Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I know I’ve been quite remiss in delivering you some more Bronze Age goodness, but I’m getting back in the swing of things, so I hope you can look forward to some more frequent posts.  Thank you all for your patience and your continued support!

As for this post, we’ve got a double dose of the Dark Knight on tap, including a Bronze Age first, the return of one of the great Batman villains!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Batman #234


Batman_234

“Half an Evil”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Vengeance for a Cop!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Trail of the Talking Mask”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

We’ve got an important milestone here, as this issue features the return of a classic Batman villain, the first of many due in the coming years.  As you can probably tell from the cover, our mystery guest is that bifurcated badman, that champion of chance, Two-Face!  I knew that he had been long absent from the Bat books, but when I looked him up, I was astonished to discover that he last appeared way back in 1956, in Detective Comics #228.

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It’s hard to believe that a character now considered to be one of the major Batman villains could be absent from these books for over a decade and a half, but so it is.  Notably, DC seems to realize the significance of this story, as the cover copy touts the return of the villain.  The cover itself is okay, but it isn’t really all that impressive.  We’ve got a nice depiction of Batman’s plight, and Two-Face’s laughing visage is fairly striking, but the whole tableau is more confusing than evocative.  What exactly is going on here?  Has Two-Face turned uglier than average pirate?  We are left to ponder the question.

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The book opens with a lovely, moody splash page presaging the showdown that will eventually take place in the swamp at the end of the story, but the action actually begins during the “Gotham City Merchants’ Parade,” which bears a striking resemblance to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This particular festival is interrupted by a strange theft, as two clowns break character to hijack a giant hotdog balloon, which floats up to be received by a waiting helicopter.  Note the label on the float.

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This crime, unusual as it is, attracts the attention of Batman, and we get a funny scene in Commissioner Gordon’s office, as resident anti-Batman loudmouth, Councilman Arthur Reeves, is busy boasting about how he’s going to put the vigilante in his place, only to flee in terror when the Dark Knight, having silently arrived behind him, says “boo.”  It’s a great little humor beat that provides some levity while not detracting from Batman’s brooding presence or serious attitude, striking a balance that isn’t easy to achieve.  The annoying Reeves having been removed, Batman and the Commissioner compare notes, but their conference is interrupted by an alarm at the Nautical Museum.

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Batman234-09Arriving there ahead of the police, the Masked Manhunter sees a car take off, but realizes that it is a diversion.  Continuing his search inside, he encounters the two criminal clowns from the first robbery, and he captures one, though the other escapes with the loot, a diary of an old sea captain named Bye.  Interrogating his captive, the Caped Crusader receives a shock.  The mastermind behind these thefts is always flipping a coin and keeps his face in shadow.  Sadly, the cover rather spoiled the reveal, but I imagine the next scene still had to be exciting for long-time Batman fans, as Two-Face is slowly revealed, first with a focus on his scarred coin, and then his equally scarred visage.  It’s a nice, dramatic scene, and it ends with the evil side of the coin winning out, setting the stage for more mischief.

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Having sussed out the identity of his foe, Batman reminisces over Two-Faces history, and I was surprised to discover that the Pre-Crisis villain actually had his face repaired and was healed at one point in time, only to have another disaster scar him once more and drive him back into madness.  Poor Harv can’t catch a break!  Back in the present, the world’s greatest detective begins to put the pieces together, realizing that Captain Bye’s former ship is still preserved in a marina nearby.  When he arrives to investigate, the Batmobile is met by a pair of gunsels, but Batman isn’t in it!  Using an automatic pilot to control the car, the Dark Knight gets the drop on the gunmen and takes them out, only to arrive on the dock just as the schooner explodes and sinks!  The Masked Manhunter realizes that he’s missed something and tries to examine his assumptions.

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In another funny scene, a drunk is floating elsewhere in the river on an inner tube, only to be slowly hoisted out of the drink by a mast emerging from the water.  The schooner slowly floats to the surface, and Batman is there to see it.  When the ship is fully afloat, he climbs aboard to await the arrival of his foe, but even the great detective is stunned to see the drunk hanging obliviously from the mast, and he’s distracted enough for Two-Face, who had stowed away with a SCUBA rig, to sneak up and knock him out.  It seems that the mastermind stole the parade balloon to help him raise the ship after he sank it, having chosen that particular balloon because it belonged to the Janus (two-faced god) hot dog company, labelled “Doubly Delicious,” thus making it doubly appealing for Two-Face!

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The scarred scalawag discovered that Captain Bye had hidden a treasure of gold doubloons on his ship, and he had sunk it in order for the tide to deposit it in a secluded cove, then he raised it with the balloon so he could recover the hidden fortune in secret.  Lashing Batman to the mast, Two-Face plans to sink the ship once more, but the Dark Knight points out that this will kill the tramp on the mast.  A flip of his coin forces the villain to save the drunk, and this gives the Caped Crusader time to free himself, and with a single blow, he knocks his foe out, bringing the adventure to an end.

