Monday, September 24, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 37: August and September 1975

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 266 (August 1975)

"The Curious Case of the Catwoman's Coincidences!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

Bruce Wayne is traveling on a train that also contains a carload of criminals en route to the state pen, including Selina Kyle--Catwoman! An accident causes a train wreck and Catwoman escapes. She makes her way back to Gotham City, where she gets the old gang together and carries out a jewel heist. Batman tracks her down by following her kitty and she's on her way back to jail.

PE: Yet again, the Commissioner calls on The Batman to help him with a little matter of jewel theft. Does Gordo ever do any police work? He's as useless as his namesake in the ABC-TV series. The fortune teller, so prominently featured on the cover, makes an ominous proclamation and then disappears. When the train crashes, we see Catwoman wandering in a daze, almost as though she's got one of those cases of selective amnesia. Next we see her in her old costume. Interesting tidbits destined to be explored? Think again. "Coincidences" is certainly better than Catwoman's last outing (the achingly bad "Circus Caper" in Batman 257) but it's a strange mishmash of fragments that don't come together well.

Jack: I'm not sure what the arrangement was for artists on these books, but Irv Novick is back and his characters look the same as ever. I agree with you that it's not a bad story, it just doesn't stand out. Why does Catwoman initially say that she was going to jail to serve her time? The moment she gets free, she's back to a life of crime. The series of coincidences that drive this story to its conclusion are not much different than the usual wild coincidences that populate lesser Batman tales.

Even cops prefer issues with the Joker!

Detective Comics 450 (August 1975)

"The Cape & Cowl Deathtrap"
Story by Elliott S. Maggin
Art by Walter Simonson

When Senator Locksley is assassinated, Batman goes after Mr. Harcourt, a man he's sure had something to do with the murder. Shortly thereafter, Harcourt employs the services of Jeremy Wormwood, free-lance assassin, to obtain Batman's cape and cowl. Wormwood uses an elaborate Wax Museum scheme in order to force the Caped Crusader to surrender his costume. When Wormwood brings the cowl to Harcourt, he discovers that the man is actually Batman in disguise, but not before he foolishly confesses to the murder of Senator Locksley.

Christian Bale circa 1975?
PE: Absolutely fabulous. Just as Neal Adams brought out the best in Denny O'Neil years before, the brilliant art of Walt Simonson surely inspired Maggin to script a satisfying, twisty tale. Even the reveal, a device in Batman that usually sucks the life out of me, works here as does the revelation that Batman has taken on the guise of Harcourt. Walt uncannily predicts Christian Bale's ascent to Bruce Wayne 30 years before the fact and contributes a Batman so dark, so perfectly dangerous, you could easily mistake this as being from the Frank Miller mid-80s era. Why, oh why, wasn't Simonson made permanent artist on this title? Easily the best Batman story since "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge."

Jack: I liked this story too, Peter, but I wouldn't rate it above "This One'll Kill You, Batman!" (Batman 260), "Break-In at the Big House" (Detective 445) or "Batman's Greatest Failure!" (Batman 265). The good news is that 1975 is shaping up to be a very good year for the Dark Knight. Simonson's art is a breath of fresh air, though I think some of the human faces (such as the guy pictured below) look a little funny. His Batman is excellent. I'm not sure his art inspired Maggin, since I don't think DC did the art before the story, but it's another in a solid group of issues this year.

"The Parking Lot Bandit!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Al Milgrom & Terry Austin

Dick Grayson isn't fast enough to prevent The Parking Lot Bandit from striking again. The Bandit's M.O. is that he steals purses and then uses the I.D. and house keys to rob the victim blind. This time, The Bandit has made off with the purse of the secretary to the treasurer of Hudson University and, before you know it, has stolen $50,000 in tuition fees. Seems that one shouldn't count their chickens before they're hatched, though, since shortly after the robbery, the police chief gets a message from The Bandit indicating he'd been framed!

Yep, Schuster's my first choice too!
PE: Could this be the very first interesting Robin story I've ever read? Sure, it's got all the earmarks of another snooze-worthy Boy Blunder adventure: our hero can't stop the bad guy, Dick Grayson cavorts with attractive women without giving anything away as to his sexuality, and all the supporting characters are drawn with invisible ink. So why give this one a thumbs-up? Well, the art by future favorites Milgrom and Austin is at the very least professional and I never saw the finale coming. Yeah, I've got a good feeling I know who the culprit really is since, as with the other cliches this strip thrives on, it's fairly obvious, but I'm cautiously optimistic I won't hate the wrap-up. These mid-1970s comic book writers must look back in embarrassment at the phrases they had to use instead of profanity. Here, Chief McDonald almost makes "This fudgin' thing never works when you need it!" sound like poetry.

Jack: I think he's the same character who burst into a room crying "What the fudge!" in a recent issue.

PE: This is a rare job outside Marvel for Al Milgrom. Not long after this appearance, he jumped ship and had stints drawing Captain Marvel and Marvel Presents. He's known chiefly for his run as an editor at The House of Ideas in the 80s, responsible for such titles as Marvel Fanfare, West Coast Avengers, and Secret Wars II. Terry Austin would become a fan favorite a couple years later as the inker to John Byrne's pencils on The New X-Men but first he'll lend a hand to Marshall Rogers on his celebrated run on Detective in 1976.

Jack: I kept thinking Mike Grell drew this story--there are some similarities in style.

