Monday, December 30, 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(A couple days early...)

It's time again -- already -- for that annual tradition where I put up a combination "Year in Review"/"Looking to the Future" post. And this year, there's not all that much to review. I had started off with some pretty high hopes, but it became evident very early on that I just wasn't meeting my posting deadlines like I used to. I began my Mondays this year by finishing off the DC post-CRISIS Superman and Wonder Woman runs that had filled all of 2018. Then, immediately after, I stayed in the DC Universe for Batman in the Seventies, which filled up Mondays for the remainder of the year (ending just last week).

But it was the Friday posts, the "grab bag" sort of stuff that I do to supplement the usually much longer Monday series, where I fell short. I began the year as always, with a manga series -- in this case, GUNSMITH CATS: BURST, the sequel to GUNSMITH CATS, which I had looked at in early 2018. After that I jumped into the world of European comics with RAPTORS, and then it was a mixed bag of Marvel stuff with CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY, SPIDER-MAN: LIFELINE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE 1940s NEWSPAPER STRIP, and X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN vol. 1 and vol. 2.

And then -- things fell apart. I announced I was taking a brief hiatus, which I called my "Spring Break", with the intention to return on Fridays over the summer. That never happened. Come August, I came clean and stated that I had nothing in the pipeline for the fall, either. Life and other hobbies had eaten into my blogging time to a considerable extent, and while I was able to keep up with my Monday posts, that was the best I could manage.

Which brings us to today. Monday posts will continue as usual, but for now, Fridays will remain the empty void they have become over the past several months, aside from things like announcements, The Unboxing, or whatever else may pop into my mind. This is a little frustrating for me because Fridays used to be my way to read and post about other smaller things when I was in the middle of doing longer runs on Mondays. However at this this point, I'm thinking that what I may do is alternate -- start into a long run, but break periodically for something else before getting back to it.

At any rate, I intend to begin the year with a manga series, as has become tradition, and then I'm going to go into some European comics after that, around the beginning of March. Following those, I will jump into my next long-term Monday series, and we'll see how far it takes us. So -- one week from today comes our first announcement of the year (the manga series), and then the following Monday, we'll dive right into the first volume. I may have drastically cut down on my output, but I don't intend to go away anytime soon... so thanks, as always, for sticking around and continuing to follow along with whatever random stuff I happen to read.

Friday, December 27, 2019

THE UNBOXING - DECEMBER 2019

No physical books this month, but thanks to Marvel, it was a very merry digital Christmas! Amazon/Comixology ran one of the best sales they've ever done on Epic Collections, reducing all of them, across the board (except for the STAR WARS ones) to a flat $4.99 or $5.99 apiece. Considering that Epics are usually discounted to $6.99 or $7.99, this is a pretty big deal!

Thanks to the big Epic Collection sale, I plugged some gaps on the shopping list, and picked up: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTION: GHOSTS OF THE PAST, AVENGERS EPIC COLLECTION: THE GATHERERS STRIKE!, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTION: THE COMING OF GALACTUS, FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTION: THE MYSTERY OF THE BLACK PANTHER, and NEW MUTANTS EPIC COLLECTION: THE DEMON BEAR SAGA.

But that's not all! Marvel also ran a "Celebrate 2019" sale, which while not as deeply discounted as the Epic sale, still presented some great deals -- including on stuff that was just released, which is a rarity for these sorts of sales. So in addition to the digital volumes listed above, I also picked up: FANTASTIC FOUR MASTERWORKS vol. 21, NOT BRAND ECHH: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, PETER PORKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-HAM: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN: LO, THIS MONSTER, TIGRA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION, X-MEN CLASSIC: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 2, and X-MEN: SHATTERSHOT.

And guess what, True Believers? The sales are still on! They both run until January 2nd, so grab those Amazon gift cards you just unwrapped a couple days ago and hop over there to grab some books. I know I will (again).

EDIT: Turns out I had already written a post for the December Unboxing before I composed the above, and I just now discovered it in mid-January in my "Drafts" folder. I actually grabbed more than I realized in late November/December! So here's the rest of the haul (also all digital):

Then, from DC, it's AQUAMAN: THE SEARCH FOR MERA, TALES OF THE BATMAN: GERRY CONWAY vol. 3, and WONDER WOMAN by JOHN BYRNE vol. 3. Both of those last two books conclude their respective runs, which is nice to see. Hopefully there's a TALES OF THE BATMAN: DOUG MOENCH series in the wings, to pick up where Conway's run ended and finish off the pre-CRISIS Batman era -- but time will tell.

From IDW, I grabbed STAR TREK VS. TRANSFORMERS, and from Dynamite I picked up BARBARELLA/DEJAH THORIS.

Lastly, I got some European comics from two publishers that translate them to English: from Cinebook we have five volumes of a series called LADY S: Vol. 1: HERE'S TO SUZIE, Vol. 2: LATITUDE 59 DEGREES NORTH, Vol. 3: GAME OF FOOLS, Vol. 4: A MOLE IN DC, and Vol. 5: PORTUGUESE MEDLEY. And from Soleil it's the eighth volume of a series called EKHÖ, which I've been picking up here and there over the past couple years, but haven't yet read at all.

And with that, we close the curtain on December's Unboxing and the full year's worth of 2019 Unboxings. Owing to my decision last year to scale back on physical books in favor of digital, this year featured the fewest Unboxings since I began the blog: only seven throughout the year. But the flipside of that fact is that I think I'm actually buying more books than ever before since digital, when on sale, is drastically less expensive than physical!

Monday, December 23, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #426, #429, & #435

"KILLER'S ROULETTE!" | "MAN-BAT OVER VEGAS!"
"MASTER CRIME-FILE OF JASON BARD: CASE OF THE DEAD-ON TARGET!"
Story & Art by: Frank Robbins

And now the actual, honest-to-goodness conclusion to my look at "Batman in the Seventies", featuring Frank Robbins' final three stories as writer/artist. The first of these is by far my favorite: "Killer's Roulette" sees Batman investigating a string of suicides. Three of Gotham's wealthy citizens have killed themselves with a bullet to the head, and the Caped Crusader wants to know why. Batman goes undercover as a high roller at an offshore casino, where he meets a man named Conway Treach, who challenges him to the biggest game of chance anyone can ever play: Russian Roulette.

Batman and Treach head to Treach's cabin, where the villain explains the rules of his challenge: they will each write out a suicide note, then begin their game with a single bullet in Treach's revolver. After each pull of the trigger, one bullet will be added, until one of them dies -- at which point the survivor will take his own note and depart. At this point Batman reveals his true identity to Treach, but insists on playing the game anyway, and this is where Robbins' already excellent artwork becomes brilliant, as he captures the intensity on each man's face with every pull of the trigger, until Batman finally emerges victorious, deducing that Treach has a truck gun which will never kill him.

Even though this story's subject matter would never have cleared broadcast censors for a kids' show in 1992 (or today), I can't help feeling it would have been a really great adaptation into an episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. I can't really explain why, but something about it just feels like a B:TAS story.

Monday, December 16, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #416, #420, & #421

Surprise! Oh man, you should see the look on your face! We're not quite done with "Batman in the Seventies" after all. See, about seven months ago, in my look at DETECTIVE COMICS #429, I said:
"I should note that if I could, I'd look at all of the half-dozen or so Batman stories [Frank] Robbins drew, but over all these years, so far as I can see, DC has only ever collected "Man-Bat Over Vegas", which was in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD. Anyone else up for a TALES OF THE BATMAN: FRANK ROBBINS book??"
Well, DC hasn't published such a tome, but at some point after I typed those fateful words, they did release all six of writer/artist Robbins' Bat-stories to Comixology. I bought them in a DC sale a few months back, and I've been saving them for now. I simply wouldn't have felt this retrospective was complete if I didn't write about these tales, knowing they were out there. Plus, two posts to cover these issues will take us right up to the end of the year, so the timing works out perfectly.

