Monday, December 10, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 48: March and April 1977

by Peter Enfantino

& Jack Seabrook

Batman 285 (March 1977)

"The Mystery of Christmas Lost!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by Romeo Tanghal and Frank Springer

Dr. Tzin-Tzin escapes from jail by hypnotizing and mobilizing a horde of ants. Once free, he uses his sorcery to wreak havoc on the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at City Hall Plaza, where Batman fights an imaginary bear high in the branches of the Christmas tree. Tzin-Tzin swears to Batman that he will rob Gotham City of something precious and intangible. The Dark Knight soon discovers that everyone but he is unable to concentrate and cannot remember that it is almost Christmas; the intangible item Tzin-Tzin stole was the knowledge of the holiday! Batman confronts and defeats Tzin-Tzin, thus saving Christmas just in the (Saint) Nick of time.

Jack: I have made no secret of my affection for Christmas tales, but this is one of the weakest we’ve seen in the 1970s. The art is passable at best, with Dick Grayson suffering the most from the drawing style. Dr. Tzin-Tzin seems to have almost unlimited power, yet Batman never has much trouble beating him, despite Batman’s belief that he barely prevails against the villain time and again. The scene where Batman fights the bear high up in the Christmas tree is almost laughable.

PE: Couldn't agree more, Jack, though I'd argue the most laughable aspect of the story was the ants eating through the prison cell wall in no time flat. I don't have to tell you that it brought back very bad memories of Ant-Man's adventures in Tales to Astonish. The whole thing has a Rankin-Bass vibe to it as if it was to be adapted into a "How Tzin-Tzin Stole Christmas" holiday cartoon. Dr. Strange Tzin-Tzin remains an uninteresting character. Not a good story at all.

Dr. Tzin-Tzin's brilliant plan
was foiled by a can of Raid.

Detective Comics 468 (April 1977)

"Battle of the Thinking Machines"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

A time capsule containing the original "$24 in trinkets used to purchase Gotham" has been dug up on a construction site in Gotham. The Calculator, fresh out of jail for the sixth seventh eighth time  again, decides he just has to have the booty but Batman proves to be one step ahead of the computer whiz and sends him... back to jail. Soon after, Batman attends a meeting of the justice League in their satellite headquarters orbiting 22,300 miles above the Earth. It's here that he delivers to his JLA partners the unlikely news that Commissioner Gordon has just sent him...the Calculator has broken out of prison. All six JLA members (Batman, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, The Atom, and Hawkman) head back to Earth to capture the evil genius but all six, one by one, are defeated. The Calculator reveals that each time one of the heroes captured him and sent him to prison, he developed an immunity to their powers. Beaten but not bowed, The Dark Knight concocts an ingenious twist to The Calculator's powers to turn them against their user. The Calculator fittingly lands behind his own bars, hopefully for good this time.

PE: Writer Bob Rozakis must have thought every kid that read 'tec also read Justice League as there are no little asterisk boxes to explain things like how Batman gets up to the JLA satellite. Does he take a rocket? Does it blast off from the Batcave?

Jack: At last, Rogers and Austin tackle Batman! This is really worth getting excited about. The art is crisp and inventive and it really elevates the story. Throw in a cover by Jim Aparo, and you have a very strong issue of Detective. This is also a full-length Batman story (17 pages), making it (I think) only the second time in 468 issues that this has happened; the first time was the conclusion of the five-part Talia story in Detective 448 (June 1975).

PE: The art's great but I'm just glad we're done with this silly Calculator arc. Did we really need six stories (seven if you count this one) with the exact same outline? So Calc could only develop immunity from the heroes by being captured and sent to jail? Batman gets beat by Calc and then changes clothes for a day of work at The Wayne Foundation? With this multi-part "epic" out of the way, maybe we can get down to some good stuff delivered by Steve Englehart.

Batman 286 (April 1977)

"The Joker's Playground of Peril!"
Story by Denny O'Neil (with help from Julie Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell)
Art by Irv Novick and Bob Wiacek

The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum yet again, this time killing his psychiatrist by shrinking him to the size of a doll. Having heard that the Joker is on the loose, Robin motorcycles home from Hudson U. to help out his old pal. Together, they trail the Joker to an amusement park, where they are distracted by his attorney, who has disguised himself as the fiend. Batman figures out the Joker’s disguise and confronts him in a hall of mirrors, disarming him and sending him back to jail.

Jack: A Joker story by Denny O’Neil and Irv Novick is a welcome sight after so many issues of crime bosses, Underworld Olympics, and Dr. Tzin-Tzin. Despite the fact that Robin has now been away at college for about seven years, it’s nice to see him team up with the Caped Crusader to fight their old foe, and Novick’s art is a welcome sight as well. This is not one of the best Joker stories I’ve read, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

That chin looks awfully familiar!
PE: I get the feeling that whatever insight Denny O'Neil had into the character of The Joker has musta got lost somewhere between 1973 and 1977. Mind you, O'Neil only had the one shining moment with the character (for those just tuning in, it was "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" way back in Batman #251) and subsequent attempts to mine similar magic left us with pans brimming with fool's gold. The villain is barely in this adventure, save the brilliant opening where The Joker literally shrinks his psychiatrist! For a few panels, that psychotic, sadistic, fun old chap was back. He's quickly dispatched in the climax,  to be forgotten again until someone realizes it's been a while since they used him. As a follow-up to Jenette Kahn's introductory letter last month (reprinted below), this month sees Jenette's no-holds-barred explanation for the DC One Dollar Comics line. Since newsstand dealers (remember them?) would only make pennies on a thirty-cent comic, orders (and thus sales) were dwindling. In an attempt to grab hold of what little room was left at the stands, DC started up eighty page (all new material) one dollar comics on some of its titles. It'll be a rather short-lived experiment and we won't get a taste until December 1978's Detective Comics #481. By that time, the page count has already dropped to 64 pages.

I don't know who he is behind that cape
and cowl, but I know that we need
him, and we need him now!

Welcome, Ms. Kahn!
(from Detective 468)

No comments: