Monday, February 18, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #395 & #397

"THE SECRET OF THE WAITING GRAVES" | "PAINT A PICTURE OF PERIL!"
Story by: Denny O'Neil | Art by: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano

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).

Last week's "One Bullet Too Many!", by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano, set up the status quo which would define Batman for the full decade of the seventies (and even in to the early eighties) -- but it's DETECTIVE COMICS 395's lead story, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves", which I've seen identified in more than one place as the tale that set the mood for the upcoming decade. Certainly it unites the Caped Crusader's definitive creative team of that era, in Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams.

And there definitely is a mood here! While "One Bullet Too Many" was a decent introduction to the setup of the seventies and the sorts of Batman stories the decade would present, it also felt very straightforward and not all that different from what had come before. Even though the action was set mostly at night, it was still a fairly bright four-color adventure. But thanks primarily to Adams' artwork, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves" and "Paint a Picture of Peril" both drip with the sort of dark, gothic atmosphere one would expect from a Darknight Detective.

Friday, February 15, 2019

RAPTORS BOOK 1

Art by: Enrico Marini | Written by: Jean Dufaux

RAPTORS is the story of... well, to be honest, after finishing the first book, I'm not exactly certain what it's about. I can say it's set in the modern day, in an unnamed city which combines shades of New York and Gothic Europe, and that the protagonists are a police detective named Vicky Lenore and her partner, Benito Spiaggi. We meet them initially as they investigate the latest in a string of killings. Every corpse has been found with an unusual cyst behind the ear, and regardless of age, each victim's organs have been discovered to be young and healthy during autopsies.

Almost immediately, the story reveals that the killings are being carried out by a brother and sister with a leather/latex fetish, who have been stalking these people and usually killing them in their homes. It seems the cyst is a trait shared by all of these apparently immortal individuals. They can die, but immediately return to life -- however the mystery siblings are able to kill them permanently, and using this ability, they're working their way through all of their kind to pick them off.

Confused yet? I can't say I blame you. While my summary is sparse on the specifics, that's basically all we know by the end of the first book. There are bits and pieces more, for example the fact that these immortals live among us and form some sort of conspiracy which has infiltrated the police, the FBI, and presumably more -- but there's absolutely no explanation as to what they are or why they're doing all this.

Monday, February 11, 2019

BATMAN #217

"ONE BULLET TOO MANY!"
Art: Irv Novick & Dick Giordano | Story: Frank Robbins

Our look back at Batman in the Seventies begins with the issue cover dated for the final month of 1969 (and, for what it's worth, will end several months from now in 1981!), but this story is essential to the upcoming look at that decade in the Darknight Detective's life. "One Bullet Too Many" spends its opening pages putting into place the status quo which will define Batman for the next ten-plus years.

The story begins with Bruce Wayne surveying Dick Grayson's bedroom at Wayne Manor. He's joined by Alfred, and the two head downstairs to see Dick off as he departs for his freshman year at Hudson University. And right off the bat, it's evident to a modern-day Batman fan that this isn't the character they know. Bruce gets choked up and sobs a bit as he mulls over Dick's departure. He also calls Alfred "Alf", and comes across as more congenial and emotionally available than any iteration of the character for the past thirty-some years. He is, in my opinion, a far superior product than the Batman of today because he comes across as a real person rather than a soulless, psychotic robot. As we move along through these cherry-picked seventies adventures, I'll try to note whenever this Batman puts in any especially noteworthy appearances, because he truly is my favorite iteration of the character. (And I'll also point out whenever we see shades of the Batman-to-be, for the seventies would ultimately lay the seeds that would transform the more jovial Caped Crusader into the grim and gritty Dark Knight.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

RAPTORS

I was so impressed with Enrico Marini's artwork on GYPSY back in December, that I decided I should read more from him. Well, not long after a finished GYPSY, Comixology held a Europe Comics sale, so I grabbed another series Marini drew, RAPTORS. (Note that I never "Unboxed" this one since I didn't want to give away this new series so soon before starting it.)

