Monday, August 30, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 35: November 1982


The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #353

"Last Laugh"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dan Adkins

The Joker demonstrates his crazy malice by killing one of his associates at the start of a meeting where he announces a new scheme. Meanwhile, Batman grabs Arthur Reeves off the street and brings him back to the Batcave for some harsh interrogation that ends with Reeves confessing that Boss Thorne gave him the doctored photos of Bruce Wayne. Batman promises Jim Gordon that he'll look into the matter.

Vicki Vale covers the timed destruction of historic Gotham Central Station, but the planned explosions fail to go off because the Joker pilfered the computer that was supposed to trigger them. Batman quickly tracks the Clown Prince of Crime to a spot across the river in Jersey, but the Joker gets the upper hand and, next thing we know, the Dark Knight is lashed to the side of a cliff that the Joker is about to demolish to reveal a giant sculpture of his own face. Fortunately, Batman escapes, foils the Joker's plot, and watches as the giant Joker face stone sculpture collapses into the river.

Peter: Not a bad little yarn but I'd have preferred Gerry leave the soap opera subplots out just this once and allow the Joker a little more space. I'm not sure why the glorious Batman/'tec crossovers ended but hopefully they'll return soon. Yes, there's a hint here of what's to come in this month's 'tec but it's not like the Part 1/Part 2 we were getting so used to. The art is passable but not spectacular.

Jack: I was very impressed with the return of Garcia-Lopez, possibly because Dan Adkins is a talented inker. We've seen him do wonders with Don Newton's pencils. It's funny that the same Joker who was anxious to team up with Batman just last month in The Brave and the Bold is now back to being a dangerous lunatic who tries to kill our hero. It doesn't bother me, though, since I'm happy to see the Joker in any setting. By the way, Garcia-Lopez's Vicki Vale is probably the most attractive version we've seen lately.

"'The Sting'--Batman Style"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Don Newton & Dennis Jensen

Robin feels good about his work to raise money to fight juvenile delinquency, but when the cash is stolen from the Gotham Boys League headquarters, he learns that the men who were in charge of the collection are con artists. Robin sets out to recover the money but gets some unexpected help from Batman, disguised as Matches Malone, who cons the con artists. Robin dresses up as Batman to try to trick the crooks but ends up learning a lesson from his partner.

Peter: I thought this was bad bad bad. The script is convoluted and dopey, the dialogue is pretty silly (although I laughed out loud when Robin warned: "Gape in awe, spawn of evil!"), and the art is too heavily inked. After a brief respite, we seem to be back to uniformly weak back-ups.

Jack: Once again, Don Newton's art doesn't look as good without Dan Adkins inking. In the panel reproduced here, I thought Bruce was having dinner with a gal pal until I realized it was the Boy Wonder. I can't imagine who thought having Robin dress up as Batman was a good idea.

Detective Comics #520

"The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala

Fearing for his own sanity, "Boss" Thorne" hires the paranormal investigator known as Doctor Thirteen when the ghost of Hugo Strange shows up at the Thorne residence. Meanwhile, Batman visits his would-be assassin, Deadshot (see Detective #518), to glean any info he can on the man who hired the killer. Deadshot whispers something in the Dark Knight's ear and Batman breaks the villain out of jail. Deadshot tells Bats that he was hired by Thorne and new police commissioner Peter Pauling to kill Bruce Wayne.

Doctor Thirteen visits Greytowers, Hugo Strange's last residence, and stumbles on Strange's mad scientist lab. Out of the shadows emerges Strange's ghost. Batman takes a drugged Deadshot back to the Batcave and learns from the local news that he's now "public enemy no. 1."

"The Haunting of 'Boss' Thorne" is a confusing mess, one that will have the average reader rushing to Google searches and Wikipedia pages. Why is Hugo Strange's ghost wearing Batman's costume on the cover and splash? Later, when the spook confronts Thirteen, he's not wearing a cape and cowl (in fact, he's not wearing anything). Is this some plot device that will be explained in the conclusion next month? One can only hope. I still chuckle at the thought that Vicki Vale, who loves Bruce Wayne with all her heart, can't recognize half of the guy's face sticking out of Batman's mask. That's just dumb. I do like the Doc 13 character but then I've always liked supernatural dicks; anytime the supernatural can be dragged into these superhero strips, I'm game. But I'm 99.9% sure this will all be explained away rationally.

I've stated several times before that Alfredo Alcala is my favorite 1970s funny book artist but AlAl and Don Newton is not a match made in heaven. The human characters are stiff and lifeless (just look at that panel of Doc 13 reprinted here... is it just me or is the man having a bad comb-over day?) and there's just no energy in the action scenes. That's the most ho-hum Batmobile we've seen in a while.

Jack: The opening pages are great, with Strange in the Batman suit turning up at Thorne's front door, but they don't go anywhere. I like seeing Doctor Thirteen again, but Conway keeps getting sidetracked with subplots. I thought Alcala made Newton look very good, for the most part, but you're right about some of the panels.

"The Cat and the Conover Caper!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Gil Kane

Selina Kyle runs into an old friend in the subway, a reformed con named Louie Conover, a man who once worked for the Catwoman. When Louie acts strangely, Selina changes into her Catwoman costume and follows the man, hoping he hasn't fallen into his old bad habits again. Alas, Louie meets up with another man and the two break into a video game manufacturing company. Turns out the man is there to steal the plans for a new video game that's destined to be "bigger than Pac-Man and Space Invaders put together!" Catwoman makes her presence known about five seconds before the cops arrive. Louis had called them. Cats sighs happily and invites Louie to coffee.

Peter: "The Cat and the Conover Caper!" is another perfectly-average (that's 2.0 stars) Bob Rozakis script with some so-so Gil Kane art. Usually, the name Gil Kane pushes all my buttons but this has "rush job" stamped all over it.  Enough with this Good Selina crap. Time to welcome back the villainess

Jack: I'm a lifelong fan of Gil Kane and put him in my top tier of DC artists, but this looks like he drew it holding the pencil in his toes. Some of the classic Kane angles are present but for the most part the art looks terrible. The plot is a throwaway. Catwoman, like Joker, is better as a villain than a hero.

