Monday, December 31, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 51: September and October 1977

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 291 (September 1977)

"Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed? The Testimony of the Catwoman!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell

The underworld is abuzz with news that Batman is dead. Since so many criminals have taken credit for the murder and in so many places, a trial is held at a secluded estate in Gotham City. Ra's al Ghul is the judge, Two-Face is the prosecutor, and six Bat-villains comprise the jury. First up on the stand is Catwoman, who tells her tale of how Batman found her trying to go straight and she let him drown in an icy river. The jury doesn't buy her story.

PE: Another issue of Batman, another juvenile David V. Reed storyline, this one threatening to take up the next four issues and 68 pages. I'm not sure what's worse, a story concerning Batman chasing after art thieves or a long arc misusing the Rogue's Gallery yet again. Hard to tell, but the minute I saw Ra's al Ghul, one of Batman's most important and "serious" opponents, serving as judge on the trial, I was out of here. The only thing missing here was Bat-Mite and Krypto. Batman was actually missing as well. Why would all these dangerous (and in some cases, psychotic) criminals hang out together and serve as jurors on a mock trial? I smell another stinker of "Crime Olympics" proportion. The art, by newcomers John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell, is by the numbers, neither horrible nor exemplary. It just gets the job done. Blasidell cut his teeth on strips such as Little Orphan Annie.

Jack: As usual, I enjoyed this story. The art is almost Golden Age in its simplicity, which works well with this cast of characters. The Rogue's Gallery includes some interesting figure we've not seen in awhile, such as the Mad Hatter and Poison Ivy. Calnan and Blaisdell do a nice job of illustrating the very leggy Catwoman but their Ra's Al Ghul pales next to the Adams/Novick original.

Detective Comics 472 (September 1977)

"I Am The Batman!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin

Having attained the true identity of The Batman, Professor Hugo Strange proceeds to milk the information for all it's worth. First, he cashes in many of Bruce Wayne's stocks then he hits on the greatest idea he's ever had: he'll sell Batman's identity to the highest bidder. Three figures, all hidden in shadows, opt in to the bid. Opening ante: one million dollars! Not wanting to play fair, Boss Rupert Thorne kidnaps Professor Strange and attempts to beat his secret out of him. Hugo is very resilient, resisting Thorne's interrogation and eventually succumbing to his torture. Meanwhile, Robin comes to the rescue of Bruce and Alfred, who are being kept in Strange's hideout.

PE: If not the blockbuster we witnessed last issue, this is another strong entry from messrs. Englehart, Rogers, and Austin. That cover is a bit misleading since there's no real appearance of a "new Batman," and becomes confusing since over at the Batman title, we're about to start a long arc on "Where were You on the Night Batman was Killed?" This story has nothing to do with that arc though. Monday Morning Quarterbacking lets us in on the fact that Hugo Strange is not dead (for those who don't mind a bit of a spoiler, it's revealed in Batman #356 (February 1983) that Strange used a form of yoga to slow his heart down and fool his captors into thinking he'd succumbed to their beatings). I wasn't sharp enough to see that The Penguin (or rather, The Penguin's umbrella) makes a cameo during the bidding scene, so thanks to Steve Englehart for pointing that out to me. I wonder who the other two bidders were. It's a testament to just how sharp Marshall Rogers's penciling is that he can make even Robin, the Boy Blunder, look cool and dangerous. Cool art or no, I'll never buy the old comic book trope that a man with a mask on can look just like the other man. In this case, Strange wears not only a Bruce Wayne disguise but a Batman cowl over that. In the letters page, Bob Rozakis reveals that Julius Schwartz has decided to separate the vibe of Batman and 'tec by accentuating the Golden Age atmosphere in this title. Thus, the appearance of the long-gone Hugo Strange. That's a good plan but let's see if it works with a campy villain like next issue's The Penguin.

Jack: I thought this was one of the best Batman comics I've ever read! Oddly enough, the Batman does not appear in it. We get Hugo Strange masquerading as the Batman and Bruce Wayne in a drugged state--but no Batman. It makes no difference to me, though, since the story and art mesh perfectly to make a truly exciting tale. Strange is a fascinating character, Magda and Silver are gorgeous, and Robin is as good as we've ever seen him. Even Boss Thorne strikes an air of menace. I can tell you who the other two bidders were--Boss Thorne and the Joker. If this issue is indicative of what we're in for in Detective, I can't wait for more! Too bad Batman is so weak in comparison right now.

Batman 292 (October 1977)

"Where Were You on the Night Batman was Killed?  The Testimony of The Riddler!"
Story by David V. Reed
Art by John Calnan and Tex Blaisdell

The Riddler takes his turn on the stand and explains how he led Batman on a merry chase through Gotham that ended with him blowing the Caped Crusader to bits in a quarry. Two Face proves that dynamite is not ignited by fire and the jury gives E. Nigma the heave-ho.

