Retro Comics are Awesome

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #200
October 1953

Radio Station C-R-I-M-E!
Script: ? Pencils: Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Two hundred issues of Detective Comics, and unlike what would be done today, there's no trumpeting of the fact that it's an anniversary issue. It's just another issue of a series that no doubt survived as long as it did because of Batman. It's certainly only around today because it's a Batman book. And I like the fact that this story has Batman using his detective skills versus some fairly resourceful criminals, using a fake radio station to coordinate their crimes. And somehow they're getting information directly from police headquarters, and it takes Batman most of the story to figure out how it's done. There are no moles in police headquarters and no eavesdropping devices. That big window behind Gordon's desk might have something to do with it....

This is one of those mysteries where Batman slowly peels away layer after layer until he finally solves it, and even when he does there's a final rescue of Robin that's needed, and Batman uses station CRIME to trap the last remaining crooks. The story is a satisfying mix of action and mystery, and really is quite a good showcase for Batman's brand of crime-fighting. There are some nice action scenes, including Robin stopping a runaway car and Batman using the Batplane and a smokescreen to force a helicopter to the ground.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #201
November 1953

Human Target!
Script: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

I believe we've reached the first Sheldon Moldoff-drawn story. I don't remember seeing his name in the credits before. And it's the first Human Target appearance, though like some other characters (such as Deadshot) who appear in this era, the original version is very different from what will come later. The original Human Target is Fred Venable, expert impersonator, and he hires out his services to make himself a target instead of vulnerable individuals. He's quite open with Batman about who he is and why he is doing this. His daughter is crippled and he needs money for the operations that will allow her to walk again. He's willing to take major risks to earn that money. With Batman and Robin on his side, he's got a far better chance of living through this dangerous venture. As an aside, the Doctor Who fan in me smiled at a character Venable impersonates named Tom Baker, who is of course my favorite.

Things get more complicated when some crooks what Venable's services to impersonate him so the syndicate will kill Venable and think he's dead, leaving him safe from their retribution. At this point Batman takes a hand and becomes the Human Target in order to round up Blinky Grove and his gang, and of course he succeeds, with a little help from Venable after all, when Venable impersonates Batman. Venable lives, earns the money needed for his daughter's medical treatment, and Grove's gang is behind bars. I half expected some twist ending, but thankfully there's nothing of the sort. Venable is as earnest and straightforward as he appears to be, and we get a nice feel-good ending.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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World's Finest Comics #67
November-December 1953

The Millionaire Detective!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Archibald Vantyne inherits $100,000,000 from his father and goes on a life of thrill-seeking. When he helps foil a jewel robbery at a high-class ball, he decides that catching crooks is the most fun he's ever had, and he's going to go into the detective business to capture "the Zero", unknown crime boss. So Vantyne starts spending like there's no tomorrow, renting a building and buying equipment. Batman and Robin are sure this will mean nothing but trouble, and they're right as he gets in their way several times, allowing the Zero to get away. Batman ultimately joins his agency as himself, Bruce Wayne, in order to keep a closer eye on him, and when the Zero is finally caught, it turns out to be a man who tried to cash in on Vantyne's tip reward tactics. Vantyne realizes he missed several obvious clues that were right in front of him and bows out.

More great Dick Sprang art (something that almost goes without saying) livens up this story, and I love the way he almost always draws Vantyne with a huge smile on his face, as if the guy's having the time of his life. There are a couple of nice silhouette shots of Batman in this story that I like, and depictions like that always feel more modern to me, since the "scare crooks" aspect of the character don't really play into these stories much at this point. I have to laugh at Robin's complaint "why don't millionaires stay out of detective work?" Makes me wonder who else he's talking about, and isn't Bruce a millionaire himself, Robin?

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern #32
October 1964

I love this cover, with Hal being dragged into the power battery and Tom trying to stop it. It really piqued my curiosity for the story. But we don't get to that right away, the first story of the issue is something else entirely...

Green Lantern's Wedding Day
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

So it's finally happened! Hal tells Carol that he's Green Lantern after a "truth machine" at the Coast City Science Fair prompts Carol to confess that she loves Hal more than Green Lantern. He proposes and she accepts. By page 3, they're standing in front of the minister and he pronounces them man and wife.... only for everyone to vanish, with Hal finding himself in the aircraft hanger, with Tom asking him where he's been for the past few days. A very confused Hal, wondering where his wife is, has to reconstruct the past few days, and he does manage to learn the answer.

