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: