Monday, May 27, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #440, #441, & #442

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.

I will note, however, that the story got me to think about some of the stuff we take for granted nowadays! Batman hears two words that he manages to identify as places early on, and then Alfred hits the books, spending hours poring over maps to find those locations. That sort of detective work is rendered moot nowadays by Google. I wonder if it was easier to write mystery stories pre-internet/smartphone/etc.?

Artist: Howard Chaykin | Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin

Young Howard Chaykin joins Goodwin next, for another poorly conceived outing called "Judgment Day". In this one, Robin is captured and used as bait for Batman (as usual, poor kid). The Darknight Detective tracks down his ward, in the clutches of a mysterious "Judge" who wants to punish Batman for his flagrant disregard for law and order. There's a deserted resort house upstate, a blind girl, flashback to a murder -- and of course there's a twist, though it's an exceedingly silly one -- but on the plus side, it's Robin who gets the honor of K.O.-ing the villain, after singlehandedly escaping from the deathtrap into which he was placed while Batman is otherwise occupied.

This story is also notable for being the debut appearance (but not really) of Detective Harvey Bullock! In a situation so bizarre it could only have come about in the comics world, it turns out that Goodwin introduced a Gotham detective named Bullock here -- and then, years later, Doug Moench added a Gotham detective named Harvey Bullock to Batman's supporting cast. Per Moench, he didn't realize there had ever been a Detective Bullock before, though he acknowledges he must have read this story at some point. But this Bullock was ret-conned to be Harvey anyway, and nowadays Goodwin and Chaykin are considered Harvey Bullock's creators, even though they're actually not.

(The preceding all comes from Wikipedia, which also notes that Moench has never challenged DC's ruling about Bullock's creatorship, even though he maintains they're wrong, since he considered Goodwin a friend and doesn't want to trouble his widow about it.)

Friend/Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin | Artist: Alex Toth
With due homage to: Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, and Neal Adams.

And now another good one: Alex Toth joins the parade of artists working with Goodwin for his fifth DETECTIVE COMICS story. Unlike Chaykin, Amendola, and Jim Aparo, who had all begun their careers in the sixties at the earliest, Toth was long established as a cartoonist at this point, having broken into the industry in the late forties. As a result, I have to assume his work on this issue was something of a coup for Goodwin. "Death Flies the Haunted Sky" was another that found its way into THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD (making two entries from this brief Goodwin run in the book), giving that volume the odd distinction of featuring two tales in which Batman gets involved in a mystery involving World War I biplanes! (This tale even footnotes "Ghost of the Killer Skies" from DETECTIVE 404, to let us know Goodwin was aware of that fact.)

In this case, Batman is out "on patrol" when he spies one of the antique aircraft strafing a high-rise apartment. The Caped Crusader fails to stop the plane from escaping after killing its target, but he meets up with a young woman named Eve Dancer, who is the daughter of a Korean War pilot and who believes her brother is out to kill their father's old business partners in revenge for financially ruining him and driving him to death. Of course, since this is DETECTIVE COMICS, there's a twist -- it's not the brother after all -- before the story is done.

"Death Flies the Haunted Sky" is a much stronger effort than either of the tales that preceded it. Unlike "Ghost Mountain Midnight!" and "Judgment Day!", this one feels more polished somehow, and I believe that has a lot to do with Toth's artwork. When I was a child, I never cared much for this story, often skipping it when I read GREATEST BATMAN STORIES. Toth's art was unlike anything else in the book, and I turned me off considerably. (Yes, I know I'm saying that after mentioning, not long ago, that I liked the Frank Robbins-drawn story in that book. What can I say; I had interesting tastes as a child.) Nowadays, while still quite different from most of the other stories we've looked at so far, I find Toth's style much more appealing -- and I like his letters, which have a very "newspaper strip" feel to them.

That said, the end feels rushed, like Goodwin and/or Toth needed more pages to properly finish things off. The final page is a massive info-dump filled with word balloons that nearly crowd the characters out of the panels, and it commits what I consider a sin of mystery writing -- Batman simply speculates on why a few things happened, and we're expected to take his deductions as fact simply because they're not challenged. I hate when writers do that; but if it's absolutely necessary to wrap up loose ends, then the detective character's theories have to at least be confirmed somehow!

Next week, we'll check in with Denny O'Neil in the pages of BATMAN, as he brings Catwoman and the Penguin, as well as a surprise guest star, back into Batman's life.


  1. This is triple the fun of classic "Batman"! :D


  2. Detective #440

    I’m really sick of Batman getting hit from behind, particularly when he’s knocked out cold. For pre-’70s Batman, roughly, it’s fine; later than that, it doesn’t work for me.

    // Alfred hits the books, spending hours poring over maps to find those locations. //

    He says he’s “view[ed] enough micro-filmed maps to make even Rand McNally himself queasy…” — Rand McNally isn’t a himself, though; it’s a company named for co-founders William Rand & Andrew McNally.

    I’ve wondered the same about modern technology and mystery stories. Meanwhile, I had to chuckle at my present-day reading of a caption: “A figure that moments ago might have been jaded playboy Bruce Wayne… but now is totally that grim avenger… The Batman!” Goodwin likely means that he’s fully transformed, leaving pretense behind; in my head it was, uh, not that solemn and forbidding.

    Detective #441

    Wow. I barely remembered this one and on balance really like the art. Yeah, I know it’s Chaykin, but it was still very early days when his style and chops were in flux.

    Could this Judge have been an inspiration, even unconsciously, for the otherwise completely different animated version?

    Detective #442

    I’d forgotten that this story actually footnoted “Ghost of the Killer Skies” when discussing it here earlier.

    // What can I say; I had interesting tastes as a child. //

    My first exposure to Alex Toth was the framing sequence he drew for the 1975 Super Friends tabloid reprint. I was captivated but also a little weirded out by the fluid simplicity of his linework. My fascination with his work only grew as I got older, especially given my affinity for large areas of black, and this job is just a beauty despite what’s for sure a rushed ending with unfortunately cluttered panels.

    I’ll suggest poking around online for a look at some of Toth’s stuff on Zorro, DC and Warren horror/supernatural titles, his own pet projects like Vanguard and Bravo for Adventure, even his late Golden Age work for comparison.

    1. Thanks, Blam! I'll look for some of those Toth recommendations. I've actually had BRAVO FOR ADVENTURE on my shopping list for some time (it came to my attention when I started getting into newspaper strips, being sort of adjacent to that area in a way), but just have never gotten around to picking it up.

      I wondered the same thing about the Judge in this story. The title is even the same as the animated episode (which has the distinction of being the final episode aired, though I'm not certain whether it was the final produced).

      It's definitely possible someone on the B:TAS team remembered this story and thought a semi-adaptation would be fun. I posted here once a few years back that B:TAS seemed to be more influenced by the comics of the 70s than any other decade, so it seems likely Bruce Timm and/or the other producers would have read these issues.


    2. I raised the potential B:TAS link specifically because I knew you were a fan and had mentioned this period of the comics as clearly being a particular inspiration for the show.

      On another note, just FYI: While going through these to reply to your recent comments, I discovered that this post is missing the “Batman in the ’70s” label.