Well, let’s try and squeeze a few more of these features in bef0re Christmas, shall we? Join me today for some Zaney Haney madness, and some more Bat-adventures!
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.
Brave and the Bold #91
“A Cold Corpse For the Collector”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
We return once more to the land of the wacky, the private demesne of ‘ol Zaney Haney, Earth-H. Haney’s work has been very hit or miss for me, some of his stories being outlandish but exciting fun, while others were just too goofy and too far out there for me. This one, though, is definitely a hit. It fits the Haney formula of casually introducing a world-shattering change to a character while giving absolutely zero thought to how the given revelation will be handled going forward, but unlike some of the offerings we’ve encountered, this one makes a fair amount of sense, and the characterizations aren’t really all that far off from what one might expect from the characters involved. The final result is actually an interesting tale that, while lacking any real impact on the universe, easily could have been an important milestone for the Justice League’s newest dynamite dame, Black Canary.
She, of course, is our guest star for this issue, and it is her backstory, not yet twisted and retconned beyond all recognition, that provides the dramatic weight for the yarn. The core of the story is a standard villain identity mystery, with an enigmatic mob figure secretly pulling the strings in Gotham’s shadows. The book opens with a mob exchange gone wrong, resulting in one dead bagman and one stolen score. This event causes consternation to the gathered crimebosses of Gotham, who are meeting in a darkened, smoke-filled room, with a rather surprising guest. It seems Batman shares a seat at their table! It is shortly revealed that this masked manhunter is a fake, a plant hired by the shadowy mastermind known as ‘The Collector’ (because he always ‘collects,’ ‘natch), to sit in on their meetings and give them Batman’s perspective on their dealings so they can anticipate him. Riiiiiigggght. Foolproof, I’m sure! A cape and cowl do not a detective’s mind make, methinks. This is an odd gimmick, made all the odder by the fact that Haney did the exact same thing in World’s Finest just last month, with a crime boss (who actually was Batman, strangely enough) dressed as the Bat. I guess he thought it worth repeating.
At any rate, the Collector promises to solve the problem of the rival gang without a war, and in the interim, the real-and-for-true Dark Knight is busy helping Commissioner Gordon identify the bagman who took the long last dive. They are joined by private eye Larry Lance, a name you more astute DC fans might just recognize, except, this is not THAT Larry Lance. That’s right, we’re on Earth-1, and surprisingly, Haney actually bothers to make that clear. It’s rare for the Zaney One to actually specify where and when a story was taking place, or give continuity anything but mostly benign neglect. Well, this universe’s Larry is also investigating the Collector, and though Gordon has no time for him, the Caped Crusader is willing to work with the shamus. It is very strange to see Batman playing good cop to Gordon’s bad cop. That’s just unnatural.
Back in Lance’s office, he encounters a lovely lady, a lady going by the name ‘Myra Kallen,’ but who we likely recognize as Dinah Lance. That’s right, this is Earth-2’s Black Canary. She apparently has found the Earth-1 counterpart of her dear, departed husband, and despite the hugely problematic and complicated philosophical and psychological implications of the relationship, has determined to win Larry-1’s heart to replace the Larry she lost. From the beginning, it’s clear she’s not thinking too clearly about this whole situation, but that actually makes pretty perfect sense. How could she be objective about such a thing? How could anyone?
Later that night, a disguised Collector ‘collects’ from the rival gang, killing their leader at an illegal casino while posing as a dealer. Batman has anticipated this move, and he’s hard on the killer’s heels, only to catch the gumshoe, Lance, instead. I imagine we’re all likely genre-savy enough to see where this is going, but unfortunately for the love-struck lady in the leather jacket, the plot continues to barrel towards its inevitable conclusion.
