Monday, October 22, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 41: March and April 1976

by Jack Seabrook

& Peter Enfantino

Batman 273 (March 1976)

"The Bank-Shot That Baffled Batman!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin

The Underworld Olympics continue as Team Europe steals a British Revolutionary War cannon. They use the cannon to fire a shell containing a safety deposit box into the air, but Batman intercepts them when they try to recover the shell after it hits the ground. Although they got caught, Team Europe leads with fifty points.

PE: The idea that the Colonial Cannon could be broken down into so many wee small bits that it would fit in a bank of safe deposit boxes is moronic. Was the barrel of the cannon folded lengthwise? But then pop that idea into a story about Batman being menaced by the "Underworld Olympics" and it's not so silly, is it? Well, not if this comic was Batman and His Amazing Super Friends, but bearing in mind this is the same title that gave us "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" and introduced Ra's al Ghul, it's tough to swallow. Colossally stupid.

Jack: I went over this story several times and I still can't figure out what was in the box or why they fired it into the air. I like the opening Bicentennial celebration and I'm glad to see that the British reenactors are the ones who cheat by using real bullets. I like the idea of an ongoing series but the stories don't make a lot of sense. In addition, the scoring seems capricious--Europe gets 50 points but South America got only 20?

Detective Comics 457 (March 1976)

"There is No Hope in Crime Alley"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Dick Giordano

On the same night every year, for the last 21 years, Batman has made his way to the dangerous neighborhood known as Crime Alley. There he tries to make the block just a little safer from pushers and hoodlums. He always ends his night with a visit to a woman named Leslie Thompkins and through a series of flashbacks we find out why. When his parents were brutally murdered in Crime Alley (nee Park Row), Ms. Thompkins comforted little Bruce Wayne and now, as his alter ego, he makes the yearly trek to give something back...and perhaps take something back at the same time.

PE: This is one of those stories that feels like it was written to be iconic. For the most part it succeeds. It's a bit overly-sentimental (with a little bit of reworking this could have been a Christmas story) and I question how Alfred, perhaps the most trusted man in Batland, could possibly have no idea "where (Batman) goes on this date every year...or why!" He was, after all, in the Waynes' employ when they were gunned down all those years ago. And about that gauntlet: does Ms. Thompkins walk the same route every night or once every year? Seems as though she picked just the right time to wander down Crime Alley with "the receipts from the street fair" in her purse. And then there's the matter of time-elapse. If only 21 years has gone by, that makes Bruce about 31-33. Doesn't jibe with some of the other stories we've read from the 1970s. Ah, no matter, it's a great story and indeed iconic. I get the sense Denny O'Neil peeked above the hedges of mediocrity he'd been hiding behind for the last couple years and said "Wait'll they get a load of this!" Welcome back, Denny.

Jack: Not only is this a beautiful story, but Dick Giordano's art is as close as we'll come to that of Neal Adams in 1976. I have read rumors about swipes (or "cloning"), and it may be true, but it looks great. This is one of those Batman stories that comes along every so often and makes me glad we're doing this project. There's just one problem with this issue. Look at the cover of Batman 273, then look at the cover of Detective 457. Somewhere in March 1976 (actually, December 1975), between the time Batman came out and the time Detective came out, DC raised its cover price to THIRTY CENTS! Arrgh! Now we get 18 pages of new material for 30 cents. Believe me, it won't end there!

"Make Way for the Elongated Woman!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger

Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, is being held for ransom by three young fur robbers. All they want is Ralph's secret stretch potion and Sue might be the one to hand it over to them.

Shouldn't someone tell Sue that Ralph
has been dipping into her hormones?

PE: There's not much to discuss here. The Elongated Man is obviously an acquired taste, one I have yet to acquire, and his adventures could be categorized as "fluff." The art is just as dreadful as it was in the first chapter. The only ray of sunshine I see here is that next issue will see the return of Man-Bat as a back-up.

Jack: I agree that this is pretty hard to take. The only highlight in the art is the female criminal in short-shorts.

Batman 274 (April 1976)

"Gotham City Treasure Hunt!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua

In round three of the Underworld Olympics, the Afro-Asian team is sent on a treasure hunt. Batman catches the crooks at their first stop, but one of the bad guys manages to relay a clue to his compatriots by hand signals when his arrest is televised. The second phase goes well, as Batman is decoyed by a fighting she-devil. The Dark Knight figures it out and catches the criminals in phase three; unbeknownst to him, their team earns 36 2/3 points.

