- Action Comics #394
- Adventure Comics #399
- Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
- Brave and Bold #92
- Detective Comics #405
- The Flash #201
- G.I. Combat #144
- Justice League of America #84
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
- Superman #231
- World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- World’s Finest #198
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“The Man with Ten Eyes!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“The Case of the Gigantic Gamble!”
Penciler: Will Ely
Inker: Will Ely
Letterer: Pat Gordon
I’ve been looking forward to this one, in the same sense you look forward to a movie you know is going to be so bad it’s good. Ohh man, this comic is something else. It introduces one of the dumbest, most useless villains in comic book history with what very well might be the worst “power” of all time in the character of the Ten-Eyed Man, a guy with ‘eyes’ in his fingers. That’s his whole gimmick, that he’s got eyes on his fingertips. Why is that an advantage rather than a crippling liability? Well, you’d have to ask Frank Robbins. He certainly spends plenty of time trying to convince us that this is actually the greatest thing ever, but what makes this issue so very marvelous is that it takes itself completely seriously. In the goofiest, most bat-guano insane Bob Haney stories, you never feel like Haney is unaware of the fact that the story he’s telling is bonkers. In the same way, in most of those silly Superman tales that feel more Silver than Bronze Age-y, you can tell that the authors are, to a certain degree, in on the joke, Not in this comic. Frank Robbins, who is usually a good, dependable scribe, goes above and beyond to ratchet up the drama and, in some senses, realism, of this piece, to unintentionally hilarious effect. So, let’s examine the shinning star of ludicrousness that is this issue.
We start with a gang of criminals preparing to rob a fur warehouse, with only a lone guard to stop them. Unfortunately for them, he’s a special forces veteran who survived the jungles of Vietnam, and he’s more than capable of handling them. He trashes the thugs, but one of them manages to bean him with a brick, knocking him out and making his vision go fuzzy. They set a bomb to blow open the vault (do fur warehouses have vaults?), only to have the Dark Knight arrive and spoil their plans. Fortunately for them, the groggy guard, mistaking the hero for his assailants, attacks him as he tries to cut the fuse.
The pair struggle, with Batman trying to reach the bomb and the guard unwittingly preventing him, until the explosives go off, blinding the watchman and injuring the Masked Manhunter. Now here we meet one of the silly notes of the story, but by no means the silliest, as the crooks grab the watchman, whose name is Philip Reardon, and cart him off to a doctor, for some reason. The gang leader is determined that the blinded man can be turned into an asset, but there’s absolutely no reason that he should think the fellow would be willing to help him, even if he wasn’t crippled. This doesn’t prevent the gangster from spending a pile of money on doctors in an attempt to cure the fellow’s blindness, though, which is an awfully big investment for very flimsy reasons. But really, focusing on something as mundane as a gap in plot logic is really doing this ridiculous story a disservice.
Meanwhile, Batman’s vision has been damaged as well, and it is only with the help of his trusty aide, Alfred, that he’s able to get home. Eventually he and Reardon end up in the office of the same eye specialist. For some reason, the Dark Knight is obsessed with continuing his work, even while injured, despite the fact that there is no compelling reason for him to take the risk. There’s no overriding case, no impending danger, no dangling mystery left unsolved. Nonetheless, he rigs up a set of camera lenses and makes Alfred give him directions over the radio. Many may remember this type of story being told to much better effect in the Batman: TAS episode “Blind as a Bat,” which did feature an immediate danger that could not wait.
Well, unfortunately for Reardon, the specialist apparently got his qualifications from a crackerjack box, as his idea to restore the man’s lost sight is nothing short of ridiculous. He performs a delicate operation to connect the veteran’s optic nerves to the nerves in his fingers. Because that’s how nerves work. And because fingers can detect light. And because this would be at all useful. Yet, Robbins is determined to show us how this is the most amazing ability ever conceived.
Reardon, newly “powered,” blames Batman for his blinding, which is completely irrational, considering it was the thieves who planted the bomb, but I’m actually going to let that pass. People do react irrationally to tragedy and loss, and, strangely enough, this might actually be the most believable part of this story! Reardon indulges his hatred by ambushing the Dark Knight when the hero returns to the clinic, knocking him out and almost burning his eyes out with a surgical laser! Alfred manages to rouse his master in the nick of time over their radio channel, and then begins a very odd fight scene. Batman thinks his opponent is blind, so it takes some time for him to puzzle out what is going on, probably because it’s so colossally stupid that he can’t bring himself to believe it. To make matters worse, his video lenses were knocked out in the first attack, so his vision is on the fritz. During the fight, we see the complete infeasibility of the Ten-Eyed Man’s “power,” as he accidentally catches himself with one of his hands, thus causing agonizing pain in his ‘eyes.’ That’s…that’s quite a weakness there. It makes the one-hour water limit of Aquaman seem positively dignified and helpful.
