Monday, December 3, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 47: January and February 1977

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 283 (January 1977)

"Omega Bomb Target: Gotham City"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Ernie Chua

A magnesium crash helmet allows Batman to survive being shot in the back of the head at point blank range as he pilots a plane. He prevents a crash and dispatches the shooter and his partner, then decides to change course and head back to Gotham, certain that someone is tracking his every move. He arrives just in time to read a threatening note: a ship anchored in Gotham Harbor carries a nuclear bomb that will be detonated if one billion dollars’ ransom is not paid! The Caped Crusader boards the ship and defeats the crooks only to discover that there never was a bomb—the nuclear physicist who was kidnapped refused to help build it.

PE: I refuse to believe that David V. Reed, perpetrator of a whole lot of bad Batman stories (including the comic book equivalent of Fonzie riding that shark, "The Underworld Olympics"), could have come up with such an exciting adventure as this two-parter. If this had been published post-1981, I'd have said it was Reed's attempt to cash in on Raiders of the Lost Ark. The reveal that not only was there no bomb, but that Batman played an unwitting part in the whole affair (in fact, if he had not survived the plane crash, the bad guys probably would not have stood a chance of convincing the "best scientific minds in the country" that there really was a bomb!) was an ingenious twist (nope, I have no idea why the leader sent his henchmen to kill Bats if he needed him alive in Gotham). I won't hold my breath waiting for the next stellar Reed story, sorry. I'm a bit of a pessimist.

Jack: I'm surprised you liked this story so much. I thought it was okay, but not particularly strong in comparison to the other Reed stories. Chua's art continues to be uneven. I can't read a note trying to extort "one billion dollars" without hearing Mike Myers/Dr. Evil's voice in my head.

PE: The idea that 1/Alfred would suggest to Master Bruce that he wear a chromium crash helmet while flying a plane and 2/that Master Bruce would listen to anything Alfred said outside of "Dinner is served" is laughable. What good will a helmet do if the plane crashes? Are we to believe that Alfred has some kind of precognitive power that told him Batman would be shot in the head while on the plane? Lucky the bad guys didn't aim lower. It's amazing that all the "best scientific minds in the country" all dress in the same white lab coat. This was Ernie Chan/Chua's last Batman story.

Detective Comics 467 (February 1977)

"Pick-Up on Gotham 2-4-6!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by John Calnan & Vince Colletta

As Batman slips through a window into Wayne Manor, he spies a shadowy figure sitting on a couch, waiting for him. When the man calls out to him though, Batman seems to know the guest. As they wait for Alfred to bring a bit of breakfast, Bruce relates to his friend the adventure he had just been on. Attempting to bust up a Gotham gambling ring, The Dark Knight shadows two-bit thug Sneaky Danton into the subway and, just before boarding the train, dons the disguise of alter ego Matches Malone. The train experiences a brief blackout and, once the lights come back on, Batman is amazed to see...another Batman. Danton has donned the garb and forced the driver to stop the car so that he can get off. After a brief struggle, Danton is electrocuted on the third rail and Batman deduces that the man handed off his booty to the motorman before exiting the car. The gambling ring is quashed and Batman turns his attention to breakfast with Carter (Hawkman) Hall.

PE: An immensely forgettable installment (in fact, to write the synopsis, I had to reread it twice) existing only, it seems, to provide the big surprise at the climax. Batman's net is getting wider and the fish are getting smaller if he has to bust gambling rings now (and would a better written Caped Crusader really think it was worth the death of Sneaky?). Isn't The Joker or Catwoman up to no good somewhere? The art of Calnan and Colletta is serviceable other than the fact that Bruce and Carter look like the same man (they actually both look like Superman!). Get used to Calnan though as he'll be back to settle into the role of regular Batman artist by the end of 1977. Unless he works on his civilian characters, that doesn't bode well.

Jack: I enjoyed the art in this story, if only because it gave us a break from The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. The subway scenes were pretty neat and the story as a whole had a nice dark feel to it. What concerns me most is the fact that, as of this issue, Detective Comics has returned to bi-monthly status without any warning! What happened? It was of better quality than Batman in 1976, although it was selling fewer copies. As usual, the market trumped art.

