- Action Comics #397
- Adventure Comics #402
- Aquaman #55
- Batman #229
- Detective Comics #408
- The Flash #203
- Justice League of America #87
- The Phantom Stranger #11
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
- Superman #234
- Teen Titans #31
- World’s Finest #200
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #408
“The House that Haunted Batman”
Writers: Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Now that is a heck of a cover! How could you not pick this comic up? It’s got a haunting image, a provocative mystery, and it just begs to be read. Sadly, the story inside isn’t quiet as compelling, though it certainly looks lovely with Neal Adams handling the art chores. It includes the return of a villain that I’ve never heard of before, which surprised me because I thought I knew even the more obscure Batman rogues pretty well. This adds another little discovery to my Bronze Age journey.
This strange, surreal story begins with Batman, on the trail of his young ward, Dick Grayson, who had disappeared from college 24 hours before. The Dark Knight has tracked Robin to a creepy old mansion that, strangely enough, wasn’t there the day before! Inside, he prowls through darkened rooms until he spots the Teen Wonder, who collapses into his arms and then…dissolves into dust! We get the exact scene from the cover, which is a bit of a rarity. I tend to enjoy seeing that kind of payoff, but considering how detailed the cover image was, it actually feels like a bit of a cheat in this instance, as seeing the image in the comic doesn’t actually add anything, which it should.
Anyway, horrified by this sight, Batman recoils, and then he races up the grand staircase to discover the source of a horrible cry that fills the house. He encounters a room full of bats and a gramophone, but disconnecting it doesn’t stop the sounds. Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the Masked Manhunter takes off after the shooter, only to discover that he’s a phantom figure of Dick Grayson! The apparition’s shots drive the hero through a trap door and into a darkened room, a room inhabited by his friends in the Justice League, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, who are all gathered around…his coffin!
The Caped Crusader’s friends take turns bashing him, cursing his memory, and suddenly the hero finds himself in a tiny room with the walls closing in. Just before he’s crushed, the world resolves itself into a very different vision, a high-tech facility, with both Batman and Robin trapped in glass tubes, being bounced up and down. It is then that the villain of the piece reveals himself to be, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, the Master of Illusion…who I’ve never heard of. Apparently, he only has a half dozen or so appearances in the Bat books, though he first showed up some fifty issues ago.
He kindly explains that the League of Assassins had hired him to dispose of Batman after the Dark Knight defeated their first operatives. It’s great to see the League storyline surface again, but Tzin-Tzin isn’t terribly interesting, though he’s plenty dramatic in this tale. He informs the Caped Crusader that the up and down movement in their tubes will trigger a bomb as soon as either he or Robin hits 100 repetitions. At the moment, the Teen Wonder is way ahead, so the villain demands that Batman beg and plead with him to spare the young man. Instead, without a second thought, the hero begins to accelerate his own movement, surpassing Robin and triggering the explosion!
Instead of being destroyed, however, he stuck to the top of his tube and dropped his belt down to trigger the bomb, then escaped in the smoke. Yet, Tzin-Tzin won’t allow him to get away that easily, and the Dark Knight is confronted by the villain’s ‘Deadly Dozen,’ which precipitates a really great looking fight where Batman really shows the physical expertise that marks the definitive interpretation of the character. Once again, Batman plays Captain America, employing a shield to good effect. Better watch out; Bruce, Cap may sue!
Adam’s action looks great as the Maksed Manhunter massacres the minions, and just when the remaining members of the Dozen manage to grab the hero, causing Tzin-Tzin to reveal himself in order to deliver the death blow, Robin makes his move! The Teen Wonder takes the villain out and allows Batman to finish off the last two killers. The whole scene makes for a good sequence.
Yet, when the Dynamic Duo escort their captive out to the Batmobile, he suddenly vanishes, revealing himself to still be in the house…which then explodes in spectacular fashion! Thus, Tzin-Tzin escapes to trouble our heroes another day.
This is a fine story, with some really nicely disconcerting action in the first, nightmarish portion of the tale. That bizarre, dream-like sequence is perhaps the strongest element of the story. While Batman’s escape from Tzin-Tzin’s trap is nicely handled, as is the fight, what is going on with the villain is just not quite established well enough. He’s a master of illusions, okay, but the final trap doesn’t really jive with that. I didn’t really get a great sense of what he’s about, other than being a Fu Manchu clone. That said, the whole is still a fun read, and it’s nice to see Batman and Robin in action together, if only briefly. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
This was a pretty intriguing setup for a mystery featuring the Danger Dame in an exotic setting, which is something you don’t see too often. We join the fire-tressed female in Spain, where she has traveled to collect a rare manuscript for her library. She’s has joined the fellow donating the text, Don Alvarado, who is a rancher involved with the bullfighting tradition. They are watching a legendary matador who is now in his twilight, El Granados, when he is suddenly knocked down by a bovine belligerent. The man’s servant, an aged former bullfighter himself, tries to rescue him, but a young upstart leaps out of the stands and begins to distract the bull. It is a service for which neither the prideful El Granados or the aged Manolo are grateful.
