Monday, April 30, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 16: January and February 1972

by Jack Seabrook 
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 238 (January 1972)

"The Masterminds of Crime!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Win Mortimer (DC Wikia says Curt Swan & Charles Paris)
From Batman 70 (April-May 1952)

PE: A wacky story about a crime cartel that trains its villains a la the Olympics has lots of unintended humor. At least, I think it's unintended. 

"The Doom Patrol"
Story by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney
Art by Bruno Premiani
From My Greatest Adventure 80 (June 1963)

Every comic geek's dream come true

Jack: This is the first appearance and origin story for The Doom Patrol, a group that sure looks like it influenced the X-Men. I always enjoyed the Doom Patrol's exploits, and this is an exciting origin story.

PE: Wow! What a revelation. You said it, Jack. Seeing as how this predates X-Men #1 by three months, odds are that Jack and Stan saw a little (or quite a bit) that they liked in this story, from the wheelchair-ridden "Chief" to the "superfolk aiding a society that turned its back on them." I liked this initial outing though it suffers from quite a bit of padding to fill its 25 pages. Author Arnold Drake wrote one of my favorite horror films, The Flesh Eaters, and co-created the supernatural DC character, Deadman.

A gorgeous splash page by Cole.
"Oh Plastic Man!"
Story and art by Jack Cole
From Police Comics 14 (December 1942)

Jack: This is an excellent example of Jack Cole in his prime, a fun and kooky story that is more than a little bit influenced by the work of Will Eisner, whose shop produced this comic.

PE: I'm a big Spirit fan and Cole's work does remind me of Eisner's (he was, after all, one of Eisner's "ghosts" during World War II) but the story is disjointed (at least for me) and the one-liners are a little too fast and furious. Don't get me wrong, it beats hell out of 90% of the reprints DC was packing into these giants, it's just not prime Cole to me. Here's as good a chance as any to mention Jack Cole and Plastic Man by Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd (Chronicle, 2001), a wonderful look at the brilliant career and sad end of Jack Cole. The book also reprints all 14 nightmarish pages of Cole's infamous "Murder, Morphine, and Me." 

"Sargon the Sorcerer"
Story by John Broome
Art by Joe Kubert
From Sensation Comics 57 (September 1946)

Jack: Signed by Joe Kubert, this story shows off his clean lines even in 1946.

PE: Once again, I wonder why a comic book titled Batman doesn't feature more Batman. This is a cute enough strip but it doesn't belong here.

"Danger in the Totem's Eye"
Story by Arthur Adler
Art by Arthur Peddy and Bob Oksner

An unpublished story intended for Flash Comics 105 (March 1949), except that Flash Comics was canceled after issue 104 and thus this story sat in the files until 1972.

Jack: This six-page story featuring DC's Golden Age version of the Atom is most interesting because it had not been published when originally produced.

PE: It's also unique in that it features the DC Universe's dumbest bad guys. They throw a tomahawk at Al Pratt, watch him duck into a tepee, and witness Pratt's alter ego The Atom emerge, but can't put two and two together. They're amazed that the kid disappeared and the superhero showed up without their knowledge. Thugs are so much smarter in the 1960s Marvel Universe. I was not familiar with this character so I did a little . . . ahem . . . research and found out that Al Pratt had an atomic-powered right hook but was evidently not too popular with comic readers. He all but vanished after an appearance in All-Star Comics in 1951 and was killed off in Zero Hour (1994), one of those "lots of heroes in one place designed to shake up things" mini-series that DC would do almost weekly in the 90s.

"The Aqua-Thief of the Seven Seas!"
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Ramona Fradon
From Adventure 276 (September 1960)

Jack: A run of the mill Aquaman story.

PE: No Aquaman fan here. Sub-Mariner wins #1 Sea Hero in my book, though Captain Compass, Sea Sleuth, may be runner-up.

"The Legion of Super-Outlaws!"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by John Forte
From Adventure 324 (September 1964)

Superboy sure knew how to energize his team!
Jack: A story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes written by Edmond Hamilton, who was a prolific writer of science fiction and comics and also the husband of write Leigh Brackett.

