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.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved Limited Edition C-37. Please check out my brother's recap of that issue -- we both read that issue dozens of times as kids, so everything he says resonates with me (including the pickle).

Jack Seabrook said...

I read your brother's recap of the treasury edition, and that really does look like a flying pickle! Nice work!

Sebastian Howard said...

They actually used that Detective Comics 450 plot in one of the Batman TAS episodes. Great story, and the twist ending is great. I almost wish I hadn't seen the episode so it would've been more of a surprise, but the writings way beyond that of Batman at the time. I almost feel that in the 70s they just didn't take comics as seriously as they do now, and it just led to a more laid back style, with some great stories popping up here and there.

Sebastian Howard said...

BTW, I do want to mention that Gordon is a lot more tolerable in these issues than in the last one, he actually seems to have a good rapport with Batman and again is being helpful, and even nice. The writers and fans must've gotten tired of grouchy Gordon too.

Jack Seabrook said...

I've never seen Batman TAS. I'm right there with you that '70s comics were more fun that today's, though I really haven't read any comics with regularity since about 1980! As for Gordon, his personality sometimes went back and forth depending on the issue. If you want to read great Batman comics, try the O'Neil/Adams run or the Goodwin or Englehart issues, all from the '70s.

Sebastian Howard said...

Aye Jack, completely unrelated question but I wanted to ask you since you seem like a DC fan, and I'm starting to get into the new Flash tv show, are any of the 70s Flash comics any good? The art on the covers looks pretty good, but I can't find any reviews for Flash comics from that time period.

Jack Seabrook said...

I haven't read them in 40 years so I really don't remember, but I doubt they were very good. You should pick up a Showcase book and see how they are--those books can be had cheaply online.