So, without further ado...

Monday, December 9, 2019

BATMAN #335

"ASHES TO ASHES!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

"The Lazarus Affair" -- and our overall look at Batman in the Seventies -- concludes with the May, 1981 issue of BATMAN. On Infinity Island, the Caped Crusader is offered a chance to join Ra's al Ghul, and -- after weighing the options -- he agrees.

But of course, Batman is bluffing. The funny thing is that everyone goes along with this in their own ways, but they all know it's a sham. Ra's al Ghul welcomes Batman into the family and sends him off with Talia for a tour of the island, then confides in his chief scientist that he knows Batman's agreement is insincere. Robin puts on a show of feeling betrayed, but secretly receives hand signals from Batman that let him know the Dark Knight is simply buying time. Even King Farady, who throws a punch at Batman over his betrayal, does it for show, as he also catches the hand signals, and even though he doesn't know what they mean, he understands this is a ruse.

So surely Batman, the world's greatest detective, must realize that no one believes him. Yet for whatever reason, everybody plays along... until they decided they're finished. For al Ghul, it happens when Talia escorts Batman into a room containing the Lazarus Pit. He decides at this point to go beat Batman up and turn him into a mutate. For Robin, Faraday, and Catwoman, it happens after they've been escorted back to the slave mines. Robin randomly decides that Batman needs them, so the group breaks free -- again -- and returns to the dome -- again -- to help Batman. From a story perspective, none of this seems to make any sense. We could've jumped straight from the opening page to al Ghul knocking Batman out and his friends fighting on his behalf -- but Wolfman needs to squeeze in some exposition, so he uses Batman's transparent ploy to work it in.

Monday, December 2, 2019

BATMAN #333 & #334

"THE CHINA SYNDROME!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

As with the previous issue in the "Lazarus Affair" saga, BATMAN 333 begins with a one-page prologue -- this time it's a mysterious white-haired man in Nepal, listening for a signal from somewhere. And, for the first time in ten years, he receives it.

We then jump to Switzerland, where Batman is impersonating Gregorian Falstaff's right-hand man, Karlyle Krugerrand, in an attempt to gain access to Falstaff's safety deposit box. But the disguise is penetrated, and the Caped Crusader finds himself on the run from several agents of Falstaff's mysterious master. It becomes immediately clear in the subsequent pages that "The Lazarus Affair" is, at least in part, Marv Wolfman's tribute to the classic James Bond movies. Because if Bond winds up in Switzerland (or really, any exotic, snowy locale), it's pretty much guaranteed that he'll get involved in a high-speed ski chase -- which is exactly what happens here to Batman.

The Darknight Detective is shot in the arm, but nonetheless manages to elude his pursuers and meet up with Talia at their shared hotel suite. But when he changes to Bruce Wayne and attempts a romantic dinner with his traveling companion, he's attacked again -- suggesting that his enemies know his secret identity. So with dinner ruined, Bruce and Talia instead return to their room to knock boots before departing the next morning in a small plane for Hong Kong to meet with another contact, Feng-Wei. But after sneaking to the island through China, Bruce leaves Talia behind for this new rendezvous -- and is immediately captured by a sinister sea captain.

Monday, November 25, 2019

BATMAN #332

"THE LAZARUS AFFAIR: FALLOUT!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

After a brief prologue that we'll look at in a moment, this week's BATMAN installments begin where last week's ended -- with Robin storming out of the Batcave after Batman has agreed to allow Talia to stay there. But Batman soon leaves his love behind to go investigate Gregorian Falstaff, and we learn some tidbits I don't think Len Wein intended when he created the character: specifically, that Falstaff was virtually unknown before three years ago, when he made all his money, and that he is operating as a front for someone else. This is confirmed a scene or two later, when Falstaff himself refers to a mysterious "master" while chatting with his lieutenant, Karlyle Krugerrand.

Batman deduces that Falstaff has been getting intel on Wayne Enterprises from Bruce Wayne's secretary, Caroline Crowne. The Caped Crusader payes Crowne a visit and saves her from being roughed up by a "mutate" on Falstaff's payroll. Crowne admits that she's only been spying on Bruce because Falstaff is holding her daughter hostage. Batman changes to Bruce and visits Falstaff, where he learns that the villain is seizing Wayne properties left and right. Later, back at the Batcave, Talia sedates Batman, but as she leaves to carry out a mysterious errand, she fails to realize he's still conscious.

Friday, November 22, 2019

THE UNBOXING - NOVEMBER 2019

If you'll indulge me a moment: back in 2016, when I reviewed the UNCANNY X-MEN OMNIBUS vol. 3, I said:
"The first chunk of the "official" bonus material is possibly the coolest: 66 pages reprinting full profiles for every X-character seen in the original OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. This is basically a mini-handbook all on its own, and the profile art, by the likes of Smith, Cockrum, Byrne, and more, looks beautiful in the reconstructed Omnibus format. I know it might not be to everyone's taste, but this stuff gets me thinking that I would love to see a full OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OMNIBUS. Yes, the profiles would be thirty years out of date, but that series is as much a part of my childhood -- and the childhoods of an entire generation -- as are the actual comics from which they draw their inspiration."
Well, here we are three-and-a-half years later, and this month's Unboxing features the arrival of (drum roll) the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OMNIBUS!


Like I said above, the profiles are way out of date, but I don't really care. This book is a lot of fun to flip through, and it features a Marvel Universe which exists now only in memory, with nearly all the characters shown as they were, preserved in their most iconic costumes (which is a reason I've never warmed up to the later "Deluxe Edition" handbook, which features several characters in their then-current and less timeless looks). And even though the book reprints the issues in order (with the "dead and inactive" characters lumped together in the back), there's a spiffy table of contents up front in complete alphabetical order, making it simple to find any character you might be looking for.

That's it for November, folks. With Black Friday coming up in just one week, I anticipate grabbing some digital releases from Comixology/Amazon -- but since that's nearly the end of the month, if I do so, I'll just save them for December.

Monday, November 18, 2019

BATMAN #330 & #331

"TARGET!" | "CLOSED CIRCUIT!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Dialogue: Michael Fleisher (issue 331)
Penciler: Irv Novick | Inkers: Vince Colletta (issue 330 & Frank McLaughlin (issue 331)
Letterer: Ben Oda | Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Paul Levitz

And now we rejoin our story, already in progress... or so it seems when one dives into this issue. Don't get me wrong -- the story begins cleanly, with a setup introduced on the first page (specifically, a crook Batman sent up the river years ago is scheduled to be executed the next day, so he puts out a bounty -- he will pay ten million dollars in gold to anyone who can off Batman before he dies). But in terms of sub-plots, something's a bit off. Robin arrives early on to assist Batman in avoiding the various assassins who are now gunning for him. So far, so good -- until suddenly, Batman gives his partner the cold shoulder, and Robin realizes it's because this is the first time they've interacted since he announced that he was dropping out of college.

Now, look -- we haven't been reading every Batman-related story that came out around this time. Yes, we've covered BATMAN consistently; every issue dating back nearly two years now. And we've looked at a lot of consecutive DETECTIVE COMICS issues as well... but only the main stories. Both these series ran backup features, off-and-on, usually starring Robin and Batgirl. And I have to assume that Robin dropped out in one of those -- which is fine! But what strikes me odd about this is that Wolfman's script mentions it casually, almost in passing, as if we're supposed to know about it. And to the reader of 1980/81, that may well have been the case -- but you can't assume that all readers have been picking up every issue of every comic.

Monday, November 11, 2019

BATMAN #328 & #329

"DOUBLE JEOPARDY!" | "TWICE DIES THE BATMAN!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

Look up top for a second, will you? No, not at the writing credit, which tells us that Marv Wolfman is now aboard as BATMAN's regular writer (for eight issues, anyway). Check out those story titles: "Double Jeopardy!" "Twice Dies the Batman!" Yep, you guessed it -- not only is Marv here, but Two-Face came with him! And on top of that, Wolfman is using these stories for a bit of a deep-dive into Batman's lore, which is always nice to see.