PE: When I was a kid and I'd buy these 100-page Super Spectaculars, I'd read them just about cover to cover (and that includes the few Heeyaw, the Talking Burro strips that were reprinted) but I drew the line at Superboy. Superman  never floated my boat but Superboy and his Legion of Super-Heroes bored me to tears. Forty years later, I'm reminded why. Overly long and talky science fiction with uninteresting super characters and dim-witted villains. I think that about covers it. 

"Mr. Roulette's Greatest Gamble"
Story by David Vern
Art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris
From Batman 75 (February-March 1953)

PE: My first encounter with Vicki Vale, a reporter who looks and dresses nothing like any reporter I've ever seen but does fall in line with the glamorous slant the character was given in Tim Burton's Batman. As goofy and preposterous as this story is, I find it to be the most enjoyable Batman I've encountered on our trip. Little touches like the hissy-fit Mr. Roulette throws when Batman asks him, rather politely, to quit his dangerous game ("But you can't ask that! It's my whole life! No! I won't stop! And you can't make me! This is my house! Get out! Get out!") or the touch of conscience our hero gets when Roulette gets the drop on him and the lad with a heater ("I could probably jump him--but I can't risk Robin's life!" Hello? What have you been doing with this kid every night for the last ten years?) or, especially, the amusing climax where Mr. Roulette actually unmasks twice (and that's not counting the dead guy he made up to look like him). Tell me what kind of house can hold a pinball machine that big? Lots of mindless fun.

Jack: I have fond memories of this comic book, which was one of the first of DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars. The Neal Adams wraparound cover is one of the best comic book covers I have ever seen. The interior has no ads except for half-page house ads that are used to fill in where stories end at half a page. The comic is alternatively numbered DC-8 and it was a great source for Golden Age stories for a kid like me, eight years old when it came out and with no money or ability to track down the old comics. For fifty cents, it was a very exciting purchase! By the way, there is a great website devoted to the DC 100-page comics!

On the inside back cover was
a key to the cover!

Detective Comics 419 (January 1972)

"Secret of the Slaying Statues!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

A corpse is found in the harbor, weighed down by several gold statues of Batman. When The Caped Crusader infiltrates an Irish neighborhood to investigate (as Batman and as an Irish drunk), he discovers a drug smuggling ring led by an Irishman named McCourt, who keeps his large son caged in his basement. Batman discovers that the water-logged body was a message to the police that there are more than a few drug smugglers operating in Gotham.

PE: I was always under the impression that drugs could not be mentioned in a story approved by the Comics Code and yet here's a panel displaying a white powdery substance and the word DRUGS! very prominently featured in a word balloon. It's never stated whether the drug is cocaine or heroin but since horse was the narcotic of choice in the early 70s, I'll go with that. Anyway, while doing some research on the topic, I was quickly reminded not only of The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (which ran without Code approval in 1971) but, closer to home, The Green Arrow/Green Lantern wherein Speedy (hee-hee), Green Arrow's version of Robin, gets hooked on H. Not coincidentally, that story was also written by Denny O'Neil. To make a long story even longer, the Code was relaxed on several points, including drug use "if presented as a vicious habit," in 1971. Thank goodness for that or we'd never have seen such thinking.

Jack: Notwithstanding the Irish stereotyping, this is a weak story, especially for Denny O'Neil. We are introduced to the simple giant, but he just becomes a plot device by story's end.

PE: With a surname like O'Neil, you'd think the writer would know that not every Irishman is drunk, sings ancient ditties ("Oh Danny Boy, the pipes are caw-aw-lin"), and dresses in green. Well, I guess not every Irishman is as I described here. There is McCourt's son, the big and slow Paddy, a brute with an impossibly small noggin atop his brutish frame (think a clothed Irish Hulk). Paddy exists for no other reason than to be a cliched plot device. He's mentally challenged and McCourt is ashamed to be related to the boy. He can sculpt gold Batmans. That's it. Almost offensive, if you ask me.