The Brave and the Bold #192 

"You Can't Take the Boy Out of Smallville..."
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Jim Aparo

When crooks rob Superman's charity fund, Batman tracks them down and sends a signal to Superman so he can join in the capture. Just as Superman appears, he is bathed in a strange glow and replaced by Superboy, who helps Batman mop up but then questions who the Dark Knight is and how the year can be 1982. It seems Superman has been sent back to 1967 and Superboy has been sent forward to the present; a barrier prevents either from returning to their proper time.

Batman and Superboy follow the trail of electronics until they locate the penthouse hideout of I.Q., a villain who sent Superman back in time to prevent him from interfering with sunspots that will make I.Q.'s "solar-charged brain the most brilliant in all creation." I.Q. did not realize that the same person can't be in the same place twice, so sending Superman back to 1967 meant that Superboy would catapult forward to 1982. Batman takes care of I.Q. while Superboy disperses the solar flares; this removes the time barrier and allows Superboy and Superman to return to their correct years.

Peter: This is the equivalent of a 17-page Hostess Twinkie ad. It's a quintessential DC hero funny book story, complete with confusing mythos and head-scratching science (so the bad guy created some kind of outer space tidal wave so that his powers would be multiplied, right?). To give you an idea how ignorant I am of the DC Universe outside of the Dark Knight, I had no idea until now that Superman and Superboy were the same person! As much as I turn my nose up at this kind of stuff, I have to admit this was goofy fun. I liked how Bats patiently taught Superkid what was right and wrong about using his super-powers.

Jack: If it weren't for the "super" artwork of Jim Aparo, this would be an awfully long 17 pages of super nonsense to slog through. As it is, it's breezy and goes by fast, with nary an iota of danger, menace, or suspense. There's no good reason for Batman to summon Superman from Metropolis to Gotham City to help round up a few small-time crooks, but it provides an excuse for the obligatory team up. It's puzzling how the most powerful man on Earth, who can travel back and forth through time at will, can be sent 15 years into the past by a silly villain with a confusing scheme. It's even more puzzling that the same villain, who seems to be a brilliant scientist, wouldn't realize that Superboy would replace Superman. Don't even get me started on readers who didn't know Superboy was Superman as a boy. It said it right on the cover of his comics!

"Operation: Overkill"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Nemesis takes the place of a bad actor named Peter Downs, who just happens to be the boyfriend of Ms. Scarfield, the last member of the Council. She remains mum about her criminal dealings so, to learn more about "Operation: Overkill," Nemesis plants a bug in her limo. He tracks her to a meeting of crime bosses from across the country and hears her outline a terrible plan.

Peter: "Operation: Overkill" is so blessedly short, it almost acts as an epilogue to next issue's double-sized stick of dynamite, the series conclusion featuring Batman himself. The "Nemesis" series has been so forgettable that I really can't recall (irony!) what the hero's mission was in the first place. Burkett pocketed an easy ten bucks with this script; half of it is Shakespeare quotes.

Jack: I admit it--I want to know what the terrible plan is that Ms. Scarfield outlined for the crime bosses. It's so bad that Nemesis will need to team up with Batman next issue! This is Dan Spiegle's swan song on the series, and good riddance. This is some of the worst art I've seen in the 1980s.

The Best of DC #30

"The Stage is Set... for Murder!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #425, July 1972)

"The Assassin-Express Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Carmine Infantino & Dick Giordano
(Reprinted from Action Comics #419, December 1972)

"The Magical Mystery Mirror"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #444, January 1975)

"The Riddle of the Unseen Man!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #201, November 1953)

"A Burial for Batgirl!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #400, June 1970)

"Midnight is the Dying Hour!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #401, July 1970)

"The Three Feats of Peril!"
Story by Bill Woolfolk
Art by Leonard Starr
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #209, July 1954)

"Case of the Dead-On Target!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #435, July 1973)

"The Man with 20 Lives"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #227, January 1956)

"The Ocean Pest!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Certa
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #222, August 1955)

"Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman"
(Reprinted from Batman #225, September 1970)

"The Assassin-Express Contract!"
Peter: The digest-sized 30th issue of The Best of DC offers up a series of reprints from Detective Comics (and, oddly, one each from Action and Batman), all in super-tiny format. Five of the eleven stories here are new to us. First up is "The Assassin-Express Contract," wherein Christopher Chance, the Human Target, is hired by a dimwit who has mistakenly taken out a contract on a competitor. There's no way to contact the assassin to call off the deal, so Chance must board a train disguised as the mark. I love the Infantino-Giordano art and the story makes me nostalgic for the 1970s, when every superhero comic story was engaging, intelligent, and entertaining. See what nostalgia does to you?

Our old friend, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, host of the popular Impossible... But True! show, discovers he's got an invisible stalker in "The Riddle of the Unseen Man!" As usual for this strip, Roy is given an impossible situation (invisible man) and manages to produce a very logical explanation (electronic radio interference or some such). Now, the expository doesn't always work (there's a gimmick with a typewriter that still doesn't make sense to me), but there's a goofy air to the whole package (including the sharp Moreira art) that can't help but make even an anti-DC curmudgeon like myself smile from ear to ear. Jack, can we forget the '80s and go back to the '50s? Pretty please?

Equally as much fun is "The Three Feats of Peril," starring Mysto, Magician Detective. The plot is a bit confusing (Mysto investigates the death of his friend and mentor, the Great Zambesi, and must perform the "three impossible feats" Zambesi had perfected, in order to smoke out the killer) and the climactic reveal is predictable, but I had a whale of a good time with this disposable fluff. The art is the usual great stuff from Leonard Starr. In the useless trivia department: did you know that Captain America and Bucky were terrorized by a stage magician (who doubled as a Japanese spy) named Mysto in the 1940s?