We begin in the Batcave, as Batman is taunted by a video message from Carl Ternion, who was recently tried and found not guilty of murder, but who -- in his message -- now brags to Batman that he did commit the crime. Protected by "double jeopardy" laws, he can never be tried for that crime again, but Batman nonetheless sets out to get to the bottom of Ternion's confession. As he investigates, the Darknight Detective finds that Ternion is dating Gilda Stevens, the ex-wife of Two-Face, who was recently widowed when her second husband, David, was murdered.

So here's the thing: Wolfman plays this as a mystery, but it really isn't one. Besides big clue in the title above, Ternion is depicted several times throughout part one with half his face obscured, or split down the middle through some means such as the divider between window panes as he looks outside. Combined with the fact that he's dating Harvey Dent's ex and has killed the man who murdered her husband (who was Harvey's former assistant when he was district attorney), it's quite obvious that Ternion is Two-Face in disguise.

Monday, November 4, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #494, #495, & #496

Way back in January of 2014, before this blog was even a year old, I read the 1970s WRATH OF THE SPECTRE series by Michael Fleischer and Jim Aparo. (Part 1 | Part 2). When I was done with those issues, I realized I had a few DETECTIVE COMICS Batman stories by Fleischer handy as well, in the pages of TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON -- so I read and wrote about them as well, as sort of a bonus.

Well, as it happens, those issues were published in late 1980, overlapping with the BATMAN issues we'll be reading over the next couple weeks. So, for your pleasure, here's a post from the earliest days of NOT A HOAX!:

BATMAN BY MICHAEL FLEISHER: DETECTIVE COMICS #494, 495, 496

And with that, our two weeks of "reprint" posts come to an end. Next week, in the first pair of our final eight issues in this retrospective, Marv Wolfman comes aboard BATMAN to wrap up Len Wein's dangling plots, as the Caped Crusader goes up against Two-Face.

Monday, October 28, 2019

THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN

In 1980, concurrent with the end of his run on BATMAN, Len Wein wrote a limited series called THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN. Its framing sequence was a mystery set in the ongoing continuity, but the true purpose of the series was to sort through the then-nearly fifty years of Batman's history and hammer all the bits and pieces into a single solidified backstory.

At the end of 2017, with some time to kill (ahh, those were the days), I decided to read UNTOLD LEGEND and write about it here. And since it fits in perfectly with the "Batman in the Seventies" retrospective I've been running here all year, I figure now is a good time to "reprint" the post for your enjoyment:

THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN #1 - #3

Give it a whirl (and while doing so, remember that it was written more than a year before I even decided to read the full Wein run over these past months), and next week we'll look at one more "reprint" post before jumping back into the ongoing Batman saga.

Monday, October 21, 2019

BATMAN #326 & #327

"THIS WAY LIES MADNESS!" | "ASYLUM SINISTER!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin | Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterers: John Costanza (issue 326) & Ben Oda (issue 327) | Editor: Paul Levitz

Len Wein's run on BATMAN comes to an end with these two issues, and while not as strong as last week's Catwoman/Cat-Man saga, the story here isn't too bad. We open with Selina leaving Gotham City. After everyone immediately thought the worst of her when the Egyptian cat exhibit was stolen, she's decided she can't live (or love) among people who inherently don't trust her. After she departs, an angst-ridden Batman goes on patrol and stops a robbery, but the suspect escapes. However, Batman recognizes him as "Mad Dog" Markham, a criminal who should be incarcerated at Arkham Asylum. Batman visits Police Headquarters and learns of Commissioner Gordon's encounter last issue with the apparent work of "Kid Gloves" McConnell, another Arkham inmate.

Deciding that something is rotten in the asylum, Batman goes undercover as a crook named "Shank" Taylor and gets himself committed. Inside, he learns that the asylum is now being run by his old enemy Professor Milo. Batman eventually gets the better of Milo, and the sinister doctor is driven mad himself thanks to exposure to a special chemical he had prepared for the Caped Crusader.

Wein must be a fan of Milo; this is the second time we've seen him use the character (the first was in "Moon of the Wolf", and Milo here is scarred down the side of his face from his encounter with the werewolf he created in that tale). Considering Wein was born in 1948 and Milo debuted in 1957's DETECTIVE COMICS #247, that's not a surprise -- he probably had some childhood memories attached to that issue. Who knows; maybe it was his first Batman comic!

Monday, October 14, 2019

BATMAN #323 & #324

"SHADOW OF THE CAT!" | "THE CAT WHO WOULD BE KING!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Irv Novick & Bob Smith
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

We're entering the final stretch of Len Wein's run on BATMAN today. These two issues, plus the two we'll look at next week, mark his final four installment of the Caped Crusader's monthly adventures. And, at least based on these two, it seems like he wants to go out on a high note. "Shadow of the Cat!" and "The Cat Who Would be King!" are some of Wein's strongest stories out of his entire two-year run on the title, plus they resolve the ongoing sub-plot of Selina Kyle's headaches.

As we learned last week, the headaches were actually the final stage of some exotic virus Selina contracted during her days as Catwoman. She found out that the ancient Egyptians had cured the disease centuries ago, and not long after, a figure dressed as a cat was seen stealing some Egyptian artifacts from Gotham's Riverside Museum. This story opens later that same night, as Batman arrives at Selina's apartment to arrest her for the crime. But Selina professes her innocence and escapes. The next day, she shows up at the Wayne Foundation in costume as Catwoman to make her case to Bruce, but when he suggests she turn herself in and let the law sort things out, she runs again. Eventually Catwoman gets a lead on the stolen artifacts, while Batman shadows her. The pair winds up in some caverns that were once used by bootleggers to smuggle liquor into Gotham. Batman finally believes Catwoman is innocent, but before the two can make amends, they're captured by the villainous Cat-Man.

Monday, October 7, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #489, #490, & #491

"WHEN STRIKE THE ASSASSINS" | "REQUIEM FOR A MARTYR"
Writer: Denny O'Neil | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterer: Ben Oda | Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Paul Levitz

Denny O'Neil brings his 1979-80 League of Assassins saga to its conclusion in these two issues. Interestingly, it seems DETECTIVE #489 must have devoted most of its space to other features, because "When Strike the Assassins" runs a mere ten pages in length... and I have to say, the story is better for it! Something about this length works for O'Neil here; he cuts the fat and gets right to the point: Batman learns a geologist is in danger, goes out, and rescues him. That's it. It's short and sweet, but it feels more like an early seventies Batman outing from O'Neil (something he might've produced with Irv Novick, for example) than the stuff we've been seeing lately.

The next issue, however, features a full-length twenty-two page story to wrap things up -- and maybe it's because he's finally bringing an end to this League of Assassins epic that began several months back, but for whatever reason, O'Neil is again firing on (nearly) all cylinders here. The geology connection, combined with one or two other clues, leads Batman to realize that the League plans to create an earthquake which will destroy Gotham City's Matthews Estate, where several of the world's top religious leaders have gathered for a conference. Batman leaps into action and defeats the League and its master, the Sensei, saving most of the leaders. Ra's al Ghul then arrives to take the Sensei into custody, but when Batman refuses to give him up, Talia tranquilizes her love and drags him away, allowing al Ghul and Sensei alike to be consumed by the destruction of the (now evacuated) estate.

The story ends with Batman recuperating under Talia's care in a cabin somewhere, as she convinces him to set aside his mission for one day and relax. In his afterword to BATMAN: TALES OF THE DEMON, O'Neil notes that this coda almost reads as if he'd planned it from the start, with al Ghul seemingly dead and Batman and Talia together at last. And this may well be what O'Neil intended as his final word on Ra's al Ghul; he would not write the character again for a number of years. But, as we'll soon see, other writers would keep the character in circulation, as they did in the mid-seventies, while O'Neil stepped away.

