Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Caroline Munro Archive: The Devil's Brand, 1969

by John Scoleri

As I promised in the last installment of this semi-regular features on bare•bones, I'm back with the most recent acquisition to my Caroline Munro collection. 

After seeing the following ad in the June 1969 issue of Adam magazine with Caroline on the cover, I knew I had to seek out a copy of The Devil's Brand.

A quick search on Amazon turned up not only the edition pictured (Holloway House HH-170) but a second variation (BH-170)!

HH-170 is clearly the first edition, as it sports a nine-digit SBN (replaced by the ten-digit ISBN on the BH-170 printing. The copyright page doesn't specify a printing, but the text-only ads for other books are replaced in this edition with illustrated ads for similar books for the discerning reader.

The book itself is described as the first complete and unexpurgated edition of The Devil's Advocate, an erotic classic. Perhaps the 50 Shades of Grey of its day.

As I had imagined, the cover photo is once again courtesy of noted photographer Alan Houghton, who took many of the early photos of Caroline (and all of those that appeared in her November 1968 and June 1969 appearances in Adam magazine). Sadly, Houghton passed away a few years ago. I'd love to know if he still had the contact sheets from his early photo shoots with Caroline in his archives.

If you're interested in adding a copy to your collection, a few are available through Amazon sellers at a variety of prices.

This is not the only time Caroline Munro has graced the cover of a paperback novel. I look forward to sharing another example in my next installment of the Caroline Munro Archive!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 63: May and June 1979

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 311 (May 1979)

"Dr. Phosphorus is Back!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Glowing footprints leading away from Gotham's nuclear reactor can mean only one thing: Dr. Phosphorus is back! Angry that protesters want his plant shut down, the glowing ghoul plans mayhem! Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, Batgirl stops the Killer Moth just in time to cast a vote in Congress, a vote that sets her at odds with her own party's bosses. Batman seeks information from Boss Thorne, now a resident of Arkham Asylum, but ends up chasing Dr. Phosphorus, who announces his plan to attack the city. Meeting up with Barbara Gordon as she gives a speech to the nuclear protesters, Batman realizes that Dr. Phosphorus plans to seed the clouds with radioactive material. The Dark Knight and the Dominoed Daredoll race to the airport just in time for Batgirl to put an end to the menace--for now.

PE: In her first team-up with The Dark Knight since Batman #214, Batgirl proves to be more than just a gimmick, actually contributing to the capture of Dr. Phosphorus. I vaguely remember Batgirl revealing to her pop, the Commish, that she was Batgirl but I didn't know that Batman knew her secret as well. While a good story, this one's reeeeeally preachy. To be fair, Three Mile Island and The China Syndrome had to be a couple months down the road when Steve Englehart penned this cautionary tale so it's not like he was riding the coattails of "a fad." Obviously, nuclear energy was bothering Englehart and he wanted to get his message out the best way he knew how - through four colors. I have only one nit: I question whether a guy who "burns like the sun" could sit in a cockpit without blowing sky high. A good story with a whole lot of interesting sub-plots (who are these politicos threatening Babs with an early retirement and will we see more of them?) and a great villain (Phosphorus is about as close to a non-supernatural monster as you can get), but that's no surprise since it was written by Steve Englehart.

In a DC comic?
Jack: I enjoyed this story too! Dr. Phosphorus seems a little goofy to me and we won't even mention the Killer Moth, but Novick is at his GGA best with Batgirl. Englehart really is head and shoulders above the other Bat-scripters we've seen in the 1970s with his ability to weave interesting subplots in and out of a 17-page story. In one brief issue, he picks up the Boss Thorne thread that had been dropped some time back. Too bad he won't stick around.

PE: Now editor of all three Batman titles ('tec, Batman, and Brave and the Bold), Paul Levitz contributes a long and interesting letter to readers this issue outlining the future of the Bat-titles. Levitz promises the return of several of the Rogues (and some obscure villains as well) and mentions the idea of crossover stories between titles.

Jack: That's the sort of letter that comic fans drool over--a direct address from the editor in charge that says things are under control and asks fans for their opinions. Let's hope the quality stays high. It's too bad we did not keep up with The Brave and the Bold, since Levitz writes that it, along with Batman and Detective, will feature story lines that intersect with the other Bat books.

Knock it off, Phos---!

Detective Comics 483 (May 1979)

"The Curse of Crime Alley"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

Once again patrolling Crime Alley on the anniversary of his parents' death, The Batman stumbles onto an insidious plot to smoke out a two-bit gangster who's about to turn state's evidence on a mob boss named Zeus. The gangsters have narrowed their search down to the Skirley Apartments, home to over 900 residents. To bring the rat out into the open, they'll dump poison gas down the ventilator shaft and kill all the occupants. The Dark Knight gets to the scum just as they're about to unwrap their prize and makes quick work of them. He then delivers a message to their boss: he's next.

