Monday, July 29, 2019


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


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


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:

Monday, July 15, 2019


Story: Steve Englehart | Art: Marshall Rogers | Embellisher: Terry Austin
Letterers: Milt Snappin & Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

One of the things I like about Steve Englehart's eight-issue DETECTIVE COMICS run is the way he divvies up his enemies for Batman into a few categories. There are new/original villains: Doctor Phosphorous and Rupert Thorne. There are obscure villains: Hugo Strange, who at the time hadn't been seen in over thirty-five years, and Deadshot, who we'll get to below. And then there are the classics: Joker, who we will look at next week, and Penguin, who pops up in the first of this week's installments. If you're gonna do a short run on a superhero, that's nearly the perfect way to handle it (the only thing I might change from this formula would be to use at least one villain from another hero's rogues' gallery to mix it up a tiny bit more).

Englehart also finds time for one good old-fashioned Batman and Robin team-up during his brief time on the title, which is much appreciated. Robin factored into last week's Hugo Strange two-parter, but he was flying solo there, rescuing Batman from Strange's dungeon. Here, he's still in town following that adventure, assisting his partner with the loose end of tracking Strange down. "The Malay Penguin!" opens with two of Rupert Thorne's men disposing of Strange's body in the Gotham River. The hoods are accosted by the Dynamic Duo (after dumping the corpse, so Batman doesn't yet realize Strange is dead), but Batman and Robin are forced to depart when the police arrive. It seems Rupert Thorne has revoked their status as duly deputized agents of the law, and despite Commissioner Gordon's friendly presence at the top of the Gotham P.D., the heroes are now considered vigilantes.

Monday, July 8, 2019


Author: Steve Englehart | Artists: Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
Letterer: John Workman | Colorist: Marshall Rogers | Editor: Julie Schwartz

As we saw last time, most of the pieces were placed for the famous Steve Englehart run on DETECTIVE COMICS with issues 469 and 470. However, the run is actually usually referred to as the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run, and there was still one fairly big piece missing as of last week. You can't have an Englehart/Rogers run without Rogers, after all!

But that problem is remedied immediately from the first atmosphere-oozing page of DETECTIVE 471, and suddenly Englehart's story snaps into focus. Doctor Phosphorous was a misfire, perhaps, even though it laid some important seeds for what was to follow. But now those seeds have sprouted, and thanks to Rogers and inker Terry Austin, they're beautiful to behold!

And now the story: it begins with Rupert Thorne declaring war on Batman. As mentioned last time, the corrupt city council boss had previously left the Caped Crusader alone, but following Doctor Phosphorous's attempt to turn the council against Batman, coupled with recent financial troubles making the city harder to control, Thorne has decided that Gotham's hero is too much of a loose cannon and must be eliminated.

Monday, July 1, 2019


Presenting: The Batman you've been waiting for by:
Author: Steve Englehart | Artist: Walt Simonson | Inker: Al Milgrom
Colorist Marshall Rogers & Jerry Serpe | Editor: Julius Schwartz

We spoke a few weeks ago about Len Wein's brief attempt to "Marvelize" Batman in his "Bat-Murderer" story arc. But, as I noted at that time, Wein's instilling of Marvel-style plotting into the Caped Crusader's world felt unofficial, like it was his idea and not a mandate from editorial.

Steve Englehart's Batman run, on the other hand, was, as I understand it, a deliberate attempt by DC to "Marvelize" their comics -- however they didn't hire Enghlehart to do it to Batman! From what I've read, DC wanted Englehart to bring his experience and sensibilities from writing AVENGERS to JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Englehart agreed on the condition that he be allowed to write Batman as well. Thus, in addition to tackling JLA for a year, Englehart was also given eight issue of DETECTIVE COMICS on which to ply his trade.

(And it's neither here nor there, but Englehart had decided around the same time to retire from comics, so he wrote all his DETECTIVE issues in full script format and turned them in advance, then moved out of the country before they were even drawn!)

Look, I've gone on record here as not being much of a fan of Steve Englehart. I spoke to that point when I looked at Marvel's "Evolutionary War" annuals a few years back. But, for the most part, I actually really love his DETECTIVE COMICS run. That said, the run begins inauspiciously, with a pretty unremarkable two-part adventure, notable only for setting up sub-plot points which play heavily into the remainder of the run.