Monday, September 30, 2019

BATMAN #319, #321, AND #322

Writer: Len Wein | Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Paul Levitz

"NEVER GIVE UP THE GHOST!"
Artists: Irv Novick & Bob Smith

Gentleman Ghost's turn against Batman in issue 310 must have been well received by fandom -- or at least, Len Wein must have enjoyed writing it -- because here we are nine months later with a rematch between the two. This time, Batman thwarts the Ghost and his gang from stealing some diamonds in the issue's opening pages, and then when they try again the next night, they capture the Caped Crusader before departing to steal some jewels from a party at Wayne Manor. But Batman gets free, heads home, and stops the Ghost yet again -- though the villain escapes in the end.

It's a little weird to see Wein returning to the exact same well as the last time he used Gentleman Ghost, sending him yet again to Wayne Manor. But perhaps there's some reason for this. Maybe Wein wanted to establish some connection between the Ghost and Bruce Wayne's ancestral home. But this is Wein's final outing with Gentleman Ghost, so we'll never know. (Another unsolved mystery is the fact that Batman explicitly notes in the opening scene that the Ghost is trying to steal "crude industrial diamonds" rather than some nicer jewelry. It seems unlikely Wein would've mentioned this unless he intended it to go someplace.)

In sub-plot land, Bruce talks about how happy he is to be back at Wayne Manor for this party, and considers that he may be seeing a lot more of the place in the near future. I'm pretty sure I've read that it was actually Gerry Conway, in his run that followed Wein's, who actually moved Batman back to his mansion, but I guess Wein is planting the seeds for that move here. And besides the potential move for our hero, we also find that his secret identity may be in jeopardy, as, at the party, Lucius Fox and Selina Kyle make up and then begin discussing Bruce's frequent disappearances.

Monday, September 23, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #486 & #487

"MURDER BY THUNDERBOLT" | "THE PERILS OF SERGIUS"
Writer: Denny O'Neil | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterers: John Workman (issue 486) & Milt Snappin (issue 487)
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Paul Levitz

Two more issues of DETECTIVE COMICS mean two more stories from Denny O'Neil, which -- circa late 1979/early 1980 -- mean Batman is going up against Maxie Zeus and the League of Assassins, respectively, again.

The first of these two stories, in issue 486, isn't half-bad. In fact, the opening is the sort of pulpy sequence O'Neil would have produced with Neal Adams a decade earlier: a skydiver jumps out of a plane, but he lands as a skeleton. Batman, who was on the scene as Bruce Wayne and changed into costume when the skydiver's parachute didn't deploy, watches as the skeleton then spontaneously combusts. Had Adams drawn this scene, it would have meant the promise of another masterpiece from him and O'Neil. But, much as I like Don Newton, he's no Neal Adams -- and the story that follows never quite lives up to its opening scene.

We follow Batman from this point as he investigates the strange death and learns that Maxie Zeus was behind it. Zeus, incarcerated at Arkham Asylum, is still insane, and is now predicting how some of his former associates will meet their ends. The mystery turns out to be twofold: how did a skydiver turn into a skeleton in midair, and who is carrying out these killings on Zeus's behalf? Unfortunately, the solutions to both questions are quite easy to discern -- the skydiver was already dead and a skeleton was simply dropped out of the plane (which is basically what Newton's art makes us see from the start), and the killer is the most obvious choice.

Friday, September 20, 2019

THE UNBOXING - SEPTEMBER 2019

We're gonna keep things short and sweet this month, with an all-Digital, all-Marvel Unboxing. I have to admit that I think I actually bought a few of these during some sale or another last month, but for the most part, these are all September purchases as part of Marvel's 80th anniversary BOGO sale at Comixology/Amazon. Thus, the latest additions to my digital lineup are:


AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTION: ASSASSIN NATION
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTION: GREAT POWER
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN EPIC COLLECTION: THE GOBLIN LIVES
AVENGERS EPIC COLLECTION: FEAR THE REAPER
AVENGERS MASTERWORKS vol. 19
CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION: THE SUPERIA STRATAGEM
FANTASTIC FOUR: HEROES REBORN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 1
FANTASTIC FOUR: THE WORLD'S GREATEST COMICS MAGAZINE!
IRON MAN: HEROES REBORN: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 1
LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN MASTERWORKS vol. 3
MASTER OF KUNG FU EPIC COLLECTION: FIGHT WITHOUT PITY
SAVAGE SHE-HULK MASTERWORKS vol. 2
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN MASTERWORKS vol. 2
THING: THE SERPENT CROWN AFFAIR
X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT
X-MEN EPIC COLLECTION: DISSOLUTION AND REBIRTH
X-MEN: GAMBIT: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION vol. 2
X-MEN> ONSLAUGHT AFTERMATH


And that's it for September, True Believers! Catch you back here next month (or not, if I don't wind up getting anything new)!

Monday, September 16, 2019

BATMAN #317 & #318

"THE 1,001 CLUE CAPER or WHY DID THE RIDDLER CROSS THE ROAD?"
"MY CITY BURNS AT BOTH ENDS -- IT WILL NOT LAST THE NIGHT!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

BATMAN 317 picks up where issue 316 ended, with Batman and Robin wrapping up the Crazy Quilt caper at Gotham Police Headquarters. Their next case begins immediately as Batman receives a parcel care of the police -- a book of riddles from the Riddler. The Dynamic Duo head home so Bruce Wayne can tend to the day-to-day operations of his company, while Robin does some investigate legwork. Eventually the heroes figure out the Riddler has gotten into the lucrative game of selling guns to foreign powers, and shut him down at Gotham's waterfront.

Along the way, Bruce makes up (and makes out) with Selina Kyle following their argument a couple issues back, while Lucius Fox continues to worry over his upcoming meeting with Bruce's reclusive rival, Gregorian Falstaff. And then , in a glorious half-page panel to close out the issue, Lucius comes face-to-face with the gluttonous Falstaff.

I'm not sure what it is about this one that speaks to me... maybe it's as simple as the inclusion of the Riddler, who has long been one of my favorite Batman villains, and who has gotten pretty short shrift in these 1970s stories we've been examining. This is by no means the Riddler's first appearance of the decade, but it is the first time we've looked at a comic featuring him.

Monday, September 9, 2019

BATMAN #315 & #316

"DANGER ON THE WING!" | "COLOR ME DEADLY!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

BATMAN 315 continues Len Wein's string of sub-par one-off adventures, padded by slow-moving sub-plots. This time, Batman goes up against Kite-Man, stopping the obscure villain from stealing the final day's payroll of Trans-Atlantic Airways, an airline moving out of Gotham City. It's a pretty lame story that would fit in nicely among Batman's TV episodes, but it really doesn't fit the Darknight Detective. Plus, the plot is similar in some ways to the Calendar Man story Wein just wrote a couple months earlier.

The sub-plots do a bit to elevate this one, but not by much. We get a brief appearance from Selina Kyle, who confronts Bruce Wayne about his digging up dirt on her. She's none too pleased about it, and throws a drink in Bruce's face, then leaves their lunch date in a huff. And then there's Lucius Fox, who thinks a bit about his son, Tim, before he's accosted by Karlyle Krugerrand, right-hand man to Gregorian Falstaff. It seems Falstaff wants a meeting with Lucius, and seeing an opportunity to learn a bit about his boss's rival, Lucius agrees to this proposal.

...Then he heads over to Wayne Foundation and nearly tells Bruce about the upcoming meeting, but changes his mind at the last minute and decides to keep his boss in the dark -- I assume to give him plausible deniability, though it comes across here as Lucius simply making a dumb decision, as he did last issue when he blabbed to Selina about the dossier he had compiled on her. I can see that Wein is trying to lace his stories with soap opera angst and intrigue, but the problem is that for whatever reason, he's not very good at it!

