Monday, January 28, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 55: March and April 1978



by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino


Batman 297 (March 1978)

"The Mad Hatter Goes Straight!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Rich Buckler and Vince Colletta

When the filming of a lavish TV commercial goes awry and ends with a hat being passed and the onlookers putting their valuables into the chapeau, it can only mean one thing--the Mad Hatter is back to menace Gotham City once again! Yet for Jarvis Tetch, the thrill is gone and he decides to go straight. He masquerades as the sheriff of Midtown Park and saves Bruce Wayne and a damsel from a robbery, only to steal the woman's pearl necklace. Frustrated by his inability to stay within the law, Tetch pretends to be a Rhodesian zookeeper and steals a valuable armadillo. His crimes continue until Batman lures him to a party for private eye Jason Bard. The Dark Knight corners pastry chef Tetch and ensures that the only hat he will wear from now on is a dunce cap.

PE: Unless I'm mistaken, this is the first time (other than a cameo in the "What Were You Doing..." arc) we've encountered The Mad Hatter. A third-tier Rogue, The Mad Hatter really came to popularity because of David Wayne's portrayal of the villain in that show. David Reed's story is harmless enough (certainly better than his previous attempts at other Rogues) and it's made better by Rich Buckler's art. Curious that when Bruce Wayne mentions the fundraiser for Jason Bard, Commissioner Gordon almost seems oblivious to who Bard is. Jason explains that he's been in Vietnam for a while but wouldn't Gordon remember the guy who was dating his own daughter a few DC years back? This Jarvis Tetch, by the way, is evidently a "fraud," and the real Tetch, a somewhat vertically challenged fellow, will return in the 1980s to reclaim his throne. Jarvis tries to quit crime but just can't do it. That horrible urge creeps on him every time. Nice twist!

Jack: I think that when Bard referred to his time in Vietnam he was referring to the period before his adventures as a private eye and sometime boyfriend of Barbara Gordon, since (by 1978) no one had been in Vietnam for a few years--at least not any U.S. military personnel! I have read about the criticisms of Buckler for aping or swiping from Neal Adams, but I really don't see it in this story. He does a pretty good job of drawing Batman but some of his non-costumed humans look pretty wooden. I was surprised to see Jason Bard return, even if it was for such a brief time. We haven't seen him since his series ended in Detective a few years back.



Detective Comics 476 (April 1978)

"Sign of the Joker!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

The Joker, enraged that Gotham won't grant his copyright on his Joker-fish, murders Thomas Jackson, his second member of the Gotham Commission. Since Batman had been protecting Jackson, he takes the crime personally and vows to bring The Joker in. Bringing in a dangerous madman proves to be a daunting task, however. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne's girlfriend, Silver St. Cloud, continues to wrestle with her doubts about Bruce's night time activities while hitchhiking with Boss Thorne, himself wrestling with apparitions. When Silver says one offensive line too many to the mob boss, he kindly asks her to hoof it. Minutes later, Thorne is attacked by the ghost of Hugo Strange. Back in Gotham, The Joker and Batman have a fierce battle in a storm atop a high-rise construction. The girder The Joker is standing on is struck by lightning and he falls into the Gotham harbor waters. As The Batman scours the harbor for any sight of his foe, Commissioner Gordon relates how Boss Thorne stumbled into police headquarters and confessed all his crimes.


PE: A very satisfying conclusion to the groundbreaking first part of this saga but I'd have liked a couple more chapters. Why, oh why, couldn't we have been graced with a four-part arc like this one rather than those DVR abominations we had to settle for over in Batman? Marshall Rogers seems to be growing in leaps and bounds issue to issue. He's even more cinematic in his panels here than ever before. Witness the sequence in the car between Boss Thorne and Silver. One panel shows the two talking but their heads are out of the shot while a subsequent one shows the pair from the floorboards of the vehicle! It's like a short Scorsese film. There's some experimenting going on here and we're the lucky guinea pigs. Unfortunately, this is the last we'll see of Terry Austin on inks (other than for the cover of #477). Austin quit DC after a harrowing run-in with DC editor Joe Orlando over pay for the inking done on that cover. Dick Giordano will fill those big shoes beginning next issue. Cross your fingers.

Jack: I was thinking the same thing as I read and enjoyed this issue--it's very cinematic, and your observations that it influenced the Nolan film trilogy are incisive. I am looking forward to Dick Giordano's inks, since he's one of my favorite Bat artists.



