Time for the second iteration of August 1970! Join me as we examine the next few books on our list. This time we have some Batman and some Teen Titans, as we actually have some internal continuity this month that I’m following.
Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #391
- Aquaman #52
- Batman #224
- Teen Titans #28
- Detective Comics #402
- The Flash #199
- Justice League #82
- Phantom Stranger #8
- Showcase #92
- Superman #229
- World’s Finest #195
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Carnival of the Cursed”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
This tale is a bit unusual in two ways. First, it takes the Gotham Knight out of his usual haunts and sends him down towards my old stomping grounds on the Gulf Coast, specifically, New Orleans at the ever-popular setting of Mardi Gras. Second, it depicts Batman as a big jazz fan, which struck me as a little odd. It’s hard to imagine the Dark Knight as a music lover. Nonetheless, it is actually his musical taste that provides the impetus for this little yarn which begins with the murder of a famous jazz trumpet player called “Blind Buddy” Holden. His killers were searching for something, something they did not find. The news reaches our hero reading the paper in costume, which also strikes me as trifle weird, and in a short, silent sequence that isn’t too shabby we see that it does not leave him unmoved.
We travel down to New Orleans, a mysterious and lively city, one that is well suited to provide a distinctive and exciting locale for a comic story. By this point, I imagine I’ve read quite a few Batman comics set in the Big Easy. A rainy evening sports an “old-fashioned jazz funeral” for Holden, but the procession is interrupted by a gang of masked men. Unfortunately for them, Batman is actually disguised among the mourners, and he lays into them, only to be felled by the acrobatic arrival of a freakish looking fellow that resembles Quasimodo’s tougher brother. He calls himself Moloch and he proves to be a very tough physical opponent for the Caped Crusader, possessing a freakish strength and speed.
Nonetheless, the Dark Knight manages to route him with the help of the crowd, but Moloch gets away with unbelievable leaps and bounds across the rooftops. I suppose at this time, Batman doesn’t have the cool, powered grappling gun he later adds to his arsenal. I wonder when that first made an appearance. Anyway, this sequence is a neat one, with lots of local flavor. Novick’s art is a little too lacking in background detail to really take advantage of the setting, but there are a few touches that show this is not just a generic city. We’ll get one big set piece which takes full advantage of the setting at the climax of the tale, though.
The funeral procession finishes its grim, though very stylishly handled task, and Holden’s horn is buried with him. Afterwards, the Dark Detective overhears an argument between the musician’s friend and a wheelchair-bound man named Macob, whose aide the crime-fighter recognizes as a known hood. Apparently the heavily muffled Macob wants to buy the dead horn man’s possessions, but his friends refuse, no matter the price. Batman decides that there is something fishy about this fellow, so he plans to try and spook him. Here’s another odd little moment. Our hero, in full costume, goes into a bookstore and makes a purchase. Sadly, we don’t get to see the clerk’s reaction to having the Caped Crusader walk into his shop. One wonders if he has a utility belt compartment for his wallet. Well, the book is sent to Macob, and when he opens it, out flies a bat, a warning from the Batman!
His aide is shaken, but Macob remains resolute. He must have what he’s after, and he formulates a plan! Later that night, Batman discovers that Holden’s friend has been kidnapped and is being held at an old riverboat moored at the dock. Interestingly enough, these days there are several restored river boats that make regular cruises from NO, complete with live jazz music aboard some of them. I wonder if any of those were operating back in ’70. Back to our fictional Big Easy, our hero uses the cover of a Mardi Gras parade, which somehow just materializes on the empty docks (I’m guessing these guys have never actually been to Mardi Gras) to slip aboard unnoticed.
Once on the ship, he takes out the goons, but the Dark Knight is brought up short by Macob himself, threatening the hostage with a gun. Distracted, Batman is knocked out and awakens to find himself tied to the ship’s giant paddlewheel. In classic death-trap fashion, the villain has set the ship in motion, which will slowly, revolution after revolution, drown the masked hero. Convinced that escape is impossible, Macob indulges in the cliche to the hilt and leaves his victim to his fate.