Monday, September 2, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #483 - 485

"THE CURSE OF CRIME ALLEY" | "ASSAULT ON OLYMPUS!"
Writer: Denny O'Neil | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterers: Todd Klein (issue 483) & Gaspar Saladino (issue 484)
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Meanwhile, in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS... not much has changed since last we checked in. Dennis O'Neil is still writing it and Julius Schwartz is still editing it. But we do have a new art team, and a pretty dynamic one to boot: Don Newton on pencils with Dan Adkins supplying inks.

I mentioned last week that Paul Levitz had taken over editorship of BATMAN, but I don't think I said that Schwartz had remained on DETECTIVE. I find it noteworthy that this is the second time in the seventies that Schwartz has had one of the two Bat-titles removed from his purview (not counting THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which he never edited to begin with). Previously, he lost DETECTIVE COMICS to Archie Goodwin, and now it's BATMAN to Levitz. I guess it's not that I'm confused as to why a title was transplanted from one editorial office to another; that's bound to happen now and then. But I am curious as to why, in both cases, one of the two Batman books was moved. Why not both?

Anyway! DETECTIVE 483 and 484 introduce us to one of Batman's most storied foes, the gang leader who fancies himself a Greek god in mortal flesh, Maxie Zeus. As we'll see in upcoming installments, O'Neil seemed pretty intent on making Zeus the next Ra's al Ghul (Batman even compares his cunning to al Ghul's at one point), and out of the five more O'Neil-written issues we're going to look at after this post before our retrospective is done, three will feature Zeus as the villain. In fact, counting this post, that's eight O'Neil stories with Zeus featuring into five (and al Ghul in all of the other three)!

Monday, August 26, 2019

BATMAN #312 - 314

"A CAPER A DAY KEEPS THE BATMAN AT BAY!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Walt Simonson & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

Beginning this month, longtime editor Julius Schwartz is off BATMAN, replaced by Paul Levitz. I once read, years ago, that Levitz came in and upended Len Wein's plan for the series, demanding that every issue feature a costumed villain, and that the stories be mostly self-contained. I'm not certain of the truth of this rumor, though. Wein certainly will go on to use super-villains pretty much exclusively for the remainder of his run, but he had already been doing it from the moment he started! The only exception was his inaugural installment, issue 307, which featured a serial killer. But since then, it's been Mr. Freeze, Blockbuster, and Gentleman Ghost -- and prior to that, in his two-part DETECTIVE COMICS story, he introduced a new Clayface!

Plus, the storylines will not be self-contained going forward. We have a few two-parters on the way, and Marvel-style sub-plots will continue to be the norm throughout the entire run. So I really don't know where that rumor came from -- I honestly can't recall where I read it, since it was probably ten years ago at this point -- but I felt it was worth mentioning for posterity.

Now, on with the stories at hand. We begin with one that featured in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, though I've never quite been certain why. It follows a week in Batman's life as he battles the nefarious Calendar Man, failing to thwart him at every turn until Sunday rolls around, when the Caped Crusader finally gets his act together and brings the bad guy to justice. I feel like there are much stronger Wein-written stories that could've made their way into GREATEST STORIES, so the only reason I can imagine for its inclusion over anything else is that it features artwork from Walter Simonson -- back to form following those two horrid issues he contributed to Steve Englehart's DETECTIVE run a couple years earlier.

Monday, August 19, 2019

BATMAN #309 & #310

"HAVE YOURSELF A DEADLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS!"
"THE GHOST WHO HAUNTED BATMAN"
Writer: Len Wein
Artists (issue 309): John Calnan & Frank McLaughlin
Artists (issue 310): Irv Novick & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Picking up from the final scene of the prior issue, BATMAN #311 opens with the Blockbuster, Batman's Hulk-like villain, beating up some purse snatchers and then departing to return the purse to its owner. Meanwhile, Batman and Commissioner Gordon exchange Christmas gifts. But when they find that a desk sergeant is on the phone with a girl attempting suicide-by-sleeping pills, Batman departs in a hurry to find her. It turns out she's the victim of the purse-snatch, and Blockbuster finds her before Batman. The girl faints from the bottle of pills, Blockbuster takes her away to find help.

Naturally, this leads to Batman and Blockbuster crossing paths a few times, and while Blockbuster wants to help the girl, he refuses to let Batman take her to a hospital, since -- following his "death" at STAR Labs last issue -- he believes hospitals hurt people. Nonetheless, when their chase takes them out onto a frozen lake that cracks apart, Blockbuster throws the girl into Batman's arms as he sinks into the water of Gotham Bay. Batman gets the girl to an ambulance and her life is saved.

This is the kind of story where you honestly don't know which way it will go. We're so deep into the Bronze Age at this point, that there's just as good a chance the girl could die as there is that Batman could save her -- which gives the story an air of suspense that might otherwise have been missing were it published a few years earlier. There are no sub-plots in this one, either -- it's wall-to-wall Batman vs. Blockbuster action, which is always a nice change of pace in any sub-plot heavy series. Though I sometimes complain that such issues are "filler" without any sub-plots, in this case, for whatever reason, it doesn't feel that way.

Friday, August 16, 2019

SIX YEARS

And here we are again... six years ago today, I published my very first post here, and a lot has changed since then! Got married, moved, had a baby. I'm still not bored of blogging -- I have the desire to do it -- but as is evident in recent months, I really don't have much time for it. Back in April, I said I was going to take a "Spring Break" to get ready for whatever this year's "Summer of..." project would be. But, as you may have noticed, there have been no Friday posts yet this summer. I'd love to say that's because I'm prepping something big for the fall, but it's not. I have nothing in the queue for Fridays in the foreseeable future, and I'm barely a month ahead of schedule on the Monday Batman posts.

But still, I persevere! I have no intention of shutting the blog down, but for the foreseeable future, I'm sticking to one post a week, on Mondays. Sure, there'll occasionally be something else during the week -- most likely an Unboxing on Friday -- but that's about it. Batman will carry us through the remainder of the year, and at that point I will make a determination as to whether the blog undergoes some sort of format change to make it easier on me. What that change will be, I can't yet say (because I don't know). But I intend to keep plugging along for as long as I can, even if I'm running at diminished capacity!

By the way, what exactly is keeping me from maintaining a schedule like I used to? I usually like to stay transparent about it, so here we go: besides having a three year-old son who takes up a great deal of my time (which is something I wouldn't change for the world), I'm also a lot busier at work than ever before, and both those things together result in a perpetual state of exhaustion at home. I get back from work, make dinner, play with the little tyke for a bit before putting him to bed, and after all that, the last thing I want to engage in is any amount of critical thinking! So I turn off the brain and hang out with my wife while watching TV or drawing (which I'm doing a ton of lately thanks to an app called Procreate -- it's the best drawing experience I've ever had in my life). Which means my only time for reading and writing posts is my lunch break at work, and that means I only manage to write about two full posts a week! (For comparison's sake, in past years I often produced four or more posts per week.)

So yeah -- any failure to meet deadlines for this hobby (which is all it is for me -- I love it, but it doesn't pay any bills) is all on me, but what're you gonna do?

And now, the annual stat check-in: The top three most visited pages on the site haven't changed since last year (and, it seems, likely never will change): X-Men Collected Editions Chart still has the most hits on this site by at least a country mile. It's followed by the index to my Roger Stern Spider-Man reviews, and then by my review of the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS. Searches for the blog's name account for most incoming traffic via Google, followed by searches for the New Teen Titans and the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS.

And that's it. We'll check in again around New Year's!

Monday, August 12, 2019

BATMAN #307 & #308

"DARK MESSENGER OF MERCY!"
"THERE'LL BE A COLD TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT!"
Writer: Len Wein | Artists: John Calnan & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

As mentioned a couple weeks back, from this point forward, we'll be seeing a lot of Len Wein. He wrote BATMAN for nearly two years, covering issues 307 through 327. His run begins inauspiciously, though, with "Dark Messenger of Mercy". It seems (as glimpsed briefly in Wein's framing sequence to DETECTIVE COMICS #477), someone is wandering around, murdering Gotham City's vagrants and leaving gold coins to cover their closed eyes. Batman of course gets involved, visits Commissioner Gordon, meets a homeless community living beneath Gotham, and ultimately brings the killer to justice.

