Welcome back my good readers! I know it’s taken an age and a day for me to get this post finished, but in the interim, I got my dissertation reading list submitted, so, excelsior! Ready for another dose of Bronze Age goodness? Then, without further ado, join me as we investigate another classic 70s comic.
Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #392
- Batman #225
- Brave and the Bold #91
- Detective Comics #403
- G.I. Combat #143
- Green Lantern #79
- Justice League #83
- Showcase #93
- The Flash #200
- World’s Finest #196
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Shutdown on York Street!
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Ben Oda
As is often the case, Batman provides us with solid quality detective yarns. The headline tale delivers a pretty good mystery with a fair amount of drama in just fifteen pages. In a mark of the growing complexity and maturity of these Batman stories, we have some real stakes, and we also have some successful efforts at characterization and consistency. It’s a pleasant surprise that both Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD come off reasonably well in this issue, despite the fact that they play antagonist to our hero, serving as the primary obstacle to his goals. In general, our setting is beginning to feel more realized, more fleshed-out than many such stories.
The headline tale begins by introducing us to Jonah Jory, a TV host with his own host of problems. He’s a miserable little shell of a man, with false teeth, false hair, false shoulders, and a smile as equally counterfeit as the rest of him. He’s a talk-show personality of the sleazy and vicious variety, and he’s apparently got a major bone to pick with Gotham’s Dark Knight, ambushing Commissioner Gordon on his show about the venerable police veteran’s connection to Batman. Late that night, Jory goes to the Gotham Athletic Club to work out, where he is apparently shot and killed. The guard bursts in to see the window shattered and a caped and cowled figure on a neighboring rooftop.
Gordon investigates, and it begins to look like the Masked Manhunter might be the murderer, as a gun store owner claims he sold Batman himself a .38 last week, the same caliber as the missing murder weapon! The Commissioner has no choice. He issues an APB for the Caped Crusader. Meanwhile, Batman employs some pretty nice detective work to follow a trail of clues that begin to reveal a setup. He interrogates a lowlife who had caused a disturbance at the exact time of the killing, ensuring that the caped figure on the rooftop would be spotted, and forces him to reveal that he was paid to do it. It’s a nice sequence, and it nicely illustrates the increasing seriousness of the character. The Dark Knight doesn’t play games. He smacks the guy around, and when the thug starts pleading for his rights, Batman reminds him that he’s currently a hunted outlaw with nothing to lose. We’re definitely moving away from the deputized, policeman’s friend Batman.
After the hood, the Caped Crusader tracks down his next lead, another small-time crook named Semple. Bats finds him in a dive bar, playing pool with his buddies. What follows is another nice scene, where the Dark Knight easily disposes of the three punks, displaying skill and a suitably intimidating confidence. Unfortunately, Novick’s art doesn’t quite do the scene justice. His action and his poses are a bit too awkward and unnatural. He still manages some nice, moody panels though.
The Masked Manhunter interrogates Semple and discovers that it was actually him in a cape and cowl who bought the gun as well as being spotted by the witnesses at the scene of the crime. The plot thickens! Batman realizes that he’s taken his investigation about as far as he can without getting a look at the crime scene itself, but with Gotham’s finest all over the Club, that is easier said than done. Fortunately, where Batman is hunted, Bruce Wayne can pass unnoticed. He goes into the club, changes into his battle togs, and begins to scale the building from a lower floor.
However, Gordon knows his vigilante friend’s methods, and the man also knows his job. He and his men are watching the building, not just the entrance, but the exterior as well. They move in, and there is a touching little moment, made really successful by Novick’s art, where Gordon is offered a gun and contemplates it, realizing what he might have to do.
They rush the gym, only to find Batman waiting for them. He has solved the mystery, and he proceeds to show them how the crime was committed. It turns out that there was no murder. It was an elaborately staged suicide. Jory hated Batman so much, perhaps because the Dark Knight represented what he, himself, could never be, that he set out to destroy the hero by the means of his own death. He was dying of an incurable disease, so he decided to make use of a death that was inevitable at any rate. Jory had wrapped an elastic pull around a pole, stretched it, and placed the gun in it before he pulled the trigger. As the weapon fell from his lifeless fingers, it was flung through a window, breaking it. That, plus the staged spotting of Batman at just that moment, was enough to cast suspicion on the Caped Crusader. The tale ends with Batman and Commissioner Gordon shaking hands, their friendship restored.
This is just a good, all around solid detective story. The mystery is interesting, and while this type of tale has been told before, it is hardly one of the most common tropes. It’s surprising to see a suicide portrayed in a comic, and this also illustrates the growing maturity of the tales we’re encountering. We really don’t see much of Jory, but we see enough to establish the type of person he is, and it’s enough to work for the story. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Batman’s darker, more dangerous presence here. That, along with Gordon’s own competence, and the little touches like Gordon’s contemplation of his sidearm help make this a really effective story with just a touch of emotional heft. I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen. It loses a bit because of Novick’s awkward action art.
Shutdown on York Street!