Is it possible that there is another Earth where this is another Hal Jordan - Green Lantern - just as there is Earth-Two where Alan Scott - Green Lantern - exists and Earth-three, where Power Ring lives?

It's the multiverse, not named as such, and the old culprit radiation ("Espian Radiation", a helpful scientist explains to GL, a "yellowish" form of radiation of course) sent him to another Earth where he spent some time living the life of another Hal Jordan. He wasn't aware of what happened the first time, but this time he's able to remain himself, stop a crime and then find and interact with this Earth's Hal and Carol. The two Hals take steps to prevent this from happening again. When he tries the truth machine on Carol for real, things turn out differently and she says she loves Green Lantern, and then she puts Hal firmly in the friend zone. Ouch.

At least some version of Hal finally settled down with Carol. I imagine if I was a first-time reader I might have been taken in by the first few pages, but of course I knew Hal and Carol have been off and on the entire time they've been published. I like to think they'll ultimately end up together in the end.

Power Battery Peril!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

Hal is charging his ring when his hand is drawn into the power battery. We actually get a close approximation of the cover image as he's pulled in and Tom tries to stop it, to no avail. Hal is drawn into the battery and projected to the planet Thronn by a being named Energiman, one of a number of super-powered beings on their planet (sort of an alien Justice League) who protected their planet until a being named Vant Orl appeared. He defeated and imprisoned them, but Energiman's ability to turn physical matter into energy allowed him to detect and transport Green Lantern to his planet.

Hal is unable to free the imprisoned heroes and rather emotionally declares that he'll do everything he can to stop Vant Orl. Orl can also speak telepathically through the power ring, and he gives GL a tough fight, in part because he is able to interfere with Hal's ability to use the ring. Both of them are applying their willpower to the ring, and once Hal figures that out, he's able to capture Vant Orl rather easily. He returns to the prison, applies his full willpower, and is able to free the imprisoned heroes. Sadly Energiman gave his life to bring Green Lantern to the planet. Hal promises to bring the Guardians the idea to appoint a Green Lantern for this space sector.

I like the fact that Hal is so moved by Energiman's sacrifice. I've laughed a bit at the silliness of his love life and how he sabotages his own efforts, but there is another side to the character. He really does care about life and he takes his Green Lantern duties very seriously. Once again his ability to think on his feet while fighting for his life shows that he's not some "dumb jock" but a thoughtful, intelligent person who is very creative with how he uses the power ring.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman: The City of Owls - I don't know if books from 2011-12 are all that retro, but they're not current, so this seems like the best place to put them. The Court of Owls was a nice idea by Snyder, a secret society influencing life in Gotham that is so well-hidden that even Batman is convinced they don't exist. In the first half of the story he found out otherwise as they capture and tortured him, though he finally escaped. The book begins as Bruce is at home recovering when the Court's undead assassins, the Talons, attack Wayne Manor and ultimately get into the Batcave. Bruce warns all his usual allies that they're attacking many prominent men and women in Gotham, and though some are indeed killed, Nightwing, Robin, etc. manage to save a good many.

Batman is determined after this to take the Court down once and for all, and when he finally tracks them down, they're all dead, poisoned. There's some great imagery with all these well dressed, clearly high-society people sitting around a long formal dining table in the blank white owl masks, slumped over. The culprit turns out to be one of their own, a man who claims to be Bruce's younger brother. Lincoln March, aka Thomas Wayne Jr. Bruce believes that he's lying, as he later explains to Dick Grayson: his mom was pregnant, but was involved in a car accident, with the baby born prematurely and dying shortly thereafter. Bruce chalks it up to the Court of Owls lying to March. Batman's fight with Thomas March, who took the Talon serum and is undead like them now, puts Batman through some physical punishment that he really shouldn't have survived. I like Scott Snyder's tendency to go way over the top and really embrace the craziness of comic book storytelling in Justice League and Metal, but it doesn't always work with Batman, who is only human. When he's slammed into the side of a skyscraper hard enough to leave an impact crater and shatter the glass, h e really should have broken every bone in his body. And I still don't quite get how he survived a fall from a airplane. He's shown with a cast and in a wheelchair recovering when it's all over, but still... I suspend a lot of disbelief for superhero comics, but Snyder pushes it.

