Monday, June 18, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 23: January & February 1973

by Jack Seabrook 
Peter Enfantino 

Detective Comics 431 (January 1973)

"This Murder Has Been Censored"
Story: Denny O'Neil
Art: Irv Novick & Murphy Anderson

Trying to get away from the "fearful" crime-rate of Gotham City, a vacationing Bruce Wayne is witness to a bizarre incident: it appears a man named Mickey Ryan commits suicide by leaping from the roof of Maidstone Manor, the resort that Wayne is residing at. Once he has a look at the body, however, Bruce detects a minuscule drop of blood behind the man's ear, a telltale sign that a pin has been stabbed into the victim's brain. The man's forehead is stamped with the word "censored" as well. The suicide is clearly anything but, in the eyes of Batman. The Dark Knight soon finds there isn't a dearth of suspects. Could it be the murdered man's partner, Bernie Wilson, for the obvious reasons? Or Dr. Cheever Ballard, whose reputation was destroyed by Ryan? Or Ryan's secretary, Dorry Pitkin, whose father's name was similarly smeared by the dead man? Or perhaps it's the local sheriff, who seems a tad bit too eager to jail Dr. Ballard for the homicide, despite Batman's belief that the doc is innocent? In the end, Batman gets his killer after a dangerous car chase.

PE: I had to keep looking at the credits to make sure this loser wasn't written by Frank Robbins. It doesn't get much more pedestrian than this. The art is dreadful as well, with Hawkman artist Murphy Anderson filling in for Novick's usual partner, Dick Giordano. Dick, you're very much missed here, my friend. While Batman is his usual muscular self, Bruce Wayne seems almost shrunken, with no meat on his bones. Good trick, that. How does a man lose his muscle as well as his cowl when he's altered his ego?

Jack: The Kaluta cover is the best thing about this weak story. Apparently, someone stamped the word “censored” on the dead man’s forehead, but the artist neglected to show us and the writer forgot to tell us until Batman mentions it offhandedly later in the story. Novick’s pencils must have been pretty tight, because I see very little evidence of Anderson’s smooth lines here.

"Crime on My Hands!"
Story: Frank Robbins
Art: Don Heck & Murphy Anderson

Jason Bard is contacted by a potential client but, soon after, that client ends up at the P.I.'s feet, bullet hole in the head.

PE: Can you just see Jason Bard's file cabinet folders? One is labeled the "I Wake Up Dying" case. Not the name of the protagonist, but the title of the story. How lame is that? "Hmmm, what's a good name for this case? I got it... the 'One Day it Rained All Week' case" Should be easy, if Jason has a great memory, to find the folder in twenty years if he really needs it. As in the main Batman story, this short is riddled with "Of course, now I know the real identity of the killer" dialogue and captions asking us if we figured it out from what little we've been given. The obligatory final panel where Jason tells all to the pic of Barbara Gordon (which could very well rival Dorian Gray's for increasing ugliness) gets dopier with each installment. If Babs is smart, she's already arranged with her pop the restraining order on this loser. The only mystery to me is why I continue to read Jason Bard.

Jack: I was all set to hate this story, since the prior Jason Bard files have been so boring, but it was not bad. Anderson’s inks polished up Heck’s usual sketchy pencils and made the art more bearable than usual, and the story at least kept my interest, which is more than I can say for the last Bard tale.

Batman 247 (February 1973)

"Merry Christmas"
Story: Denny O'Neil
Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano

It’s Christmas Eve, but crime takes no holiday as Chimp Manners has stolen a vial of the Army’s top-secret nerve gas. Batman tracks him to a remote cottage where he threatens several people. The Dark Knight is able to disarm Manners when a bright star suddenly blinds him.

PE: A pleasant enough Christmas story, but if that climax hasn't been done before, it sure feels like it. Nice to see Novick reunited with Giordano. Thanks for coming back, Dick. Where did they get the names for these thugs? How could any respectable bio-terrorist go through life with the name Chimp Manners?

Jack: I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again—I am an easy mark when it comes to Christmas stories. I like the mysterious Christmas Eve star that helps Batman early on, and I like the way the problem resolves on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t even mind the return of Batman’s new alter-ego, Matches Malone!