This is a fun story, with a lot of entertaining moments and a nice mix between humor and drama.  It isn’t necessarily the most impressive return for Two-Face, though it’s nice that his convoluted plan almost works, only to be thwarted by his own fixation on his coin, in the custom of all the classic Two-Face tales.  This feels like a Two-Face story in that way.  It’s a tradition that Batman’s foes tend to defeat themselves thanks to their own particular shades of madness, and this story is right in line with that history as well.  Yet, I was a bit disappointed that the Dark Knight defeated Two-Face so easily.  It seems like Harvey should have been more of a physical threat, ‘strength of a madman’ and all that, as the old stories had it.  On the art front, Dick Giordano’s heavy inks bring a certain darker atmosphere to this tale, and for once the difference is striking enough that even I can notice it.  This works well for Batman, though it brings a rougher look to Adams’ pencils.  The artwork is excellent and very effective throughout, with Adams doing a particularly nice job on the reveal of Two-Face’s scarred visage.  So, taken all together, this is a solid if not spectacular return for a great villain.  It lacks just enough in Two-Face’s portrayal and the development of the mystery to keep it from being great to match.  The coin dictates that I give Two-Face’s reappearance 4 Minutemen, a pretty good score, and I’m not one to argue with the coin.

minute4


“Vengeance for  a Cop”


Batman234-21

The Robin backup features an odd but thoughtful little yarn.  It begins, oddly, with a police officer named Robert Beeker apparently breaking the fourth wall.  He seems to be talking directly to the reader, as he talks about how his beat, on the edge of Hudson U’s campus, places him between angry and frustrated portions of society, the townsfolk who think he’s too soft on the “long-haired anarchist law-breakers,” and the kids, who think he’s just “a head-busting establishment pig.”  It’s an interesting monologue, and it highlights the divide afflicting the culture and his own difficult, delicate role as a peace officer.  Yet, as he talks, a shadowy figure shoots him down, though he gets off a shot in return.  This seems to be in response to his speech, so what exactly is going on is a bit uncertain.

Either way, who shoot Officer Beeker is a mystery that attracts Robin’s attention, as he thinks to himself that “too many cops are getting the short end of the stick these days,” which is an interesting perspective given the enduring national anger following events like the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  The Teen Detective investigates, but finding nothing, he visits the wounded officer.  Beeker, recovering well, asks the young hero to bring his daughter home.  The silly girl has bought into the counter-culture promises of the day and run off to a commune, hating her father for defending a corrupt society.

 

Batman234-22

Charming girl…

 

When the Teen Wonder heads to the commune, he finds the girl, Nanci, headstrong and passionately convinced of her own righteousness, as is often the case for the young and foolish.  She condemns her father and shows Robin a police bullet she wears, taken from the leg of one of the ‘family.’  Just then, Terri Bergstrom arrives with a note from Batman that warns his ward that the shooter may actually be at the commune as well.  When asked how she found him, Terri is vague once more, continuing to imply that she knows more than she’s letting on.  I suppose the he should really be used to this by now from his time around that master of vague nonsense, Lilith.  Nonetheless, it’s then that Dick meets Pat Whalon, Nanci’s boyfriend, who has a wounded leg and who admits to having been at Hudson U.  Curious.

Batman234-23

Aiming to investigate the commune, Robin approaches a bridge, only to be confronted with a towering hippie who speaks in a strange, archaic fashion, and who declares that the Titan must best him with a staff to gain entrance.  Shades of Little John!  Dick loses the fight, but he loses with humility, and this is apparently the real test, but it doesn’t explain the weird put on Shakespearean act (nor how the young superhero gets his head handed to him by this hippie Merry Man).  Nonetheless, in addition to a dunking, the fight also provided Robin with a clue to the culprit, and he points out the perfidious one.  Yet, the hippies declare they won’t let him take the gunman back to town.  The identity of the villain is kept a mystery for the moment, but I’m guessing it is pretty clear.

