Retro Comics are Awesome

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Ursus mellifera
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1 wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 7:09 am
I guess that's the problem when they created a great villain, gave him a happy, redemptive ending, but still want to use that villain. They can't have it both ways forever.
I think this is why most comics feel the need to reboot after a decade or so.
Check it out, a honey bear! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkajou

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Ursus mellifera wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 7:35 am
andersonh1 wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 7:09 am
I guess that's the problem when they created a great villain, gave him a happy, redemptive ending, but still want to use that villain. They can't have it both ways forever.
I think this is why most comics feel the need to reboot after a decade or so.
Over on the Collected Editions boards, one of the posters said that the way they wanted to both use Two-Face as a villain and still keep Harvey Dent's happy ending reminded him of early Lizard stories in Spider-Man, where they wanted to use the Lizard, but still have Curt Connors get back to his wife and son at the end of the day. It's the same "having their cake and eating it too" that we see in these Two-Face stories. It's interesting to read these various semi-returns of Two-Face, because of course we all know that Harvey Dent will go back to being Two-Face, just as all these villains of the 40s and 50s will at some point become regularly recurring features in the Batman books. It's just interesting to see the 50s writers reluctant to pull the trigger with regard to Two-Face. Or it could have been editorial not allowing Harvey Dent to fall back into crime. I really don't know.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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A browse through volume 9 confirms that yes, Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face again, which I of course knew would happen/had happened from our present day point of view, I just didn't know when.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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We're still in GA Batman volume 8, but closing in on the finish line.

World's Finest Comics #60
September-October 1952

The Richest Crook in the World!
Writer: David Verr Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Stan Kaye

Incredible. A man buys a circus and a fleet of taxicabs to engineer the theft of a vase. What won't we run into next!

Batman and Robin head to Waterville while hunting for a criminal, and are turned away by the police. How can this have happened? It goes back to wealthy Glenn Farr, black marketeer, who finds out that there are some things all the money he has just can't buy. Unable to get various art treasures that he badly wants, Farr decides to turn to crime and use his money to protect himself from the law. He steals the art treasures, and then buys himself an abandoned mining town, the aforementioned Waterville, populating it with his bought and paid for gang of criminals. Batman begins to dismantle this setup, so Farr uses his money to try and buy Batman's true identity.

Every now and then in these stories someone figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and con-man Slim Wheeler has done just that. He is paid to tell Farr his theory, and Farr decides to test it. He manages to obtain Bruce Wayne's signature and compare it to a for-charity autographed photo of Batman (don't forget, Batman is a trusted establishment public celebrity in this era), but the signatures are nothing alike. Batman busts Farr and his gang, turning them over to the police. I have to laugh at Gordon's comment to Batman. "Another crook tries to link up Bruce Wayne with Batman! Poor Bruce! Why him all the time?" Ah, Gordon, if you only knew. So how did Bruce disguise his signature? Simple: as Batman, he always signed his name with his left hand!

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #73
October-November 1952

Last issue gave us three 12 page stories, while this issue has switched over to a mix of ten and twelve page stories. But two of the stories end with less than a full page of panels, so it's 9-2/3 pages, 9-1/2 pages, and finally 12 full pages.

Guns for Hire!
Script: ? Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Commissioner Gordon is frustrated that the police cannot find the weapons used in various crimes, resulting in a lack of evidence sufficient to press charges. When Batman and Robin stop a bus robbery in progress and capture the guns, they cannot be identified. Gordon turns to Dr. Hagen, "well known expert on foreign weapons" but he can't identify them either. Bruce decides that the underworld must be manufacturing its own weapons, and he goes undercover as "Slug Carson" and is able to meet with Hermin Marn, armorer for "the Renter", the man behind all the guns that criminals are using. Each costs a certain amount per crime, and each has a specific use. Weapons used for robberies are re-used, murder weapons are supposedly destroyed, though Bruce is able to determine that though a show is made of destroying them, they're secretly kept for possible use in blackmailing the men who used them.

Bruce is able to learn a lot about the operation, but as was bound to happen, he is finally suspected and forced to abandon the "Slug" persona. He switches to Batman and is captured. The Renter himself comes to execute him personally, and to no one's surprise, is revealed to be Dr. Hagen. Batman is able to grab a pistol, shoot the lock keeping him imprisoned and use his fists to take down the Renter, putting an end to his operation. As always when it's Dick Sprang drawing the story, the art is great, and I enjoy these supervillain-free crime stories where Batman has to solve a mystery about what the Gotham underworld is up to. The crooks are still of their time, being well dressed mobsters in suits and fedoras.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #73 continued....

