Monday, July 31, 2023

Batman in the 1980s, Issue 90: November 1989


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

Batman #441

"A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter Three: Parallel Lines!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

While Two-Face sits in his lair pondering his next crime, Batman sits atop a stone gargoyle and ponders the same thing. Meanwhile, at Stately Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson introduces Alfred to Tim Drake, the thirteen-year-old who has deduced the secret identities of the Dynamic Duo. While Tim explains how he did it and tells Dick that Batman needs his old Robin back, the Caped Crusader drives to Hawk Bridge and rescues two boys named Wright from certain death. Two-Face is busy robbing a casino and, at Wayne Manor, Dick shows Tim the Batcave and heads off as Nightwing to save the day. Batman is back on a stone gargoyle (in the pouring rain), wondering how to get over Jason's death; Two-Face's old-time radio is talking to him; and Alfred may think he has a new Robin on his hands!

"Oh, and my name's not Jeff..."
Oh man, I want my thirty minutes back. This is a sappy retread with art that reminds me of the bland, lifeless junk Marvel pumped out in the mid-1980s. No flair, no choreography, no surprise, no imagination, as if no thought were put into this thing at all. I've said it before and I'll say it probably until the end of my Batman-blogging days: they just killed off a Robin... what's the hurry with filling the void? Will fans love a precocious tot (who changes sizes from panel to panel) as much as they loved snot-nosed rebel, Jason Todd? The opening, with Two-Face and the Batman thinking along the same thoughts about every move, is eye-rollingly bad, but the "maybe I should blow up the Twin Towers" thought balloon is chilling in a Monday Morning Quarterback way. The only highlight is when Dick calls Tim by another name. Great editing there, Denny! It looks as though the Batman title will end the 1980s with a whimper. 

Jack: I had the same reaction as though much of this issue felt like padding. Aparo and DeCarlo draw Dick Grayson at Wayne Manor so that he looks just like Bruce Wayne, which threw me for a minute, as did the panel where Tim is called Jeff. Wolfman rehashes the death of the Flying Graysons yet again. In all, it's a confusing issue where the story treads water and a big development (a potential new Robin) is buried in the mess.

The story continues to crawl along at a slow pace in The New Titans #61, where Alfred and Tim keep talking and Nightwing hooks back up with Batman, only to have the two of them buried under rubble when Two-Face blows up a house. The issue ends with a closeup of the Robin outfit in the Batcave and Tim insisting that he and Alfred have to do something. If Alfred puts on the Batsuit in the next issue of Batman, I'll be pleased!

Detective Comics #608

"Anarky in Gotham City, Part One: Letters to the Editor"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

There seems to be a new costumed vigilante prowling the streets of Gotham and this one isn't as friendly as the Batman. Calling himself Anarky, the masked man targets those who live outside the law and somehow get away with it, using angry letters to the editor of the Gotham Gazette to select his victims.

His first victim is drug-smuggling punk rocker, Johnny Vomit, who is electrocuted in an alley after he performs at a concert (a nice old woman had complained of the noise from the nearby heavy metal club). When the Batman arrives, the only clue he finds is the clipped letter to the editor and the words "I deal drugs, I kill kids" scrawled on the wall above Johnny's head.

No rest for the wicked, as they say, so it's off to the Bates Chemical Factory for Anarky. There he finds Mr. Bates (the subject of a particularly nasty letter written by one of those Gotham tree-huggers who was angry about all the chemicals found in the city's drinking water) working another long night. Anarky zaps Bates.

The next day, a video hits the airwaves starring Gotham's new hero/anti-hero, warning wrongdoers that, if they continue their evil ways, they'll get what Bates and Vomit got. The TV audience has its breakfast ruined when Anarky forces Bates to drink some of his own chemicals. Bruce Wayne is among those viewers and he lets Alfred know that, while Anarky's heart is in the right place, the madness must stop.

I was reminded of Alan Moore's classic V for Vendetta, not so much in script but in the design of the Anarky costume. The idea of another vigilante, one who doles out justice just a shade more violent than the Caped Crusader, has been done a thousand times before (maybe even a thousand times in the 1980s Batman titles we've read), but Alan brings a bit of humor and wit to the old cliche. There's a sequence that ends the issue, where we see a split-screen of Alfred and Bruce enjoying a cup of Joe while the TV plays the offensive video and, on the other side, the Mike Machin family doing the same. What this new character has to do with Anarky remains to be seen. As I've said a few times already (maybe even more times than there have been "rival vigilantes in Gotham" storylines), I am really going to miss the clever scripts and snazzy art of the Breyfogle/Grant team.

Jack: In spite of the usual hilarity that ensues when comic book writers attempt to write rock lyrics ("My brain's fried in gasoline, ya know what I mean"), I liked this issue, which improved once Johnny Vomit left the scene. The bit about the old lady using a tough name--"Dave Stang"--to write her letter to the editor was clever, and it seems likely to me that Mike Machin will turn out to be Anarky. We've only committed to reading one more issue of Detective for this project but I may have to read on to the conclusion of this series.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1

"Shaman, Part One"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Ed Hannigan & John Beatty

Several years ago, Bruce Wayne was climbing a snowy Alaskan peak with top bounty hunter Willy Doggett when they tracked down a criminal named Thomas Woodley, who shot Doggett and nearly killed Wayne before falling to his death. Bruce was left alone without a coat or a pack in a blizzard, but instead of freezing to death he was rescued by a "Shaman" and nursed back to health after being told a folktale involving a bat.

