Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #412
“Legacy of Hate”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Under this pretty excellent cover, beautifully drawn by Neal Adams, we have a very conventional yarn. The cover composition is exciting, with our hero facing mortal peril in a nicely rendered and atmospheric image that has the added benefit of actually occurring in the comic. The headline tale is, despite its medieval trappings, a rather hackneyed plot, and though I can’t put my finger on it, I think I have read another Batman story that was extremely similar.
It’s another murder mystery in a castle, and on that front, this story hearkens back to the first Dr. Darrk story, only six issues ago. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable enough read. It begins with an old mystery device, as Bruce Wayne receives notice that a distant relative, Lord Elwood Wayne, is dying at the ancestral Wayne estate in England, though I’m fairly certain that we’ve never really had any mention of such family ties in Batman’s backstory. Nonetheless, it’s the standard setup, an ailing relation, the gathering of the distant family from the four corners of the world, related, but unknown to one another, and a spooky locale for setting. Bruce heads to England to answer the summons and meets Wilhemina Wayne, an orphan from South Africa, Rev. Emelyn Wayne “a missionary among the unenlightened Asian ‘heathen,'” and Jeremy Wayne, an Australian ranch hand.
To add to the atmosphere, they are picked up in a hearse (the weather being too bad for horse and carriage) and driven to an imposing old castle on a stormy night, there greeted by an equally imposing butler, Asquith, a descendant of the servant of the original inhabitant of the ancient pile. During the journey, the grim driver tells the gathered Waynes that the place is haunted by the murdered first lord of the estate, Lord Harold. Once arrived, they meet the aged Lord Wayne and his friend and physician, but the meeting is necessarily brief.
They are informed that the estate will be split between them, and any accidents will divide it among the survivors. A perfect setup for intrigue, of course. That night, Bruce is having a drink with ‘Mina,’ because of course he is, when suddenly she sees a figure in medieval armor on the battlements! The millionaire comforts the girl and pretends he saw nothing, but he gets into costume, once again endangering his secret identity beyond all bounds (I wonder if the guy from Gotham has anything to do with the hero from the same city showing up here in the middle of nowhere..), and begins an investigation.
The Dark Knight hears a scream as he prowls about and arrives in Mina’s room, only to find himself confronting the armored figure of a strange intruder! After a skirmish in which that very armor proves very handy against hand-attacks, his opponent escapes. The Caped Crusade continues his search, wondering which of the gathered family and friends could be masquerading as a phantom. He hears sounds of a struggle coming from the Aussie’s room and kicks the door in to discover the man, lightly wounded, but alive, having fended off another attack, and the hero sets off again in pursuit.
After stopping to stage his bed to make it seem like Bruce Wayne is sleeping….while everyone else in the castle is running around like crazy, because that will be foolproof, the Caped Crusader hears another cry from Mina. Her door was locked, but someone was trying to force it. Pursuing the culprit into the marsh outside, the Dark Knight suddenly finds himself in desperate straits, stuck in the muck and being charged by a spurious spectral knight with a lance. The strike seems to go home, and the warrior rides on, crying out that his vengeance can now begin.
Yet, Batman lives! He snatched up a tree branch and used it as a shield, though the impact almost knocked him out. He rushes to the castle armory, thinking that he knows the supposed spirit’s identity. There he confronts “Lord Harold,” and after a quick battle, the armored figure is unmasked as…Asquith?! The spooky butler speaks in a strange voice, claiming to be Harold and saying that he was wreaking just vengeance.
The batty-butler leads the Masked Manhunter to a hidden chamber where the real Harold’s brother had imprisoned him to usurp his title, and then, bizarrely, the sepulchral voice declares that Asquith has failed him, and the servant simply dies…yet the voice briefly continues, promising to continue its quest for revenge! The story ends with Batman making notes about the case, pointing out that Lord Wayne had died that same night and pondering if this were a case of haunting or madness.