So the Owls are crippled but not gone, and March is apparently buried under a collapsed skyscraper. The book collects a few more stories. One introduces Harper Row, who apparently is being set up to be another Batman sidekick. I don't particularly like her or her story, so I can't say I'm all that interested in seeing how it progresses. The other story has Mr. Freeze escaping from Arkham, and this is the (infamous) retcon where Nora, who he is obsessed with finding a cure for, was never his wife at all, just some random cryogenically frozen person who he fixated on. Also Mr. Freeze has a mohawk in the story for no discernable reason.

I liked the Court of Owls storyline, but the other two are dull and a retcon that removes the sympathetic aspect of Freeze's character, which is not a move I care for. Some of Batman's villains are irredeemably bad, so it's good to have one that has at least an aspect of his character that readers can empathize with. I don't see that removing that improves Mr. Freeze in any way.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman: Death of the Family - A sizeable portion of Snyder's run on Batman consists of a couple of Joker storylines, with seemingly more time spent on him than any other Batman villain. This one has the Joker attempting to turn Batman and his various allies against each other. In one of the more bizarre plots of the early New 52, which I remember from looking through Detective Comics #1, the Joker had the skin of his face cut off (how did he not die of infection?) so here he retrieves the face and wears it like a mask for most of the story. The removed face wasn't Scott Snyder's plot, but he runs with it and uses it fairly effectively to make the Joker creepier as the Joker reenacts his earliest crimes and sends pointed messages to Batman, telling him that he's soft and weak because of all his allies. It's meant to be a story that illustrates just how well Batman and Joker know each other after all these years, something Bruce admits at one point. And there are hints that the Joker knows who Batman really is, something Batman doesn't think is possible. Snyder does a good job of keeping things ambiguous.

It's a Batman horror story, with lots of blood and violence and gruesome body horror hints and imagery. How well it works will depend on whether or not you like the Joker as a nothing more than a sadistic murder machine who plans and plots and isn't really funny despite some stand-up comedian dialogue. It works, though I prefer a Joker that can actually generate a few laughs from time to time. Like so many of these characters, Batman included, there's a range of interpretations, all of which have been used over the years and which can work. The first few Joker stories present a character that's probably not all that different from Snyder's version, so this is consistent with the original conception of the character. And interestingly, in the end, Batman seemingly decides to let the Joker fall to his death over a waterfall deep in a cave, after telling him that he knows who he really is, which makes the Joker really angry, He doesn't want to hear it and hits Batman in the face with one of his buzzers, falling into the darkness. Depending on whether Three Jokers is canon or not, Bruce really does know who the Joker is.

I can't say I enjoyed this one as much as the Court of Owls, but it's an effective Joker story. On to the next volume, which I believe is the New 52 Batman's Year One: Zero Year, Secret City.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman vol. 4: Zero Year - Secret City - This is the first part of Scott Snyder's "Year One" for the New 52 continuity. The collected volume includes the script for the first issue of the storyline and Snyder actually talks about Year One and how he wants this storyline to be different. It should be big, colorful and bombastic rather than noir and gangsters, as much as he loves that story. It's also set "six years ago", so in the five years New 52 timeline, Batman started a year earlier.

Snyder also incorporates more of Batman's old story concepts than Miller did. In this case, the Red Hood is the main villain of this portion of the Zero Year storyline. But there's not just one Red Hood, there's a whole gang of them terrorizing Gotham. Bruce is not yet Batman when the story begins, he's using a series of disguises and coordinating with Alfred and doing Batman-like things, but he hasn't adopted the costume and persona of Batman yet. Bruce's uncle Phillip Kane is running Wayne Enterprises and tries to engage Bruce in running the company, something Bruce has no interest in. All he cares about is his war on crime, to keep others from experiencing the same thing he did when he parents were killed in front of him. In this version Alfred is much more on his side than is typical for these early days type of storylines, as much as he'd prefer Bruce to live a normal life and find happiness.

Edward Nygma is also a part of the storyline, though he doesn't adopt the Riddler persona until the very end of the volume. He works for Bruce's uncle Phillip, and is written as a bit obsessive and perfectly willing to commit murder to achieve his goals. He tries to have Bruce killed several times, before quitting Wayne Enterprises and striking out on his own. He has a connection with the Red Hood gang, and in fact they're working towards Nygma's long term goals. When they fail and are stopped by Batman, the Riddler goes to plan B, hinted at in the opening pages of the book.

