Monday, September 2, 2019

DETECTIVE COMICS #483 - 485

"THE CURSE OF CRIME ALLEY" | "ASSAULT ON OLYMPUS!"
Writer: Denny O'Neil | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterers: Todd Klein (issue 483) & Gaspar Saladino (issue 484)
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Julius Schwartz

Meanwhile, in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS... not much has changed since last we checked in. Dennis O'Neil is still writing it and Julius Schwartz is still editing it. But we do have a new art team, and a pretty dynamic one to boot: Don Newton on pencils with Dan Adkins supplying inks.

I mentioned last week that Paul Levitz had taken over editorship of BATMAN, but I don't think I said that Schwartz had remained on DETECTIVE. I find it noteworthy that this is the second time in the seventies that Schwartz has had one of the two Bat-titles removed from his purview (not counting THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which he never edited to begin with). Previously, he lost DETECTIVE COMICS to Archie Goodwin, and now it's BATMAN to Levitz. I guess it's not that I'm confused as to why a title was transplanted from one editorial office to another; that's bound to happen now and then. But I am curious as to why, in both cases, one of the two Batman books was moved. Why not both?

Anyway! DETECTIVE 483 and 484 introduce us to one of Batman's most storied foes, the gang leader who fancies himself a Greek god in mortal flesh, Maxie Zeus. As we'll see in upcoming installments, O'Neil seemed pretty intent on making Zeus the next Ra's al Ghul (Batman even compares his cunning to al Ghul's at one point), and out of the five more O'Neil-written issues we're going to look at after this post before our retrospective is done, three will feature Zeus as the villain. In fact, counting this post, that's eight O'Neil stories with Zeus featuring into five (and al Ghul in all of the other three)!

Now, since I'm three paragraphs into this post and I haven't really said anything about these issues, let's get to that. Issue 483 sends Batman on his annual pilgrimage to Crime Alley (with O'Neil recycling, pretty much verbatim, he opening narration from "No Hope in Crime Alley", which he had written around three years previous). This time, the Caped Crusader runs afoul of a plot by Maxie Zeus to kill a former rival who is holed up a rotting tenement. Batman teams up with Leslie Thompkins to enter the building and save the day.

The next installment sends Batman into the lion's den, as he decides Zeus is too great a threat to remain free and storms his building, Olympus, to find him. Batman makes his way through a few death traps, including one where he's forced to kill three wolves with a giant whirling fan blade (seriously what's the deal with O'Neil's Batman constantly killing animals?), and eventually, he captures the mastermind. Though it's unclear just what crime the Masked Manhunter can pin on Zeus. He's done some bad stuff, but it seems like he keeps himself above implication.

As I said above, O'Neil really wants to make Maxie Zeus a thing. The next Ra's al Ghul is not an exaggeration here; not only does Batman seriously play up Zeus's brilliant strategic mind and his cunning, but the story even follows the al Ghul template in a much more condensed fashion: Batman learns about Zeus, Batman decides Zeus is too dangerous to remain at large, Batman arrests Zeus. O'Neil played this out over a few years with al Ghul, but it's basically the same story.


The only thing is... Maxie Zeus is lame. Lame as heck. Even in Batman's world, he reads as way too over the top -- especially in light of the considerable efforts the writers of the seventies -- O'Neil chief among them! -- went to in order to make Batman's world more grounded and realistic. And in truth, this is a story that I can't imagine the O'Neil of the early seventies writing. Try to imagine an O'Neil/Adams Maxie Zeus story. You can't, because there's no world in which it would ever happen!

But we'll have plenty more time to talk about Zeus in those next three stories featuring him in upcoming months, so instead let's move along to the next issue of DETECTIVE COMICS and a far superior O'Neil-created villain...

"THE VENGEANCE VOW!"
Story: Denny O'Neil | Art: Don Newton
Letterer: Ben Oda | Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Julius Schwartz
Special thanks to Sensei Richard Hill for martial arts advice.

Batman arrives at a circus owned by Kathy Kane, who once called herself Batwoman. The Caped Crusader is acting on a tip to save Kathy's life, but when an assassin called the Bronze Tiger shows up and overpowers him, Batman watches as Kathy is murdered. Ra's al Ghul appears and tells Batman that the League of Assassins is behind Kathy's death, which was ordered by their leader, the Sensei. Batman locates the Sensei and has a rematch with Bronze Tiger, who begins to shake off some brainwashing during the fight. In the end, the villains escape.

I remember reading this story in TALES OF THE DEMON circa 2000 or so, and being surprised by the death of Kathy Kane. Though I had only read maybe one story featuring her (in THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD), I knew she had existed since the fifties, so to see a Silver Age stalwart so brutally murdered (stabbed to death) in a random issue from the seventies was a tremendous shock.

I've never quite been sure what the deal is with the Sensei here. I believe he was created by Neal Adams in the pages of DEADMAN, but I don't understand how he factors in with the League of Assassins. From their first appearance, the League was shown to serve Dr. Darrk, who was eventually revealed as a servant of Ra's al Ghul, true leader of the group. But I guess at some point, the Sensei must have wrested control of the League from al Ghul -- perhaps while he was imprisoned during the mid-seventies. But unless that happened in DEADMAN, I have no idea when or where it might have occurred.


Anyway -- following from the criminally disappointing Maxie Zeus stories, Denny O'Neil seems to be back to form with the villain who usually brings out the best in him. As we'll see going forward, the remainder of O'Neil's time with Batman will be dedicated pretty much exclusively to either Zeus or al Ghul, so it should be a bit of a roller coaster! But first, we return next week to Len Wein's BATMAN to see the Masked Manhunter battle Kite Man, and then team up with Robin against Crazy Quilt.

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