Batman234-28This is a story with some really worthwhile elements and some really strange touches as well.  The odd opening and the random anachronistic dialog that doesn’t get explained are rather off-putting, but the central mystery and, more importantly, the attempts to address current social concerns, are really decent.  Friedrich does a solid job setting up the mystery in a small space, but there just aren’t many characters to work with.  It might have been better to go to the commune immediately and filled in the backstory briefly.  Nonetheless, his attempts to address the anti-police sentiments abroad at the time are worthwhile and surprisingly effective, humanizing Beeker, briefly but well, with his lament about being stuck in the middle, and touching obliquely on the dangers of returning violence for violence and hatred for hatred.  It’s all rushed, but it’s fascinating to see these themes being addressed, especially in the Robin feature, which seems aimed specifically at the college crowd.  So, I’ll give this ambitious but uneven tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s worthwhile, but clumsy.

minute3


Detective Comics #414


Detective_Comics_414

“Legend of the Key Hook Light House”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Invitation to Murder!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Australian Code Mystery”
Writer: David Vern Reed
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Mort Weisinger and George Kashdan

“Private Eye of Venus”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a lot of backup material in this issue, with two very different mystery stories rounding out the Bat-tales, which is always neat to see.  We’ve got a military-style spy story, complete with code breakers and double dealing, as well as a classic 50s-style sci-fi yarn.  Yet, our cover story is definitely the highlight.  It’s a surprisingly touching story where the action and adventure take a distant backseat to the human drama of one unexpectedly sympathetic and well drawn supporting character.  As for the cover itself, it is just okay.  It’s got that soft, ghostly effect that we’ve seen often lately, and it actually rather inverts the events of the actual story.  Still, it is nicely menacing and dynamic.

Detective414-02

It begins with an unusual tale of love and betrayal set forty years in the past.  A lighthouse keeper lets himself be distracted from his duties by his young love, and a ship wrecks in a stormy sea (Tom Curry would be disgusted!).  Unable to live with what he’d done, the keeper killed both his lover and himself, leaving the tower…haunted!

Detective414-03

Detective414-04In the ‘present,’ Batman is poised in the rafters of a Florida bar, spying on a meeting of arms smugglers.  Notably, the narration focuses on the humidity and heat of the night (and if you’ve ever been to the Gulf Coast, that will be no surprise to you), and I can’t help but think, ‘man, Bats must be DYING under that cape and cowl!’  Anyway, the Dark Knight’s comfort aside,once the guns are revealed, the Caped Crusader descends on the hoods, taking out the muscle in a nice fight scene.

Detective414-05

Detective414-06Yet, among this motley band of mercenaries are a mismatched pair, a tall, Amazonian blonde named Lucy and a little fellow named Arnie, who has brought the guns down from Gotham.  When the Masked Manhunter confronts the Lilliputian driver, Lucy attacks the hero.  This leads to a fun little exchange where Batman tells this fiery femme that “I don’t want to hit a member of the fair sex–but if the need arises…”  That feels very fitting.  In order to save the diminutive driver, Lucy offers to make the Dark Detective a deal.  She offers to bring the Caped Crusader to the head of the gang, if only he’ll let Arnie go.

Detective414-07Batman agrees, and as he and Lucy board a boat and head for the abandoned lighthouse for which the guns were originally destined, we learn why this brassy belle was willing to make this trade.  Beautifully illustrated by Novick, who perfectly captures Lucy’s care-worn face, we learn a bit of her backstory.  With a lovely, rough-hewn charm, she describes how she was once an up-and-coming singer in Jersey, and Arnie was her manager who wanted to marry her.  She wanted nothing to do with the little fellow, and instead lived a fast, flashy, and ultimately hard life, losing her beauty and her voice chasing the wrong type of men and the wrong types of thrills.  Only then did she realize her love for the sweet-natured Arnie, but then he wouldn’t have her.  It’s sweet, and sadly beautiful, and it’s delivered in just one great panel and a few word balloons.  It’s a real feat of storytelling to create something touching in so brief a space, and another example of the power of this medium for narrative economy.

Detective414-09

Once on the island, Batman lays in wait for the buyers, a thoroughly vicious South American general named Ruizo.  Lucy leads his men into a trap in the lighthouse, and the Dark Knight takes them out swiftly, taking advantage of the darkness.  But Lucy is left outside with Ruizo, who shoots her in revenge!  This old dame is tougher than she looks, though, and thinking that the General will go after Arnie, she drags herself across the beach and into the surf in order to wrap a cable around the getaway boat’s propeller.

Detective414-14

Detective414-15The Caped Crusader takes advantage of the situation to confront Ruizo, but the rough seas knock him off his feet, and he strikes head!  The General draws his sword and prepares for the deathblow, only to be surrounded by a corona of blinding light and an unearthly voice speaking of redemption.  Desperate to escape the ghostly blaze, the would-be dictator leaps into the sea and swims towards another phantom glow that he thinks is the lighthouse, only to sink into the depths.  Batman rescues Lucy, and they have a nice moment.  Then, he climbs into the lighthouse and, realizing that it has been deserted for years, he realizes there must be a spiritual explanation for the strange occurrences and he says…’thanks,’ as the restless spirit finds redemption.

