Monday, March 12, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 9: January and February 1971

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

The Brave and the Bold #93 (January 1971)

"Red Water Crimson Death"

Story by Denny O'Neil

Art by Neal Adams

Worn out from crimefighting, Batman boards an ocean liner bound for Ireland to take a rest. During the crossing, he saves a young boy named Sean when he is swept overboard in a storm. Bruce Wayne is welcomed by Sean's uncle on the Aran Islands, but late at night the boy walks out and Batman follows. He learns of strange goings-on at the Castle of King Hugh, dead three centuries. Batman follows Sean into the castle and breaks up a gang of crooks who have been scaring the locals in order to gain fishing rights. He is nearly poisoned and shot by the boss, but a heavy, framed portrait of King Hugh falls off the wall at just the right moment, killing the boss and allowing Batman and Sean to escape with their lives.

Jack: I wanted to start this month's post with this Batman story from The Brave and the Bold because it is the first solo Batman story of the 1970s not to appear in Batman or Detective, and because it is the first Batman story drawn by Neal Adams outside of those titles. In addition, it is the first full-length Batman story by Adams, who appears to have done the pencilling and inking himself. The artwork is gorgeous, and it is probably the best Batman story I've read in this series to date.

PE: Good catch on this one, Jack. It's a very odd story in several ways. "Red Water Crimson Death" is a solo story in an otherwise team-up book. I have to believe this was a standard Batman story to run at some time in either Batman or Detective and, for whatever reason, was rewritten with several appearances of Cain, the House of Mystery mascot, overseeing and commenting on the proceedings. Bats never even sets foot in The House of Mystery. The supernatural element was not a taboo in the regular Batman titles (witness "The Secret of the Waiting Graves," the very first story we covered in this column, among others) so maybe a gap needed to be filled in the Brave and the Bold title. This was Neal Adams's final Batman story to appear in BatB (with the exception of 8 penciled pages in #102, July 1972). "The Angel, The Rock and The Cowl," co-starring Sgt. Rock (in issue #84, June 1969) is my personal favorite of the 9 stories he did for BatB. "Red Water" has some jaw-dropping art and some nice twists. You're not really sure until the climax if Bats is teaming with an otherworldly force or Scooby-Doo.

Jack: I am also fond of this story because it takes place on one of the Aran Islands, which I have visited twice. If there was ever a more haunting place to set a Batman tale, I'd like to know about t! The story is narrated by Cain, the narrator of stories in DC's The House of Mystery title. Although the House of Mystery is usually said to be located in Kentucky, Cain explains that a castle is a a house, and this is a mystery, so it's the house of mystery! The story can be read online here.

Detective Comics #407 (January 1971)

"Marriage: Impossible"

Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Reading the paper one evening, Batman is surprised to see a wedding announcement for Kurt Langstrom (aka Man-Bat) and his long-time fiance, Francine. Quickly, The Dark Knight races to the church to be the lone dissenter. Once he's broken up the vows and chased Langstrom away, Batman is astonished to find that Francine is a willing participant in this marriage from Hell. She loves Kurt and will do anything to be with him. Batman soon finds out exactly how far the woman will go when she unmasks and reveals that she's taken the same formula as Dr. Langstrom and become Woman-Bat! Knowing he can't leave the two alone in their present condition, Batman forces the antidote on Kurt and Francine and they once again become human. The Caped Crusader can now leave the honeymooners to their future plans.

Adams? or Robbins?
PE: The way this one opened, I was sure it was a "dream" story but, nope, Frank Robbins is serious. The story's not told in a linear fashion (and it features a three page flashback sequence!) and is seriously confusing. I found it hard to keep track of. When, for instance, did Kurt administer the formula to Francine? Before or after the wedding? Tough to tell. The entire story seems to be told as a flashback at times. The unmasking of Francine is a nice shocker, right out of the blue. I'm at odds about Batman forcing the antidote on the newlyweds. If this is the way they want to live, shouldn't he respect that and leave them be? How is it Batman's place to decide whether the couple is truly happy? Yeah, they're uglier than hell but why should he be the moral compass here? "Marriage: Impossible," by the way, is a silly title but it's much better than the cover-advertised "Bride of the Man-Bat." As with most "permanent cures" in comics, this serum doesn't last and we'll encounter Man-Bat again before the end of 1971.

