Monday, June 5, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 82: April 1989


The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #432

"Dead Letter Office"
Story by James Owsley
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

Entering a dark office at night, Batman comes face to face with Maxine Kelly, a tough, female private investigator who is looking for something but doesn't find it. Batman heads to her loft and discovers that she's searching for traces of three-year-old Josh Winston, who was abducted from a Fourth of July celebration seven years before. It turns out Kelly is looking into the cold case on behalf of the boy's mother, who is dying in a hospital.

Commissioner Gordon asks Batman to help round up a gang of jewel thieves, but the Dark Knight is troubled by Kelly's case and decides to help track down the child. He stages a fake fire at a federal building so that he can break into a safe and get a lead; in the process, he has to fight off quite a few federal agents. Even Jim Gordon doesn't realize that the recent death of Jason Todd means Batman empathizes with the plight of a parent who lost a son. He tracks down the man who had been the chief suspect in the kidnapping; he's now a Catholic priest who denies any involvement in the abduction.

Batman brings P.I. Kelly to the Batcave and explains how he has used newspaper files to create a database of children who fit the profile of the missing boy. He notices a woman in the last photo of the child and uses the Bat-computer to locate her; he and Kelly drive to her house and find the missing boy, who she took to replace her own missing son. Batman and Kelly take the boy to reunite with his real mother right before she dies.

Peter: We've been getting some solid one-offs lately (well, except for the odiferous "Our Man in Havana") that ignore the Rogues and concentrate on how Batman finds the time to help the "average everyday Joe." "Dead Letter Office" is no exception; it's a tight, exciting "ripped from the newspaper pages" thriller. The FBI building break-in is one of the best action sequences of the year.

But... a few nits anyway. Why is it that when a strong woman character is featured, she always has to talk like a man and dress in leather? It's become a funny book cliche. Also, why is Gordon such a dick this issue? You'd think after 49.5 years of following the Batman's advice, he'd get wise to the fact that this is the world's greatest detective. Over and over, Gordo tries to pee in the Caped Crusader's cornflakes with "Hey, the kid is dead! Stop wasting my time on this old case. I've got jewelry heisters to nab!" If I were the Bats, I'd take a leave of absence. Also... I never took law in school (I was too busy listening to Van Halen in the parking lot), but it's always been my assumption that there is no statute of limitations for the murder of a young boy. Is the Dark Knight telling a white lie to get Saunders to confess (and in a Christopher Priest poke at religion, I'm sure, the suspected child kidnapper is now a priest)?

Jack: One thing I noticed in these Owsley/Priest issues is that the writer leaves plenty of room for the artist to go wild in the action sequences. Last issue we had a seven-page wordless fight sequence; this time out, there are few captions and little dialogue to interrupt Batman's visit to the federal building disguised as a fireman. About that sequence--at first I wasn't sure it was Batman and thought it might be Kelly. In fact, I was only certain it was Batman when he used the Batarang to aid his escape. Aparo and DeCarlo are doing fine work on the series at this point; it's not four-star quality and it's not as good as what Aparo was doing several years before in The Brave and the Bold, but it's solid, exciting art. I also like the theme of Batman missing Jason and I wonder what the writers would have done if the fans had voted to keep the boy alive.

Denys Cowan/Malcolm Jones III
Detective Comics #599

"Blind Justice, Chapter Four: Citizen Wayne"
Story by Sam Hamm
Art by Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, & Frank McLaughlin

He's been branded a traitor and a stinkin' commie by the rest of the world, but Bruce Wayne's more upset about his loss of privacy. At least Jim Gordon tells him (in a very cryptic dialogue) that he knows Bruce is not a bad guy because "you know... you know..." Well, "No," Bruce shyly replies, "I don't know!"

Bruce's lawyers try to get him to open up about his time spent overseas but, through a series of flashbacks (one introducing the super-assassin Henri Ducard), we discover that most of that time was given to learning the martial and mystic arts that enable him to fight crime in a cowl. Can't very well tell a jury that, can we?

Bruce believes his only hope lies in testimony to be given by Theodore Lund, personal assistant to the deceased Dr. Harbinger. If Bruce can get Lund to testify against the Cartel, then his name could be cleared. Unfortunately, Lund is murdered approximately five panels later and there goes the defense.

Meanwhile, across town in a basement lab, Mitchell Riordan is overseeing an attempt to recreate Harbinger's brain-transference experiments but is getting nowhere slowly. Riordan is frustrated but, at the same time, confident his next stunt will "put the nail in the coffin" of Bruce Wayne. Before that plan can be initiated, however, a homeless man (outraged that WayneTech was experimenting on his brethren) opens fire on Wayne and his lawyers on the courtroom steps. The lawyers are killed and Bruce is in critical condition. Gordon watches the incident on TV and orders one of his officers to shut down the Bat-signal. "I don't think he's coming."

Peter: I'm still convinced that, in the end, we'll get a good story out of Sam Hamm, but there's a whole lot of padding going on in this chapter. At some point, the full-page little-panel newscast (a pilfering of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns yet again) will cease and a clever artist will discover a new way of getting this cliche across. Lord knows it ain't Denys Cowan. In last week's discussion, I was hot and cold on the artist's work; this issue, it's all cold. Cowan can't seem to decide which depiction of Bruce Wayne he'll stick with: handsome playboy millionaire or crotchety old man. Nothing more than inked doodles.