This is something of an odd little tale, a b-side story that doesn’t quite rise to the level of charm of some of the Batman backups we’ve seen, though it aims at something similar. Essentially, it’s a teen tale about a young man who gets into a bad situation and finds himself on the run. Yet, unlike most of these stories, the protagonist of this one is pretty unlikable and almost entirely at fault. We begin with a group of kids out drag racing through a Gotham night. That’s right, brace yourselves; we’re in for Fredrich’s attempt at youth culture. Fortunately, he doesn’t go too overboard, and we don’t face more than some terrible 60s slang. Anyway, two teen-agers ™ finish their race, and one, a hotheaded young man named Alex, doesn’t take his loss too well. From the very beginning this kid doesn’t come off well. He picks on the little mechanic that is hanging out with the group, Jack, accuses the other racer, Vic, of cheating, and gets super possessive of a girl named Chris. Interestingly, while the two young punks argue over who she belongs to, the girl never voices an opinion. Real nice.
But Alex’s unappealing qualities don’t end with chauvinism and being a poor loser. Unable to handle losing the girl and the race, he hops in his car and heads straight at Vic. His though bubbles tell us Alex just intends to scare his rival, but this is still incredibly stupid and wildly irresponsible. Vic, for his part, doesn’t exhibit the brains God gave a common dog, standing stolidly in the middle of the road, sure that Alex is too chicken to car-murder him. I don’t think that is the sort of thing that one really puts to the test, at least not if one isn’ts a moron. This ends about the way you’d imagine, tragically. Alex runs off, swearing that he tried to stop and couldn’t.
Soon, Batman arrives on the scene, along with the boy’s father, Art Saddows, who is a crime reporters, as well as apparently part of the ‘Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.’ I have a vague memory of having encountered these guys before, and I enjoy the little nod to continuity and the wider Bat-world, even if it isn’t a corner of with which I’m particularly familiar. Plus, ‘ol Art looks like Dr. Thirteen, pipe and all, so he’s got that going for him. Let’s hope that he’s a bit more objective. We’re hit with some of Fredrich’s teen slang, as Mr. Saddows tells the Dark Knight that “one of Alex’s freaked-out friends must be hiding him!” Maybe he ran away to escape the humiliation of your attempt at talking ‘hip,’ dad? The reporter is convinced that his son couldn’t really be a murderer, though, as we’ve seen, the kid’s temper doesn’t really seem like it would make such a deed all that much of a stretch. The Caped Crusader is convinced that the kid is innocent as well, though he doesn’t tell us why just yet. He sets out to locate the young man and bring him in so that everything can be settled.
Three nights later (remember that), Bats spots a car parked in front of a boutique that is flashing its lights in a peculiar pattern. Three short, three long, three short. S.O.S.! Inside the store, a teen gang is robbing…no, not a jewelry store or even a pawn shop, but a dress store, not for profit, but just so their girls can be well-dressed for a party…shoot for the stars, kids, shoot for the stars.
After the Masked Manhunter makes short work of these unimaginative delinquents, he discovers Alex behind the wheel of their getaway car. The kid went to hide with his friends, but, because he clearly has excellent judgement, his “friends” turned out not to be worth too much. They threatened to turn him in if he doesn’t drive their getaway car, which seems a little fancy for robbing a dress store, but they really want to make an impression at the “bash.” Alex, unable to do anything else, tried to attract help with his S.O.S. gambit, but before Batman can talk to him, the kid takes off again. He’s figured out who is responsible for this whole mess (you know, other than the guy who pointed his car at a human being).
Batman catches up with him just in time to prevent him from doing something else stupid, as Alex chases the mechanic, Jack, down, threatening to kill him. The Dark Knight points out that the kid’s temper has already gotten him in enough trouble, and the story wraps up at the police station, where we discover that Jack let the brake fluid out of Alex’s car because he was jealous of both him and Vic, wanting Chris for himself. Batman explains that he solved the mystery because of the stain of brake fluid on Chris’s dress. He points to a black hand-print on her skirt…that is still there three days later! Remember, the accident happened three days ago, so apparently Chris hasn’t changed clothes or washed her dress in three days! I think you guys could probably do better. The tale ends with father and son reunited and Saddows promising to stand by his boy through the manslaughter trial that awaits him. That’s actually more than a bit dark when you think about it.
This is a solid enough story, though not terribly memorable. Alex is rather unlikable, and that hurts the impact of the tale. He doesn’t really seem all that sad about killing the other boy, mostly just upset about being blamed for it, and the tale ends with him still destined for a manslaughter trial, which is definitely a downbeat, despite the supposed restoration of his relationship with his father. The subject matter is a little more mature as well, though not to the same extent as the headline story. Interestingly, Novick’s art is significantly stronger on this backup. He has some really nice images of Batman looming in the shadows and brooding on gargoyles. The visual language of Batman’s iconic Bronze Age portrayal, that which continues to define the character today, is definitely beginning to come together. In the end, I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen. It is just average, not great, but not bad.
Well, those two Bat-tales are it for this edition, though they took long enough for me to write up, hmm? Hopefully I can get on to the next one more quickly. Either way, the next issue of Batman is a momentous one. It features the debut of the greatest, most terrifying, most awe-inspiring Bat-villain of all time. I’m not talking about any of those weak-sauce second stringers like the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler. No, I’m talking about the villain that would become synonymous with the Dark Knight, who would define his nemesis as day defines night. I am, of course, speaking of none other than the Ten Eyed Man. I’m sure you’re all suitably impressed. Be sure to come back for that earth-shattering issue when we reach it!