Jack: Robbins must have known he was onto something with Man-Bat, since this is the third story to feature him in less than a year. The constant "skreek!"ing is annoying! Adams's art looks hurried throughout most of the story, and there is one big shot of Man-Bat that almost looks like the work of (Gulp!) Frank Robbins!

"One of Our Landmarks is Missing!"

written by Frank Robbins
art by Gil Kane & Vince Colletta

Batgirl manages to get herself out of the booby-trapped room she was enclosed in last issue. Once free, she stops hippie bomber Mal's plan to blow up a Gotham landmark. Helping her in her cause is dopey hippie-chick Shelley, who comes out of her 1960s-induced coma just in time to join the human race.

PE: Man, will I be glad when writer Frank Robbins (who was 53 years old by 1971) realizes that the Summer of Love was now four years in the past. Blame Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, I guess. I'd never read any of the back-ups in Batman or Detective before so have no idea if this whole "Campus Aflame with Rebelling Hippie Teens" cycle of stories ends soon. Cross your fingers. A synopsis and critical commentary on "One of Our Landmarks is Missing!" would run longer than the story itself. It reads like a thumbnail sketch for a longer story. Back-ups aren't known for their characterizations or advancement of mythology, but these Batgirl stories are not worth reading but for their gorgeous Kane/Colletta art. I'm not one given to fanboy droolings such as "Ooh, that Jean Grey is such a babe!" but Kane sure could draw a woman's behind so's you'd notice!

Jack: Oddly enough, I selected the panel reproduced here before I read your comment, Peter, so we're clearly on the same wavelength.

PE: I love that Julius Schwartz has the balls (or good sense) to print letters that don't always tow the party line. Yeah, I know Stan would do it from time to time but most of the letters columns we've been through over at Marvel University have been taken up with "Gee willickers, I love The Human Torch, can ya give him and Medusa their own title?" rather than something along the lines of the letter from Clem Robins of Sheffield, Mass., who, to be fair, raves and raves about some really bad Batman stories we've discussed in the last few weeks but also writes the following damning praise:
Witness Detective #403's "You Die By Mourning." Its plot synopsis could've been developed into a mutilated mess by Frank Robbins, Bob Brown, and Frank Giacoia. All three do, or have done, work for other magazines, and all have given me reasons to despise them. But, to me, it's obvious that Detective is their vacation... where Brown puts away his Eisner swipes, Frank Giacoia takes his time, and Frank Robbins throws away his Lorenzo Semple book of cliches.
Brilliant, Clem! We also get missives from future book designer and comic historian Arlen Schumer.

Batman #228 (January-February 1971)

"Outlaw Town, USA!" (originally from Batman #75, Feb-March 1953)
Story by David V. Reed. Art by Dick Sprang.

"The Living Bat-Plane!" (originally from Batman #91, April 1955)
Story by Edmond Hamilton. Art by Dick Sprang.

"The Duplicate Batman!" (originally from Batman #83, April 1954)
Story by David V. Reed. Art by Sheldon Moldoff.

"The Gotham City Safari" (originally from Batman #111, October 1957)
Story by Bill Finger. Art by Sheldon Moldoff.

"Prisoners of the Bat-Cave" (originally from Batman #108, June 1957)
Story by unknown. Art by Sheldon Moldoff.

"The Doors That Hid Disaster" (originally from Detective Comics #238, December 1956)
Story by Dave Wood. Art by Sheldon Moldoff.

PE: The fact that there are two Batman comics cover-dated February must have played hell with collectors in the early 1970s. Why wouldn't DC print January on the cover (it's listed as Jan-Feb on the contents page)?  Thanks to the DC Comics Database for credits on these old-timers. I'd forgotten that science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton had written Superman and Batman comics for twenty years. These 64-page monsters must have been like a Christmas present under the tree for Batman fans in the early days of 1971. Imagine a world with no comic stores, no eBay, no Mile High, only those back issue dealers that advertised in the back pages of your favorite titles. And how could you be sure you'd get those ten issues of JLA for your three bucks plus forty cents postage? These reprint volumes were pert near the only way to enjoy the past decades of Batman unless you were around to buy the originals.