PE: There are so many textured layers here to love. The haunting of Boss Thorne spreading to The Dark Knight. Silver St. Cloud's maddening doubts and suspicions. The Joker's insane reasonings behind murdering the Gotham Commission one by one. The whole thing reads like an intricately-planned novel. Not so surprising since Steve Englehart abandoned his comics career following this issue to write his novel, The Point Man. On his website, Steve reveals that his eight-issue run was the foundation for Tim Burton's first Batman flick and that Englehart worked on a couple of drafts of that script in the 80s. The Englehart/Rogers/Austin powerhouse would return to the Batman/Joker gold mine for the 2005 six-issue mini-series, Dark Detective (and a one-issue follow-up in 2006). Once again, Hollywood stood up and took notice as several of the ideas from the mini-series found their way into The Dark Knight. The new 'tec writer effective next issue, Len Wein, has some huge shoes to fill: Steve Englehart, at least to this point in our study, was the best writer ever to script the Caped Crusader. Who knows how many more classic stories may have come out of Englehart had he not jumped ship so quickly?

Jack: Can I raise my hand meekly to suggest Denny O'Neil (at his best) should be included in that conversation? One interesting thing I noticed in this issue is that the Joker image on page 5 is a dead ringer for Cesar Romero! And he looks fearsome, at that.





Batman 298 (April 1978)

"The Case of the Crimson Coffin!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Dick Giordano

Beneath an abandoned house, Batman discovers a ritual murder in the works and makes short work of the two costumed killers, each of whom wields a machete. Also below ground, Batman discovers three illegal aliens and a female reporter who has been tied up. Yet the Caped Crusader has other concerns above ground: someone is placing clues to his secret identity in highly visible places around Gotham City. Batman discovers that the reporter is in league with the costumed killers. Does someone know who Batman really is? Tune in next issue, same Bat-time!

PE: Amazingly enough, I think we've hit a patch of really good David V. Reed scripting the last three issues. This story certainly kept my interest and I was delighted to see that Reed (or Schwartz) opted to carry it over to the next issue rather than deliver a rushed climax. I thought for sure we'd be given the standard "Yep, it's The Riddler doling out the clues" reveal but, nope, Reed keeps the intrigue going (at least for now). Who's the pretty girl who wears the (pretty silly) 'X' dress? Has she stumbled over to the wrong comics company? This is the second time we've had an encounter with the nonsense-speaking fink Batman uses to get info (of course, if he's the world's greatest detective, what does he need a two-bit fink for, right?). I swear I thought he was talking Australian. And a big thumbs-up to Dick Giordano's inking skills this issue, working magic on John Calnan's pencils. One only has to gander back at Calnan's previous Bat-art to know Giordano earned his $20 a page (or whatever pittance they were paying these guys in 1977). Nice to see we've got two enjoyable Bat-titles to discuss this week.

Fortunately, Julie Schwartz understood gibberish.
Jack: One of the disappointments with the recent issues of Batman for me has been the letdown in interior art after the great covers by Jim Aparo (though the reflection on the sword's blade doesn't make sense spatially). Aparo was one of the best Batman artists of the 1970s but he only did a few stories for Detective, mostly sticking with The Brave and the Bold. This issue, however, marks the welcome return of Dick Giordano as inker, who puts his own style on Calnan's pencils in a way that Tex Blaisdell could not in the recent four-issue arc with the trial. It's nice, for once, to see a splash page that isn't just a waste of space and actually starts the story. In our ninth year of reading through these two titles in the 1970s, I think it's safe to say that Giordano has done more to establish the best look for Batman than any other artist.

The record club finally hit the skids when CDs came along.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Five-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Anniversary Gift"

by Jack Seabrook

The last story by John Collier to be adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Anniversary Gift," which had been published in the April 1959 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. More humor than horror, the story concerns Hermie Jensen, who is unhappily married to Myra, a woman with "the mental age of ten." They live in a cheap house in an unfashionable beach colony in Florida, where Hermie longs to return to his native Brooklyn. Myra has collected a menagerie of pets, which Hermie looks after while she lounges in her playsuit.

Hermie imagines killing Myra and suggests that she get a new pet snake. He sets off for the village of Melodie, north of the Everglades; at the end of a dirt road, he finds a 13 year old boy named Eidelpfeffer, a self-styled herpetologist who put an advertisement in a magazine offering live reptiles for sale. Hermie pretends to be a professor seeking a small, very poisonous snake to use in an experiment and the boy sells him a coral snake for $18.50, nearly all the money he has.