I like the story quite a bit. I can't see it becoming the evergreen book that Year One has been, because it lacks that story's simplicity and reputation. But I like some of the ideas that Snyder puts into the story, such as Bruce living for a while in an apartment near Crime Alley, or Alfred positively critiquing the Batman persona by looking back at his acting career and talking about how the audience roots for the performer. I like the acknowledgement that Batman is a role that Bruce plays. It did strike me that even though Red Hood One isn't the Joker yet, he is the man who will become the Joker (and he falls into the acid at Ace Chemicals at the end of the story), so we've essentially added to the number of issues Snyder spends with the Joker as the main villain of his run. The personality is the same. I like that we see more of Bruce's family in the form of his uncle, who may be using the future Riddler as a consultant, but who comes down on the right side in the end. He doesn't live through the story, sadly.

There's a nice two-page spread when Batman makes his first appearance that recreates the cover to Detective Comics 27. Batman even wears purple gloves in this story as he did for that first story. I was looking through the next volume, and Bruce's fiancé from those early Detective Comics issues, Julie Madison, will make an appearance in the storyline. The Joker being the Red Hood is a 1950s story that I've reviewed in this thread. There are some well-employed references to the past even in this "jettison our history" New 52 comic.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman vol. 5 - Zero Year, Dark City - We're still in the New 52 continuity here. I'm going to review volume 5 in two parts, because it's two story arcs. The first four issues involve the Riddler's master plan going on in the background, something Batman's aware of and working to stop, but the main villain of this arc that he's got to get past is Karl Helfern, aka Dr. Death. He's a reimagined version of the Golden Age villain. That Dr. Death turns up in two back to back stories very early in Batman's career, before Robin becomes a part of the series, where he had developed some spore toxin. See my review of those original stories here: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1140&p=50967&hilit= ... ics#p50967

Here Dr. Death was working on a serum to help repair bones and protect the body, but it doesn't work quite as he wanted it to. In experimenting on himself with it he's become horribly deformed. Any time he sustains an injury, the bones grow at a rapid rate to compensate, something that will ultimately end up killing him. Over the four issue arc he nearly kills Bruce, though Lucius Fox is able to inject Bruce with a vaccine that prevents the bone growth serum from affecting him. There are points in the story where he's barely recognizable as human, he's taken so much damage. Batman is unable to stop the Riddler's plan to shut down Gotham's power grid, and the story ends with the Riddler outwitting the police and stopping Batman, with Gotham under his control. We're definitely in horror story territory here with the disfigured Helfern.

But there's also some inspiration drawn from Year One, with the police out to kill Batman, and thanks to the Riddler tipping them off, they know exactly where to find him and nearly manage to trap and kill him. Gordon saves his life, and in a great scene explains who he is and why he acts the way he does. It's the beginning of the Batman/Gordon friendship, and it really is nicely written. Some of Snyder's character moments work very well, and this is one of those moments.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman vol. 5 - Zero Year: Savage City - A big part of the plot of this story in the second half of this volume is just like "The Dark Knight Rises", with the Riddler having contrived to cut Gotham off from the rest of the world by flooding the tunnels into the city and holding the city hostage by means of WMD, in this case poison gas that he'll release if anyone tries to come in as opposed to the nuclear bomb in the movie. He's also released some of Pamela Isley's plant growth formula into Gotham, resulting in areas that are overgrown with plant life. Every day the Riddler appears on a giant screen in midtown and challenges Gotham to "get smarter" and pose him a riddle. If he can't guess the answer, he'll return control of the city to them, but if he guesses (and he always does), he drops the challenger into a hyena pit. He claims this is all "tough love" and that his intentions are to make the people of Gotham better and tougher, but it's pretty clear that he's just a psychopath, because his endgame will result in the deaths of a huge amount of people.

The extreme situation gives Batman a number of chances to be awesome. He of course challenges the Riddler and keeps him talking longer than most while Lucius Fox and Jim Gordon attempt to trace the signal to find out where the Riddler is hiding. When Batman gets dropped into the pit and finds that the hyenas have been replaced by lions, he manages to subdue one and kill the other, asking the Riddler if that's all he's got. When the trace leads to a dead end and there are only minutes to stop an airstrike on the city, it's Batman who makes a guess as to where the Riddler's base is, and he gets it right: the Sphinx room in the museum where Bruce and Edward Nygma met way back at the beginning of the story. The Riddler still wants to challenge Batman with riddles, and Batman plays along until the power is cut and the airstrike is called off, after which he takes out the now-powerless to stop him Riddler.