"...And a Deadly New Year!"
Story: Denny O'Neil
Art: Dick Giordano

On Christmas Day, Manners escapes as Batman is taking him to justice. Back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon shows Batman a note that promises that the nerve gas will be released if Boss Halstrom is not let out of jail by midnight Saturday. Unfortunately, Halstrom died of a heart attack, so Batman must find the criminal who has the nerve gas before the deadline passes. With the aid of Robin, Batman narrows it down to one of three men, exposing the culprit during a New Year’s Eve party and finding the vial in the nick of time.

PE: This one's a lot better than the stories we've gotten lately. I liked the fact that Batman was investigating a big-time threat rather than some inconsequential prison break or stolen painting. We know The Dark Knight will put everything right but there's still a sense of danger right up to the climax. I'd still like some continuity but evidently that's not coming anytime soon.

Jack: It’s odd that Novick penciled the first part of the story but Giordano did the second. Their styles are similar but they are different enough to make it noticeable. For those of you looking ahead, Julius Schwartz notes in the letters column that Neal Adams has completed one page of “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!”

Detective Comics 432 (February 1973)

"The Great Rip-Off Mystery!"
Story: Frank Robbins
Art: Bob Brown & Murphy Anderson

Batman investigates the murder of one of the members of a crew that robbed an armored car. When Bats opens up the attache the thug was carrying, he finds half of $1,000,000... literally. The gang has ripped the stacks of bills in half. Batman's mission is to find the other half.

PE: The stories that ran in Detective at the time followed a basic formula: introduce a mystery, add some background characters, and have Batman solve the crime through detection and clues that, ostensibly, the reader could sift through in the panels provided. 90% of the time these clues are inane or just not very evident. As a result of editor Schwartz's "hands off the rogue's gallery" rule with his writers, we're still being subjected to forgettable "villains" and supporting characters. The bad guys here will be forgotten by the next installment. The story itself isn't bad for a Frank Robbins script. Don't misunderstand me, it's not very good. It's a time-waster, nothing more. How we'll go from the bottom-of-the-barrel we're experiencing in this run to the iconic high we'll be witnessing very soon, all while under the same editor, is beyond me.

Jack: Another mediocre story. The “clues” are not very interesting, though I did like the blonde chick on the motorcycle catching the briefcase as it fell from the sky after the car blew up! Judging from the letters column, though, we must be a couple of old cranks, because fan after fan praises Frank Robbins to the sky.

"Suddenly... the Witness Vanished!"
Story: Elliot Maggin
Art: Murphy Anderson

Ray Palmer (aka The Atom) happens to be in a courtroom one day when Henry Norton disappears from the witness stand. Since his fiance, attorney Jean Loring, is defending Norton on a small time theft charge, Palmer feels the need to get involved. He swiftly transforms into The Atom and retraces Norton's steps up to his disappearance. Turns out Norton has traveled back through time to Chicago the day before the big fire of 1871.

PE: I was going to try to avoid any cracks about Marvel's Ant-Man but that's a tough row to hoe. It's hard to imagine two more worthless superheroes. Ant-Man uses his little insect friends for travel and back-up, The Atom hitches rides on leaves that happen to be floating on the wind and wears a costume which is "woven of fabric from a dwarf star."  I have not one clue what the hell that means but writer Maggin must have taken it for granted that Detective readers were aware of The Atom's mythos because there aren't many clue-in captions along the way. Palmer's goofy scientist buddy, Professor Alpheus V. Hyatt, has created something called "The Time Pool" ("a spectrum of colors blending into a tiny area of pure white light... a tiny pool through which the oceans of the past are a moment away from one such as The Atom..."), a time travel portal that allows Norton to beam himself back to Chicago of 1871. From there, the story's a jumbled mess. Norton gets to Chicago, ostensibly to view microfilm and bet on horses (?), finds out he's to become a fatality of The Big Fire and freaks out. In trying to save Norton, The Atom, who has followed the goofball through time, accidentally starts the fire in Mrs. O'Leary's barn. Palmer can't save Norton from perishing but he puts a good effort into saving the microfilm of old newspapers! Please... Jack, describe it better than I did!

Jack: Jeepers, Mr. Kent, I thought this was a pretty cool story! Murphy Anderson was one of the classic DC artists and the Atom was one of the classic Silver Age characters. I could paraphrase what I just read on Wikipedia but you could look it up just as easily. Of interest is that the Atom's alter-ego, Ray Palmer, was named after the science fiction writer/editor, and the Golden Age Atom was actually Al Pratt, a 5'1" college student who was a good boxer and all-around tough guy, but who did not have the ability to shrink to tiny sizes like his Silver Age namesake.

PE: Um... you didn't explain the story. Do I need to go to Wikipedia for that?