Hermie returns home and gives the snake to Myra as an early anniversary present, recommending that she cozy up to it and leaving the room so it can bond with her. He goes for a walk and returns to find Myra complaining that the snake doesn't like her; Hermie sits down on the couch and is bitten by the snake, which had burrowed between the cushions. Myra runs for help but returns to find Hermie dead; a game warden captures the snake and confirms that it's a harmless king snake. Myra is relieved to know that Hermie died of a heart attack and she is certain that he did not intend to give her a deadly serpent, as he had claimed after he was bitten.


"Anniversary Gift" is a clever and funny story that demonstrates that author John Collier had grown familiar with American ways yet still used British expressions in his writing to describe them: he notes that Hermie had "looked forward confidently to control of the exchequer" and that Myra's first husband had died before he could make his "postwar pile." It is noteworthy that the first four Collier stories adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents had been published originally in The New Yorker, a popular and respected mainstream magazine, while "Anniversary Gift" was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a digest that published crime and detective stories; EQMM was probably the best in its field, but in terms of respectability, circulation and (probably) pay rate, it was a step down from The New Yorker.

The story belongs in the category of those where the main characters think that they are smarter than they are. Hermie is bilked by a thirteen year old boy who sells him a harmless king snake when he asks for a poisonous coral snake. Myra spends her days lounging around their Florida home playing with her pets and allows herself to believe that her husband had not tried to kill her. This unfavorable view of married life recalls "Back for Christmas," though Hermie is not successful in killing his wife. In the five Collier stories adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, all of the families have been dysfunctional. In "Back for Christmas," Herbert Carpenter is henpecked and kills his wife because it is easier than standing up to her. In "Wet Saturday," the Princey family includes a murderous daughter and a boorish son; the father must frame a family friend to preserve the clan's air of respectability. In "De Mortuis," Dr. Rankin thinks that he leads a happy life but decides to kill his wife after learning that she is unfaithful. In "None Are So Blind," Seymour Johnstone is so anxious to inherit his aunt's money that he speeds her death along with a poorly conceived murder. Finally, in "Anniversary Gift," Hermie Jensen despises his wife and tries to kill her by taking advantage of her love of animals; his stupidity leads to his own death. John Collier has been descried as a writer who does not like women; these five stories demonstrate that he has few illusions about family life in general.
Barbara Baxley as Myra

After the three Collier episodes that had been broadcast in rapid succession in the fall of 1956, there was a three-year drought for the author before "Anniversary Gift" appeared on CBS on Sunday, November 1, 1959, near the start of the show's fifth season. The teleplay was by Harold Swanton, who added aspects to the source that served to make the show even funnier than the story. There is a running gag where a toucan screeches at Hermie and calls him a "slob." A new character is added in George, the next-door neighbor, who spends his days drinking beer and going fishing. Ironically, George tells Hermie that he envies Hermie's married life--George's wife died nine years before and he is lonely. Ignoring Hermie's question ("How'd you manage that?) as to how his wife died, he tells Hermie that "since she's been gone, my life is nothing but beer and fishing." Hermie doesn't share his sadness and envies George's life as a widower.

As Hermie, Harry Morgan has a wonderful time with the role, mimicking the words "one beer" as Myra tells him his limit and grudgingly accepting an "allowance" of ten dollars from his spouse. He becomes animated and cheerful when he thinks he is putting one over on Myra; he rhapsodizes about what wonderful pets snakes make and tells her she needs to get to know her new pet better and "love him up." Morgan's comic timing is perfect. He imitates a snake dance strip tease and shows Myra how she could carry a snake inside the front of her blouse and let it peek its head out. Watching this episode, it is hard to imagine that Morgan and Barbara Baxley (as Myra) could have performed this scene without dissolving into laughter and ruining the take.

Michael J. Pollard as Hansel Eidelpfeiffer
Another highlight is the scene where Hermie visits Eidelpfeffer, renamed Hansel Eidelpfeiffer in the show (and even funnier for that). The "boy" (played perfectly by a 20 year old Michael J. Pollard) figures out very quickly that Hermie is not the professor he claims to be and talks circles around him before out-negotiating him and taking his $10 allowance as payment for a fraudulent snake. Morgan again shines in this scene, boasting that the scientists at Cape Canaveral want to beat the Russians and be the first to put a snake on the moon.