Wein throws in a twist and has Batman use some legitimate detective work to solve the case, so those are a couple of pluses in this tale's favor -- but overall, it's just kind of boring. It feels like a sub-par done-in-one from the early part of the seventies; something Denny O'Neil or Frank Robbins would've produced with the help of Bob Brown or Irv Novick. In fact, the only thing that helps this issue to not feel like such a one-off is Wein's introduction of a sub-plot. Specifically, Bruce Wayne learns in the story's opening pages that reclusive billionaire Gregorian Falstaff has bought Gotham's Ambassador Hotel and moved himself into the upper floors. The Falstaff plot will sporadically carry on (and on, and on) for the entirety of Wein's run, and not even be resolved until his successor, Marv Wolfman, takes over writing chores on BATMAN!

Bruce learns about Falstaff from his newly introduced right-hand man, a Wayne Foundation executive named Lucius Fox. Fox, here in his very first appearance, will prove to be Wein's most enduring contribution to Batman's mythos, appearing in several movie and TV spinoffs beginning somewhere around the early nineties with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. He was, of course, famously portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy in the mid-00s.

Monday, August 5, 2019

DC SPECIAL SERIES #15 & DETECTIVE COMICS #481

As noted last time, we'll spend much of the next few months with Len Wein on BATMAN, but we will also look in once in a while at DETECTIVE COMICS, written (mostly) by Denny O'Neil. But first, we have an issue of DC SPECIAL SERIES which was cover dated for the same month as the second part of Wein's Clayface III story that we examined last week. Then, further down the page, we'll check out DETECTIVE COMICS #481 -- cover dated the same month as Wein's first issue of BATMAN, which we'll examine next week.

"I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU BATMAN AND WIFE!"
Writer: Denny O'Neil | Penciler: Michael Golden | Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Milt Snappin | Colorist: Cory Adams | Editor: Julius Schwartz

FYI, this cover has nothing to do with the story we're about to discuss. DC SPECIAL SERIES was evidently an anthology of some sort, and the cover refers to a different tale within the issue.

Nearly seven years after he last wrote Ra's al Ghul, and with other writers -- such as Len Wein and Archie Goodwin -- having built on the al Ghul saga in the meantime, Denny O'Neil returns to his signature Batman villain. There's no Neal Adams this time, though the consolation prize isn't bad, as the great Michael Golden provides pencils.

O'Neil jumps straight into the action here, as Batman has a brief encounter with a petty hood on Gotham's streets, then returns to the Batcave, where his is immediately drugged and kidnapped by Talia and League of Assassins. The Caped Crusader awakens sometime later on Ra's al Ghul's yacht, just as the Demon's Head completes a wedding ceremony marrying Batman and Talia. Al Ghul leave the pair to consummate their union, but Batman knocks Talia out (by punching her in the face!) and then escapes the yacht via helicopter.

Monday, July 29, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #478 & #479

Hey, everybody -- remember Len Wein? He co-wrote "The House That Haunted Batman" in 1971's DETECTIVE COMICS #408, then returned a few years later for 1975's "Bat-Murderer" storyline in DETECTIVE COMICS 444 - 448. You may also recall that he provided a coda to Steve Englehart's DETECTIVE run in issue 477, which I mentioned last week.

Well, he's back -- and we're going to see a lot more of him for the rest of this retrospective. Up until this point, my focus was on the "greatest hits" of the 1970s Batman -- the evergreen stuff that's been reprinted in various formats over the years by DC. But now we're segueing into a proper "run" on the character by a single writer. See, a few years back, DC released TALES OF THE BATMAN: LEN WEIN, a book collecting all of Wein's work on the Caped Crusader -- and that includes his term as the regular, ongoing writer of BATMAN in the late seventies. It seems that, following the success of Englehart's "Marvelized" DETECTIVE COMICS, DC must have decided to keep the approach going -- and Wein, fresh off a stint writing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, among other titles, at Marvel, was tapped for the job.

So Wein comes aboard DETECTIVE immediately after Englehart's run for a three-issue stint in mid-1978 (one of which is a mere framing sequence as mentioned last week), then he will take of the reins of BATMAN for a full two years beginning with the January 1979 installment, which we'll get to in a couple weeks. And while Wein was the writer of BATMAN an a Marvel-ish fashion, stalwart Denny O'Neil (for the most part) continued a more traditional "business as usual" approach on DETECTIVE during the same span. So as we read Wein's run over the next few months, we'll also check in periodically with O'Neil as well.

Friday, July 26, 2019

THE UNBOXING - JULY 2019

If you're reading this post, you've somehow traveled back in time. I was insanely busy in July and missed doing the month's Unboxing, so, even though today is actually August 5th, I'm backdating this baby to the final Friday in July.

Two books this month, one from Marvel and one from IDW -- though both star Marvel characters. First, from the House of Ideas proper, we have X-MEN: EVE OF DESTRUCTION, a hardcover collecting the very end of nineties X-Men. And yes, these issues were published in 2001, but to me, they mark the end of the era that started with X-MEN #1 in 1991, as this was the point just before Grant Morrison's run on X-MEN.


I actually don't have the greatest memories of these issues... Chris Claremont's abysmal "Revolution" run on X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN had sort of dampened my enthusiasm for the mutant titles, and even though Scott Lobdell returned here to put a bow on the nineties, it just didn't feel the same. So, while -- as I said above -- I consider this the official "end" of that era in X-Men comics, it's not necessarily an end I love. I wanted this book for completist reasons, but I actually prefer "The Twelve" as sort of a real conclusion to the X-Men of the nineties (even if that means the nineties X-Men ended with my favorite mutant, Cyclops, merged with Apocalypse).

And then we have SPIDER-MAN: THE ULTIMATE NEWSPAPER COMICS COLLECTION vol. 5, from IDW's Library of American Comics imprint. I think I read someplace that these books haven't been selling as well since the first two volumes (which were drawn by John Romita), but I'm still on board for picking them up, at least to the point where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson get married -- which I believe should be in volume 6 or 7, if the series makes it that long.

That's it for July, and right now I don't know that I'm expecting anything in August, so we may not meet for another Unboxing until the fall.

Monday, July 22, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #475 & #476

"THE LAUGHING FISH!" | "SIGN OF THE JOKER!"
Writer: Steve Englehart | Penciller: Marshall Rogers | Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Ben Oda & Milt Snappin | Colorist: Marshall Rogers | Editor: Julius Schwartz

The Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run on DETECTIVE COMICS comes to its conclusion with a two-part classic pitting Batman against the Joker. This time, the Clown Prince of Crime has infected the world's fish with a variation on his Joker venom, giving every fish a hideous grin. Joker's plan is to copyright the "laughing fish" and rake in the bucks every time somebody buys one.

It's an utterly nonsensical plan -- something the narration calls out a couple times -- but that's the point. The Joker is, at this point in continuity, one hundred percent insane. I'm not sure when it was decided that the character was clinically insane... I know he wasn't in his earliest appearances, since at one point Bob Kane and Bill Finger sent him to the electric chair (and if a criminal is certified insane, they can't receive the death penalty), but by the seventies, he's absolutely there. It was Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams who had the character escape from an upstate asylum in "The Joke's Five-Way Revenge", but I just don't know if it was ever previously stated that he was crazy.