Batman 267 (September 1975)

"Invitation to a Murder!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Dick Giordano

Commissioner Gordon receives an invitation to a jewel heist and calls Batman for help. The robbery is a success, carried out by fake firemen supposedly responding to a fire. Batman tries to foil the hijacking of an airplane and learns that the criminal he seeks has black teeth. A quick look at the Bat-Archives reveals that the culprit is Django, whose teeth are black due to his habit of chewing Betel nuts. The Caped Crusader catches Django at a rock festival and the crime wave comes to an end.

PE: A decent story, this one. It's got an interesting enough plot line, with a good portion of action and excitement, with just a few questionable holes. Ferinstance, when Django tells Batman he'll have to unmask or he'll be blown sky-high, The Dark Knight does so, revealing a Django mask. Why Bats decided to wear this disguise is anyone's guess. Did he anticipate the request? We're not privy to that information. How is it that Django can transform himself into a "whirling dervish?" One plot thread left dangling that I do appreciate is the nice throwaway final panel where the Commish asks Batman how the glowing invitations magically appeared in Gordo's office. Bats admits that's he's still working on that puzzler. Refreshing that we're not given some over-the-top revelation he couldn't possibly be privy to.

How did we not notice that?
Jack: David V. Reed wrote a nice little mystery here that contains the plot holes you mention. Chua's art is at its best, but once again we have a really cool cover that doesn't fit the story. The revelation of Django is supposed to make him look kind of skullish, but his teeth look more pointy than black and the skeleton on the cover is nowhere to be seen.

PE: We find out, after thirty five plus years of mystery, exactly what Commissioner Gordon does for a living: he answers mail. That's why he has to farm his detective work out to the Caped Crusader. David V. Reed (aka David Vern) wrote Batman stories in the 1950s, revamping the Batplane and creating Deadshot, a character who came to prominence in the 1980s as a member of DC's Suicide Squad.

Jack: This looks like Reed's first Batman story after a long absence from DC comics. He will write quite a few more before we're done with the 70s!

Detective Comics 451 (September 1975)

"The Batman's Burden!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ernie Chua

Once again, Commissioner Gordon has asked The Batman to investigate a matter out of his jurisdiction. Seems a hit-man is on his way to the Caribbean island of San Lorenzo to off a celebrity at the Charity Backgammon Match. Only one man might know who the target is, a loser named Baldy Amber, so The Dark Knight sets off to find him. Undercover in San Lorenzo and accompanied by champion skier Molly Post and her friend Cumming Streeter, Bruce Wayne stumbles across Baldy, working as a janitor at one of the island's swanky hotels. Quickly changing into his night clothes, The Batman has to come on strong to find out the assassin's name is Lefty Colon and his target is none other than Bruce Wayne. But a blow to the head has left his mind scrambled and he soon learns that the real victim will be Molly.

PE: After last issue's high, we're back to another forgettable story with little action and questionable entertainment value. I wasn't blown away by the five-issue "Batman-Murderer" arc but at least Len Wein and Archie Goodwin were trying to break the character out of the decades-long sinkhole of one-issue stories and a lack of continuity. Three issues later and there's no fallout from that storyline. Everything is seemingly back to normal as if the police never hunted The Caped Crusader in the first place. It was all a horrible dream and let's forget all about it, says returning editor Julius Schwartz. Now the storied hero is nothing more than an errand boy for the top cop. The idea that the mafia lays high-end bets on ski matches makes one pause. The only scene that caught my interest was Molly's breakdown amidst all the violence surrounding her, but the roots of her pain were dropped quickly and not expounded on. A missed opportunity to inject some life in an otherwise lifeless corpse. No complaints about the Ernie Chan art, though. As you can see from the panel below, Chan is nicely capturing a sleek, muscular Dark Knight.

Jack: Is Cumming Streeter supposed to be a dirty joke? I thought this was a poor story and further evidence that O'Neil's writing skills were lagging in the mid-70s. The Chua art is serviceable but no longer outstanding, after what we've seen this year from the likes of Aparo, Buckler and Simonson. He seems to have taken up the mantle of Irv Novick--another perfectly good draftsman who would not often draw an exciting or original story.

"The Parking Lot Bandit Strikes Again!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin

Dick Grayson goes undercover as a parking lot attendant (STOP sign and all) to catch the Parking Lot Bandit. When his labor bears fruit and the bandit is nabbed, the thief has some odd news for the police: he stole the purse from Hudson University's secretary, yep, but he didn't break in and rob the College of its $50,000 in tuition money. When Robin does a bit of investigative work, he uncovers the real culprit: (SPOILER ALERT!!!) H.U.'s treasurer, Paul Schuster (surprise!).

PE: "Dick Grayson - Parking Lot Attendant!" Has a ring to it. Perhaps a glimpse of a spin-off title to come? As predicted, I knew just who the real perpetrator was (and so did you) so the wind was taken out of the sails a bit. This two-parter, with a bit of tinkering, probably could have been run as one installment but, all in all, it was a fun bit of nonsense and provided the first time in the 1970s that a Robin solo story was better than its lead-in. If just by default.

Jack: Best of all, that panel reproduced above sure seems to indicate that Robin is about to get lucky with the delectable Lori! That final picture of Dick Grayson (another dirty joke, her calling him Richard instead of Dick?) is about as close to underground comix art as you'll get in 1975 Batman comics.

PE: For the second time this year, a Batman foe (well, semi-foe) gets his own title. Like The Joker, this will be a short-lived victory for Kirk Langstrom (only two issues) and shortly after he'll be relegated to an occasional back-up feature in Detective and The Batman Family.

Jack: I remember buying Man-Bat and enjoying it during its brief run.