"Anniversary Gift" is an excellent comic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that benefits from a tight script, excellent camerawork and editing, and terrific performances. One of the best moments comes after Hermie has been bitten; he is frantic while Myra remains calm: Myra tells him that they should clean the bite, because one "never can tell where their teeth have been," and Hermie responds, "They've been in me!"

The script for "Anniversary Gift" was by Harold Swanton, who wrote for radio and then television, with credits going as late as 1980. There is no biographical information available online, so I will add him to the list of writers to highlight in this series of articles in order to learn more about him. He wrote 11 episodes of the Hitchcock series and won an Edgar in 1958 for best episode of a TV series ("Mechanical Manhunt" on The Alcoa Hour).

Jackie Coogan as George
Normal Lloyd directed the show; born in 1914 and still alive today, he was associate producer or producer of over 200 episodes of the Hitchcock series, directing 22 of them and acting in five. Harry Morgan (1915-2011) was one of the most recognizable actors on TV in the '60s and '70s, appearing in various series such as Dragnet and M*A*S*H. This was the only time he appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, though he directed two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Barbara Baxley (1923-1990) was also a recognizable TV actress who was on TV from 1950-1987 and in movies from 1955-1990. She was in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including co-starring in "Design for Loving" with Norman Lloyd.

Jackie Coogan (1914-1984) played George, the neighbor. Coogan started in the movies as a child in 1917 and became a star when he co-starred in The Kid (1921) with Charlie Chaplin. He had a long career in movies and on TV and is best remembered today as Uncle Fester on The Addams Family (1964-1966). Like Harry Morgan, this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.

Henry Morgan as Hermie
Michael J. Pollard (1939- ) played Eidelpfeiffer with what film historian David Thomson called his "sleepy-boy mumbling" style. He has been making movies since 1959 and his most famous role was in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). He appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as on Lost in Space and Star Trek.

"Anniversary Gift" was remade as part of the 1980s revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and broadcast on February 28, 1987. Neither version of the show is available for online viewing but the original may be purchased on DVD here.


Sources:

"Anniversary Gift." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1 Nov. 1959. Television.
Collier, John. "Anniversary Gift." 1959. Ellery Queen's Murder--in Spades! New York: Pyramid, 1969. 58-72. Print.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.
Thomson, David. The Big Screen : The Story of the Movies. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 54: January and February 1978



by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook


Batman 295 (January 1978)

"The Adventure of the Houdini Whodunit!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Michael Golden

Batman is called to a meeting of the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. Armchair detective Martin Tellman tells of a dead woman found in his doorway whose body disappeared from a closed ambulance. Crime beat writer Art Saddows and mystery novelist Kaye Daye narrate similar occurrences. Batman follows the clues to discover that the dead woman was June Gold, assistant to magician David Hamton. The Caped Crusader is trapped in Houdini's water escape and, after managing to extricate himself, confronts Hamton's apprentice onstage during a magic show, proving that he is the killer.

Jack: Gerry Conway and Michael Golden pull off the amazing trick of turning Batman from a floundering title into a very good one. Conway's script manages to take some characters who had been weak in prior appearances (Kaye Daye, for instance) and using them to craft an exciting story. Michael Golden is an artist whom I had forgotten in the last few decades, but I was impressed by his art on this story. It is modern without being overly stylized, and his Batman, while not as groundbreaking as that of Marshall Rogers over in Detective, is the kind of Dark Knight that we love.

PE: While I'm not ready to declare this title saved, I will say this is the best story in Batman in quite some time. Always loved Gerry Conway's Marvel work (including his scripting on perhaps the most infamous and polarizing Marvel comics of all time, The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122), so it's no surprise I'd like his version of Batman. Conway's plot meshes perfectly with Michael Golden's Wrightson-esque pencils. Don't hold your breath for a revival, though, as David V. Reed returns next issue.





Detective Comics 475 (February 1978)

"The Laughing Fish!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

There's some question as to whether Bruce Wayne's newest girlfriend, Silver St. Cloud, knows the true identity of The Batman. The Dark Knight is pretty sure (and we, the readers, know for sure) the cat's out of the bag but any romantic troubles will have to be put on ice while he deals with the newest threat from his oldest and deadliest foe. The Joker has been dumping a compound into Gotham's waters, infecting the fish with a toxin that makes their faces mirror that of The Clown Prince of Crime. Now The Joker wants to copyright the new look on Gotham's seafood and he'll murder anyone who gets in his way.

