Monday, October 1, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 38: October and November 1975

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 268 (October 1975)

"Murder Masquerade!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Irv Novick and Tex Blaisdell

The Wayne Foundation has purchased some camels to donate to various zoos. A mysterious sheik sets them stampeding and Batman has to stop the carnage. It's too late for oil baron Frederick Goforth, who is killed by the onrushing dromedaries. That night, the Hudson U hockey team is playing at the Gotham Sports Arena and Dick Grayson is in town for the big game. During the game, the same mysterious sheik assassinates Oliver Hopkins, partner of the recently deceased Mr. Goforth. The shiekh goes three for three by killing a third partner, Leo Lunt. Batman chases the sheik but is defeated by his unexpected strength. His hands bandaged, the Caped Crusader tracks down the sheik and, with Robin's aid, unmasks him. It turns out that the murders of Goforth and Hopkins were faked so that the two men could kill Lunt and take his share of the company they owned together. Batman and Robin make short work of the two crooks during a concluding fight on ice skates on the hockey rink at the Arena.

Jack: It doesn't get much worse than this. O'Neil's script is trite, Novick's pencils uninspired, and the inks by Blaisdell make the underlying art appear rough and sloppy. The story makes very little sense and marks the second time in a few months that Batman has had to stop a stampede of large animals in Gotham City. The low point for me was when Batman had Alfred bandage his hands, which were cut badly when he stopped his own fall from a building by grabbing the electric neon lights of a sign. Batman has Alfred wrap the bandages while his hands are clenched into fists so he can still punch bad guys. Batman then can't turn a doorknob with his club-like hands, but a few panels later he has no trouble picking up a telephone.

PE: You're not kidding, Jack. Once again, Denny scrapes the bottom of the barrel with this tedious story stacked high with really bad puns. How many times will we be subjected to the same old "The dead guy ain't really dead, in fact he's the bad guy!" cliche? The bandaged mitts make our legendary Dark Knight look like a buffoon.

Detective Comics 452 (October 1975)

"Crackdown on the Crime Exchange"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Mike Royer

Batman answers a police call at the Tower Building. Suspicious noses are heard five floors below the office of Allied Bullion. The police are convinced no one can access the office but Batman shows them how wrong they are by scaling the building. On the roof, he discovers the door into the building has been torn open and, once inside the Allied office, finds a pair of henchmen hauling away a safe. The two get the better of The Dark Knight and are able to get the safe to a waiting helicopter and then escape. The looting turns Gotham against Commissioner Gordon and Batman (yet again) so The Caped Crusader goes undercover in the ultra-secret Crime Exchange to get to the bottom of who's behind the theft. Once he's brought before the head honcho, Bats tries to convince him that he's actually just a reporter. "If he's not Batman," reasons the hooded leader, "he'll never pick up a gun and fire it into the floor even to save his own life!" Will Batman swallow his misguided sense of truth, justice and the American Way and put a bullet in the defenseless pine flooring or will he eat one to defend those principles?

Don't be a wimp!

Jack: Nice art by Chua and a swift-moving story by Reed make this an enjoyable tale. From the cover, I thought the villain was the Spook, but it doesn't look like it will be. The cliffhanger that ends the story seems kind of dopey--why won't Batman fire a gun at the floor to save his own life? That seems like taking a point to an absurd extreme.

PE: The art's okay in spots but extremely clunky in others. Batman seems to have the chest and arms of Schwarzenegger but the waist of Twiggy. In one scene, it seems as though Batman is as large as the building he's scaling. Having Batman hesitate to put a slug ion a floor is taking his "principles" to a goofy level. After all, he started his crime-fighting career armed with a gun! Julius Schwartz once told a reader that Batman with a gun was a sight we'd never see in any of the comics he edited. This is Julie making good on that promise despite how dumb it appears.

"The Curse of the Ancient Weapons!"
Story by E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Carter Hall is supervising the unloading of a van of priceless antiquities at his museum when a wizard appears and attempts a hijacking. Carter calls upon his alter ego, Hawkman, to save the day but Hawk blunders the save. Eventually it's learned that the wizard is Hawkman's old foe, Konrad Kaslak

PE: You'd have a hard time convincing me that anything, and that goes for "a blunt-headed bolt," fired from a crossbow will only "stun its target." Ten bucks says it would make one hell of a dent in somebody. It's amazing what one "wheet!" translates to. It seems to cover every word and sentence structure known to man. Nice art by Garcia-Lopez who we'll be seeing quite a bit of very soon.

Jack: Hawkman's costume is so cool that it seems to bring out the best in the artists who draw his stories. I thought this was a fun story, even at only six pages. The wizard is an honest to gosh magician, and there is no attempt to explain away his magical powers.

Batman 269 (November 1975)

"The Daily Death of Terry Tremayne"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua

On three consecutive days, derelicts are found murdered and on their persons are ID cards bearing the name of Terry Tremayne. Batman locates the real Terry--a beautiful, wealthy woman living in the suburbs whose boyfriend stole a valuable Florentine box. His confederates are killing off men one by one for a week until she gives up the box. Batman solves the crime and falls for Terry, only to discover that she, too, is a thief and a murderer.

Jack: David Reed's story is quite good and Ernie Chua's art looks more refined than the usual Batman fare. I was taken in by the Terry Tremayne/Batman/Bruce Wayne romantic entanglement and only began to suspect her as the story came to a close. I began to get a real Maltese Falcon feeling and noticed that Terry was drawn to resemble Mary Astor in the 1941 classic film. I was happy to see that, at the very end of the story, they acknowledged their debt to Dashiell Hammett. Well done, all around.