This is a solid enough murder mystery, but it has too many characters and too little space to be entirely successful. Batman figures out the culprit on very thin evidence, noting that none of the relatives would have vengeance as a motive, despite the fact that, rationally, neither would Asquith. The art is nicely atmospheric, and there are several fittingly Gothic moments, especially the showdown in the swamp. Bob Brown does a good job throughout, rendering some nicely dramatic images and doing some good work on the various supporting characters, giving them personality, despite their lack of development. Perhaps most notably, he really works to create a well-realized setting, putting a lot of detail into panel backgrounds and giving the old castle a real sense of presence. In general, there’s more show than there is stay to this story, but it is still an enjoyable enough read. It is very familiar, but the confirmation of an actual haunting makes it a bit more original than most of this type, though I wish they had left the ending just a tad more ambiguous. I’ll give this one an average 3 Minutemen.
Our Batgirl backup certainly can’t be accused of being unoriginal this month! It has one of the more unique murder weapons I’ve encountered in comics. The tale begins with a woman awakening screaming, and the next morning the papers carry the headline that a wealthy socialite divorcee was mysteriously killed, her “head cracked like an egg!” The same morning, breakfast at Commissioner Gordon’s house sees he and his daughter sharing a meal. The head cop is baffled by the crime, but he reveals that the victim had a thing for wigs, which, according to Babs, is no clue at all because “What now-gal doesn’t dig wigs!” Yikes, that slang! Anyway, this gives Jim a clue, but for his daughter’s birthday, not the crime. He offers to let her pick out a wig, for which he’ll foot the bill.
That day, Babs visits “Vazly,” the most fashionable wig-maker in town, where she and another divorced socialite happen to come in for fittings at the same time. Ironically, they both pick out the same style, which causes the fiendish fashion-monger some concern. It seems that he and his assistant are using their wigs to blackmail wealthy young women, fitting the headgear with an ingenious mechanism that can cause it to constrict with devastating power. If they mix up the wigs and should accidentally target the police commissioner’s daughter, that could spell trouble, but they are careful to arrange them.
Unfortunately, “Fate steps in,” and a cleaning woman tries on a few of the wigs and mixes up the two in question, and the dangerous one goes to our red-haired heroine. Following the instructions that came with it, she sleeps in the wig, only to awaken in agony at the touch of a control by Vazly’s assistant. Babs calls the wig-maker, and he tells her he will happily take it off, if only she’ll cough up $100,000. In a pain-induced panic, the young librarian scrapes up the meager funds she can and heads to his shop, but when she arrives, the would-be blackmailers discover their mistake.
They play the whole event off, easily removing the wig and telling the confused Miss Gordon that she must have dreamt the whole thing, yet they plan to kill her once she is safely away from their headquarters. The fire-tressed female doesn’t play their game, however, having seen a cracked dummy head in the trash and put the pieces together. She arrives in costume to confront them moments later and lets them know the jig is up. She clocks Vazly, but his assistant plops a wig on her head and triggers the constriction. Dun dun DUN!
This is certainly a new angle, though it rather defies belief. I have to think that a mechanism that would make a wig constrict with bone-crushing force might just be detectable…but then again, it works in a comic book-y kind of way, so I’m willing to give it a pass. After all, this is the kind of ridiculous, over-the-top plot that makes comics great. Vazly looks suitably sinister, and the mix-up with our heroine is a quick way to get her into the mix. This story does suffer a bit from its lack of space, being only seven pages. Still, it’s an entertaining read, one that once again matches Batgirl up against a fashion-felon, which might be a bit much, with two tales in a row. I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.
The Flash #207
“The Evil Sound of Music!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Phantom of the Cafeteria”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano
Well, what do you know? Kanigher leaves The Flash, and we finally get an issue that is really enjoyable. It even features a supervillain, after a fashion, and ahead of schedule! We actually get a foe worthy of the Flash earlier than I expected, just judging by the covers that awaited us, which makes this issue a pleasant surprise. Speaking of covers, this one does the story within no favors. It’s got a nicely creepy looking monster, but it suffers from the Flash’s weird pose and the fact that, even with the cover copy, the scene isn’t exactly clear. It’s just not a very effective image, not doing the tale it represents justice.