PE: I think a better tale could have been whipped up to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the first appearance of The Batman. Proof that going to the well twice is one time too many. Whereas "There is No Hope in Crime Alley" (Detective #457) was a powerful look at what makes The Dark Knight tick, this is just a simple gangster story with old favorite Leslie Thompkins thrown in to make the connection. Nothing here advances Batman's mythos like the former story. Sure, there are a couple powerful scenes (as when Bats is beating on the tough in the apartment hallway) but the whole has no real impact. Despite my fondness for Don Newton, I didn't like the art here at all. Batman looks, in some panels, as though he's having an epileptic seizure and the supporting cast look to be made of lumpy clay (Val Mayerik's "human characters" have the same deformities. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a bad story but, compared to the fun I had reading the tales in the Batman title this month, it's easily the most inferior.

Jack: I have to disagree! I really like Newton's art, but the Eisner student in me always deducts storytelling points when an artist has to use arrows to guide the reader to the next panel, as on page seven. Still, I like O'Neil's writing and the sense of hope it conveys, and I think this is an excellent story where we once again use an anniversary as an excuse to return to Crime Alley, where it all began.

"The 'Lights!... Camera!... Murder!' Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Howard Chaykin and Dick Giordano

Christopher Chance, aka The Human Target, is hired by super stuntman Brad "The Nailer" Nayle to find out who's been making attempts on his life. Chance's schtick, disguising himself as his client and becoming a "human target," almost gets him killed before he can get to the bottom of the mystery.

PE: An intriguing premise but, as with a lot of the 'tec back-ups, it's just too short to work in character, suspense, and surprises. This was the first Human Target story I'd read and, despite my problems with the brevity, I wouldn't be adverse to reading another. Nice Chaykin/Giordano art as well. Christopher Chance made a handful of appearances in Action Comics in the mid-70s and then disappeared from the face of the DC-Earth. Interestingly enough, the character was revived again in 1999 by writer Peter Milligan for DC adult-oriented offshoot, Vertigo, and was the basis for two separate TV shows.

Jack: This story left me cold. Wein is just writing filler that is at best average for a DC backup story. As with Simonson in the issue of Batman discussed below, Giordano's inks overwhelm Chaykin's pencils and rob them of much of their individuality.

"A Date with Batgirl"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Bob Oksner and Vince Colletta

While helping the military in a stand-off with the Squadron for the Advancement of Everybody terrorist group, Batgirl is asked on a date by a young sergeant. Unfortunately, the date turns into a disaster when Batgirl's multitude of fans prevent any kind of privacy.

I'd stutter too

PE: In the immortal words of Batgirl: "...rather ludicrous, but what can you do?" This isn't bottom of the barrel, it's underneath the barrel itself, and should have been relegated to DC's Young Love. Come back Don Heck, all is forgiven. About the best thing you can say about Oksner and Colletta's art here is that they draw a very nice tail on Batgirl and they draw it quite frequently.

Jack: That was clearly the highlight of this wretched story! Leave it to Bob Rozakis to make Len Wein's Human Target tale look like high art.

"Return to Castle Branek!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Steve Ditko

Since he has the Eternity Book, Baron Tyme holds power over Etrigan, The Demon and forces him to break into Merlin the Magician's tomb. Tyme is hoping he'll find a way to unlock the dimension he's trapped in and make his way to our world. The pair make their way to Castle Branek, the final resting place of Merlin. Once there, The Demon manages to free himself from Tyme's control and the two do battle. Tyme gets the upper hand when he conjures the "spell of transformation" and Etrigan becomes his alter ego, the very human Jason Blood. No match for the sorcerer without his demonic powers, our hero watches in horror as Tyme opens Merlin's tomb... only to find it empty!

PE: I like the writing on this strip a lot. There's some neat twists and turns and, despite the fact that I have no history with The Demon, I'm being caught up in the mythos through the flashbacks and fill-them-ins. Having said that...  I may be strung up in the courtyard for saying so, but I much prefer Mike Golden's art on this character.  Unfortunately, with Ditko on board, The Demon becomes just another Dr. Strange knock-off in the graphic department. Watch for the one-armed burgomeister, an obvious "homage" to Son of Frankenstein. When does an "homage" become a "steal," by the way?

Jack: Count me as a fan of '70s Ditko since it was new! The fact that Ditko was drawing a DC character created by Kirby blows my mind. It's clearly Dr. Strange territory all over again, though Baron Tyme looks an awful lot like Shade, the Changing Man. Whatever the case, it's fun to see full-blown Ditko art that is not shackled to godawful Ditko writing.

Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger and David Hunt

Robin busts up the Crime Syndicate and then reveals to Lori that her new boyfriend is actually The Raven.

PE: A cockeyed strip is this one. One part tepid action, one part insipid dialogue, and a heaping helping of soap opera romance and the pitfalls of young love on campus. I'm not surprised one bit, of course, since the Robin feature that ran as a back-up in mid-70s 'tec wasn't worth the paper it was printed on but what audience would editor Levitz think this was aimed at? The pre-teens would deem it boring due to the lack of action and anyone else would write it off as unimaginative and cliched claptrap.

Jack: The insipid Rozakis script is matched by the bland Schaffenberger art. I was kind of grateful for the lack of word balloons on the last page of the story, since it let me "enjoy" the art unimpeded.

