Friday, January 10, 2014


Art by Jim Aparo
I recently acquired, via an Amazon sale, TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON, showcasing Newton's earliest work drawing the Caped Crusader. As it happens, among those stories are three issues of DETECTIVE COMICS written by none other than Michael Fleisher. So since I just spent two weeks covering all of Fleisher's work on the Spectre, and since -- as I've opined previously -- there's nothing like some Batman on a cold winter's night, I figured that, given this chance, I might as well continue on to Fleisher's brief dalliance with the Darknight Detective.

These are not all of Fleisher's Bat-stories, however. Some very cursory research tells me that he also penned two issues of BATMAN roughly six years apart (1975 and 1981), and two issues of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, separated by a year (1980 and 1981 -- and the second of those B&B issues features art by Jim Aparo and a team up between the Batman and...the Spectre! I really want to track that down eventually...). But since these are the only Fleisher Batman stories I have ready access to, these are the ones I'll cover -- for now.

Writer: Michael Fleisher | Artists: Don Newton & Bob Smith/Frank Chiaramonte
Letterers: Milt Snappin & John Workman | Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Paul Levitz

Fleisher first brings us a two-parter introducing Batman to the Crime Doctor -- respectable physician Bradford Thorne, who spends his nights plotting crimes and providing medical assistance to the underworld. After treating Bruce Wayne for an injury and then seeing Batman wearing the very dressing he had applied to Wayne, Thorne deduces Batman's secret identity. The word gets out and crime boss Sterling Silversmith attempts to get the secret out of Thorne by poisoning him with mercury. Batman saves the Crime Doctor, but his brain is irreparably damaged by the poison, and he is left a comatose vegetable.

episode 53 title card
The Crime Doctor seems to have a convoluted history, having first appeared in 1943's DETECTIVE COMICS #77. This story is his second appearance, though it's presented as Batman's first meeting with Thorne. Additionally, though he is named here as Bradford Thorne, at some point his first name was changed to Matthew, and he became the brother of Gotham's corrupt city councilman, "Boss" Rupert Thorne -- which is the backstory presented in my first exposure to the Crime Doctor, the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES episode "Paging the Crime Doctor".

At any rate -- Fleisher's story here relies too heavily on far-fetched coincidences to make the plot work. Batman's normal physician, Dr. Dundee, is out of town, so Thorne just happens to be covering his practice, which leads to the Crime Doctor figuring out Bruce's identity the very same night he treats him as a patient.

Art by Jim Aparo
(And by the way -- apparently in pre-Crisis continuity, Batman had a personal doctor who knew his secret identity! I had no idea. In the post-Crisis world, his medical needs have always been covered by Alfred for minor first aid and Leslie Tompkins for the bigger stuff.)

On the plus side, Fleisher has a good grasp on the Batman I like to read about -- the dark avenger who enjoys chatting up his foes and dropping the occasional zinger -- and in general his handling of Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, and the other Batman trappings is on point. Batman even does some detective work to locate Thorne in the story's climax. Curiously, the tale's final panel features Batman walking off into the night, wondering if Thorne could have spilled the beans about his true identity to anyone -- a peculiar seed to come from the pen of a guest writer. Perhaps Fleisher was jockeying for a position on the series' permanent creative team.

The art by Don Newton is great, surviving even some horrible inks by Bob Smith on chapter one. The lettering in that first installment, by Milt Snappin, is routinely awful as well. Fortunately both art and letters are elevated considerably in the second part, thanks to Frank Chiarmonte and the great John Workman, respectively.

Writer: Michael Fleisher | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterer: Milt Snappin | Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Paul Levitz

Art by Jim Aparo
This story fares much better than the Crime Doctor adventure. Fleisher brings us a tale of Batman versus the original Clayface, played here as a horror movie slasher, which is right in Fleisher's grisly wheelhouse. A symposium on horror films is held aboard a cruise ship, and when Basil "Clayface" Karlo, a renowned horror actor turned serial killer, learns that he wasn't invited, he murders his nurse and escapes Arkham Asylum to board the ship and kill the event's organizer. But Bruce Wayne is aboard as well, and, as Batman, thwarts the villain in the end.