I often think of Dark Knights Metal when thinking of Snyder's writing, and just how much he buys into the most crazy (in a good way) elements of comic-book storytelling to give the heroes some big moments, and that's essentially what we have here on a more human scale since it's Batman who has to tackle the problem. The story works if we accept that the Riddler is just out to kill a bunch of people in a way that amuses him. He doesn't really have any sort of rational goal. The situation gives Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon and Batman a lot of chances to display heroism and have some moments to shine, which is the kind of thing I like reading these books for. Even Alfred gets a good scene or two, though his role in the story is minimal. Duke Thomas is introduced here, and I think I'm going to like him far more than the annoying Harper Row. Zero Year turns out to be the in-story name that Gotham residents give these events, which is interesting. I've been reading Batman Eternal (which I also found for a cheap price at Ollie's) and several characters refer back to "the Zero Year event" as the time when both Batman and Gordon became prominent in terms of fighting crime.

I can't help but think of this as some alternate version of The Dark Knight Rises. I like it. The Riddler is psycho, dangerous and entertaining as a villain, and Batman and the other main characters get plenty of chances for action and heroics. And Julie Madison is introduced into this continuity at the end of the story as Alfred tries to set her up with Bruce, imagining Bruce in the future married to her with a family and a happy, normal life. But alas, it's not to be. The final panel is Batman swinging over the city.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman Eternal vol 1 - Collects Batman: Eternal issues #1-21. I think the title was chosen because these plotlines just go on and on and on....

I remember when this series was on the shelf. It was a weekly Batman series with a variety of writers and artists, as is to be expected for a book coming out every week. I didn't read it at the time, and that's probably good, because I think the pace of the series would have been frustrating. We talk about "graphic novels", and this series qualifies more than most, because it is a long-form story with a lot of characters and multiple plotlines that take a long time to find any resolution. I like it in collected format and elements of the story are interesting, though it looks like we once again have the whole "who is the ultimate secret villain" type of plot where uncovering one mastermind just leads to another behind him, and then yet another behind that one, until the ultimate enemy will finally be revealed at some point. I've seen a few too many of those over the years to be really enthused, though I'll admit to being curious.

The plot kicks off when former mob boss of Gotham, Carmine Falcone, returns to town to resume power. In chasing some crooks, Gordon fires at a man who seemingly won't drop his gun. The shot hits a crucial piece of machinery that controls the Gotham subway, resulting in two trains colliding and over a hundred dead. Gordon is arrested and thrown into prison to await trial. The corrupt officials and police are happy that they'll be able to go back to the good old days, while Batman is convinced that all is not as it seems, and later on that Gordon has been framed. He is correct, but as of the end of the volume we still don't know exactly who ultimately did it and why, though we know how it was done.

That's about as simple as I can make it. This is a series packed with a ton of Batman villains and associated characters. We're missing Nightwing (who I think was Grayson, super-spy at the time) and I haven't seen Damien yet. But Tim Drake, Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, Batwoman, Batwing and even the Spectre are all present and involved in the plot. This appears to be Stephanie Brown/Spoiler's introductory story for the New 52 continuity. The Joker isn't in the story, but a lot of other Batman villains are present (including Deacon Blackfire from "The Cult" by Jim Starlin, returning from Hell as some supernatural creature apparently, so there are some deep continuity references here), the Penguin, Cluemaster, Killer Croc, and near the end of the volume, Hush. Alfred's daughter turns up and is apparently about to learn that Bruce is Batman. The interminable Harper Row is also in the book, making Tim Drake's life miserable. Characters are paired up and given their own storylines which don't always appear in every issue, so they weave in and out of the plot. The art is variable in quality, with Jason Fabok probably the best of the multiple artists.

I'm interested enough that I plan to buy the other two volumes and finish the story. The books are $7.99 each at Ollies, so I get the whole story for $24, as opposed to $156 if I had bought all 52 issues at $2.99 each when the series was originally published. I don't know that I'd have had the patience to stick with it. I like longer storylines, but reading them in tiny bits once a week is a tough way to go about it.

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