Monday, July 8, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #471 & #472

"THE DEAD YET LIVE" | "I AM THE BATMAN!"
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.

Meanwhile, some indeterminate amount of time has passed since last issue. Bruce Wayne has been dating Silver St. Cloud, but is still suffering from radiation burns caused by Doctor Phosphorous. Bruce heads for an exclusive health clinic in the city, which will treat wealthy patrons with no questions asked -- but as soon as he sets foot inside, he's drugged and taken prisoner by the clinic's owner, Doctor Todhunter. Bruce escapes his cell and changes into Batman, but is beaten when he confronts Todhunter, who reveals himself as Batman's long-thought-dead foe, Professor Hugo Strange.

Strange unmasks Batman and, knowing his secret identity, captures and imprisons Alfred and begins a masquerade as Bruce Wayne with plans to suck Wayne's fortune dry and flee the country. But Silver quickly realizes something is up with her boyfriend, and calls Dick Grayson. Dick plays callous with Silver, but immediately changes to Robin after hanging up the phone. He finds Bruce and Alfred and rescues them. Meanwhile, Strange decides to auction off Batman's secret identity before leaving town -- but Rupert Thorne captures the mad scientist and tries to beat the secret out of him. However Strange, who operates under his own code of honor, refuses to give Thorne the information (and even realizes he was foolish to attempt to sell it; he decides that Batman's secret must be earned through hard work like having him randomly walk into your clinic out of the blue one day). Thorne's men beat Strange to death.


Like I said above, this is where the run gets good. Doctor Phosphorous was a straight-up bombastic superhero adventure, and that's not what Englehart is known for on DETECTIVE. Here, thanks in large part to the artwork of Rogers and Austin, and with the aid of a more "grounded" villain -- which will remain the case for the rest of the run; no more bad guys with superpowers for Englehart -- this run of issues morphs into the dark and noir-ish mold that will define it.

A few notes and/or highlights:

Englehart references the "Bat-Murderer" storyline when Thorne talks about turning the city against Batman, which is a nice continuity touch.


Bruce and Silver are totally knocking boots in these stories. Englehart has claimed he was the first writer to "give Batman a sex life," and while I don't know for sure if that's true, I do know this is the first time in any of the stories we've looked at that we've seen him do more than simply flirt with a woman.


When Strange sets up the auction for Batman's identity, we see three interested parties. Though none are shown explicitly, they're obviously Thorne (which is confirmed on the next page), the Penguin, and the Joker. Strange has them all place a retainer of ten thousand dollars, telling them the actual auction will be held the following night with a minimum bid of a million. This will be followed up upon next issue. He also sprays them each with a special gas that will allow him to recognize them when they return for the auction; this will become a plot point near the end of the run.


Aspects of this story were adapted into the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES episode "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne", in which Strange also plans to auction off Batman's identity. There, the bidders are Joker and Penguin as well, with Two-Face, rather than Thorne, as the third party (though the episode could have just as easily used Thorne, who was a recurring antagonist on the show).

Strange is aided in the story by a beautiful woman named Magda, as well as a group of hulking monster men -- the latter being a nod to his first appearance in BATMAN #1, where he created an army of brutish mutants to terrorize Gotham.

Lastly, Englehart has the best handle on Robin of any of the writers we've look at so far. Recall that in previous issues, nearly every time Robin showed up, he was captured and used as bait for Batman ("The House That Haunted Batman" by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Neal Adams; "Daughter of the Demon" by Denny O'Neil and Adams; "Judgment Day" by Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin), or he was sidelined early on so Batman could continue the adventure solo ("Night of the Reaper" by O'Neil and Adams; "Catwoman's Circus Caper" by O'Neil and Irv Novick). To date, it was only in "Hail Emperor Penguin" by O'Neil and Novick where Robin functioned as Batman's partner all the way through the story.

Here, Englehart shows us a fully confident, competent, and capable Robin. As soon as he gets the call from Silver, he dons his costume, races to Gothem, busts into Strange's clinic to free his mentor, and holds his own against the monster men. Magda even observes that Robin fights "...like the Batman himself!" This is the Robin I like to see -- out of his mentor's shadow, he's been fighting crime solo (in backup stories) since 1970. He's the leader of the Teen Titans. He knows what the heck he's doing, and it's nice to see a writer finally acknowledge that!

Next week, Englehart/Rogers continues, as Batman tangles with the Penguin and Deadshot.

7 comments:

  1. I'm pretty happy to have read your new reviews on issues 471 and 472 of "Detective Comics." They were exciting!

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  2. Reading these for the first time, I do wonder how Silver was able to avoid seeing or getting infected by Bruce's radioactive abs when they...you know.
    It's also noticeable that Englehart makes references to Golden Age stories, even though those stories- at least at this time- could be identified as Earth-2 Batman stories.

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    1. Wait, you're my go-to DC knowledge guy and you're reading these now for the first time?? I'm amazed!

      Good point about the radiation burns during intimate moments... I actually hadn't considered it, but you're right. They've very clearly been knocking boots at this point, so Silver should have noticed.

      I know less about Earth-1 vs. Earth-2... pre-CRISIS, what was the distinction? I know Earth-2's Batman got older and married Catwoman, but was there some cutoff point where it was considered that Earth-1 and 2 diverged? Did both versions of Batman not have similar early careers?

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  3. Don't worry. I've been reading your reviews. I just didn't see anything worth noting.
    In terms of the two Batmans. There is the fact that Earth-2 Batman was 1939 and Earth-1 is mid-1950s. The cut off has been a puzzle to historians. There were several distinctions for Earth-1: Batman getting the oval symbol (DETECTIVE COMICS 327), anything involving a Bat-Girl, Bathound, Bat-Mite, etc.
    Early careers differed. Earth-1 Martha Wayne got shot (Earth-2 suffered a heart attack). Earth-1 Batman's first costumed foray was in a Robin suit, with tutelage under gumshoe Harvey Harris (whose daughter Wendy was part of the SUPERFRIENDS series). His inspiration was his father wearing a Bat costume to a party.
    Actually, I could amend that there were similar adventures that both Batmans shared (except in a different time setting).

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    1. Sorry, I didn't necessarily mean I was surprised you're reading these posts for the first time, but I was surprised that (it sounded like) you were just reading the Englehart run for the first time!

      Thanks for the details on Earth-1 vs. Earth -2. It's kind of weird to me that DC did this arbitrary delineation at some point without specifically figuring out what happened to which version of which character, but then again, it was a more innocent time for comic book continuity, so I guess it isn't surprising!

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  4. Oh. Tell the truth, my first Englehart Batman was the Laughing Fish story from THE GREATEST JOKER STORIES EVER TOLD back in Spring Break 1999. I read the rest of the run in STRANGE APPARITIONS in Winter 2000. I should have written "When I read these for the first time..." I'm glad you didn't perceive my "see anything worth noting" as a criticism. You pretty much covered the bases.
    Are you stopping at the end of the 1970s?

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    1. Got it! That makes sense.

      My plan right now is to go a little bit into 1981. Since I have them all available via TALES OF THE BATMAN: LEN WEIN, I'm going to read the full Wein run on BATMAN. And then to wrap everything up, I'll read Marv Wolfman's brief run that followed, culminating in his multi-part "Lazarus Affair" story. Those have not yet been reprinted in a collected edition, but I bought the individual issues off Comixology.

      After that, our time with Batman will end... for now. Eventually I do want to pick up pretty much exactly where Wolfman's run leaves off, and read the full Gerry Conway run on both BATMAN and DETECTIVE, but that's probably a few years away.

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