Tell Them Willy Hank Is Here

This morning’s post is the last in celebration of The Dark Knight Rises. It also marks the last 100-page Super-Spectacular that I bought off the spinner rack in the Seventies.  All subsequent entries were purchased after the Super-Spec Era had ended. Batman 259 probably came from Baird’s store in Strathaven but I’m not one hundred per cent certain.

Night of The Shadow: this is the sequel to the first meeting of The Batman and The Shadow in issue 253 and is dedicated to Bill Finger,  creator of  all the major Bat-villains, who died in January ’74  ( aged only ten years older than I am now!)

Just in case there’s the remote possibility that you don’t know, the first-ever Batman story was lifted from an adventure of The Shadow, a crime-fighting vigilante with hypnotic abilities. This weird avenger of the night adopted the guise of a wealthy playboy by day and was the star of pulp magazines, film and radio.

This strip shows that a very young Bruce Wayne’s life was saved by the Shadow, 25 years earlier ( in 1949).  The criminal in the story is the bizarrely named Willy Hank Stamper, “Boy Genius of Crime”. This perhaps explains his dialogue, which is Hank McCoy on an off-day: ” I seek revenge, not your paltry goods”

The story stretches the Shadow’s career into the post-war years. It also dates Seventies Batman terribly. Yet it wouldn’t have worked with the Earth-2 Batman because the crime would have had to take place before the First World War. It seems O’Neil was mainly interested in the cross- promotional opportunity rather than internal logic. That said, Novick’s Batman looks fantastic. The young Batman who thanks his inspiration is a nice touch by O’Neil, quite at odds with the driven, obsessive Dark Knight of today.

I bought both premier issues of the 80s series but never read this one

The Shadow’s first DC series ended in September ’75, after a twelve-issue run. That was quite impressive for a licensed title in the Bronze Age. I don’t know  whether it was a result of the paper shortage or a gradual retreat from “weird mystery”  back to campy superheroics  ( Marvel’s Man-Thing and Frankenstein Monster had bitten the dust that autumn). In any case, the Shadow’s involvement in the Batman’s history soon went away. It wasn’t referenced at all in one of the first mini-series,  Untold Legend of the Batman (1980)

The theme of the remaining reprints is Batman-impersonators. The inclusion  of themed material  is a pleasing connection to the Giant Batman issues of the early 70s.

The Great Batman Swindle: my favourite story in the collection dates from the summer of 1955. A gang of crooks try to hoodwink millionaire yachtsman Ned Judson into joining their phony Brotherhood of Batmen. This is, of course, a reference to the Phantom‘s gimmick. Judson is such a noble, dedicated chap, you can’t help rooting for him.

The Strange Costumes of Batman: This story was parodied in the final, April issue of Batman Brave and Bold.  The ominous “Emergency Bat-Costume”  allows Robin to impersonate Batman. A pacy short from  1950.

A New Look For Robin: that old favourite, costumes designed by readers. There are whole websites devoted to this activity these days, like Project Rooftop. In an attempt to evoke a  modern “teen-age” image, Carol Strickland draws Dick with a moustache – an image-change mooted in the extra letters page of the Catwoman 100-pager. “Strick” also designed the costume worn in the 70s by Light Lass.

Another Legion fan, Jim (now James)  Ricklef submits a design very like the Neal Adams costume adopted by the Earth-2 Robin. I suspect the home planet of Amazonian 90s Legionnaire Laurel Gand was named after Ricklef.

Heroes By Proxy: a 1945 comedy in which hopeless private detectives, Hawke and Wrenn, try to imitate B&R to make money. They remind me of Hocus and Pocus in Superman. The narration of the story is identical to the Adam West tv series: ” But wait! We know this house- the home of Bruce Wayne, society playboy”.  It’s interesting that the strip is confident enough to parody itself.

Two Batmen Too Many: Another substandard mid-Sixties Bat-story, written this time by Bill Finger. Bats engineers a bizarre scheme to capture “Numbers” Garvey with a giant and a miniature Batman supposedly  brought to life by a shaman’s powers.  The impersonators here are Elongated Man and the Atom but the story is dreary and the art by Moldoff and Giella stiff and juvenile. Compare this to Marvel in December, 1965 where the FF meet the Inhumans for the first time and Spider-Man’s Master Planner storyline is kicking off. DC must have looked so old hat.

The Failure of Bruce Wayne: Great-Uncle Silas Wayne is dying but he dismisses Bruce as a rich idle, given the adventurous legacy of  the family. To win his approval, Bruce then publicly masquerades as Batman to bust a gang and reveals his secret to the dying relative.  If you’re asking why he  didn’t just do that in the first place, it’s from 1958. Stray relatives like Silas, Aunt Agatha or detective Bruce N. Wayne don’t appear in Christopher Nolan films either.

Another entertaining issue of Batman, it would be in the Super-Spec Top Ten but not Top Five. Unlike the next-but-one entry…

Coming soon: The Legion of Super-Executioners

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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