But in any case, "The Laughing Fish/Sign of the Joker" is absolutely the craziest we've seen him in our jaunt through the seventies -- and while I do like the idea that he would come up with a scheme that makes not an ounce of sense to any normal-thinking human, I can't say that I wholeheartedly approve of Englehart's version of an insane Joker. I'd go so far as to say that, more than "Joker's Five-Way Revenge", this is where the modern-day Joker, a character who makes me extremely uncomfortable, was born. In fact, I can pretty much pinpoint the exact panel when it happens:

Monday, July 15, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #473 & #474

"THE MALAY PENGUIN!" | "THE DEADSHOT RICOCHET"
Story: Steve Englehart | Art: Marshall Rogers | Embellisher: Terry Austin
Letterers: Milt Snappin & Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

One of the things I like about Steve Englehart's eight-issue DETECTIVE COMICS run is the way he divvies up his enemies for Batman into a few categories. There are new/original villains: Doctor Phosphorous and Rupert Thorne. There are obscure villains: Hugo Strange, who at the time hadn't been seen in over thirty-five years, and Deadshot, who we'll get to below. And then there are the classics: Joker, who we will look at next week, and Penguin, who pops up in the first of this week's installments. If you're gonna do a short run on a superhero, that's nearly the perfect way to handle it (the only thing I might change from this formula would be to use at least one villain from another hero's rogues' gallery to mix it up a tiny bit more).

Englehart also finds time for one good old-fashioned Batman and Robin team-up during his brief time on the title, which is much appreciated. Robin factored into last week's Hugo Strange two-parter, but he was flying solo there, rescuing Batman from Strange's dungeon. Here, he's still in town following that adventure, assisting his partner with the loose end of tracking Strange down. "The Malay Penguin!" opens with two of Rupert Thorne's men disposing of Strange's body in the Gotham River. The hoods are accosted by the Dynamic Duo (after dumping the corpse, so Batman doesn't yet realize Strange is dead), but Batman and Robin are forced to depart when the police arrive. It seems Rupert Thorne has revoked their status as duly deputized agents of the law, and despite Commissioner Gordon's friendly presence at the top of the Gotham P.D., the heroes are now considered vigilantes.

Monday, July 8, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #471 & #472

"THE DEAD YET LIVE" | "I AM THE BATMAN!"
Author: Steve Englehart | Artists: Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
Letterer: John Workman | Colorist: Marshall Rogers | Editor: Julie Schwartz

As we saw last time, most of the pieces were placed for the famous Steve Englehart run on DETECTIVE COMICS with issues 469 and 470. However, the run is actually usually referred to as the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run, and there was still one fairly big piece missing as of last week. You can't have an Englehart/Rogers run without Rogers, after all!

But that problem is remedied immediately from the first atmosphere-oozing page of DETECTIVE 471, and suddenly Englehart's story snaps into focus. Doctor Phosphorous was a misfire, perhaps, even though it laid some important seeds for what was to follow. But now those seeds have sprouted, and thanks to Rogers and inker Terry Austin, they're beautiful to behold!

And now the story: it begins with Rupert Thorne declaring war on Batman. As mentioned last time, the corrupt city council boss had previously left the Caped Crusader alone, but following Doctor Phosphorous's attempt to turn the council against Batman, coupled with recent financial troubles making the city harder to control, Thorne has decided that Gotham's hero is too much of a loose cannon and must be eliminated.

Monday, July 1, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #469 & #470

"...BY DEATH'S EERIE LIGHT!" | "THE MASTER PLAN OF DOCTOR PHOSPHOROUS!"
Presenting: The Batman you've been waiting for by:
Author: Steve Englehart | Artist: Walt Simonson | Inker: Al Milgrom
Colorist Marshall Rogers & Jerry Serpe | Editor: Julius Schwartz

We spoke a few weeks ago about Len Wein's brief attempt to "Marvelize" Batman in his "Bat-Murderer" story arc. But, as I noted at that time, Wein's instilling of Marvel-style plotting into the Caped Crusader's world felt unofficial, like it was his idea and not a mandate from editorial.

Steve Englehart's Batman run, on the other hand, was, as I understand it, a deliberate attempt by DC to "Marvelize" their comics -- however they didn't hire Enghlehart to do it to Batman! From what I've read, DC wanted Englehart to bring his experience and sensibilities from writing AVENGERS to JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Englehart agreed on the condition that he be allowed to write Batman as well. Thus, in addition to tackling JLA for a year, Englehart was also given eight issue of DETECTIVE COMICS on which to ply his trade.

(And it's neither here nor there, but Englehart had decided around the same time to retire from comics, so he wrote all his DETECTIVE issues in full script format and turned them in advance, then moved out of the country before they were even drawn!)

Look, I've gone on record here as not being much of a fan of Steve Englehart. I spoke to that point when I looked at Marvel's "Evolutionary War" annuals a few years back. But, for the most part, I actually really love his DETECTIVE COMICS run. That said, the run begins inauspiciously, with a pretty unremarkable two-part adventure, notable only for setting up sub-plot points which play heavily into the remainder of the run.

Friday, June 28, 2019

THE UNBOXING - JUNE 2019

Squeaking in just under the wire, and thanks primarily to a Comixology Spider-Man sale coupled with a Comixology BOGO ("Buy One, Get One") coupon code, we have The Unboxing for June -- an all-digital, all-Spidey affair.

I took advantage of the afore-mentioned sale and coupon to fill in some holes in my digital Spider-Man library. Some of these I own already, but I'm always up for getting digital "backup copies" of books I own when they can be had dirt cheap -- plus, if we're honest, I do more of my comic reading on my iPad anyway these days. It's more like the physical copies are the backups at this point.

Anyway, to start, I grabbed some late eighties/early nineties Epic Collections, which I love since they're collecting the long David Michelinie run that I grew up on in elementary and middle school: KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT, VENOM, COSMIC ADVENTURES, RETURN OF THE SINISTER SIX, and ROUND ROBIN.

Then, from my beloved post-Clone Saga era, I grabbed SPIDER-MAN BY TODD DEZAGO & MIKE WIERINGO vol. 1, SPIDER-HUNT, and IDENTITY CRISIS. Marvel has been spotty in collecting this Spider-Man era, which is kind of frustrating. They did the entire Clone Saga in a proper reading order, and they've done the John Byrne/Howard Mackie relaunch from 1999 more or less in its entirety. But the two years in between have received only the above collections, plus a HOBGOBLIN LIVES collection that included a few issues of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN from the era as well. To my recollection, that's about it, but I hold out hope that someday, the entire post-Clone Saga/pre-Byrne period will make it into reprints (i.e., all four core books, plus SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, annuals, one-shots, mini-series, and so forth in a proper reading order).

Speaking of John Byrne, the final bunch of items from this month's digital Unboxing is a little grab bag, including Byrne's oft-maligned SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE. I actually recall enjoying certain aspects of this when I read it way back in college. Mainly I appreciated Byrne running through the first year's worth of Spider-Man stories as if they had all been planned out in advance. That said, there were some questionable decisions in the book as well, and I was annoyed that Marvel briefly had it overwrite Spider-Man's original continuity. Nonetheless, it is something I want to revisit someday, and it's perfect as a "digital only" purchase, since I have no real desire to own a physical copy.

Closing things out are the other random bits: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN MASTERWORKS vol. 20, and SPIDER-MAN: THE NEWSPAPER STRIPS vol. 1 and vol. 2. You'll recall how much I loved the Stan Lee/John Romita run on the Spidey strips when I read them here a couple years back. Those editions were published by IDW's Library of American Comics imprint, but have never been released digitally. However, these editions, which were released by Marvel a few years prior to IDW's release, are just fine with me for digital purposes.

FYI, the BOGO coupon has expired, but the Spider-Man sale runs into mid-July, so all the books mentioned above should still be available at a discount for a couple more weeks, for those who are interested!

Monday, June 24, 2019

BATMAN #260 & DETECTIVE COMICS #457

"THIS ONE'LL KILL YOU, BATMAN!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Editing: Julius Schwartz

I don't know if it was an official mandate or an unspoken rule, but for whatever reason, it seems as if Denny O'Neil was the only Bat-writer allowed to use the classic rogues' gallery for a few years in the seventies (or perhaps he was, for reasons unknown, the only writer interested in them). Following the status quo reset in 1969's "One Bullet Too Many", Frank Robbins never touched any of those villains. Nor did Archie Goodwin in his year as editor and writer of DETECTIVE COMICS. But, with Neal Adams, O'Neil reintroduced Two-Face and the Joker to Batman's world, and with Irv Novick, he brought back Catwoman and Penguin.

