The countdown to the Dark Knight Rises continues! This morning’s 100-page Super-Spectacular was a very recent ebay purchase. It’s the July-August 1974 issue of Batman. The Cardy cover is a vivid red – surprisingly so for the Darknight Detective- but this issue’s theme is tales of comedy (and tragedy).
Hail, Emperor Penguin!: There seems to have been an edict from editor Schwartz to revive the classic Bat-Villains in ’73-74, beginning with Adams’ cinematic Joker story. Catwoman’s return in the previous issue’s circus story was corny; here, O’Neil mimics the tone of the Adam West Batman tv show, with boy-king Peeble IV of Swawak. This story very clearly describes itself as “old-fashioned Batman action made modern”. Robin the Teen Wonder features extensively, the Penguin’s bird-ally has a curare-tipped beak and there’s a diabolical death-trap. Holy Sixties Flashback! It ends on a surprisingly melancholy note as Bats rejects Talia, who’s been masquerading as a harem girl, and the other “modern” element aside from University-student Grayson.
The art by Novick and Giordano is a smooth and colourful blend of naturalism with the absurd. I like Adam West’s Batman more than Christian Bale’s but the retro-style must have jarred the regular readership
The Penguin’s Unique Umbrellas: an “extract from Batman’s crime- file”, this is a 2-page feature with panels of trick umbrellas spanning from 1942-1967. I was interested to note that Pengy was popular enough to appear in close succession- Batman 33,36 and 38 in 1946. Burgess Meredith remains one of my favourite Bat-villains.
Hunt for a Robin Killer: I already own this dynamic Gil Kane story of an obsessive Batman in a Double Double comic but I enjoyed it again. It’s a Marvel-esque series of fistfights and melodrama, right down to Batman’s impassioned vow against a lightning-riven sky. Visually, it’s a halfway house between the preppy Batman of Infantino and the shadowy, dread Dark Knight of Adams and Novick.
Ally Babble and the Fourteen Peeves: Babble is a flashily-dressed, well-intentioned meddler who drives people, er, batty with his non-stop chatter. I don’t think the gimmick works very well in a soundless medium. To my knowledge, there was only one more “talky toon”, Ally Babble and the Four Tea Leaves. Not very imaginative.
The Conversational Clue: An unmemorable short starring the gentleman’s gentleman. I’d noticed Alfred’s exaggerated “rawther” before but this was the first time I spotted ” lookin'”; “leapin'” or “murderin””. Very sloppy pronunciation from the scholarly sleuth. I’d rather read about him spanking Catwoman again .
Die Small, Die Big!: Bob Kanigher piles on the pathos in the tale of a dying, neurasthenic postman who impersonates Batman to thwart a murderous conspiracy. Batman’s tears fall as Herbert Small dies; “a hitherto mute canary begins to sing triumphantly” and Kanigher’s morality tale spirals into bathos. I’m afraid I was never a fan of Bob Brown’s art.
Letters to the Batman: six rave responses to Neal Adams’ “Moon of the Wolf”. One LoC admonishes Wein for “distracting melodramatics”, which I think is unwarranted. Another comments wistfully about Batman’s “iceberg view of love”.
Rackety-Rax Racket: This story homages a 1932 comedy about a gangster and a college football team. The Joker, whose treasure vaults would give Conan the Barbarian apoplexy, kidnaps Batman. The “Mocking Mountebank of Menace” then makes Robin undergo fraternity initiation pranks. It’s quite a volte-face, seeing a Joker whose motivation is simply humiliating the Dynamic Duo, rather than, you know, feeding them to a shark. The strip is also of curiosity value regarding the customs of American college boys.
There’s nothing really funny about this issue; it’s largely whimsical apart from the overwrought pathos of the Herbert Small story and the action of the Kane strip. It’s interesting as a change of pace but I would have preferred a Fifties story to “Die Small…”
That summer, we had a family holiday in a caravan, outside Borgue by Kirkcudbright. Let’s have a glimpse at what Marvel UK had to offer at that time, thirty-eight years ago!
Kirby’s New Men and the debut of the Inhumans alongside Fu Manchu!
Coming soon: The Marvel Family.
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