Limited Collector's Edition C-37

Jack: Another $1.00 Batman treasury edition came out with the September comics. This time it was an all-villain issue of reprints, with four Golden Age stories and a run of strips from the Batman Sunday newspaper comics page.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ray Bradbury on TV Part Four: Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Special Delivery"

by Jack Seabrook

The fourth episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be based on a story by Ray Bradbury was “Special Delivery,” broadcast on CBS during the series’ fifth season on Sunday, November 29, 1959. It is unclear from available sources whether Bradbury wrote the story first and adapted it into a teleplay, or whether he wrote the teleplay first and adapted it into a story. The story did not appear in print until the October 1962 issue of Galaxy; it was subsequently retitled “Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!” and collected in The Machineries of Joy (1964) and The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980).

“Come Into My Cellar” begins on a beautiful Saturday morning, as suburban dad Hugh Fortnum awakens to hear his neighbor, Mrs. Goodbody, call herself “the first line of defense concerning flying saucers.” A special delivery package arrives for his son, Tom, containing mushrooms to grow in the cellar “for-Big-Profit.” Around noon, Hugh sees friend Roger Willis, who is suddenly “afraid for everybody” and warns Hugh to “watch everything for a few days.” At twilight, Hugh and his wife Cynthia sit together on the porch. Tom proudly shows off his mushroom crop, growing fast after only seven hours.
Hugh begins to worry about the mushrooms when Roger Willis’s wife Dorothy calls to say that her usually steady husband has run off. Hugh visits Dorothy, sharing her concern at Roger’s unexpected disappearance. Hugh receives a frantic telegram from Roger, who is heading for New Orleans and tells him to “refuse all special delivery packages.” Hugh calls the police, but later that evening Roger calls to say all is well and he’ll be home soon. Beginning to suspect that all is not well with the mushrooms that arrived by special delivery earlier that day, Hugh confirms that not only the Willises, but “all the boys on the block are going in for it.”

After midnight, Hugh lays awake, sorting things out in his mind. He asks Cynthia if she thinks an invasion from outer space is possible, concocting a theory about alien spores reaching Earth, growing as mushrooms and taking over. Hugh goes to the kitchen for a glass of milk and finds a dish of fresh-cut mushrooms in the refrigerator. He realizes that the invasion could succeed if the mushrooms were eaten by humans, allowing the aliens to take over from within. He calls down to Tom, still in the cellar well after midnight. The boy admits to having eaten mushrooms on a sandwich and to having put them in the refrigerator for his parents to eat. A tense conversation ends as Hugh affects a “jaunty air” and heads down to the basement.
Steve Dunne as Bill
Has Hugh eaten a mushroom? Is he giving up? Is he possessed? Has he convinced himself that his fears are groundless? Whatever the reason for his sudden “jaunty air,” the story ends with a sense of menace, as we fear that Hugh’s theories are correct and the invasion is underway. “Boys!” recalls Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (first serialized beginning in 1954) in its evocation of an alien invasion being accomplished by means of seeds arriving from outer space and replacing humans with duplicates grown in pods. Whereas Finney’s story was a criticism of changes the author had seen in mid-twentieth century America, Bradbury’s tale is more a reflection of the paranoia rampant in 1950s suburban life, where everything seems sunny on the surface but may well be dark and dangerous underneath.
Peter Lazer as Tom
Ray Bradbury adapted “Come Into My Cellar” for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series (or perhaps it was an original teleplay that he later revised for print) and it was broadcast under the title, “Special Delivery.” The TV show follows the story closely, though Bradbury moves incidents around for dramatic effect and changes the ending to one that is direct and frightening. The show begins as the package is delivered; the neighbor, Mrs. Goodbody, is referred to a few times but never seen. Early in the episode, director Normal Lloyd and director of photography Lionel Lindon compose a nicely lit shot looking down the stairs into the basement. This shot will be repeated in various forms throughout the program, either eerily lit to suggest menace or flatly lit to show the absence of danger.

The casting is perfect, especially Steve Dunne as Bill (not Hugh), the father, and Peter Lazer as Tom, the son. The scenes that take place outdoors use late 1950s TV sitcom scenery and camera setups to establish that Hartford, Connecticut (identified in the show but not the story as the tale’s location), is an ideal suburb. Early on, one scene that is expanded features Roger telling Bill that he has a sense that something is wrong. He remarks that people have been vanishing and foreshadows a future Bradbury novel by quoting MacBeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”
Joe looking at the camera
“Special Delivery” also prefigures a classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which would air just over three months later (on March 4, 1960). In “Monsters,” an idyllic suburb is thrown into chaos by events that are revealed to have been set in motion by aliens who plan world domination. In “Special Delivery,” the events are subtler and more frightening, since they concern the most intimate of relationships among family members.