Mind you, I can only speak to goings-on in the core Bat-titles, BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, from this period. If the classic adversaries popped up in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD or anyplace else, I wouldn't know about it. But even when the Joker gets his very own ongoing series in mid-1975 -- first issue cover dated three months after this one -- it is O'Neil who handles writing chores initially before handing the series off to others.

Yes, I did just say this issue was published in early '75. We're jumping back a ways to look at a story published during the "Bat Murderer" storyline we looked at last week, and then below we will skip ahead a full year to an issue published nine months after "Bat-Murderer" ended. Got it?

Monday, June 17, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #444 - 448

"BAT-MURDERER" | "BREAK-IN AT THE BIG HOUSE" | "SLAUGHTER IN SILVER"
"ENTER: THE CREEPER" | "BEDLAM BENEATH THE BIG TOP!"
Writer: Len Wein
Art: Jim Aparo (Chapters 1 - 3); Ernie Chua & Dick Giordano (Chapters 4 & 5)
Editor: Julius Schwartz

I believe DC's first intentional attempt to "Marvelize" their line came in 1977, when Steve Englehart was hired to bring his AVENGERS-honed sensibilities to the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (and as part of that deal, he also scripted several issues of DETECTIVE COMICS, which we'll begin to examine here in just a couple weeks). But in 1975, an earlier, "under the radar" Marvelization occurred. It only lasted a few months, but it's clear that DETECTIVE COMICS' new writer, Len Wein, was intent on bringing some of that Marvel flavor to DC's Caped Crusader.

The opening chapter of this five-part serial sees Batman working to thwart a crime ring whose leader turns out to be Talia. Batman, who happens to be holding a gun he lifted from the Daughter of the Demon, shoots her dead. The police attempt to arrest him, but the Masked Manhunter flees to clear his name. Chapter two finds our hero breaking into Gotham's new state-of-the-art prison to question an incarcerated Ra's al Ghul about the incident. But after al Ghul boasts that he did indeed engineer Tali'a death and Batman's frame-up, the Demon's Head kills himself, framing Batman for a second murder and sending the Caped Crusader on the lam once more.

Aside from the fact that it seems incredibly odd that an international terrorist like Ra's al Ghul is being held in jail in Gotham City of all places, these opening chapters are pretty good. Commissioner Gordon goes a bit overboard in accusing Batman of murder and not even considering, even after all their years of working together, than he could be innocent -- and Batman flies off the handle in the same scene, grabbing Gordon's lapels like a madman and raving about his innocence.

Monday, June 10, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #443 & THE MANHUNTER SERIAL

"THE HIMALAYAN INCIDENT" | "THE MANHUNTER FILE"
"THE RESURRECTION OF PAUL KIRK" | "REBELLION!" | "CATHEDRAL PERILOUS"
"TO DUEL THE MASTER" | "GOTTERDAMMERUNG"
Writer: Archie Goodwin | Artist: Walter Simonson

When Archie Goodwin took over DETECTIVE COMICS as its editor and appointed himself writer of the monthly lead feature starring Batman, he also took to populating the series with various backups, including "Manhunter", another serial which he also wrote. In collaboration with Walter Simonson on art, Goodwin scripted six monthly "Manhunter" chapters before concluding the serial in a full-length lead story teaming the character with Batman.

Manhunter's saga begins in DETECTIVE #427 (making it a backup to "Deathmask", which we looked at a few weeks back). Over the course of these six installments, we follow Christine St. Clair, an Interpol agent on the trail of Paul Kirk -- a big game hunter who was reported killed decades earlier. We soon learn that Kirk was a hero named Manhunter in the 1940s, and that he worked for a mysterious Council which put him into suspended animation after World War II.

The following chapters reveal that the Council, which presented itself to Kirk as benevolent, actually has its sights set on ruling the world -- and that part of their scheme involves the creation of a highly-trained troupe of soldiers and assassins to be led by Kirk. Further, it turns out that all these warriors are clones of Kirk created by the Council's scientists. When Kirk realizes what his masters are up to, he deserts the Council and he and Christine find themselves on the run. The serial concludes with Kirk and Christine hooking up with the world's last master of ninjutsu, Asano Nitobe -- a former member of the Council who trained Kirk to fight.

Monday, June 3, 2019

BATMAN #256 & #257

"CATWOMAN'S CIRCUS CAPER!" | "HAIL EMPEROR PENGUIN!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Edited by: Julius Schwartz

We interrupt our look at Archie Goodwin's year as writer/editor of DETECTIVE COMICS to check in with a couple issues of its sister title which were released during that same span (for the record, these two issues were published immediately after Neal Adams' final bat-story, "Moon of the Wolf", which we looked at a few weeks back). For the most part, BATMAN is written by Dennis O'Neil at this point, and features various appearances from the classic rogues' gallery -- including the first 1970s showings of Catwoman and Penguin in these two installments.

Occasionally, when reading a solo Denny O'Neil Batman outing (by which I mean "with any artist other than Neal Adams"), I feel like O'Neil regresses back to the Silver Age in some ways. Which isn't to say he didn't do that now and then with Adams -- see the BRAVE AND THE BOLD installment "Red Water, Crimson Death" from a while back -- but it's just way more apparent when Adams isn't there to help temper him. We've seen it in some of the early League of Assassins tales with Bob Brown, and now we see it here. "Catwoman's Circus Caper!" is the feline femme fatale's reintroduction to Batman's world after years of absence. But rather than getting something along the lines of the moody and atmospheric "Half an Evil" or the dark and chilling "Joker's Five-Way Revenge", which reintroduced Two-Face and the Joker respectively, Catwoman makes her grand reappearance in a story that would've been right at home during the Bat-mania of the sixties.

The story begins for no apparent reason in the Batcave, where Batman has returned after sometime abroad in pursuit of criminals. The only explanation given for the cave's use here is that Bruce has asked Alfred to open up Wayne Manor so he can spend some time recuperating there after this latest mission. But when the Caped Crusader reads a letter from Dick Grayson informing his mentor that he's run off to join the circus, Batman departs to check on his ward.

Monday, May 27, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #440, #441, & #442

"GHOST MOUNTAIN MIDNIGHT!"
Penciler: Sal Amendola | Inker: Dick Giordano | Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin

They can't all be winners...

Archie Goodwin started his run on DETECTIVE COMICS with two mostly strong stories (aside from his characterization of Bruce Wayne, as discussed last week) -- and he immediately follows those up here with a pair of duds. And this is where, as I did years ago when reading NEW TEEN TITANS, I will note that allowing your writer to edit himself is not really a great idea! If Julie Schwartz had been editing Goodwin on DETECTIVE around this time, he might have helped to whip these tales into shape. But unfortunately, that wasn't the case.

"Ghost Mountain Midnight!" opens with a young lady named Sarah Beth kidnapped from a nightclub in Gotham where she works as a minimally-clad server. Batman does some investigative work and learns that Sarah Beth was taken by her own brothers to their home in the Appalachians. Batman tracks the group down and discovers that Sarah Beth is to be executed as a sacrifice to an Indian god, per the terms of a pact her family made with the Indians decades ago. The Caped Crusader saves the girl, kills a bloodthirsty bear (more of that Batman-on-animal violence we touched on a couple weeks back), and solves the mystery of a moonshine ring in the mountains. All in a day's work for our hero, and all extremely silly to boot.

The bizarre, out-of-place plot isn't helped by Goodwin's phonetic accents for the hillbilly characters; they're all running around saying "yew" instead of "you" and "hit" instead of "it". Sal Amendola's layouts aren't the greatest either, though Dick Giordano does what he can to turn them into something presentable.