PE: Compare this Joker to the one David Reed uses in his stories over in Batman. Can't be the same character, can it? Reed's version is content with placing whoopie cushions on his victim's seats while this incarnation pushes his henchmen in front of speeding cars. It's like comparing Cesar Romero to Heath Ledger, I guess. Some folks like the buffoon, others like the homicidal maniac. I'm firmly in the latter camp. To this point in time (1978), only Neal Adams has drawn a creepier Joker. I'd never read this particular story nor the follow-up but both are invariably listed by Bat-fans in their Top Ten Batman Stories of All Time list and I can see why. Rogers's art is reaching its peak (gone are the sketchy backgrounds and matchstick human characters) and Steve Englehart is . . . well, the best comic book writer of the 1970s, hands down. Steve nails The Joker's madness to the wall. The plot (copyrighting ghoulish fish) seems right out of one of those comical 1950s Bat-tales, missing only the campy humor and cartoonish antics of Batman and The Boy Wonder. As we saw with some of Neal Adams's iconic work back in the early 1970s, there's a lot of stuff here that ended up on the big screen in The Dark Knight (in particular, the spirit of that scene where The Joker warns Boss Thorne not to disclose the identity of The Batman "since it would take away the fun--the thrill of the joust with my perfect opponent!").

Jack: Englehart, Rogers and Austin make great use of the Joker here, but what I like best about this story is the way they interweave the threads of the Silver/Batman/Bruce subplot, the Boss Thorne subplot, and the Joker menace. The idea that the Joker would hesitate to kill Batman is carried over from the last great Batman story drawn by Neal Adams, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" (Batman 251). This run by Englehart and Austin is unlike much else we've seen in Batman in the 1970s in the way it develops a story over multiple issues. One might even say it's more like the style of Marvel comics than that of DC. Whatever it is, it is very enjoyable.

PE: The encounter with Silver St. Cloud is well handled as well. She and Batman seem to have a bit of a Mexican standoff going when they confront each other in her bedroom. He thinks she knows. She thinks he knows she knows. How to proceed? A nice awkward moment when Bruce calls a couple minutes after leaving to postpone their date that night. The only misfire here is the climax when we're asked to believe Silver is hitchhiking three hundred miles outside of Gotham and gets picked up by (Mighty Marvel-esque Coincidence!) the fleeing Rupert Thorne!

Jack: I had no problem with the climax and actually was surprised. I could not tell if Thorne had gone off the deep end earlier in the story and now am a bit worried about what will happen to Silver. And just so we don't avoid being snarky once in awhile, was Silver named Silver from birth and it is just a coincidence that she has silver hair?

PE: We're snarky?

From Batman 295


Batman 296 (February 1978)

"The Sinister Straws of the Scarecrow"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Sal Amendola

The Scarecrow has developed a new potion that will release a person's most secret fear. After testing it out on one of his Strawmen/henchmen, he uses it to force Jarvis Skibo to return bonds he had stolen from Gotham City National Bank. Batman plants a fake news story claiming that the bonds were counterfeit and follows Skibo to track down the Scarecrow. Though the villain escapes, Batman is waiting for him in disguise at his next crime scene. Overcoming the fear potion by force of willpower, the Dark Knight once again defeats the Scarecrow and his minions.

Jack: I had high hopes after last issue's fine story by Conway and Golden. Sadly, they were dashed to bits again by the return of David V. Reed and Sal Amendola (last seen in Detective Comics 440--May 1974). The Scarecrow's henchmen wear ridiculous outfits and Amendola's drawings of Batman are poor. The story is a mixed-up jumble of the usual Scarecrow tropes and the usual Batman triumphs. Hopefully, editor Schwartz can come up with a new writer soon for this title as well as an artist who can actually draw the Caped Crusader. Five of the last six issues have featured sub-par art, first by Calnan and now by Amendola.

Would you mind repeating that?
PE: Wow! I couldn't disagree with you more, Jack. I've never been a fan of David Reed's writing and you'd be hard-pressed to go back through our past posts and find a single complimentary thing I've had to say about him but, with this one, he hits a triple. Maybe it's the fact that I'm such a fan of The Scarecrow. Who knows? Reed had written tales involving most, if not all, of Batman's Rogue Gallery and proven inept at all of them but, for some reason, he seems to have gotten a handle on the villain who uses exactly what The Dark Knight uses as a primary weapon: fear. And, as for Amendola's art, yeah, it's very sketchy at times (reminded me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz in some panels), but I thought it atmospheric and creepy as befits the subject. It's been way too long since we saw Sal in these parts (Detective #439-440) and, unfortunately, it's the last time we'll encounter him during our run.