Bradbury’s script has nice touches of 1950s optimism, such as this exchange between father and son: “Haven’t you heard? The world’s ending,” says Bill, the father, to which his son Tom replies, “Nope! The way I see it, everybody looks forward.” Unfortunately, the future that “Special Delivery” anticipates is one where humans with emotions and feelings are replaced by “Martians.”
Beatrice Straight as Cynthia
Some highlights of the show are the lighting, especially in the shots looking down into the cellar when the mushrooms lined up in their flats seem to glow with an unearthly luminescence. When Roger’s wife Dorothy expresses to Bill her fear that her husband has been kidnapped, she is lit in a harsh, film noir style. There are a couple of odd shots of her son Joe, standing close to the camera in the central entrance hallway of his home and staring straight into the camera; it is hard to tell if this was intentionally done to create a sense of unease or if the young actor lacked experience.
The lead-up to the final scene is altered slightly from the story, as Bradbury has Bill’s wife, Cynthia, realize some of the horror of what is happening. The dramatic effect is heightened by accomplishing this through dialogue between the characters rather than as thoughts of Bill, as it is in the story. The biggest change from story to teleplay occurs in the final scene, which is a classic of television horror. Unlike the story, where Hugh heads down the stairs with a jaunty step to see Tom, the show has Bill slowly descend into the cellar as Tom stands in the shadows, holding a half-eaten mushroom sandwich. Tom tells his father, in a voice filled with menace, “I wanted you and mother to eat them.” Tom’s eyes glow in the dark, similar to the mushrooms in earlier scenes, as he offers his father a bite of his sandwich, insisting that “You’re hungry!” Bill, seemingly in a trance, takes a bite, and the show ends on a note of terror.

“Special Delivery” was directed by Norman Lloyd, who was also the show’s associate producer. Lloyd had appeared the year before in a dual role in the previous Bradbury episode, “Design for Loving.” His work behind the camera in this episode is outstanding. Handsome Steve Dunne (1918-1977) played Bill, the father. He had a long career without any significant roles, appearing five times on the Hitchcock series. I remember him best from a minor role as a TV newscaster in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Beatrice Straight (1914-2001) played his wife, Cynthia. She won an Oscar for her brief role in Network (1976) and also appeared in “The Cuckoo Clock” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Peter Lazer (1946-2008) played Tom, the son. His career began at age ten and was over by age 21. He also appeared in another classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled “Don’t Interrupt.” Finally, Frank Maxwell (1916-2004) played Roger, Bill’s friend. He had an instantly recognizable face and appeared in many TV episodes, including six on the Hitchcock series.

Frank Maxwell as Roger
“Special Delivery” is available on DVD and may be viewed online here.

The story was remade in 1989 as an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, with a new script by Bradbury. The remake is painful to watch. Starring Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti), it suffers from unimaginative direction and an intrusive and overbearing score. There are occasional, brief flashes of the original story, as in the scene where Roger confesses his fears to Hugh (Dad is back to his original name), but for the most part the show demonstrates the poor quality of much episodic television of the 1980s, with bad color, weak attempts at humor, and a lack of subtlety. The suburban idyll of the 1950s has become something to satirize and treat as ironic, rather than as an ideal that is being compromised from outside. The remake can be viewed online here and it is also available on DVD.


Aggelis, Steven Louis, "Conversations with Ray Bradbury" (2003). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1. <>
Bradbury, Ray. "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" 1962. The Stories of Ray Bradbury. Ed. Ray Bradbury. New York: Knopf, 1980. 589-601. Print.
Eller, Jonathan R., and William F. Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 2004. Print.
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. <>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR
Pub., 2001. Print. 
IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. <>.
"Special Delivery." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 29 Nov. 1959. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. <>.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 36: June and July 1975

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 264 (June 1975)

"Death of a Daredevil"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ernie Chua (Chan) & Dick Giordano & Co.

How did Batman find himself trying to jump Torres Canyon in "Devil" Dayre's jet-propelled rocket-cycle? Flash back a week to when Dayre was kidnapped from right under Batman's nose. Tracking down the kidnappers at the Gotham Yacht Club, Batman learns that blackmail is involved and he must take Dayre's place to prevent innocent investors from losing their stake. Batman's attempted jump fails, but he emerges from under water to trail the crooks and locate the real culprit--"Devil" Dayre himself, who faked his own abduction for cash.

Jack: Evel Knievel mania was at fever pitch in March 1975, when this comic book came out. The daredevil had failed to jump Snake River Canyon in September 1974 and would try to jump thirteen buses in England in May 1975. Unfortunately, this Batman story is an embarrassment, one of the worst we've seen in the 1970s to date. Having Batman get involved with a Knievel knockoff was just a bad idea and its execution is poor.

PE: Denny O'Neil's slide from greatness continues. The dialogue in this poor excuse for a story would be laughable if it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. At one point, Batman tells three assailants: "Sometimes I think you guys' dialogue is written by an echo-chamber." I have no idea what the hell that means but, seriously Denny, "you guys' dialogue" from Batman? Was this delivered with a New Yawk accent? An 8-year old would have been able to see the "twist ending" coming and I hesitate to use the word art when coming anywhere near the chicken scratches in this issue (in one panel, two "extras" look as big as the canyon that Devil Dayre will be jumping). Who exactly was "Dick Giordano & Co."? Not someone who will come forward and claim the fame, I would guess.

Detective Comics 448 (June 1975)

"Bedlam Beneath the Big Top!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ernie Chan & Dick Giordano

Tipped that answers to the murders of Ra's and Talia may be in waiting at Gaston St. Lucifer's Circus Extraordinaire, Batman hits the big top in disguise. There he finds a mysterious and deadly assortment of carnival characters: Sireena, the Sensuous Snake-Charmer; Grobo, the Strongest Small Man in the World; Shondu, the Human Corkscrew; and Slapleather Smith, the Sharpshooter. All are commanded by a tall, thin, and strangely familiar barker. As Batman delves deeper, he discovers that the troop is a disguise for Ra's, Talia, and goons. Once cornered, the Ghuls confess to framing The Dark Knight in an attempt to get him to join the League of Assassins. With the help of The Creeper, the Caped Crusader is able to round up Talia and her henchmen but Ra's perishes in a tent fire. Batman is cleared of all suspicion when Commissioner Gordon arrives on scene.

PE: Not a satisfying conclusion to an arc that has taken up five issues but admittedly better than the usual standard 1975 Batman fare. The motivation behind Ra's's caper seems suspect since he must be sure already that Batman would never join his League of Assassins, fugitive or not. And there's nothing that says "this ain't goin' nowhere" like a last-page expository on the level of this issue. Did it just occur to Bats that the coroner would have been under the influence of a hallucination gas and that's how the bodies appeared dead? Let's examine that for a moment. Several people would have had to be gassed. When the coroner performed the autopsy, where did the imaginary vital parts go? In an imaginary tray? Ostensibly, the mortuary people and grave workers were hired by Ra's. I'll accept that. But why bother putting in "dummies on a special swivel-pivot" (Batman's explanation as to why there were bodies in the coffins) if, eventually, The Dark Knight will be facing Ra's and Talia anyway? There are just too many inconsistencies in the story for me to believe that even a mastermind like Ghul could pull this one off when all the paperwork involved in the murder of key figures like Ra's and Talia is enormous. Yeah, I know, it's a comic book! Just call me Bat-Grump, Jack. I do like the guesting of The Creeper (who's beginning to grow on me) and the twist reveal of Ra's's carnival identity.

Jack: I like that the wrap-up to the five-issue arc is a full-length story, but the plotting is a little bit creaky. An "A" for effort goes to Len Wein for coming up with the idea and working it out over five issues, even though they didn't always seem to be proceeding in a direct line toward the conclusion. The final revelation that Ra's al Ghul cooked the whole thing up in order to blackmail Batman into joining the League of Assassins and getting together with Talia is a bit of a surprise but also seems like it was inevitable. Ra's should have known it wouldn't work but still he tried. I would have been happier if the same artist had drawn the whole series.

PE: Jack Ryder (aka The Creeper) makes a cameo appearance here, handing out info to a disguised Batman on a seedy street corner. I thought, until the name reveal, that Ryder was Superman in disguise with the one curl hanging across his forehead. Batman's "Hang in there, Creeper!" farewell at the climax seems out of character but that could just be a personal hang up. I like to think of The Dark Knight as the laconic loner rather than a with-it hipster. 

Batman 265 (July 1975)

"Batman's Greatest Failure!"
Story by Mike Fleisher
Art by Rich Buckler & Bernie Wrightson

A film crew is shooting a movie in Gotham City when an accident leaves star Robert Trenton horribly burned and partially paralyzed. Trenton goes crazy, enlisting his hulking bodyguard Brutus to murder the remaining cast of the film one by one. Only the Caped Crusader can find and stop Trenton and Brutus before they kill again!

Jack: After last issue's low point, this issue's story is a shocking return to form for Batman! This is Mike Fleisher's only credit on Batman or Detective in the 1970s, and it's in keeping with the dark, violent tone he had set the year before in the Spectre series that had a controversial run in Adventure. Up to this point, Rich Buckler had only drawn Robin backup stories. By July 1975, he was already drawing Deathlok over at Marvel. Berni Wrightson drew the great cover for Detective 425 back in 1972 but this issue of Batman is the only time we'll see him draw an interior story in this decade. Whatever the reason for this trio's getting together to produce this issue, it's a welcome bit of darkness in the Batman universe. The deaths (which turn out to have been faked) are gruesome and they are staged with relish. I have to admit I really enjoyed this story on all levels! I'm surprised it got past editor Julius Schwartz, because this issue is most assuredly NOT for kids.

PE: It's too bad we have to get that lame exposition from Bats at the climax explaining how he rigged the fake deaths:

"I discovered all three booby-traps in advance of the murders! I unwired the carousel, put a papier-mache boulder in the steam shovel...and had the special effects man rig up a phony explosion with a flare and recorded sound!"

And Mitzi's "death" is so convincing, flattened like a pancake under that boulder, that it's a shame it's a cheat. Even more of a cheat is Batman's surprised reaction to the squishing of Mitzi since he admits to being in on the ruse.  Those are the only nits for me to pick this issue and I'm not sure if it's because we've had nothing but swill in this title for so long or because it's a genuinely fine story. I like how  Buckler and Wrightson complement, rather than drown, each other. Trenton, post-accident, is very obviously a Wrightson creation (as if he had stepped out of the pages of Swamp Thing) but the rest of the strip is a nice balance of two of my favorite artists. I love Val Mayerik's art (especially on Marvel's Frankenstein title) but it wasn't until I saw that panel above that I realized how much he had "borrowed" from Wrightson. Someone get Commissioner Gordon a bib. If I was Bats, I'd have gagged Gordon rather than listen to his nonsense anymore. Then again, why not let Gordo in on the act since the actors and special effects guys evidently knew all. There's a letter to Batman from a 16-year old Dan Jergens this issue. A decade later, Dan would create Booster Gold for DC and take over penciling chores on Superman. Jurgens arguably became the best artist to tackle The Man of Steel at the close of the 20th Century.

Detective Comics 449 (July 1975)

"Midnight Rustler of Gotham City!"
Story by Elliott S. Maggin
Art by Ernie Chan & Jose Garcia-Lopez

Amidst a severe meat shortage, Commissioner Gordon asks his best friend Batman to look into a series of cattle thefts at Gotham slaughterhouses. A tip leads to an illegal cattle boat run by a small-time hood named Tad Wolfe but Batman seems unsure that Tad is behind the complicated rustling scheme. A strange dream involving a shaman that the Caped Crusader had met years ago leads him to the real brains behind the robberies: Tad's brother, millionaire trucking magnate Zach Wolfe. When Batman confronts Zach, the man commands his rustlers to release the cattle on Gotham roads. With the help of a gallant steed, Batman is able to round up the rampaging livestock, ensuring at least one more day of unhealthy dietary habits for Gothamites.

