Monday, April 29, 2013

Star-Spangled War Comics!: An introduction

by Corporals Jack Seabrook 
& Peter Enfantino

Our Fighting Forces #1

The Korean War was half a dozen years in the past but you'd not have known that staring at a comics spinner in 1959. War is Hell but war was also profitable if you were a comic book publisher in the 1950s. Literally dozens of titles popped up on the already cluttered newsstands attempting to take a chunk of Little Johnny's allowance. The major publishers were involved: Charlton (Battlefield Action, Submarine Attack, War at Sea, and the four "Fightin" titles: Fightin' Air Force, Fightin' Marines, Fightin' Navy, and Fightin' Army among others); Atlas (Battlefield, Battlefront, Battle Ground, Battle Action, etc.); and of course, most famously, EC (Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat). The publisher renowned for Superman and Batman got into the act in August of 1952 when it retitled one of its superhero books (Star-Spangled Comics, which had been showcasing the adventures of Dr. Thirteen, Tomahawk, and Robin, the Boy Wonder) Star-Spangled War Comics and introduced a second title, Our Army At War. The following month the company again confused rack-spinners looking hungrily for All-American Western #127, only to be turned away in sadness when the realization sunk in that AAW was now All-American Men of War! October saw the release of Our Fighting Forces #1, and the final piece in what DC War scholars dubbed "The Big Five," G. I. Combat, debuted under the DC logo in January 1957. This last title may have been the most confounding for collectors as the first 43 issues were published by Quality Comics. When that company went belly-up in '56, National (DC) acquired the rights to many of the titles and characters published by Quality, including G.I. Combat (as well as the quasi-war title Blackhawk and Jack Cole's Plastic Man), which didn't even miss a month of publication between publishers. Beginning next week (with June 1959) we'll take a look at the best stories that were published in each month's output of "The Big Five."

Star Spangled #3 - First issue
Our Army at War #1
Those of you who followed our "Batman in the 1970s" series will be a little shaken by the change in format. Since there are a lot of issues involved here (and they're all anthology titles), we don't have the time or space to cover every story, so we'll mostly discuss those that are outstanding in each issue. There's still going to be a lot of meat on these bones, though, don't worry. With respected writers such as Robert Kanigher and Bob Haney, along with artists as varied as Jerry Grandenetti, Ross Andru, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, and Joe Kubert, how can we go wrong? In addition to Rock and the Easy Company, we'll thrill to the adventures of The Unknown Soldier, The Losers, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank, Lt. Hunter and his Hellcats, and the kitsch classic, The War That Time Forgot (with an assist on the latter from John Scoleri).

GI Combat #44 - First DC issue
Jack: This is all new for me. I never read war comics growing up in the late '60s and '70s, except for the Unknown Soldier series in Star-Spangled War Stories. I am really looking forward to learning more about these comics!

PE: Neither of us are all that learned about the wars in the background of these dramas so don't be surprised that we're focusing instead on the characterization and plot lines rather than whether a Panzer II was the right defensive weapon to be used in Ardennes or the calibers of different handguns. We'll concentrate instead on the outstanding writing and jaw-dropping art. We'd also like to hear your views on the DC war titles. Stick around and let us know how we're doing.

John Scoleri: Though I'll remain a conscientious objector for much of what is covered here, I begged Peter to let me in on the War That Time Forgot stories. I can't be the only one whose green army men regularly went to battle with plastic dinosaurs, can I?


All American Men at War #1

Monday, April 22, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 67: The 1979 Wrap-Up and a Fond Look Back at the 1970s!

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

1979 Wrap-up

In 1979, twelve monthly issues of Batman and six bi-monthly issues of Detective Comics were published.

Detective was 68 pages for a dollar, with no ads until the last issue of the year. Issue #483, with a May cover date, celebrated the 40th anniversary of Batman's first appearance. Editorial chores were shared by Paul Levitz, Al Milgrom and Julius Schwartz. Covers were by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler and Giordano, Jose Garcia-Lopez, Giordano alone (2) or Jim Starlin.

Batman Family had been canceled at the end of 1978 and became part of Detective with the first issue in 1979. This meant that each issue of Detective began with a lead story featuring Batman and then included various characters in backup stories.

The Batman lead stories ranged from 16 to 20 pages. Scripts were by Denny O'Neil (5) or Jim Starlin. Art was by Don Newton and Dan Adkins (4), Marshall Rogers, or Jim Starlin and Craig Russell. Guests included the Bronze Tiger, Kathy Kane, the League of Assassins, Maxie Zeus, Ras al Ghul, and Talia.

The backup stories featured a number of characters. Robin appeared six times, in stories ranging from 10 to 12 pages. Stories were by Bob Rozakis (3), Jack Harris (2) or Paul Kupperberg. Art was by Kurt Schaffenberger (4), inked by David Hunt (2), Jack Abel or Frank Chiaramonte; Juan Ortiz and Hunt; or Newton and Adkins. The only guest of note was the Scarecrow.

Batgirl also appeared six times, in stories 8 to 12 pages long, written by Harris (3) or Rozakis (3) and drawn by Don Heck (5) with inks by John Celardo, Frank Chiaramonte, Vince Colletta or Bob Smith; or Bob Oksner and Vince Colletta. The only guest worth mentioning was Killer Moth.

Batman appeared in two backup stories, 8 and 16 pages long, with scripts by O'Neil or Starlin and art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin or Starlin and Craig Russell.

