Eggs Benedict Arnold

Today’s post puts a spotlight on the first issue of the Batman Family from the autumn of 1975. This series effectively replaces the Batman Giant and is a mix of new and reprinted material. I only read one issue of BatFam in the Bronze Age ; obviously it was a a sister title  to Superman Family, the anthology  formed by the amalgamation of the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen comics.

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The Batman figure on the cover is in fact a modified Superman, from the cover of Shazam:

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The Invader From Hell: this is a surprising story for several reasons. The corny humour of tongue-in cheek Elliot S! Maggin usually irritates me but here he treats the lead characters with respect and affection. Mike Grell’s colourful, stylised figures can look posed and plastic but here again, the sunlit setting of the US capitol is refreshing, after months of gloomy Gotham.

The biggest surprise in this fanciful tale of the resurrection of an infamous American figure is the revelation of the real villain- the Devil! We are used to overt Satanic reference at 70s Marvel ( Ghost Rider, Satana and Son of Satan, obviously). In a bat-book it’s very jarring but it does give the first team-up of the Dynamite Duo a unique quality. I probably would have enjoyed an ongoing Grell series starring Babs & Dick.

The Great Handcuff King: amateur sleuth Alfred buys some handcuffs- steady, Dr. Wertham- and accidentally apprehends the Hurton Gang in primitive slapstick from 1945.

Commisoner Gordon’s Death-Threat: a tedious short by Fox, Moldoff & Giella from one of my earliest Bat-books, although I have no recollection of it.

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 November 1966

A conviction from 40 years ago haunts Gordon- suggesting he may be in his early sixties. Hipster Robin quips: ” Like man, those rat-finks never learn”.

Challenge of the Man-Bat:  this Robbins/Adams/Giordano short was originally published in the 400th issue of Detective Comics. Not only does it introduce were-bat Langstrom in an atmospheric tale of high-tech crime and Gothic horror, we also get to “dig this experimental car”- the sleek, ultra-realistic 70s Batmobile.

  I’d read this story once before in the b/w Superheroes UK monthly of the very early 80s. I would direct you to Kid Robson’s Crivvens blog to see a  gallery of vibrant covers from that mag.

The comic also features text and clip-art features on the origins of Batgirl and Robin and Alfred’s history- from rotund Cockney to the bizarre Outsider.

Interestingly, the Dynamite Duo was originally scheduled for First Issue Special 6 ( actually Kirby’s 70s kid gang, the Dingbats).

First Issue Special was an odd idea- a revival of the Silver Age Showcase but only in the sense that it was a “try-out book”. The original Showcase devoted three consecutive issues to the concept but each FIS was only ever a one-off. There was no way of measuring sales on the title, thereby learning which feature might actually have an audience. Nevertheless, many of the oddball creations in FIS have gone on to be revived in the last decade and a half.

Metamorpho and the Creeper were 60s cult characters who had garnered a few guest appearances in the Bronze Age. Manhunter and Starman were revivals of Golden Age names and the former, probably, had the biggest impact in the DCU, thanks to Englehart.

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Dr. Fate was a gorgeous comic- and the first FIS I ever got- but others were dated (Lady Cop) or terribly bland (Codename: Assassin). or just terrible, like the Outsiders ( the “Super Freaks”).

The one “palpable hit” appeared to be  The Warlord.  Mike Grell’s Burroughsian fantasy was clearly DC’s only genuine  rival to Marvel’s Conan.

Marvel of course also launched one-off comics in both Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight in the same time period. Those concepts included  revivals ( Sub-Mariner); spin-offs from the b/w line (Satana again);  solo stories for b-listers (Hercules); movie tie-ins ( Sinbad) or  nostalgia ( Liberty Legion). In fact Marvel may have been more successful in this endeavour, given the longevity of  Spider-Woman and Moon Knight.

Next time, we’ll look at the second issue of BatFam and hopefully, the Silver Age comic strips, reprinted by IDW and originally featured in the 60s Smash weekly.

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Too Orangey For Crows

After yet another technical hitch in the public library, this week’s post is another Bat- review. This time it’s the very last Batman Giant of the Bronze Age, issue 262 from April 1975.

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The previous issue was the last 100-page Super-Spectacular; I also own a Legion giant ( with the “Villainaires”) and a Kamandi issue in this format. There are no Golden Age reprints this month but the main feature is another villain revival by Denny O’Neil.

The O’Neil/Robbins/Adams era of the early 70s had seen a scarcity of appearances of the Silver Age Bat-Villains. Perhaps they were too greatly associated with the Adam West-Camp era. However, O’Neil and Adams  revivified the Joker and Two-Face as dangerous psychopaths. While  O’Neils subsequent portrayals of Catwoman and the Penguin had been corny and rather juvenile, he is more successful here with B-lister, the Scarecrow, an academic turned costumed criminal.

