(You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #396
- Adventure Comics #401
- Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- Brave and Bold #93
- Detective Comics #407
- G.I. Combat #145
- Superboy #171
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
- Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- Superman #233
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
The Brave and the Bold #93
“Red Water Crimson Death”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Jack Adler
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Within this comic there is a solid and pleasantly subtle ghost story and mystery, but it’s framed by a device that seems more like Bob Haney than Denny O’Neil. In fact, I had to double check the credits as I was reading. This issue really drives home the fact that, although we’re getting closer and closer to the iconic portrayal of Batman that will come to define the character for decades to come, we are not quite there yet. Even O’Neil, who will largely create the Dark Knight that I know and love, has not quite got the character sorted out at this point, and thus this story begins with a really off-beat moment that colored the rest of the book for me.
Curiously, the “guest star” for this issue of B&B is ‘The House of Mystery.’ Bit of a stretch there, DC. I’m going to have to call shenanigans. It is to this very house that a desperate criminal runs, pursued by none other than the Batman! Inside, the House of Mystery host, Cain, plays narrator, a role he’ll continue by tagging along throughout our adventure. Just as the Masked Manhunter is about to get his man, he trips, falling at the thug’s feet. The would-be killer pulls the trigger of his pistol, but it jams, and the Caped Crusader lays him out.
When Commissioner Gordon arrives, he insists that the Dark Knight has run himself ragged in recent weeks, and he argues that even the great Batman can’t keep going nonstop. Gordon insists, quite pointedly, that the hero take a vacation, even giving him tickets for a cruise to Ireland and insisting he be on it. The Masked Manhunter finally agrees and sets out on vacation…and the scene is just plain weird to me. Can you imagine the modern version of Batman taking a vacation?
Now, far be it for me to speak well of the modern, sociopathic version of the character, but this does seem a bit much. Just up and taking a cruise and planning to be gone from Gotham for a month doesn’t really seem to fit the character of a man who is driven to pursue justice because of the murder of his parents. It just seems a bit off. Part of the trouble is the fact that it is Gordon playing the role of caregiver, which doesn’t suit him well either. If this exchange had happened between Bruce and Alfred, I’d have been much more okay with it. That could have actually been charming. In this case, not so much. What’s more, apparently the Commissioner hands Batman a ticket for a cruise ship, but Bruce Wayne shows up and climbs on board. Real good work there, Brucie. Say goodbye to that secret identity!
Anyway, on the cruise itself, the vacationing hero meets a boy named Sean, who is swept overboard during a storm one night. Bruce dives in to rescue the child, who seems to call out to a face in the storm. The pair are pulled back onboard, and Bruce discovers his costume in his luggage, despite the fact he told Alfred not to pack it. Here we have another uncharacteristic moment, as he tosses it overboard, which just doesn’t jive with his motivations.
More convinced than ever that he needs a rest, Bruce decides to get off the liner at a peaceful, isolated island that also happens to be the home of the boy he rescued. They go ashore together, and the youth’s family welcomes their visitor very warmly. Bruce learns that Sean’s parents died mysteriously years ago during an inexplicable red tide that doesn’t fit the usual patterns of the phenomenon. That night, the billionaire awakens to the touch of a spectral hand, only to discover that he’s somehow dressed in his costume! What’s more, he sees young Sean walking out of the house, apparently in a trance. Fearing he’s losing his mind but unwilling to let the boy get hurt, Batman heads out into the night, only to be ambushed by the villagers!
He quickly disarms them in a solid sequence, and after telling them he’s no threat in the most awkward way possible, (“I dress as I do for…personal reasons!”) they explain that the castle of King Hugh, a king from centuries ago, has become a source of terror for them, and they fear that spirits and worse may be abroad, originating from that ancient pile. Strangely enough, that is where Sean was headed, and despite bizarre apparitions, the Dark Knight will not be deterred. He smashes a giant screen which was the source of the visions and rushes into the castle, narrowly avoid the dropping portcullis. Interestingly, he has a moment of doubt as he’s pursuing the boy, trying to talk himself out of getting involved, which once again seems off for the character.
The Caped Crusader begins to search the medieval fortress, receiving enigmatic, ghostly hints as he goes about it, which eventually lead him to a pair of thugs who helpfully provide exposition. Apparently, their boss has bought the castle and is trying to drive the islanders out of the village so that he can control the fishing rights in the area. It’s a bit Scooby-Doo, but they escalate things as well. They are planning to poison the boy and leave his body for the natives to find in order to seal the deal. Batman takes the pair out but receives a cut on his arm in the process.