To his credit, it almost works. The Caped Crusader has it pretty bad, and he’s completely unable to break the ropes or stop the spinning of the wheel. Of course, Macob left the hero his utility belt, so it really should have been a simple matter. Nevertheless, by catching a steel cable in his teeth and tossing it around the rotating wheel, Batman manages to break the mechanism and escape in suitably dramatic fashion. The sequence is pretty solid and provides for an exciting episode. There’s a nice little bit at the end as the hero, indomitable and undeterred, dives into the river to pursue his quarry. However, he’s spotted by a seaman on a Coast Guard cutter, and the young man asks to be excused from duty because he’s seeing giant bats!
The climax comes as Batman confronts Macob, who reveals himself to be the twisted Moloch, while the villain is digging up the musician’s grave in order to recover his horn. It seems that the horn’s previous owner had discovered an oil deposit and scratched a crude map on the instrument, passing it on right before his death, though Holden never knew what he possessed. Moloch is, as the name implies, after wealth, so he wants the map, but the Dark Knight is determined not to let him have it. The greedy ghoul actually beats the Batman, only to be chased away by nearing police sirens. Their battle then spills out of the graveyard (in which graves are IN the ground rather than on top of it, a mistake for the setting, which is below sea level), and into the street, choked with Mardi Gras revelers.
The Caped Crusader finally gets a good shot in, knocking the self-styled god of wealth into the lap of the true master of wealth, Satan, a statue dominating a float. It’s a rather striking image, and a nice ending to the fight. There’s a bit of subtlety in the scene, as O’Neil lets the art speak for itself, not feeling the need (surprisingly) to beat us over the head with the symbolism and the message. The issue ends on a bittersweet note as the crime-fighter discovers the horn, broken and trampled by the celebrating Mardi Gras crowds.
This is a solid tale. It isn’t fantastic, but it has some style and some good moments. The villain gets a little development, mostly in his last big speech about how he’s dedicated himself to acquiring wealth, but there isn’t really much to him. The whole jazz element of the story is fun, and I’m guessing that Denny O’Neil was a bit of a fan. In the same vein, the New Orleans setting for the tale was enjoyable and distinctive, even if it wasn’t executed perfectly. It added a certain flair to the story that helped to bring it up above the rank and file of such tales. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
Teen Titans #28
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Dick Giordano
We’re going to do something a bit different today and change up the review order because the events of this Titans issue actually precede those of the Robin backup in Detective Comics.
As for this issue itself, all I can say is, ‘hooray!’ First off, check out those credits: we’ve got half the SAG team lending their considerable talents to this book, and who do we have instead of Jim Aparo? Why, Nick Cardy, of course! He continues to lend his considerable talents to the comic, but unlike previous issues, this one not only LOOKS good, it also IS good. You can’t ask for much better than that, and this issue is just plain beautiful, even for Cardy, with some really neat layouts and pages. This by itself is cause for celebration, as you just know we’re in for something great, but even more so, this month’s offering serves as the first step in reversing the bizarre and pointless direction of the last few issues. Plus, just look at that awesome cover. I love the Batman Family, but there is that (hopefully small) part of me that likes to see them taken down a peg, the part of all of us that grins when the strong man stumbles. It’s mixed here with my enjoyment of seeing Aqualad make good, despite the disregard with which he’s been treated by this book and the general lack of respect the character tends to receive in the world at large. Skeates clearly got the Prince of the Seas, though, and he handles him to good effect here.
Our tale begins with a beautiful, moody, and visually creative sequence in which a girl walking through the park observes something she shouldn’t have and is pursued by armed hoods who attempt to silence her. She escapes, but she loses her purse, and the gunmen lose no time in tracking her to her home. Fortunately for the young lady, who is revealed to be Sharon Tracy, Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy’s roommate, a mysterious but remarkable visitor happens to drop by at that moment. The figure, clad in classic trenchcoat and fedora combo has groped his way to her apartment from the docks, and when the would-be killers burst in to finish their job, the visitor is revealed to be the young Aquatic Ace, Aqualad, long absent from these pages! I love seeing the sea-going heroes walking around on dry land in the classic hat and trenchcoat disguise. It just looks cool. Never let anyone say that the Aquatic Aces don’t have style in spades! Plus, what other opportunities do these heroes, who have no secret identities, have to do the whole ‘rip off their disguise and leap into action’ bit. It makes for some dynamic images and it’s just plain fun.