PE: Gordo calls on Batman to round up the cattle-rustlers because he's got to get a good night's sleep if he's to be in shape to "give the key to the city to Premier Caramanlis" the following morning, never giving consideration to the fact that maybe our hero could use some shut-eye now and then.

Jack: The cover looks like one of those where Julius Schwartz commissioned it and then had someone come up with a story to match. Fortunately, we do get Batman up on that white horse eventually, even if it's only for half a page as he helps the cops round up some wayward cows. What is really weird about this story is Bruce Wayne's dream about the old Indian medicine chief he met years ago in New Mexico. It seems like something out of an O'Neil/Adams story circa 1970-1971 but it's not. Chua's art continues to be good, especially when he lets loose with a page or two of dialogue-free action. This issue's inker is Jose Garcia Lopez, whose first DC credit was just the month before; this is his first work on a Batman story.

PE: The story smells very much like one of those Frank Robbins toss-offs we used to complain about so much. The obligatory tell-all climax, never very good in either Batman or Detective stories, is particularly head-scratching here. See if you can follow: Batman deduces that Tad is being hunted by the syndicate for gambling debts so he agrees to step onto the cattle boat in order to be arrested by Batman so he can have the protection of a jail cell (ostensibly, the Gotham mafia is not all that dangerous and can't hire someone inside the prison to knock off Tad!) and brother Zach can continue his beef raids without a hitch. The Dark Knight remembers that, when Tad was being fingerprinted, he saw the man's ring damaged and further deduced that Tad had jammed his ring into the hammer of his gun before firing, thereby misfiring and convincing Batman that Tad was guilty! This guy has one heck of a detective mind but, it seems, that mind is only working on the last page of these tales. Having said all that, it's a charming enough tale, certainly harmless, and the sight of Batman aboard a white horse reminds me that a similar scene (sans the cattle) was supposedly set for Tim Burton's first Batman movie. Garcia-Lopez's inks complement Chan's art much better than Giordano's last issue. The action is dynamic and his non-Batman characters look realistic and human rather than sketchy. Until "Midnight Rustler," Elliott S. Maggin had been known chiefly for his "exciting" contributions to the The Elongated Man Mythos in the Detective back-up feature pre-Archie Goodwin. Maggin will write next issue's story but then head off to the greener pastures of The Batman Family. Julius Schwartz once said that he'd never seen a "first time" script as good as Maggin's (a college term paper rewritten as a Green Lantern story) and compared the find to a young Ray Bradbury! A decade later, Elliott S. Maggin ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Hampshire.

Jack: Did the ballot have an exclamation point after the S?

"The Mighty Man Who Walked on Air!"
Story by Mary Skrenes
Art by Dick Giordano

While on holiday in Florida, Ralph and Sue Dibny are continuously confronted by a man who can seemingly walk on air.

Jack: A corny short story featuring Elongated Man and a needless cameo by the Flash. Writer Mary Skrenes is said to have been the inspiration for Howard the Duck's human female companion Beverly.

PE: The science of The Flash eludes me. If he's running so fast he appears to be walking on air, how can Ralph and Sue see him? If Sue contacted The Flash to help set up the mystery for Ralph's birthday, did they already know about the bombing that Hardboiled Harry The Bomb had planned? This whole story makes my head hurt real bad.

Jack Davis art is always worth a look!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 35: April and May 1975

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 262 (April 1975)

"The Scarecrow's Trail of Fear!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ernie Chua and Dick Giordano

Robert Toomey stole a hundred grand from a charity ball and Batman wants to know where he stashed it. Toomey dies of fright after giving a partial clue to the money's location and Batman knows the Scarecrow is behind the death. The Caped Crusader finds the Scarecrow in an amusement park and must combat a device that creates a crippling sense of fear before he can defeat the villain and recover the money.

PE: Scarecrow's got a wonderful new Scare-O-Meter that's supposed to be even more powerful than the old gizmo. So how does the Batman conquer the fear that should be crawling up his spine? Um, he reasons that he has nothing to fear. Wow! I'd say the Scarecrow doesn't have much of a career left in Gotham. The Scarecrow's a character I've always loved the hell out of, even before Christopher Nolan made him famous in Batman Begins, but he isn't used to his full potential here. He merely makes appearances in a few panels, no real menace, with a story that's about as humdrum as they come. My fondness for the villain comes from more contemporary story lines such as Doug Moench's Knightfall. Though The Scarecrow was introduced way back in World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941), he's been one of the most underutilized of the Gallery and we'll only see him a couple more times in our study of the 1970s Batman. 

Jack: This is one of the best of O'Neil's revivals of the classic villains. Ernie Chua debuts as Batman artist and his work is outstanding. There are two separate full pages that are completely free of dialogue, but Chua's ability to tell a story in pictures is very impressive. The amusement park setting is a bit reminiscent of Scooby Doo, but the fights between Batman and the Scarecrow's goons are exciting and genuinely tough. Chua uses panels in a creative way, mixing cross panel work (where a wide picture is divided into a few panels, with the white space between panels representing missing space) with occasional art that goes beyond panel borders. It all has the feel of work by Adams or Steranko and it's vibrant. 