PE: I love how, right in the middle of a multi-homicide investigation, Batman tells the real Terry Tremayne that she should "relax and get some exercise." He then sets her up on a date with his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, because he's taken a shine to her. What a horndog! Doesn't he realize that these dames he's attracted to always end up being bad girls? I didn't think much of the story but some of Chua/Chan's art this issue really stood out, in particular the subway battle scene. It's got a nice, dynamic flow to it. And how about that incredible get-up Bats dons to fool the geniuses of the underworld? A purple hat and cape to disguise the fact he's wearing a batsuit and mask (which are on full view)!

Jack: Not only did I enjoy the story in this issue, but the ads are a bonanza! In an ad for a permanent binder to hold one's comics, we learn that Fantastic Four #1 is worth $100! "Imagine what your comics will be worth in a few years!" There are some nice house ads, as well as a full page promo for the new CBS Saturday morning cartoon lineup that is drawn by Neal Adams. Finally, there is a full page ad for The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom, showing that fan publications are starting to appeal directly to readers through ads in the actual comics. Last of all is a full page ad for the Marvel-DC collaboration comic, The Wizard of Oz, a $1.50 treasury edition. There was a lot going on at DC in the fall of 1975!

PE: As well as Julius Schwartz's announcement of the revival of All-Star Comics featuring The Justice Society of America after a 25-year hiatus! #1 JSA fan Roy Thomas, editing over at Marvel, must have been pitchin' a fit over that one.

Master of disguise?

Detective Comics 453 (November 1975)

"The Deadly Web of the Crime Exchange!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Mike Royer

Batman is able to worm his way out of firing a gun by using it to hurl it at the screen projecting the Crime Exchange's head honcho. In the chaos, our hero is able to reacquire his "Yak" outfit and slip away unnoticed but not before planting a bug. Our costumed vigilante uses the listening device to quash the Crime Exchange's jobs. Meanwhile, The Batman calls on his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, to convince his rich friends to report crimes that aren't actually happening. All of this activity leads The Crime Exchange to believe there's a rival network setting itself up in Gotham. A network, unknown to these villains, run by the Dark Knight. With a little detective work and the deep pockets of Bruce Wayne, the charade is a success and leads to the arrest of the big fish behind The Crime Exchange.

PE: Batman has become such a master of disguise that he's able to fumble in a pitch black room, find a costume he'd discarded (last issue) and pop it on in about five seconds, with nary an eyebrow out of place or missing a prosthetic nose. I think this is more amazing than those death-defying leaps off skyscrapers into the driver's seat of the Batmobile.

Is that a Yak suit under his Batsuit or a sack of potatoes?

Jack: While it was kind of rude of Batman to refer to the contortionist in the suitcase as a "freak," this turned out to be a fun conclusion to the two-part story! About halfway through it became obvious that the Preisdent of the Crime Exchange was going to be unmasked as TV commentator Walter Grimes, but the concluding fight is exciting and I like that it is televised to all of Gotham City. Batman's final line is a good in-joke, as he responds to a reporter's question of whether he has ever thought of having his own TV series with "Are you kidding?"

PE: That last line is the highlight of a story that was just more of the same old stuff. Introduce a character we've never seen before, then show the masked (or hooded, in this case) villain, then unmask said villain at the climax and voila, come full circle. New writer Reed was only doing what he was told to do, I'm sure. The majority of these scripts, with a little tinkering, would feel right at home on the Scooby-Doo cartoon show.

Give her the dough, Ralph. She needs it for the operation.
"The Case of the Reverse Pickpocket!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Sergio Garcia and Frank McLaughlin

The Elongated Man finds himself suddenly in possession of a wallet stuffed with cash. The road of investigation leads to a crooked hypnotist.

Jack: This forgettable story has curiously retro art that looks like it could have fit in a DC comic of the '50s. It's not very impressive in 1975, though. According to the Grand Comics Database, this is the only US comic credit for penciller Sergio Garcia.

Proof that kids in 1975 were idiots.
PE: Seriously, this is the worst art I've seen in a "professional" comic book period. There are no backgrounds to speak of (in fact, the characters seem to be lined up in front of a large white wall throughout the story) and that poor Girl Scout will never be asked to the school dance looking like Chucky from Child's Play. I think more time and effort went into the Twinkies ads that DC was running at the time. They're certainly better written and deliver a creamier center and a nice yummy aftertaste.


Greg M. said...

Hey, guys!

I've got to agree with you about the absurdity of that whole "Batman will never shoot a gun for any reason" thing. It reminds me way too much of Supes back in the 50s and 60s and his "never tell a lie" persona. It was laughable how he would constantly make promises and then go to absurd lengths to make sure he hadn't lied or cheated.

Great column as always!

Matthew Bradley said...

Since FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was published in 1961, I imagine that "1960 FANTASTIC FOUR" would be pretty rare indeed.

Was Batman REALLY appearing in all those mags at once? Man, I thought Marvel overexposed Spider-Man and the X-Men in later years!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Greg! And Matthew, why do you think that FF issue from 1960 was so rare?!?

mikeandraph87 said...

Sorry,I have not been reading in awhile. Did you know that Batman#268 was the end of the classic Denny O'Neil run? I did not see that in your commentary.

Its also odd how Reed's run starts with #267 the issue before. It seemed like Reed would have started in #268 and O'Neil with #267 finished. I guess runs were done differently back then.

#268 was my favorite of this set. Bruce the good guy detective and the twist of the two Sheiks was well done. Glad ot see Robin as well. He did not appear enough at that point,college or not!

Peter Enfantino said...

Stay tuned, mikeandralph, as Denny will definitely be back.

Yankee Cowboy said...

Can't wait till you get to Detective Comics 459- one of my favorites.