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!


Peter Enfantino said...

I recently acquired several issues of DC's short-lived "behind the scenes" (read that as "advertising") zine The Amazing World of DC Comics. They had a regular column each issue that would let DC-Zombies in on what was coming up or what was going on in the DC offices. In issue #4 there's a mention that the full-length wrap-up to the Ra's al Ghul "novel" in #448 became the first time that Batman had been the only feature in an issue of Detective Comics since his first appearance.

Sebastian Howard said...

Jesus, Gordon was so obnoxious in this issue. I thought from Batman
TAS, the newer comics, and from the movies Gordon has always been a cool dude who's been friends with Batman but in this issue he's the worst person ever. I have no idea who decided to start making Gordon a dick but it was a terrible idea.

He makes Batman feel bad that a guy got murdered under his watch, but how was Batman supposed to know that the pole was going to be electrocuted? Why is he constantly bossing Batman around, and getting mad at him for doing things quicker than him.

And its like, Batman can't even respond to Gordon's bullshit either, he just ignores him the whole issue. You say you would've tied his mouth shut, if I was Batman I would've ko'd his ass.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for reading, Sebastian! Gordon certainly has changed over the years. What do you think of "Gotham"? I gave up after about three episodes.

Sebastian Howard said...

I never checked out Gotham, just didn't interest me. I did love that Flash/Arrow cross over and am probably going to get back into Arrow and start watching Flash. I do love Constantine though, as inconsistent as the quality is episode to episode.

Jack Seabrook said...

I really enjoyed Flash v. Arrow. I've been watching Flash from the start and it's a lot of fun. Arrow never appealed to me because there was too much Oliver Queen drama and not enough Arrow, but this two-parter was really cool!