Monday, February 20, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 6: September and October 1970

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman #225 (September 1970)

"Wanted for Murder One, The Batman"
story by Denny O'Neil
art by Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

"Shutdown on York Street!"
story by Mike Friedrich
art by Irv Novick & Mike Esposito

In the first story, TV talk-show host Jonah Jory hates Batman and verbally attacks him while Commissioner Gordon is a guest on his show. Later that night, Jory is shot to death at the Gotham Athletic Club. A witness sees Batman outside the window and the hero is charged with murder one. Batman goes undercover to find the real killer and deduces that Jory arranged his own death and had Batman blamed.

In the second story, a drag race ends in tragedy when one of the racers is killed by another, whose brakes fail as he tries to scare his opponent. Batman investigates and determines that a jealous young man was the culprit.

Jack: O’Neil uses the Ellery Queen challenge to the reader on the bottom of page 11, telling us we have all the clues we need to solve the mystery.

PE: I'm not sure Ellery Queen would run a mystery so far-fetched in its denouement. But then again...

Jack: Anti-establishment themes run through O’Neil’s work at this stage; here, a TV host hates a hero for no clear reason and is shown to be a fake—false teeth, toupee, and shoulder pads in his sport jacket.

PE: What function does Gotham's Public Works Department serve? Why am I thinking Public Works would be water, electricity, cable TV, etc.? Why does Reeves show up at crime scenes? To make sure the utilities are working, if I follow my own lack of reasoning. This is not the first time Reeves has cast aspersions on The Dark Knight and it won't be the last. Gordon continues to act like a chump when guilt is thrown Batman's way. "Well, he's pulled our fat out of the fire countless times but I have no choice, arrest Batman and, if he puts up a fight, shoot to kill!"

Jack: Batman is a detective, not a super-hero. These stories are gritty and realistic.

PE: I'll agree with you on the gritty point, Jack, but not on the realism. At least not on "Wanted for Murder..." That slingshotted gun through the gym window was a bit of a stretch (if you'll pardon the pun).  Nice art, though. I must be a master detective just like Batman, since I figured out who the killer was as well. And the motive.

Jack: Although the backup story runs nine pages, not much seems to happen. Once again, Batman is involved with regular people, not super-villains.

PE: When Alex ran Vic over and totaled his car, I thought for a moment that Vic must have had super powers to destroy Alex's car. It looked like an accordion! There's a lot of hazy action here. Why is Batman so convinced the kid is innocent? Alex ran Vic down. He told witnesses. Case closed. Jack's right on the money, as usual, about the "regular people" aspect of these stories. Outside of Man-Bat, we've yet to hit any super-villains in 1970 and, peeking ahead, we won't see any member of Batman's gallery of rogues until mid-1971. These villains are lawyers, entertainers, politicians, people with money. You could consider Batman the Columbo of comics.

Detective # 403 (September 1970)

"You Die By Mourning!"
story by Frank Robbins
art by Bob Brown & Frank Giacoia

story  by Mike Friedrich
art by Gil Kane & Vince Colletta

A Mrs. Randall comes to see Bruce Wayne at his VIP (Victims, Inc. Program) office and informs Wayne that she'll become a widow very soon, since her husband will be killed. As Bruce rises to question the woman, she runs off, exposing a gun in her purse. As Batman, Wayne decides it's best to investigate this strange woman. He tracks her to her mansion and catches her and her husband readying themselves to attend a strange Haunted House party. Following them to the "haunted house," Batman witnesses an attempt on the lives of the couple. Now convinced that Mrs. Randall isn't actually in on the plan to kill her husband, Batman attempts to get to the bottom of the identity of the would-be assassin.

In our back-up story, Dick Grayson is heading to the youth detention center where he volunteers when there's a breakout by the same two youths he had put away at Hudson U. last issue. As Robin, he helps the police by tracking the two youths to a nearby barn.

Jack: This story has a nice Dracula vibe with the couple traveling to the haunted-house monster party in a horse-drawn carriage. I like this story overall.

PE: The reveal of the bad guy is a cheat. He's a character we haven't been introduced to. The fact that his wife is Randall's twin sister and he doesn't even know it is ludicrous. Did he have his eyes closed or something? Did the twin not mention it? The art shows a split personality again--anything with a costumed character in it is eerie and perfectly suited for a story about a "haunted house" but when it comes to the rest of the cast (including Batman's alter ego), it's all second-rate. One face blends in with another. Don't even start me on the Batman two-page finale expository. God, I hate those.

Jack: Batman shows off his Detective skills once again—I did not notice the different beauty marks on the twin sisters!

PE: That's why he's a Dark Knight Detective and we read comic books, Jack.

Jack: It’s interesting to watch Robin try to establish himself as a solo crime-fighter. He doesn’t always make the right decisions and is all the more human for his mistakes. This story is unusual for a Detective backup in that it is self-contained. Robin also gets off the college campus for a change.

Detective #404 (October 1970)

"Ghost of the Killer Skies!"
story by Denny O'Neil
art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

"Midnight Doom-Boy"
story by Frank Robbins
art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

In Spain to oversee the filming of "The Hammer of Hell," a bio-pic about the famous war pilot Baron Hans Von Hammer, Bruce Wayne and his film crew are plagued by on-set incidents, the latest of which is the death of a stunt pilot who is strangled while flying in a one-seat World War I reproduction. Who's trying to sabotage the blockbuster? Evidently it's Hammer uber-fan Heinrich Franz, trying to put the kibosh on what he sees as an insult to the legacy of The Baron. The Dark Knight must use his limited flying skills in a showdown in the sky with the madman who calls himself the Ghost of Von Hammer. Batman may have an Ace up his sleeve.