The P.I. hands the hero a line about how he was chasing the guy and was clocked on the head right before the Dark Knight grabbed him. They find a discarded disguise that seems to confirm his story, but, and I enjoyed this, the master detective remains suspicious. I like that Batman isn’t entirely taken in by the subterfuge here. When the pair meets up with ‘Myrna,’ the Masked Manhunter recognizes the Canary, and when they are alone, he warns her away from Lance. She rejects his advice, insisting that she has to run her own life, but she sticks around just long enough to save him from an assassination attempt.
The next day Batman and Gordon are apparently just hanging out, drinking coffee, which makes for an image I find quite humorous and a little charming. They get a tip from the suspicious shamus that the Collector will be holding a meeting at the Gotham Museum, but when the Dark Knight arrives, all he finds is an ambush. Just as he’s about to grab the gunman, the hitman gets hit from behind, by Lance!
Once again, his story seems plausible, but the Caped Crusader isn’t entirely sold on it. Unfortunately, he cannot convince Black Canary to share his doubts. She accuses her Justice League colleague of being jealous, and interestingly enough, he admits to himself that he does have some feelings for her. I thought that was a nice little touch, and let’s face it, basically everybody in the League except for the married guys made a play for Canary at one time or another. Who could blame them?
The Pretty Bird’s problems don’t end there, though, as Larry-1 arrives just then and overhears enough to figure out who she really is. He proclaims his love for her, and Haney does a good job of making him seem fairly earnest, if just a touch greedy. It’s a surprisingly subtle handling of a scene that couldn’t have borne anything more than a light touch. It’s pretty solid characterization. The sweet-talking shamus convinces the fighting female to help him catch the Collector…or at least, that’s what he says.
The next night, Lance contacts the Dark Detective with another tip. He claims the Collector will be at a deserted racetrack, but when he arrives, the hero is sideswiped by a sonic scream. Black Canary is using her powers against her former friend! You guessed it; time for the big reveal. Larry-1 shows his true colors, preparing to murder Batman and announcing that he was the Collector all the time (gasp!). Canary puts herself in harm’s way to save her teammate, but she’s too stunned to take Lance down. Fortunately, the Caped Crusader is still fast with a batarang, and he disarms the crime boss. The two heroes chase after him when he flees on horesback, and we get a nice, dramatic chase sequence, with Canary showing off her motorcycle riding skills, vaulting over and smashing through obstacles.
Batman tackles Lance, and the two fall, still struggling, into a pond. In classic ‘hoisted on your own petard’ fashion, the villainous gumshoe impales himself on his own knife (or at least, that’s what Batman says when Canary shows up. Sure Bats. Sure.). The story ends with Canary’s lament about the loss of her old life and the challenges of building a new one on Earth-1. Fortunately, she will have friends like Batman.
This is actually a very solid story. It’s definitely Haney, but it’s enjoyable Haney. He hit on a really great concept here. If there was a Larry Lance on Earth-2, chances are there would be one on Earth-1, but what if he wasn’t what his counterpart had been? It’s a good idea for a story, and while it could probably have benefited from a bit more development, it was a fun and interesting read. Canary doesn’t come off great, but her equivocation about Larry is actually quite believable. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get back someone we’ve lost, even if it wasn’t exactly the same?
We’re still seeing the kinder, gentler Batman that Haney prefers in these books, and the character here really bears fairly little relation tothe grim avenger we encountered in the other Bat titles lately. Canary is also a little less the capable heroine we have seen elsewhere. Nonetheless, this is, in the end, a good story, made extremely creepy by the retcon that’s coming to her backstory in a few years (we’ll get there, eventually). Good thing it could easily lift right out of her history because it’s a Haney tale. I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen. I love Cardy’s art, but I don’t think he’s quite right for Batman. His style is a bit too soft for the Dark Knight.