Jack: I especially love the covers of these Giant Batman all-reprint issues. This time, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson pick highlight scenes from several of the stories and arrange them in a way that made this 25-cent treasure trove irresistible on the newsstand. I thought the last story was the best, as Batman and Robin are plunged into traps from prior stories but must find new ways to escape. Sadly, unlike the two Giant Batman issues from 1970, this collection does not feature a series of Sunday page reprints.

Detective Comics #408 (February 1971)

"The House That Haunted Batman"

Story by Len Wein & Marv Wolfman
Art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

Batman attempts to find the missing Robin while seemingly trapped in an unending series of hallucinations. The startling dreams turn out to be the work of the evil Dr. Tzin-Tzin (last seen in Detective Comics #354, thankfully outside our purview), now working for the League of Assassins. Tzin(x2) has crafted an elaborate doom for Batman and Robin but The Dark Knight proves too crafty for the maniacal genius and soon converts his new play toy into rubble. Tzin has another ace up his sleeve as he introduces Batman to his own league of assassins, "The Deadly Dozen," only to watch our hero bowl the lot over in a couple minutes' time. Batman and Robin handcuff the villain and set off to surrender him to the authorities but Tzin-Tzin mysteriously disappears, detonating The House That Haunted Batman behind them.

PE: Tzin-Tzin subscribes to the 1966 TV series motto of "Why kill them outright when you can make it last?" The evil villain's gizmo, The Human Accelerator, is charmingly ludicrous and, ostensibly, good for a one-time use only. Batman and Robin are trapped within giant test tubes and are bounced up and down. When the count reaches 100 (as indicated by the giant digital number displays at the feet of the tubes), the bomb within the tube will be detonated and - *boom* - no more Caped Crusaders. But Batman, no mental slouch, gets to 99, jams himself up at the top of the tube and drops his utility belt, thus igniting what must have been a couple of firecrackers rather than a legitimate bomb, and he is released with nary a scratch. Never mind the expense and time it costs to build an elaborate weapon such as The Human Accelerator, shouldn't you at least make sure it will blow up its captives rather than singe their eyebrows? The League of Assassins (who are sizing up to be The League of Dimwits) will want their down payment back. Then, once his gizmo has been destroyed, Tzin-Tzin corners Bats with a pistol! Holy Last Measures! I'd like to be an evil genius with Batman helpless before me. The job would get done! This is the first story featuring The Dark Knight written by Marv Wolfman, who would become the regular on Batman in the late eighties (#436-451) but, more importantly, became one of the most widely-regarded and, for me, one of the most entertaining comic writers on the planet. His resume became my shopping list: Tomb of Dracula, Night Force, Werewolf By Night, Vigilante, The Avengers, Daredevil, need I go on?

Jack: Don't forget that this was co-written by Len Wein! It almost seemed like two stories glued together. The first part, where Batman wanders in the dark and suffers from hallucinations that include a psychotic Robin and his own funeral, is very entertaining and weird. Then, suddenly, the story turns into another lame League of Assassins entry. Not fair! The Adams art is better than that of last issue, especially in the opening sequences, but it is not at the level we saw in some of the 1970 books.

"The Phantom Bullfighter"

Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck & Dick Giordano

Barbara Gordon heads to Spain to acquire a rare manuscript donated to her library by Don Alvarado. While enjoying a spot of bull-fighting with Alvarado at the Plaza del Toros, she witnesses a near fatal mistake by a master matador. A young man jumps into the ring, seeking a moment of glory, but is rebuffed by the matador. The next night, one of the bulls picked by the matador for his next match is found dead. Barbara Gordon enlists the help of Batgirl to get to the bottom of the mystery.