Bruce promises his pretty nurse not to tell anyone the Bat-tale when he returns to civilization. Back at Wayne Manor he heads out for his first night as a crimefighter, which doesn't go so well. When the bat crashes through the window he recalls the Alaskan bat fable and, the next night, heads out to fight crime dressed as Batman. He runs into some hoods robbing the Thompkins clinic and things go much more smoothly until a young female patient stabs herself in the heart when she sees the fearsome Dark Knight.

Peter: Despite Denny's hyperbolic intro on the inside back page, explaining to us why this new title is important ("DC's first comic created to present separate stories by different creative teams..." doesn't sound all that much different from the two regular Bat-titles that spent most of the 80s with a carousel of "talent"), this is just another rehash/reboot/regurgitation of the Bat-origin. Since Frank Miller's "Year One" was only a few years prior, Denny and artists Hannigan and Beatty made sure to drop in a couple of clumsy nods to that milestone while reminding us about that alley and that bat that flew in through the window. The art is crude but not in a charming, Mazzucchelli way; it's just crude. The story stretches belief, even for a funny book. You can't tell me that Bruce Wayne, despite all his training, survived thirty below in a varsity sweater and khakis. It just ain't possible. But I guess it must be, since Bruce survived thanks to the "Shaman" and his pretty granddaughter (gotta love that the playboy in Wayne comes to the surface even in freezing weather) to return to Gotham and tangle with Selina Kyle (it's at this point when Hannigan turns the Mazzucchelli up to 10) and meet that brave window-crashing bat.

I read the first six arcs years ago with an eye to shaping my notes into an article for bare*bones, so I know the stories get better (after this arc, that is), but this first installment is a major disappointment. Denny, in his intro, explains that this new title is so important that DC felt it deserved a second cover and the "four colors are just for fun." We know better, don't we? That direct market, becoming so vital to the comic companies by the late 1980s, was just entering the "variant" age where multiple covers meant multiple purchases. Skip all four.

Jack: I have to disagree with you on this one, pal. I thought the art was excellent and I liked the way bits and pieces of the origin story were welded together to make a seamless whole. Of course, whenever I see Bruce Wayne in the snow climbing a mountain, I figure Ra's al Ghul is just around the corner, so that was my first surprise when Ra's failed to show. I liked the single panel with Selina Kyle, though it reminded me of the Catwoman limited series that I tried to read not long ago (from the '80s) but gave up in utter confusion. I liked seeing Leslie Thompkins, who has become part of Batman's origin story but who has been around since the O'Neil/Adams days. Best of all was the art--I am a big Ed Hannigan fan. I think his work is better than what we're seeing from Aparo or Breyfogle in the monthly books as of late 1989.

Next Week...
Jack and Peter bid adieu
to the 1980s!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Frank Gabrielson Part One-Reward to Finder [3.6]

by Jack Seabrook

Frank Gabrielson (1910-1980) wrote two teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents during the show's third season. Born in New York City, he began performing on the Broadway stage and writing shows in 1934. He continued on Broadway until 1941, then in 1944 he switched to writing for the movies and worked on screenplays until 1946. By 1949, he had begun writing for television, where he had the most success. He was the head writer for Mama, a popular series adapted from the 1948 film, I Remember Mama, and he wrote for various other series through 1962. Among his teleplays were four for Suspense, adapting short stories that later turned up, adapted by other writers, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Creeper," "Post Mortem," "The Monkey's Paw," and "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole." Gabrielson wrote one more screenplay for a film that was released in 1971 and he died in 1980.

*   *   *   *   *

"The love of money is the root of all evil."--1 Timothy 6:10

Frank Gabrielson
Frank Gabrielson's first teleplay for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "Reward to Finder," which aired on CBS on Sunday, November 10, 1957. The show was based on a short story called "Dangerous Money," by F. J. Smith, which was first published in the October 1956 issue of Manhunt.

The story begins as John, who works as a mechanic at a processing plant, comes home to Minnie, his wife of twenty-six years, with a surprise: he found an expensive wallet on the way home from work. She opens it to find thirty-two $100 bills and imagines the things she could buy with this windfall. A driver's license identifies the owner as a Mr. Crukshank from Rhode Island and Minnie wonders if there is a reward for returning the wallet to its owner.

After supper, John sees an ad in the newspaper offering a reward and Minnie imagines buying a new dress, but her husband tells her that she would be arrested on the spot if she paid with a $100 bill. John hides the wallet and grows "more sullen, secretive and short-tempered"; he is determined to keep the money and enjoys counting it in private, certain that it will ensure a secure future. Minnie walks in on him while he is counting and demands her share; she grabs a bill and he roughly grabs her wrist.

John tells Minnie to make a pot of coffee and she realizes that he has no intention of spending any of their newfound wealth. She mixes almost half a bottle of sleeping pills in with the coffee, aware of the label's warning that an overdose may be fatal. He arrives in the kitchen and kills her with a blow to the back of her head from a heavy, iron paperweight. He puts her body in the bathtub to make it look like she fell, hit her head, and drowned, then settles down to drink his coffee, unaware that it will kill him.