Well, doing just that, the young Marine Marvel handily disarms and whips the two thugs without batting an eye, the first of several great action sequences he receives. He really seems capable and cool-headed, young, but nonetheless skilled. You are probably going to get sick of hearing me praise the art by the time you finish this commentary, but I’m afraid I can’t help myself. Cardy just produces page after lovely page, draped in shadow and exuding style and drama. It’s simply gorgeous, and I probably enjoyed the art of this book more than I have any of the others for several months.
The malefactors put to route (rather forcefully, as Aqualad knocks them through a window!), the teen hero checks on the young lady. He finds her stunned and frightened, but unharmed. He comforts her, but it seems that the terror of the evening’s adventures have caused the lovely Miss Tracy to block out what, exactly, she saw that started all of this. The teen Marine Marvel had come to the building looking for Wonder Girl, as he hasn’t been able to contact any of the Titans for weeks (because of their pointless undertaking with Mr. Jupiter), but he, being the gallant type, is unable to ignore a damsel in distress, so he takes her to Titan HQ where she can safely hide out while he tries to get a hold of the team.
The only Titan whose location Garth knows for sure is Dick Grayson, so he heads upriver to the Teen Wonder’s college campus, but as the young Atlantean is trying to figure out how he can find Dick’s dorm, he encounters the man himself, right in the middle of an energetic donnybrook with several thugs. Aqualad dives right in, taking out two of the antagonists in his first rush, and then the two friends dispatch their opponents, who turn out to be members of a car-jacking ring that Robin was tracking, in a lovely sequence that really lets both of them shine.
The Titans have a pleasant conversation as they bust heads, which also helps to illustrate just how routine this whole bit is for them, a nice touch. I love this scene, and Cardy illustrates the action with great energy and style. I especially enjoy the last blows, as Robin and Aqualad play ping-pong with a thief’s face, leading to the Atlantean teen dispatching the fellow with just a flick of his fingers. Cardy even manages to give each character a unique fighting style, with Aqualad clearly more of a bruiser and Robin delivering precise karate chops. It’s great fun.
Robin warns the visiting hero that the other Titans are in something of a weird place, and he advises his friend not to expect any help from them. Garth is sure that, once they hear his story, they’ll be willing to pitch in. However, when he joins his teammates and tells his tale, they are unyielding, insisting that they’ve taken a vow never to use their powers again. Now here we find one of the only weaknesses of this issue, as Aqualad goes from cheerful to raging in nothing flat. I know he’s a bit of a hot head, but this is really rather much. He does have what I consider a perfectly reasonable reaction to the nonsensical excuses of the other Titans, though, as he calls them cowards, along with a few dozen synonyms! As you’d imagine, Hawk doesn’t take that too kindly, and when Robin gets between the two, Aqualad belts the Teen Wonder right in the face!
It’s a great image, but it doesn’t really make much sense. After all, Robin is the one guy NOT acting like an idiot, but I suppose we’re supposed to understand that Garth is just too angry to think straight. Or that someone really just wanted to see Aqualad deck Robin. To Dick’s credit, he just takes the blow and still remains the cooler head. The Titans tell their missing member their story, but he implores them to at least come listen to Sharon Tracy’s troubles.
They agree, and we once again see the team back in costume! Even more exciting and surprising, Lilith actually does something useful! I know, I couldn’t believe it either! Sharon still can’t remember what she saw, so Lilith uses her vaguely defined powers (now becoming a little less so), to tap into the memory, and we are rewarded with the most creative and striking page in the entire book, as Lilith travels through the girl’s mind to find the fateful event. It’s a beautiful image, with Lilith’s face forming the center and her hair streaming out to form panel borders. What a unique design. My wife remarked that it looked like a Jimmy Hendrix poster, and it has a similarly psychedelic feel, yet it is nevertheless an effective piece of storytelling.