PE: Quite a jolt to discover Gil Kane has left the strip after a twenty-issue run (to begin his landmark run on The Amazing Spider-Man), leaving the art reins to an unusual choice, Don Heck. Those wondering if we have the same views on Heck as Harlan Ellison need only jump over to our sister blog, Marvel University, to know we feel the same about Heck as we do about any other comic artist: he had his good days and he had his bad. Here, Don is at his best, thanks to a big assist from Dick Giordano. Several spots here look almost as good as Adams. Of course, Don's Barbara Gordon very much resembles Don's Black Widow. It's a decent story but it's got one of the most abrupt finales to a comic story I've yet seen. I realize that the back-ups in Detective and Batman are really longer stories chopped in 7-page chunks, but the final panel of "The Phantom Bullfighter" ends, not with a cliffhanger but more of a pause.

Jack: I was not as impressed with Heck's art as you were. In fact, I was crushed that Gil Kane left the strip. It was also more than a bit dull to spend most of the story following Barbara Gordon as she attends a bullfight. Once again, I am confused by the difference in hair style and length between Babs and Batgirl. On TV, she obviously put on a wig, but in prior stories her hair went from long and straight to mid-length and wavy. Yet, in Heck's debut, it is long and straight in both guises. What gives?

Batman #229 (February 1971)

"Asylum of the Futurians!"

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia

Midnight, on a country road outside Gotham City. Batman happens upon Laura, wife of Stephen Grey, "famed photographer of psychic phenomena." She leads Batman to a strange house in the woods, where five men and a woman sup from empty plates and clap noiselessly to unheard music. When Stephen tells them that they are crazy, the female leader orders him killed. The group are the Futurians, who see what others cannot. Batman rushes to Grey's aid, fighting off gun-toting members of the group but failing to resist capture by their leader. He is sealed in a coffin  and thrown into a lake; he escapes, finally defeating the Futurians but unable to explain Stephen's telepathic call that had summoned him from his night patrol.

Once again, Batman finds himself
easily distracted.
PE: From its pseudo-science fiction trappings to its ambiguous, unsatisfying climax, this is the sort of story I would avoid like the plague in titles like Justice League of America and World's Finest. I like my Dark Knight served dark with mystery and the occasional horrific element rather than in rainbow swirls of fantasy and sf. The big surprise to me here is that this mess was written by one of the greatest of the  DC mainstays, Robert Kanigher, he of a multitude of Sgt. Rock and other great DC war stories (and don't forget his co-creation of The Metal Men, one of my childhood faves). This reads more like a fleshed-out fragment than a legitimate Batman story. I'll read a couple of installments of Kanigher's delightfully goofy "War That Time Forgot" series (published in DC's Star-Spangled War Stories) and the bad taste of "Asylum of the Futurians!" will be washed away in minutes.

Jack: I agree with you, Peter. I wrote the summary of this tale and I still don't know what the heck was going on! Once again, the cover has nothing to do with the story. In fact, it could be from a different story entirely!

"Temperature Boiling... And Rising!"

Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia

With the election in jeopardy now that Prof. Stuart has been exposed as corrupt, Robin investigates and discovers that the incriminating photo was a fake, planted by the roommate of campus photographer Phil Real. The Boy Wonder confronts the culprit and the truth is exposed, allowing "Buck" Stuart to win the election to Congress and start cleaning up what's wrong with America.

PE: Another weak attempt at duplicating the success Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams were having over at Green Lantern/Green Arrow with injecting liberal doses of real-life social problems into the lives of their long underwear-clad characters. Here, each chapter comes off as the same thing: introduce an establishment-hating long hair (or, as here, a politician you can trust) and then frame him. Robin swoops in to save the day and make the world groovy again. It doesn't help that Robin is a weak character in the first place. The high point this issue is the obvious nod to The Amazing Spider-Man. Tribune editor Albertson is a J. Jonah Jameson ringer and Robin's parting comment that, if Albertson wants a free-lance photographer he should "look up a guy named Peter Parker," is a cute wink and nod to comic fans. Must be one of the earliest examples of cross-over between the two comic universes.

Jack: At least part two of this story made sense! I am glad Prof. Stuart went to Congress and fixed the problems in Washington. Imagine the mess we'd be in today if he hadn't!