"Reward to Finder" was
first published here
"Dangerous Money" is a simple, two-character story that shows the effect that greed can have on poor, desperate people. John and Minnie are believable and the conclusion is satisfying; they are each rewarded for their greed.

Retitled "Reward to Finder" for television, the short story is transformed into an outstanding half-hour by a great script, superb direction, and fine performances. John and Minnie have been rechristened Carl and Anna Gaminsky. The TV show opens with a scene not in the short story: there is a closeup of Carl's legs as he walks along the sidewalk, his pants filthy and worn. He stops at a sewer grate to pick up a used newspaper and sees the wallet, which he also picks up. We see him open it and glance around furtively before tucking it inside his coat. The scene then dissolves to a shot of Anna doing the laundry by hand in their dark, dirty home; these initial shots make it clear that the couple are poor and desperate.

Anna notices right away that Carl seems unusually cheerful; she asks if it's due to the bottles he picked up on the way home (he can turn them in for four cents) or if he stopped off at the bar. He laughs and she self-consciously smooths her hair, afraid that he is laughing at her. Kaminsky works as a janitor and resents his boss and the tenants where he works; he is casually cruel to his wife, barking at her to "shut up," and the unspoken message is that this treatment is not unusual. Carl pulls out the wallet and shows it to Anna; now there are fifty-two $100 bills inside. Unlike the story, there is no driver's license in the wallet to identify its owner.

Anna wistfully talks about the "'beautiful things'" she sees in stores and desires a manicure set, but Carl is unsympathetic to her dreams. She seems honest, suggesting that they go to the police station or read the papers, looking for an ad to identify the wallet's owner. The Anna of the TV show is more sympathetic than her counterpart in the short story, at least in the early scenes. Anna's final act is foreshadowed when she takes a spoonful of medicine to calm her suddenly nervous stomach. She tells him that it would not be right to keep the money and makes a pathetic plea to buy a manicure set for $5.95 with the reward money.

Oscar Homolka as Carl
Unlike the story, where there are only two characters, a third person now enters the TV show: a policeman rings the doorbell and asks for money. Carl reaches into his pocket and begins to pull out the wallet until the policeman says that he's raising money for the Policeman's Benevolent Fund. In a closeup, we see Carl's hand quickly put the wallet back in his pocket and reach into another pocket for a donation.

Anna asks the policeman what to do if you find a lost item, but Carl interrupts and says that it was someone else who found something. The policeman says that failure to return a lost item is against the law and, while Carl responds that he'll tell the other man, we suspect that he has no intention to give back the wallet or the money. In the next scene, Anna is reading the paper and finds an ad offering a "generous reward to finder." Carl is not moved, insisting that the reward will be inadequate. As they sit together at the kitchen table, Carl says something that foreshadows the show's tragic conclusion: "'One thing I'll say about you, Anna--you make a good cup of coffee.'"

The next day, Anna waits for Carl to come home and admires her hand, thinking of the manicure set that she will buy with the reward, but when he comes home, he tells her that he got no reward. After talking Anna out of calling the wallet's owner to complain, Carl sneaks up the shadowy stairs to the attic, a look of fear and mistrust on his face. He locks himself in the attic, which is cluttered with junk and lit by a small, overhead lamp, and tiptoes over to a spot where he hides the wallet beneath a floorboard, chuckling to himself.

Jo Van Fleet as Anna
Carl arrives home one day over two weeks later carrying his usual stack of newspapers (which he saves to turn in for a few pennies--there are piles of them tied up with string in the attic) and what looks like a wheel from a baby carriage. It is details like this, which are not spotlighted but which appear in the background, that lend an air of authenticity to the scenes in "Reward to Finder." Carl and Anna are in the same socio-economic class as Ralph and Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners, which ended its run a year before this episode, but they are miserable. Anna complains about their home, her dirty stove, and her rough hands; they yell at each other and he retreats to his attic room.

Carl angrily gives Anna a piece of newspaper to clean the stove, unaware that it contains another ad offering a reward for the wallet's return. Suddenly realizing that Carl lied to her, Anna quietly mounts the stairs in another shadowy shot and looks through the keyhole, where she sees Carl counting the money. They argue through the closed door and she insists on her share of the money before he admits her.

In the next scene, Anna is painting her nails with her new manicure set and Carl is upset when she reveals that she opened a charge account at the store. In the following scene, Anna is overcome with excitement when Carl comes home and she shows him her new dress and the furniture she bought. Perhaps most pathetic is the price tag that still hangs from her dress! Carl angrily slaps her hand and leaves the house.

Claude Akins
Things go from bad to worse in the following scene, where Anna displays the new fur coat she bought. Unlike the short story, in the TV show Anna begins to purchase things on credit, determined at last to enjoy what she considers the good things in life. While Carl wants to live like a miser and save the money, Anna wants to live for today and spend it. He insists she return the coat and she responds by threatening to call the wallet's owner or the police. A screaming fight ensues, but when Anna tells Carl that he does not have the nerve to hit her, she slaps him in the face. She picks up the phone to call the police and he escapes to his attic sanctuary; Anna caresses her fur coat and hangs up the phone before turning Carl in to the police.