To me, the dialogue between Gordon and Wayne, where Gordo hints that he knows what Wayne is up to at night, is the highlight of this chapter, but it was also intriguing to discover that Riordan was just as surprised by the assault on Bruce and his lawyers as everyone else. It's hard to build suspense when you know the lead character is not going to die, so Hamm throws in a little mystery to keep us going.

Jack: This is the first time we've been treated to Batman barfing on the cover of a DC comic, as far as I know. He must have read the story inside! We're off to a poor start with two pages of talking heads on TV screens and it goes downhill from there. The art goes from bad to very bad and the story is easily a contender for worst of '89. The climax, where Bruce is shot, falls flat. They should've saved the Joker/Robin series of issues so that Robin got killed in Detective #600. This story arc is a dud. Norm Breyfogle, come back--all is forgiven!

Next Week...
The Startling (or is that
Stultifying?) Conclusion!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Halsted Welles Part Two-The Silk Petticoat [7.13]

by Jack Seabrook

Eccentric London scholar Humphrey Orford spends his days translating a sixteenth-century Italian epic poem and writing essays that are never published. In 1733, he lives in a mansion near Covent Garden and has no relations; his ailing wife Flora died a few weeks after they moved to the city from Suffolk twenty years before. She was buried in the cemetery outside St. Paul's and has been long forgotten when Orford is betrothed to wed young Elisa Minden, whose father is a friend of her husband-to-be.

A week before the wedding day, Humphrey insists on showing Flora's grave to Elisa; when he remarks that his late wife is lying right beneath them and could stand up and grab the young woman's dress, Elisa is terrified. Humphrey calls Flora "'a wicked woman'" and tells his fiance not to be afraid of the dead. They return to Orford's home for tea with Elisa's father, aunt, and cousin Philip, a young soldier. Elisa dislikes the house and begins to wonder why she agreed to marry the older man. The guests tour the house and Elisa sees Humphrey's study, where his desk sits in front of a painting of a man hanging from a gallows. She also observes a silk petticoat draped over the back of a chair. The article of clothing has been mended and patched many times and Humphrey tells Elisa that it is a gift for her. All of the guests suspect that the petticoat had belonged to Flora, but Humphrey lies and says that it belongs to Mrs. Boyd, the housekeeper.

"The Scoured Silk"
was first published here
Elisa also observes a portrait of Flora before she and the other guests leave. At home, Elisa asks Philip to come with her to speak to Mrs. Boyd. Returning to Humphrey's house, the pair visit the old housekeeper in her basement room and ask her to tell them about Flora, who had been the pretty daughter of Humphrey's gamekeeper. After they wed, he caught her with a lover, shut up their house, and brought her to London. She died and no one saw her again. Humphrey had her lover arrested and the young man was hanged; it is his picture that adorns the wall in Orford's study. Mrs. Boyd reveals that Humphrey talks to the portrait, addressing Flora, and then imitates her voice, responding. As for the silk petticoat, Flora was wearing it when she was caught with her lover.

After an altercation between Humphrey and Philip, the soldier leaves with Elisa and tells her that she will not marry Orford. The next day, Philip comes home and announces that Humphrey has been murdered in his study. He was found sitting at his desk with a knife in his back; he had locked himself in the evening before to eat dinner and in the morning he was discovered dead, the door still locked. Everyone is mystified until Elisa insists on visiting the scene of the crime. She observes that the silk petticoat is gone and, as she looks around the room, she notices the corner of the garment sticking out from behind a door hidden in the wall behind the desk. A small, secret chamber is discovered, and inside it is the body of Flora, a white kerchief knotted fatally around her throat, wearing the silk petticoat. Her husband had kept her prisoner in the cupboard for twenty years and had cut out her tongue to prevent her from calling for help. Her coffin was exhumed and found to be empty; no one ever was certain why she finally chose to get her revenge.

Michael Rennie as Humphrey Orford
"The Scoured Silk" is a haunting story with one curious flaw: how did Flora die? Did she murder her husband and then strangle herself by knotting a kerchief around her own neck? Is that even possible? Other than that, it is a thrilling, well-told story featuring a young heroine who barely avoids marrying a man who treated his wife with unbelievable cruelty. The story was first published in the June 8, 1918 issue of All-Story Weekly, as part of a series called "Crimes of Old London." The author, Marjorie Bowen, was the pseudonym of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long (1885-1952), a British novelist and biographer who wrote her first novel, The Viper of Milan, at age sixteen. When it was published it was a bestseller and she continued writing numerous stories and novels throughout the rest of her life, sometimes using the pseudonyms Joseph Shearing and George Preedy. In fact, "The Scoured Silk" was reprinted in the August 1951 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine under the byline, Joseph Shearing.

Antoinette Bower as Elisa Minden
When Bowen's short story was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1961 it was retitled "The Silk Petticoat," and there may have been some difficulty in writing the teleplay, since it is credited to Halsted Welles and Norman Ginsbury, which may mean that one of the writers turned in a script that had to be rewritten by the other. The show aired on NBC on Tuesday, January 2, 1962, and is a fascinating example of how an old story was adapted for television in the early 1960s. The central plot elements remain, yet there are significant changes that deepen the narrative and clear up its one curious flaw.

