now making up less than half of the package!

May 6, 2013 is the day to enlist! You have been warned!

So which one did you have, Jack?


AndyDecker said...

I bought this issue of Batman Family years later alone for the Golden art. I didn't knew Kirby's Demon - I had not read many american comics at the time -, but this was great. I always had a soft spot for the character and followed a lot of his later appearances.

Oh, and I hated Bat-Mite at first sight. Still do It is so thoroughly unfunny.

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, just wait till next issue when Ditko takes over The Demon!

Greg M. said...

I'm assuming The Demon's story in 'Tec might have something to do with Bats' affinity for DC's supernatural characters. He's appeared in Brave and the Bold numerous times with The Spectre, Deadman, Zatanna, Swamp Thing and The Demon himself. The artwork is outstanding. I've always been a sucker for DC's supernatural characters, and he's one of the best.

And I can't wait to sign up on May 6th. Can I do it now? :-)

Great job!

Yankee Cowboy said...

Based on the generally poor reviews, I guess I'm glad I never picked up Detective Comics 482. I did however get the next two issues of tec, so I can only hope the reviews for those two issues are better. ;-)

Btw, good stuff as usual guys.

Peter Enfantino said...


Your official DC War Blog stripes are in the mail.

Greg M. said...


Can't wait to move out!

Ain't nothin' ever easy in Easy.