The story features some gratuitous murder, just like Fleisher's best Spectre stories, and once more Batman gets to put his detective skills to use, deducing a twist ending which I admittedly figured out, but not immediately. The mystery was done well enough to keep me in the dark for at least a little while.

Dan Adkins inked the majority of the stories in TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON, and his slick work blends with Newton's perfectly, bringing to mind favorable comparisons with the Alan Davis/Mark Farmer duo. I can't imagine a better inker for Newton, though I understand that much of his remaining multi-year run on the Batman comics was inked by others. I hope to someday check those issues out, but as I've said before, I will only selectively pick these volumes up until the brain-dead chimpanzee children at the DC collected editions department come to their senses and realize that only the most clueless, unprofessional and downright incompetent publisher would put out artist-centric collections which omit key chapters of ongoing writers' runs.

Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway... back to Michael Fleisher. Owing to his status as a guest writer here, the issues don't quite live up to his Spectre stories, but the Clayface adventure, at least, plays to his strengths and manages to capture some of that Spectre spirit (no pun intended). The Crime Doctor story is mostly forgettable, however, even despite the fact that Fleisher tosses in a plot point for future writers to follow up on if so inclined. I had hoped for a little more of a dark noir style from these Fleisher Batman adventures, but I didn't get it. And if this is a fair sampling of Fleisher's Batman, I'm not sure I plan on ever checking out those other few issues he worked on (aside from that team-up with the Spectre someday).


  1. I'll stipulate to the fact that nostalgia played into it, but that Crime Doctor two-parter is a favorite of mine. Circa 9 years old, I loved Don Newton, I loved DC's Dollar Comics package, I loved the whole Batman "Family" in Detective Comics, and the fact that Bruce Wayne had a personal doctor who knew he was Batman made perfect sense. The coincidence in Thorne coming upon Batman and, in particular, recognizing the wound he'd dressed right after treating Bruce Wayne was a bit too pat, sure, but the whole deal of him having an ethical dilemma about revealing Batman's secret identity since he was his patient and the way he planned out his Crime Doctor capers, honestly, I was riveted. Of course you're reading this from a modern perspective, just as I'm reading stuff over at Teebore's for the first time that you guys grew up with, and context is huge for comics of earlier eras.

  2. And I totally agree that, as great as Don Newton's stuff is, the fact that Batman interwove with Detective nearly every month during this period makes it ridiculous to issue a hardcover devoted to, for the most part, only every other chapter in an ongoing saga.

  3. Well, I didn't think the Crime Doctor story was bad -- and, honestly, coincidence plays a huge part in some of my favorite comics (Cyclops getting shipwrecked on an island that just happens to belong to Magneto, I'm looking at you). But, yeah, the age at which you first read these things does definitely play into what you're willing to swallow.

    As far as the books, I think DC views these first and foremost as creator spotlight volumes. And most of the creators they've chosen are artists. We do have an Archie Goodwin volume and an upcoming Len Wein edition, though. But I'd love to be able to read all the Gerry Conway and Doug Moench pre-"Crisis" stories in the correct order.

    Problem is, even though they have a Don Newton series and a Gene Colan series, Newton only has one volume which hasn't even caught up with Colan yet, and if there's ever a guest artist, you would miss that chapter entirely. DC just hasn't tumbled to the concept, which Marvel figured out a few years ago, that people want to read full writers' runs. Comics are a visual medium, yes, and the good art is obviously a huge draw. And I generally don't enjoy comics with sub-part art. But I would like to be able to read the story attached to that artwork anyway, just to follow the ongoing plot.

    I have less problem with these books if they're from an era with minor inter-series continuity. I have all the Neal Adams BATMAN volumes due to the fact that DC's stories in seventies -- at least from the Julie Schwartz Batman office -- weren't ongoing serials like they would eventually become. There was the occasional multi-part storyline, and certainly sequels to past issues, but for the most part something like Adams Batman is a bunch of vignettes. Plus, when there was a sequel to an Adams story, Adams himself usually drew it, so that helps.