The show begins with a title card that reads, "London 1817," so the events have been advanced 84 years from those of the short story. A horse-drawn carriage brings Humphrey and Elisa to the churchyard, where her bright, sunny disposition contrasts with his grim outlook. He shows her Flora's gravestone, which reads that she died in 1793, 24 years earlier and thus almost a quarter century before the events of the show; the 24-year gap in time makes the show's final scene even more horrible. Unlike the short story, where Elisa is not said to be unaware of her predecessor, in the TV show she is surprised by the revelation and, while in the short story Humphrey suggests to his young fiance that Flora could reach up from her grave and touch her, that thought comes from Elisa in the TV show.

In the following scene, Elisa's father arrives at Orford's house and is welcomed by Mrs. Boyd, the housekeeper. He describes himself as a "'country doctor'" who cannot "'afford to live so luxuriously,'" adding a financial motive to his daughter's upcoming marriage that is absent from the story. The other guests--Philip and the doctor's sister--are missing from the TV version; Philip does not enter the story until a later scene. Humphrey and Elisa return home and she asks to see his study, which she has yet to visit.

Whoever painted this could have
gone on to stock the Night Gallery!
When Humphrey brings Elisa and her father to see his study, he comments on his "'work on the early Christian martyrs,'" a change from the story, where he was translating an Italian Romantic poem, a pursuit made to seem rather frivolous. Humphrey shows them a book of the life of St. Sebastian and discusses the fate of the martyr, calling his agony "'exquisite'" in a curious moment that makes him seem odd and appears to raise suspicion in the minds of his guests. "'In that condition, the victim's pain becomes pleasure so that those who inflict it can hardly be called torturers or even sinners.'" This strange bit of dialogue makes sense at the end of the episode when Flora's captivity is revealed; looking back, one suspects that Humphrey thought of himself as a modern-day archer, whose decades-long torture of his wife was a kind of purification ritual justified by her sin. After she discovers the painting of the hanged man and Orford leaves the room, Elisa comments to her father about her fiance's change in demeanor when he discussed St. Sebastian and torture: "'he seemed to revel in it.'" This frightens Elisa but, when she shares her concerns with her father as they leave, he reveals that he is in debt to Humphrey and marriage to Elisa will settle the obligation.

In the next scene, Elisa returns to the Orford house alone to speak with Mrs. Boyd. Unlike the story, where Philip accompanies Elisa and her father on their visit to Humphrey's house and then returns with Elisa to interview Mrs. Boyd, the TV show finds Elisa having this discussion without him. Instead of discussing Orford's past and his first wife with Mrs. Boyd in her basement room, Flora insists on being allowed to inspect the study. At first, Mrs. Boyd resists, claiming that she does not have a key, but eventually Elisa's determination wins out, Mrs. Boyd takes out the key from its hiding place, and they enter. Elisa asks about the silk petticoat and confirms that it does not belong to the housekeeper, who tells the story of Flora's deception and death, which Mrs. Boyd ascribes to "'terror or hatred.'" The housekeeper shows Elisa the portrait of the hanged man, who was Flora's lover; instead of being tucked away, as it had been in the earlier scene, it is now displayed prominently on a wall. Suddenly, Humphrey enters the study, dismisses Mrs. Boyd, and tells Elisa the tragic tale that is told by Mrs. Boyd in the short story.

Jack Livesey as Dr. Minden
The TV version continues to change from its source in the next scene, where Elisa enters in a wedding dress, presumably on the day of her wedding. She is nervous but comes to life when a maid announces that Philip has arrived. Moving his entrance later in the sequence of events makes it more consequential than it is in the short story, where he accompanies Elisa and her father when they visit the house and view the study. Elisa rushes to see Philip and Humphrey is visibly threatened by the young man and by Elisa's reaction to his presence, leaving the room and later hiding when Philip is about to depart so he can witness the chaste kiss on the cheek that the soldier gives to his cousin, along with the look of disappointment on her face when he leaves.

The next scene takes place that evening in Humphrey's bedroom; he invites Elisa to toast their marriage, so the wedding must have gone forward as planned, something that never happens in the short story and an event that makes Orford a bigamist. He again brings up her cousin Philip and the viewer is reminded of his first wife, who betrayed him; it becomes clear that Humphrey is concerned that history will repeat itself when he provokes an argument with Elisa by accusing her of plotting to meet Philip on her return from her honeymoon. The scene ends as Humphrey roughly kisses Elisa, a kiss that has no tenderness and is not returned.

Doris Lloyd as Mrs. Boyd
The final scene of the episode begins with Dr. Minden pacing in the foyer of his daughter's new home; she rushes down the stairs and summons him to come up and help find out why Humphrey is locked in his study and not answering. In the short story, Elisa has not yet married Humphrey when Philip returns to her father's home and delivers the news that Orford has been found dead. The TV version takes this scene and makes it more exciting by showing the viewer the discovery of the corpse. Dr. Minden puts his shoulder to the door and breaks the lock; he, Elisa, and Mrs. Boyd burst into Orford's study and are shocked to find him lying dead on the floor, his chair overturned, rather than sitting at his desk with a knife in his back, as in the short story.

In the TV version, there is no knife in sight, but Dr. Minden announces that Orford has been stabbed. Immediately, Elisa notices the corner of the petticoat sticking out from behind the hidden door and, after a bit of wall-tapping and careful examination, her father presses a hidden button and the door swings open to reveal the haggard face of Flora, who is very much alive but obviously insane. Mrs. Boyd helpfully tells the viewer that "'she must have stabbed him with the paper knife'" and Dr. Minden takes the bloody weapon from her motionless hand.

