Monday, May 28, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 20: September and October 1972

by Peter Enfantino &
Jack Seabrook

Detective Comics #427 (September 1972)

"A Small Case of Murder!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

Toy designer Randall Barnes is found shot through the heart and the culprit is a wooden doll. Luckily, Commissioner Gordon has help in the form of Batman to investigate. As usual, there's no shortage of suspects. Could it be Gaynor, Barnes's partner in the business? Not likely. Or what about Anton Gralnik, disgraced and sacked by Barnes only a few short weeks before? That theory goes right out the window as well when Bats finds Gralnik dead. Luckily, the killer has stuck around and it's only a matter of time before The Caped Crusader gets to the bottom of this long and tangled web. It turns out that the doll has been programmed by Adam Cornelius, an advocate for children's anti-violence toys. Ironically, in a freak accident, Cornelius is gunned down by his own Woody.

Jack: This story was right up my twisted little alley! I love the "Doom Doll" and I love the (admittedly heavy-handed) irony of having the head of the League to Outlaw Violence be behind the murders. This is another in a series of very violent Batman stories!

PE: I thought it was just another run-of-the-mill Frank Robbins story with nice art by Novick and Giordano. The scene to the left, of Batman in death throes after being shot by the killer doll, is a cheat of course. The cheat, though, is a riot. Anticipating the doll taking a shot at him, Batman manages to turn away for a split second and slip a metal "cupid" statue under his Bat emblem. When the shot comes, the doll has luckily aimed right at the yellow bat on The Dark Knight's chest, thus deflecting the bullet. If The Batman's so smart, why doesn't he just pick up the doll and disarm him before he fires. How much longer would that take than disrobing?! There's a typical "Is it or is it not a supernatural force" moment in the climax when the doll utters Cornelius's name just before ventilating him. It's as though Robbins (or Schwartz) graduated from the Inner Sanctum school of writing where everything has to be scientifically explained at the finale and yet he wants to have it both ways.

"I Wake Up Dying!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Don Heck

Jason Bard awakens from a nightmare to find his bad dream has just begun. Someone has dumped him in the back of a semi and then driven the truck into a lake. Bard has only precious seconds to escape the fast-filling vehicle. Once freed, he begins to piece together the events of the previous days that led to his dunking.

Jack: Better than the first Jason Bard story, mainly due to the frame and the use of flashbacks as Bard tries to piece together what happened to him. The wife-as-killer angle is as old as the hills, though, and Heck's art is not getting any better.

PE: I'm not sure if I stayed awake through any of the previous Jason Bard adventures but bring me up to speed: did he usually talk like a beatnik dope? Lots of hippie lingo like "chick," and "bread." Half the time he sounds like he should have long hair and beads, the other half he's a member of Mickey Spillane's country club. It does have a bit of excitement, lacking in any of the other Bard appearances, with his escape from a semi sinking deep into a river. For the record, I was rooting for the river.

Batman #244 (September 1972)

"The Demon Lives Again!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

As Batman and his friends reach the cable car, they are joined by Ra's Al Ghul, reborn with the strength of ten and possessed by a fit of madness. He is too much for Batman; Talia and her father take off down the snowy mountain in a hovercraft. Molly and Batman follow on skis, but the father and daughter escape when Batman must tend to Molly's injury.

Batman tracks Ra's and Talia to a desert camp, where they engage in a sword fight that is cut short when a scorpion bites the Caped Crusader. Talia saves him with an antidote-laced kiss, allowing Batman to catch up with Ra's and take him to justice.

Jack: Art gets an A+; story gets a B minus. This is an example of Neal Adams just taking a story and turning out some beautiful pages, even though what's going on doesn't always make a lot of sense. Why does Batman remark that Matches Malone is dead? The whole Matches Malone disguise never made much sense. And, oddly enough, this is an example of a cover that shows a scene not in the story, even though Adams drew both!

PE: I completely agree with your assessment and ratings, Jack. This issue features some of the most iconic art Neal Adams ever drew yet the story meanders and never really tells us what we need to know. I'm still not sure what threat Ra's poses and I'm not entirely sure that's all my fault. The Ra's al Ghul character is held in high esteem by most Bat-fans all because of these six appearances in 1971 and '72 and I'm ready for them to tell me why.

Jack: One other thing--Talia suddenly looks very Asian in some panels. She did not look that way before, even when Adams drew her. The continuity in this tale is a little bit shaky.

PE: Ra's will return several times in the next forty years but probably not with as much fanfare as in Grant Morrison's "The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul," a very popular mega-arc that began in Batman Annual #26 and ran through several of the various Batman titles in 2007. In the story we discover that Bruce Wayne and Talia have conceived a child, a really violent one, who is now in danger. Seems grandpa Ra's wants to use the kid as a vehicle for resurrection.

"Teen-Age Trap!"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

Robin helps teenager Tommy Duffy after the young man robs a coffee house. It seems young Tommy reminds Robin of himself as a boy, and it's time to help someone less fortunate.

Jack: So much for Rich Buckler! This is the first Robin script by Elliot Maggin, and it has enough hokey jive to pass as a Frank Robbins effort. The art by Novick and Giordano is serviceable but a disappointment after Buckler.

PE: Are we sure that Maggin isn't actually Robbins? Do we have confirmation that someone actually saw them in the same room at the same time? This hokum reads like an eight-page advertisement for The Boys Club. Well, with hipster dialogue thrown in. How can we get Hawkman two times a month?