 PE: I very distinctly remember feeling ripped off when DC dumped 32 pages from their "Giants" but only shaved a single dime from the price. The reprints in this last bonus-sized package (before returning to 32-page glory) are a two-parter (from Detectives #366 & 367, August and September 1967) involving brainwashing and amazingly inconsistent art perpetrated by Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene. I find Infantino to be a reliable artist (though he's got his detractors, to be sure) so I have to believe it's Greene's inks that gum up the works at times. It's not like the whole thing's abysmal, but there are some real lapses here (Bruce Wayne appears pop-eyed in one panel and suave the next). No use dissecting Gardner Fox's story. It was published amidst rampant Batmania and that's all that really needs to be said.

Jack: In the process of reading the reprints for this series I have concluded that the 1960s was a pretty bad decade for Batman stories. With that said, this two-parter was not as bad as some of the stories we have read (with the nadir being the series of stories about the Outsider). Infantino's art is inconsistent, as you point out, but I have such a lot of respect for him and his place in comic history that I don't want to be too negative.

Detective Comics 446 (April 1975)

"Slaughter in Silver"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jim Aparo

When an accident at a Wayne warehouse damages a statue of the Batman, Bruce Wayne finds a startling surprise within: a human skeleton. With greasepaint and wig in tow, the Dark Knight investigates the remains at the police morgue, only to be interrupted by goons in search of the very same booty. Luckily, the police happen onto the scene and the Batman escapes, tracking the henchmen to their boss's lair. The brains of the group turns out to be Sterling Silversmith, eccentric silver hoarder and vicious killer. Silversmith has been smuggling huge amounts of silver into Gotham in statues, manipulating the world's market and waiting for the day that silver becomes more valuable than gold.

PE: I found this to be an enjoyable enough story but it does nothing to advance the plot of the "Batman-Murderer" arc. Silversmith's remark, when he's about to ventilate The Batman, that "no outlandish doom-trap for you to test your ingenuity upon this time... just a plain and simple bullet between the eyes," is a sly wink to readers like me who sigh and shake our heads when a villain traps Batman under a giant mattress stuffer and then leaves the room before the job is done. Nicely done, Len. I thought for sure that Silversmith must be a returning villain but, nope, this was his debut. Readers must not have been all that impressed with him as this will be the first of only two appearances (the other being Detective Comics #495, October 1980). A shame, since Silversmith seems to be a bit on the homicidal side (the skeleton inside the statue is that of his murdered brother) and you can never have enough maniacs in a Dark Knight comic book.

Jack: There is a nice echo of the Shadow when Batman uses one of his old disguises to gather some information. The character of Sterling Silversmith appears to be a thinly veiled imitation of one of the Hunt brothers, the Texas billionaires who tried to corner the silver market in the 1970s. The US government eventually took them down, without any help from Batman.

"The Mystery of the Flyaway Car!"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Museum curator Carter Hall seems to have a problem keeping his car on the ground while on the way to work one morning. Turns out a thief has stashed his goods, a super-duper remote control that can levitate objects, in Carter's trunk. Luckily enough, Carter has also stashed his costume in the car and swiftly transforms into his alter ego, Hawkman, to nab the felon and return the stolen gizmo.

PE: Not much to say about this one as it's just too brief to establish anything but a skeleton of a tale. As I've noted before, I really like Rich Buckler's art and Klaus Janson brings out the best in Buckler (some of the panels have an almost Howard Chaykin-ish vibe to them) just as he'd make Frank Miller even better a few years later on Daredevil. If I was a newbie to the Hawkman mythology picking this up in 1975, I'm not sure I'd give the strip another try.

Jack: The best thing here is the art. Hawkman has been fortunate to have some great artists draw his adventures over the years, from Sheldon Moldoff in the 1940s, through Joe Kubert, and on to Rich Buckler.

Batman 263 (May 1975)

"Riddler on the Move!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ernie Chua and Dick Giordano

The Riddler is back in Gotham, luring Batman into a museum death trap and posing curious questions to passers by. Our hero escapes and tracks the puzzling fiend to the Gotham Zoo, where he knocks him into a cage of monkeys!

PE: Whereas last issue's villain, the Scarecrow, has always been a favorite, the Riddler has always seemed to me to be a lackluster foe, essentially a poor-man's Joker. This is the only area where I believe the ABC-TV series version trumps the comics. There's quite a bit of insanity to Frank Gorshin's portrayal of The Riddler, a sharp contrast to the smiling buffoon we got with Cesar Romero's Joker. This comic version of Edward Nigma displays not one bit of that maniacal edge. He's just another lower-tier bad guy who got a break and became part of the Rogue's Gallery. With "Riddler on the Move!" writer Denny O'Neil does nothing to add to the character's vanilla personality. This is the first time we've encountered the character in the 1970s and I believe he's the last of the Gallery to be reintroduced to comics fans since the embargo was lifted by Julie Schwartz. Created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang for Detective Comics #140 (October 1948), the Prince of Puzzles appeared in only a handful of issues of either Batman title before experiencing an upsurge in popularity thanks to the TV show in 1966. Still, Nigma had been on ice since Detective #377 (July 1968) and didn't exactly take the comics world by storm when he resurfaced with this issue.

 Jack: As usual, I'll take the more juvenile approach and say I enjoyed this story, silly as it was. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that the Riddler was my favorite villain on the Batman TV show and I was always excited to see him in the comics. Chua's art is good but not as good as in last issue's Scarecrow story. It's nice that we have two strong Bat artists drawing both comics for now on a monthly basis. 