In our back-up story, Barbara Gordon's search for lost beau Jason Bard comes to a surprising conclusion when she turns on the news and sees him arrested for the murder of "underground cinema" director Billy Warlock.

PE: Bruce Wayne and the crew of the movie being made seem to  treat the strangulation of the dead pilot as an annoyance. "Perhaps we should have a meeting" about all the incidents marring the filming is Wayne's suggestion, while the guy lies amidst the smoldering wreckage! At this point in the series (after 30+ years), Bruce Wayne should appoint Batman his bodyguard a la Iron Man and Tony Stark. This would make the explanation of why no one questions the fact that, no matter where Wayne goes, the Batman follows so much easier to swallow. At one point in the story, Batman climbs into a vintage plane and remarks that, years before, an old stunt pilot had taught him how to fly one of these old "crates." This guy has had one heck of a life. Where has he had time to train at everything known to man? How old is Bruce Wayne?

Jack: Bruce Wayne is in Spain this month, bankrolling a movie about a WWI flying ace to show the “nature—and folly—of war.” Batman is aided by the ghost of another famous flyer in this tribute to Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher. They created the character of Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, in 1965, and he has appeared on and off in comics ever since.

PE: Don't even get me started on DC war comics, Jack. If I had a few more hours in the day, we'd be looking at that genre as well on this blog (maybe someday!). Needless to say, the pairing of Batman and Enemy Ace (as brief as it is) is a match made in Enfantino comic book heaven. Speaking of DC war characters, The Caped Crusader would team up with Easy Company's leader, Sgt. Rock, in several issues of Brave and the Bold as well. Neal Adams is the perfect artist to evoke Joe Kubert (who was still doing his thing at a high level in the various DC war titles), as you can see in the panel below.

A very Kubert-esque image!

Jack: Barbara Gordon refers to Jason Bard as her suitor. That doesn’t faze her dad, who once again jumps to the conclusion that a good guy is a killer, based on some pretty flimsy evidence.

PE: I'd put the guy in jail too if he was trying to get my daughter in the sack. Besides, Bard talks like a meathead. Reading this "hip jive talk" is like trying to watch an All-Irish cast movie without the subtitles. Very annoying. Nice cliffhanger ending almost looks like an ad for the latest issue of The Witching Hour. I like this series so much more than Robin.

Jack: Billy Warlock is obviously a play on Andy Warhol, whose cinema verite film style was the inspiration for the 24 hour film that Gordon used to blame Bard.

PE: I got that part but what threw me was the X-Epic talk. I thought at first this guy was making porn but a 1970 comic book wasn't allowed to acknowledge that there were such things. I'm so glad we live in a world that has moved past silly things like Andy Warhol's "epics" and into legitimate epics like The Transformers trilogy. Now that's fine art.

Jack: Perhaps Michael Bay is the reincarnation of Andy Warhol?

PE: An all-star letter column this issue features Mike Barr, Alan Brennert, and Marty Pasko. But the best letter printed this month is by Steve Beery, who writes that: "Due, no doubt, to the success of such mags as House of Mystery, a kind of semi-horror angle is being tried out on Batman." Steve goes on to worry that this new supernatural slant skews the previously realistic world of The Batman. Good point, but I applaud the invasion of the creepy, of course. As we see with this issue and future Batmans, the otherworldly belongs in the same universe as The Caped Crusader.

Somebody fire up the time machine!

Hey, kids! Let's rap!


Greg M. said...

Another week, another great column, guys. Just a couple of notes from me.

First up, you guys are actually doing a great service with your column. DC is shortchanging Batman fans with their latest Showcase Presents Batman volumes. They've hit the same era you guys are covering, and, surprisingly, their reprint of this week's issue of Batman is short one back-up story. The Robin and Batgirl stories I can understand (they have their own volumes), but this was a Batman back-up. The fact it's not there does not sit very well with me. It may be a bad story, but I want complete reprints. So thanks to you guys for bringing this to my attention. For shame, DC!

Now, secondly, I want to touch on Peter's suggestion of Batman being Wayne's bodyguard, a la Iron Man. Nice idea, but it wouldn't really fit with the mythos of the Batman. He's a legend in Gotham, to some, a supernatural being. Crime may happen, but the criminals would be looking over their shoulders, afraid of Batman. If he were to become Wayne's bodyguard, he'd just be a guy in a suit. His mystique would vanish faster than Gordon's backbone...

Well, that's all I have to say for now. See you guys next week. Same Bat-time, Same Bat-blog!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Greg! My wife had to smile when I told her that you said our column is a "great service."

Peter Enfantino said...


Yes, let me second Jack's thanks to you for the kind words.

As for the Batman as Bruce Wayne's bodyguard: You're right about The Batman being this mythic force in Gotham but I'd have liked the writers to have come up with more imaginative reasons for Batman to be where Bruce happens to be. After a while, even the dopiest Gothamite would have to put two and two together. Of course, I'm asking for rationale for that while ignoring the fact that Bruce just happens to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time in the first place!

Greg M. said...

Jack - You're welcome. :-)

Peter - Though they didn't often touch on it, I think they did portray Bruce as a friend of Batman which, while somewhat goofy, could explain Batman's appearance. For me, though, I like to think that Bruce had excuses all lined up back at the Batcave before he even left. He could keep the mythos alive while going around the world.
But really, when it comes down to it, they don't come up with excuses probably because it didn't occur to them that they needed to. Few people probably questioned it back then. This is the era of Mission:Impossible, after all. If that show could feature an international model (who had many magazine covers) working as a spy for a clandestine agency, and have no one question her at all, why should the Batman be exempt? :-)