Wanted: someone who can draw Batman

The splash page is easily
the highlight of this issue.

Jack had at least one of these posters up on
his wall at age 14--guess which one!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 53: The 1977 Wrap-Up





by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino



1977: The Year in Review

1977 was a stable year for Batman and Detective, with all of the highlights occurring in the latter book.  Both series published nothing but 36 page issues all year and cover prices began at 30 cents but went up to 35 cents with the June issues. Batman was published twelve times and remained a monthly, while Detective began the year as a bi-monthly but switched to an eight times a year schedule and thus had a total of eight issues published. Each issue of both titles featured 17 pages of new material, in addition to house fillers such as "Direct Currents," "Publishorial," "The Daily Planet," and a few "DC Profile" features about writers and artists. The letters column in Detective remained "Batman's Hot Line," while the letters column in Batman began the year as "Letters to the Batman" but was renamed "Bat Signals" with the November issue. Letters columns were edited by Bob Rozakis. Julius Schwartz edited both titles all year.

In Batman, covers were by Jim Aparo (7), Mike Grell (4) or Ernie Chua and Vince Colletta. Inside stories were always full-length and starred Batman. Writers were David V. Reed (11) and Denny O'Neil (with Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell). Pencils were by John Calnan (4), Grell (4), Romeo Tanghall (2), Chua or Irv Novick. Inks were by Tex Blaisdell (4), Bob Wiacek (3), Colletta (2), Frank Springer (2) or Chua. Guests included Catwoman, the Joker, Lex Luthor, the Penguin, the Riddler, Robin, Skull Dugger, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, and a large cross-section of the Rogue's Gallery in the "Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?" four-issue story arc.

In Detective, covers were by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin (4), Aparo (3) or Rich Buckler and Colletta. The first issue of 1977 featured an 11 page lead story starring Batman and a six page backup story starring Hawkman. The third issue of the year featured an 11 page lead story starring Batman and a six page backup story that told the origin of Dr. Phosphorus, the villain in that issue's lead story. The other six issues featured full length Batman stories.

The lead stories were written by Steve Englehart (6) or Rozakis (2). Pencils were by Rogers (5), Walt Simonson (2) or Calnan. Inks were by Austin (5), Al Milgrom (2) or Colletta. The backup stories were written by Englhart or Rozakis, with pencils by Simonson or Rogers and inks by Milgrom or Austin. Guests included the Atom, Black Canary, the Calculator, Deadshot, Dr. Phosphorus, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Hugo Strange and the Penguin.

Batman also appeared in the following DC comics in 1977:

Batman Family (6 issues)
The Brave and the Bold (7 issues)
DC Special (1 issue)
DC Special Series (1 issue)
Justice League of America (12 issues)
Limited Collector's Edition (2 issues)
The Super-Friends (7 issues)
World's Finest Comics (5 issues)

1977 was also noteworthy for the return of Neal Adams as a frequent DC cover artist. While he also drew covers for other series, this post features examples of the covers he drew this year that included Batman.

Finally, DC Super-Stars 17 featured the first appearance of the Huntress, who was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth Two.


1977: THE BEST (AND WORST) OF THE YEAR


Peter's picks:

Best Script: Steve Englehart, "The Dead Yet Live" (Detective 471)
Best Art: Marshall Rogers, "I Am the Batman" (Detective 472)
Best All-Around Story: "The Dead Yet Live" (Detective 471)

Worst Script: David V. Reed, "Skull Dugger's Killjoy Capers" (Batman 290)
Worst Art: John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell, "Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed?"
(Batman #291-294)
Worst All-Around Story: "Skull Dugger's Killjoy Capers" (Batman 290)
Special Achievement for Awfulness: The "Where Were You on the Night..." arc (Batman #291-294)

Jack's picks:

Best Script: Steve Englehart, "I Am the Batman" (Detective 472)
Best Art: Marshall Rogers, "I Am the Batman" (Detective 472)
Best All-Around Story: "I Am the Batman" (Detective 472)

Worst Script: David V. Reed, "The Testimony of Lex Luthor" (Batman 293)
Worst Art: John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell, "The Testimony of Lex Luthor"
(Batman #293)
Worst All-Around Story: "The Testimony of Lex Luthor" (Batman 293)

1977 Circulations

Batman 150,853
Detective Comics 125,743
Superman 223,222

The Amazing Spider-Man 258,156














Thursday, January 10, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Four-Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "None Are So Blind"

by Jack Seabrook

Having exhausted their supply of stories from Fancies and Goodnights, the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents turned to a more recent story for their fourth adaptation of a work by John Collier. "None Are So Blind" was written around December 1955 and was published in The New Yorker on March 31, 1956. A thorough search has failed to turn up any source where this story has been reprinted, so it looks like it made one appearance in print, was quickly purchased for TV adaptation, and was forgotten.