PE: If The Riddler is the last of the Gallery to be dusted off, then the two titles face a problem: rotate the Gallery or go back to villainous motorcyclists and one-shot, fourth-tier villains. Having cheated and peeked at the covers of the next half-dozen issues, I'd say it'll be six of one, a half dozen of the other. Reader Paul Emrath echoes my sentiments about the Gallery (though he does give props to writer O'Neil's handling of the villains): The Joker and Two-Face are obviously the big guns, with the others a decidedly mixed bag. Emrath calls out for the return of Batman's oldest foe, Professor Hugo Strange (first appearance: Detective #36, February 1940), but will have to wait another two years to see his wish granted.

Jack: This is the first issue of Batman to be 25 cents for 36 pages, and the story has now been cut down to 18 pages from the 20 pages we'd been getting for some time. Looking back, the reduction to 18 pages of new material began with the April 1975 issues of both books.

Detective Comics 447 (May 1975)
"Enter: The Creeper!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ernie Chua and Dick Giordano

Seeking answers, the Batman digs up Ra's al Ghul's coffin and finds it empty. When confronted by police at the grave site, the Dark Knight presents his evidence that Ra's is not kaput after all, only to find the casket inhabited by his "dead" foe. The cops are convinced that the Batman has gone bats and word soon gets out to the good folks of Gotham that the hero who has been saving their skins all these years is now a Bat-Maniac. Meanwhile, the Creeper, feeling a debt is owed to the Dark Knight for helping him out years before (Detective Comics #418, December 1971), tracks down the Caped Crusader at the Gotham Zoo but finds it very tough going to haul his old friend in. While the pair scuffle, a shadowy figure releases the lions on them. The animals contained, the pair turn to the mysterious antagonist but the man is murdered before he can spill the beans. Now convinced that the Batman is innocent, the Creeper agrees to help clear his name.

PE: As I quizzically asked a few weeks ago, couldn't this whole misunderstanding have been avoided if the cops would just look at the bodies of Ra's and Talia? The Batman opens up Ra's's casket (using a convenient shovel, I might add) only to find the old man ain't there. Not once does he think, "Hmmm, I wonder how these two corpses were embalmed." We all know that, back in 1975 Gotham City, forensics wasn't what it is now but, seriously, the holes in this scenario are big enough to fly the Bat-Plane through. Though the story's decent enough, this arc is shaping up to be a whole lot of nothing. We knew from the beginning that the Ghuls were alive and manipulating the events the whole time. Let's just cross our fingers that Wein can wrap the whole package up satisfactorily next month. 

Jack: Ernie Chua takes over the art duties this issue from Jim Aparo, which is a step down in my opinion. Chua's panels flow smoothly but his faces sometimes look like they're made of plastic. According to Wikipedia, Ernie Chua was a Filipino immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1970 and began drawing comics in 1972. Chua was a mistake on his immigration papers and that's why he's known by both that name and his real name of Ernie Chan.

PE: Officers Sinkovec and Tiefenbacher refer to Jerome and Mike (respectively), editor/publishers of the long-running, much-missed (by this subscriber, at least) The Comic Reader fan magazine. TCR was a monthly zine stuffed full of reviews, previews, and a checklist of that month's comics. Mostest incredible of all to this pre-teen was the Marvel and DC covers two months ahead of time!

Jack: The Comic Reader was a must-have in the 1970s, especially for the checklist of all of the comics coming out each month!

"The Puzzle of the Pyramids"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by A. Martinez and ? Mazzaroli

Robin foils the robbery of an expensive set of holographs at Hudson U. while his alter ego, Dick Grayson, judges a pyramid building contest.

PE: You get the sense from these Robin solo stories that no one else in Hudson University does anything. If a new exhibit is about to be unveiled, there's Dick Grayson. Rock concert in the cafeteria? Dick "the deejay" Grayson. Cherry Smith having a hard time with her algebra? Dick Grayson, part-time tutor. Back when these titles were 100-pagers, there was a ton of reading to be done but at least Jack and I had something to talk about. Sadly, when the topic turns to Robin, the Solo Star, I suspect we'll be bringing out the same old adjectives. The art here, by the mysterious Martinez and Mazzaroli, succeeds in simultaneously resembling a bad Neal Adams swipe and a Daisy BB gun advertisement. This seems to be the deadly dull duo's only art credit. Much better is the 1-page inside cover story, "Batman and The Mummy," which finds the Dynamic Duo rescuing an archaeologist and his beautiful daughter from a deadly mummy by luring the bandaged baddie away with a box of Hostess Twinkies.

Jack: Apparently, Martinez and Mazzaroli were from Continuity Studios, formed by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. Uber-fan turned writer Bob Rozakis shows his love for comics in a few ways in this six-pager. Reporting for the GBS TV news on the scene of the pyramid building contest is none other than Clark Kent, who returns to Metropolis before Robin solves the mystery. The villain of the piece wears a Junior Woodchucks T-shirt, memorializing Donald's three nephews and their boy scout knockoff organization. Can we read some Carl Barks instead of another Robin story?

PE: Maybe the most important question is: how many times can The Boy Wonder be conked on the noggin before all the concussions catch up to him. He's knocked unconscious an average of 2 times per solo story. In fact, the DC bible must have read: 1/Introduce villain in the shadows; 2/introduce a new character to Dick Grayson; 3/have the villain conk Robin on the head; and 4/reveal the villain to be the new character. It's just that easy.

Jack: It's worth noting that The Joker #1 also came out at this time, with a May 1975 cover date. Written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, this series was in the difficult position of having a villain as its lead character. In the first issue, the Joker faces off against Two-Face. The Joker managed to hang on for nine issues before being canceled.