Batman kicks back by
pushing back his mask.
PE: I can't help but feel that something better, possibly something of substance, could have filled what will eventually be 72 pages of mindless fluff. It wouldn't be so bad if the story was entertaining but it's not. It's tedious. Are we really supposed to believe that a crew of international terrorists have come to Gotham and while one or two of them venture out, the rest stay inside listening to a guy with a mic running down scores? "Well, the Afro-Asians did blow up the bank. That's good for 10 points. They also killed two guards. That's twenty points for a total of 30 but we have to minus 11 and 2/3 because they were caught by police so their total now stands at 18 and 1/3. Next up: the Jamaicans!" All three of the installments thus far have set the same pattern: Crew goes out based on clues, does some damage, and gets busted by The Batman. There are some real howlers here as well, such as when The Dark Knight yells out to a bad guy "Wait for me! Uncle Batman wants you!" Or how about at the climax of this third chapter, when Batman says to Gordo: "Commissioner, it's as if we're in some kind of underworld olympics!" We've said it before but I think I really mean it this time: the bottom of the barrel has been scraped.

Jack: This is getting tedious. It has become apparent that the Underworld Olympics are pointless and the crimes have no ultimate goal. I am concerned by the odd grouping of criminals. We had the South American team, the European team, the Afro-Asian team, and--next issue--the North American team. Why didn't Africa and Asia each get their own team? And what about Australia? Those Aussies could have kicked serious butt. Are there no criminals in Antarctica? This should be a seven-issue arc but mercifully it will end after the fourth issue.

Detective Comics 458 (April 1976)

"The Real Batman Dies Next!"
Story by Elliot S. Maggin
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Ernie Chua

At the annual Policeman's Costumed Ball, a young lieutenant named Bucky Dunlop, dressed as The Batman, is murdered. On his forehead reads "The Real Batman Dies Next!" Commissioner Gordon suspects and later arrests tattoo artist Slats Johnson but Batman is holding out for more evidence. Eventually the trail leads The Dark Knight to calligrapher Charles Fellman. After a brief showdown, the murderer is brought to justice.

PE: I couldn't make heads or tails of this story. I assume Fellman had a run-in with Batman in the past and so swore vengeance on him. I'm not sure how the tattoo got onto Bucky's forehead. Maggin might have strained to explain it but it just wasn't clear enough. Nor was the reasoning behind killing a cop dressed like Batman and putting the world's greatest detective on alert that he's next. It's not a horrible installment, it just feels unfinished and rushed. For the most part, Garcia-Lopez is keeping up his end although there's one panel (reprinted here) that has some perspective problems. The two characters look larger than the automobile.

Jack: I thought the art by Garcia Lopez and Chua was smooth overall and the story, while it had some major holes in the plot, had a nice theme about a wasted life. I like Batman's final comment to Commissioner Gordon: "If you can figure out how the law comes out ahead with this arrest, I wish you'd let me know."

"Peal of the Devil-Bell!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Pablo Marcos & Tex Blaisdell

Man-Bat must fight a sorcerer named Dr. Thanatogenos who has kidnapped Mrs. Man-Bat (Woman-Bat?) and turned her to stone. Before Dr. Langstrom can free Francie, he's also turned to stone.

PE: Clearly this was meant for the aborted Man-Bat #3 as it riffs on events that took place in the second issue (published just one month before Tec 548). Suddenly, Kirk has a sister (who wears what looks like native clothing) not privy to the goings-on at House Langstrom. Wife Francie (we really have to get a moniker for her soon) turns into a Girl-Bat and bursts her dress but, in the best traditions of comic book history, retains a modicum of decency thanks to a purple two-piece. Dr. Thanatogenos (just rolls off your tongue, don't it) is obviously patterned after Marvel's Damon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan. I usually like Pablo Marcos's work but here it's too cartoony. M-B looks like an ape in some panels and, come to think of it, so does his sister. This is Marcos's stomping ground, to be sure, as he's done good work for Tales of the Zombie, Planet of the Apes, Conan, and several other Marvel monster titles, but he misses the mark this go round.

Jack: I enjoyed this story, but then I always liked Man-Bat. Langstrom refers to his wife as "the She-Bat" in the course of the story. I think the cartoony vibe you're getting is the fault of inker Tex Blaisdell, who had turned in worse work in Batman 268 (the awful "Murder Masquerade"--the one with the camels and the ice skating rink). We should give him a pass, though, since he'd been drawing comics since the dawn of the industry. I have had it in for writer Martin Pasko since he did such a terrible job reviving my beloved E-Man for First Comics in the 1980s.

What Neal Adams was doing in March and April 1976 instead of drawing Batman:

Neal Adams part one--
cover for the Marvel-DC crossover

(from Detective 457)
Neal Adams part two--
public service announcement
(from Detective 457)

Neal Adams part three--
public service announcement
(from Detective 458)


Anonymous said...

Dick Giordano was an excellent and recognizable inker (I credit him for helping me to recognize inkers as artists in their own right), but it's always nice to see him doing the occasional penciling job.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Alfred was in the employ of the Waynes when they were killed. If I remember correctly, that was a mistake on Frank Miller's part that worked its way into continuity after his Year One.

Peter Enfantino said...

Even if Alfred wasn't in the employ of the senior Waynes, I highly doubt that particular day could remain a secret around Wayne Manor.