Like GYPSY, I bought this series "blind" based soley on the appealing artwork, so I really have no idea what to expect from it. I did read, subsequent to reading GYPSY< that it was Marini's crack at doing something with the layout and style of a Japanese manga, so I'm curious if he had a similar sort of pastiche in mind when he did RAPTORS (which was originally published around twenty years ago).

Anyway, starting on Friday and for the next four weeks, we'll be examining the series one volume per week!

Friday, February 8, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 5

"MINNIE-MAY'S SOUVENIRS" | "REHABILITATION" | "BECKY FARRAH"
"DRUG TRAFFICKING" | "ANYTHING BUT DRUGS" | "HAO SHIFU" | "LIFT THE BAN"
"I CAN'T BACK UP" | "150 MPH SHAKE!" | "PERCY" | "MISTY'S DETERMINATION"
"GOOD NIGHT" | "FINAL CHAPTER: FACES OF CHICAGO"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

Forget everything I said last week about Goldie's name. I mean, except for the part where it should be "Goldie Musso". For whatever reason, in this volume she's identified by the original series' English spelling of "Goldie Musou", rather than the previous volume's "Goldy Musso".

Anyway... the final GUNSMITH CATS BURST book opens with May and Ken returning from their honeymoon in Japan, to find a glum Rally waiting. She tells them that Misty now lives with Goldie, and the group sets up a plan to figure out why. They know Goldie's new drug is called Dark Ball (an evolution of her "Powerball" drug from the original series), and suspect it has brainwashing capabilities similar to Goldie's older products. Becky gets Bean on board to procure a Dark Ball sample, and May brings the sample to her contact in Chinatown, Granny Hao.

But the only way Bean can get the Dark Ball is by agreeing to run drugs for one of Goldie's dealers, breaking his promise to Rally. Word of Bean's run is leaked to the police, and Detective Bacharach returns to action, ambushing Bean when he picks up the drugs and coercing him into a race to the state line. Bean, who actually enjoys his little back-and-forths with Bacharach, agrees.

Monday, February 4, 2019

COMPLETING THE TRIFECTA

Didn't see this one coming, did you?!

Several months ago, when I was trying to figure out what to read after I finished with Superman and Wonder Woman, I had every intention of returning to Marvel -- most likely doing something involving the Avengers. But then, as the final months of the year progressed, I found myself in a pretty major Batman mood. Probably due to the arrival of the Animated Series on Blu-Ray, I suppose. But in any case, I figured I might as well keep the DC train rolling and, with Superman and Wonder Woman out of the way, take a look at the Caped Crusader next.


This will be different from most of the other review projects I've tackled in the past. I'm not looking at a specific "run" of Batman. Nothing by a set creative team or in an uninterrupted sequence. Instead, we're going to call this project "Batman in the Seventies" -- because the Bronze Age is my personal favorite era for Batman. Not as silly as the stuff from the fifties and sixties, not as grim as the stuff from the eighties and beyond... the seventies Batman sits right in the middle as a Darknight Detective who is still human; still capable of tossing out a one-liner or cracking a smile, and who seems like a generally well-adjusted member of society.

We'll begin one week from today with "One Bullet Too Many" from BATMAN #217 -- the December 1969 installment. From there, we'll leapfrog through the decade, using stories from my various Batman collected editions along the way. This is, I suppose, a "curated" look at Bronze Age Batman -- for, while there's a lot of great stuff for the character in the seventies, there's a good amount of dreck, too.

So -- we've got Frank Robbins! Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams! We've got Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Jim Aparo, Steve Englehart, and Marshall Rogers! And, as recurring mainstays through all of it, we've got Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. That's a lot of talent, and there are a lot of good stories coming up -- though I should admit now that I have no idea exactly how long this project will take, since I'm not a hundred percent certain of all the stories I intend to cover.

