The Final Conqueror

When I was in Glasgow at the start of the week, I saw the hardback “Tales of the Batman” by Archie Goodwin- something of a coincidence since I have been plugging my gaps in the Detective run that featured the 70s Manhunter.

batman tales

Today’s post is a “two-fer” and we start with Goodwin’s first issue of ‘Tec, issue 437 from November 1973. Replacing the legendary Julie Schwartz as editor, Goodwin reverted to the 1940s masthead as part of his experimental approach to reversing declining sales.

 

The ghoulish Golden Age-style cover heralds the coming of Brave & Bold stalwart Jim Aparo, whose “crisp and gutsy” style is used to great effect in a moody, silent sequence. “Deathmask” is a pulp-style story of corruption, murder and exoticism as Bats investigates the avatar of the Xochipec god of death.  Bruce Wayne is portrayed as an “effete snob”in this run . Just before my epochal 150th post, we’ll look at what Novick and O’Neill had wrought in the main Bat-book and contrast Goodwin’s approach.

The exoticism continues in “The Himalayan Incident”. This is the debut of Manhunter by Goodwin and 26-year-old Walt Simonson.  It’s  a stylish approach to a ground-breaking character, “the eye of a storm of violence and death”. The  costume, the healing factor, the zen archers and the clones serve to remind me of Shang-Chi and Iron Fist. Even the house ad for Chaykin’s Iron-Wolf in Weird Worlds feels very Marvel.

I actually owned a  copy of this landmark issue in the mid-70s. No idea how- maybe it turned up in our village shop, or was swapped with another kid. Certainly, it seemed a little different to my previous experience of ‘Tec:

 

In any case, let’s return to the ebay purchases…

detective comics 438 cover batman

The following month sees the move to the 100-page format for Detective Comics.  Issue 438 opens 1974 with a Haunted House story, “A Monster Walks Wayne Manor”.  In the mothballed manor, Alfred is attacked by a mutated Ubu, the brutish servant of Ra’s al Ghul. It’s a short but effective tale of greed and revenge. Aparo’s imaginative Batman logo is formed from ominous storm clouds.

On the letters page, Goodwin explains 70s economics and the nature of comics publishing. He indicates that the reprints will be themed or interconnected across DC books. Much of the remainder of the book is made up of Silver Age  stories which involve some detection. The stars are generally former back-up features from Schwartz’s tenure.

“World of the Magic Atom” is a story of sci-fi and magic by Fox, Kane and Greene. The acrobatic Atom recalls Spider-Man although sans humour and pathos.  Zatanna is a charming gamin-esque character but the story is a little polite and slow. How might a Ditko  depict the Irish mythology aspects of the sub-atomic world?

Fox returns with the masterly Joe Kubert in “The Men Who Moved the World”, a Lovecraftian adventure for Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The Winged Wonders are primal and god-like in this Lost World tale, my favourite reprint in this issue.

“Gotham Gang Line-Up” is a Finger/Giella story from the era of Batman’s New Look. A crime combine holds a contest to decide who’ll have the honour of executing the Dynamic Duo. Alfred sacrifices himself to shove B&R out of the path of a giant boulder.

It’s a dull and childish incident, fuelled by a bizarre bout of homosexual panic as it replaces the faithful butler with matronly Aunt Harriet, who lent a sitcom flavour to the tv show.

“The House that Fought Green Lantern” is a forgettable short by Fox, Kane and Giella. Hal Jordan pursues a fugitive bank robber to the booby-trapped mansion of a recluse. it’s the kind of harmless, if slightly tedious, juvenile fare from DC in the early 60s. Thankfully, the book improves with the last strip.

As a former editor of war books, Goodwin’s second chapter of Manhunter, “The Manhunter File”, involves globe-trotting combat and focuses on the hero’s weaponry. He uses the narrative to build the mystery of Paul Kirk’s death in 1976. In addition to Interpol agent Christine St. Clair, Goodwin introduces her superior Damon Nostrand.

Manhunter reads like a superior spy movie treatment and Simonson’s pencils are ornate and dynamic. If Goodwin and Simonson had launched their interpretation of The Hounds of Zaroff ( a cracking little Gothic picture; you should see it) one year later at the Other Company, we might now be watching Hugh Jackman play Paul Kirk in the cinema.

Next: Night of the Stalker

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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One comment on “The Final Conqueror

  1. Kid Robson says:

    I had issue #437 at the time and recall (re)reading it on my gran and grandpa’s scratchy red settee one Sunday when we were visiting. I don’t remember ever seeing any of the subsequent 100 pagers and consequently probably never had any when they first came out. A good few years ago, I managed to acquire a full set of the Manhunter run (including 437), and also have a couple of reprint issues of the Simonson strips. However, that book does look good.

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