Detective John Jones (aka J'onn J'onnz, Martian Manhunter) is tasked with putting cracks in the alibi of a hood who's committed murder. Lucky for the D.A. that Martians can look into the human brain and "retrace thought processes." J'onnz stalks the killer until the man confesses. "The Man with 20 Lives" rates three out of four yawns and lulled me to sleep with its boring Joe Certa art.

Captain Compass is hired by a chap named Walters to aid him in his search for a huge cache of pirate's treasure lying on the bottom of the ocean in a sunken ship. Compass very quickly suspects that there's a criminal element at work on his ship and his suspicions become reality when the divers come up with a chest full of eighth century gold coins, all matching each other perfectly! Oh, wipe that confused look off your face. Didn't they teach you in history class that eighth century gold coins were etched by hand and no two coins are identical? Turns out the man who hired Compass has been melting down stolen gold and placing it in the hull of a ship they put at the bottom of the sea! "The Ocean Pest" has one of the more elaborate funny book plots I've seen and it manages to pull the feat off in only six pages. Captain Mark Compass had a very long run throughout several titles (his debut landed in Star Spangled Comics #83, August 1948), which only goes to show that back in the 1940s, any character could have a long run in the comics.

Aparo's back cover
Jack: This is a fun collection of stories with great front and back covers by Jim Aparo. We have the benefit of reading the stories online, so we don't have to squint to make out the words in the digest format. I enjoyed "The Assassin-Express Contract!" too and am always happy to see quality Infantino art with the usual great inks by Giordano, who is one of the unsung heroes of DC. By the way, this was the first appearance of the Human Target! "The Riddle of the Unseen Man!" is done in the classic early '50s style, where mysterious events are all explained away by dubious science. There is more of the same faith in science on display in "The Three Feats of Peril," which has clear, straightforward storytelling to go with the crisp art. I suspect we're tiring of the Gerry Conway/Marvel Comic style of storytelling, where the main thread of plot is constantly interrupted by subplots and no storyline ever quite ends. I always liked the Martian Manhunter and the Red Tornado in the '60s/'70s Justice League of America, so I was happy to read "The Man with 20 Lives," and I agree that "The Ocean Pest!" packed a lot of plot into six short pages.

Next Month....
Wrightson to
the Wrescue!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-Joel Murcott Part One: Number Twenty-Two [2.21]

by Jack Seabrook

Joel Murcott (1915-1978) was born in Brooklyn and wrote nine episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The FictionMags Index shows one short story by Murcott, published in Dime Detective in 1945, and he also wrote a column titled "Mike Fright" for Movie Mystery Magazine in 1946. He had joined the publicity staff of radio's Blue Network in 1945 but was fired after a few months; he claimed it was because he was a union organizer, while the network claimed that his hiring was only temporary.

Joel Murcott and his wife,
actress Diane Foster, in 1954

Murcott then became a freelance script-writer and was the radio editor for The Hollywood Reporter. His credits for radio scripts stretch from 1947 to 1958, but by 1954 or 1955 he was also writing scripts for TV. He was an associate producer, story supervisor, and scriptwriter for the TV series, Sheena of the Jungle (1955-1956), and his credits as a TV writer last until 1975. He also wrote the scripts for one feature film and one short film in 1956.

*   *   *   *   *

The first episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air with a script by Joel Murcott was a winner: he adapted "Number Twenty-Two" from Evan Hunter's short story, "First Offense," which had been published in the December 1955 issue of Manhunt and which was collected in Best Detective Stories of the Year, 1956, and Hunter's own short story collection, The Jungle Kids (1956).

Stevie may only be 17 years old, but he has a bad attitude and considers himself a tough guy. After being arrested, he looks down on James Skinner, an older man with whom he shares the back of the police van. Stevie spends the night in jail and, the next morning, he joins the lineup of people being paraded before a room of detectives for questioning. Skinner advises him to keep his mouth shut and stay out of trouble, but Stevie watches with amusement as one criminal after another is brought out for interrogation. He is surprised to learn that Skinner once survived a murder conviction and a death sentence.

When Stevie is questioned, he tries to banter with the chief detective but ends up admitting to having robbed a candy store and stabbing its elderly proprietor. Shocked to learn that the man died and that he will be charged with murder, Stevie is taken to a cell.

"First Offense" was
first published here

"First Offense" succeeds in recreating the experience of being arrested and hauled before detectives for questioning. Stevie is young and arrogant, and his immature view of the other criminals who are being questioned is contrasted with the reader's understanding of their unsuccessful attempts at verbal fencing with the detective. One suspects that Stevie ignores Skinner's advice at his peril, yet the unexpected development at the story's conclusion demonstrates that the young man was doomed from the start by the consequences of his own actions.

Robert Stevens directed the TV adaptation of "First Offense," which was retitled "Number Twenty-Two" after Stevie's place in the lineup. The show begins with a scene that precedes the beginning of the short story--police sirens and whistles are heard as Steve runs frantically down an alley until he is caught by police, who pull a gun from his jacket pocket. Steve appears to have been crying but smiles at the policemen. The next scene is set at the police station, where the detective who arrested Steve points out that the gun is a toy. Smirking all the while, Steve sprays one officer with water from a water fountain and is walked past a series of other men in jail cells; none of them pays him any notice. The camera takes Steve's point of view in this shot, tracking along the row of cells, the men's boredom and despair in sharp contrast with Steve's elation.

Russell Collins as Skinner
Steve is placed in a cell with Skinner, who is asleep on a bunk bed, snoring loudly. There is another shot from Steve's point of view, as he observes the decrepit cell. He awakens Skinner and insults him, but Skinner suddenly grabs Steve, knocking him to the ground and threatening to break his arm. As the two men converse, Steve admits that he hopes to make the papers so that the other men at the pool hall can read about his arrest, but he admits that the people there "'never cared for me much.'" He recalls an incident from childhood when he cried because someone else had a nosebleed--he has become hardened since then, as shown by this effort to treat his arrest as if it were a joke.