This comic also had a rather neat little gem hidden in the letters page, a story of the real-life heroics of artist Nick Cardy. Apparently he piloted a tank in World War II, where he met the editor, Murray Boltinoff. In a fun little touch, Boltinoff relays a short adventure from the Big One. Check it out below:
Detective Comics #403
“You Die By Mourning”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Pencilers: Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Time for yet more Batman! The Caped Crusader being overexposed is definitely not a new phenomenon. It’s a good thing he’s a great character, otherwise this might get old. It’s also fortunate that his stories tend to be above average, though that isn’t really the case for this issue. Both of this month’s Detective yarns suffer from brevity and a resultant lack of development, and as we’ve seen from the Legion backups, that doesn’t have to be the case, even for these short comics. The headline tale, with the wonderfully melodramatic title, “You Die by Mourning,” is a bit odd. It’s nicely atmospheric, but the individual elements don’t really come together in a satisfying whole. I’d bet this is another story conceived of for the purpose of a particular image or moment.
Our drama dawns with the arrival of a veiled woman dressed in mourning clothes in Bruce Wayne’s V.I.P. (Victim’s Inc. Program) offices. Calling herself, Mrs. Randall, she meets with the man himself, and frantically claims she’s there in relation to the death of her husband, a death which has yet to occur! A gun falls out of her purse when she reaches for a handkerchief, and she flees the office, leaving a mystery in her wake…a mystery that piques the curiosity of Wayne’s alter ego, the Batman!
That night, the Masked Manhunter heads to the Randall home, where he sees Mrs. Angela Randall and her husband, the unlikely named ‘Laird’ Randall (is he Scottish nobility?) getting ready for a costume ball at a haunted house. The hero suspects that Angela is plotting her husband’s demise, but he can’t figure out what brought her to V.I.P. He stows away aboard the eerie horse-drawn coach that arrives to transport them, and along the way they are attacked by a car full of gunmen. The coachman, apparently in on the job, leaps clear, but the Dark Knight saves the Randalls with a smoke bomb and some quick action. The gunmen’s car wrecks in the smoke, and we get a nice scene where Batman quickly and efficiently disposes of them.
He sends the Randalls on ahead with the coachman, which turns out to be something of a mistake. The muffled figure pulls a gun when they arrive at the “party” house, empty save for the three of them. We then get a couple of pages of exposition that pass for the resolution, as Robbins packs all of the story he neglected earlier into his last few pages. The coachman reveals that he is a mobster named Van Paxton, who runs a paving company that Randall was bidding against. Just as he prepares to kill the couple, a dead ringer (pun only partially intended) for Mrs. Randall leaps in the way. In a twist that comes mostly out of nowhere, it is Angela’s estranged twin sister, who also happens to be Paxton’s wife. She married the no-goodnik, and she was so ashamed of what he was that she cut all ties with her sister. When she learned that Paxton was going to kill her sister’s husband, she visited V.I.P. in the hopes of raising a red flag about the whole thing and…somehow…saving him. Oookay. That’s a lot of convoluted plot to cram into just two pages.
Just then, Batman arrives and tackles the killer. Brown isn’t always my favorite artist, but his work is usually just plain solid. His action looks good, and he often does some pretty good layouts. This story is no exception, and the confrontation between the Dark Knight and Paxton, though not jaw-dropping, is good, clean four-color art. We get yet another story where the villain is hoisted by his own petard, as the mobster falls through a floorboard and…strangles? It isn’t super clear, but he is totally dead. That’s the important part. The poor twin sister is mortally wounded as well, and the story ends with her prediction to Bruce Wayne having come true in a way she never anticipated.
This is an entertaining enough tale, but it isn’t of the quality we’ve been seeing from the Bat-books lately. The ending is rushed, and the setup is far too brief to be effective. All of that exposition shoved into the last pages means that we don’t actually get invested in any of the characters. It doesn’t help that our hero’s climactic struggle is against a single average guy. The stakes aren’t really impressive enough to make the fight exciting, though Brown’s art helps matters. The overly complicated plot with the unlikely twists just sort of leave a reader cold. It seems that Robbins really had a bit too much story for his venue, and the result is not good, though it isn’t actively bad like some we’ve read. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, since it is enjoyable, if unimpressive.