Later the bullfighter joins Don Alvarado’s party as they head to the ranch in order to pick out some bulls for his next fights. That night, someone steals El Granado’s sword, and Batgirl spots the shadowy figure creeping about the house, so she flagrantly endangers her secret identity and changes into Batgirl. She pursues the thief, but he whips his ‘stiff-brimmed hat’ at her, knocking the fighting female out cold! That’s right, Batgirl gets another slot on the Headcount courtesy of Oddjob! It is pretty goofy that a hat, however stiff it’s brim, could knock someone out, but we’ll give it a partial pass as there is a precedent.
Batgirl awakens an hour later and heads back to her room, defeated. The next morning, they discover that El Granados’ first choice of bulls was killed with his sword! The strange slaying sets up quite a mystery, as there are endless questions of motives. Who would kill the animal and why? The servant, Manolo, promises to guard the sword with his life, so that night Babs thinks there isn’t much chance of a repeat performance, that is, until she spots a sword missing from the wall of the old house.
This short little tale manages to set up a pleasantly puzzling mystery, and while it is short on action, Robins uses his time wisely by introducing an interesting cast of characters and giving us lots of suspects to choose from. I’ve got my suspensions about who and why, and I’ll let y’all know if I’m right when we hit the next issue. Batgirl’s performance is pretty poor, which, as we’ve seen, is unfortunately often the pattern of these Bat-Family backups. Despite that, this is a good little story, and it emphasizes the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
The Flash #203
“The Flash’s Wife Is A Two-Timer!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
KANNNNIGHER! You made me believe in you! You made me think that maybe there was more to you than the hack behind those earlier stories, but it was you! All along, it was you!
What am I raving about, my curious readers? Well, we’ve reached the notorious issue of the Flash where Iris’s bat-guano insane retcon occurs. I knew this was coming, but I had forgotten that it was written by Robert Kanigher. It’s odd enough that a retcon should show up at this early date in the first place, but what lies inside is even stranger, and one can’t help but wonder how it came about.
The story begins with the Flash taking a trip up to the JLA satellite headquarters where he meets an unusually sullen Superman. When the Scarlet Speedster explains that he came up early because Iris was out of town and he was a bit lonely, Super-grump replies by saying that he’s an alien alone on Earth and questions what Flash would know about loneliness. Sheesh! Of course, Superman grew up on his adopted world from a very young age, so the existential angst seems a bit overblown in context.
Oddly, the Flash answers that he knows more than the Man of Steel thinks, and proceeds to tell a tale about the strange discovery of his wife’s origins. Apparently, a few days before, Barry had returned home to find the house deserted and a weird note from his wife. It read, bizarrely enough, “Darling-can’t stop myself–irresistible force–pulling me–1000 years–future-help me…” In response, the Fastest Man alive rushes to the basement and hops on his Cosmic Treadmill, racing through time to the year 2970.
Once there, he sees a hi-tech aqueduct and decides to get a drink, only to be attacked by jetpack wearing guards firing futuristic (but not 1000 years worth of futuristic) weapons. Dodging their fusillade, the Flash phases through a mountain to escape. He emerges in what is described as a “self-contained city,” and notes that it had been “atom-bombed,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, seeing as its mostly still there and not, you know, just a radioactive wasteland. I know that folks had a lot of goofy ideas about what atomic war would be like, but for Heaven’s sake, the Atomic Knights tales were more accurate, and those stories were published over a decade before this one!
Inside the city, the Crimson Comet discovers ragged survivors of a nuclear war…somehow, and finds that conditions are very grim. As a siren sounds and the place empties, he also encounters Iris, who begs him to leave her and return home! When he refuses, she tells him her story, which began that morning when she was cleaning up her father’s lab. She discovered an amulet she had as a baby, and when she picked it up, it began speaking to her! It’s the record of Jor-El…er…I mean Eric Russel, who was a scientist of Krypton..er…’Earth West’ in 2970. Earth East had pretty much defeated his hemisphere-nation, and a nuclear attack was eminent, so he and his wife sent their baby Kal-El…err…that is, Iris, back in time to save her. The Kents…err…I mean, the Wests, had been praying for a child, and she just materialized out of thin air (good thing she didn’t show up inside a wall or something!), so they adopted her.