The unlikely team of Man-Bat and Jason Bard appeared twice, written by Rozakis and drawn by Don Newton, with inks by Hunt or McLaughlin.

The Demon was seen four times, in stories of 9 to 15 pages, all written by Len Wein and drawn by Mike Golden and Giordano or by Steve Ditko (3).

The Human Target appeared in three stories of 8 or 9 pages each, written by Wein and drawn by Howard Chaykin and Giordano or by Giordano alone (2).

Finally, Bat-Mite appeared in one 6-page story, written by Rozakis and drawn by Golden and Bob Smith.

The letters column was edited by Mike Barr, Levitz or Rozakis and was called Batcave (5) or Batmail Family.

Batman was less complicated. Each issue was 36 pages for 40 cents and it came out monthly. Editors were Schwartz, through the issue cover-dated March (ending a 15-year run on the title), and then Levitz for the rest of the year. Covers were by Jose Garcia-Lopez (4), Jim Aparo (3), Giordano (2), Andru,  Kubert, or Walt Simonson and Giordano.

Each issue featured a single Batman story; ten were 17 pages long, one was 18 and one was a whopping 23 pages. Writers were Wein (11) or Steve Englehart. Artists were Irv Novick and McLaughlin (7), John Calnan and Giordano (2), Calnan and McLaughlin, Novick and Giordano, or Simonson and Giordano

The letters column was Bat Signals, edited by Rozakis or Levitz. Other editorial filler included the Daily Planet Page and the DC Feature page with DC Profile.

This year's Batman run abounded with guests: Batgirl, Blockbuster, Boss Thorne, Calendar Man, Crazy-Quilt, Dr. Phosphorus, Firebug, the Gentleman Ghost, Killer Moth, Kite-Man, Selina Kyle, Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, Robin,  and Two-Face.

Elsewhere in the DC Universe in 1979, Batman appeared in 12 issues of The Brave and the Bold (covers by Aparo); 12 issues of Justice League of America (covers by Andru, Buckler, Dillin, Garcia-Lopez or Giordano); 12 issues of Super-Friends (covers by Ramona Fradon or Schaffenberger); 6 issues of World's Finest (covers by Neal Adams and Giordano, Aparo or Buckler and Giordano). He also appeared in one shots: Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest (cover attributed to Wally Fax, which sounds fake to me) and DC Special Series (cover by Andru).


Peter's Picks:

Best Script: "A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman at Bay!" by Len Wein (Batman 312, June 1979)
Best Art: "Ticket to Tragedy" by Marshall Rogers (Detective Comics 481, January 1979)
Best All-Around Story: "A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman at Bay!"

Worst Script: "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas!" by Len Wein (Batman 309)
Worst Art: "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas!" by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin
Worst All-Around Story: "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas!"

Jack's picks:

Best Script: "Dr. Phosphorus is Back!" by Steve Englehart (Batman 311, May 1979)
Best Art: "Ticket to Tragedy" by Marshall Rogers (Detective 481, January 1979)
Best All-Around Story: "There'll Be a Cold Time in the Old Town Tonight!" by Len Wein, John Calnan and Dick Giordano (Batman 308, February 1979)

Worst Script: "The Galileo Solution" by Denny O'Neil (Detective 484, July 1979)
Worst Art: "The Galileo Solution" by John Calnan and Frank McLaughlin
Worst All-Around Story: "The Galileo Solution"

The 1970s: A Few Last Words

In our 66-week journey through the 1970s, we managed to read 195 comic books (101 Batman, 92 Detective, and 2 specials) and kept our sanity... well, kinda.


Peter's Picks
 1 The Joker's Five-Way Revenge (Batman 251, September 1973) O'Neil/Adams
 2 The Sign of the Joker (Detective 476, April 1978) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
 3 The Laughing Fish (Detective 475, February 1978) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
 4 Night of the Stalker (Detective 439, March 1974) Englehart/Almendolas/Giordano
 5 The Lazarus Pit (Batman 243, August 1972) O'Neil/Adams
 6 There Is No Hope in Crime Alley (Detective 457, March 1976) O'Neil/Giordano
 7 The Dead Yet Live (Detective 471, August 1977) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
 8 A Vow From the Grave (Detective 410, April 1971) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
 9 The Last Batman Story (Batman 300, June 1978) Reed/Simonson/Giordano
10 Batman's Greatest Failure (Batman 265, July 1975) Fleisher/Buckler/Wrightson

Best Writer: Steve Englehart
Best Artist: Neal Adams
Best Back-Up: Manhunter (Goodwin/Simonson)

Jack's picks

1 Red Water Crimson Death (The Brave and the Bold 93, January 1971) O'Neil/Adams
2 The House That Haunted Batman! (Detective 408, February 1971) Wein/Wolfman/Adams/Giordano
3 The Lazarus Pit! (Batman 243, August 1972) O'Neil/Adams
4 Daughter of the Demon (Batman 232, June 1971) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
5 The Demon Lives Again! (Batman 244, September 1972) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
6 The Joker's Five-Way Revenge! (Batman 251, September 1973) O'Neil/Adams
7 The Secret of the Waiting Graves (Detective 395, January 1970) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
8 A Vow From the Grave (Detective 410, April 1971) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
9 Ghost of the Killer Skies! (Detective 404, October 1970) O'Neil/Adams/Giordano
10 The Dead Yet Live! (Detective 471, August 1977) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
11 I Am the Batman! (Detective 472, September 1977) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
12 The Laughing Fish (Detective 475, February 1978) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
13 Sign of the Joker! (Detective 476, April 1978) Englehart/Rogers/Austin
14 There is No Hope in Crime Alley (Detective 457, March 1976) O'Neil/Giordano
15 Gotterdamerung (Detective 443, November 1974) Goodwin/Simonson
16 A Monster Walks Wayne Manor (Detective 438, January 1974) Goodwin/Aparo
17 Night of the Stalker (Detective 439, March 1974) Englehart/Amendolas/Giordano
18 Judgment Day (Detective 441, July 1974) Goodwin/Chaykin
19 Batman's Greatest Failure! (Batman 265, July 1975) Fleisher/Buckler/Wrightson