The Gotham Guardian finally manages to defeat his ‘ohh so challenging’ opponent by ‘blinding’ him by wrapping his cowl around the embittered man’s hand…eyes…whatever, allowing the hero to get in a knockout blow. Yet, when he brings the doctor in to take charge of the clearly unhinged patient, he is gone, and Batman makes a chilling proclamation, declaring that the Ten-Eyed Man has been “unleashed on innocent Gotham–the most dangerous man alive!” Wait, did I say chilling? I mean wildly, hilariously exaggerated. Really? “The most dangerous man alive”? That wouldn’t be, say, the Joker? Or, hey, what about all of those super-villains with world-ending powers that are running around out there? Nope, it’s the guy with eyes in his fingertips. That’s the guy who we should really be worried about.
This is just such an absolutely ridiculous comic that it is difficult to even know where to begin. You have to wonder how Robbins ever convinced himself that this was a character worth writing about, much less how he sold Julie Schwartz on him. After all, the guy’s not a bad writer, but I guess everyone has an off day now and then. This is just a particularly egregious one. What really ratchets up the quality of this tremendous failure to such lofty and delightful heights of terribleness is the extent to which Robbins goes to establish the believably and realism of key moments. He focuses on logical consistency, after the initial shark jumps, stressing things like the desperation and awkwardness of Batman’s blind-fighting, the limitations of someone with eyes on their freaking fingertips, and more. It’s a Silver Age-type idea told with Bronze Age attention to detail, and the result is just wonderfully bad. I have to give this comic 1 Minuteman for quality, but I’d give it a 5 for Mystery Science Theater-type entertainment.
Brave and Bold #92
“Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Here are are with another jaunt into the Haney-verse! This issue is actually quite tame by Haney standards, and this month the Zany One turns in an interesting, exciting issue that almost makes complete sense. It features a new creation, the Bat-Squad, that I’m fairly certain never saw the light of day again (as always, let me know if I’ve missed something!). This eclectic collection of random Brits actually make up a nice supporting cast for this one issue, but I can’t imagine another story that would have an easy time making use of them. Their presence in this tale is just a result of happenstance, and there would be no reason for them to join forces again.
We meet this trio of characters on the set of a movie being filmed in London. They are Margo Cantrell, script girl and stand-in for the lead actress, Major Dabney, a retired Scotland Yard inspector who is working as a technical advisor, and Mick Murdock, a British version of Rick Jones. He’s a guitar-playing troubadour type. They’re all working on a film called The Scarlet Strangler, which is based on a real set of unsolved murders by a mysterious madman that took place many years ago in the very neighborhood in which they’re filming. I was entertained by the fact that Bruce Wayne is showing up here to oversee yet another movie that he’s invested in, tying this story in with three others that have had similar setups. I have to imagine that this is just coincidence, because I just can’t conceive of Bob Haney having intentionally taken note of such a small issue of continuity.
Anyway, Bruce Wayne, movie producer, happens to be on hand to see the starlet play her first scene with the ‘Strangler,’ but something goes wrong, as the mysterious figure plucks her up and carries her off rather than following the script. They quickly realize something is amiss, and the film’s director, Basil Coventry, faints in shock. Bruce slips away and changes into Batman, who actually bothers to offer a plausible explanation for his presence in London. Are we sure this was Bob Haney?
The Dark Knight organizes the trio to help him search for the missing actress, they begin prowling the foggy streets, where the hero has a strange encounter. He’s passed by a horse-drawn carriage and a cabby who speaks in a manner some half-century out of date. Before he can consider the odd occurrence, he sights the Strangler and ambushes him, only to be tossed about like a rag doll by his ‘maniacal strength!’ Fortunately, the Major arrives before the fiend can finish him off. In the struggle, Batman tore off part of his opponent’s coat, and the former inspector discovers small beetles on the fragment, claiming that they are a species that fills the cellars of London and that each family has unique markings, allowing you to tell which cellar they hailed from. This seemed strange and specific enough to be true, so I was surprised to find that no such species exists. That’s a neat little detail, and it adds a touch of something special to the story!