Finally, the Dark knight confronts the big boss himself, though as he saves the boy and takes out the hired help, some poison gets into his wound, and Aloysius Cabot, the somewhat unintimidatingly named villain, plays it cool, waiting for the venom to do its work. Because this is O’Neil writing, the guy isn’t just a murderer and a crook, he’s also planning to pollute the environment. The fiend! Batman’s diatribe about these nefarious doings is super dramatic. I wonder if he’s been hanging out with Green Arrow too much. As the hero grows weaker, Adams tries an intriguing experiment, rendering the panels of the villain, representing Batman’s view, in a strange, unfinished fashion to portray the effects of the toxin. I like, but it took me a moment to suss out.
Cabot, toying with his victim, tells him that there are two beakers on the desk, one containing an antidote and the other water and offers to let the Masked Manhunter choose. Losing his battle with the poison, Bats notices the portrait of King Hugh hanging behind the evil industrialist seems to be pointing, not to the beakers, but to a test tube. Taking a desperate gamble, he drinks the liquid in the tube, and Cabot is incensed that he somehow figured out the trap, as both beakers contained more poisons. He plans to shoot the still recovering hero, but that same heavy portrait just happens to fall off of the wall, killing him. Batman is very confused by the events of the night, so many inexplicable, and when Sean awakens on the way home and asks what happened, all he can answer in reply is “I don’t think I’ll ever know!”
This is a pretty good ghost story, told with a surprisingly subtle touch, other than the apparition in Batman’s room. It makes for an interesting plot, and I enjoy that much of what happened and why is left unexplained. The reader can piece some of it together from context, but O’Neil never spells it out. The third act in the castle is suitably atmospheric and spooky, and of course, Adams’ art is lovely. Cain’s wry, macabre narration throughout is a fun addition to the story, and I enjoyed his presence more than I expected.
The only real problem with the story is that incongruous triggering event and the discordant moments of mischaractetrization. Now, you can argue that they fit in perfectly with the version of Batman that Bob Haney has been writing in this book, but that’s not much of a defense in my opinion, as Haney is just in a world of his own. At any rate, it isn’t enough to make this a bad story, just enough to keep it from being a particularly great one. I’ll give this off-beat tale 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a fun read despite its missteps.
Detective Comics #407
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
The return of the macabre Man-Bat finally arrives! It’s been a while since we last saw Man-Bat, way back in issue #402, which, interestingly enough, ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, as Batman prepared an antidote for his monstrous double that could cure him or turn him into a vegetable. That cliffhanger has been left…well…hanging all this time. The human-chiroptera hybrid makes his triumphant return in this issue, which really amps up the insanity of his concept in interesting and surprisingly effective ways. This is a weird one, yet somehow it works.
We don’t pick up where we left off. Instead, the story opens with Batman reading the paper on what we can only assume is an exceedingly slow news day, as the headline proclaims “Bat Exhibit Opens at Museum of Natural History Today!” It’s bad enough that the bat exhibit at the local museum is your front page story, but is it really worthy of the exclamation point, newspaper? Anyway, the story catches his attention because the noted bat-expert Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. Man-Bat, will be hosting the event, which will be followed by…his wedding! Horrified by this news, the Dark Knight races to the church, desperate to stop this union. Why? Is Batman secretly in love with Francie Lee, Langstrom’s fiancee? No, it’s because he fears she’s being duped. The Masked Manhunter rushes into the cathedral and, in a great splash page, unmasks Langstrom, revealing the monstrous features of the Man-Bat beneath one of those incredibly life-like masks that are just everywhere in fiction.
Man-Bat curses his human counterpart’s continued interference, and he takes off for the dark recesses of the Cathedral ceiling, a very fitting setting for this little drama. The Caped Crusader then turns to the stunned Francie and declares that he couldn’t let her go through with the marriage, but she protests that she loves Kirk no matter what,and still wants to marry him! What is going on?!
Fortunately, just as we’re beginning to feel like we’ve missed an issue, Robbins provides us with a flashback. Just as Batman was about to administer the antidote back in the Batcave, where we left things in #402, the mutated man recovered and escaped, hiding in the dark recesses of the cavern. The hero brought Francie to the cave in order to try and reach Langstrom’s remaining humanity, but he was too late, as Man-Bat had already fled.
The Dark Knight gave her a number at which to contact him if her former fiancee returned to her, and that very night, he did. Yet, when Francie suggested contacting the hero, her macabre man grew enraged, refusing to give up his powers and questioning her love for him. He ripped up the number and persuaded her to do things his way.
With her help, Langstrom disguised himself and completed his work, but that wasn’t the only goal he had in mind. With another dramatic unmasking, Francie herself reveals that she and Kirk are now two of a kind! That’s right, she has been changed as well, and with that, she flies up to join her freakish fiancee.
