A Giant Step into ’74

After weeks of “Mystery Men” posts, this morning we’re finally returning to the issue-by-issue reviews of the DC 100-page Super-Spectaculars in my collection. It may take until the autumn to complete this project, when I plan to start reviewing the Treasuries and Tabloids of the 70s. I ‘m currently  missing all the Brave and Bold books (since I own most of that material in other formats), some Detective Comics and most of World’s Finest.

Today. we’re looking at the first 100-page Batman of 1974. It was featured prominently in house ads of the time and is  an entertaining collection:

King of the Gotham Jungle: A Robbins/ Novick/Giordano story in which Man-Bat attempts to reform.  This is my first-ever encounter with Getaway Genius, whom I’d heard of in a UK Batman annual of the early 70s.  Roy Reynolds is a snazzy dresser with elaborate facial hair but his elaborate planning overshadows the Man-Bat plot.  Robbins attempts to sound hip: ” Heavy! Could this be the beginning of an alliance between two dread creatures of the night?”

The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom: B&R in a 40s story where they trap a phony witch who has killed a writer. The witch turns out to be a Nazi Fifth Columnist printing “subversive literature”. A really effective and moody wartime story where Bruce Wayne is portrayed as an idle playboy.

The Bullet-Hole Club: The most satisfying strip in the mag concerns a crooked private detective’s scheme to join a strange club. Before it became a hellish inferno of cannibals, S&M and horrible rock music, Gotham City was thronged with strange gentleman’s clubs. You can always rely on 50s stories for death-traps and detection. The crook ends up going insane, too.

The Man Who Stole from Batman:  This Fox/ Moldoff / Giella collaboration from the mid-Sixties is my least-favourite strip in this issue. The villain is a forgettable Killer Moth stand-in called the Grasshopper but it’s really the introduction of silly sci-fi antagonist, The Outsider. It might have been more tolerable if pencilled by original cover artist Infantino but it’s dense with text and the art is stiff and unappealing. I used to love Fox’s scripting in my twenties but I often find him tedious now.

The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham: A Robin-at-University mystery short by one of my least favourite 70s writers, Elliot Maggin. The team of Dillin and Anderson really shine on the solo action.

The Son of the Joker: This is, I  think , the second, early -Sixties story  of Alfred’s fan fiction about the next generation B&R. The first story was reprinted in the excellent Batman from the 30s to the 70s paperback.  John Byrne’s Generations series borrows extensively from this charming and humorous story, as does Grant Morrison for the whole concept of his Batman and Robin series. The panel depicting the elderly Joker tending his garden and offering Bats lemonade is marvellous.

The Guardian of the Bat-Signal: a sweet little story about veteran Sgt. Harvey Hainer (not Haney!) who operates the Bat-Signal, despite his blindness.

Letters to the Batman: Julie Schwartz hints at more new material in this 100-page format and trails the upcoming Neal Adams story ” Night of the Prowling Wolf”. The title will change, as we’ll see.

Response to the O’Neil/Adams “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” in Batman 251 is overwhelmingly positive. The homicidal Joker and the grim, determined Batman are praised almost unanimously.

Interestingly, correspondent Scott Gibson is unimpressed by the surreal Spectre and Starman stories in the 1973 Two-Face Super-Spec and raves about Black Canary and Wildcat. DC, frustratingly, do not respond with a Black Canary/Wildcat book by Alex Toth.

Coming soon: Batman, a werewolf and Neal Adams.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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