The Most Dangerous Game

This afternoon’s post continues our celebration of The Dark Knight and features another recent ebay purchase. Detective Comics 443 , with its  yellow, orange  and violet cover, is as garish as the heroes contained within.

The frontispiece is a dramatic Walt Simonson portrait of  the dread Batman and Manhunter, who had been the back-up feature since issue 437. There is another striking two-page poster inside the comic.

Gotterdammerung: is the conclusion to Manhunter’s attempts to thwart the villainous Council who cloned him to create an army of killers.  This pulpish high adventure series has (in the two previous  segments I’ve read) explored some of the same territory as this book:

Batman is very much the guest star in this strip, as he attempts to avenge his “best friend”, private eye Dan Kingdom. Nope, me neither. Manhunter warns Bats off his planned raid on Council HQ. “You’re not a killer! And THIS–is a killing mission!”  Bats ignores the advice but Manhunter is as good as his word as he launches a suicide attack on Dr. Mykros.

It’s very surprising to see a character as modern,colourful and individual as Manhunter killed off so soon. Two years later, he could have been -would have been- the Wolverine of the JLA. But creator Archie Goodwin was leaving for Warren, I believe, so DC let him and Simonson end the saga of Manhunter. Apart from clone-appearances in Secret Society of Super-Villains and The Power Company, the Paul Kirk Manhunter has never returned.  Shang-Chi managed 125 issues and several  Giant-Sizes to boot.  Maybe not DC’s best decision.

With the Batman Family providing the material in Batman Super-Specs, the reprints here feature other super-heroes, tangential to the Gotham Guardian.

The Spectre: aside from Bernard Bailey’s eerie and exciting masthead , this is a nonsensical and juvenile 1941  adventure for the Spirit Sleuth. Stage magician Dr. Mephisto turns out to be the jewellery robber, the Blue Flame. Who’da thunk? At one point, Spec forces a confession out of Jimmy “Knife” Groggins after they’re both swallowed by a “mighty monster of space”. It’s all a far cry from Fleisher and Aparo’s “The Gasmen and the Spectre” advertised at the end of the strip.

The End of Sports:  This is the only solo story I’ve ever read of Big Gay Alan Scott’s athletic antagonist, the Sportsmaster.  It’s the 1948 sequel to his first appearance and he’s quite the terrorist here. GL defeats him in a series of sporting contests sans power ring. Now I know why he wore the black mask in his appearances: Crock is an ugly customer with a sleazy pencil moustache.  Incidentally,  Artemis, Green Arrow’s protegee in tv’s Young Justice is (still) the daughter of the Sportsmaster!

The Coming of the Creeper: this is the first time I ever read any of Ditko’s Sixties work for DC. I was surprised to find that Keith Giffen’s re-telling of this story in the 80s seems  reasonably faithful to the original.  A decidedly oddball character in the DC Universe, I prefer his origin in the Batman Animated Series, where the Creeper undergoes the same chemical bath as the Joker. It’s strange to see such a lengthy Ditko story in a DC book. Since it consists largely of the Creeper throwing punches, it feels very Marvel.

The Secret of Hunter’s Inn:  A 1943  B&R story featuring “those rotund rascals” Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  Like the Sportsmaster story, this could have been featured in Wanted, if it hadn’t been cancelled. The corpulent duo might seem comical but they try to kill B&R with carbon monoxide poisoning and Alfred (still a fat guy himself) has to save them. The plot, about two identical hotels, is contrived and the Tweed brothers aren’t that memorable.

A creakingly antique Spectre tale lets down an interesting collection featuring Golden Age villains I scarcely know. Of the remaining Super-Specs, there are five issues of  Detective I’d like to add to my collection.

The swan song of this Manhunter reminds me I hadn’t spoken about his Golden Age inspiration. Last Saturday, for the first time since 1976, I watched The Hounds of Zaroff aka The Most Dangerous Game. It’s the 1932 adaptation of the 1924 short story by Richard Connell. The plot concerns a crazed Russian aristo who hunts humans on his tropical island.  The film stars  Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks as the manhunting Count.  It’s a very effective thriller for its age and one “steeped in death”, to borrow  from Russell T. Davies.  I first saw it in the second season of BBC2 Saturday night double bills with  Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

The story and the film have inspired comics in the past but these characters especially: Kraven and Otto Orion.

Coming soon: Tell them Willy Hank is here

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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