Next morning, he and Skinner eat breakfast from trays in the cell and discuss the lineup; Skinner assumes a fatherly role and gives unwanted advice. At the lineup, Steve is assigned number twenty-two, and despite all of his bravado he is just another number. Skinner is questioned first, then Steve is questioned and says he's 20 years old, three years older than the character in the short story (Rip Torn, the actor playing Steve, was 25 when the show was filmed). As the men exit the lineup, the camera focuses on their feet, shuffling out of the room; they are not individuals, they are a group of numbered inmates.

Rip Torn as Steve
Steve and Skinner are separated from the rest of the group and placed in a room with other men--Steve is happy that he has been picked out as "'special.'" The men are brought back to the lineup. A crook named Assisi is questioned and answers sarcastically, to Steve's delight, but the man is forced to admit that his discharge from the Navy was "'dishonorable.'" Skinner is questioned next and it's unclear if he's a drunk who really does not remember what happened or if he is putting on a very good act. His behavior in the cell and in the waiting room with Steve was much different and his mind seemed sharper, which suggests that his performance in the lineup is intended to try to avoid further trouble. At the climax of his interrogation, when his prior murder charge is brought up, the camera focuses on his hands as they hold his hat in front of him. When the murder charge is mentioned, his hands suddenly grip the hat tightly and then loosen and drop it to the floor. In the story, he was sentenced to death; here, he was sentenced to life in prison and then freed on appeal in a case of mistaken identity. When Skinner walks back to the lineup, Steve picks up the hat and hands it to the older man, demonstrating a newfound respect for the unexpectedly hardened criminal.

Ray Teal as the chief of detectives
Finally, Steve is questioned at length, and the chief of detectives for the first time gets up from his desk and approaches the platform where Steve stands. Steve enjoys performing, like he's on stage, and admits that he used a toy gun for the robbery (not a switchblade, as in the short story). Instead of stabbing the candy store owner, he hit him over the head with the toy gun. Steve begins to sweat as the detective presses him about the assault. When the detective reveals that the man died of a fractured skull, realization dawns on Steve. He approaches the edge of the platform for the first time and it is revealed that there is a translucent screen separating the prisoners from the detectives. Steve presses his nose against it (like a kid in a candy store) and he is now firmly on the other side of the law, apart from those who uphold it and destined to follow the path that Skinner warned him about.

James Nolan as Officer Bourne

Joel Murcott's outstanding adaptation of "First Offense" adds the opening scene where Steve flees from the cops and is arrested. Instead of meeting and speaking with Skinner in a police van, the two men share a cell overnight. The lineup sequence is divided into two parts: a short series of questions followed by a longer interrogation. Murcott removes the questioning of the man and woman that is found in the story and instead focuses on Skinner and Steve, with only one other prisoner being questioned in detail. Skinner's prior sentence is changed from execution to life in prison and Steve's toy gun replaces the switchblade, resulting in a fractured skull instead of multiple stab wounds.

The show features excellent performances by all concerned: Rip Torn display a palpable change in attitude when Steve realizes what he has done, while Russell Collins, as Skinner, gives a fine, subtle performance as a criminal who pretends to be a harmless drunk but who is well aware of the pitfalls of the criminal justice system. Ray Teal is solid as the chief of detectives, strong yet sensitive without giving in to any of the prisoners' attempts to avoid responsibility for their actions. Murcott's script deepens the issues in the short story while making it fit the half-hour television format, and the direction by Robert Stevens is superb, with a judicious use of closeups to highlight important moments in the story and the powerful and unexpected revelation of the screen at the end that has all along divided prisoners from police. In all, "Number Twenty-Two" is an excellent adaptation of a great short story.

Paul Picerni as Assisi

The show is directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), whose skills expanded during the 1950s from the static camera of his work on Suspense, which depended on tight closeups due to small TV screens and poor reception, to his work on the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where he began to depend on trick shots that placed inanimate objects close to the camera to use forced perspective to emphasize their importance, to his later work on the series, in episodes like "I'll Take Care of You" that demonstrate a keen ability to tell the story in a dynamic, propulsive way while still using numerous closeups. Stevens worked in television from 1948 to 1987 and directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He won an Emmy for "The Glass Eye." He also directed 105 episodes of Suspense in the early 1950s.

Receiving top billing as Skinner is Russell Collins (1897-1865), a wonderful actor whose stage career began in the 1920s. He followed this with film roles starting in the 1930s and with TV roles starting in the early 1950s. Most of what we see of him today is from later in his career, such as his role on "Kick the Can" on The Twilight Zone and his ten appearances on the Hitchcock show, including Fredric Brown's "The Night the World Ended."

Rip Torn (1931-2019) was near the start of his long career when he played Steve in "Number Twenty-Two." Born in Texas as Elmore Torn Jr., he began appearing on screen in 1956 and was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as on Thriller. For decades, he played character roles on TV and on film, while also appearing on stage. He became well-known for his Emmy-winning role on The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998) on TV and he was married to actress Geraldine Page from 1963 until she died in 1987.

Playing the chief of detectives is Ray Teal (1902-1976); he played many authority figures in a long screen career that stretched from 1937 to 1974 and he was busy as a character actor in the 1930s and 1940s. He appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents eight times, including a role in "Revenge," the first episode; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

In smaller roles:
  • James Nolan (1915-1985) as Officer Bourne, who arrests Steve; he was on film from 1937 to 1982 and on TV from 1950 to 1982. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show but he did appear on The Twilight Zone.
  • Paul Picerni (1922-2011) as Assisi, who was dishonorably discharged from the Navy; in real life, he was a war hero in the Air Force in WWII. He appeared on film from 1946 to 2007 and on TV from 1951 to 2000. He was seen in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Cream of the Jest," but his most famous role was as Lee Hobson on The Untouchables (1959-1963). A website is devoted to him here and his autobiography, Steps to Stardom, My Story, was published in 2007.
"Number Twenty-Two" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.


Ellett, Ryan. Radio Drama and Comedy WRITERS, 1928-1962. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2017. 


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred HITCHCOCK Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 

Hunter, Evan. "First Offense." The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, edited by Tony Hillerman, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, pp. 426–442. 