PE: Another dim-witted chapter in The Death of Batman. The only suspense, aside from whether I'll be able to stay conscious during all four installments, is what part the real Batman plays in all this? I'll bet money he's in the courtroom (odds-on favorite would have to be Two-Face) but what possible conclusion can close out this saga? Why would Bats sit tight while all these bad guys have a party and celebrate his "death?" And, most important question of all, how is it that every one of Bats' Rogue Gallery (with the possible exception of Mr. Freeze and The Penguin, the latter of which is being used in 'tec at the moment) is out of jail at the same time? Is Arkham bone dry? Great cover, though.

Jack: You're right that Jim Aparo's cover is the highlight of this dreadful issue. It's too bad that Aparo rarely ventured out of The Brave and the Bold and over to Batman and Detective--he was one of the best artists to draw Batman in the '70s. What puzzled me about this story was the Riddler's makeup skills, which seem to rival those of his pointy-eared nemesis--his transformation into Bruce Wayne seems to include a wholesale revision of his facial bones. Also, what is Lex Luthor doing in the Batman Rogue's Gallery?


mikeandraph87 said...

First off,how did the villains think they get away with the credit?
The other thing that I was curious about was how were the jurors determined? I get why Ra's would be judge and Two Face the cross-examiner though.

This year of comixs proves DC can be epic and have fun at the same time. I believe DC does not realzie the two can go hand and hand today.

Greg M. said...

Hey guys.

Yet another one of the rare occasions where I actually own and have read every issue you're looking at. As a matter of fact, the Riddler issue was one of the first I ever picked up, IIRC. I used to have a beatup copy missing pages until I traded in for one in better condition. I didn't find the rest of the issues until years later.

So, my thoughts?

First up, the whole purpose of the "trial" was to prove bragging rights for the one who actually "offed" the Batman. Other reasons for the trial will become clear by the end.

As for Lex Luthor, well, next issue will explain all that. Or not. Depends on whether you believe it. :-)

As for Detective, we're in for some truly classic stories, starting with the Penguin next issue. And then there's the magnificient Joker two-parter, the return (and upgrade) of Deadshot, and more.

Keep up the great work, and Happy New Year!

mikeandraph87 said...

Its nice to see that Jack and Peter have different opninos here. The whole concept is crazy,but its pure fun and get to see a few of the villains at their best! I dare DC to try something like this in 2013!

To answer the question as to Lex Luthor's mingling with the Bat Rogues,well its simple. The time is late 1977 early 1978. About three months after the conclusion of the crazy epic Superman The Movie came out in theatres. Its cross promtion to interest Batman fans in the idea of seeing the Superman film!It might be an inital exposure for some of the readers or someone like me who rarely reads Lex Luthor in a comic because I read Batman,Detective comics, and Justice League.

No love for Dick Grayson's Robin? He is my favorite character!

Jack Seabrook said...

That's a good point about the Superman movie. We don't write much about the house ads and promotional columns, but right at this time there was a contest to be in the movie that ran in every issue for awhile.

Greg M. said...

It's interesting, though, that the Luthor they used in this story is dressed in the one costume Gene Hackman (or any person playing Luthor, for that matter) wouldn't be caught dead in. Most movies prefer to portray him as the business-suit wearing villain. His supervillain costume, though, is another matter. I think the only outfit of his worst than this one is his battle armour.

mikeandraph87 said...

Greg,I look at it like The Riddler, Eddie has two costumes he alternates between. Only a few villains can say that! Anyway,he has the jumpsuit that is more super villain-like and the three piece suit.For a gathering of villains his business attire would likely be the question mark covered jumpsuit while on other occasions that fits he would dress up like if he were to met a weapons dealer or be giving Batman the chase from afar monitoring him. So I bet in Lex's case he was amongst super villains so he put on his villain uniform oppose to the three piece suit because it fit the environment better and beside it looks better visually.I also believe children understand character portraal diversity in different media. I understood that in preschool with Master SPlinter,in one take he is Hamto Yoshi's pet rat while in the other he IS Hamto Yoshi whom was mutated into a rat-man!

Greg M. said...


The Riddler's costume was more the result of his character evolving from standard Rogue to Private Detective/Batman's Rival. As he evolved, he left the leotard behind for a more stylish suit.

Luthor, on the other hand, came up with the suits for varying situations. When he had his own planet in space where he was a hero, for example, the Battle Armour was created.

That's my look at it, anyway.

mikeandraph87 said...

The Riddler's suit if I am not mistaken originated in the live-action show as an alternate costume for Gorshin's character. Riddler used the suit only sparringly in the comics until post-crisis,but its been around long before the Dini angle as shown in Batman:TAS usage and preference of the three pice suit and bowler hat. Its now the preference of DC as he has evovled more into a business background character and cerebral adversary.

I just used Riddler as an example as he doesn't always have the same costume,but alternates.

Greg M. said...

I get what you're saying, but as I said, I just see it different from you. I don't see the Riddler as ever really alternating his costume.