"Gotham's Great Kangaroo Race!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin

Using a $125,000 purse as bait, Bruce Wayne attempts to smoke out arms dealer "Swagman" Ginty by sponsoring a kangaroo race. Ginty needs the 125K award to buy illegal firearms. By rigging a detector amidst the bills, Batman tracks Ginty to the deal and puts the kibosh on the terrorist.

PE: This is the same guy who wrote "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" and "There is No Hope in Crime Alley"? In lieu of a letters page this issue, Mike Barr presents a short but well-written look at the early days and the developing of The Batman in 'tec.

Jack: Does the fact that Julius Schwartz is listed as editor of this story mean it was a leftover used as a fill-in? I have a soft spot for Dick Dillin because he drew the JLA forever, but this story is awful. This dollar comic should have quit at 40 cents.

Batman 312 (June 1979)

"A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman at Bay!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano

The Calendar Man robs Gotham's Metropolitan Museum and escapes Batman's pursuit by means of a special motorcycle and a laser beam that shoots out of a gizmo over his eye. He has been committing a crime each day using costumes based on the origin of the day's name.  On Thursday, while another thief is secretly stealing the secret code to the country's missile defense system, Calendar Man robs an art gallery and gets away, damaging Batman's hearing during the escape. The Caped Crusader is laid up for a couple of days, unable to halt crimes on Friday or Saturday, but when Sunday comes along he sneaks out behind Alfred's back and catches Calendar Man as he is about to leave town. Batman is unaware that Two-Face has the missile defense codes and plans to sell them to the highest bidder.

PE: It's been way too long since two consecutive issues of Batman brought a big smile to my face but I'm happy to report the drought is over. I'm not sure if it's a result of Paul Levitz taking over for grumpy, stodgy Julius Schwartz or just the elevation of quality in writing and art. No David Reed, Frank Robbins, or John Calnan. Instead we're blessed with the talents of Wein, Englehart, Giordano and Novick. "A Caper a Day" is the perfect example of how different things are being done around the Batman offices this month. A story centering around the exploits of a nothing villain like The Calendar Man, in the hands of David Reed, would be silly or, worse, boring. Len Wein knows The Calendar Man is a sixth-tier baddie and plays up that aspect within the story. He's wearing the most outlandish costumes and going to all sorts of trouble to stage elaborate heists when all he really needs to do is knock over some jewelry stores. There's something really wrong with this guy. In one scene he asks Bats: "So who appointed you servant of the people anyway? You're just another guy in a crazy costume -- like me!" I've got a hunch that line was borrowed by the Nolans for a similar scene in The Dark Knight. Paul Levitz gave us the heads-up that we'd be seeing some obscure characters pop up in these titles and, true to his word, we get a nut whose last appearance prefigured the eccentric baddies on that show by eight years! Simonson and Giordano contribute fabulous art as usual. Who knew some of the most exciting Batman stories would appear at the end of the decade? Not me.

Simonson's tribute to Mike Sekowsky?
Jack: I was disappointed by this issue after the prior issue was so good. Simonson's art seems overwhelmed by Giordano's inks; the trademark Simonson touches only peek through in a few spots. The Calendar Man is a dopey villain and some of his outfits seem like the worst excesses of Mike Grell. The story left me cold, but I do like the direction the book is heading. I've yet to be convinced that Len Wein can write a good story because he seems all too willing to fall back on old cliches, such as getting stuck on the railroad tracks.

The back cover of Detective 483

Mike Barr's piece on the first 40 years

Do You Dare Enter on May 13th?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Caroline Munro Archive: Adam, June 1969

by John Scoleri

Welcome to the latest installment of another one of our semi-regular features on bare•bones, in which I feature rarities from my Caroline Munro collection. This time out I'm featuring another appearance of Caroline from the popular men's magazine, Adam.
June 1969, Vol. 13 No. 6
Cover photo by Alan Houghton
Unfortunately, unlike her November, 1968 appearance, which included a cover and four full-page photos, this time out she's only on the cover (referenced as Carolyn Munroe once again). 
Or at least that's what you'd think, unless you're an eagle-eyed observer. Turns out there's an ad for a paperback book on page 31 that features a photo of Caroline on the cover!

The Devil's Brand will be featured very soon in the next installment of the Caroline Munro Archive. If you can't wait that long (like me), no need to clip the above coupon—here's a link to order a copy on Amazon!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

John Collier on TV Part Nine: Alfred Hitchcock Presents/The Alfred Hitchcock Hour-Overview/Episode Guide/Rankings

by Jack Seabrook

"Back for Christmas"
John Collier was involved, either as writer of the original story or as writer of the teleplay, in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Oddly enough, the first five episodes were all based on his short stories and had teleplays written by others, while the last three episodes were his teleplays based on stories by others. Collier never adapted one of his own stories for the Hitchcock series.

Highlights of the Collier episodes included fine performances by John Williams in "Back for Christmas" and "Wet Saturday" and by Robert Emhardt in "De Mortuis," a great ensemble cast in "Anniversary Gift," and location filming in "I Spy."