"Number Twenty-Two." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 21, CBS, 17 Feb. 1957. 

Old Time Radio Downloads, 

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2021,

In two weeks: "Last Request," starring Harry Guardino and Cara Williams!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Mink" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Cheap is Cheap" here!

Monday, August 23, 2021

The Warren Report Issue 66: August 1975



The Critical Guide to
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Creepy #73

"Playpen of a God!" 
Story by Bill DuBay
Art by Jose Ortiz

"The Argo Standing By!" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Paul Neary

"A Beast Within" ★1/2
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by John Severin

"Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel" 
Story by Jim Stenstrum
Art by Richard Corben

"Purge!" ★1/2
Story by Bruce Bezaire
Art by Jose Ortiz

"Last Light of the Universe" 
Story by Budd Lewis
Art by Esteban Maroto

"Playpen of a God" is a needless 4-page framework that opens and closes the issue. After a deluge has wiped out most of mankind, an old man sits with a group of children, some missing limbs and scarred by the effects of war, and tells them the story of the end of the world. There's no real connective tissue from this prologue to the group of stories that follow and the final page, where all characters involved give a heavy sigh and admit that the world might have ended but at least we still have love, is downright silly. Huh? It's a waste of paper but, in the end, harmless and nicely illustrated by Ortiz.

Frawley, the captain of a drifting space station known as the "Argo," is awakened by mission control and told that a massive nuclear war has broken out on Earth and that the world will be coming to an end. Frawley and his sleeping comrades might just be the only earthlings left alive in a matter of hours. Since there's no Earth to travel back to, Frawley sets the alarm clock to "infinite" and goes back to sleep. The Argo continues its travel.

With pretension knocking at the door every few pages, I assumed this was going to be all preach and speech but, thankfully, Budd Lewis (who clearly wanted to be Harlan Ellison when he grew up) keeps the nonsense at arm's length and goes about telling a tense and thought-provoking story. The situation our protagonist is placed in can't get any scarier, can it? Millions of miles from a home that might not exist anymore. Where will they go? I thought for sure the commencement of "scratchings and tappings on the hull" was leading to a reveal of "it's all a test drill, there's no apocalypse, and they're really back on Earth, safe," but Budd managed to avoid that cliche as well (although those sounds outside the ship were never really explained--meteorites?). "The Argo Standing By!" is something we rarely see around the Warren landscape--a science fiction tale that doesn't make you roll your eyes. The denouement, that Frawley is essentially placing himself and the others into a sleep they probably will never wake from, is truly chilling.

After the apocalypse leaves the air unbreathable and the land poisoned, Rill'm MacMaur (and all other survivors) must rely on oxygen filters attached to their tracheas to survive. MacMaur seems to have a peaceful, if not happy, existence living in his mountain cabin until a horde of creatures comes a-callin' at night. Rill'm adjusts his lifestyle accordingly and then, one day while strolling through town, he comes across a fetching young lass and falls in love. He pays the girl's father for the right to take her home with him and they settle into a comfortable existence. Then one day, while Rill'm is out hunting, the creatures come to the cabin and murder Rill'm's mate. Swearing revenge, he heads out into the forest to find and kill the deadly swarm of monsters. Alas, they are too much for our hero and he succumbs to his wounds. 

For much of the length of "A Beast Within," I was captivated by Budd Lewis's story; like "Argo," Budd left his "savior" role back at the apartment and just delivered a stirring, intriguing narrative. Unfortunately, Lewis had to end it somehow and that somehow is gobbledygook to me. The final panel explains that the "beast" that killed Rill'm lived within him the whole time and that beast's name is "death." A somewhat hazy explanation if we're to take the events of the previous eleven pages seriously. In fact, much of the prose to be found in the captions of that final panel is unreadable. Is this "beast" within every man left standing or just Rill'm? Was it Rill'm's beast that killed his mate? Early in the story, an old man comments that Rill'm's beast will come callin' at some point and this whole exchange completely confuses me. That and, of course, the scratches on the door. 

But, as I mentioned, there were some imaginative elements in "A Beast Within" as well. The idea that Rill'm trades pure, clean soil for his goods is a brilliant idea, as is the notion that the old man who pays him a visit is a prospector panning for that "unpoisoned soil" in the nearby streams rather than gold. Severin's art is a bonus as well.

Without warning, the Waldorf Hotel on Saturn launches an "Unprovoked Attack on a Hilton Hotel!" Given no alternative, Hilton plans a counterattack using a brand-new bomb created by a genius scientist named Schwartzberger. A full-scale test is planned, with the site named as an asteroid near Mars. Too late, the Hilton president discovers that Schwartzberger's brilliant weapon will destroy the entire solar system. On the bright side, the crazed scientist exclaims, "Dere vill be such colorsh!"

A delight from beginning to hilarious finish, "Unprovoked Attack..." is just what the doctor ordered after spending so much time reading pretentious pap about ecology and man's inhumanity towards man and... whatever. The script is obviously a thinly-disguised parody of World War II (including caricatures of Truman and Roosevelt) and the fact that writer Jim Stenstrum was able to pull off such a feat using hotel franchises proves the man was a brilliant writer (with what most fans consider his apex coming very soon). There are no big-busted babes or horned creatures to get in Corben's way, so he concentrates on tickling our funny bone instead. Why this wasn't the color feature this issue is anyone's guess.

In 1989, "enforcers" patrol the street, arresting and executing anyone breaking the new laws. That includes speeding, public displays of affection, and possession of pornography. That's what Stanley Tayler has in his briefcase and that's why the enforcers are after him. When one of the policemen catches up with Tayler and blasts him, the briefcase spills open its contents... Warren magazines!

Bruce Bezaire lays the full sermon on as thick as syrup. "Purge!" is a tough one to slog through, and its climactic message, that Warren magazines are "art," could be taken two ways: pretentious or humorous. The script is lame and the art is so-so, but what really gets my gourd is that they wasted this issue's color on this mess. A few years later, the Brits would do this concept the right way with Judge Dredd. Someone please tell me what "permissivaness" is!