Best Writer: Steve Englehart
Best Artist: Neal Adams
Best Back-Up: Manhunter


1970 293,897
1979 166,640

Detective Comics
1970 209,630
1979   79,872

Year-By-Year Highlights


*great covers by Neal Adams
*Gil Kane drawing Batgirl backup stories
*first appearance of Man-Bat
*all-reprint Batman giant-size issues for 25 cents


*100-page super-spectaculars
*Manhunter backup series
*Steve Englehart begins writing Batman stories
*$1.00 classic reprints in Limited Collector's Edition and Famous First Edition treasuries
*Archie Goodwin as editor of Detective


*5-issue "Bat-Murderer" arc
*begin to see new artists like Mike Grell and Ernie Chua
"Enfantino said what about Frank Robbins?"
*The Joker, Batman Family and Man-Bat debut


*Englehart/Rogers/Austin run in Detective
*Len Wein takes over writing Batman
*Don Newton's art
*Dollar Detectives

So, what happens next? Well, we've got a couple of things planned concurrently that should take up a couple years' time. Hope you haven't planned anything for our foreseeable future, every Monday starting next week.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Hitchcock Project: Henry Slesar Part One-"Heart of Gold" [3.4]

by Jack Seabrook

Henry Slesar (1927-2002) was one of the most prolific contributors to the Hitchcock TV series. His first story to be aired, "Heart of Gold," was broadcast near the start of season three of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on October 27, 1957, and was adapted by James P. Cavanagh from Slesar's short story "M Is For the Many," which had been published in the March 1957 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

"M Is For the Many" begins as Jackie Smith, twenty years old but seeming older, rings the bell for the Collins apartment at a brownstone. He is invited up by Ralph Collins, brother of Allie, whom Jackie met in prison. Ralph knows that Jackie has just been paroled after three years spent in jail for being the driver of the getaway car in an armed robbery. Jackie meets Ma Collins, "a short, stout woman with curly white hair," who welcomes him, admitting that Allie had written to her from prison about him. Jackie is looking for a place to live and is surprised when Ma offers to let him stay in Allie's room.

Mildred Dunnock as Ma Collins
With Ralph's help, Jackie finds a job and soon settles in at the Collins home, where Ma treats him like a son. When he gets a raise, he offers to pay rent, but Ma refuses to accept it, telling him that he's giving her "something more precious than money." One day, Jackie arrives home early from work and overhears Mrs. Collins defending him to a nosy neighbor. Realizing that his presence is a burden on the kindly old woman, he packs his bags and leaves a note of thanks. Ma catches him before he leaves and begs him not to go. Ralph angrily tells Jackie that it's time to start talking "about the money you got stashed away."

Jackie denies knowledge of the location of the stolen loot and Ralph begins to beat him. In the struggle that follows, Jackie accidentally kills Ralph after having threatened to kill the old woman. Jackie later tells his parole officer that he's looking forward to seeing his friends in jail--"one in particular."

"M Is For the Many" is a tough little crime story with a twist, though it's left vague whether Ma's kindness to Jackie was sincere. When Ralph is killed and she weeps, "my boy, my boy," Jackie wonders who she meant: Ralph or Jackie. The story's title is from the old song, "Mother," the first line of which is "M is for the many things she gave me." Ma Collins appears to be a saintly maternal figure, but the behavior of her sons makes the reader question her motives.

Nehemiah Persoff as Ralph Collins
James P. Cavanagh adapted the story for television as "Heart of Gold" and made significant changes. Darryl Hickman plays Jackie, Mildred Dunnock plays Ma, and Nehemiah Persoff plays Ralph. The acting by all three is outstanding, as is the work by director Robert Stevens and director of photography Lionel Lindon.

The show begins in shadow, as Jackie searches for the Collins buzzer in a dark foyer. He ascends the staircase amidst noir camera setups and lighting, as the banister casts ominous shadows on the wall. Ma wears a cheap bathrobe and the kitchen of her apartment is sparse and run down; everything in it looks old, cheap, or second-hand. There is no air conditioning in the building and Jackie and Ralph's faces are bathed in sweat, even after darkness has fallen outside.

The shadowy stairs serve as Jackie's
introduction to the Collins home.
Yet to Jackie, the Collins apartment is appealing because it represents home. In Slesar's story, Jackie is a one-dimensional character. In "Heart of Gold," his character is more subtle. When Ma mentions that she has "a little nest egg," we see Jackie's face light up, suggesting that he is considering robbing the old woman. Later, in a scene added for TV, Jackie is working at a garage and is left alone there after hours. He examines the cash box and looks like he is thinking of pocketing some of the money when his parole office, played by Edward Binns, suddenly appears. Jackie is sullen and resents being monitored. The character of the parole officer is new to the teleplay. He suggests that Jackie knows where the money is hidden and tells the young man that the insurance company has been asking about it.