We discover that Sharon came across three men in the park, three men apparently in the employ of…Ocean Master! Now that’s a twist, and an interesting one. What’s more, one of them shoots another with a strange ray that turns the unremarkable looking fellow into a bizarre, bug-eyed monster! Lilith relays her findings, but the other Titans are still hung up on their foolish vow (shades of the Grail Quest…but without the pathos…or the interest…or the stakes…so…not that much like the Grail Quest, I suppose…). Aqualad has had enough of their nonsense, so he heads off to tackle Ocean Master by himself! You certainly can’t fault the kid’s courage.
Here we get a really neat sequence that almost subverts some of our expectations but is quite awesome nonetheless. Aqualad goes to the scene of the crime to see if he can pick up some clues. While there, he takes a classic head-blow, but don’t add him to the list too quickly! Our young hero is tougher than he looks, and he comes up swinging (or kicking, as the case may be) when he realizes that he’s been jumped by Orm and his henchmen. We even get a nice reminder that Atlanteans are hardier than surface folk, though Skeates apparently forgets this when convenient.
I love this action montage, as the physically smaller Aqualad absolutely takes it to his larger opponents. It’s a great image, and it really cranks up the scale of his accomplishment. The Prince of the Seas does more than hold his own, laying into the whole gang and putting them all on the ropes before…darn it, a lucky blow from behind puts him out. We were SO close. Yep, Garth earns himself a spot on the wall of shame, as this definitely fits our Head-Blow Headcount.
The tale ends with a nice villain moment as Orm, who we should remember just experienced an existential crisis when he discovered he had attempted to kill his brother, callously declares that Aqualad is no kin of his, and thus, he has no compunctions about murdering the youth. He orders his men to tie their captive to a tree to let him die a slow death by dehydration. It’s a solid moment of characterization and continuity. It reminds us that, though Orm may have some lines he wouldn’t willingly cross, he is still a villain, much like that ambiguous speech of his in the Deadman backup. Of course, we are assured, this is not The End!
I just flat out loved this issue. It is such a breath of fresh air after the maddeningly pointless and just plain stupid storylines of the previous comics in the series. What’s more, it brings back one of my favorite characters, Aqualad, in great fashion. The youthful Atlantean comes off very well in this issue, routinely handling entire groups of opponents, and even taking on one of his mentor’s greatest foes one-on-one, and winning (for a while)! Though Skeates leans a bit too heavily on his hot-headed temper, you still couldn’t help but be impressed by the character’s skill and courage in this story. We also finally have someone question what the heck the Titans are doing and call them out on being foolish and throwing away their gifts, which is very welcome. The art is, as I’ve constantly remarked, just flat-out beautiful throughout. Cardy brings a great, moody, dynamic feel to the story with his inking, and he draws some of the best looking action we’ve seen lately. Even Lilith manages to be tolerable, even useful! That’s saying something. In the end, Aqualad’s moment of irrational anger is the only real flaw, but it’s enough to hold the issue from a perfect score. I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, which is still darn good!
P.S.: I cheated a bit and looked ahead, and it seems that we get to enjoy Skeates’ story-spinning for several more months, which is just fine by me! I’m quite looking forward to next issue, which is something I’ve never yet said about this Titans book. Interestingly, the letters page indicates that the readers were also quite dissatisfied by this sudden and ridiculous turn of the Titans’ direction, and Giordano hastens to assure them that we’ll see the team back in better action soon. I wonder if either A) the reader response was so overwhelmingly negative that the editor changed the direction, B) he himself realized that what Kanigher was doing was terrible, or C) some mixture of the two. It does seem that we’re seeing a very sudden departure, and I’m curious as to what caused it. If this was planned all along, it makes the whole Mr. Jupiter plot even more pointless.
Well dear readers, that is going to do it for this post. I hope you enjoyed the read and will join me soon for the next edition as we travel further Into the Bronze Age! Next time we will see the triumphant return of the Macabre Manbat, more Robin, plus the Fastest Man Alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
Well, Aqualad joins the not-so-august membership on the Wall of Shame, adding his noggin to the Head-Blow Headcount. He could still take some solace from the fact that his mentor was there before him…twice…as was Robin!