Realizing that these two are definitely not in their right minds and more than a little concerned about having super-powered mutant bats just hanging around Gotham City (I mean, the place has enough problems already!), the Dark Knight sets out to cure them against their will. Racing to the bell-tower, the Masked Manhunter is confronted by the flying freaks, and a desperate struggle ensues. As the hero is being mauled by Man-Bat, he just manages to inject his opponent with the antidote.
When Woman-Bat presses her attack, he manages to jab her too, and both of them transform back into their human forms. Batman leaves them together, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and recover from their horrific experiences. The story ends on an interesting note, as Bats observes that the love which held them together had been corrupted as much as their bodies, transforming into “an evil obsession.”
This is a crazy story, yet the Bat-Jekyll and Hyde angle, mixed with twisted love story actually makes for a fairly compelling read. It moves a bit too quickly, and I would have liked to see how Langstrom managed to mutate Francie. That would have really helped to establish just how far gone the Man-Bat was into his monstrous nature. I think giving a page or two to that process would have strengthened the story, but the plot still works. I find Francie’s devotion touching and more than a little creepy, and Batman’s willingness to put his life on the line to save their humanity is suitably heroic.
The whole thing has the high-drama feel of one of those old, classic Universal horror films. Adams’ art, as always, is great, but it is really effective here, evoking an appropriately Gothic and atmospheric feel to the story. The horror elements come through well, with the grotesque visages of the Man/Woman-Bats and their uncanny revelations. It’s a good story, even if it doesn’t quite have time to reach its full potential. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen. I’m definitely enjoying these Man-Bat appearances.
“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”
Our Batgirl backup for today picks up right where we left off last issue. The hippy terrorist, Mal, as well as the hapless and stupid Shelley Simms, have trapped the Daring Dame in a mined basement. The resolution to this story is pretty good, definitely a bit stronger than the first inning. In particular, Babs’ escape from the sepulchral basement is quite impressive, as is her cool-headed planning leading up to it.
She realizes that Mal activated the bombs with the room’s light switch, and she refuses to panic, keeping a clear head and fixing her eyes on the spot where the switch was after the lights go out. She memorizes its location even though she can’t see, and then she takes off her cape and tries to trip it, hoping that the fabric won’t be heavy enough to trigger the mines. She comes close, but the cape is so light that it can’t flip the switch!
Thinking quickly, the Girl Detective takes off her boot and uses it as a weight, which provides enough heft to successfully lift the switch. It’s a nice sequence, and it emphasizes her intelligence and resourcefulness. I do have to wonder why she didn’t use a batarang or the like from her utility belt, but that’s neither here nor there.
Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson apparently decides to make a cameo in this comic, as a fat-cat building owner in league with the maleficent Mal. Apparently the heinous hippy has made a deal with this guy, Slavin, to destroy a Gotham landmark that is on the historic building registry so that the developer can build apartments there and turn a tidy profit.
In exchange, Slavin pays Mal $10,000. The domestic terrorist argues that he’s just using the bourgeois badnick to fund their activities and ‘the cause.’ Shelley objects, and when Batgirl arrives to break up the bomb bash, the girl actually intercedes to save the heroine. She gets shot in a fairly striking panel for her troubles!
In return, Batgirl utterly devastates Mal with a flying blow and a really lovely panel, dispatching the rest of the gang with ease. Edward G….errr, I mean Slavin runs right into the arms of the arriving police, and despite his attempts to talk his way out of things, the Girl Detective is able to give the cops the whole story. Fortunately, stupid Shelley survives, and the tale ends on an interesting note, as she doesn’t change her politics, in spite of her ordeal, but does gains a new respect for Batgirl.
This is a fun story, the highlight being Batgirl’s very resourceful and steel-nerved escape, as well as her take-down of Mal. The punk was quite hate-able, and it was satisfying seeing him get decked. I’m intrigued by the story’s ending, which pulls back from condemning youth involvement and walks a finer line than I expected. We’ve got Shelley perhaps a little less stupid and a little more realistic continuing to pursue her ideals, but in a more constructive way.
Also, it struck me that Shelley indicated that she and Batgirl were from different generations, which seemed odd to me. I know Batgirl is out of college, supposedly, since she’s already a librarian, but I would have though that she was JUST out of college, only a few years older than Dick Grayson, which would probably make her part of the same generation. Anyway, it’s a good little adventure, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, which is about as high as a seven page story is apt to climb.
And there you have it. Thanks for joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back soon to see what the next batch of books bears for us. My next post will include my first foray into Superboy, so…here’s hoping it’s not going to be as bad as I expect! Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!