The Scarecrow’s Trail of Fear features pencils by Conan’s Ernie Chua/Chan. It’s not a jarring departure from Novick; unflashy but consistent with the look of the book. There’s  a plausible gimmick in the form of Scarecrow’s device which affects the paraympathetic nervous system. O’Neil’s love of stagey underworld slang -” hat”, “dingus” and “pineapple” -is groan-worthy and the creepy image of the Scarecrow on a roller-coaster (on the dark, moody blue cover) isn’t actually in the script. However, it’s a mildly entertaining exploit of the dread Batman.

The Scarecrow seems ideally suited to Wanted – the World’s Most Dangerous Villains. While a Golden Age foe with only two appearances,  his place in the  modern Batman canon is probably largely down to his resonance with Goth/Metal/horror culture from the late 80s to today. Aside from one atmospheric Silver Age Infantino cover, I knew him only as a  Joker imitator  in a couple of JLA stories.

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The reprint feature in the comic is a two-parter in “the grand old tradition” by Fox/Infantino and Green. I first read The Round-Robin Death Threats and Where There’s a Will-There’s a Slay in the b/w Super DC monthly more than 40 years ago.

This is a gorgeous story about a series of intricately-planned murders. It echoes the look of the tv series without being too tongue-in-cheek ( if one overlooks the giant electro-magnet, Batman calling a secretary “my dear ” and the Bat-Channel titles) The “eerie climax” heavily features Robin tracking down the criminal scientist “Doc” Hastings.  It’s superior to any of the  Fox-Moldoff stuff of the period, such as the “Outsider” serial.

There’s a two-page Bat-Trivia Quiz with cameos by Batwoman, Bat-Mite and Betty Kane/ Bat-Girl – a character unseen since long before the debut of Barbara Gordon. I get a sense that this unloved and derided Bat-Era is gradually being rehabilitated by 1975.

This was the second time I’d read this particular giant. Around 1980, it was part of the collection of my school friend Graham Sim, who moved from Hamilton to Dumfries in 1988. We subsequently lost touch . The only trace I can find of him on the internet is a reference to a company directorship- and even that was twenty years ago. I would like to think he might see this post.

Coming soon: The Dynamite Duo; the Joker’s Daughter; and in the late summer, Kull and the Barbarians.

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Christmas in June

On a bright day in flaming June, a Christmas Batman post. It’s taken me six months to reach and read the last of the 100-page Batman super-spectaculars. As we know, these were great value in 1974-75, packed with Golden and Silver Age material for pennies. However, this last hurrah, from March 1975, is quite disappointing. Issue 261 was, again, not one I read at the time- I picked it up in November 2013.

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The Mystery That Never Was: retired cop Hal Hemingway sacrifices himself to save Bats in a workaday, er,  mystery. Moody pictures by Novick. Wisely, O’Neil has abandoned the campy tone of his recent villain revival stories but his dialogue is still non-naturalistic. (3)

Crime’s Manhunt (1944): Brainy Bulow runs a racket to capture crooks and collect the reward. Lots of action but not really my cup of tea. (5)

1001 Inventions of Batman(1957): mob leader Verne Hainey recalls Bat-writers Bob Haney and David Vern Reed. An uninvolving story that looks at Batman’s technology including a “flying eye” device. (6)

A Christmas Peril ( 1945):  B&R re-enact “A Christmas Carol” when they meet Scranton Loring, the Richest Boy in the World. Corny Xmas fun, as the boy millionaire learns The Secret of Real Happiness. Batman and Robin end the story by breaking the fourth wall with festive greetings. Quite rightly. (1)

The Great Batman Contest( 1956): Bats sponsors kids with the prize of a criminology course for the best new bat-weapon invention. The winner is Jeff Keating and instructions to build his Bat-Kite are rather charmingly featured in a one-page Batman(sic) Workshop. We meet Stilts Morgan, the Harbor Pirate, mentioned in “The Doors that Hid Disaster” (2)

The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City( 1965): “He’s more dangerous than anyone here ever thought”. The Sweet sang about Blockbuster in the memorable Glam Rock hit of my childhood. Bruce wayne saves a boy named Mark Desmond from quicksand; puny Mark experiments with SCIENCE! and become the Blockbuster, a Hulk rip-off. The moody cover was reprinted in a Double Double comic I had as a child. It featured the debuts of Batgirl and Spellbinder but this story  (by Fox/Infantino) is dull. The gimmick is a villain who trusts Bruce Wayne, which forces Bats ro unmask when they meet. Robin coins some Haney-esque slang: “freep”, a combination of “freak” and “creep” (4)

The Women in Batman’s Life: double-page feature that condenses the contents of the 1969 giant, Batman 208, which we’ve previously discussed. There are two additions, Virginia Jenkins (star of the 1968 hoax marriage story “Marital Bliss Miss”) and Talia al Ghul.

With the next issue, which oddly seemed to have a Gothic, Hallowe’en theme, Batman returned to monthly publication but in a slimmer format.

Coming soon: 1976

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