Jack: Novick's art seems to be less than his best here as well. In one panel, Batman looks a bit like a Frank Robbins creation. Sad that Robbins is our go-to for bad art!

PE: Drug kingpin Liam McCourt asks Batman where he slipped up when Bats confronts him and seems astonished at the detective work of the Dark Knight. Passing out parcels of junk in front of anyone who happens to pass by seems to be the mark of a drug lord not long for that world but either no one had thought to tutor McCourt in the finer points of dealing or every Irishman is a dope (pun intended). That tutor might also have explained to McCourt that killing rival drug smugglers and weighing them down with gold Batman statues might bring the authorities sniffing.

Jack: If O'Neil was reaching for the same sort of pathos he found in "A Vow From the Grave" (Detective Comics 410), I think he failed.

PE: Miserably. What a mess. I expect the next Batman story will explain how our hero escaped the cage he's trapped in at the end of the story.

"Long Live the Kingpin!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Batgirl continues to investigate the murder of kingpin Floyd Marcus. Number one suspect is his stepson, Mike Marcus, but for some reason known only to Batgirl and Frank Robbins, our heroine is not buying that solution. This, despite eye witnesses and lots of proof pointing to the junior Marcus. Turns out she's right. The real murderer is rival kingpin, Larry "The Blimp" Cooper.

Jack: Another dopey Batgirl entry by Robbins and Heck. The "mystery" isn't much of one and the art is rushed.

PE: Oh goodness. I couldn't make heads or tails of this story and if a really intelligent literature reader like myself (I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull three times) can't come out the tail-end the wiser, how is some ten-year old 1971 comic fan supposed to? Perhaps, even after we've been subjected to so much Frank Robbins bilge, Jack and I still hope to find that undiscovered gem. We'll have to keep looking.

"The Return of Ben Franklin"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Ruben Moreira
From Detective Comics 213 (November 1954)

Jack: Stories like this are why I've never heard of Roy Raymond, TV Detective.

PE: How can you say that, Jack? I thought the three or four explanations that Roy came up with at the climax of the story for the faux Ben Franklin were unlike any I'd ever read. It amazes me the number of forgettable characters DC pawned off on an unsuspecting public (most of whom were grade school boys) in the 1950s and 60s. I'd love to see a book-length study of these fifth-tier heroes. Roy Raymond had a lengthy career as a support act and his grandson made an appearance (as a Jerry Springer-esque tabloid TV host) in a 1997 issue of Robin.

"The Human Target"
Story by ?
Art by Nick Cardy
From Gangbusters 61 (December 1957-January 1958)

Jack: With all of the good stories to reprint, why did they reprint snoozers like this?

PE: Where are all these "good stories to reprint," Jack?! If they're out there, they haven't mined them yet as of January 1972.

Batman 239 (February 1972)

"Silent Night, Deadly Night!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

On Christmas Eve, Batman comes upon a street corner Santa Claus lying in the snow. Someone has been robbing Santas all day long across Gotham City! Batman tracks the assailant to a Christmas tree stand and, after a scuffle, the man takes Batman home to meet his niece, Betsy. Uncle Tim has been caring for her but lost his job; he turned to robbery to pay the bills and blames toy manufacturer Richard Lee Evans for laying him off. Tim knocks Batman out, ties him up, and sets out to exact revenge on Evans. When Batman wakes up, he takes little Betsy out into the driving snow, intent on preventing a murder. With the help of a horse-drawn sleigh that appears out of nowhere he is able to reach Evans; Tim was merciful and did not harm the sick old man. They get him to the hospital in time, the sleigh vanishing without a trace.

Jack: A lovely Christmas tale of redemption. Novick's art is evocative, especially in the snowy scenes. I am a sucker for a good Christmas story and I loved the touch of using the unexplained sleigh, not to mention having the little girl call Batman "Sir"!