Unfortunately, the quality of the episodes started high but declined over the years, reaching its lowest point with the three shows where Collier wrote the teleplays. He does not seem to have been a regular contributor to the series and one could argue that the adaptations he did were random assignments that were not indicative of his talents.

Episode Guide:

Episode title-“Back for Christmas”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-4 March 1956
Teleplay by-Francis Cockrell
Based on-“Back for Christmas” by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker 7 October 1939
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"Wet Saturday"

Episode title-“Wet Saturday”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-30 September 1956
Teleplay by-Marian Cockrell
Based on-“Wet Saturday” by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker 16 July 1938
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"De Mortuis"

Episode title-“De Mortuis”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-14 October 1956
Teleplay by-Francis Cockrell
Based on-“De Mortuis” by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker 18 July 1942
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"None Are So Blind"

Episode title-“None Are So Blind”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-28 October 1956
Teleplay by-James Cavanagh
Based on-“None Are So Blind” by John Collier
First print appearance-The New Yorker 31 March 1956
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-Yes

"Anniversary Gift"

Episode title-“Anniversary Gift”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-1 November 1959
Teleplay by-Harold Swanton
Based on-“Anniversary Gift” by John Collier
First print appearance-Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine April 1959
Watch episode-unavailable online
Available on DVD?-Yes


Episode title-“Maria”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-24 October 1961
Teleplay by-John Collier
Based on-“Jizzle” by John Wyndham
First print appearance-Collier's 8 January 1949
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

"I Spy"

Episode title-“I Spy”
Series-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Broadcast date-5 December 1961
Teleplay by-John Collier
Based on-“I Spy” by John Mortimer
First performance-BBC Third Programme (radio play) 19 November 1957
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

"The Magic Shop"

Episode title-“The Magic Shop”
Series-The Alfred Hitchcock Hour
Broadcast date-10 January 1964
Teleplay by-John Collier
Based on-“The Magic Shop” by H.G. Wells
First print appearance-The Strand June 1903
Watch episode
Available on DVD?-No

And finally, rankings (from best to worst):

“Back for Christmas”
“Anniversary Gift”
“Wet Saturday”
“De Mortuis”
“I Spy”
“The Magic Shop”
“None Are So Blind”


Monday, March 18, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 62: March and April 1979

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 309 (March 1979)

"Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin

Christmas Eve in Gotham City is not so happy for young Kathy, whose last five dollars are snatched along with her purse by some hoodlums. Blockbuster grabs the purse and tracks her down after she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Batman trails the giant, not knowing that Blockbuster's aim is to save the girl. The Dark Knight loses a fight with the big galoot, who appeals to a street corner Santa Claus for help before running out onto the frozen Gotham River, chased by the Batman. The ice breaks under Blockbuster's weight but he manages to toss Kathy to safety before disappearing under the water.

Jack: Memo to the people in charge of Gotham City's suicide prevention hotline: don't put Batman in the call center! One question from him and Kathy hangs up, ready to slip into oblivion. Blockbuster comes out of nowhere--apparently, his were the giant hands thrusting out of the grave at the end of last issue. He lumbers through the story like King Kong, the misunderstood giant who just wants to care for the pretty blonde, before doing an Eliza on the ice floe and finally sinking like the Son of Kong. Replacing Dick Giordano with Frank McLaughlin lets the weaknesses emerge once again in Calnan's art, and Len Wein's story is filled with cliches. Even though I've gone on record liking Christmas tales, this is the bottom of the barrel.

PE: Truly lousy stuff, Jack. The art by Calnan and McLaughlin is primitive, with Blockbuster resembling early Tom Sutton (not a good thing), and cartoony. The story is a jumbled mess.Were we even told who Blockbuster was? I know he had something to do with S.T.A.R. last issue (Batman tells us so) but, unless I fell asleep again while reading, the only hint as to his identity is in the final panels last issue when one of the scientists mentions the name Mark Desmond. The Comic Book Database tells me that Desmond/Blockbuster had recently appeared in a couple issues of The Batman Family but how would a regular reader of Batman know what was going on?  And for a chick who'd just downed a full bottle of "Sleep Easy," Kathy Crawford manages to get around town alright. The one cliche Len managed to avoid in this story was to reveal that Kathy was Blockbuster's sister or wife (or both maybe, judging by the look of the backwoods giant). I kept waiting for that juicy tidbit to drop but, alas, it was not meant to be. And how about Batman's Christmas present to Gordo? A full canister of tobacco. You wouldn't see Adam West giving Neil Hamilton a can of weed on that show.

Jack: Two interesting notes this issue: Irv Novick returns next time out, and this is the last time we'll see Julius Schwartz as editor of this title. Except for the year when Archie Goodwin edited Detective, Schwartz was in charge for nearly 15 years and presided over some pretty good runs in a sea of mediocrity: O'Neil/Adams and Englehart/Rogers, to name the two that stand out the most.

Detective Comics 482 (March 1979)

"Night of the Body Snatcher!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and P. Craig Russell

Having transferred his brain into a mighty white gorilla, madman Simon Xavier has deemed it's not the last stop on the New-Body Express. Next up for Xavier: The Dark Knight. The nutty apeman explains to Batman that he plans to transfer his own "intellect" into The Caped Crusader, leaving our hero to fend in the old body of Xavier. While the ape's back is turned, Batman escapes his bonds and destroys the brain-transfer machine, leaving the laboratory in flames. The two take their battle outside, high atop a skyscraper where fate, in the form of a security officer, intervenes and the big monkey is shot to death.

PE: There's not much substance to the story but who cares? We're lucky to get Starlin and Russell on art and sometimes that's all you need. The talking gorilla is obviously an homage to the 1960s DC Comics that so many DC fans love.

Jack: I was going to make some snarky Gorilla Grodd comparisons, but Starlin and Russell's art takes a ridiculous premise and make it into an exciting story, albeit one that is almost all fighting. There is genuine pathos  when Simon realizes he's trapped forever in the gorilla's body.

PE: On the inside cover, Paul Levitz explains the whys and wherefores of the Detective Comics/ Batman Family merger that began last issue. The obvious reason, falling sales of one or both of the titles, is side-stepped in favor of the following explanation: "We hope that the synthesis will prove better than either (of the two titles) by giving us a magazine that has the depth of character possible in the Batman Family concept together with the impact of the grand old tradition of Detective Comics." Based on this and the previous issue, I'm not buying into the logic. The two titles are, ideally, the polar opposites: BF presents stories for those who feel the world would be a better place had that show still been broadcast in 1979 while 'tec is for those who like their Knights Dark.

"A Quick Death in China!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Heck and Frank Chiaramonte

Chinese super-terrorist Wo Fong continues to hold Barbara Gordon and newswoman Leslie Tauburn in an effort to smoke Babs's brother, Tony, out of hiding. Luckily for Babs, Wo is convinced that Leslie is Batgirl and leaves the suit in the open. Batgirl makes an appearance and is set upon by the Sino-Supermen. Tony Gordon arrives in the nick of time but makes the ultimate sacrifice for his sister when Wo Fong's fortress blows sky high.

PE: There's nothing remotely interesting or original in this nonsense. Though I prefer Heck's pencils here rather than over in the Marvel Universe, that may just be because I don't care about these characters nor what he does to them. Heck seems to be in a state of disarray; at times his art resembles that of Alex Toth (a good thing) and at times... well, it doesn't (not a good thing). We're being filled in on a little more information we (blissfully) missed out on by not making Batman Family part of our journey here. I can see why Babs was elected to Congress; nothing gets past her, as when the faux Fu Manchu storms into her cell and she thought balloons: "Wo Fong! He must be behind this!" I've still no idea where Tony Gordon came from.

Jack: Either you like Don Heck's art or you don't, and I think I'm edging toward the "don't." At least it's better than the Rozakis script, which includes Tony Gordon thinking: "I'll bet yen to yoyos that Babs is inside!" Did Tony grab a Sino Supergirl outfit? He looks fetching in a sleeveless blue top and red miniskirt!

"The Eternity Book"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Michael Golden and Dick Giordano

A dying bookseller summons Etrigan, the Demon, to recapture The Eternity Book, an ancient tome from Merlin the Magician's private library. The book has been stolen by one of The Unliving and Etrigan tracks him down and destroys him, but before he can get hold of the book it is snatched up by Baron Tyme.

Jack: I was a fan of Kirby's series The Demon when I was a young sprout and it first ran in the early '70s. This reboot doesn't have much of a story but the art is outstanding, especially the double splash page. It has nothing to do with Batman and is more than a little reminiscent of Dr. Strange--is it a coincidence that Steve Ditko will take over as artist next issue?

PE: For once, I was grateful for the long "Here's what this character is all about" recap and mini-origin that made up the centerpiece of this adventure. I was never interested in Kirby's DC Universe so didn't have the occasion to read a Demon story. What I saw here I liked a lot. Golden and Giordano do a great job of evoking that House of Mystery vibe I ate up like candy in the early 1970s and the story kept me turning pages. It's such a fabulous piece that I'm sorry a new artist will be assigned to the feature effective next issue. That last shot, of Baron Tyme, is very Ditko-esque.

"Bat-Mite's New York Adventure!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Michael Golden and Bob Smith

Bat-Mite becomes a pest at the DC Bullpen until the staff agree to feature his adventures in Batman Family.

Jack: This throwaway tale reminds me of those silly stories in the back of Marvel annuals of the late '60s. We get a look at some of the DC staff and they look very much like hairy guys from the Disco era. Bat-Mite had not been in a story since 1967 and would not be in another till 1992's "Legend of the Dark Mite," which I must admit sounds pretty funny.

PE: I really didn't think I was gonna like this... and I really didn't. Rather than the silly stories at the back of the Marvel Annuals (I know which ones you're referring to, Jack), this waste of paper reminded me of the crap that Marvel pumped out during "Assistant Editor's Month" in January 1984. Who can forget thrilling to the adventures of "Daringdevil, The Man Without Ears" or Captain America fighting The Three Skulls (MoSkull, Larry-Skull, and Curly-Skull)? I'm still trying.

