Monday, May 20, 2019


Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin | Art: Jim Aparo

And now begins the brief Archie Goodwin era on DETECTIVE COMICS. As I understand it, sales on the series had been flagging for some time, so DC decided to try and reinvigorate the title by yanking it from the editorial purview of Julius Schwartz and turning it over to Archie Goodwin (Schwartz would remain editor on BATMAN, however, and eventually retake DETECTIVE as well when the Goodwin experiment eventually reached its end). The result is a year's worth of bi-monthly issues featuring Goodwin as the writer/editor of the series, and a parade of talented artists to help him tell his stories. The first of these artists is one who many consider the definitive Batman storyteller, the great Jim Aparo.

In THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, "Deathmask!" came immediately after "Ghost of the Killer Skies" -- as a result, child-me came to assume that Batman spent the entire decade of the seventies embroiled in solving moody murder mysteries. That's not the case by any means, but the fact remains -- this is a chilling and masterfully crafted mystery. Concerned with the opening of an exhibit at the Gotham Museum dedicated to a South American Indian tribe's god of death, it sees three men killed when the "god" seemingly comes alive and begins committing murders while wearing a ceremonial mask and robes.

Of course there's more to the proceedings than meets the eye; the supernatural doesn't often cross paths with Batman unless there' some earthly reason. In this case, the heart of the mystery involves three men who each want to be the museum's director, and Batman needs to determine which one has decided to wipe out the competition. There's a great twist before the story concludes, and it's all extremely well plotted and scripted by Goodwin -- not to mention beautifully illustrated by Aparo.

Archie Goodwin is one of those guys who is basically revered as a deity by others in the comics business; you never hear anyone with a bad word to say about him, and those who knew him or worked with him will praise him like none other. And he does have an excellent grasp of story structure; as noted above, this is a near-perfect read. I do take issue, however, with his handling of Bruce Wayne. Early in the story, Wayne arrives at the museum gala and immediately begins acting like a brainless socialite, prompting Commissioner Gordon to observe that the playboy's personality has changed over the past few months. Later, as he turns into Batman, Bruce thinks about this change, a conscious effort on his part because the "old" Bruce Wayne, who he describes as "gutsy" and "involved" would have drawn suspicion by running away at the first sign of trouble.

And while I can understand the convenience, from a storytelling perspective, of altering the character this way to make it easier to get him into costume when needed, it's a change I don't like. I've never been a fan of secret identities who must act meek to deflect suspicion of their alter egos. I like Clark Kent as a tough-as-nails reporter, and I like Bruce Wayne as a brave and confident businessman and crusader. Basically, I want the secret identities to be just as fun to read about as the heroes.*

Goodwin furthers this "man-ditz" Bruce in the next issue. "A Monster Walks Wayne Manor!" finds the playboy allowing a ghost hunter into his family estate after some teenagers wandering the grounds reported that it was haunted. We learn via flashback that Alfred had gone to investigate the haunting while Batman was busy tracking down a smuggling ring, and the butler was severely injured by the "monster". Since then, the grounds have been crawling with cops, and Batman believes the only way he can get some privacy to conduct his own investigation is to bring in the ghost hunter, who needs everyone else gone, to do his work.

So Goodwin puts his new Bruce to good use, at least, having him disinterestedly explain to Commissioner Gordon what a "droll" idea it would be to hire the ghost hunter. Nonetheless, I don't like it. For one thing, Gordon was friends with that old, "involved" Wayne. Shouldn't he be more than a little concerned that the guy's personality has changed so drastically? Like, did he suffer a severe head injury or something?

One solution, which isn't mentioned here, could have been for Goodwin to use the faked death during the Ra's al Ghul saga to explain this -- perhaps Bruce came back from South America shaken, and decided life was too short to be so serious about everything. Goodwin certainly isn't afraid to utilize that continuity in these pages. While Denny O'Neil and Frank Robbins pretty much never referenced each other's stories, Goodwin realizes how odd that is. As we learn more about the plot, it becomes evident that "The Monster..." is built entirely upon framework laid by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, showing us the final fate of Ra's al Ghul's valet, Ubu, following the explosion of his master's chalet in Switzerland -- and even ties that event in with the smugglers Batman is after earlier in the story.

So ultimately, I find Archie Goodwin's first two outings with Batman to be a mixed bag. The actual plotting, scripting, pacing, etc. are wonderful. With a limited number of pages, he makes each story feel full and complete -- something O'Neil and Robbins have both occasionally failed to do. But his reinvention of Bruce Wayne rubs me the completely wrong way. However, if that's the price we must pay for such otherwise excellent stories, I can handle it (especially since Goodwin is only around for a few more issues).

*I've written here a number of times about how I played tabletop roleplaying games throughout my teens and young adulthood -- and while, most of the time, I was the game master, occasionally other friends took on that role and I was a player instead. And anytime we played a superhero game, all my characters inevitably followed a similar pattern: they were always some sort of pastiche of Indiana Jones meets James Bond; daring men of action with adventurous careers -- hard-nosed detectives, bounty hunters, globetrotting relic hunters -- and that was before they put on their costumes to fight crime! It's a little silly, but that's the kind of superhero I like: a guy who is a man of action whether he's wearing his costume or not.


  1. A most impressive review you've put out. With the Batman character's 80th anniversary still in full swing, his fans have a right to celebrate it.

  2. I’m with you on everything you write about the changes in the Bruce Wayne persona — great idea for how to explain it away, too. Agreed on the rest also: Goodwin’s stories here are otherwise top-notch and like I’ve said here before Aparo may just be my favorite Batman artist.

    1. Yes, Aparo is really, really good. I wish he'd had a proper run on BATMAN or DETECTIVE during this period, when he was in his prime, rather than being on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. I know he drew one of the core books much later on, circa "Knightfall", and while what I've seen of that is fine, it doesn't really hold a candle to his Bat-work of the 70s.


    2. Maybe because I picked up The Brave and the Bold with some regularity from the mid ’70s through its end, at the age when I was so nuts for superheroes that the presence of co-stars often neutralizing the dark, moody aspect of Batman seemed no sacrifice, I never felt cheated out of Aparo’s take. And the series could at times be a de facto core Batman title — like another one of Young Blam’s treasured issues, #118 featuring Wildcat & The Joker. Of course my run was spotty early on due to my age, limited spending cash (or coins… sigh), and the whims of spinner-rack availability, but come Batman and the Outsiders I was there every month.

      Plus, as neat as Byrne/Aparo looked on the first ish of Untold Legend of the Batman, Aparo solo on the next two issues was really choice; his take on familiar (and unfamiliar) old stories was, coincidentally, not unlike the Byrne/Austin recaps in X-Men #138, the walk(s) through history feeling all the more definitive for the quality of the artists rendering them.

      You’re absolutely right that Aparo’s later run on the Batman monthly was disappointing to say the least. I don’t think it’s due as much to his age, coming so quickly on the heels of Outsiders in the late ’80s, as it is to Mike DeCarlo’s inking, although it definitely progresses from a shame to a travesty over time.