David Frankham as Philip
The final shock is delivered when the doctor examines Flora's mouth (thankfully the camera cuts away from this) and, when Elisa asks why the woman never cried out for help, her father responds, "'He's thought of that. He cut out her tongue!'" The trio walk out of the frame and the music swells as the camera slowly moves in to focus on Flora, wearing the silk petticoat and displaying a look of puzzled, insane horror on her face as the screen fades to black.

"The Scoured Silk" is a great horror story, but "The Silk Petticoat" improves on its source by leaving Flora alive at the end of the show. The confusion of her apparent suicide by neckerchief in the short story is eliminated and the look of madness on her face expresses the horror of her decades-long confinement to grim effect. The acting in this episode is excellent. Michael Rennie plays Orford as coolly evil; his tall, thin frame and patrician face are perfect for the character. Antoinette Bower, as Elisa, is also strong, demonstrating a character that may be more consistent with the 1961 date of filming than the 1817 setting.

Mollie Glessing as the maid
As for the supporting players, Jack Livesey is convincing as the country doctor in debt to Orford who is happy to sell his daughter to an older man in order to cancel his obligation. Doris Lloyd is shaky as Mrs. Boyd, at one point calling Dr. Minden "'Dr. Lubin'" and at another flubbing her line and immediately repeating it; the speed of filming and budgetary constrictions must have prevented re-filming the scene. David Frankham makes a brief appearance as Philip and Mollie Glessing has a short stint as the maid. Shirley O'Hara is haunting as Flora; she has no lines, of course, but the expression on her face is unforgettable.

The show is directed by John Newland (1917-2000), of One Step Beyond fame, whose style--at least in this episode--is unusual in that he mostly eschews the standard shot-reverse shot sequences that are so often used to display conversations between two characters. Instead, he films each character saying their line in closeup, cutting from one to the other and not relating them to each other in space. Newland got his start in Vaudeville and was an actor before he became a director. He is best known for hosting and directing the TV series One Step Beyond (1959-1961) and its sequel, The Next Step Beyond (1978). Newland directed other classic episodes of favorite TV series, including "I Kiss Your Shadow" on Bus Stop and "Pigeons From Hell" on Thriller. "The Silk Petticoat" was one of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that he directed, including "Bad Actor."

The teleplay is credited to Halsted Welles and Norman Ginsbury (1902-1991), a British playwright who has a couple of films and a number of TV shows to his credit, between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. I suspect that he wrote the original teleplay and Halsted Welles reworked it, since this was the only time Ginsbury's name appeared in the ten years of the Hitchcock TV show.

Shirley O'Hara as Flora
Michael Rennie (1909-1971) was born Eric Alexander Rennie in England. He started acting late, at age 26, and his first film role was as a stand-in for Robert Young in Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936). He became a star after WWII and his best-remembered role is in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). He acted on TV starting in 1956 and appeared on Batman, as well as in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and "The Long Silence" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Antoinette Bower (1932- ) had just started her career on TV the year before this episode was filmed. She would go on to appear in movies and on TV into the early 1990s, including two roles on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the other is "A Woman's Help," where she plays the other woman in a love triangle), as well as appearances on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Star Trek, and many other shows. She still lives in Los Angeles and has appeared at conventions, greeting fans of classic TV.

In smaller roles:
  • Jack Livesey (1901-1961) was on screen from 1917 to 1961, appeared on Thriller, and had parts in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Last Escape."
  • Doris Lloyd (1896(?)-1968) was born in Liverpool, started out in Vaudeville in 1916, and appeared in over 150 films from 1920 to 1967, including Phantom Lady (1944). She was in four episodes of Thriller and nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Dip in the Pool."
  • David Frankham (1926- ) worked for the BBC from 1948 to 1955 before coming to the U.S. and becoming an actor. He was on screen from 1956 until 2010 and wrote an autobiography titled Which One Was David? He was also seen in "The Impromptu Murder" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and "Murder Case" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
  • Mollie Glessing (1891-1971) made a habit of playing maids and was in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby." always in small roles.
  • Shirley O'Hara (1924-2002) played small parts on film and TV from 1943 to 1980. She was on the Hitchcock show three times, including "Death of a Cop," and she appeared on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Read "The Scoured Silk" here or watch the TV version here.


Bowen, Marjorie. "The Scoured Silk." The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories By Women. Ed. S.T. Joshi. Mineola: Dover, 2016. 219-235.

Collected Twilight Stories, Vol. I, Accessed 21 May 2023.


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.


"Marjorie Bowen." The Cold Embrace, p. 267.

"The Silk Petticoat." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 13, CBS, 2 January 1962.

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Crackpot" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Halsted Welles concludes with a look at "Strange Miracle," starring David Opatoshu!

Monday, May 29, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 81: March 1989


The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

George Pratt
Batman #431

"The Wall"
Story by James Owsley
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

When known criminal Ralph Stuart confesses to "a litany of dirty tricks" and lands in jail, Batman wants to know why. Tape recordings of Stuart's phone calls reveal that he witnessed four mysterious men killing a woman and now he's so scared that he prefers being locked up to freedom. Batman visits Stuart in prison but the crook won't talk, so the Dark Knight investigates, disguised as a handyman and a Black doctor. Finally, he identifies the corpse and discovers that she was killed with a "vibrating palm strike," which only a few people on planet Earth know how to do.