Detective Comics #428 (October 1972)

"The Toughest Cop in Gotham!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano

Steve "Shotgun" Smith has developed something of a reputation as Gotham's toughest cop, laying waste to felons at an alarming clip, but he's also respected for getting the job done. Commissioner Gordon, expecting the real bad guys are going to come gunning for Smith, enlists Batman to keep an eye on his top cop. While shadowing the big man, The Dark Knight begins to suspect that "Shotgun" may be skimming off the top.

PE: An amazingly violent little tale, capped off by a couple of shotgun killings witnessed with perfect calm by the Batman. The expository, as usual, is just way too much to swallow. All the "I knew you were doing this because . . ." twists and turns start piling up and tip over from the weight of their own dopiness. "Shotgun" seems to be an amalgam of Mike Hammer and Dirty Harry.

Jack: I thought that this was going to be a big cliche, but it turned out to be a solid crime story, featuring a Mike Hammer lookalike. The twists and turns are more subtle than usual for Frank Robbins fare. The Brown/Giordano art is nice and raw and it fits the violent theme. Nice work all around!

"The Invisible Thief of Bleakhill Manor!"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella

Hawkman investigates the burgling of Bleakhill Manor. Someone is stealing artifacts that have to do with weapons. When Hawkman looks closer, though, he sees that the theft of otherwise worthless junk is only a diversion.

PE: Why would a master thief, who obviously has access to the collection in Bleakhill Manor, take the time and effort to clone the priceless artifacts he's about to rip off? He's got to cart these things in with him when he's breaking in! Otherwise, I found this Hawkman adventure boatloads more enjoyable than a Jason Bard, Batgirl, or Robin tale. That could have something to do with my enjoyment of the character as handled by Geoff Johns and James Robinson when they rebooted him after the Identity Crisis mini-series. Curiously, I find these 21st Century "re-imaginings" are better handled by DC than Marvel, a company that seems to want to destroy whatever fan base they've had over the years by alienation. Anime-style art, no story to speak of, and outlandish plot stunts designed to make longtime readers gasp and/or shriek (J. Michael Straczynski's debauchery "Sins Past" featuring the sons of Gwen Stacy comes immediately to mind) have whittled away at any credibility the current regime might have had. It's telling that when it comes time for their heroes to hit the big screen, it's the 1960s and 70s incarnations they turn to. End of speech.

Jack: "Aerial Ace?" "Sherlock of the Skies?" "Pinioned Policeman?" This first Hawkman tale in Detective Comics (at least in the '70s) is standard fare, with corny quips by E. Nelson Bridwell and uninspired art by Dillin and Giella. I had forgotten that Hawkman was from another planet and could talk to the animals (or at least the birds) like Dr. Doolittle. Dick Dillin drew the Justice League of America from 1968 to 1980, basically the entire time I was reading the favorite comic of my youth.

Batman #245 (October 1972)

"The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

Warring political bosses Bilker and Harvey argue over a newspaper headline that accuses Harvey of murdering Bruce Wayne. Batman visits Bilker, who shows him a handwritten letter from Wayne accusing Harvey of planning his murder. Batman goes to the home of Osgood Peabody, who designed a computer that can replicate anyone's handwriting. Peabody nearly electrocutes Batman and escapes; he goes to the docks for safe passage but is double-crossed by Harvey, only to be saved by Batman's timely intervention. As the story ends, another headline announces that Bruce Wayne has been found alive, having survived the plane crash in South America.

Jack: So ends this multi-issue arc that began with Batman faking Bruce Wayne's death in order to free himself to go after Ra's Al Ghul. O'Neil had good intentions, but this doesn't hold together as well as it should. Frankly, I had forgotten that Bruce Wayne was supposed to be dead.

PE: Another ho-hum tale of Gotham grift and corruption. Since this was about the time Watergate hit, we should settle in for quite a few stories along this line. As long as they're illustrated by Neal Adams, I think we'll be okay. I do think the long and drawn out "death of Bruce Wayne" was one of those stories that got out of control and O'Neil had written himself into a corner. He got out of it with one quick expository panel, the capper to this story.

Jack: I don't think his heart was in this one, but even an average Neal Adams effort is awfully good!

PE: Well, it's tough to follow up that incredible job last issue and Adams is back to drawing petty criminals rather than menaces to mankind. I'm still bewildered that, with a stellar rogue's gallery available, Schwartz kept the stop sign in cement. Nothing but all-too-mortal thieves and crooked cops. What are comic books for, anyway? I've a feeling that Roy Thomas was smart enough not to have the same kind of policy running over at Marvel. Probably one of the main reasons why the competition ate up more of the market as the 70s lingered on.

"Who Stole the Gift from Nowhere!"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

An anonymous gift of fifty thousand dollars to the Hudson University library fund has been stolen, and student Luke Graham is wrongly accused! Robin finds the real thief and Graham confesses to having been the anonymous donor--he comes from a rich family but wanted to be accepted as one of the guys.

Jack: I liked this story, even with the occasional "dig" or pair of striped bell bottoms. Maggin is showing promise as a Robin writer, at least in comparison to some of the dreck we've seen in past issues.

PE: It's the same ol' Robin detritus to me. Saving grace is that it only clocks in at nine pages. Well, that and it's not drawn by Frank Robbins. I confess to docking these points based on the hip lingo. There's a definite Gil Kane vibe to this art and I may be wrong but Luke Graham kinda reminds me of Roy Thomas.

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