She walks into the kitchen, still wearing the fur, and spikes Carl's coffee with a fatal dose of medicine while he frantically counts the money in the attic and holds a heavy statue that Anna bought, the expression on his face making his intent clear. She brings the coffee to him in the attic and, among the shadows, he murders her in a brutal shot, bringing the statue down several times on her head. There is no attempt to cover up his crime by putting her body in the bathtub; instead, he takes a crumpled $100 bill from her hand, smooths it, and picks up the cup of coffee she brought him, taking a sip and repeating his earlier line: "'One thing I got to say about you, Anna--you sure make a good cup of coffee.'" The scene fades out on his face as he smiles to himself, unaware that he is about to die.

"Reward to Finder" improves on its source by making good use of the medium of television. Oscar Homolka, as Carl, is a poor, hardworking man who has never seen money like this before and who is loath to give it up. His performance is superb and he is utterly convincing as a man who has been down on his luck for so long that it has become routine. Even better is Jo Van Fleet as Anna, especially in the show's early scenes, where she makes the viewer sympathize with her downtrodden character. Later in the show, when she begins to buy clothes and furnishings on credit, her character becomes less sympathetic, and her final decision to poison her husband is understandable.

The direction by James Neilson is outstanding, keeping the story moving along briskly even though it mostly involves only two characters and limited settings. Claude Akins makes a brief appearance as the policeman who comes to the door to raise funds.

As Carl, Oscar Homolka (1898-1978) makes his first of three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Born in Vienna, Homolka served in the Austro-Hungarian Army in WWI and began his career on the Austrian stage before leaving Germany when Hitler came to power. He was on screen from 1926 to 1976 and his films included Hitchcock's Sabotage (1936), Ball of Fire (1941), and I Remember Mama (1948). He was on TV from 1951 to 1976 and he was also seen on Thriller.

Jo Van Fleet (1914-1996) plays Anna. She was only 43 years old at the time, sixteen years younger than Oscar Homolka, though in her career she often played characters who were older than she was. She won a Tony Award in 1954 for "The Trip to Bountiful" and an Oscar in 1956 for East of Eden. She was a member of the Actors Studio, appeared in many TV episodes and movies, including Cool Hand Luke (1967), and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Shopping for Death."

Claude Akins (1926-1994) plays the policeman. Akins served in the Army in WWII and acted on screen from 1953 to 1994, appearing in such films as Rio Bravo (1959) and on TV in shows including The Twilight Zone and The Night Stalker. He was also another episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Place of Shadows," but he was best-known as Sheriff Lobo in the TV series B.J. and the Bear (1978-1979) and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1979-1981).

The author of the short story, F. J. Smith, had one other story adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("One More Mile to Go," broadcast earlier in 1957) and the FictionMags Index lists 15 short stories that he wrote, but I have not found any biographical details about the author. The fifteen stories appeared mostly in mystery magazines between 1956 to 1960, with two more in 1966 and 1967; "One More Mile to Go" is the earliest one listed. In Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock bio, he lists Smith as "George F. J. Smith," and this is also reflected in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, but I have found no other source for this added first name--both the short story in Manhunt and the onscreen credit for the television adaptation list the author as "F. J. Smith."

"Reward to Finder" may be viewed online here, or the DVD may be purchased here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here. Listen to Annie and Kathryn's discussion of the episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story, "Dangerous Money"!



Galactic Central,

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



"Reward to Finder." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 6, CBS, 10 Nov. 1957.

Smith, F. J. "Dangerous Money." Manhunt, October 1956, 122-128.


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "My Brother Richard" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Frank Gabrielson concludes with a look at "The Foghorn," starring Barbara Bel Geddes and Michael Rennie!

Monday, July 24, 2023

Batman in the 1980s Issue 89: October 1989


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

Batman #440

"A Lonely Place of Dying, Chapter One: Suspects"
Story by George Perez & Marv Wolfman
Art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo

Batman fights a masked villain named the Ravager high atop a dam and barely escapes with his life. Elsewhere in Gotham City, a mysterious man sits by a vintage radio, receiving instructions to kill Batman. The Dark Knight isn't doing so well in the aftermath of his big dam battle; Alfred tends to his wounds and tells him he's tired of playing nurse, but Batman ignores his butler's good advice and heads out for more punishment.

At the opera, a rich mobster is told that two troublesome gang members will be wiped out the next morning at the Zwei Brothers Warehouse, with Batman's death thrown in for good measure. Elsewhere, a mysterious man watches Teen Titans headquarters and wonders where Dick Grayson/Nightwing could be. Batman appears at the warehouse and catches two thieves stealing books; he makes short work of them and walks away in good health, much to the disappointment of the mysterious man behind all of this--Two-Face!

Batman visits Gordon to ask about any leads to Harvey Dent's whereabouts, while Starfire tells an inquisitive visitor that Nightwing flew the coop. That visitor then deduces that Dick Grayson has returned to the Haly Circus, which is on the verge of closing.

Peter: Maybe it's that we've had enough Two-Face lately to last us a while or maybe Alan Grant has jaded me; whatever the reason, this latest Marv-sterpiece leaves me (like the last) bored and with wandering attention. To be fair, it's not just Marv's script but also the dreary graphics. Oh, don't get me wrong, Aparo fans, it's not awful in a Tom Mandrake sort of way. It's just ho-hum. Again, that might be due to my excitement over what's going on in the other title right now, but I certainly don't have any motivation to find out what Harvey's latest doomed-to-fail scheme might be.