There is then a nicely filmed sequence in the garage at night, as the camera slowly tracks toward Jackie, who sits alone in the office, talking on the phone. We think this is just an evocative shot until the point of view changes and we see that the moving camera represented the viewpoint of two thugs who confront Jackie about the hidden cash. After one of the thugs hits Jackie, we get another nicely lit shot on the staircase, as Jackie crawls up the stairs, bathed in shadows. Even as Ma tends to his wounds, he lies to her and we see his eyes shift to one side; he hides the fact that people are looking for the hidden money, suggesting that he actually does know where it is.

Ralph's foot on the chair shows who is in control
In a very subtle bit of set decoration, a plaque on Ma's kitchen wall appears to feature the poem, "Mother," from which the title of Slesar's story was taken. The TV show is well-paced, with scenes often fading to black. The final scene is powerful, as Ralph confronts Jackie in his darkened bedroom. Persoff plays Ralph as someone whose explosive temper always lurks just below the surface. The scene between Ralph and Jackie gets increasingly violent, highlighted by a bit of business where Jackie sits in a rocking chair and Ralph puts his foot on the armrest, rocking it to and fro before kicking it over with Jackie still in it.

The show's conclusion is much more effective than that of the story. Jackie grabs a kitchen knife to defend himself against Ralph and ends up stabbing the bully. Ma comes home and happens upon the scene; she looks at Jackie in horror, yet he still insists on addressing her as Ma, pleading: "I'll take his place!" Ma is stricken and blurts out the truth to the young man: "All we wanted was the money! That's why I was nice to you!" This straightforward ending is more satisfying than the story's vague conclusion, mainly because the show had built up Ma as a saintly woman and Jackie as a shifty young man. To see the tables turned is a real surprise. The show alternates between shadowy noir lighting and drab scenes of poverty in the Collins apartment; Stevens and Lindon's work serves to increase the setting's darkness and despair. "Heart of Gold" is unusual among the episodes we've studied so far in that the script, direction, and acting deepen and improve upon the short story on which it is based.

Cheryl Callaway as the little girl
who finds Jackie crawling up the stairs
Darryl Hickman (1931- ), who plays Jackie, was a child star, appearing in movies beginning in 1938 and on TV beginning in 1950. He was in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and The Tingler (1959) and he appeared on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from 1959-1960 with his brother Dwayne, the star of the show. "Heart of Gold" was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series. He now teaches acting and has a website.

Mildred Dunnock (1901-1991), who plays Ma, was a veteran of stage, movies and TV. She was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times and on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour once. She also appeared in the episode, "None Are So Blind."

Nehemiah Persoff (1919- ), who plays Ralph, was also a veteran of movies and TV, appearing in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956) and Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). His only other appearance on the Hitchcock series was in "The Cure." He also has a website.

Edward Binns as the parole officer
Edward Binns (1916-1990), who plays the parole officer, is a very familiar character actor. An Actor's Studio alumnus, he appeared in Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), 12 Angry Men (1957), and Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959). While this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock TV series, he also was seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Appearing very briefly as the thug who beats up Jackie is Len Lesser (1922-2011), whose face is quite familiar because of his recurring role on Seinfeld as Uncle Leo.

James P. Cavanagh (1922-1971), who adapted "M Is For the Many" for TV, wrote fifteen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "None Are So Blind" and "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?"

Len Lesser as the thug
Robert Stevens (1920-1989) directed 49 episodes of the Hitchcock series and was one of the people most responsible for the show's look. He won an Emmy for his work on "The Glass Eye."

Lionel Lindon (1905-1971), the director of photography, was known as the fastest cinematographer in Hollywood. He worked on 42 episodes of the Hitchcock series and won an Academy Award for Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

"Heart of Gold" is available on DVD and can be viewed online.

In two weeks: "Night of the Execution."


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
"Heart of Gold." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 27 Oct. 1957. Television.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.
Slesar, Henry. "M Is For the Many." Clean Crimes and Neat Murders. New York: Avon, 1960. 92-102. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 66: November and December 1979

by Peter Enfantino
& Jack Seabrook

Batman 317 (November 1979)

"The 1,001 Clue Caper or Why Did The Riddler Cross the Road?"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

The Riddler teases the Dynamic Duo with a book of 1001 riddles and hijacks a seemingly worthless truck filled with chickens. While Robin looks for clues to the Riddler's next caper, the Riddler uses his chicken truck to steal a supply of guns hidden in a load of old magazines. Bruce Wayne reconciles with Selina Kyle before doing a quick change into his Batsuit and cornering the Riddler at the Gotham docks, foiling yet another plan. Meanwhile, Lucius Fox has his first meeting with Gregorian Falstaff.

Jack: Falstaff is true to his name, having apparently left the other two members of the Warriors Three behind (in Marvel's Thor) and moved to Gotham City in order to consume mass quantities of food and drink while rivaling Bruce Wayne for richest man in town. This issue is another Len Wein special, where a lukewarm story involving a supervillain is the basis for a few subplots to inch along. The Novick art is pretty sharp this time around and the Riddler is no more annoying than usual.

