Monday, August 26, 2019

BATMAN #312 - 314

Writer: Len Wein | Artists: Walt Simonson & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

Beginning this month, longtime editor Julius Schwartz is off BATMAN, replaced by Paul Levitz. I once read, years ago, that Levitz came in and upended Len Wein's plan for the series, demanding that every issue feature a costumed villain, and that the stories be mostly self-contained. I'm not certain of the truth of this rumor, though. Wein certainly will go on to use super-villains pretty much exclusively for the remainder of his run, but he had already been doing it from the moment he started! The only exception was his inaugural installment, issue 307, which featured a serial killer. But since then, it's been Mr. Freeze, Blockbuster, and Gentleman Ghost -- and prior to that, in his two-part DETECTIVE COMICS story, he introduced a new Clayface!

Plus, the storylines will not be self-contained going forward. We have a few two-parters on the way, and Marvel-style sub-plots will continue to be the norm throughout the entire run. So I really don't know where that rumor came from -- I honestly can't recall where I read it, since it was probably ten years ago at this point -- but I felt it was worth mentioning for posterity.

Now, on with the stories at hand. We begin with one that featured in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD, though I've never quite been certain why. It follows a week in Batman's life as he battles the nefarious Calendar Man, failing to thwart him at every turn until Sunday rolls around, when the Caped Crusader finally gets his act together and brings the bad guy to justice. I feel like there are much stronger Wein-written stories that could've made their way into GREATEST STORIES, so the only reason I can imagine for its inclusion over anything else is that it features artwork from Walter Simonson -- back to form following those two horrid issues he contributed to Steve Englehart's DETECTIVE run a couple years earlier.

Monday, August 19, 2019

BATMAN #309 & #310

Writer: Len Wein
Artists (issue 309): John Calnan & Frank McLaughlin
Artists (issue 310): Irv Novick & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Picking up from the final scene of the prior issue, BATMAN #311 opens with the Blockbuster, Batman's Hulk-like villain, beating up some purse snatchers and then departing to return the purse to its owner. Meanwhile, Batman and Commissioner Gordon exchange Christmas gifts. But when they find that a desk sergeant is on the phone with a girl attempting suicide-by-sleeping pills, Batman departs in a hurry to find her. It turns out she's the victim of the purse-snatch, and Blockbuster finds her before Batman. The girl faints from the bottle of pills, Blockbuster takes her away to find help.

Naturally, this leads to Batman and Blockbuster crossing paths a few times, and while Blockbuster wants to help the girl, he refuses to let Batman take her to a hospital, since -- following his "death" at STAR Labs last issue -- he believes hospitals hurt people. Nonetheless, when their chase takes them out onto a frozen lake that cracks apart, Blockbuster throws the girl into Batman's arms as he sinks into the water of Gotham Bay. Batman gets the girl to an ambulance and her life is saved.

This is the kind of story where you honestly don't know which way it will go. We're so deep into the Bronze Age at this point, that there's just as good a chance the girl could die as there is that Batman could save her -- which gives the story an air of suspense that might otherwise have been missing were it published a few years earlier. There are no sub-plots in this one, either -- it's wall-to-wall Batman vs. Blockbuster action, which is always a nice change of pace in any sub-plot heavy series. Though I sometimes complain that such issues are "filler" without any sub-plots, in this case, for whatever reason, it doesn't feel that way.

Friday, August 16, 2019


And here we are again... six years ago today, I published my very first post here, and a lot has changed since then! Got married, moved, had a baby. I'm still not bored of blogging -- I have the desire to do it -- but as is evident in recent months, I really don't have much time for it. Back in April, I said I was going to take a "Spring Break" to get ready for whatever this year's "Summer of..." project would be. But, as you may have noticed, there have been no Friday posts yet this summer. I'd love to say that's because I'm prepping something big for the fall, but it's not. I have nothing in the queue for Fridays in the foreseeable future, and I'm barely a month ahead of schedule on the Monday Batman posts.

But still, I persevere! I have no intention of shutting the blog down, but for the foreseeable future, I'm sticking to one post a week, on Mondays. Sure, there'll occasionally be something else during the week -- most likely an Unboxing on Friday -- but that's about it. Batman will carry us through the remainder of the year, and at that point I will make a determination as to whether the blog undergoes some sort of format change to make it easier on me. What that change will be, I can't yet say (because I don't know). But I intend to keep plugging along for as long as I can, even if I'm running at diminished capacity!