Batman visits Mugs Clifford and informs the thug that he knows that Mugs hired the League of Assassins to kill the female federal attorney who was prosecuting Mugs for racketeering. The assassins got the wrong address and killed the wrong woman. After Batman leaves, Mugs calls his contact and cancels the hit on the attorney.

Batman visits the home of Thaddeus Gladden, the middleman who arranged the hit for Mugs, and finds him dead. The assassins are still on the premises and Batman fights and defeats all four of the sword-wielding ninjas, using the vibrating palm strike with great care in order to knock the last one unconscious. He then travels to a remote spot in North Korea, a place where he had gone ten years before as Bruce Wayne to learn the rare fighting technique. He confronts Master Kirigi, who trained Bruce and the assassins, with the death of the young woman, but the sensei is not upset, since that would require moral judgment. Batman turns and leaves, suggesting that the sensei might do well to acquire some morals.

Jack: And here I thought Batman was heading off to see Ra's al Ghul yet again! "The Wall" is another one-shot story, following Starlin's piece about the rooftop sniper, which came after the long story arc involving the death of Robin. James Owsley, who later changed his name to Christopher Priest, presents a complex and engrossing narrative that features something quite unusual in a Batman title--a seven-page, wordless fight sequence! Yes, seven pages. That's nearly one third of the 22 pages in the story! Fortunately, Aparo and DeCarlo are up to the challenge.

Peter: I liked this one but didn't love it. This was probably the era of Batman funny books that Chris Nolan and his brother grew up on, since there are a lot of "tells" scattered amongst the pages: that snow-flurried splash and the emergence of the League of Assassins, not to mention the introduction in next month's Detective of Henri Ducard. I can see panels of these comics pinned up on the Nolans' office corkboard in prep for Batman Begins. I dug the wordless, seven-page action sequence; sometimes you don't need smartass one-liners to get the message through.

Denys Cowan/Malcolm Jones III
Detective Comics #598

"Blind Justice"
"Chapter One: The Sleep of Reason"
"Chapter Two: The Kindness of Strangers"
"Chapter Three: The Price of Knowledge"
Story by Sam Hamm
Art by Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, & Frank McLaughlin

The world’s greatest detective is called in by Commissioner Gordon to investigate the death of a night watchman who was guarding a jeweler's vault. Every bone in the man's body was broken and Gordo has no suspects. Can the Batman help? The mystery comes at a superb time for our hero, who hasn't been sleeping well of late, thanks to some particularly disturbing nightmares.

Meanwhile, Jeannie Bowen has traveled to Gotham to search for her missing brother. She's been sifting through a meager amount of clues but the trail ends at the Wayne Tech Building, where brother Roy was working as an intern. Wayne Tech's director of research, Mitchell Riordan, insists Jeannie is incorrect; her brother never worked at WT!

Working on a tip from a "punk," Batman stalks the shadows of Gotham Harbor, waiting for a drug shipment to come in on a garbage scow. Just as the vessel arrives in port, the Dark Knight hears (and feels) an odd humming and the boat disintegrates. Suddenly, from the smoke of the wreckage, a huge, hooded figure emerges. Batman quickly takes stock of the small dishes attached to the giant's arms and deduces that he is using some sort of "low-frequency sonic pulse." The muscled mammoth introduces himself as "Bonecrusher" and the two battle a bit before Batman is knocked into the water. Bonecrusher escapes, but he was injured in the battle and is bleeding profusely.

Batman arises from the polluted water and tracks Bonecrusher to a local warehouse. He offers to take the giant in and get him some medical aid, but Bonecrusher politely declines and jumps into some electrical wires, killing himself. When Gordon arrives at the scene, Batman surmises that the equipment the dead man was using was quite expensive and he would not be surprised if there was a puppet master pulling the strings. Across town, three derelicts trade horror stories about their latest nightmares. One admits that his dream concerned fighting Batman at the harbor.

Inevitably, Jeannie Bowen finds her way to Bruce Wayne and talks him into showing her around Wayne Tech. Sure enough, many of the employees remember brother Roy and, once prompted, even Bruce admits to having seen him once. Mitchell Riordan ducks out of the meeting and makes a phone call, telling an unknown (to us, at least) party that the wagons are circling and he needs a plan. Bruce apologizes to Jeannie for the dead end but asks if she'd like to take in an opera with him that night. She gleefully agrees.

Reports of the Bonecrusher's demise are exaggerated and he soon pops up again, this time as a hijacker of "fissionable material." The Bat-signal flying high in the sky, Bruce has no choice but to dump his date on the sidewalk and burn rubber. Elsewhere, in a dark alley, a young man is assaulted and his bag stolen. A pair of good Samaritans come along and take him to the local food shelter. As Batman battles Bonecrusher, the young man acts out the skirmish in the food shelter as his new friends look on in alarm. Finally, the police are summoned and the young man is taken to a Gotham precinct and caged. Meanwhile, the Bonecrusher wearies of the battle and ignites the flammable truck, setting off a whale of an explosion and killing himself.... again.

Gordon and Batman are alerted to the incident at the food kitchen and they head to the jailhouse to interview the prisoner. Bats immediately recognizes the man as Jeannie's sister, Roy, but keeps the info to himself, asking Gordon for a bit of private time with the jailbird. Mano a mano, Roy admits he has no memories of his past life, claiming he awoke on a subway platform a few months prior. He does, however, think he dreamed of battling Batman. The Caped Crusader asks Gordon to release the prisoner to him, no questions asked, and then tells Jeannie of the situation. He offers up Wayne Manor as a hotel for the two wanderers.