The story concerns Seymour Johnstone, proprietor of a small antique shop in New York City and more preoccupied with wondering when his rich Aunt Muriel will die than he is with running his shop. He happens upon an article in a magazine about life expectancy and is discouraged to learn that his aunt may not die as soon as he hopes. Out of the magazine falls an envelope, in which Seymour finds a driver's license issued in California to Antonio Bertani, whose physical description is similar to that of Seymour. Seymour decides to masquerade as Bertani in order to murder his aunt. He constructs an identity as a shady Italian in New Jersey, disguising himself with a gold tooth, different clothes, and facial dye.

Muriel Drummond, his aunt, invites him to spend the Easter weekend at her Connecticut home. On Good Friday, he announces that he will take the train to New Jersey to inspect an antique. From New Jersey, he drives back to Connecticut in Bertani's car and then joins his aunt for dinner. After dinner, he places a threatening note in her desk and shoots her dead. He sneaks upstairs, then races down to find his aunt's dead body. He raises a ruckus that the maids witness, runs outside, and makes sure that Bertani's car is stuck in the mud. He calls the police and they come to the house and interview him.


Seymour pretends to have been fearful when he set out to chase the murderer. He tries to charm the policemen, who leave to continue their investigation. They return the next evening, having traced the car to Bertani's residence in New Jersey. Descriptions of Bertani by his neighbors mention a gold tooth, but also "a nasty little cyst on the left side of his nose." The detective observes that Seymour also has a cyst on his face in exactly the same spot. The title of the story comes from Matthew Henry (1662-1714), who wrote "none are so blind as those that will not see" in a Bible commentary. Collier's use of the name Seymour for his main character is ironic, since he actually "sees less" than others.

Mildred Dunnock as Aunt Muriel
"None Are So Blind" is a weak story compared to the first three that were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The ending is subtle but it is clear that Seymour was in the habit of putting the left side of his face out of his mind and did not realize that his attempts to disguise himself were doomed to failure because of the large defect on his face.


The visual nature of the twist ending to this story must have made it appealing to adapt for TV. The teleplay was written by James Cavanagh and the episode was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, October 28, 1956, two weeks after "De Mortuis" had been aired, making it the third episode of the show's second season to be adapted from a story by John Collier. Once the viewer is aware of the twist ending, the most interesting part of the show becomes the process of watching how director of photography Reggie Lanning and director Robert Stevens set up their shots and film Hurd Hatfield (as Seymour) to hide the left side of his face without making it obvious that that is what they are doing.

The plot of the show follows that of the story with some revisions. Seymour narrates the show in voiceover, which helps to tie it together. He spends a lot of time staring at his right profile in the mirror and self consciously rubbing the left side of his nose, though the reason for this is not revealed until the last shot. Clues are sprinkled liberally throughout the show, such as this line of Seymour's: "The only way I could possibly survive in this so-called civilization is not to see anything unpleasant, just to pretend it doesn't exist." Aunt Muriel comments on Seymour's habit of positioning himself so others only see what he believes is his best angle.

K.T. Stevens as Liza
Instead of finding the driver's license in an envelope that drops out of a magazine, Seymour finds it in a wallet he picks up from the floor. A new character is added to the story: that of Liza, Seymour's girlfriend. He chats with her in his antique shop and reveals to her his plan to assume Bertani's identity and murder his aunt for her money. The Bertani disguise is rather absurd, consisting of a wig, a mustache, and bushy eyebrows. When Seymour is about to murder his aunt, she laughs at him and mocks his plans to plant the letter in her desk drawer; Liza had also laughed at Seymour when he told her his scheme. The show's continuity is a bit sloppy; Seymour puts the letter into an empty drawer, yet when the detective opens the drawer it is stuffed full of junk and he has to rummage through it to find the letter. A curious moment occurs when Seymour runs up the stairs after murdering his aunt: he trips and drops a glove, then runs up the stairs partway and has to come back down to pick up the item. Presumably, this was an attempt to increase suspense, but it falls flat.

