Monday, May 20, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #437 & #438

"DEATHMASK!" | "A MONSTER WALKS WAYNE MANOR!"
Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin | Art: Jim Aparo

And now begins the brief Archie Goodwin era on DETECTIVE COMICS. As I understand it, sales on the series had been flagging for some time, so DC decided to try and reinvigorate the title by yanking it from the editorial purview of Julius Schwartz and turning it over to Archie Goodwin (Schwartz would remain editor on BATMAN, however, and eventually retake DETECTIVE as well when the Goodwin experiment eventually reached its end). The result is a year's worth of bi-monthly issues featuring Goodwin as the writer/editor of the series, and a parade of talented artists to help him tell his stories. The first of these artists is one who many consider the definitive Batman storyteller, the great Jim Aparo.

In THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, "Deathmask!" came immediately after "Ghost of the Killer Skies" -- as a result, child-me came to assume that Batman spent the entire decade of the seventies embroiled in solving moody murder mysteries. That's not the case by any means, but the fact remains -- this is a chilling and masterfully crafted mystery. Concerned with the opening of an exhibit at the Gotham Museum dedicated to a South American Indian tribe's god of death, it sees three men killed when the "god" seemingly comes alive and begins committing murders while wearing a ceremonial mask and robes.

Monday, May 13, 2019

BATMAN #251 & #255

"THE JOKER'S FIVE-WAY REVENGE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

Neal Adams' brief time with Batman comes to an end in these two tales, and the first teams him with his most frequent collaborator, Denny O'Neil, for the return of Batman's best-known villain. As discussed when we looked at "Half An Evil" a while back, my understanding that in the late sixties, after the Batman TV show ended and DC wanted to reestablish the character as something closer to his puply roots, there was a conscious decision made to retire the classic rogues gallery for a time, to allow the campy screen versions to fade from memory before reintroducing them. Now, I have no idea whether this is true, but in any case the Joker returns here four or so years after his last appearance.

I've said before that the Joker isn't my favorite Batman villain -- but, nonetheless, for my money "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" is pretty much the quintessential Batman story, and probably one of the few I might show somebody to introduce them to what exactly I believe Batman is all about. To wit: we have, as noted above, the best-known member of Batman's rogues gallery. We have Commissioner Gordon summoning Batman to the scene of a murder for investigative assistance. We have Batman setting out to track down the Joker, using his detective skills to do so. We have him demonstrating his "ultra-competence" as he easily catches up with a hoodlum who believes he's given Batman the slip. Yet we also have a fallible Batman, who's clubbed from behind by that same hood after turning his back on him. But most importantly, we have a Batman who refuses to give up; who, when thrown into a death trap by the Joker, uses his wits and athleticism to find a way out.

Monday, May 6, 2019

BATMAN #245 & DETECTIVE COMICS #429

"THE BRUCE WAYNE MURDER CASE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga is done, the villain has been brought to justice, but there's one loose end yet to tie up. Back when Batman started his crusade against the Demon in issue 242, he faked Bruce Wayne's death via a plane accident in South America. Now it's time to resurrect Wayne, but the deed is complicated when two rival political bosses get involved, one of them accusing the other of murdering Wayne. What ensues is a mystery Batman doesn't want to solve. He must, in order to bring Bruce Wayne back from the dead, but he knows that to do so will pave the way to get a dirty politician into office. However Batman does what he must, and by the story's final page, Gotham is as corrupt as ever and Bruce Wayne is alive again.

This is one of those stories that I feel should be included in any printing of TALES OF THE DEMON, but at the same time I understand why it isn't. Ra's al Ghul is never mentioned at any point; the entire saga is pretty much ignored. But it does show us how Batman brings Bruce Wayne back to life following his "death", tying up the one remaining plot thread from the O'Neil/Adams opus of preceding issues. But at the same time, TALES does not include issue 242 either, and that one is far more essential -- plus, without it, this story is even less important. If you're not gonna print the story that actually does further the main plot, why print a story that wraps up a sub-plot from it?

Otherwise, this is a decent story -- a nice palate cleanser after the globetrotting of the previous installments, it plants Batman firmly back in Gotham and sets him against that staple of his early seventies adventures: normal, everyday criminals in business suits.

Monday, April 29, 2019

BATMAN #243 & #244

"THE LAZARUS PIT!" | "THE DEMON LIVES AGAIN!"
Script: Denny O'Neil | Art: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga reaches its climax here, as Batman and his ragtag teams track the Demon to Switzerland. There, Lo Ling spies Talia and Ubu in a throng of people. The pair escapes, but Batman and friends, joined by championship skier Molly Post, pursue and enter al Ghul's stronghold -- only to find him dead. The groups departs with Talia, but al Ghul is secretly lowered by an automatic mechanism into a pool which restores his life. He emerges from his chalet and escapes with Talia.

Batman's teammmates are all injured or otherwise disabled, leaving the Darknight Detective alone as he tracks al Ghul and his daughter to the desert. There, al Ghul challenges Batman to a saber duel, but a scorpion's sting takes the Caped Crusader out of the fight. The Demon leaves Batman for dead, unaware that Talia has slipped her love an antidote. Batman appears in al Ghul's tent later, knocks him out, and hauls him away to justice.