The New Titans #60
Jack: Peter, you're the Marvel expert, so tell me, what happened to Marv Wolfman? Didn't he write some good Dracula and Crisis comics? "Suspects" is the first part of a five-part story and I really don't have a strong grasp on what's going on. I thought the art was fine but nothing special, though I'd take a story drawn by Aparo and DeCarlo over one drawn by Broderick and Bair any day of the week. I guess I have to read The New Titans #60 to keep up with the plot!

In part two, which appears in the Titans issue, the mysterious person seeking Dick Grayson finds him at the circus and turns out to be a boy. Unexpectedly, the boy helps Dick solve a murder at the circus and knows more about Dick/Robin/Nightwing and Bruce/Batman than he should. The boy tells Dick that Batman needs his help and shows him photographs he took of the battle with the Ravager at the dam. Who is this boy and how does he know what he knows? To be continued in Batman 441! The Titans issue is more straightforward than the Batman issue and features sharp art by George Perez that makes it more enjoyable to read.

Detective Comics # 606

"The Mud Pack, Part Three: Killer Clay!"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

Robin appears before the eyes of a shocked Batman on the steps of Gotham Plaza. Of course, it can't be Robin, rationalizes the Dark Knight, since Jason is dead and Dick is Nightwing. So, it must be Clayface 4 (a/k/a Lady Clayface/Sondra Fuller), who can absorb the abilities and appearance of whomever she chooses. Batman decks her. 

Unfortunately, there's still Clayface 3 (Preston Payne) to deal with, and he's outfitted with a super-strength gizmo that allows him to overpower the Batman, Once Clayface 4 awakens from her snooze, she transforms into a giant bird and flies away, her enemy in her claws. She takes him back to the theater, where Basil Karlo, a/k/a Clayface l'Originale, is waiting. The two tie up our hero and Karlo has Clay 4 tap into his bat-brain, pulling from it his greatest fears.

A little Frank Robbins in there, no?
When he awakens, the Batman is forced to watch a giant movie screen projecting those evils visually: Jason's murder, Joker's attack on Barbara Gordon, the Batman's rogue gallery resurfacing to drive him insane. Bat-Mite. Across town, Looker is pow-wowing with Commissioner Gordon, soaking up all the facts on the case and trying to pinpoint the Caped Crusader's location. Looker visits the Gotham Plaza and finds clues that lead her to the theater. 

Meanwhile, Basil Karlo offers champagne to Clayface 4 in celebration of the job they've done. The drink is laced with a knockout drug and she quickly collapses. While she's out, Karlo takes a vial of her blood and then does the same with the slumbering Preston Payne (Clayface 3, for those who need a scoresheet). He then scurries out of the theater. Payne awakens, compares notes with Clay 4, and the two develop a fondness for each other just before they set out to find and kill Karlo. Looker, having found the theater, stumbles upon the bound Batman, who now appears hopelessly insane.

Peter: While not quite the powder keg the first two chapters were, Chapter 3 is still very enjoyable and sets us up for a heck of a finale. Karlo is a fascinating character, maybe even more insane than Joker, and I love that he stabs everyone in the back. Not sure why all the crap that has been floating around in the Batman's head for months would suddenly drive him... um, batty... but it makes for a great final panel. I'm sure we'll find next issue that he's not quite as crazy as he looks. Norm Breyfogle continues to dazzle and, if I didn't know better, he finds places to plant homages to previous Bat-artists. I can even see some Frank Robbins in a few of those panels. A much-constrained Robbins, but still...

Jack: These writers sure are getting a lot of mileage out of Jason's death and Batman's PTSD, don't you think? Not to mention the constant replaying of the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It seems like we replay one or both scenes in practically every issue. What would the writers have done if the readers had voted to keep Jason alive? Breyfogle has fun with Batman's nightmare and seems to be at his best when depicting extreme figures and expressions. Once again, Alan Grant's humor is most welcome, such as the panel where Clayface 3 tells Clayface 4, "'Don't cry. You'll make your face run...'"

Detective Comics #607

"The Mud Pack, Part Four: The China Clay Syndrome"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell

Looker finds a mentally-deteriorating Batman in the theater and does a quick stroll through the hero's brain, cleaning out the rough stuff and bringing him back to sanity. Returned to the real world, he uses his detecting skills to accurately guess what happened while he was watching his own private movie. He and Looker head out, searching for Basil Karlo.

Speaking of the devil, Karlo has landed at Gotham General and holds a dagger to the throat of Dr. Lowell, threatening to spill some of the Doc's blood on the lab floor if he doesn't cooperate. Karlo orders Lowell to mix the various Clayface blood samples and then inject them into Karlo's vein. Lowell warns him that the results are unpredictable, but Karlo insists. 

The Batman has arrived at the hospital but is told there's no Clayface of any kind on the grounds and that blood expert, Dr. Lowell, is alone in his lab. As Bats exits the building he looks up and sees two shadows at Lowell's window (yes, I'm sure he carries a map of the hospital's suites). 

Karlo's transformation is immediate, stretching out like a clay Mr. Fantastic and burning Lowell to death. The Batman bursts in, but Karlo (who has dubbed himself "The Ultimate Clayface") is too strong and it's only when Looker shows up and searches through Karlo's brainpan that the fight evens out. In the end, Looker's brain-visit "overloads" Karlo and his powers become uncontrollable. Bats pushes him out the window and Clayface burns through the street. The Batman dryly suggests they call China to warn them of the Ultimate Clayface's arrival. Meanwhile, across town, Preston Payne (Clay 3) and Sondra Fuller (Clay 4) enjoy the sunrise and a snog, beginning their new life together. 

