Monday, April 1, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 64: July and August 1979

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 313 (July 1979)

"Two for the Money!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Two-Face has stolen the codes for the US Missile Defense System. He kills gang member Specs for trying to turn him in. Bruce Wayne gets romantic with Selina Kyle at a Children's Telethon, then puts on his cape and cowl and tracks down Two-Face. Government agent King Faraday is also on the villain's trail and tells Batman to stay out of his way. Two-Face robs the money collected by the telethon but gets away; Faraday is ready to kill Dent but Batman argues that he is mentally ill and needs help, not bullets.

PE: All kinds of confusing nonsense this time out. A page of domestic squabbling between Lucius Fox and his son Timothy is inserted midway through the action and then abandoned. It's better off abandoned as it feels lifted from similar squabbles between The Amazing Spider-Man's Robbie Robertson and son Randy back in the 1960s. I applaud Len Wein trying to add side dramas to a title that has never had sub-plots but it's so random it doesn't work. There's no connection to the main story at hand (well, at least until we find out that Timothy has been hanging out with the wrong boys who just happen to be Two-Face hoodlums--but that's just a guess) and the scene feels forced.

How was Specs able to gain access to the giant piggy bank to hide the binary code when, ostensibly, the company would have had security on guard? Maybe it was the same security company that allowed Two-Face and his mob to drive off with the armored car filled with tons of dough! I'm pleased one of the rogues was dusted off but after the last two Wein-written issues, this is a big letdown. And what self-respecting FBI guy would allow himself to be named King Faraday? I'd have my own parents arrested.

Jack: When Faraday shows up for the first time it's unclear who he is--I thought it might be Jason Bard. Then Batman says, essentially, "who the heck are you?" and I felt better. I don't mind the subplots. In addition to the Fox family saga, there is also the ongoing business with Bruce and Selina. While Wein is not as skillful at this as Englehart was, I still think it's a good sign and adds to the book's overall depth. Novick and McLaughlin turn in their usual serviceable art job--nothing outstanding, but good enough and much better than Calnan.

Detective Comics 484 (July 1979)

"Assault on Olympus!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

Patterning himself after a God, Maxie Zeus tries very hard to dispose of the thorn in his side, our hero, The Dark Knight. Zeus throws lightning bolts, falling walls, killer wolves, and a master bowman at Batman but all it does is make him tired and mad.

PE: A "novel-length thriller" it says on the contents page and this story is neither. It is, in fact, one page shorter than most of the Batman stories we've been reading lately and devoid of anything resembling thrills. What, may I ask, is Maxie Zeus' grand scheme here? Shoot lightning bolts at the Batmobile to prove what? And The Caped Crusader says this guy is "as dangerous as The Joker... as Ra's al Ghul." I don't think so. He's about as dangerous as Victor Buono/King Tut and that may have been the inspiration. O'Neil's story lacks focus and depth but not so Don Newton's art, which is gloriously noir-ish. Just the way I like it!

Jack: This story is typical of late '70s Denny O'Neil--it aspires to be grand but ends up grandiose. Maxie Zeus isn't much of a villain and he just gives up at the end of the story. I felt bad about how Batman disposed of the wolves. I agree about the Newton art, though I don't think this is his strongest work to date.

"The 'Who Is Floyd Fenderman Anyway?' Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Giordano

An anonymous caller informs Christopher Chance that Floyd Fenderman is a dead man and if Chance gets in the way he'll be a dead Human Target. Since Chance knows no one by that name, he's a bit intrigued and a little detective work leads him to a tailor shop where no one seems to be bringing their suits. Once inside, he's manhandled by a couple of roughs after he drops the name of Fenderman. After putting the thugs in their place, Chance finds out that Fenderman is the owner of the building that houses the tailor shop and has found out the business is actually a front for a numbers racket. He's given the proprietors their walking papers and they, in turn, have slapped a contract on his head. The Human Target nabs the assassin who's been hired for the job and Floyd Fenderman lives happily ever after.

PE: Here's a light and amusing little feature starring a character who may just grow on you, one with a sense of humor. The art's not  up to Giordano's standards but it's good enough. Ironic that the best back-up in a superhero title is the one without costumes.

Jack: I liked this better than last issue's Human Target story. It reminded me a little bit of the sort of hard-boiled things Max Allan Collins writes. Chance is a real whiz when it comes to makeup and disguises--he can even change the entire shape of his head!

"The Race Against Murder!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Bob Oksner and Vince Colletta

Batgirl takes a personal interest in the attempted murder of her pop, Commissioner Gordon, who's nearly atomized by a letter bomb. When she follows a lead, she finds out there may be more than one person who wants to see her dad permanently retired.

PE: Commissioner Gordon opens up a letter bomb that seemingly blows up his office but he's pretty much unscathed. And the forensics guys do a fabulous job of piecing together what looks to be an equally unscathed letter! Poor Batgirl can't seem to catch a break, constantly thrust into sub-par "thrillers."

Jack: This story is hilarious if for no other reason than the loopy positions Bob Oksner puts Batgirl in! We could reproduce a half-dozen panels or more to show what I mean. In one shot, she looks like Elongated Man! Compare the kooky art here to the terrific cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. One of the chief joys of reading Batgirl stories is ogling her great body. Gil Kane knew just how to draw her to make her assets look their best. Bob Oksner's take on Ms. Gordon is just funny!