Roy is examined by a doctor and it is discovered that a microchip has been planted in his brain, a device linked to the brain of Bonecrusher and, evidently, manufactured by Wayne Tech. When Bruce asks Roy if he can remember anything about his tenure at the company, the amnesiac admits the only thing he can recall is a code word: Sunday. Bruce hacks into the mainframe for his own company looking for anything related to a "Sunday Project," unaware that, miles away, Mitchell Riordan knows exactly what Wayne is doing.

Jeannie and Roy are enjoying a quiet moment in the Wayne Manor dining room when Roy suddenly doubles over in pain. The security alarm goes off and, suddenly, the wall caves in. The Bonecrusher has invited himself in. The giant is about to crush Roy's bones when Alfred shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. Bruce lifts Bonecrusher's hood to see what lies beneath but is stunned when his new enemy's body explodes. The explosion brings Roy's memory back and he reveals that he was involved in a project code-named SABAT (Surgically Augmented Biochip Assault Troops), building the perfect killer for the military.

With a quick suit change, Batman heads to Wayne Tech, where he discovers a whole lot of activity going down. All the lab equipment is being loaded onto a truck and goons are guarding the lab inside. Bats takes out the henchmen and breaks into the lab where he finds top professor, Dr. Kenneth Harbinger, dead. The detective goes through the professor's notes and discovers the old man had perfected a micro-chip that enabled one to link minds with another subject. He had sold the cartel on the merits of super-soldiers. Turns out Harbinger is behind Bonecrusher; the wheelchair-bound scientist had become addicted to the thrill of superpower and no repercussions. Knowing the cartel was about to snuff him, Harbinger transferred his brain into another body.

Confronting Riordan about SABAT, the millionaire playboy is informed that if he spills the beans to the police, the cartel will make public just what Bruce Wayne does in his free time. Bruce stands his ground and tells his employee that he'll go to the cops anyway. Later, at Wayne Manor, two men in expensive (purple) suits arrive to arrest Bruce Wayne for... bein' a stinkin' commie spy!

Peter: Wow, a lot to digest here, obviously. "Blind Justice," written by Tim Burton's Batman co-scripter Sam Hamm, will span 145 pages and three issues. It's an epic all right, a complicated cat-herding of a script, and I was lost several times, I must admit. Hamm does a great job of throwing us off the scent several times, as with the Harbinger character, who comes off at first like a really noble egghead, discovering new ways to help his fellow humans but, in the end, commits some truly evil deeds in the name of selfishness. 

DC obviously wanted to cash in on the buzz of the then-upcoming Burton flick and figured the Bat-nerds would eat up a huge buffet served up by one of the guys "on the inside." The art is up and down; some of it I really liked and some of it comes off as low-budget Bill Sienkiewicz. With the movie on the horizon (and Prince's "Batdance" about to take the airwaves by storm) and the character's 50th Anniversary celebrated monthly, 1989 was definitely the year of the Bat. I'm all for a party but I'll be glad when Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle return in #601.

Jack: You are too kind to this 61-page pile of slop. The story is unengaging and the art veers back and forth among bad styles that recall the efforts of Frank Robbins, Don Heck, and various Warren artists whose names shall not be mentioned. By part three, I was jotting down the words "confusing," "dull," and "ugly art" in my notes. We have to read another 80+ pages of this mess? Good Lord.

Next Week...
Bruce Wayne, Commie?
Say It Ain't So!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 87: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 72
October 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Astonishing 35
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Jessica!” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Dinner Guest” (a: Don Perlin) 1/2

“Collins Is In His Coffin!” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Man Who Followed!” (a: Mannie Banks)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #26)

“Brother Vampire!” (a: Al Eadah) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

Painfully shy college student Philip attempts to fit in with the other guys in class by fabricating a beautiful girlfriend named “Jessica!” The fantasy becomes eerily real when his new friends happen upon Philip on a bridge and discover a woman’s corpse fitting Jessica’s profile to a tee. Philip is convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. As he awaits the drop of the switch, Jessica comes to him and Philip dies happily.

A quiet but intensely unnerving little yarn that avoids any supernatural histrionics and, instead, relies on psychological horror. Or does it? Could Jessica have been some kind of malevolent spirit on a recruiting spree? And who was the dead girl under the bridge? “Jessica!” excels at raising the hair while simultaneously keeping things calm.

A Russian Commissar is told by an old man that his son is a zombie and so his charity must be increased. The Commissar scoffs at the man’s story until he’s shackled to a bench and presented as lunch to the zombie son. “The Dinner Guest!” is padded at four pages but does present some nice early Don Perlin work.

A newspaper reporter interviews Bob Lane and his wife about the “Collins affair.” Years before, Bob stood by while a mad mob lynched his neighbor, Josh Collins, for a crime they knew he didn’t commit. Since Collins’s land was so rich and valuable, there was plenty to be gained if the farmer was out of the way. With his dying breath, he curses his killers to die a thousand deaths. The drought that arrives soon thereafter brings just such a death. “Collins is in His Coffin!” begins as a quasi-EC Shock SuspenStories nod but then descends into a formulaic revenge yarn. The final panel, where Lane and his wife disintegrate into skeletons before the reporter, makes no sense whatsoever. Nor does Lane offering up his take on an incident that would surely have landed him in jail years before.