PE: I've read better "Christmas tales of redemption." In the mid-70s, Warren's Creepy would publish a special Christmas number, filled with superior Holiday Horror stories. With those in the back of my mind, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" comes off as cliched and uninspired. Batman's never been so wishy-washy as here. One moment he's ready to take Uncle Tim off to the pen, the next he's giving him a Christmas hug and telling him all will be fine. This after taking a couple of blows to the noggin. Maybe it was those blows to the noggin? When Batman asks Tim why he doesn't have a job, the man launches into a tirade about the toy maker who laid him off. Bats seems to be satisfied with this answer rather than pressing the man to find another job!

Jack: Wow! What a grinch!

"The Loneliest Men in the World"
Story by Don Cameron
Art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
From Batman 15 (February-March 1943)

Jack: This is one of the oldest Batman stories reprinted to date since they began running reprints in Batman and Detective. It's charming and more enjoyable than some of the stories from the 50s and 60s.

PE: It's a little too long but it'll put a twinkle in the eye and a smile on the face of its reader.

Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano

Robin is giving Dick Grayson's college pals a tour of Gotham City's famous Bleeker Street when they happen upon an altercation between some "Jesus Freaks" and Rich Asher, a young man resisting conversion. Robin intervenes and calms the situation, then accompanies the young religious folk to their apartment. While there, he has a vision of Terri Bergstrom, who tells him to find Asher's father. Robin sets out to find the man, wondering about Terri's psychic powers.

Jack: The debut of Rich Buckler on the Robin strip is impressive, and the story is weirdly interesting. I can't recall "Jesus Freaks" appearing in a Batman comic before, but they were certainly a part of the landscape around 1972. I'm intrigued to see where the subplot with Terri leads.

PE: It's certainly better than most of the Robin solo swill. You could tell that Mike Friedrich and Denny O'Neil sat down and read their New York Times before hitting the typewriter. I think every Robin-solo has revolved around a "hot topic" of the day: drugs, riots on campus, now religious zealots (albeit, zealots who turn into hotheads at the drop of a dime).  Next up: Robin burns his bra and buys a Pet Rock.

Jack: Or a mood ring.

Detective Comics 420 (February 1972)
"Forecast for Tonight . . . Murder!"
Story and art by Frank Robbins

Night at the docks. Batman seeks an assassin coming in on a freighter: a would-be killer who sets off Geiger counters and is blind in one eye and whose target is Gotham diamond merchant Piet Van Doorn.  The tycoon orders Commissioner Gordon to give him a 24-hour guard so The Commish asks Batman for a personal favor. Working on a tip, Batman stakes out the docks but unfortunately, the assassin eludes him at the dock. Fortunately, it's learned that the killer will be arriving in a most peculiar fashion: packed in a coffin. As Van Doorn confides to The Caped Crusader, the man issuing threats has been dead ten years. It doesn't take much to find the funeral parlor the casket has been taken to and The Caped Crusader is soon staking out a mortuary. Sure enough, as night falls, the "corpse" rises to perpetrate his crime

Jack: The story is pretty good, but the art is classic Robbins--some wacky poses that look like skeletons in costume, lots of heavy black ink and shadows, and an overall sketchiness that is quite different from the sketchiness we associate with Don Heck. I have to admit that I am able to appreciate Robbins's art more as an adult than I did when I was young and reading comics in the 1970s. I am fighting my knee-jerk negative reaction and trying to give it a chance.

PE: Ironically (or maybe not since we've been complaining about Robbins' sub-par writing for months now), it wasn't the art that made me want to scream but the story (or lack thereof). I had to re-read the first three pages three times to make sure I hadn't missed the panel where we learn the suspect is blind in one eye. The goofball "accents" were annoying as well and the climax is filled with expository upon expository. The art's not bad here. Don't get me wrong, I won't be pushing TwoMorrows to publish The Art of Frank Robbins anytime soon, but a few of the segments had me murmuring "Hmmm" out loud. Batman's initial meeting with Van Doorn is nicely staged , with the tycoon firmly, and comfortably, ensconced in his vault. Robbins's heavy use of blacks works perfectly when dealing with a horrific subject like a one-eyed "corpse" rising from a coffin. Batman's way too thin for my tastes though.

