Today’s post looks at the last Giant Batman of the Sixties; it seems more appopriate, therefore , to leave the review of Gotham Gals from the Grim’n’Gritty Age til later.
The publication date of this giant is August 1969- l’annee erotique in the words of Serge Gainsbourg. Yet this comic feels more Golden Age than the giants of only three years earlier- it has a sense of heritage that will generate a blizzard of Forties reprints in two or three years time.
The Origin of Robin: Andru and Esposito ilustrate Bridwell’s modern re-telling of the debut of the Boy Wonder in a tale of gangsters and murder.
Although I knew them first for crazy 60s Wonder Woman stories, this art team worked on Spidey in the days of the Jackal, the Mindworm and the Grizzly. Their grotesque style was appropriate for the paranoid adventures of Peter Parker circa 1972-75 and creates Golden age atmosphere here. (3)
Here Comes Alfred: the first appearance (in 1943) of the bumbling butler: amateur sleuth and music hall actor Alfred reminds me of Bob Hoskins here. His appearance would alter to match the angular and rather nelly butler of the 1943 Dr. Daka movie serial. The purpose of the story seems to be to introduce a comedy relief sidekick but the story is lengthy and a lot of space is invested in the idea. (4)
The Game of Death: a macabre revenge tale from Robin’s own strip in 1952′s Star Spangled Comics. The deranged survivor of a family of gangster siblings force Robin to choose the method of Batman’s execution. It’s a noirish tale that lavishes a lot of detail on the ironic deaths of the gang. (2)
The Man Behind the Red Hood: I first read this 1951 adventure in the first Secret Origins Super Villains tabloid; it is of course the origin of the Joker.
“Professor Batman” is guest-instructor on State University’s criminology course. He reveals his biggest failure to his students- one of whom is a gangster’s son- being unable to uncover the identity of the Red Hood.
Of course, the Red Hood returns, first as young crook “Farmerboy” Benson, then in his original incarnation as the Clown Prince of Crime. This is probably the strongest story in the collection, focusing on Batsy’s detection skills. (1)
The Challenge of Clay-Face: I had previously read this story in an issue of the monthly b/w Super DC title, circa 1970. (This one? No idea). Clay-Face is a fortune hunter and scuba diver who discovers a protoplasmic pool in an undersea grotto.
It’s a sci-fi monster mash as Matt Hagen takes the form of a centaur and a dragon in this outlandish Bat-tale. He seems more like a World’s Finest villian and feels out of place in this collection. The original Clayface- House of Wax-style movie set slayer Basil Karlo- is referenced twice in the comic. (5)
Anniversary aside, why does this collection seem have its roots so firmly in the Forties? Well, there was a very real sense among comics publishers that superheroes had had their day by 1968/69- I think even Smilin’ Stan, whose work had revitalised the genre, thought so. Hence the “weird/mystery” and mild horror of the Joe Orlando stable that, in turn, ” inspired” Marvel’s Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness. Indeed perhaps the Batman of the 70s owes more to Barnabas Collins than O’Neil and Adams.
In a future post we’ll revisit the first Bat-giants of the Sensational Seventies.
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