A wonderful capper to a thoroughly entertaining arc, one of the best of the 1980s. Lots of bits work here: Looker's sudden power shutdown in front of a couple of security guards ("Uh... this is a little embarrassing... but could one of you call me a cab?"); Batman's insanely detailed verbal recreation of what happened in the other room between the Clayfaces, all derived from a sip of wine; Looker realizing she doesn't have enough to pay the cabbie; and the peaceful climax with two "Most Wanted" criminals enjoying a newfound and completely inexplicable love (I don't even want to think of how they'll, you know, consummate their passion on their Clay-filled honeymoon) while a battle they once had an interest in rages miles away. That fade-out reminds us just how good a writer Alan Grant is. Good stuff happens even to the baddest people. Give me more!

Jack: The panel where Karlo transforms into the ultimate Clayface is cool and I appreciate Grant's humor, especially Batman's crack about informing the Chinese authorities. I like how the end leaves doors open for Clayface (where will his burning descent end?), Batman and Looker (will they work together again?) and, especially, the two Clayfaces, newly in love.

Secret Origins Special #1

"Original Sin"
Story by Neil Gaiman
Art by Mike Hoffman & Kevin Nowlan

A TV news crew decides to do a story telling the criminals' side of things, despite a nocturnal visit from Batman to the producer warning him that it's a bad idea.

Jack: The frame story for this issue is written by Neil Gaiman, but it doesn't set things up very well and even has one character comment on how Batman's villains are misunderstood, something Alan Grant satirized in Detective 607. After Bolland's gorgeous cover, the interior art is sub-par.

"The Killing Peck"
Story by Alan Grant
Art by Sam Kieth

The Penguin has captured the man who bullied him as a boy and plans to torture and kill him in return. Timely intervention by Batman saves the crook's life.

Jack: Unusual art that is almost Corbenesque marks this odd origin story for the Penguin. He was a timid lad with a long nose whose mother made him carry an umbrella to protect him from the pneumonia that killed his father. He loved pets and was cruelly bullied, so he became a super-villain. Perhaps the strangest passage is when he trains as a fighter and bodybuilder in order to beat up the bully, only to find his beloved pets killed.

"When is a Door"
Story by Neil Gaiman
Art by Bernie Mireault & Matt Wagner

The TV news crew visits the Riddler and tries to learn his origin story, but he babbles on and gives them nothing but entertainment!

Jack: The art is even more amateurish/underground comix-like in this segment, but it fits the story perfectly! The Riddler is going bald and what hair he has left is grey. He laments the good old days and lists several villains from the TV show before asking, "'Where did they all go?'" Gaiman has fun with this story and the closest thing we get to an origin story is a memory that the Riddler shares about when his father asked him a riddle.

Story by Mark Verheiden
Art by Pat Broderick & Dick Giordano

When a crook named Perry kidnaps Harvey Dent's wife, Two-Face springs into action. Grace Dent later tells the story, and Two-Face's origin, to the TV news crew.

The TV news report is broadcast and, after a cross-section of citizens of Gotham City say what they think of the villains, the Joker passes by the host of the show and gasses him, leaving the man laughing uncontrollably and with a big smile plastered on his face.

Jack: Unfortunately, the recently over-exposed Two-Face is trotted out again and the last story is drawn by Pat Broderick; even Dick Giordano can't salvage these pencils. Two-Face's origin story is well-known, so the only thing new here is the portrayal of his loving and devoted wife.

When I saw the lineup of writers for this special issue I was intrigued, but I don't think it was worth $2.00 in 1989!

Next Week...
Legends of the Dark Knight!

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 91: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 76
December 1954 Part II
+ The Best Stories of 1954
by Peter Enfantino

Mystery Tales 24

Cover by 

“The Lady in Glass!” (a: Paul Reinman) 1/2

“Case Closed!” (a: John Forte) ★★

“Down on the Farm!” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“The Stone Heads!” ★★1/2

“Cast of Characters!” (a: Jay Scott Pike) ★★1/2

Harry the panhandler (who feigns blindness to elicit sympathetic donations) puts a penny in the machine to get his fortune told by “The Lady in Glass!” but no card is forthcoming. Through a series of very strange events, he learns (from the machine itself) that every fortune given will actually come true. To test this proclamation, Harry follows a man who has gotten a card that reads “Your bets and investments will pay off!” First stop, the horse races, where Harry bets all his dough on the same nag as the man he’s tailing. The horse pays off six grand. Harry next puts twenty grand down on an obscure uranium stock that later nets him millions. But, of course, bad luck always evens out the good when we’re dealing with a dishonest person. I could have predicted this was going to be a dog, but I did have a good laugh when Harry the panhandler brought out twenty grand in green (rather than rolls of nickels) to lay down for his Wall Street debut. 

Nikal Illivitch of the Soviet Secret Police makes it his life goal to track down any traitor, no matter how slight the sin, and bring that person to justice. While walking from his office one day, he observes a man dressed in an old Czarist uniform. Knowing that the wardrobe of ancient Russia is illegal, he tells the man to halt. Alarmed, the traitorous dog runs out into traffic and is killed. Illivitch investigates the dead man and discovers he has come through some kind of time portal from the 19th Century. The more Illivitch digs, the farther back he goes. And then poor Nikal discovers himself back in czarist Russia. “Case Closed!” is this month’s “red scare” tale and a more needlessly confusing one has never been told. There’s no reasoning behind the time switcher other than the fact that Nikal Illivitch is a mean sumbitch. 