PE: Len Wein continues to ease DC into a Marvel-style of writing, taking several issues to sneak in hints as to what's going on in Lucius's private life. The dispatch of the central villain a few pages before the finale and a last panel reveal are another of the Marvel trademarks on display here. If there's one thing I've learned from reading thousands of comic books in the last two years it's that drumsticks = morbidly obese villains. This is a perfectly average 1979 DC comic book story. It's not horrible and it's not particularly good. It's a flatline; unmemorable in both script and art.

Detective Comics 486 (November 1979)

"Murder by Thunderbolt"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

While crime figure Maxie Zeus lounges in Arkham (ostensibly, with a drumstick), pretenders to his throne attempt to seize control of his operations. That doesn't sit well with the present-day God and he lashes out, destroying his enemies with a bang. Batman finds himself in the unenviable position of protecting bad guys he'd sooner put behind bars.

PE: Like a middle finger to Jack and me as we exit the 1970s (and the parameters of this blog), Denny O'Neil denies us the satisfaction of a conclusion to the Bronze Tiger saga from last issue. Instead, we're given a lukewarm continuation of the Maxie Zeus storyline left off in #484. What kind of thinking goes on here? Run two different multi-part tales at the same time? Bonkers. There had to be an easier way to gain access to the pier than allowing the thugs to blow up his precious Batmobile but I'm sure the Caped Crusader has several more models back at the Cave. There won't even be a disclaimer next issue, I suspect. The gorgeous art is wasted on a confusing and disposable plot. Very slyly and quietly, DC dumps 10 pages of story in this month's "dollar comic" titles by bringing back ads. Judging by the quality of back-up stories we've had to slog through (for the most part) I'd say it's a pretty darn good deal. On the letters page, editor Paul Levitz explains why DC is ripping off the kids: "After holding the "value" (italics mine) line on Dollar Comics for two and a half years (almost a record in these inflationary times), we've had to bow to cost pressures and trim our page count," but neglects to give me a reason why we don't get a conclusion to the Bronze Tiger storyline. Harrumph.

Jack: I forgot all about the Bronze Tiger in the space of time between reading issues, so the change in storyline did not bother me. I focused instead on what you correctly call the gorgeous art. There is a great panel in Arkham Asylum where we see the Joker in his prison outfit on the edge of the frame. The scene in the laundromat is Eisneresque and other places seem to show a Joe Staton influence. The opening scene, where the skeleton falls from the plane, reminded me of the "cheat" cover and story from Batman 219 (February 1970).

PE: Though this is the last Detective we'll ever discuss, the title continued to be published until the dimwits that run the company proclaimed that the entire line of DC titles should be rebooted and 'tec was cancelled in October 2011. The following month saw Detective Comics Vol. 2 Number 1. 'Tec's first volume run of 881 issues stands as the second longest-running American comic in history (Action Comics saw 904 issues before a similar "cleansing").  The Dollar Comic line stumbled its way into the 1980s but 'tec was reduced in size with #496 (November 1984).

"The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea Contract!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Dick Giordano

Christopher Chance is hired by a deep sea scavenger to find out who tried to kill him while he was on a dive.

PE: If I had to point to one aspect of 'tec I'll miss discussing, it's the rare back-up that actually confounds expectations and both stimulates and entertains. Len's Human Target stories are simple narratives but they are crammed with wonderful character development and little surprises that keep you guessing. I'm going to be reading the further adventures of The Human Target but gladly skipping the rest of the ink splatters and drivel that waste the back pages of 'tec. I'm not a weapons expert but would a .357 Magnum really fire under water? And how long does it take for a body to be picked clean to its white skeleton if stashed in a box at the bottom of the sea? Surely more than a month. If I had a Great White heading for me, mouth wide open, I doubt I'd be enjoying a mental rerun of the day's events (in fact, Chris manages the unenviable task of another man's flashback within his flashback!). Fabulous Giordano art on display here.

Jack: This is the best Human Target story to date. The whole thing reminds me of one of those random backup stories we saw in the 100-page issues back in the mid-'70s. Giordano's art is really striking. His layouts don't rival those of Adams, but his technical skill is outstanding.

"Crime Calls Killer Moth!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Don Heck and Joe Giella

Double duty time: Congresswomanpersonwhatever Babs Gordon attempts to help a boy whose father was murdered and Batgirl's hands are full with Killer Moth.

PE: It may be the narcolepsy that vexes me while I read many of these back-ups but I didn't realize that Killer Moth actually had a gimmick. I thought he was just another colorful, badly-drawn, skimpily-scripted sixth-tier Batman villain but there's an interesting hook to the character: he's hired to rescue bad guys in a pinch. How the thugs contact him is anyone's guess. Do they have the time to call Moth as the cops are closing in? Is he always in costume just a block or two away? More research is needed, I fear.

Jack: Moths don't strike fear into my heart. Is Killer Moth really the Batman of the crime world, as one caption says? He drives the Mothmobile, so I guess he must be. With a fond wave of the hand, we say farewell to Don Heck and his decades of mediocre art.

PE: Batgirl's career post-December 1979  mirrors that of her sometime-partner Robin. The character continued to meander through guest roles in various titles before being famously retired by a paralyzing gunshot delivered by The Joker in Alan Moores's seminal The Killing Joke (1988). Babs is confined to a wheelchair but becomes a computer and multi-media expert known as Oracle, an assistant to other superheroines such as Black Canary. In a radically different form, the Batgirl moniker was passed on to a martial arts-trained teenager in 2000 in Batgirl, a well-written series that would last 73 issues, and then rebooted yet again in 2010. In 2011, with the advent of "The New 52," a gimmick that effectively ignored quite a lot of history of the previous 70 years of DC "continuity," Barbara Gordon once again donned her cowl. Evidence that, in comics, everything old can become old again.