"The League of Crime!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Juan Ortiz and David Hunt

Amateur time
The League of Crime is trying out two villains who wish to join their ranks. The Raven is given the task of stealing helium from a balloon carrying two occupants. Robin arrives to save the day in his Whirly-Bat but once he's defeated this villain, another one, The Card Queen, pops right up. The villainess gets the drop on Robin and escapes with the dough but the leader of The League, Maze, vows she'll be found

PE: If not told otherwise, I would have assumed this was a reprint from "The Golden Age" of DC but the more I read of these back-ups, the sneakier the feeling that this is the kind of story the editor wants: stories written in the style of the 1960s. This is one of the worst written and illustrated stories we've come across. Everything about is amateur. I have no idea who Maze is so all the suspense built up to his reveal at the climax is lost on me. Can we please go back to single-story issues?

Jack: This story is dreadful and reads like Rozakis had to put something down on paper to fill the last 12 pages of this issue. The art is like something from the bad old Bat days of the '50s and '60s.

Batman 310 (April 1979)

"The Ghost That Haunted Batman"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano

After failing to stop the Gentleman Ghost during a jewel robbery, Batman goes undercover as a British butler to track down Alfred, who has disappeared. It seems Alfred has fallen under the spell of fellow Britisher the Ghost, whose powers are not quite strong enough to make Alfred shoot his employer. Batman chases the Ghost, whose carriage careens off a cliff--but the Gentleman's laughter continues to echo through the night.

Jack: I saw the Gentleman Ghost on the cover and was hunting for the usual "JA" signature of Jim Aparo, thinking that it would be cool if Joe Kubert drew this cover, since he was the Ghost's best artist in the Silver Age. Lo and behold, there under the front wheel of the carriage is Joe Kubert's signature!

PE: Ah, if only Kubert had illustrated the interiors as well. Not saying that I don't trumpet the return of Irv Novick (hell, after Calnan, I might have begged Frank Robbins to come back from Marvel) but to see Kubert tackle The Dark Knight would be something special!

Jack: With Dick Giordano inking, it's a welcome relief to have Irv Novick return to the art chores on Batman after we suffered through John Calnan's efforts. The story is still a little shaky, though Wein is trying to develop a few subplots in the background (Bruce Wayne's competitor; Selina Kyle). I always loved the Gentleman Ghost, even if he does come off a bit like the Spook (or a Scooby-Doo villain) in this issue. A quick bit of online research reveals that he actually is a ghost, something I never knew.

PE: The delight, I find, in villains like The Gentleman Ghost is trying to decipher whether there's something supernatural going on here or not. All signs point to the beyond but we know that, even with a climax that spells death for someone just dressing up like a ghost, these bad guys can survive the worst of calamities. Intriguing then, Jack, that you say this guy actually is a spectre. I'm going to log into eBay now to bid on a Gentleman Ghost action figure!

Jack: Annual sales figures are published in this issue--Batman sold an average of 125,421 copies in the preceding year. As the prices rise, the sales fall.

PE: And as the sales fall, so do the illustrated pages, now making up less than half of the package!

May 6, 2013 is the day to enlist! You have been warned!

So which one did you have, Jack?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 61: January and February 1979

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 307 (January 1979)

"Dark Messenger of Mercy!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Calnan and Dick Giordano

A homeless old woman is murdered and two gold coins are left covering her eyes. Angry Quentin Conroy storms into Commissioner Gordon's office, claiming that the gold coins were stolen from his collection and he wants them back. Batman journeys to the underground world of winos and bums to track the killer, who appears to be Limehouse Jack, a derelict thought dead but now returned on a mission of mercy to put other unfortunates out of their misery by means of poison-coated coins. All is not as it seems, however, and Batman discovers the truth--Quentin Conroy is the son of Limehouse Jack and has gone off the deep end, pretending to be his father and killing street people.

PE: "Dark Messenger" opens with a bang - the murder of street woman Ballerina is very effective, very nasty - but then devolves into a standard "whoisit" with predictably ludicrous results. Seriously, are we to buy that young Quentin Conroy could completely change his appearance by "twisting his face up?" I'd have fallen for one of those incredible make-up jobs we're always falling for rather than this end result.
Limehouse Jack was obviously inspired by a certain radio star who knew what evil lurked... On the letters page, future writer, publisher and Will Eisner historian cat yronwode (no caps, thank you!) raves about 1978 Award Winner for Worst Script, "Attack of the Wire-Head Killers"(Batman #302). Since cat was already in her thirties and, ostensibly, knew better, I wonder how she arrived at her estimation.

Jack: It is always interesting to read the contemporaneous reactions of letter-writing fans to these stories that we are reading decades after the fact. They rarely seem to agree with our evaluations! I thought this was a decent script, though I had to wonder at the Irish and English folks living below the streets of Gotham and speaking in broad cockney accents. Dick Giordano really helps pull John Calnan's pencils up to a level of respectability; the art is actually pretty good!

