Monday, September 30, 2019

BATMAN #319, #321, AND #322

Writer: Len Wein | Colorist: Glynis Wein | Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Paul Levitz

"NEVER GIVE UP THE GHOST!"
Artists: Irv Novick & Bob Smith

Gentleman Ghost's turn against Batman in issue 310 must have been well received by fandom -- or at least, Len Wein must have enjoyed writing it -- because here we are nine months later with a rematch between the two. This time, Batman thwarts the Ghost and his gang from stealing some diamonds in the issue's opening pages, and then when they try again the next night, they capture the Caped Crusader before departing to steal some jewels from a party at Wayne Manor. But Batman gets free, heads home, and stops the Ghost yet again -- though the villain escapes in the end.

It's a little weird to see Wein returning to the exact same well as the last time he used Gentleman Ghost, sending him yet again to Wayne Manor. But perhaps there's some reason for this. Maybe Wein wanted to establish some connection between the Ghost and Bruce Wayne's ancestral home. But this is Wein's final outing with Gentleman Ghost, so we'll never know. (Another unsolved mystery is the fact that Batman explicitly notes in the opening scene that the Ghost is trying to steal "crude industrial diamonds" rather than some nicer jewelry. It seems unlikely Wein would've mentioned this unless he intended it to go someplace.)

In sub-plot land, Bruce talks about how happy he is to be back at Wayne Manor for this party, and considers that he may be seeing a lot more of the place in the near future. I'm pretty sure I've read that it was actually Gerry Conway, in his run that followed Wein's, who actually moved Batman back to his mansion, but I guess Wein is planting the seeds for that move here. And besides the potential move for our hero, we also find that his secret identity may be in jeopardy, as, at the party, Lucius Fox and Selina Kyle make up and then begin discussing Bruce's frequent disappearances.

We'll skip issue 320, a Denny O'Neil fill-in issue which -- to my knowledge -- has never been reprinted anywhere -- to move along to Len Wein's next story, featuring a talented guest-penciler who's done some prior work in this 1970s Batman retrospective...

"DREADFUL BIRTHDAY, DEAR JOKER...!"
Artists: Walt Simonson & Dick Giordano

This is one of the few Len Wein Batman stories with which I'm quite familiar, thanks to its printing in THE GREATEST JOKER STORIES EVER TOLD. I read it several times as a kid, though not quite to the point that I had it memorized when I read it for this post. But nonetheless, it's pretty firmly cemented in my memory as a "definitive" Batman tale due to those childhood associations. (This issue also has the distinction of being -- unless I'm forgetting something -- the final tale we'll look at in this retrospective which was included in one of those older books from my youth.)

It's the Joker's birthday, and he wants to celebrate in style, by kidnapping Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and a few other nameless background characters (one of whom we actually see captured by Joker's men in issue 319) and strapping them to the candles on a gigantic exploding cake. Naturally, Batman shows up to save the day, and the Joker is seemingly killed during his escape at the issue's conclusion. Along the way, we get one sub-plot scene, and Lucius and Selina once again comment on Bruce's frequent disappearances, and we're reminded of Selina's headaches, which began a few issues back when she was aboard that airliner for a disco party with Bruce.

Hopefully I'm not speaking through rose-tinted nostalgia when I say it, but: this is a really good story! Easily a highlight of Wein's mostly humdrum run so far. Perhaps Walt Simonson simply brings out Wein's better side -- though the Calendar Man story from earlier in the run was no great shakes, so maybe not. Heck, maybe it's the Joker who gets Wein fired up. But whatever it is,for the most part, I really like this one.


There are a few bits I find questionable, such as the fact that Joker's scheme relies on nearly the entire population of Gotham showing up for "free samples" from a nonexistent bakery so he can trap them and force them to watch his birthday party... or the fact that Batman showed up early to the party to rig one of the candles to he could escape after Joker tied him to it, but somehow didn't bother to defuse the exploding cake in the process... but those issues are overshadowed by some great dialogue and some really great moments, such as Selina trading barbs with Joker when he shows up to kidnap Alfred, and Batman's last-minute rescue of Joker's hostages.

I will register one larger complaint, though: the story sees another instance of Joker offing one of his own men, a practice we saw previously in Steve Englehart's short run on DETECTIVE COMICS. I know this is only the second time we've seen him do it, but it's the sort of thing that will become more and more common over the years, and besides my general distaste for such scenes, I also have to wonder: if the Joker keeps doing this, then why do these guys continue to sign up for his gang?! You'd think word would get around the underworld and he'd become the subject of a henchman-run blackballing effort.


Anyway -- we've got one more issue to look at this week, so let's get to it!

"CHAOS--COMING AND GOING!"
Penciler: Irv Novick | Inker: Vince Colletta

The last of this month's trio of issues pits Batman against the Flash's enemy, Captain Boomerang. Boomerang is in Gotham for revenge against Gregorian Falstaff, who recently short-sold a stock in which Boomerang had invested heavily as a retirement fund. The action in this one is inconsequential, but it does serve to bring Batman face-to-face with Bruce Wayne's business rival, Falstaff.

Selina's headache plotline is forwarded here as well, as she learns that she contracted some exotic disease during her time as Catwoman, and she has less than a month to live. The only known cure was discovered -- and lost -- centuries ago by an Egyptian doctor. But when Selina visits Gotham's Riverside Museum to take her mind off her condition by checking out the Egyptian cat exhibit which we saw arriving in Gotham a few issues back, she conveniently learns that among the items in the exhibit are some hermetically sealed urns which once belonged to (three guesses and the first two don't count) an ancient Egyptian doctor!

The story then ends with the museum's night watchman stumbling across a figure dressed in a cat costume, pilfering the exhibit and escaping. But before we get to Batman's rematch with Catwoman in the subsequent two issues of BATMAN, next week we'll check in with Denny O'Neil, Don Newton, and two installments of DETECTIVE COMICS once again, for the conclusion to O'Neil's current League of Assassins saga!

4 comments:

  1. I'm totally loving reading these reviews on 1970s Batman. This latest one certainly got me pumped.

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  2. I am now imagining a headline on a newspaper in Gotham:

    "HENCHMEN BLACKBALL THE JOKER-JOKER VOWS TO HIRE MEN FROM METROPOLIS."

    Heck now I'm imagining a story where Clark Kent investigates this strange unity in the crime community when the Joker comes to town. But, yeah...these days there's zero future for a criminal who runs with the Joker, so I guess the only possible argument is "okay, he might kill me later, but if I refuse him, he'll DEFINITELY kill me now!"

    (Bonus story: Batman/Daredevil crossover where Turk, desperate for work, signs up to work for the Joker's gang. Hilarity ensues, windows go KRESSSH!)

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    Replies
    1. Maybe Joker's retirement plan is just too good to pass up. If you live long enough to get there...

      Though he did have one ex-henchman who looked like a retiree in "Five Way Revenge" and he threw him in a shark tank, so maybe not.

      I've never read the Batman/Daredevil crossover from the 90s. I wonder if Turk was in it?

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    2. Someone missed a bet if he isn't. Turk getting beat up by Batman just writes itself.

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