Jack: There was a story?

100-Page Super-Spectacular DC-14 (February 1973)

Jack: This 100-page collection of reprints says “Batman” on the cover but was not numbered in the Batman series. It was released on Dec. 26, 1972, with a cover date of February 1973 and included no new stories. There were three Batman stories reprinted, as well as stories featuring other heroes. The wonderful wraparound cover is by Nick Cardy, who seems to have been taking the place of Neal Adams as the go-to cover artist. I remember this cover fondly and seeing it immediately brings back memories!


Greg M said...

I'll have to check my longboxes, but I'm pretty sure I have that 100-pager. Haven't read it in a while, though...

Marty McKee said...

I'm a little curious why you guys keep reading these stories since you hate them so much? It's weird to read you guys ripping cool artists like Irv Novick and Murphy Anderson. Believe me, if you don't like those guys, you aren't gonna like any 70s DC books.

Jack Seabrook said...

Marty, I hope we haven't been giving the impression that we don't like Novick and Anderson. I actually like both artists quite a bit. I think that the Batman series dipped a bit in quality in 1972-73 but that's mostly due to poor efforts by Frank Robbins and Bob Brown (and some terrible backup stories). Anderson had very little to do with Batman in the 70s (at least so far) and Novick was the second best Batman artist of those years, after Adams. Peter may be a bit more critical than I am, but then he was always more of a Marvel fan than I!

Peter Enfantino said...

Hey Marty!

First, thanks for reading our stuff and staying with it even though you don't agree with some of our views. You're probably right (or Jack is, actually), I've been very critical of a lot of these stories. We had to pick a date to start with and 1973 would have been ideal but a bit random so we thought 1970-79 would be best. I grew up with Batman in the 1970s but it was Neal Adams' Batman not Novick's, nor Bob Brown's, nor Frank Robbins'. That said, I think, if you hang in there a bit more, you might find me a little less cranky in a few weeks. I hope you stick around and let me hear it if you disagree.

Marty McKee said...

Well, you guys did call Anderson's art "dreadful," which it wasn't on his worst day. More or less agreed on Novick, although I'd place him behind Aparo too. I think the Brown and Robbins stories are generally pretty good, but you appear to be predisposed to dislike stories without supervillains. Of course, you're free to not like these stories, but I sense a prejudice in your reviews.

I've been wanting to ask you guys that question for a long time, because it was clear to me and others I spoke to that you guys hated THE OUTER LIMITS and THRILLER, and we wondered why you didn't just cover shows you liked.

Peter Enfantino said...

Well, OL and Thriller were actually done by me and John Scoleri but to say we "hated" those two series tells me you didn't actually read the blogs. We had our ups and downs but overall I'd say we liked both series. Are you going to tell me you loved every single episode? Probably not. If our intent with OL was to show how much we hated it, how long do you think David would have stuck around? Ditto Thriller and Gary, Steve, and Tom.

Marty McKee said...

Nah, they weren't all gems, but I thought you were unnecessarily hard on some shows, particularly performances that seemed to you over the top (re: "bad acting"), but were perfectly pitched for the era and the genre. Also, the crime episodes of THRILLER are generally much better than you concluded (IMO, of course).

On the other hand, I give you credit for, IIRC, not being too hard on "The Invisible Enemy," which is a dopey but fun episode that would be easy to tear apart if you wanted to. And props for getting David Schow involved with the blogs too.

Peter Enfantino said...

Not to belabor this, Marty (and I'm not even sure you'll check back anyway) but if my old stodgy memory isn't playing games with me, I liked several of the crime episodes of Thriller and said as much. In fact, I think I took heat on a couple of those (The Guilty Men comes immediately to mind) from the Thriller -elite.

Ed Howard said...

Just want to check in a year later and say how much I'm enjoying these blogs. I'm currently reading through the 70s Batman and Detective myself, and it's great checking in here after I've read a few months' worth of issues to see what you guys think. I don't always agree, of course, notably on the quality of Robbins' art (I love how idiosyncratic and cartoony it is, totally not what you expect for Batman but a nice change of pace) and the greatness of the Ra's/Talia stories, which are as fun as their reputation to me.

Anyway, I picked this entry to comment on somewhat at random mainly because I can't believe you didn't point out the moment in Batman #247 when Batman walks up behind a thug and actually eats a bite of steak off the guy's fork. Amazing.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, Ed! You don't get to be the Dark Knight without heavy doses of protein.