Print this page, clip the calendar, and
re-live 1971 along with us!


Matthew Bradley said...

For what it's worth, the Atlas Tales site has this to say about the Heck/Ellison thing: "Heck's skills waned in the 1970's and he was further humiliated by Gary
Groth and inadvertently by Harlan Ellison in Ellison's COMICS JOURNAL
interview where Groth goaded Ellison into naming the worst artist in comics
and somehow Don Heck was mentioned. Ellison was thinking of someone else
but Groth supplied Heck's name. Ellison later apologised publicly. I don't
know if Groth ever did."

Also liked the Metal Men as a kid.

Greg M. said...

A true mixed bag this week, apparently. Have to agree that B&tB was the best of the bunch in those two months. I had the same feelings about "Bride of Man-Bat" that you guys did, especially about Bats' odd stance on Man-Bat getting married. It won't be the last time that Kirk's marriage will drive a wedge between them, but this one just really seemed out of character.

As for art, I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of Gil Kane's work for a long time (particularly his later work). Heck's work I feel ambivalent about. His work was distinctive.

Kanigher was a master, but it depends entirely on what he was writing. His war stuff? Outstanding. His "War that Time Forgot" stuff? Goofy, but fun to read. His superhero stuff? Meh. His work on Wonder Woman was absolutely horrendous. Granted, Wonder Woman was not targeted at 40-year old men such as myself, but I honestly can't imagine anyone, male or female, enjoying those stories.

And I also want to say that, after having read the Denny O'Neil GL/GA stories, I don't particularly care for them. I know they were infusing superhero stories with social relevance (to a degree unheard of before), but sometimes they just came across as pretentious to me. To each their own, I suppose.

Keep up the great work, folks!

Greg M. said...

On a completely unrelated note, my hometown is getting their own Comic Convention, and one of the comics guests is none other than Neal Adams.

Perhaps it is a touch related... :-)

Peter Enfantino said...


I read that Groth/Ellison interview years ago (and have reread it since) and I'd question whether Ellison was goaded into naming Heck. He named just about everybody in the comic biz. I recall he was pissed at Roy Thomas for not letting him write Conan #100. Groth never apologized.


I've heard several people say the same thing about the GL/GA issues, that they're pretentious. Yeah, they don't date well but what in comics does? While I'm chomping at the bit to get to the 1970s Captain America, I'm also cringing when I remember some of the dialogue that came out of the mouths of the black characters. Talk about dated!

Good news that about the Comic Convention. I haven't been to one in years (last was San Diego 2006, I believe) but I'm hoping to hit one in May.

Greg M. said...


Yeah, I suppose it's hard to judge given I know nothing about the time the stuff was written (I wasn't even old enough to read at the time). And the Captain America stuff was great back then.

It's very good news about our comic convention. This city needs something like that desperately. The only thing like it we've had are old comic book/hockey card shows. But rents in this city are ridiculous, and they've lost one venue after another. With something this big, though, we finally have someplace we can celebrate and have fun. And by sheer coincidence, our convention is in May, just as yours is.

Jack Seabrook said...

Greg, where is your convention?

Greg M. said...

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It's the weekend of May 12-13. This is the website:

Jack Seabrook said...

Ottawa, eh? That's only a 20-hour drive from here in New Jersey . . . will there be door prizes??? ;-)

Greg M. said...

No idea. :-)

Mark Louis Baumgart said...

How I learned to read: I sat on my mom's lap and she read my dad's comics to me and I had to read them back to her. Some of those comics were pre-code horror books. Imagine learning to read by reading pre-code zombies, ghosts, and vampires. Some of those books were Heck drawn horrors, and there is no doubt, that Heck was at his best when drawing grue. Especially good was a Web Horror book with a close-up of a hanged man hanging with a snapped neck and bulging bloodshot eyes. I've had a soft spot for Heck ever since.

Jack Seabrook said...

That's a great story, Mark. Comics were a part of my earliest reading, too. Don Heck was a talented artist who also had a real flair for drawing pretty girls. He did a lot of work that wasn't so great but he had it in him to do good work. Thanks for reading and or taking the time to comment!--Jack