"The Hospitable Hostage!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by George Tuska and Bob Smith

On his way up to his boss's penthouse suite, Alfred the Butler/Chauffeur/Scientist/GP/detective is forced to give the grand tour to a band of thugs who want to ransack the billionaire playboy's love nest. There, Alfred must think fast lest his boss come home after his nightly rounds and give away the big secret.

PE: This could be the only strip that gives Robin a run for the Worst Back-Up prize. Thankfully, we didn't have to set the shutter speed on our brains too many times during the 1970s as Alfred's solo career was represented in 'tec mostly by Golden Age reprints (don't tell Jack but I didn't really read those things). How is it that Alfred Pennyworth never got his own title? George Tuska continues the annoying habit, on full display over at Marvel University, of drawing humans who look like apes. A definite plus if you're on staff at a comics company that loves gorillas.

Jack: Just when I thought Don Heck was bad, along comes toothy George Tuska, providing appropriately low-level pictures to go with another sub-par "story" by Bob Rozakis. There's really nothing good to say about this one other than that it was only seven pages long.

"Fear Times Four"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger & Jack Abel

Robin must face the fear-producing powers of The Scarecrow, who's terrorizing the rich beneficiaries of Hudson University.

PE: Why is the head of security of HU, Chief MacDonald, the only "law enforcement officer" involved in the investigation of the harassment of three very rich men? MacDonald even tells the trio at one point that he's basically a cop for hire and has no police powers. Why would The Scarecrow target only HU beneficiaries? Why would Paul Levitz continue to populate such a "serious and dark title" like 'tec with such juvenile pap as this series? Awful... awful... awful.

Jack: My expectations were low when I saw that this was drawn by Schaffenberger, but it was actually better than the two stories that preceded it. Why does Kurt's Robin look about 12 years old when he's supposed to be in college?

PE: Robin would achieve new heights of success in the 1980s, chiefly due to the success of George Perez's run on The New Teen Titans. After that, the saga of Robin gets a little too complicated for a couple paragraphs. During the Titans run, Dick Grayson retires his cowl but stitches up another costume, that of Nightwing. Robin was later rebooted (and killed) and rebooted again in the form of several upstanding teenagers. The character was awarded several different titles through the years, the most successful of which lasted 185 issues from November 1993 through April 2009.

Batman 318 (December 1979)

"My City Burns at Both Ends -- It Will Not Last the Night!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

Batman saves a little girl from a burning apartment building before chasing the colorfully costumed man who started the fire and who calls himself Firebug. Bruce has another date with Selina, who longingly eyes  some Egyptian Cat-God artifacts. Firebug turns out to be Joey Rigger, a young man and former Army demolitions expert whose father, mother and sister died in accidents in poorly maintained buildings. He has vowed to burn those buildings down in revenge. Lucius Fox turns down Falstaff's job offer as Batman confronts Firebug, who is about to burn down the Gotham State Building. The Dark Knight barely averts tragedy, but trouble is brewing in the cemetery, where the Gentleman Ghost makes a return visit!

Bruce and Selina party down!
Jack: Our last Bat story of the 1970s is a bit of a flashback to earlier days, when Denny O'Neil was writing socially-conscious stories like this. The character of Firebug is interesting and it's a shame he dies at the end. 1979 was on the early side to have a Vietnam veteran using his Napalm skills to create mayhem, especially in a DC comic. Wein is hitting his stride juggling a few subplots and Novick's art once again is about as good as it ever gets. While the December 1979 Batman is not one of my top comics of the decade, and certainly not as good as where we started way back in January 1970, it's still pretty good and a long way from the depths of the Reed/Calnan days.

PE: I couldn't disagree more, Jack. It's a cliched story, one we've seen countless times before (and very recently, over at Marvel University) and Firebug's costume is laughable. It's a comic book, I know, but I question not only the notion that a man could shoot napalm from his wrists but also that our hero could fashion a costume that could be so completely fireproof that it would protect him from said napalm. That trampoline-style jump from the roof of a burning building (with a child in his arms) made me roll my eyes as well. I'm just sorry that we're exiting our survey of the 1970s on a valley like this and issue 317 rather than a peak like the one-two punch of the Dr. Phosphorus and Calendar Man stories back in 311 and 312. I should add that, though we're officially done with our survey of Batman, don't be surprised to see me check in with specials now and then as I slog my way through the 1980s Batman and 'tecs on my "own time." As I recall there were some very special stories to come.

From Batman 318's Daily Planet page

Set your sights on this site in two weeks

Monday, April 8, 2013

Batman in the 1970s Part 65: September and October 1979

by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman 315 (September 1979)

"Danger on the Wing!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

The Kite-Man steals blueprints from Gotham City Hall. Bruce Wayne's second-in-command, Lucius Fox, fields an offer to work for Gregorian Falstaff, Wayne's rival, who is behind the decision to move big employer Trans-Atlantic Airways's headquarters out of Gotham City. Fox decides to do some undercover work on his own. If that's not enough, the Bruce Wayne-Selina Kyle relationship hits a rocky patch. Fortunately, Kite-Man proves to be a less than formidable adversary, and the Dark Knight makes short work of him in a mid-air fight on hang gliders.

