Batman’s Hotline ’74

At long last, today’s post is the much-anticipated Alex Toth Detective Comics  Super-Spectacular. This was , I think, the last 10o-pager I bought in Baird’s in Strathaven in the 70s although there are a few more in my collection that I got as an adult. I do remember being disappointed with this issue and consequently had absolutely no memory of any of the strips inside when I bought it recently on ebay.

The pistachio colour and the visceral Batman action by Aparo, aided by the swanky Art Deco font promises a classy package. Look at what’s on offer from Marvel this same month:

Behind the gory cover, some top-flight Kane/Thomas barbarism adapted from REH’s sole Conan novel…

A Claremont/Heck collaboration set in Cheerful Chris’s anachronistic England and featuring those pesky N”Garai…

Hellstrom travels from a sword-and-sorcery Atlantis to another dimension to fight the biblical Adam (!)


…and Len Wein provides his patented Silver Age pastiche by x-huming some Sixties X-Men villains.

I have a feeling DC were trying to compete with all this far-out headshoppery with Black Magic, Ghosts, Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Phantom Stranger, Weird War Tales, The Witching Hour and Kamandi being chased by a giant crab. Meanwhile, what of detectives?

Death Flies the Haunted Sky: I can’t praise this strip enough: Alex Toth and Archie Goodwin deliver a moody tale of greed, revenge and a ghostly bi-plane. Toth’s Batman is cartoony but lithe and spectral and makes me long for a miniseries. I had one issue of Hot Wheels as a wee lad but found Toth’s style- and the lack of super-heroics- a turn off. “Haunted Sky” is a revelation.

The House Where Time Stood Still: This is a delightful Simon and Kirby Newsboy Legion story that draws on the legend  of the reclusive  Collyer brothers: compulsive hoarders, who ultimately  died tragically and grotesquely in their booby-trapped brownstone . There was an episode of The Streets of San Francisco (“The House on Hyde Street”)  that also borrowed from their story.  The charm of this series is that the “razor-edged lads”  are more interesting than The Guardian- a pallid Captain America riff.  I was surprised to note the sheer volume of dialogue and captions in the story.

The Magic Mirror Mystery: I’d read this short in one of my cousin Jim’s 60s issues of Hawkman. An elegant, if wordy, Locked Room mystery by Anderson and Fox, it is a little out of keeping with the Burroughsian adventures of Katar and Shayera.

The Huntress of the Highway: the first-ever  solo adventure for Black Canary and her beau Larry Lance, who reminds me of Robert Mitchum. In this slight, noirish tale they escape from a death-trap with absolutely no explanation. As I said,forgettable.

The Robbery That Never Happened: a sedate and stuffy  early Elongated Man mystery about counterfeiting. It’s saved by Infantino’s inventive tricks for The Stretchable Sleuth, who’s wearing his original, wrinkly violet outfit sans domino mask.  Lovely Sue Dibny sports a cute hat.

The Vanishing Village:  a cinematic Batman and Robin short from 1945, set in a criminal refuge in the Everglades. The man-eating plants at the climax of the story seem like a fanciful throwback to the Thirties. Not as entertaining as a 50s B&R tale.

Doctor Fate: the would-be emperor of the world uses sound that can kill from his castle  in the Baranga Marshes. Kent and Inza manage to look cool and uncanny in civvies, driving their roadster with cloaks flapping behind them. The mad scientist is welcomed by “Death, the great leveler” while the “mighty, modern mystery” Dr. Fate is as implacable as the Spectre : “Your efforts against me are those of a child’s against a giant”.  Although this is a 1941 story, it’s as batty as a Karloff Universal picture and great fun.

To Duel The Master: this was the first episode of Simonson and Goodwin Manhunter I read ( I glommed on to the first instalment about a year later). Although the story is basically an extended martial arts duel, it forges a new visual identity for DC, like the Ironwolf strip in Weird Worlds-and it feels very Marvel.  Manhunter is more in line with Shang-Chi or Iron Fist in his samurai super-suit and billowing sleeves .  He’s another potential member for my Sensational Seventies JLA alongside Batgirl ,Wildcat, Deadman and Mr. Miracle.

Despite the run of rather thin stories, I enjoyed this issue on the strength of the art and would consider dipping into other Detective Super-Specs.

Coming soon: The Freedom Train

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.




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