Old man Dorn catches Kenny Throgs trying to break into his house and blackmails the young thief. If Throgs will work for free, the old farmer won’t say a word to the sheriff. But Dorn’s penny-pinching ways begin to wear Throgs down. When the farmer’s horse dies, he puts Kenny at the front of the plow and that breaks what little sanity Kenny had left. The revenge twist in “Down on the Farm!” is one of the silliest and most contrived ever cooked up for funny books.

A writer researching a book on Easter Island discovers that “The Stone Heads!” have stone bodies beneath the earth. The giants are aliens waiting for the arrival of their armada to conquer Earth. “Then the ships came!” That’s the last line of “The Stone Heads!,” an imaginative little four-pager that obviously stuck in Stan’s brain since he rewrote it five years later as “I Was Trapped by the Things on Easter Island!” Appearing in Tales to Astonish #5, the story featured art by Jack Kirby. 

The narrator of “Cast of Characters!” is a horror writer for the comics and he’s going to tell us how to concoct the perfect horror story. Take one vampire, a deformed butler, an angry mob, and a delightful climactic twist and, so he says, you’ve got a winner. And so you do! A fun wink at the faithful reader (Stan Lee has a cameo as the funny book editor), “Cast of Characters!” nails every cliche right on the money.

Strange Tales 33

Cover by 

“A Giant There Was!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★1/2

“The Schemers” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★

“Step Lively, Please” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★

“The Spy!” (a: C.A. Winter) ★★★

“What is It?” (a: Al Eadeh) ★★★★

Kevin is obsessed with a mountain top in the Himalayas, a tor that appears to have a thinking giant perched atop. Local legends claim that the giant just suddenly appeared one day after a failed expedition attempt. Knowing he can’t live without discovering the secret, Kevin talks a group of his friends into accompanying him up the mountain and they make the grueling trek to the top. One by one, Kevin’s comrades give up and wish their friend the best. Finally, alone at the top, Kevin discovers that his clothes are shrinking… or he’s getting bigger. His friends, worried, soon follow but when they reach the apex, they spy a hideous, hairy giant and flee. Kevin, now too large to make the journey back down, sits on a rock and ponders his situation. In the village below, the locals marvel at the second giant.

“A Giant There Was” is a fabulous little fantasy tale with a sense of wonder and innocence that manages to deliver on its strong build-up. Kevin is that rarity in Atlas protagonists — simply a good man with a yen for discovery. There are no mistreated wives, no treasure chests, no bank robberies in his past, nary a vicious bone in his body. So when his fate befalls him, the reader can look at it two ways: poor Kevin is a victim of his own obsession or lucky Kevin was able to glimpse “behind the curtain” and discover the origin of a great mystery. And become part of that great mystery.

Paul dresses up corpses and makes them presentable at his Uncle Edgar's funeral parlor but the old man doesn't respect his nephew, working him ragged and constantly calling him “stupid.” Is it any wonder Paul's had it with the old man? Add in a nagging wife who's tired of scrounging and saving, along with a will naming Paul as Edgar's beneficiary, and you have a recipe for murder. Paul and his wife, Della, concoct the "perfect scheme”: Della has recorded herself screaming out for help on a phonograph record and plans to use it to scare the old man to death. She'll play dead for Uncle Edgar and when it comes time to bury her, Paul will switch coffins, with the phonograph in the casket to be buried and Della in the other one, ostensibly safe and sound. The plan goes off without a hitch at first but, as the two men are shoveling dirt onto the casket, a mournful wail for help rings out from the ground. Edgar grabs his chest and pitches forward. Paul calls the authorities and then heads back to the parlor to lift the lid and let Della know they're rich only to find... oops... he forgot to switch the coffins. He's staring at a phonograph! Yep, you can see that ending coming a mile away but that final panel, with Paul's look of astonishment, is a keeper. Paul Reinman's art is nothing fancy but, by golly, it gets the job done and evokes a noir-ish feel.

“Step Lively, Please” is a silly bit of nonsense about Hans Dorfman, a tightrope walker challenged to survive a walk across the courtyard outside his window, five stories above the ground. His adversary, Kurt, swears Hans will not survive the walk. The all-too-obvious twist is revealed when one of the gaping villagers gasps, remembering that the line “that Hans is walking goes across the courtyard… to Kurt’s window!” The last panel sees Kurt cutting through the rope. Some nice Winiarski graphics here. 

In “The Spy!” those damned Russkies are at it again! This time they steal America’s brand-new super-duper top-secret explosive thingamajig right out from under our noses. The no-good Commies ship it back to Moscow for a meeting of the top brass, just waiting to see what it is they’ve stolen. A gopher interrupts the men in the middle of their unpacking to let them know the Pentagon is having an important news briefing. As the army announces they’ll be setting off their new gizmo, “the world’s most powerful remote-controlled explosive device,” the Russians hightail it for the exits. 3… 2… 1!  Most of these dumb Russkie tales (usually written by The Man) come off as simply dumb but “The Spy!” is a genuine delight, despite its preposterous climax where the United States Army appears to be so stupid they have no idea their new toy was kidnapped days before! But, hang on a moment, could our uncredited writer actually be hinting that the US knew the Soviets had our bomb and this will effectively kill the Cold War? Ponder that!