Jack: The Internet tells me that Kite-Man appeared previously in Batman 133 (August 1960). They should have left him in the archives. This issue is notable for spending almost as much time on the non-Batman subplots as on the hero vs. villain story. Lucius Fox is popping up in every issue now, though I was annoyed at him for not telling Bruce about his plan to go undercover to investigate Falstaff. The Selina Kyle love/hate affair is dragging on but doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. The cover, by Dick Giordano, is very striking; too bad the story inside isn't up to its level.

The Novick/McLaughlin splash page
evokes the work of Jerry Robinson
with the giant Batman looming over Gotham
PE: If you're going to reboot a villain from all the dozens of villains that appeared in the "Golden Age" of the Batman titles, why in the world would it be such an utterly worthless dope like Kite-Man? Really? A criminal for the 1980s?

Jack: A word to Shatner fans everywhere--the inside cover this issue features an ad for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, "coming this Christmas to a theatre near you." I remember the excitement of seeing this movie and how the audience erupted in applause when the Enterprise first appeared onscreen. Okay, Peter, go ahead and mock me.

PE: I remember the audience booing that awful bilge as the end credits rolled. The beauty of it is that the multitude of fans who read our words can do the mocking for me. I'll save my tsk-tsk for another day, Jack!

Detective Comics 485 (September 1979)

"The Vengeance Vow!"
Story by Denny O'Neil
Art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins

An anonymous tip sends Batman to the circus owned by Kathy Kane, an old friend who once fought side-by-side with The Caped Crusader as Batwoman. Just as The Dark Knight is filling Kathy in on why he's popped up out of the blue, the big top is invaded by a band of thugs led by the masked Kung Fu master known as The Bronze Tiger. A fight between our hero and the baddies leaves Batman unconscious. When he awakens he finds Kathy murdered and his arch-enemy Ra's al Ghul, emerging from the shadows. Ra's explains that the killing was ordered by the Sensei, leader of the League of Assassins. Once he finds the Sensei, Batman discovers that where the leader goes, his henchmen are sure to follow and another confrontation with The Bronze Tiger follows. As the two battle, an industrious assassin shoots Batman with a toxic dart. Enraged that he's been cheated of a fair fight, The Bronze Tiger rebels against the Sensei and is stabbed for his troubles. Having prepped for any poison the League could throw at him, The Dark Knight pops an antidote but, by the time he comes around, he finds himself alone again, with a trail of fresh blood his only clue.

PE: By 1979, Kung Fu was as fresh a source for ideas as campus riots but Denny O'Neil manages to find interesting alleys to explore regardless. I'm obviously intrigued as to the motive behind Kathy's death (none is given in this first part) but also surprised that Batman seems rather calm about the murder.The story is called "The Vengeance Vow," but other than a few cross words and a grimace upon finding her lifeless body, there's no vow in sight. For instance, his exchange with Alfred, shortly after the murder, contains no reference to Kathy's killing. Here's an admittedly lower-tier superheroine dispatched off screen with little or no fanfare (not even a bit of hype on the cover) ostensibly because 1979's audiences would confuse Batwoman with Batgirl. The character first appeared in 'tec #233 (July 1956) but had pretty much run her course and retired by the mid-1960s, replaced by the younger, sexier Batgirl. Batwoman had reappeared recently in Batman Family #10, where she tag-teamed with Babs against the Killer Moth. DC rebooted the character in the 2006 as a Jewish lesbian (hey, I only report this stuff!). A good opening chapter to this thriller. Let's hope that next issue sees an equally good conclusion.

Jack: I thoroughly enjoyed this story! This is one of those rare stories where an important character gets killed and really stays dead. I never had much interest in Kathy Kane/Batwoman, but I was sorry to see her go. I always like to see Ra's al Ghul and Talia, especially when they are used here as mysterious, recurring characters rather than common thieves. The League of Assassins did not impress me when it first appeared several years ago, but this time--with the martial arts component front and center--it looks good. I recall not liking Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter very much during its first run, mainly because of the Ric Estrada art. However, the character of the Bronze Tiger is intriguing. I was a big fan of the "Sons of the Tiger" series in Marvel's Deadly Hands of Kung Fu black and white magazine, so I guess I like tigers that do martial arts.

PE: Wikipedia tells us that The Bronze Tiger actually first appeared in the paperback novel, Dragon's Fists (Award, 1974), written by Denny O'Neil and Jim Dennis under the pseudonym of Jim Dennis. The adventure also featured the first appearance of Richard Dragon.

"The Case of the Cavorting Corpse!"
Story by Paul Kupperberg
Art by Kurt Schaffenberger and Dave Hunt

Robin investigates a dead student who doesn't seem to want to stay dead.

Note to Jacques Cousteau: the depths have been reached

Jack: My expectations are so low now for Robin stories that I was pleasantly surprised by this one, despite the Schaffenberger art. It's a tidy little mystery that finally clears up one question I have had: perhaps Robin is so busy fighting crime that he doesn't have time to study and keeps flunking out. That could explain why his career at Hudson U is now ten years long and counting!

PE: Though I'm with you, Jack, on the lowered expectations, it doesn't make this any easier to read. I'm amazed that there is nothing resembling style to be found anywhere near the name Kurt Schaffenberger. It's simply that kind of cookie cutter style of art that found a willing audience on Saturday mornings.