Detective Comics 481 (January 1979)

"Ticket to Tragedy"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Marshall Rogers

As a favor to his butler, The Dark Knight travels to London to look after Alfred's cousin, Sir Basil Smythe, a brilliant surgeon who has created a new technique for heart transplants. Batman arrives just in time to see Smythe's best friend gunned down accidentally by an assassin aiming for Smythe. Furious and convinced the world doesn't deserve his new transplant theory, Smythe gives Batman a day and a half to catch his friend's killer or he'll burn the documents. Working only on one clue, a train ticket dropped by the killer, the caped crusader tracks down the murderer and prevents the good doctor's bonfire.

PE: Definitely the least of all the Marshall Rogers stories for Detective, mostly due to the average script. Is it just me or does Alfred have cousins in every part of the world? A wordless full page final scene, depicting Batman handing over the assassin to Smythe just before he burns the transplant papers, is one of Marshall's finest hours. Sadly, this is the last we'll time we'll marvel at the art of Marshall Rogers.

Jack: Rogers really outdoes himself here, inking his own pencils. Set aside for a moment the ridiculous notion that Smythe would throw away his life's work out of bitterness over his friend's murder, and this is an excellent story. I admit that the sight of Batman riding the rails on his Bat boots is a bit far-fetched, but I enjoyed it.

"Does the Costume Make the Hero?"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

Robin, the Boy Wonder finds himself with three new costumes as a result of agreeing to a local contest.  He'll have plenty of chances to try out these uniforms as he battles The Raven.

PE: Since we didn't cover the Batman Family title, where this strip continues from, I'm completely lost as to what's going on. New girlfriend, new girlfriend problems, new police chief partner, and a costume contest that threatens to break "the fourth wall." Not to be a jerk about this since I don't know the ages of the readers who submitted the three designs, but they aren't too dynamic. Forgettable even. Don Newton's art is dynamic and Golden Age-esque in spots but it's hard to get excited when it's illustrating such a by-the-numbers story.

Jack: Dick Grayson continues the longest college career in history--nine years at Hudson U and counting! By the way, where is page 11? The page numbers in the story jump from 10 to 12 mysteriously. This is not the first time in our journey through the 70s that readers have suggested new costumes for the Teen Wonder, yet they never seem to work out.

"A Slow Death in China!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Heck and Bob Smith

Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) is in China investigating The Sino-Supermen, a super-powered group of Chinese baddies patterned after American heroes like Superman and The Flash. After a terrific battle, Babs and her traveling newswoman companion, Leslie Tauburn, are kidnapped by the (COMMIE ALERT!) Sino-Supermen.

PE: Like the Robin strip, we're dropped into the middle of a storyline with not much introduction. Is Babs still the pretty, unassuming librarian we all grew to love "years" ago in her back-up in 'tec? Don Heck hasn't missed a beat since his stint on that aforementioned run (he penciled four of Batgirl's adventures, both solo and with Robin, over in the Batman Family title). His Batgirl art outshines anything he did in the 1960s for Marvel.

Jack: I'm not sure I'd agree that Heck on Batgirl is better than Heck on The Avengers! I'm happy to see the Dominoed Daredoll back in action but I did not know that Yellow Peril stories were still in vogue as late as 1979!

"The Whittles Snatch"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Newton & David Hunt

The private eye firm of Bard & Langstrom has a new job: find J.J. Whittles's kidnapped wife. The police have been unable to help, so Whittles turns to the private dicks. After quite a bit of deduction, the pair manage to track down Mrs. Whittles, who admits to just wanting to have a little fun at the discos. As they're leaving the dance hall with Mrs. Whittles, a real kidnapper announces his intentions. With a little help from Kirk Langstrom's alter ego, Man-Bat, Bard & Langstrom quash the attempt and deliver the Mrs. back to her Mr.

PE: Since last we saw him, in 'tec #459, Kirk Langstrom has definitely cleaned up his act: he can monitor his changes, he doesn't want to turn his wife into a vampiress, and he's a private detective. That's some change. What's not clear is whether Jason Bard, once Babs Gordon's sweetie, knows that things can get hairy at times for Kirk. The one thing that hasn't changed for Man-Bat is that he seems to be stuck in sub-par adventures, this one included. There's nothing here that elevates the story above your average lazy comic writing. You could easily subtract the character and replace him with anyone else, as there's no specific element crying out for his participation. With just a few panels of "screen time," Man-Bat is nothing but a gimmick. And has Mrs. Whittles been living in the disco for a week? We don't know as that info isn't forthcoming. She had to sleep somewhere. I will admit to chuckling at the climax, where the beautiful Mrs. Whittles doesn't exactly instill confidence in her dumpy hubby when he asks her if she's had enough of the wild life and she says "For now!"

Jack: I liked this story better than you did, if only for the opportunity to see Jason Bard and Man-Bat again. I did not recall the Langstroms having a baby--that could lead to some interesting tales! The problem with this issue is that we have to read three Rozakis stories in a row. The art is above-average in two of them, but Rozakis--even if he was a super-fan/pro--has yet to impress me with his writing.