The Major sets out to search for the madman’s hideout by ogling beetles, and the Masked Manhunter decides to risk a more immediate gambit. He asks Margo to pose as the kidnapped actress in the hopes that the Strangler will think she’s escaped and come after her. Meanwhile, he and Mick will remain close by. The fiend takes the bait, and a desperate struggle ensues. They have him on the ropes, but he is rescued by a shadowy figure. There’s another player in the game!
At that point, the Major checks in and tells the team that he’s found the fiend’s hideout, and when they search it, they find the missing actress, though she claims she’s actually the character she was playing. This causes some of the party to panic, thinking they’ve somehow traveled back in time. Just then, they sight the Stranger approaching, but he is confronted by the shadowy figure who had aided him, who is revealed to be Basil Coventry! The Strangler turns on his erstwhile ally, and the Major is forced to shoot him to save the director’s life.
The strain is too much for the filmmaker, however, and he turns on Batman, claiming that he, himself, is the Strangler. They struggle, falling through the rotted floor and into a cellar, where they dislodge an ancient Nazi bomb, leftover from the Blitz, trapping the Dark Knight! Man, Bob Haney does not do things by half measures! The bomb, originally a dud, is activated by its fall.
The Major, who had actually been on a bomb disposal squad during the war, attempts to disarm it with Mick’s aid. This gives us a nice, tense scene, accompanied by a constant ‘tick tick,’ as they race against time to disable the weapon. In the final minutes, they find a crucial component rusted in place, and Batman orders them all out of the area. It’s a great moment, and his final thoughts as he is left in the empty cellar with no companion but the constant ticking of the bomb, are quite effective. He thinks, “Death’s been a close companion often before! Now I’m ready to welcome it for the last time!”
Watching from a safe distance, the ‘Bat-Squad’ see the bomb explode and mourn the selfless hero’s death…albeit, a tad prematurely! He emerges from the fog and tells them that he had in the last, desperate moments, heard the Thames on the other side of the earth wall and had dug his way to the river. The in-rushing water had lifted the bomb, and he was able to swim to safety. It’s a good, last minute escape, and it actually works pretty well.
And the story STILL isn’t over, as we’ve still got the Stranger matter to wrap up! I don’t know that anyone could pack as much into a comic as Bob Haney, and yet this story really doesn’t feel rushed, which is impressive. I’ve been trying to rein in my summaries, but this one refused to be cut down. A Bob Haney story just defies brevity. Well, the mystery of the Strangler is cleared up in a bit of exposition by Basil Coventry, now returned to his senses. He tells the reunited quartet that his grandfather had been the original Strangler, and his father had been driven mad by the knowledge, eventually coming to believe that he, himself, was the murderer. The elder Coventry had been confined to an asylum, and the director had set out to make the film as a way of excising the family demons. His father had learned of this and escaped, attacking the production and posing as the Strangler. The knowledge had, in turn, temporarily driven Basil himself mad when he saw his father killed.
It’s a lot of exposition, but it actually fits together reasonably well, and it makes for an interesting story. I rather would have liked to see this set up a tad earlier, so the effect could build over the story, but it is still quite an enjoyable plot. The issue ends with the questions of the strange, anachronistic moments unexplained, and we’re left to wonder if there was some sort of time travel at work.
This is a really fun, exciting, and interesting story that is just stuffed with atmosphere and admirably creates some nice tension. Haney turns in an unusual and intriguing mystery story that is just packed to the gills with personality and content. The three members of the ‘Squad’ all get some characterization and contribute to the plot, and what’s more, they make a fairly charming set of characters. Haney manages to get you to care about them, at least a bit, in a short amount of time. Of course, this misty, fogbound setting is just perfect for Nick Cardy’s moody artwork, and he turns in a stellar job, though I am not crazy about his Batman. Like his Ocean Master, he’s a little too soft for my tastes. Nonetheless, he gives each of the supporting characters tons of personality and detail, and the strange crimson-gloved killer is nicely menacing. This is just a solid, enjoyable piece of comics storytelling. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as there’s really not much wrong with it, other than the bottom-heavy exposition. It’s a remarkably coherent and sensible story for a Haney-offering, and yet it has his trademark exuberance and color. The combination is really quite good.
That will wrap up this post. We had two wildly different stories which displayed the two extremes of quality. Amazingly, the goofiest story was not the one penned by Bob Haney. That says something! Anyway, I hope that y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for our next stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age! In the meantime, keep the heroic spirit alive!