After confronting her father about hiding the truth from her, Iris went home, melodramatically wondering if Barry could still love her even though she’s from the future, which is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever read, and I teach freshmen composition….in the Trump era. Anyway, Iris suddenly felt herself sucked through time and just managed to scrawl that note. Back in the future, her real parents spot her amulet and realize their daughter has returned. They tell her about the current state of the world, which is really rather unintentionally funny. Apparently, all the big nations wiped each other out, so the world is now ruled by…Laos. That’s right! It’s a hilariously random choice, though I suppose Laos was much more on the American mind in 1970 than in 2017.
Shortly after being reunited, the family is forced to part again when their Earth-East ruler spots Iris through a spy satellite and claims her as his own, announcing that he’ll wipe out the entire city if she doesn’t come with him. Of course, the Flash isn’t about to let some futuristic fascist carry off his wife without a fight, so he challenges this fellow, Sirik, to a duel when he arrives. We get some moments between Barry and Iris which are supposed to be sweet, but the context is just so ludicrous that even this old softie didn’t get misty eyed.
Ming the Merciless…err…I mean Sirik, tells the Scarlet Speedster that he has to get past his men in order to earn the right to face him. Barry moves at normal speed until he’s out of sight, then proceeds to blitz baldy’s boys. The action looks okay, but Novick misses the opportunity to make the setting of the city-tower interesting and unique, filling most of his panels with blank backgrounds.
Finally reaching Sirik, the Flash finds the fiend holding Iris hostage. Instead of just shooting his antagonist, the dictator tells him to stand behind a wall, for some reason, and then starts to fire. The Scarlet Speedster slips through the wall and belts the villain. However, he’s the world’s worst loser and triggers a nuclear holocaust to kill them all in response. The Flash zips across the world, somehow knowing where the missiles are launching from, and destroys them all, as well as their missile sites. This puts both hemispheres on equal footing, and the hero lectures the gathered East and West folks, telling them that they have to learn to live together or risk completely destroying the world. Finally, the happy couple returns home, promising to visit the future-in-laws from time to time. The story ends with Super-buzzkill continuing to whine about being all alone (despite the fact that he has a mother, a father, and an adopted sister, not to mention a bunch of bullet-proof, presumably nearly immortal pets).
Interestingly, the issue includes a note acknowledging that Kanigher just swiped Superman’s origin for Iris, so at least he’s honest about that. Nonetheless, this is just a silly issue. The story is just so colossally unnecessary, adding a completely useless complication to Iris’s origins that contributes nothing to her characterization or her relationship, and I’m pretty sure it’s one that rarely if ever produces anything worthwhile in future comics. If you’re going to create intentional parallels to another story, especially one in your own universe, you really need to do it for a reason. The ring structure in Beowulf, with mirrored encounters recurring throughout the poem, serves important narrative purposes. To use a comics example, the origin for Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor Jr. intentionally mirrors that of Superman to interesting effect in Crisis on Infinite Earths, completing the inversion of hero/villain and stretching it all the way back to the beginning/ending in a very clever piece of writing.
On its own terms, the tale is just weak, not focusing on the ‘possible future’ angle enough for the parable of East and West destroying one another to have much impact. There is actually interesting work to be done there, and the fact that the story ends, not exactly with a defeat of the villainous East, though that’s there, but with a plea for peace, could be worthwhile. Yet, it’s shoe-horned into one panel, and the real consequences of the war are glossed over throughout. The character moments between Iris and Barry that were supposed to be sweet just come off as silly and saccharine as well. It feels much more like a story from the 50s or early 60s than it does a comic from 1971, and the final resolution with the Flash just casually jaunting across the entire planet in a heartbeat to destroy the nukes just smacks of Silver Age excess. The story isn’t terrible, just mediocre and goofy. I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.
And that does it for today! We had a solid set of Bat-tales and a ridiculous Flash issue. I really just can’t figure Kanigher out. There are several lesser lights working at DC during this period, though there is plenty of amazing talent. I find myself groaning a bit whenever I see Dorfman’s name in the credits, as he tends to produce pretty silly stories, but Kanigher is a bit different. He writes goofy comics like this one, yet he can also turn out some solid, even great work. It’s something of a mystery. Anyway, I hope you’ll join me again soon for another step in my journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
Batgirl finally helps Aquaman break his streak as the sole new addition to the Wall of Shame and gets her second spot on the Headcount. I’m actually a little surprised that the Bat-family hasn’t featured on this list more often, as I remembered the ‘ol noggin’ knock being a common device in these stories. At least Aquaman has some company at the end of the list now!