Monday, September 23, 2019


Writer: Denny O'Neil | Artists: Don Newton & Dan Adkins
Letterers: John Workman (issue 486) & Milt Snappin (issue 487)
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Editor: Paul Levitz

Two more issues of DETECTIVE COMICS mean two more stories from Denny O'Neil, which -- circa late 1979/early 1980 -- mean Batman is going up against Maxie Zeus and the League of Assassins, respectively, again.

The first of these two stories, in issue 486, isn't half-bad. In fact, the opening is the sort of pulpy sequence O'Neil would have produced with Neal Adams a decade earlier: a skydiver jumps out of a plane, but he lands as a skeleton. Batman, who was on the scene as Bruce Wayne and changed into costume when the skydiver's parachute didn't deploy, watches as the skeleton then spontaneously combusts. Had Adams drawn this scene, it would have meant the promise of another masterpiece from him and O'Neil. But, much as I like Don Newton, he's no Neal Adams -- and the story that follows never quite lives up to its opening scene.

We follow Batman from this point as he investigates the strange death and learns that Maxie Zeus was behind it. Zeus, incarcerated at Arkham Asylum, is still insane, and is now predicting how some of his former associates will meet their ends. The mystery turns out to be twofold: how did a skydiver turn into a skeleton in midair, and who is carrying out these killings on Zeus's behalf? Unfortunately, the solutions to both questions are quite easy to discern -- the skydiver was already dead and a skeleton was simply dropped out of the plane (which is basically what Newton's art makes us see from the start), and the killer is the most obvious choice.

The second story is the sort of thing that comes to mind when I try to come up with the prototypical "bad" Denny O'Neil offering. We open on a young writer named Sergius, out for his morning jog, muttering to himself about his latest plot development, which happens to involve a hero thwarting some assassins. For some unknown reason, the Sensei and one of his men just happen to be lurking in an alleyway as Sergius runs past, and naturally they assume he's talking about the League of Assassins and decide that he must be eliminated. (No explanation is ever given for why these guys are just hanging around in a random alley, by the way.)

But the Sensei doesn't want anyone to know that the League is in Gotham, so he hires a woman named Mable Mhurder -- yes, Mhurder -- to off Sergius. Mabel and her three henchmen set to work, but Batman thwarts them and saves Sergius at every turn, and in the end realizes that Mhurder is working for the Sensei. Apparently after three failures, the Sensei just gives up or something, because the story ends with Batman pretty pleased that he's saved Sergius's life.

And that's it. I'm sure this was O'Neil's attempt at writing something quirky and offbeat, but it comes across as sloppy and half-hearted. There's some genuinely funny material in here, but there's also some stuff that's way too over-the-top for its own good. We do see Batman using his Matches Malone guise though, which I think is the first time that's come up in any of these seventies comics I've been reading outside of the Ra's al Ghul saga. For whatever reason, Newton draws Malone like a gangster from the thirties, which is a really nice look for him.

Before we wrap up for the week, I should note that, as you may have seen in the credits above, Julius Schwartz is out as DETECTIVE COMICS' editor, replaced by Paul Levitz -- who had already been on BATMAN for several months at this point. Schwartz's ouster here, with Levitz replacing him in the issue cover-dated for November of 1979, means just barely missed out on being the editor of at least one Batman series all the way through the decade of the seventies. For most of those ten years he handled both series, aside from the one year when Archie Goodwin edited DETECTIVE, and the majority of 1979, in which Levitz has had BATMAN.

Next week, we'll hop back over to BATMAN and watch as Len Wein pits the Caped Crusader against Gentleman Ghost and the Joker.


  1. It should be noted that Denny O'Neil wrote some comics under the pen-name of Sergius O'Shaughnessy.
    I'm sure he meant for that writer named "Sergius" to be himself.

    1. Thank you! I never knew that about O'Neil. Makes it a bit funnier if this Sergius is intended to be him.