The Robin backup faces similar problems to the headliner, and once again, the Teen Wonder doesn’t come off too well in his own feature. This is becoming a sad tradition. This story, weighing in at only 8 all-too brief pages, just doesn’t have the space it needs to accomplish its purpose well, even building on the previous issue as it does. If we remember, in the last Robin tale, the younger half of the Dynamic Duo broke up a fight among juvenile delinquents from a detention farm, only to pick the wrong pigeon and belt the innocent party. After those events, our teenage hero has set out to visit that farm in order to get a better idea of what conditions are like on the ground there.
We find him lost and having run out of gas in his groovy Volkswagen van, stuck in the pouring rain. Not the most auspicious of beginnings. He’s passed on the road by two kids in a truck, but he eventually gets some help from an older couple, and we get the hilariously 60s line from our protagonist that this “goes to show our ‘over-30s’ can’t be completely written off.” At least he’s not too angsty to realize that, which puts him ahead of some teen heroes, so I’ll take it.
When he finally arrives at the farm, he finds it covered with police, so he switches to his battle togs and breaks out his brand new Robin cycle. Now, don’t get excited. While you might be expecting all kinds of cool new gadgets and maybe an exciting car chase to accompany this debut, all we get is a line of dialog about the super swanky license plate changer that this bike features. That’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, it seems to me, especially with the focus on Robin building his own identity and career as a solo act.
The cops tell him that two of the kids from the farm have escaped in an old truck, and they show him the strange message that was left scratched into the floor of their barracks. It reads ‘Forced to go–guns buried-help me.” It turns out the missing kids are the same two from the previous donnybrook, and, determined not to make the same mistake again, our Teen Wonder jumps to the opposite conclusion, and decides the the bigger of the two boys, Ed, must have kidnapped the smaller one, Frank.
Recalling the truck that passed him on the road and performing a nice bit of deduction, he tracks the kids to an abandoned barn and finds them both loading shotguns. Robin jumps the smaller kid, and belts him, ignoring his pleas of innocence, only to narrowly avoid a blast from the other boy’s gun. The junior detective takes out the gunman, and then gets the story from a rather bitter Frank.
The kid relates how ‘Big Ed’ was working for a mobster who wanted him to recruit a ‘teen-age’ gang for him. The would-be teen-boss had even stashed some guns and supplies out by the farm. Frank had pretended to go along with Ed in order to bust him in hopes of earning some time off his sentence. It was he who left the note on the floor. There’s a bit of a message crammed into the last little bit about playing by the rules, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because no-one wants to spend their life looking over their shoulder. That’s a fairly cynical view, really. I suppose this kid will go far in this dirty world of ours.
So, as you can see, this story just isn’t all that much to write home about. It’s a teen problem, which they seem to enjoy putting Robin up against, but the stakes just aren’t too high and the plot and characters aren’t developed enough to make it work. If we had gotten to know the two kids just a bit in the previous story, this could have worked much better. As is, the very first time we start getting to know them, we’re already in the denouement with exposition flowing fast. This just felt a bit boring and bland, in addition to being underdeveloped, and that’s never a good thing for an adventure tale. I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen. There’s a bit of evidence of the generation gap here, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
These two issues were a mixed bag, but none of them were particularly impressive. They were enjoyable enough, though. I think the most interesting part of both books was the letter column feature about Nick Cardy’s war service. Who knew? That was a neat surprise, and it also says something about the difference in the generations that populate the ranks of DC at the time. I was struck with the thought that Cardy was part of the old guard, the professional writers and artists who, along with the rest of their generation, shared an almost universal experience of war service. They had experienced privations, hardships, and much more, and most of them were also children of the Depression in one form or another. The upcoming generation hadn’t had those experiences, but they had grown up on the comics the previous generation had created, and now they were beginning to take a hand in the field. I’m curious what differences will be revealed about the two generations through the work that they produced. We are, here in the 70s, going to see the change over taking place. It should be interesting to observe.