Convoluted and complicated, “The Man Who Followed!” is very hard to follow. Something about a futuristic hunter who tires of easy game and so creates his own prey based on the terrifying apes to be found on Mars. But the red planet monkeys are smarter than they look. The closer this issue, “Brother Vampire!,” is an inane bit of hogwash about a vampire who comes upon an amnesia victim and has the brilliant idea of masquerading the pair as Siamese twins (who would suspect one-half of being a vampire?). He joins them together with a gob of plastic (no, seriously!) and explains away his vampirism to his “brother” as “just something that happened!” To save a pretty girl from becoming the latest victim, the good half stakes the bad half and is then overcome with a moment of clarity. Some fun vampire graphics by Al Eadah but otherwise disposable.

Journey into Mystery 18
Cover by Carl Burgos

“The Man Who Went Back!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★

(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)

“The Hidden Man!” (a: Ed Moline)

“He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” (a: Bill Walton)

(r: Tales of the Zombie #3)

“The Swami!” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★

“The Worst Thirst” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★

(r: Dead of Night #5)

Every time Jeff Martin dives off the pier into the Hudson, he becomes ten years younger. “The Man Who Went Back” doesn’t understand why he’s reaping the rewards but he’s not going to complain. That is, until two men begin following him around. Jeff panics and jumps into the river, traveling back another 25 years. Since he’s an expert at the stock market, Jeff makes another ton of money but notices the men hanging around outside his home. He grabs a gun and heads for the pier again, but when he throws a few shots their way, the men gun Jeff down. Turns out they were IRS agents traveling back in time, pursuing him for unpaid taxes. The climax is simultaneously inane and pretty on-the-nose. The idea that the IRS would find a way to track anyone who owed dough to the government (even through time) makes a lot of sense but the rest of it doesn’t. Why is Jeff blessed/cursed with this liquid time machine?

In “The Hidden Man!,” a series of shootings befuddles the police. No motive, no robbery, no trace of the gunman, nothing that can help the cops nab the perp. If only they looked in the nearby zoo, where a monkey has managed to get hold of a pistol and several boxes of ammo. Never mind the fact that the monkey would probably chew the boxes of bullets rather than load them into the cylinder… never mind where the monkey got the gun… what about the fact that these shootings take place over a period of two days… doesn’t anyone feed that monkey? 

Comedian Eddie Johnson hits the big time, signed by a superstar agent, and goes out for a bit too much celebrating. He doesn’t quite make the curve on the cliff and his convertible takes a dive. Eddie is thrown clear of the wreckage but when the police and ambulance arrive, Eddie is pronounced dead. This, despite the fact that he’s protesting the findings. Eddie is taken into custody and told he has to be cut open for an autopsy. No one will listen to the poor undead guy and he’s put on trial and found guilty of being dead. His accusers bury him alive. But don’t worry… the whole thing was a dream! “He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” is bottom of the barrel drivel with by-the-numbers Bill Walton art.

An evil stepfather forces Timmy to break into the home of “The Swami!” and steal something valuable. However, when Timmy is inside he comes face to face with the seer himself. Once Timmy explains the situation, the swami gives the boy a box and tells him to give it to his stepfather. Back at home, the evil step-pop locks himself into his room, opens the box, and screams. The swami appears at Timmy’s house, explaining that he needs the box back. They open the father’s room to discover he’s disappeared and a strange mist emanates from the box. The story itself is a bit creepy (though it has a very silly, maudlin climax where Timmy’s mother suddenly wakes up to the evils of her husband and promises her son that happiness is just around the corner) but Mort Lawrence gives it a detailed, otherworldly sheen.

In “The Worst Thirst,” the Jessup Brothers are duking it out with the new folks up the hill for water supplies. The Jessups are convinced the newcomers tapped into their well and are siphoning off their drinking water. Joe Jessup gets a bright idea and talks brother Pete into sneaking up the hill that night and laying pipe from the neighbors’ well down to their own property. Unfortunately, the neighbor hears the brothers digging and comes out with a shotgun. Pete kills the man and the brothers bury his body near the well. The next day, cool, fresh water flows out of the Jessup well. Just then, Jeb, the man who’s been delivering the Jessups their drinking water, pulls up and gives them the skinny on why the neighbors haven’t been using their well. Seems one of the town drunks dumped a barrel of crop poison down the well and one drink will kill a man within two hours.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 31
Cover by Carl Burgos

“Who’s Dead?” (a: Paul Reinman)

“The Strange Man!” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

“The Captive!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

“The Worm Men!” (a: Dan Loprino) 1/2

“No Place to Hide!” (a: Ed Robbins)

Doc and O’Brian enter into a deal: O’Brian will play dead in a coffin with 200 grand sewn into his death suit and Doc will dig him up right after the funeral. But then Doc decides to give it a couple weeks since… what’s the hurry, right? Problem is, there’s an unidentified stiff in O’Brian’s coffin! So “Who’s Dead?” Abysmal, with a climactic “twist” so complicated that the writer felt the need to include an expository.

Equally lame-brained is “The Strange Man!,” wherein the police haul in famous sculptor Alberto Grappiosa for covering the park statues with raincoats and galoshes, claiming that even stone figures can catch cold. After the cops are forced to release the artist, they catch him doing his schtick again and there’s a tussle, after which Alberto falls and shatters into a million pieces. He knew the figures were subject to inclement weather because he was a statue too! Except, I guess, a mobile statue.Sheesh.