"The Fatal Finale!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Steve Ditko

The boxers or briefs debate of 1979 is settled
Seeking to pull himself completely into our dimension, Baron Tyme blackmails Etrigan the Demon into allowing him to absorb our hero's energy . The process will leave Jason Blood in limbo forever and ensure a long, lingering death in The Dark Dimension for Etrigan, In the end, though, The Demon has a few tricks up his sleeve and it's Tyme who ends up in The Dark.

PE: As much as I've enjoyed the series, this installment completely confused me. Is the finale hinting that Jason's days as a Demon are over? The twist ending, where a janitor finds the discarded Book of Eternity and vows to read it from cover to cover before selling it on eBay, insists otherwise.

Jack: I loved this episode of the Demon saga! Wein and Ditko really clicked on the final part of the Baron Tyme story. The art is Ditko at his best and the story is gripping. I am disappointed that this is the end of the Demon's run in Detective, according to the editor's note. This makes me want to go back and read the Kirby series, which I haven't seen since its original run in the early '70s.

"The Case of the Untouchable Crook!"
Story by Jack C. Harris
Art by Don Heck and John Celardo

The Dynamic Duo of Batgirl and Babs Gordon come under fire from a crook and assassin who has diplomatic immunity.

PE: Ironic that Don Heck was artist on so many of those "Red Scare" tales that populated Iron Man in the mid-1960s. A decade later and we're still dealing with thinly-veiled COMMIES! 

Jack: I must be in a good mood because I enjoyed this Batgirl story! Celardo tightens up Heck's sometimes sketchy pencils and the story is interesting. One question: since when has Batgirl done a quick change by turning her mask into a hat and her cape into a skirt? How do they magically transform from black (or blue) to yellow?

PE: Well, I'm not sure how well a job Celardo does since I had become fairly fond of Heck's attempts at art the last few installments anyway. Check out that awkward splash of Batgirl I've reprinted here and you'll swear our girl Babs has had quite a bit of constructive surgery done on those amazing breasts of hers between issues.

"SST--The Super-Sonic Threat!"
Story by Bob Rozakis
Art by Don Newton and Frank McLaughlin

A woman hires Kirk Langstrom to follow her husband when she suspects he's up to no good. Turns out the dope is working on a superhero costume with a jet pack and the costume has gone haywire. Kirk's alter ego, Man-Bat, saves the day when he ropes in the runaway suit.

PE: Any bit of terror we young folk might have felt upon seeing another appearance of Man-Bat in 1979 (and yes, I'm keenly aware that it's a different sort of terror I feel approaching a Man-Bat story three decades on!) is dashed to bits by a splash page that shows the hero/villain cradling and feeding his infant.

Jack: Newton's art saves this pointless exercise by "Mr. Filler," Bob Rozakis. Do we really need a  recap of Man-Bat's origin? Now we know that Kirk Langstrom is tired from getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. We also know that he can turn into Man-Bat easily by popping a pill and that he uses his other identity to make snooping easier. The her/villain of the piece looks like the Crimson Dynamo, at least until Man-Bat attacks him for no good reason. Despite this weak story, this was one of the best dollar Detectives so far in 1979!

PE: How many more months are left in the 1970s?

Batman 316 (October 1979)

"Color Me Deadly!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

When a punk tries to burn down Gotham Hospital he only succeeds in damaging one floor. That's enough for Crazy-Quilt, who has developed a special laser to aid a doctor in performing an operation to restore his vision. The Dynamic Duo intervenes after getting past Crazy-Quilt's booby-traps; in fighting him off, they inadvertently cause him to lose his vision for good.

Jack: This story has its good and bad points. On the good side, it is less dependent on subplots than the prior issue. On the bad side, it marks another return of a villain better left forgotten. I had trouble understanding just what Crazy-Quilt was doing that was such a problem. Sure, he was behind the arson at the hospital, but all he wanted was to get his vision back. Is that so bad? It seemed like the ending was a bit sad, since Batman and Robin really didn't need to go all out and leave the guy blind.

Oops! From the splash page of Batman 316
PE: Wiser minds prevailed when it came to titling this tale "Color Me Deadly" rather than the awkwardly-worded "The Man Who Stole His Eyes." Robin's faux outrage at old-timer Gordo's assessment of the younger generation (the equally awkwardly-worded "I'm starting to think all the kids today know nothing about responsibility!") is reminiscent of all those early 1970s solo Robin stories about kids who take over the campus because they can't get ketchup at the cafeteria tables. By 1979, I was well into my teens and we never harumphed over the old folks dissing us. We just ignored them. So what's up with Lucius Fox and his son? At the rate we're going, we'll never find out since the only reference to the problem is Bruce Wayne's "Hmmm, something seems to be on Lucius' mind lately. I hope there's not trouble to come" forewarning. I'm sure young Fox will end up as a sixth-tier villain on roller skates or high on smack. Someone please fill me in on the juicy details. And, for those who just have to know, Crazy-Quilt (another in a line of forgotten-baddies-who-should-have-stayed-forgotten Len Wein resurrections) will return in Batman #384 (February 1984). Daredevil never let a little blindness slow him down.

Jack: Like Roy Thomas over at Marvel, Len Wein seems to be mining old issues of Batman to find obscure characters to revive. Crazy-Quilt seems to have been created by Jack Kirby as a villain who first appeared in Boy Commandos 15 (June 1946). He had four more appearances in that comic, then battled Robin in Star-Spangled Comics 123 (December 1951). The Robin story was reprinted in Batman 255 (April 1974) and now he turns up here. He tells Batman that "you've never faced me before"--and he's right!

From Batman 315

Coming in May!