And that tale is actually a fun read. It begins with the World’s Fastest Man in a hurry, leaving monitor duty on the JLA Satellite to race home and pick his wife up for a rock concert. Yet, as the Allens prepare, we visit with a sinister looking figure in a darkened room, pouring over ancient books. This is Sargon the Sorcerer, former Golden Age mystic hero turned current villain…sort of. It’s a bit complicated. Apparently he appeared back in issue #186 in his not-so-triumphant return to the DCU, wherein he clashed with the Flash. It seems that he is out to regain his lost mystic gem, the Ruby of Life, which is the source of most of his powers. He also wants revenge on the Speedster, who thwarted his last efforts.
Back in the Allen household, we get a cute scene between Barry and Iris, as Mrs. Allen notes that her husband, usually a slowpoke out of costume, can’t stand still when music is playing. He teases her because, for once, she has made them late with her ruminations. Apparently the couple are bound for a rock concert, headlined by the oh-so-cleverly named “Washington Starship.” I wonder who that might reference…! The lead singers just happen to be named Paul and Grace. Anyway, Barry and Iris arrive just in time, thanks to a dose of super speed, and it is a super psychedelic show, accompanied by Friedrich’s narration, which is almost touching and insightful but manages to be just a little too pompous and overblown to be successful.
During the concert, Sargon strikes, using his magic to turn the music into a psychic attack, which panics the crowd and paralyzes the band. While the unflappable Iris stays behind to cover the unfolding story, the Scarlet Speedster springs into action, using his powers to pull the crazed crowd out of the venue and prevent anyone from being trampled. Given the then recent history of tragedies at concerts, this scene has a little extra significance, with the hero preventing events from going bad in the ways they had before, a type of cathartic, escapist fiction that is very much part of the purpose of comics.
Yet, after the concert-goers have escaped, Sargon steps in again, seizing control of the Speedster and sending him to retrieve the Ruby of Life from a special vault in the Flash Museum. The sinister Sorcerer looks positively evil as he places the jewel upon his brow and revels in his returned power. While he is distracted, his spell over Flash ends, and the hero and the guitarist, Paul, both find themselves watching helplessly as the malicious music-spawned monsters menace their lady loves. Each of them strains mightily and overcomes the siren song, but only Flash has the speed to save his girl.
But they are not the only ones observing this tragedy-in-the-making, and Sargon looks on in horror as his spell spins out of control. We discover that Grace is actually his niece, and while Flash saves Iris, the magician intercedes to rescue the songstress. The Sorcerer tries to apologize to the young woman, but she will hear none of it, and he departs in despair. The tale ends by checking in with each of our characters a little later, with Iris taking care of a slightly ruffled Barry, Paul happily reporting that Grace and their unborn baby have a clean bill of health, and Sargon himself contemplating how he has come to such a state, willing to use his own niece in his quest for power.
This is a surprisingly good story. I have grown to rather dread these Flash comics, but this one is a fun and interesting read. Mike Friedrich doesn’t get as sappy and melodramatic as he sometimes can, though the comic is rather overwritten in his customary style, with the narration during the concert being particularly purple. Speaking of his writing, this entire issue is a love letter to the music of the era, with the obvious reference to Jefferson Starship setting the tone, but Friedrich gives us a lot more than that. He also sprinkles song titles throughout the entire issue. I counted nine different songs, but it’s possible I missed some. They are:
- “White Rabbit”
- “Homeward Bound”
- “The Sound of Silence”
- “Come Together”
- “Penny Lane”
- “Let It Be”
- “My Sweet Lord”
- “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
- “Down This Lonesome Road”
We’ve got some Jefferson Airplane, of course, as well as plenty of Beatles and even some Simon and Garfunkel. What an interesting collection! This is a fun little set of Easter eggs, but they come at a cost, as Friedrich can’t quite slip all of them in naturally. Thus, his desire to include these references sometimes results in some rather awkward and tortured sounding dialog. Still, I found the whole thing charming, and it is an unusually direct glimpse of the impact of the culture on the comics of the day.