Physicist Lonzo Peer (a dead ringer for J Jonah Jameson) harbors mucho animosity towards his fellow research scientist, Jamison, as the colleague has "discovered and isolated Element 100 first!" Throwing caution to the wind, Peer vows to discover and isolate Element 101, bettering his nemesis by... um, 1. Unfortunately, Element 101 turns out to be a nasty little bastard, first cracking and breaking out of its hometown beaker and then refusing to slow down for wood, metal, or any other container. 101 seems to be rapidly reproducing itself as well. Panicking, Lonzo invites several esteemed scientists over to his lab to try to solve his dilemma and the men decide that freezing the goop is the only way to destroy it. They fly 101 up to The North Pole, dig a huge pit and bury the massive drum containing the corrosive plague. Slapping each other on the back for such a brilliant job, the men head back to civilization, not knowing that approximately 43 million miles away (as the crow flies), on Mars, Element 101 is alive and well and thriving in the cold! 

Typically, when a story begins with a jealous scientist, you usually get murder by microscope or some such nonsense. Here, the enraged scientist is introduced and then, rather than plot murder, delves right into the discovery of Element 101 and its ramifications. The story not only posits life, but also earth-like cities on Mars. “What Is It?” also has fabulously creepy art, great dialogue and captions, and a wonderfully downbeat ending. “Beware of the green slime... the ever-spreading Element 101!”  Yep, the story's another lift from the classic Lights Out radio episode, "Oxychloride X" (first aired in 1938), but the uncredited writer takes that idea and runs with it in another direction. One of my favorite Atlas sf stories from this era and part of one of the strongest single issues of Strange Tales ever published.

Uncanny Tales

“How Dry I Am” (a: Ross Andru) 1/2

“House!” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★1/2

“The Whispering Wind!” (a: John Forte) 1/2

“The Little Man” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★1/2

“History” (a: Mort Meskin & George Roussos) ★★

Ancient Indian Gods are to blame for the water turning solid in a small mountain town in “How Dry I Am,” which suffers from cliched characters and some cringe-worthy dialogue (“I’m the sheriff first and a geologist second!”). At least Ross Andru is at the top of his game (bug-eyed scientists and all).

A young couple buy an old “House!” and set to fixing it up, tearing down the grays and putting up a happy and friendly gloss. But the house doesn’t want a new face and strikes back at the couple violently. In the end, they decide to get out while they can. A simple, but genuinely disquieting funny book story, “House!” offers up no reasoning for the dwelling’s resentment to the well-meaning couple and our unease mounts as the pages turn. Mort Lawrence’s shadowy graphics have a Ghastly Graham Ingels look to them, perfect for a story about a killer house.

Reading Scientific American doubtless would be preferable to the dry and lifeless “The Whispering Wind!,” about flight engineer Ray Rynd, who discovers the wind is actually composed of fast-moving aliens. Ray is set to go to the government with his proof, but the weather creatures get wind (see what I did there?) of what the egghead has planned and send a hurricane to his house. 

There’s not much to “The Little Man” that we haven’t already seen before. The story of Mong, a “hero of the Red Army of Soviet China” who learns that all good commies are killing machines and shows his comrades that he’s taken his training very seriously, “The Little Man” comes off as nothing more than red scare propaganda, tantamount to reading a Russian funny book strip about how Americans eat their own children, but I can’t deny that the story has a brutal and powerful climax. Winiarski’s art rises above the sub-par script, especially in the chilling final panels where Mong murders his fellow communists in cold blood.

If his ancestor, King Alexis I was not assassinated one hundred years before, Alex Alexis would be king. Since monarchy is on Alex’s bucket list, the only possible solution is, of course, to climb into the time machine he has created and travel back in “History” to 19th-Century England to negate the killing. Alex gets a gun, takes the trip, and prepares to gun down the assassin. Alas, it’s all in his head and he ends up committing suicide beside the useless hunk of nuts and bolts he imagines is his time machine. 


1 “Earth” (Journey Into Unknown Worlds #24)

2 “What Is It?” (Strange Tales #33)

3 “We Saw It Happen” (Strange Tales #29)

4 “Witchcraft” (Strange Tales #29)

5 “Voice From the Grave” (Marvel Tales #121)

6 “Proof Positive” (Uncanny Tales #20)

7 “Don’t Count Your Chickens!” (Uncanny Tales #26)

8 “Jessica!” (Astonishing #35)

9 “Satan Can Wait” (Journey Into Mystery #15)

10 “The Dead” (Adventures Into Weird Worlds #26)

11 “The Living and the Dead” (Mystic #26)

12 “The Cannibals” (Marvel Tales #121)

13 “The Slums” (Strange Tales #28)

14 “When Worlds Meet” (Adventures Into Weird Worlds #30)

15 “The Bum” (Strange Tales #31)

16 “A Giant There Was” (Strange Tales #33)

17 “The Machine Age” (Uncanny Tales #18)

18 “Who Walks With a Zombie?” (Mystic #27)

19 “The Day of the Vampire” (Spellbound #23)

20 “The Tiny Coffin” (Mystery Tales #22)

In Two Weeks...
Rare Atlas Kubert