Speaking of birds, it
looks like Bruce Wayne
was flipping the bird
to Hawkman in this

"The Man Who Skyjacked Hawkman!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin

When an atomic energy plant overloads, there's only one person in the United States who can keep it from exploding and he's on a 747 right now. Pressed into duty, Hawkman boards the plane in flight and grabs who he thinks is Dr. Mark Peiken, atomic savior, but when Hawkman leaves the plane and opens the protective bag Peiken should be in, out pops The Calculator. The evil genius is determined to watch the atomic plant go critical. He clamps Hawkman's wings but our hero manages to break his bonds and return to the plane to get the real Dr. Peiken. Tragedy is averted!

Forget the story... check out the art!

PE: So, according to Hawkman, The Calculator's plan all this time was to fight Batman. That would account for the five previous arrests and jailbreaks we've had to endure these last several months. Surely, this could have all been done in one boring 14-page story, couldn't it? On the plus side, we get the fabulous pencils of Marshall Rogers, who'll be treated to more of very soon. Can...not...wait.

Jack: The round-cornered panels and pop-art sound effects are something new as we move into the late '70s Batman period, when new artists (some from fandom) break into the mainstream and infuse new life into tired characters.

Batman 284 (February 1977)

"If There Were No Batman...I Would Have to Invent Him!
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Romeo Tanghall & Frank Springer

After Dr. Tzin-Tzin levitates the Sphinx and drops it in the sea, he heads off to Gotham City to create more mystic mayhem. Batman is dealing with grouchy Chief Inspector Maddox, who is filling in for the vacationing Commissioner Gordon. During a parade held to open the annual convention of the Ancient Order of Explorers, Bruce Wayne saves a little girl from being run over and has to fight off the crowd that suddenly turns violent under a spell of Dr. Tzin-Tzin. Batman brushes up on his knowledge of Tibetan magic and defeats Dr. Tzin-Tzin at Gotham Stadium, which the mystic was in the middle of levitating in order to steal it. The story ends with Chief Maddox promising to read some books on Tibet.

PE: A very strange story with a few elements I liked and some I very much disliked. In the comics, unlike in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Commissioner Gordon may just as well be a faceless character. We know nothing about him after all this time other than he's Batgirl's dad and he serves only one purpose: a sounding board for Batman. I believe we'll have to wait until Frank Miller's brief tenure on the title before Gordo becomes more than just a joke. Having said that, he's a well-oiled machine next to the buffoon acting in his place this issue, a character played for laughs but not receiving any. Dr. Tzin-Tzin, an obvious rip-off of both Fu Manchu and Marvel's The Mandarin, is an honorary member of The Rogues' Gallery with a nasty psychotic edge to him. The murder of his "secretary" and casual dumping of her body over the ocean has a sadism to it that's lacking in most of Batman's adversaries. There's a spotlighted ceremony where Tz-Tz calls forth three supernatural entities, Towos (eater of men's brains), Thas Yang (demon fire-tiger), and Changchub (mystic master of magicians) and Batman constructs a "Tsam Khang," a small structure built so that Batman can "empty his mind." Both are intriguing concepts but only the "Tsam Khang" is used to further the plot. The three entities are introduced and then forgotten. Perhaps the thread will be picked up in the conclusion next issue.

Didn't we see that little girl in an
Elongated Man story not too long ago?
Jack: I really have no idea what happened in this issue or what you just wrote, Peter. I thought Dr. Tzin-Tzin was Ra's Al Ghul until I figured out that he was just a poor substitute. It seems he first appeared in Detective 354 (August 1966), then in Detective 408 (February 1971). That second appearance was covered way back in part 9 of this blog series, and it was a terrific Neal Adams story! He next appeared in Adventure Comics 418 (April 1972), where he fought Supergirl of all people! As I read this story, I got a strong feeling that David V. Reed had just finished reading a book on Tibet and wanted to share his weird thoughts with all the ten year olds reading Batman.

Ebay, here I come!

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