Detective414-16

Detective414-16 - Copy

Detective414-17 - CopyThis is an odd little tale, with the haunted lighthouse not quite fitting in smoothly, but it really becomes worthwhile with the brief but touching story of Lucy, her wasted life, and her heroic struggle to save the only man who had treated her with love.  She’s wonderfully sympathetic, and I wish O’Neil had cut out the ghost angle and just spent more time with her.  Novick’s art is serviceable throughout, occasionally rising to be excellent, but one of the only flaws of this story is that he struggles to consistently portray the age and wear on Lucy’s face.  She’s as gorgeous as Black Canary most of the time, with only a few panels really capturing the older, more world-weary face she’s supposed to have.  It makes it a little hard to take her tale of faded glory seriously.  This is, of course, a common problem in superhero art, as artists tend to only be skilled at drawing heroic types.  Despite its weaknesses and the ill-fitting element of the haunted lighthouse, this story is nonetheless memorable because of the charming portrayal of this single random minor character.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen in honor of “Loosy’s” hard-knock life.

minute4


“Invitation to Murder!”


Detective414-20

This month’s Batgirl backup features a night at the theater, as Jason Bard, the poor man’s Dick Grayson, takes Babs to see a new show, only to arrive to find the place seemingly deserted!  The only other showgoers are a couple in one of the private balconies.  Nonetheless, the show goes on, only to be suddenly interrupted when Jason notices a rifle pointing at the other guests from nearby their nosebleed seats.  He tries to intervene, only to receive a buttstroke for his troubles.

Babs strains credulity for her secret identity, switching into Batgirl and tackling the gunman.  She stops his next shot, but the fellow tosses her over the edge of the balcony.  Fortunately, she manages to grab onto the rail, and she sees her dear detective try to tackle the gunman again, only to get his head handed to him…again.  Switching back to Babs in the interim (are we sure she doesn’t have super speed powers?), she picks up her battered beau, who in turn picks up the sniper’s weapon.  It’s a lever-action rifle, a prop from “Mesa Productions,” which recently went bankrupt.

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Wondering who their rogue rifleman was shooting at, the couple goes to investigate, only to find that the targets were Hollywood royalty, “Tiz and Robbie Marlow,” clear analogs for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were THE Hollywood couple of the mid-century, which is a fun little detail.  Incidentally, America’s celebrity obsessed paparazzi culture really took off with those two, which is a sad memorial to their relationship.  While you’re pondering that anecdote, our heroes are pondering who would want to take a shot at these beloved figures.  It seems that one of the bullets at least managed to find its mark, and Richard, err…Robbie, got hit in the arm.

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After “Tiz” sobbingly wonders why anyone would do such a thing, especially on their anniversary, Jason begins to put some of the pieces together.  He deduces that the Hollywood couple had booked the entire theater for their anniversary, and the ticketseller had misheard the sleuth and given him tickets for the seventh instead of the second, tickets which he didn’t bother checking…and apparently neither did the ticket taker, who they just rushed past.  Odd.  Yet, even odder, the Marlows didn’t buy out the house, the tickets were a gift from “an anonymous admirer.”  Clearly a setup.  It seems only their manager, Joe Ryan, knew of their plans, but Jason’s playmate didn’t seem to be him.  The tale ends with Babs stepping out, ostensibly to call the police, but really to pursue a hunch of her own!

Detective414-28

 

This is a fun little story, and it has the makings of a good two-parter, but there’s not quite enough here to make for a substantive mystery.  We don’t even meet a single suspect.  Nonetheless, Robbins gives us a colorful and interesting setup, and the playful reference to the real-life stars is fun.  There’s also a nice dynamic between Jason and Babs, with Batgirl’s paramour being a detective in his own right, which gives their adventures a rather different flavor than those of most heroes in their secret identities.  It’s also beginning to get a bit comical that Jason can’t seem to win a fight to save his life.  Unfortunately, Don Heck’s art continues to be a poor fit for this feature, still producing a number of awkward, stiff figures and rough compositions.  Yet, there are also some really nice panels, and some of his facework is quite good.  The overall effect is serviceable, if not exactly good.  So, I suppose I’ll give this crazy curtain call an above average 3.5 Minutemen, as it has just enough of interest to raise it above the crowd.

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This was an enjoyable pair of Bat-books, with the long deferred return of the bifurcated badman, Two-Face.  I’m hoping that this heralds a return of supervillains to the book in general, though I know we’re still a little while away from the Joker’s triumphant and legendary return.  We also get an intriguing glimpse of 70s popculture, with the appearance of an ersatz Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who I imagine were easily still in the headlines here in the early 70s, even if their heyday had passed with the 60s.  In fact, each of our stories in this bunch have something to recommend them, from the socially relevant Robin tale to the surprisingly touching Detective yarn.  I’d call this a memorable pair of comics.

 

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