In terms of the plot itself, it was nice to see the Flash actually face a foe that was something of a threat to him, and I found myself fairly fascinated by Sargon. I’m really curious to know what his story is and what he’s after. I quite liked that we got only hints about him and that he escaped, not unmarked by his experience, but uncaptured by our hero. His brief moments of characterization are intriguing, and I look forward to seeing what comes of them. I also enjoyed the little character moments between Barry and Iris, with her evincing a more classic taste in music and the like. I wouldn’t really expect ‘ol square Barry to be into the rock scene in 71, but it leads us to a fun tale, so I can buy it.
Irv Novick does a great job with Sargon and some of the more bizarre, otherworldly elements of the art here, especially the music monsters, but there are a few moments where his work doesn’t quite capture the drama of a scene, like in the climax of the story where the sequence of the two struggling paramours and Sargon’s intervention could probably have used a bit more space to breath. Still, on the whole, he turns in a nice looking comic with some real personality and emotion to it. I suppose I’ll give this enjoyable little rock ‘n romp 3.5 Minutemen.
“The Phantom of the Cafeteria”
It looks like we’re going to have Kid Flash and Elongated Man trade off for the backup slot in The Flash, which is fine by me. This month, we get an interesting little Kid Flash tale that has some familiar elements. It begins with our fleet young friend, Wally West, pondering the dilemma of hiding his super speed in the cafeteria line at school, where he finds himself last, which is worth a chuckle. Suddenly, food starts disappearing right off of kids’ plates, and there’s not a sign of the culprit! Someone starts screaming about ghosts, which, in the DCU, is not all that far-fetched, but Wally keeps his head. He calms down the students, even getting commended by the principal later on, but he continues to wonder about what happened. When a pretty young lady asks him about their date that night at the “peace rally,” he’s so distracted that he temporarily forgets about it.
Fortunately, he’s quick with an excuse as well as with his feet, and that night he’s at the rally when more food starts to go missing. Wondering if the thief might be someone else with super speed, the Fastest Boy Alive gets into costume and races about in search, spotting another speedster and giving chase! Despite being knocked aside by the blurred figure, Kid Flash isn’t to be discouraged and eventually finds a trail of food wrappers and other trash which lead him to a small, amphibious looking alien, passed out before a cliff-face.
Thinking quickly, Wally determines that this creature is some type of unknown lifeform with an incredibly fast metabolism that moves at super speed. It is emaciated and must have been starving, stealing food to survive. Noticing a recent rock-slide, Kid Flash drills through into a cave system, and just then, the creature comes to and speeds into the cavern. Theorizing that the being was a youth from a strange subterranean race that came out to explore, only to get trapped by the rock-slide, Wally seals the entrance and cleans up after the unusual but harmless visitor.
This seven page tale lacks the great pacing and jam-packed content of one of Kanigher’s Robin backups, but it tells a complete if somewhat underdeveloped story. The setup is a tad familiar as well. I know The Flash had encountered various super-speedster aliens from time to time in such mysteries, but this version does have the charm of involving Kid Flash and his youthful setting, starting in the school and the like. We’ve also got a nod towards realism, with the subterranean stranger’s appearance helping to explain its powers. I’m wondering if Skeates is thinking about trying to do some world-building in these backups the way Kanigher has managed in his Robin tales. It will be interesting to see if the red-headed Dana makes a return later on.
It’s also notable that our young hero is seen going to a peace rally in this book, positioning him fairly clearly with the youth anti-war movement. While his fellow Titan, the Teen Wonder, has been around the outskirts of such events, he’s maintained a certain neutrality. While such politics were certainly not the focus of this story, it’s fascinating that the rally is featured here incidentally but deliberately. Anyway, I suppose I’ll give this entertaining mini-mystery 3 Minutemen, as it doesn’t have quite enough substance to warrant more.
And with the super-speed sortie of Kid Flash behind us, we will write finis to this post. We had a solid set of books here, nothing groundbreaking or of enduring fame, like last post’s introduction of R’as Al Ghul, but we do have some interesting evidence of growing cultural influence and some efforts at building continuity and creating ongoing plotlines in The Flash. I hope that you enjoyed my commentaries and that you’ll join me again soon for another step on our journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!