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.