Years in the future, a deadly plague ravages the universe, killing off entire planets in days. A drifting "sphere city" commanded by Captain Hersey may well be the "Last Light of the Universe" but Hersey aims to keep his passengers and crew unaware of what is transpiring just outside their thick windows. Hersey refuses to allow any outsiders to visit their world, afraid of contracting the killer disease. But mutiny is in the air; some residents feel as though they must help outsiders or lose their own souls. The leader of these "rebels," Block, is executed and shot out into space but his body returns, bringing with it the plague. As Hersey throws a grand masked ball to lift his subjects' spirits, the air lock is breached and the disease enters the city's atmosphere, killing everyone. The last light is out.

"Last Light of the Universe" is a strong science fiction tale, patterned after Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," with a powerful (though at times confusing) climax. That final panel is a doozy. I admit that the length could easily have been shorn half of its 17-page girth but, then again, the script never bored me. As I say, it was just a bit confusing at times. I had to re-read Block's death scene to make sure I understood what was going on. Very little preaching about garbage in outer space. So, except for one story that could have been "Purged," I'd say that this Warren experiment in science fiction succeeded brilliantly. Too bad their later full-on excursion into SF wasn't as palatable.-Peter

Jack-I guess I just wasn't in the mood for an entire issue of Warren sci-fi. I groaned internally when I saw at the beginning that it was an all sci-fi issue. I thought the frame story was unnecessary and I could have done without the panels depicting children missing limbs. "The Argo Standing By!" isn't bad, with Paul Neary's art once again reminding me of John Byrne's work around this time; the problem with these stories about people marooned in space is that they're too wordy. The characters have nowhere to go and nothing to do but listen, and as a result the tales lack action.

"A Beast Within" seemed to me like a variation on I Am Legend with watered-down Severin art that looked like it belonged more in a '70s Marvel comic than a Warren mag. The end was a letdown. The satire of "Hilton Hotel" was lost on me; I didn't think it was funny at all. It seemed obvious, like they were trying too hard. "Purge!" was my favorite story in the issue; the ending surprised me and made me laugh. I did not expect to see copies of Vampirella tumble out of that briefcase! "Last Light of the Universe" is way too long and suffers from the same problem of lack of action that "plagued" "The Argo." About halfway through, a pretty girl pops up out of nowhere, presumably to give Maroto a chance to draw her.

The Spirit #9

"The Candidate" (8/21/49)
"White Cloud" (8/28/49)
"The Coin" (12/5/48)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

"Lovely Looie" (4/10/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"The Space Sniper" (5/22/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"The Vernal Equinox" (3/20/49)
Story by Will Eisner & Jules Feiffer
Art by Will Eisner

"Black Gold" (6/15/47)
Story by Will Eisner
Art by Will Eisner & Jerry Grandenetti

"Two Lives" (12/12/48)
Story and Art by Will Eisner

Eisner's new splash page for "The Mayor"

Jack-A nice example of mid-'70s Eisner art on the cover introduces another solid issue of post-war Spirit stories, though it's not up to the level of the last issue, which was devoted to femme fatales. Five stories come from 1949, including "The Candidate" and "White Cloud," a two-parter where a chronically-losing political party has the bright idea of putting up the Spirit as their candidate for mayor. The hero wants no part of it and, in a rare example of Dolan getting in on the action, the commish beats up the bad guys and finds himself elected to the post instead! "Lovely Looie" has a great splash page and concerns a takeoff on Gorgeous George who turns honest and creates problems for the crooks. After the Spirit wears the wrestler out in his dressing room, Dolan is able to make short work of him in the ring.

"The Space Sniper" is this issue's color feature, but the color is the best thing about it, since the Spirit has very little involvement in a tale about Nazis marooned in space and unaware that they lost the war. "The Vernal Equinox" concerns convicts who break out of prison only to find their hidden loot submerged beneath a new lake behind a recently-constructed dam.

The original splash page
The two stories from 1948 are not as good; in "The Coin," the Octopus impersonates the Spirit but the story is unnecessarily interrupted every few pages with a satire of radio giveaway shows, while "Two Lives" treads familiar ground with lookalikes taking each other's places--one in prison and the other with a battle-axe of a wife. Oddest of all is the 1947 story, "Black Gold," which features a welcome cameo by P'Gell and concerns oil in the Middle East, which is being settled by Jewish refugees from post-war Europe. The setting is more interesting than the plot.

Peter-At some point, one of the blog pitches I made to Jack was reviewing every Spirit strip chronologically. I'm not sure why that particular idea never panned out, but now I'm glad it didn't. It's not that I don't enjoy these Spirit stories, it's just that there's a sameness to them and I've exhausted my thesaurus for words that equal brilliant, hilarious, and gorgeous. Anyway, this time out I thought the art on "Black Gold" was gorgeous, the Mayor Dolan two-parter was hilarious, and "The Vernal Equinox" was truly brilliant. Can't wait for the next batch!

Next Week...
Hugo Strange is
back in town!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Batman in the 1980s Issue 34: October 1982

The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #352

"The Killer Sky!"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Kupperberg
Art by Don Newton & John Calnan

Commissioner Gordon lies in a hospital bed, badly beaten by a crooked cop, with his daughter Barbara and his partner Jason Bard watching over him. The new mayor and the cop responsible show up and threaten more beatings unless Gordon drops his investigation. Batman intervenes and promises to help Gordon and Bard find proof in order to remove Mayor Hill from office.

Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic, a zeppelin pulls a submarine out of the water and flies away with it! At Wayne Manor, Christopher Chance is finished impersonating Bruce Wayne, while in Gotham, Vicki Vale sees Boss Thorne visit her editor, after which her editor commits suicide.

That night, Vicki joins Bruce on a luxury liner for a fireworks display, but when the zeppelin passes by and starts to levitate a battleship, Batman swings into action and climbs aboard the airship. He tries to dismantle it but is knocked off by goons working for its commander, who calls himself Colonel Blimp. Batman survives the fall and staggers home, where he quickly recovers and is joined by the Boy Wonder as they set out in the Batmobile to find the blimp. A land mine destroys their vehicle, so they don't know that Colonel Blimp is nearby, hiding in an old hangar and promising to make fools pay!

Peter: The Jules Verne plot is rather clunky (Colonel Blimp??!!), as is the awkward exposition when any of the subplots raise their tired heads ("We know it was their political machine that set up Hill's opponent Reeves with those phony photographs of you during the election to discredit the opposition and insure their winning"--whew! I need a breath and a comma or three!), but what really sinks this turkey is the awful artwork. I've seen great Don Newton work before, so I'll lay the blame squarely at the feet of inker John Calnan. 

I love how depressed Vicki gets after watching her crooked boss blow his brains out. A couple of gin and tonics and Bruce Wayne on her arm, and no problem. Though it might look like Colonel Blimpie is a sign of the times (Disgraced Nazi? Crazed Russkie?), the second part of this loser will show otherwise. And someone please tell me what the hell Vicki Vale is wearing. Was this around the time that Dan Haggerty was influencing women's fashion?

Jack: It doesn't get much worse than this, does it? The heavy Calnan inks destroy most of Don Newton's pencils and make this look like a 23-page backup feature. Nothing much happens in this "book-length thriller" and I was dreading the "to be continued" at the end that promises more of Colonel Blimp. At least they got Jim Aparo to draw a good cover, which reminds me of a cover by Neal Adams from Batman 219 (February 1970).

Detective Comics #519

"...Like a Dreadnought in the Sky!"
Story by Gerry Conway & Paul Kupperberg
Art by Don Newton & John Calnan

While Batman searches for Colonel Blimp, Robin plays a hunch and flies to the Arctic in the Batplane, where he stumbles on the missing battleship and submarine. Once Robin wakes up the slumbering sailors and motivates them, they ready their weapons for a Blimp return. Once the bad guys arrive and exit the zeppelin, the sailors surround them and take them prisoner.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Colonel Blimp discovers his Arctic retreat has been captured just as the Dark Knight boards the villain's balloon. Blimp gets the drop on the Caped Crusader and holds our hero at gunpoint long enough to explain his origin. You see, Blimp's father was a Navy man who believed in the dirigible project of the 1930s, only to be cast away and disregarded by his superiors. The scorn was too much for Daddy Blimp and he "died a broken man." Showing that he is a true superhero, Batman does not fall asleep during the oratory but, in fact, works out a very clever plan to get himself out of this jam. Bats uses a cylinder of hydrogen to ignite Blimp's cigarette and the distraction allows him to deliver a left uppercut to the 10th-tier villain's jaw, thus making the skies safe again.

Co-starring Georgie Jessel as the brilliant commander

Not that Gerry fills in many of the particulars, but just how fast is this zeppelin? How far is it to the Arctic from Gotham? You see where I'm going with this? I realize there are at least three zeps (one is blown up by Blimpie early in the story), but the balloon carrying all that extra weight has to fly quite a ways (and then back again!) to drop its load. Off the top of my head (wink wink), I'd say that the maximum speed of a zep is 84 mph and the distance between Gotham and the Arctic is 2600 miles. To paraphrase one of Gerry's lines in this installment, the logic is as slippery as "a fat man on a banana peel!"

Colonel Blimp's origin is so maudlin and threadbare, you can almost imagine Gerry throwing up his arms and saying "Screw it! The story's a dog anyway. This character will never be used again (and he was right) so why should I bother brainstorming?" So the Navy guys on the frozen battleship had to have the Boy Wonder arrive to remind them they had big guns aboard and could defend themselves? Doesn't give you much confidence in the Earth-1 militia, does it? All around, the Colonel Blimpie saga is a 40-page wet noodle.

Jack: Another nice cover by Aparo tricks kids into buying this off the newsstand, only to get home and discover it contains 17 more pages of Colonel Blimp! Gerry must really have loved Led Zeppelin to come up with this ridiculous premise. Len Wein is credited as the editor of this story, and I hope his tenure improves starting next issue. At least Newton's art looks better than in Batman. I don't know why Gerry decided to name his villain after a British film character, but he shouldn't have bothered.

"...When Velvet Paws Caress the Ground!"
Story by Barbara Randall
Art by Trevor von Eeden & Rodin Rodriguez

Batgirl squelches the computer crime of the Velvet Tiger but the Tiger's brother, Ward, aids in her getaway. Frustrated, Babs hopes she'll get another crack at the villainess soon. She will.

Peter: I liked "When Velvet Paws...," while admitting the lack of a cohesive story and general confusion. There's too little space to breathe. The Velvet Tiger is an edgy character, not quite full-on insane like the Joker but still a bit unhinged. She doesn't really present much of a threat in the few panels she's presented in but you get the feeling there's something exciting to be done with the Tiger. The art is rough, vivid here and scratchy there, but I prefer it to the drab and lifeless doodles we got in the Blimpie arc. 

Jack: The story is unfocused and the art is uneven but, yes, it's better than Col. Blimp. The other good thing about this Batgirl backup is that it kept the lead story from being longer.

The Brave and the Bold #191

"Only Angels Have Wings"
Story by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn
Art by Jim Aparo

What's a Batman to think when the Joker murders the Penguin on live TV? The Clown Prince of Crime summons the Dark Knight to his side and insists he was framed; the old adversaries are forced to team up to find the Penguin's killer. The funeral is being held at St. Vitus Cathedral and, wouldn't you know it, the Joker exposes the very-much alive Penguin, who is masquerading as a nun. He had planned to kidnap a cardinal for ransom, but his plot is foiled by the very un-Dynamic Duo, and the Joker helps Batman put the Feathered Fiend behind bars.

Peter: This is really dumb, juvenile material. It's a lucky thing DC decided to develop multiple universes as there's no way you can convince me this is the same Joker who threw a wheelchair-bound man into a shark tank or would soon paralyze Barbara Gordon. This is the Adam West-Universe Joker and Penguin. Not my cup of tea. A story that sees Batman team up with a loon who has murdered dozens is of no interest to me, sorry.