For those interested in such things, I'll be using the following books in this project. Not all are still in print, but I've provided Amazon links for those that are, or which can be bought cheap in the secondhand marketplace:

THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD (1988)
THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD vol. 2 (1989)
BATMAN: TALES OF THE DEMON (1991)
BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS (1999)
BATMAN IN THE SEVENTIES (1999)
BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS vol. 2 (2004)
BATMAN ILLUSTRATED BY NEAL ADAMS vol. 3 (2006)
LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: MARSHALL ROGERS (2011)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON (2011)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: ARCHIE GOODWIN (2013)
TALES OF THE BATMAN: LEN WEIN (2014)

...And the above will be supplemented only a handful of times by stories from the black-and-white SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN vol. 5 and vol. 6, as well as a few single issues bought from Comixology.

Lastly, I should add that this is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the best Batman stories of the seventies. It is, strictly speaking, a reading of tales to which I have easy access via the above books. For the most part, the Bronze Age stories acknowledged for their greatness are collected in these volumes, but there will certainly be some missing.

So -- as noted above, we'll start on Monday with BATMAN #217. I hope you'll be along for the ride!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

MUSINGS ON MASTERS

Ever since I spent a few months writing about MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE last fall, I've found myself thinking about the property -- the toys, the cartoons, the comics, everything. As I noted once or twice at the time, I love the series' mythology. When I was a child, Filmation's cartoon was the end-all, be-all for me, and any other versions of the continuity were "wrong" in my head -- but as I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate those other tellings of He-Man's story.


One of the cool things about the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS toyline that Mattel conceived in 2008, was it's "everything counts" philosophy. Through the figures' cardback bios, Mattel weaved a MASTERS tapestry that found ways to legitimize some of the extraneous continuities alongside the familiar setup presented by Filmation. Suddenly, thanks to some finagling, the earliest minicomics by Don Glut and Alfredo Alcala could have happened, in some way or another, in the same universe as many of He-Man's cartoon adventures.

In part this was accomplished by Mattel declaring that the Sword of Power, originally known as the Sword of He, was passed down through the ages, through a series of guardians -- with each one taking on the title of "He-Man". Prince Adam retained his special destiny, however, as being a direct descendant of the sword's first user, King Grayskull, and therefore being the first protector of the sword who was able to tap into its magic and transform himself with it. Thus, the "He-Man" in those early minicomics is actually Oo-Larr, who watched over the sword before Adam -- and who even had a few encounters with Skeletor himself during Adam's lifetime.

Friday, February 1, 2019

GUNSMITH CATS BURST VOLUME 4

"THE POST-BALL STORIES" | "CHATTING AWAY"
"A FAMILIAR FACE FROM THE PAST" | "GOLDY" | "THE SCAR'S MEMORY"
"GUARD GOLDY!" | "ONE-HANDED" | "THE WOUNDED ONES"
"A SHOOTOUT IN THE SMOKE" | "FLASHBACK?"
"LOST MEMORY, RECOVERED MEMORY" | "AFTER THE HOUSE PARTY"
Presented by Kenichi Sonoda
Translation and Lettering: Studio Cutie

Before we get started, I should make a general note about the translation of GUNSMITH CATS and GUNSMITH CATS BURST, and a specific note regarding the spelling of Goldie's name. Dark Horse's original run of GUNSMITH CATS in the nineties was credited as being translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith (collectively known as "Studio Proteus"). The pair handled the entire series from start to finish. I commented a bit on some of their scripting when I looked at those volumes last year. Mostly everything read fine, but there were some tics here and there that I didn't like. But the main thing to note about the Lewis/Smith work is that they adapted their script for a pretty natural and flowing English language experience.

BURST, on the other hand, is translated by a group called Studio Cutie -- and they seem to take a much more literal approach with their script. Obviously I don't know what Sonoda's original Japanese script looked like (and I can't read Japanese so it wouldn't matter if I ever saw it), but Studio Cutie's work feels like a straight translation with no liberties taken to adjust the words and phrasing for an English-speaking audience. More or less, it reads like some of the "scanlations" of manga I've seen on the web now and then -- somewhat stilted in places, with occasional weirdly archaic words thrown in (such as Roy, in this very volume's opening chapter, asking Rally if she considers Bean Bandit a "comrade").

Overall, I think I like the script from Lewis and Smith, which, while occasionally mired in tics I disliked, had a more naturalistic style to it, over the BURST script from Studio Cutie.