The Skas visited Earth millions of years ago and planted the seed that became man. Now, they’ve come back to inspect what they created by kidnapping one man and studying his brain functions. After much testing, the Skas come to the conclusion that mankind must be destroyed, unaware that the man they abducted was an escaped mental patient. "The Captive!" has a fun and clever wrap-up that almost makes up for the slow build and the ho-hum Perlin graphics.

After a massive explosion in a mine shaft, one of the survivors is rescued and swears he saw Tony Rye down there. That’s utterly impossible since Rye was presumed dead in a cave-in a year before. Nevertheless, a search party heads down into the dangerous mine shaft to investigate. They do, indeed, find Tony Rye, his head jutting out of a hole in the wall and warning his friends to leave before “The Worm Men!” capture them. Tony explains that the titular creatures have kept him alive the last year by teaching him how to absorb coal dust through his skin. The lights go out, another cave-in occurs, and the men know they’re trapped. When they finally get a lantern lit, they see the full story behind Tony Rye: he’s got a long worm-like body trailing behind his human head. A creepy final panel can’t save what is essentially a one-page story padded out to four, and some truly wretched art by Dan Loprino.

Every night, Otto Roznic transforms into a werewolf and plays a game of grab and run with the peasants in the village of Grudnia. Always making it back to his estate just in time and ahead of the angry mob, Otto lounges and guffaws at the villagers as they attempt to track the creature of the night. But one night, the weather plays havoc with Otto’s game and the wind shuts his bedroom window, leaving him at the mercy of the mob. Luckily, Otto finds a pack of wolves and runs with them but time gets away from him and he transforms back into his human shape again. The wolves tear him to pieces. Grubnia is obviously home to some of the more simpler people on Earth; every night they manage to track the lycanthrope through the snow back to the Ruznic estate but never put two and two together. It also doesn’t speak well of the villagers’ collective IQ in that the werewolf runs around in a three-piece suit and cape remarkably similar to the one their precious Otto wears! “No Place to Hide!” brings to close one of the worst ever issues of JIUW.

Marvel Tales 127
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Vampires Also Die” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Buried Alive!” (a: Bob McCarty) 1/2

“He Walks Through Walls” (a: John Forte)

“Skrak’s Secret!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“Gone is the Gargoyle” (a: Mort Drucker) ★★1/2

A sickly young vampire feels as though his younger brother, Igor, gets all the attention. Jealous, he approaches an old witch for a solution. “Vampires Also Die” is a weird hybrid of the horror and humor comics Atlas was publishing at the time, almost like a meeting of the two genres in the middle of the road. The Vampire clan most resembles the Addams Family. The chief draw of “Vampires Also Die,” of course, is the Colan art. Even when obviously drawing with tongue (or fangs) in cheek, Colan delivers a creepy, noirish atmosphere like no other artist could. 

The Great Galdoni has become the world’s number one escape artist but his assistant, the gorgeous blonde, Lila, wants to slap marriage cuffs on the magician and she wants them fast. Galdoni has a bigger plan and it involves a millionaire’s widow, so he talks Lila into doing the dangerous “safe in the lake” trick. Of course, the event goes awry, and poor Lila drowns. Galdoni and the widow announce their engagement with one last stunt: the “buried alive” trick. It’s an event no one will want to miss, not even Lila. The finale of “Buried Alive!” features a reveal that’ll elicit a smile, but makes no sense at all once you think it over.

After an electric shock allows Adolphe to walk through walls, he decides to devote his life to crime. Of course, it helps that Adolphe is manager at the bank he works at so he simply waits until late on night and walks through the bank vault. Unfortunately, his powers wear off and he becomes trapped within the bank vault door. There’s no explanation for the sudden loss of Adolphe’s power in “He Walked Through Walls,” but that didn’t bother me so much as the fact that the guy doesn’t sink into the ground when he walks. 

What Andre wants most in the world is to be a great impressionistic painter like the great Skrak. No one knows how the brilliant artist captures pain and misery so triumphantly. What is “Skrak’s Secret!?” Andre decides to follow the painter home to his studio one night and breaks in to Skrak’s cellar. There, he waits, hoping the painter will come down to work on his latest masterpiece. When Skrak finally descends and picks up his brush, Andre accidentally knocks over some crates and his presence is felt. At last, Andre will learn for himself how the master captures pain and misery so triumphantly! While the plot is old hat, I got a big kick out of Al Eadah’s artwork. Eadah creates a world where virtually everyone is ugly and dwarfish.

The final tale, “Gone is the Gargoyle,” is the best story of the issue almost by default. It’s got a wacky script and some dynamite Mort Drucker visuals. By night, one of the stone gargoyles atop the Notre Dame becomes flesh and blood and descends to take one unlucky Parisian up to his aerie for a midnight snack. And every night, a police officer watches and ignores the horrifying display of brutality. What is the connection between the officer and the gargoyle? A fairly predictable one, unfortunately, but there are still a few interesting twists and turns to keep the interest. Drucker’s visualization of the gargoyle attacks is unnerving; this is one vicious creature. It’s a downright dirty shame that Drucker only appeared twice in the Atlas horror titles (the other being “Look Ma… A Vampire!” in Strange Tales #30), but his name would appear 16 more times post-code. Two years after the publication of Marvel Tales #127, Drucker began his historic 55-year run on Mad.

In Two Weeks...
The Magical Matt Fox!