"Murder in the Night"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin & P. Craig Russell

Three men have been brutally murdered in Gotham City and only Batman can tie the three together. Turns out the three served in WWI with Bruce Wayne's father, Thomas. The four men testified against a fellow soldier, Xavier Simon, and put him behind bars for five years. Upon release, Simon swears vengeance. It takes him years but he finally gets around to it by financing a scientist's mad experiment, a mind-transferring machine that Xavier uses on a gorilla. Batman comes to find out that the three murders are not all that the mad man wants: he's tired of his ancient body and he's got his sights set on a new one. Guess who. To be continued.

The Many Faces of Thomas Wayne
PE: Once again, the goofy chronology problem that most comic books face raises its ugly head with the Xavier Simon character who claims he's ninety years old. Since he was in World War I with Thomas Wayne, that opens up a whole can of ancient worms: just how old is Bruce Wayne? Our flashback panels show Thomas Wayne to be a fairly young guy but if Bruce is supposed to be presently in his mid to late 30s, that would put Thomas in his mid to late 50s. Nope. I'm not sure which artist is responsible but Thomas Wayne is obviously a shapeshifter since he doesn't look the same in any of his panels. The story's been told a thousand times before and is a meandering bore. Ordinarily, that wouldn't be such a problem when you consider the two artists involved, but neither rises to the occasion. The art's not horrible (other than the aforementioned "Thomas Wayne: Man of a Thousand Faces" segment) but it's not what you've come to expect from Jim Starlin or P. Craig Russell. A big disappointment.

Jack: The art is definitely freaky in spots, and not up to the cool front and back covers by Starlin. I did not know he and Craig Russell worked for DC! When I saw we were going down the road of the brain transference I though, uh oh! That never goes well. And sure enough, we get another in the endless line of DC gorilla villains.

PE: So, obviously we have a bigger package each issue but, in the long run, is that a better thing? So far, I'd have to say it's just a larger example of the problem we had with 'tec in the mid-70s: weak back-up stories starring third-rate heroes.

Jack: I liked this, the first Detective dollar comic in the series that will run into the '80s. I thought the stories were okay and the art (except for Heck) was very good. It's interesting to note that Julius Schwartz only edits the first Batman story, while Al Milgrom edits the last four tales. The ad rates must not have been very good by this time, since this issue is free of advertisements.

Batman 308 (February 1979)

"There'll Be a Cold Time in the Old Town Tonight!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Calnan and Dick Giordano

Batman's old nemeses are popping up everywhere! Mr. Freeze is back in town, killing a traitor with his freezing ray. Selina Kyle is also back, visiting Bruce Wayne with a plan to invest some of her money in his foundation. Mr. Freeze's latest scheme is to promise immortality through cryogenics to those wealthy enough to pay his price. Unfortunately, the process is not quite working yet, and his subjects end up as frozen zombies. The Dark Knight is captured and placed in the freezing chamber, but some quick thinking prevents him from becoming another ice pop and he puts his old foe . . . on ice. Meanwhile, something is not right in Gotham Cemetery, as a pair of monstrous hands burst up through the ground at the site of a recently buried man.

PE: Like last issue's story, this one starts out on strong footing but quickly unravels into a silly mess. I can believe that The Dark Knight pulled the plug on most of Freeze's power but how would he know about the Cryogenic Chamber he'd be locked into (and, luckily, he knew to bring along some frosty make-up just in case)? I couldn't get a handle on Ms. Hildy, who seems to want to undergo a frosty transformation so that she can, ostensibly, rule the world but can't keep her brilliant plan in the thought balloons but rather talks to herself loud enough for Freeze to hear in the next room! The only time we've had a glimpse of Mr. Freeze in the Bronze Age was as a "juror" in the "Where Were You the Night Batman Was Killed" arc (Batman #291-294) so I didn't know what to expect. I was delightfully surprised to see Freeze wasn't of the Otto Preminger variety (from that show) but rather a muscular madman who can take care of himself. Emphasis on the madman; this guy has no problem committing murder to get what he wants. With only one full Bronze Age appearance, the frosty fiend is easily the most under-utilized of the Rogues' Gallery during our journey. While I liked this incarnation, I much prefer the Mr. Freeze who was rebooted in the mid-1980s.

Jack: I thought this was a great issue! For some reason, the usual 17 page story expanded to a very Silver Age-like 23 pages, squeezing out this issue's letters column and editorial filler.  Wein does a nice job of setting things in motion, such as the Selina Kyle subplot and the mysterious, monstrous hands at the end. Giordano is inking Calnan very heavily, so much so that the lovely Hildy is 100% Giordano gorgeous! I think Wein was having a little fun with Batman and Mr. Freeze in this issue, since the sequence where the Caped Crusader is trapped in the freezing chamber cries out for narration by William Dozier. I liked it a lot and I'm looking forward to more! My only complaint is that when Bruce thinks of the two most important women in his life (Selina and Silver) he forgets his WIFE--Talia!

So who got the cape?