Peter's next car
Jack: Peter! Lighten up! Look closely at the flower in my button-hole and... oh, never mind. I thought this story was a lot of fun, easily the best so far this month after the two-parter with Colonel Blimp and the weak Batgirl entry. I have no problem with the Joker of the '70s who had his own comic and was an anti-hero of sorts; I'm just happy to see two classic villains after all of the second-tier bad guys we've had to put up with in recent issues. I admit that Batman was not at his best in this story; it strains credulity to think he'd try to pick the lock on the trunk of a car and not notice it's the Joker's car, or that he would fail to appreciate that the Penguin's corpse in the funeral home was a wax dummy, but I don't care. With the great Aparo art, I really got a kick out of "Only Angels Have Wings."

"Dead Man's Bluff!"
Story by Cary Burkett
Art by Dan Spiegle

Blaine Sheffield's wife intervenes and prevents the Butcher from killing Nemesis. Nemesis fights back and the Butcher makes a run for it; Mrs. Sheffield tips Nemesis off to her husband's location, so Nemesis disguises himself as the Butcher and tricks Sheffield into a confession. Mrs. Sheffield isn't thrilled that her hubby will have to turn state's evidence. 

Peter: What little action this chapter of "Nemesis" contains is ground to a halt by some really clunky expository in its mid-section. Jack and I berate the art of Dan Spiegle on a bi-weekly basis but this chapter might contain Spiegle's all-time worst art. Characters' features and faces are indistinguishable from each other. It's a foggy mess.

Jack: Hang in there--only one more issue of Spiegle's art before the big finale, which Aparo draws. The best thing about this story, other than the fact that it only runs six pages, is the lettering on the title, presumably by Adam Kubert.

von Eeden
Batman Annual #8

"The Messiah of the Crimson Sun"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Trevor von Eeden

Every man, woman, and child in Shinn Corners dies a horrible death, their skin fried right off the bone. But who is at the bottom of this act of terrorism? It's the creepy robed figure identifying himself as the Messiah of the Crimson Sun (as opposed to the Mauve Sun or Alabaster Sun). With the aid of an army general, Batman sends Robin deep undercover into the Crimson Sun cult. 

At the same time, Batman discovers that the Messiah's plan is to poison Gotham's water supply with the same toxin that killed the population of Shinn Corners. The Dark Knight busts into the water purification plant and engages in fisticuffs with the Messiah's henchmen. The numbers vastly favor the Crimson Cult and it seems as though Batman will fail. One of the thugs opens the water valve and is about to dump the poison into the pipes when shots ring out and the man is dead. Batman looks up to discover that his savior, and the savior of Gotham, is none other than Talia Al Ghul!

Bats snickers and tells Talia he knew who was behind the whole plot in the first place, since the thugs wore the trademarked logo of Ra's Al Ghul on their outfits. Bats thanks his ex-girlfriend (who clearly still holds a torch for our hero, incessantly referring to Bats as "Beloved") and she agrees to assist him in taking down her father. But Ra's has blasted off in a rocket ship to a floating space station just outside Earth's atmosphere, with Robin as an uninvited guest.

Bats looks to the general once more and borrows a space shuttle to attempt a Boy Wonder rescue. With the aid of Talia, Bats sneaks onto the space station and confronts Ra's, who explains his complicated plot to destroy Earth (something about cleansing the world with the aid of the sun). Bats and his long-time enemy duke it out for over an hour while Talia rescues Robin; they both scurry to the room where the two foes are having their workout and Talia tries to talk her father out of his evil plan. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the general has decided the time has come to blast the space station to smithereens, whether Bats and Robin have escaped or not. The missiles hit their target and the station begins to break apart. Ra's hops in an emergency evacuation vehicle and speeds away but Batman, showing more than just a little bit of his precognitive power, had monkeyed with the controls of the vehicle and sends Ra's hurtling towards the sun. Back on Earth, Talia calls off the wedding plans. "Oh well," sighs the Caped Crusader, "there's always Vicki Vale!"

 A big disappointment, considering this is the first Batman Annual since 1964. If you're going to offer up (what the splash claims to be) the "longest single adventure ever of the dread Batman," you better make sure you've got a solid plot and a story that will hold the reader's attention for 40+ pages. "The Messiah of the Crimson Sun" does not contain either. It's a bloated, nonsensical mess. I'm not sure why Ra's decided he had to set up this elaborate con with the Crimson Sun cult. Why bother with the subterfuge when the truth will come out eventually and, it seems, the whole idea was to force a showdown with his wanna-be son-in-law?

Talia's emotional swings are annoying. She wants to kill her father. She doesn't want to kill her father. "He's out of control." "He's just misunderstood." And Robin's big role as infiltrator is a joke. He's brought before "the Messiah" disguised as the only survivor of the Shinn Corners massacre, Ra's unmasks, and Robin gulps. That's about it until the Boy Blunder shows up to watch Bats trade right crosses. The whole thing just feels like it was thrown together at the last second. That goes for the art as well. Trevor von Eeden can be very moody and atmospheric and the Batman is the perfect character to utilize that style. But I found there were far too many large panels of... nothing, really. Spaceships and posed bad guys. His version of the Dark Knight is pretty cool, reminding me of the 1940s version, but his non-cowled characters are stiff and interchangeable. I didn't dislike this as much as the two-parter in Batman and 'tec this month, but I wouldn't ever revisit it.

Jack: I disagree 100%! This is in the running for my best of 1982. Is this the same Trevor von Eeden who drew the Batgirl backup strip? This art is terrific! The page layouts are dynamic and, as I read this issue, I kept thinking that von Eeden's work is the link to the future, since Batman artists of the 2000s are drawing the Dark Knight in a similar fashion. The story has more adult themes than anything we read in the three regular monthly books, and I was not expecting Ra's al Ghul to be behind the plot. The story creates a real sense of urgency as the time ticks by. These are 42 thrilling pages!

Next Week...
Another masterpiece from 
Stenstrum and Corben!