By the way, what exactly is keeping me from maintaining a schedule like I used to? I usually like to stay transparent about it, so here we go: besides having a three year-old son who takes up a great deal of my time (which is something I wouldn't change for the world), I'm also a lot busier at work than ever before, and both those things together result in a perpetual state of exhaustion at home. I get back from work, make dinner, play with the little tyke for a bit before putting him to bed, and after all that, the last thing I want to engage in is any amount of critical thinking! So I turn off the brain and hang out with my wife while watching TV or drawing (which I'm doing a ton of lately thanks to an app called Procreate -- it's the best drawing experience I've ever had in my life). Which means my only time for reading and writing posts is my lunch break at work, and that means I only manage to write about two full posts a week! (For comparison's sake, in past years I often produced four or more posts per week.)

So yeah -- any failure to meet deadlines for this hobby (which is all it is for me -- I love it, but it doesn't pay any bills) is all on me, but what're you gonna do?

And now, the annual stat check-in: The top three most visited pages on the site haven't changed since last year (and, it seems, likely never will change): X-Men Collected Editions Chart still has the most hits on this site by at least a country mile. It's followed by the index to my Roger Stern Spider-Man reviews, and then by my review of the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS. Searches for the blog's name account for most incoming traffic via Google, followed by searches for the New Teen Titans and the INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS.

And that's it. We'll check in again around New Year's!

Monday, August 12, 2019

BATMAN #307 & #308

Writer: Len Wein | Artists: John Calnan & Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Julius Schwartz

As mentioned a couple weeks back, from this point forward, we'll be seeing a lot of Len Wein. He wrote BATMAN for nearly two years, covering issues 307 through 327. His run begins inauspiciously, though, with "Dark Messenger of Mercy". It seems (as glimpsed briefly in Wein's framing sequence to DETECTIVE COMICS #477), someone is wandering around, murdering Gotham City's vagrants and leaving gold coins to cover their closed eyes. Batman of course gets involved, visits Commissioner Gordon, meets a homeless community living beneath Gotham, and ultimately brings the killer to justice.

Wein throws in a twist and has Batman use some legitimate detective work to solve the case, so those are a couple of pluses in this tale's favor -- but overall, it's just kind of boring. It feels like a sub-par done-in-one from the early part of the seventies; something Denny O'Neil or Frank Robbins would've produced with the help of Bob Brown or Irv Novick. In fact, the only thing that helps this issue to not feel like such a one-off is Wein's introduction of a sub-plot. Specifically, Bruce Wayne learns in the story's opening pages that reclusive billionaire Gregorian Falstaff has bought Gotham's Ambassador Hotel and moved himself into the upper floors. The Falstaff plot will sporadically carry on (and on, and on) for the entirety of Wein's run, and not even be resolved until his successor, Marv Wolfman, takes over writing chores on BATMAN!

Bruce learns about Falstaff from his newly introduced right-hand man, a Wayne Foundation executive named Lucius Fox. Fox, here in his very first appearance, will prove to be Wein's most enduring contribution to Batman's mythos, appearing in several movie and TV spinoffs beginning somewhere around the early nineties with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. He was, of course, famously portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy in the mid-00s.

Monday, August 5, 2019


As noted last time, we'll spend much of the next few months with Len Wein on BATMAN, but we will also look in once in a while at DETECTIVE COMICS, written (mostly) by Denny O'Neil. But first, we have an issue of DC SPECIAL SERIES which was cover dated for the same month as the second part of Wein's Clayface III story that we examined last week. Then, further down the page, we'll check out DETECTIVE COMICS #481 -- cover dated the same month as Wein's first issue of BATMAN, which we'll examine next week.

Writer: Denny O'Neil | Penciler: Michael Golden | Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Milt Snappin | Colorist: Cory Adams | Editor: Julius Schwartz

FYI, this cover has nothing to do with the story we're about to discuss. DC SPECIAL SERIES was evidently an anthology of some sort, and the cover refers to a different tale within the issue.

Nearly seven years after he last wrote Ra's al Ghul, and with other writers -- such as Len Wein and Archie Goodwin -- having built on the al Ghul saga in the meantime, Denny O'Neil returns to his signature Batman villain. There's no Neal Adams this time, though the consolation prize isn't bad, as the great Michael Golden provides pencils.

O'Neil jumps straight into the action here, as Batman has a brief encounter with a petty hood on Gotham's streets, then returns to the Batcave, where his is immediately drugged and kidnapped by Talia and League of Assassins. The Caped Crusader awakens sometime later on Ra's al Ghul's yacht, just as the Demon's Head completes a wedding ceremony marrying Batman and Talia. Al Ghul leave the pair to consummate their union, but Batman knocks Talia out (by punching her in the face!) and then escapes the yacht via helicopter.