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings regarding this story. Is it an epic? Yes, I'd say so. Globetrotting to exotic locales, a saber duel in the desert, a dramatic kiss to finish the story... it's all great stuff. But, much as I like it, I sometimes feel that it could've been so much more. I suspect that's due in large part to having seen the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES adaptation, "The Demon's Quest", prior to reading these issues. Because of that, my opinion of the original story has long been colored by the immeasurable esteem in which I hold those episodes. (I generally consider them my favorites out of all the B:TAS installments.)

Friday, April 26, 2019

SPRING BREAK

I'm taking Fridays off for the month of May. Note that unlike last year, when I was forced to abort my look at the James Bond comic strip partway through its run due to not having time to finish reading, this break is pre-planned. That Bond fiasco last year taught me that I need to realize my limitations with regards to timing and deadlines. I'm never as far ahead as I'd like to be these days, and I don't want to have to cancel another project before it's finished. So to that end, I decided to take some time to let myself get far enough ahead for the next Friday series, which will begin in June.

Monday posts will continue as usual, of course -- there's plenty of Batman lined up, so no need to worry about anything going astray there. And I will, as I did last year when I cancelled Bond, post other stuff on Fridays in May as the opportunity arises, in the vein of the Unboxing you saw here a week ago.

Monday, April 22, 2019

BATMAN #240 & #242

"VENGEANCE FOR A DEAD MAN!" | "BRUCE WAYNE--REST IN PEACE!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Editing: Julius Schwartz

Note: Screenshots below come from BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS VOLUME 2 and are not representative of these stories' original colors (the covers are presented as published, however).

The Ra's al Ghul saga ramps up considerably in these latest installments from Denny O'Neil and Irv Novick. In our first tale, Batman is called by Commissioner Gordon to investigate the grisly murder of a scientist named Mason Sterling, who was found with his brain removed. The Caped Crusder's investigation brings him into contact with Talia, working on behalf of her father -- but when Talia "accidentally" erases the memory of Batman's only informant, he follows her to Ra's al Ghul's yacht to find Sterling's brain kept alive on life support as al Ghul interrogates it. Al Ghul and Talia escape, and the disembodied brain tricks Batman into killing it with a push of a button since it can't bear to continue living as it is.

This story, which on its surface feels like another one-off Batman vs. Ra's adventure, turns out to have more going for it by the final couple pages. It's here that Batman first witnesses the depths of al Ghul's depravity and madness. Our next story, printed three months later, picks up on that thread and begins the final act of O'Neil's Ra's al Ghul saga.

For the timeline inclined out there, it's a little over a year now since O'Neil introduced the League of Assassins in DETECTIVE COMICS 405 and 406, the November and December issues from 1970. Six months later, O'Neil debuted the mysterious Talia in May 1971's DETECTIVE 411, and Ra's al Ghul himself appeared the month after that in BATMAN 232 from June of that same year. Batman and Talia teamed up in September's BATMAN 235. Then Ra's and his daughter took another six months off until March of 1972 and "Vengeance for a Dead Man!"

Friday, April 19, 2019

THE UNBOXING - APRIL 2019

What's this? The Unboxing on Friday?! It's true, and the reason why will be explained in this very space... next Friday! But for now, after skipping the past two months, The Unboxing returns at last with three offerings from Marvel, and I think the wait was worth it!

First we have two trade paperbacks, starting with CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION: THE SUPERIA STRATAGEM. Over the past few years, Marvel has been steadily plugging away at completing Mark Gruenwald's ten-year run on CAPTAIN AMERICA in a number of trade paperbacks. Currently, thanks to this new volume and the previously released Epic Collections SOCIETY OF SERPENTS, JUSTICE IS SERVED, THE BLOODSTONE HUNT, and STREETS OF POISON, plus the out-of-print Epic-in-all-but-name THE CAPTAIN, we've got issues 307 - 397 collected. That's ninety-one issues plus associated annuals and such, covering nearly the first seven years of Gruenwald's run. Gruenwald's final CAP issue was 443, so we've still got quite a ways to go, but at the very least it's safe to say that the "prime" material is pretty much all available at this point. (Though I love all of it and will happily snap up the rest of the run as it's released!)


Next is X-MEN: ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH, and I cannot overstate how absolutely thrilled I am to own this book. Those who follow my X-Men Collected Editions chart know that this was the final piece needed to close the X-Men's 1990s gap. As of now, thanks to ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH, EVERY. SINGLE. ISSUE. of UNCANNY X-MEN and X-MEN from the full decade of the nineties has been collected. I seriously want to do a little jig over this. It's been my goal for about the past five years to have that entire run of issues on my bookshelf, and now I can finally say that the mission is accomplished.

(Of course this isn't to say I won't re-buy some of this material as it finds its way into better collections -- upgrading from paperbacks to hardcovers, for example -- but the point is that for now, the goal is complete.)

And speaking of rebuying, our last book is one that I couldn't resist even though I've purchased all of it in various formats over the years -- comics when I was a teen, trade paperbacks and hardcovers as an adult... but now we have it here, all collected in one comprehensive and definitive oversized hardcover, just in time for a certain major motion picture it inspired: the THANOS WARS: INFINITY ORIGIN OMNIBUS. The name is an inelegant mouthful, but the contents are what's important here. This book collects all of Jim Starlin's early Thanos material, from his first appearance in IRON MAN #55, through his war against Captain Mar-Vell and the Avengers, and up to his dealings with Adam Warlock -- plus everything in between, whether Thanos-related or not. I've probably mentioned it here before, but for the record, Starlin's cosmic stuff at 1970s Marvel is among my all-time favorite comic book runs, and it's wonderful to see it get the high-end treatment it deserves at long last.