"The Return of the Flying Graysons!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger and Frank Chiaramonte

Bedlam reigns as Dick realizes he's backed over Aunt Harriet
Dick Grayson finds an old friend setting up shop on the outskirts of Hudson University. The Haly Circus, where once Dick was a Flying Grayson, has come to town. Not long after having a two-page flashback to his youth, Dick is facing an escaped lion as Robin! Having caged the wild beast, the Boy Wonder visits the tent city and finds out from circus owner Haly that a lot of bad luck has befallen Dick's old stomping ground. Not one to turn his back on trouble, Robin investigates and discovers that one of the "Flying Graysons" is not what he says he is.

PE: If not for the "All New" banner on the cover, I'd swear this is another of those bad reprints from the 1960s. The credits only reinforce that feeling. It's perfectly good reading for pre-teens but anyone hoping for more than a cliched "Robin revisits his past" tale should look elsewhere. You gotta love when Dick literally rolls under a car and comes out the other side as Robin, set to fight off a lion.

Jack: When I was a kid, I kind of liked Schaffenberger's art. It fit the Captain Marvel strip. Now, it's hard to take. Yet I enjoyed this story more than I wanted to. I have a soft spot for origin flashbacks, and Robin's origin was a good one. I also liked the fact that the circus owner secretly realized Robin's secret identity but never let on. If only the villain didn't have blue hair and a '70s mustache to match!

"Tyme Has No Secrets!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Steve Ditko

Enraged by Merlin's empty coffin, Baron Tyme attempts to force Jason Blood to give up what he knows. Unfortunately for all concerned, the only being who may know what's going on is Jason's alter ego, Etrigan the Demon, and he's not around to talk just now. Just as Tyme is about to dispatch Blood, an angry mob from the local village storms Castle Branek and Jason is forced to call upon The Demon. Tyme and Etrigan put aside their differences to fight the villagers but the crazed Baron takes a powder when the numbers become too great. Just as he's about to make headway into the location of Merlin's body, one of the villagers blows up the tomb and Tyme is buried under the rubble. Not for long, though.

PE: After three installments I still have no idea what The Demon stands for, what his powers are, or whether he's a hero, villain, or anti-hero. Who cares? After, a bumpy second chapter last issue, I'm loving this strip. The goofy castle backgrounds, the angry mob right out of a Universal monster movie (the village is even named Wolfenstag, a torch's throw from Vasaria, I'd wager) and, of course, Ditko's dynamic visuals. One nit: the two main characters spent a good portion of the first half of the story mouthing pretty much the same dialogue:

Tyme: You will tell me where Merlin is!
Jason: I don't know where he is!
Tyme: Of course you do!
Jason: No I don't!
(repeat several times)

Jack: I'm right with you on this one! His Demon doesn't always look quite right, but there is no one else like Steve Ditko. His art is instantly recognizable and looks like no one else's. Think about it--can you name anyone else who draws remotely like Ditko? I'm grateful to see him still working in 1979 after the bumpy road his career followed.

"The Galileo Solution"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin

In an "Unsolved Case of The Batman," The Dark Knight relates the terrifying story of Professor Higley and the mistake he made with The Galileo Solution, a potion that can eat through anything.

PE: Awful script, terrible art. The "Unsolved Cases" strip is still batting a thousand. I love when Batman tells Professor Higley, a scientist who just murdered someone with a chemical mixture, that he'll be just fine in a Gotham prison since they'll set him up with his own lab and let him do whatever the hell he wants to do. This must be the same prison they used for that show where the Rogues were allowed to wear their costumes while playing softball in the yard. These wardens never learn!

Jack: It's stories like this that will keep Denny O'Neil from winning my "best writer of the decade" vote when we get to our final post. And if I thought John Calnan's art in Batman was bad, this is awful! This must be what happens when they tell him it's only a backup story so don't waste too much time on it.

Jim Aparo's beautiful back cover to Detective 484

Batman 314 (August 1979)

"Once Beaten, Twice Sly!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Batman and King Faraday have tracked Two-Face to New Orleans, where he has set up shop on a river boat and plans to sell the missile codes for $22 million dollars to the man who wins his special coin toss. After escaping a deadly room rigged with laser beams, Batman and Faraday catch up with Two-Face, who has stolen $44M and is attempting a getaway in a blimp. Batman convinces Dent to flip his coin before killing him, giving Faraday time to intervene with a well-placed bullet that knocks the coin from the villain's hand. Two-Face dives out of the blimp after his beloved coin, seemingly falling to his death with the missile codes still in his pocket.

PE: Someone at the 1979 DC Bullpen should have come to Irv Novick's rescue and got him a new inker. We know that Irv can pencil a mean Batman but Frank McLaughlin is ruining the man's work and will continue to do so throughout the rest of our journey. A little dash of Giordano would have helped immensely.  I thought this was a weak ending to a disappointing story line. Len Wein + Two-Face should = magic. I may just have to do some research and reading forward into the 1980s to find out how they explained Harvey surviving that fall thousands of feet from the blimp.

"Batman--hold me . . . tight!"

Jack: I'll bet he had a hidden parachute! In fact, I'll flip you for it. I thought this story was about as good as this trio could do. Two-Face is true to form with his incessant coin-flipping and the Caped Crusader takes advantage of his mania at a key moment. You're right about McLaughlin but I still like the Novick pencils underneath.

Thank goodness he didn't head for Rutland, VT!

Coming April 29th!

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