Jack: The letters column in this issue features readers' critiques of Robbins's art on the Man-Bat story in Detective 416. Surprisingly, many of the readers really liked it! Some hated it. There were no opinions in between. The editor points out that Neal Adams did the coloring on the Robbins art in the Man-Bat story. I did not know that Adams did coloring on other artists' work.

PE: One of the naysayers on that letters page was Bob Rozakis.

"Target for Manana!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Barbara Gordon accompanies Jason and her father to Mexico, where they are to attend a Narcotics seminar. Where Babs goes, Batgirl is sure to follow. Once in Mexico, though, Babs and The Commish run afoul of crime overlord Odds Lanyon and a carjacking ends in Commissioner Gordon being blackjacked. Will Barbara have time to change her clothes and do her hair before further harm comes to her pop?  
Jack: When did Jason start calling Batgirl "Bee Gee"? And just how deep is their love?

PE: Ah, disco references, Jack! Now I know what kind of clothing you were wearing in 1978. It goes to show how dumb Jason is that he can't put two and two together and figure out that his girlfriend's initials are also Bee Gee. Coincidence? I think not. And speaking of the two lovebirds, if I was Jason I'd be pretty jealous if I found out my BeeGee was soaking up Too Much Heaven on the tiles with a hunky Latino in the "romantic wonders" of Montezuma.

Jack: I never made the connection between Barbara Gordon's initials and those of Batgirl. My detective skills still need polishing.

"X Marks the Mystery!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Certa
From Detective Comics 215 (January 1955)

PE: Captain Compass (yep, I feel the same way) is given a map for a treasure and decides to have a go so that he can find money for his favorite charity. 

Jack: A snoozer featuring Captain Compass, Sea Sleuth.

PE: Say that three times fast. Captain Compass can hold his breath underwater for five minutes with no residual effects but the incredible part is that he knew the map was a fake from the get-go (one of the clues was Napoleon Rock and Napoleon hadn't been born when the map was supposedly drawn) and still risked his life so he could have the bad guy arrested. We find this out in one of the wordiest expositories in the history of DC Comics. If I was a juvenile comic reader in 1955 and this was the only kind of entertainment around, I'd join a street gang.

"The Man Who Robbed a Thousand Minds"
Story by ?
Art by Mort Meskin
From Gangbusters 57 (April-May 1957)

Jack: Not a bad little story about a crooked mentalist.

PE: While the story is outlandish (but, when we're dealing with these back-ups, what isn't?), the art shows some pizzazz. Mort Meskin drew a lot of comics for National (DC) in the 1940s and 50s and caught the eye of none other than Steve Ditko, who said of Meskin's work: "I loved his stuff!"


Greg M said...


I can see your point about the early Legion stories, but I really love them. They rank second to Bats in my love of DC. What I particularly love is that they started as a background to Supes to play around in, but eventually developed into their own entity with 40+ years of uninterrupted continuity. Not many comics creations can claim that.

But to each their own. Keep up the great work!

Matthew Bradley said...

Arnold Drake, the sometime writer of CAPTAIN MARVEL and co-creator of the Guardians of the Galaxy, scripted THE FLESH EATERS and WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? Holy crap!

Marty McKee said...

I think you guys are too rough on 'TEC 420. The Batman story has a great sequence in which the killer lays out his plan to his victim while shedding his disguise over a series of panels. Robbins makes Batman look like a Caniff tale, and while I wouldn't want to see that all the time, an occasional Robbins tale works for me.

The Captain Compass story is pretty cool. I like Certa's smooth, clean art, and the story ended up having some dramatic weight to it. Sure, the plot is preposterous, but what Silver Age tale isn't?

I like the GANG BUSTERS reprint too. The Batgirl It's fine.

Marty McKee said...

Oh, and, yeah, Adams used to occasionally work on other people's stories while hanging out in the DC bullpen. He has been known to ink a couple of panels here and there or do a quick coloring job. I doubt we know to this day all the comic book stories he had a hand in.

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm glad you liked the story, Marty, but you'll never get me to like Robbins's work. That's interesting about Adams.

Marty McKee said...

C'mon, Jack, you're an open-minded kind'a cat!