Hurd Hatfield as Seymour
In the final scene, when the detective confronts Seymour, the detective explains that he had been good friends with Aunt Muriel and she had told him that, when anything annoyed Seymour, he pretended it was not there. The detective suddenly realizes that Seymour's facial defect matches that of Bertani. He spins Seymour around and we see his full face for the first time, with a large birthmark next to his nose.


"None Are So Blind" is a mediocre story that cannot be saved by good performances and competent direction. James Cavanagh (1922-1971), the writer who adapted it for television, was the author of many TV scripts in the 1950s and 1960s. He wrote 15 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "'Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?'" and "Fog Closing In," for which he won an Emmy. Director Robert Stevens also won an Emmy for the episode "The Glass Eye," one of the 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series that he directed.

Rusty Lane as the detective
Starring as Seymour was Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998), who had become famous for his role in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Though he continued to appear in movies and on TV until the early 1990s, his career never again reached the peak that he had hit with one of his first movie roles. He appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Aunt Muriel was played by character actress Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991). Like Robert Emhardt, she was a founding member of the Actors Studio and had great success on Broadway in the original production of Death of a Salesman, where she played Willy Loman's wife Linda. She was on TV from 1948 to 1982, appearing in four episodes of the Hitchcock series and one episode of Thriller. She was also in Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955).


Seymour disguised as Bertani
"None Are So Blind" is available on DVD here and may be viewed online here.

Sources:


Collier, John. "None Are So Blind." The New Yorker 31 Mar. 1956: 29-34. DVD.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.
"John Collier: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center." John Collier: An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.
"The New Yorker." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.
"None Are So Blind." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 28 Oct. 1956. Television.

"Quote/Counterquote: None so Blind as Those That Will Not See." N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013.














Monday, January 7, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 52: November and December 1977





by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook



Detective Comics 473 (November 1977)

"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.
PE: This one's a mixed bag for me but, in the end, it's enjoyable enough. I think The Penguin almost demands lightweight material and that's what we get here. When did Pengy start leaving clues for Bats (a la The Joker and The Riddler) and isn't that modus pretty much drying up? Having said that, the story advances at a pleasing, if somewhat confusing, pace and I like the Dark Knight vibe Englehart is trying to get this title back to after years of meandering. Here we get the first mention that Gotham's Finest is run by the mob (Commissioner Gordon being the only holdout, of course), a scenario that will be continually explored throughout the coming decades and used to good effect by Frank Miller, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan. And what's up with the ghost of Hugo Strange haunting Boss Thorne? Marshall Rogers's depiction of The Penguin would have to become the definitive version up to this point. Rogers definitely seems to be going for the 1930s look of The Batman, menacing and grim. Even the lettering cries out retro. Marshall doesn't fare as well with his civilian characters, however, with Bruce and Dick, especially, looking like doodles whipped up in 7th Grade art class.  Minor quibbles though when compared to the tripe discussed in the Batman title the same month.
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)

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

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.

PE: If David V. Reed didn't write so doggone seriously, I'd think this whole arc was a joke. Well, it is a joke actually, just not of the funny variety. What possible motive could Superman have for flying to this mock trial and testifying to the "innocence" of Lex Luthor? Even if Supes wasn't the most boring hero in comics, would he stand by while the arch-enemies of his best buddy gathered and celebrated his "demise?" And what comic reader in 1977 could read this badly constructed, horribly written, and amateurishly illustrated nonsense and want to tune in to the concluding chapter? Calnan and Blaisdell's Man of Steel looks like a different character in every panel he's in.

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.



Detective Comics 474 (December 1977)

"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


Batman 294 (December 1977)

"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!



Jack: You are too hard on this arc! I enjoyed the last of the four stories and thought it was an interesting way to explain what was happening. I'll grant you that Calnan and Blaisdell's art is not memorable, and their Joker seems to be based on Irv Novick's Joker, which was never one of my favorite versions. However, it made sense that the Joker would accidentally kill Batman and then wipe out his features, and--in a sort of twisted, DC Comics way--the whole plan for the trial also made sense, as a way for Batman to flush out the young man's killer. I know, I know, he probably could have tracked him down by more traditional detective methods, but it was kind of fun to see all of those obscure Bat-villains, wasn't it?

PE: No.

Another Neal Adams illustration for the
Saturday morning cartoon lineup

Is it too late to write?