Vicki Vale's Secret!
Writer: David Verr Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Vicki Vale shows up at Bruce Wayne's home, terrified that she's in danger. While she rests, Batman and Robin search her apartment to try and pick up a clue (and don't miss the very obvious way Batman complains that it's hot and turns on a fan), leading them to the old Bijou Theater that Vicki was photographing when she captured a picture of wanted gangster "Keys" Bennett entering. Sure enough, his gang is there, leading to a fight and a lucky break for the crooks, who capture them both. Rather than unmask them, they save them for Keys so he can do the honors (there's always an excuse for not unmasking Batman....) and take their utility belts, locking them in a studio.

Vicki laughs after they've gone, because she's sure that Bruce is Batman, and her clever little plan will prove it. She smokes her cigarette and thinks about how she left a recorder running so she can pick up every word Batman and Robin said while in her apartment.

Batman escapes with the help of an X-acto knife (he calls it a stencil knife, but they amount to the same thing), and bust up Keys' gang. They know nothing about Vicki Vale and had no idea she saw them enter the Bijou. When Bruce and Dick return home, Vicki gloats that she's caught them thanks to her recording machine. "We're sunk!" thinks Dick, but when they all go to Vicki's apartment, the recording reveals Batman talking about how it was a good thing that Bruce Wayne had come to him with Vicki's story. Batman had, of course, spotted the hidden microphone the moment he walked in the door, which is why he turned on the fan to drown out anything he said. He went back and recorded the fake message, and then ends by chiding Robin for not seeing the mic as well. "Always be alert!".

We haven't seen Vicki Vale since World's Finest Comics #57 six months earlier, and that was just a cameo. Her last substantial appearance was Batman #64 April-May 1951, and like Alfred, she's become a supporting cast member whose appearances are few and far between. She was a little more balanced as a character at first, but now she essentially has one purpose: to try and expose Batman's secret identity, which is of course exactly what she's trying to do here. Her plan is sound, if underhanded, but Bruce and Dick should never trust her again after this!

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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The Joker's Utility Belt!
Writer: David Verr Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

It's the battle of the belts! When Batman escapes the Joker's gang thanks to gas pellets in his utility belt, the Joker decides it's time to build his own belt, full of "jokes and trick novelties". We even get a diagram showing that it has items like a hand buzzer, sneezing powder, exploding cigarettes, etc. And the items in the belt are pretty effective, to the point that the Gotham Gazette posts a lead story entitled "Joker's Utility Belt Plagues City!" The Joker declares to his men that a cork is the most important item in his belt, the one that will doom Batman and Robin. He uses the cork to reseal a champagne bottle that Batman will use to christen the SS Gotham steamship. The cork is filled with paralyzing gas. Even though Batman figures out that the seal has been tampered with and switches bottles, a spectator throws the original bottle, releasing the gas and allowing Batman and Robin to be captured.

The Joker's plan to kill both and amuse himself at the same time is to put them on a conveyor belt leading to a giant furnace that looks like the Joker's face. Batman is able to palm some items from the Joker's belt, distract the Joker's thugs long enough for Robin to get clear of the belt, and then turn all of the Joker's gags on him and his gang. The Joker decides that he's sick of belts, but a smiling Commissioner Gordon informs him that he'll be made foreman at the belt factory in prison. This was just a fun story, with the Joker's belt and gags contained within it giving the reader a lot of amusing action. Nice to see that the Joker hasn't quite lost his edge, as burning Batman and Robin alive is a pretty gruesome method of attempted murder.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Time to get started on Golden Age Superman Omnibus vol. 3. As usual I'll be keeping story reviews to just a few paragraphs so this feels like a quick, fun review for me to write. Hey, I've almost made it through 8 volumes of Batman that way!

Action Comics #48
May 1942

The Merchant of Murder
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

Superman smashes a Japanese airplane on the WW2-themed cover, while the interior story is a throwback to social justice Superman as he goes after badly rebuilt used cars, and a car dealer who values profits over human life. When a car goes out of control and wrecks in front of him, Clark's x-ray vision shows that the brake lining is worn out on what should be a good condition used car. He puts the story on the front page of the Planet and gets a call from the head of Speed Motors. An investigation by Superman shows the dealer is making wrecks look cosmetically new while ignoring serious mechanical issues and then selling the cars. The true villain behind the scheme is "the Top", who turns out to be Jefferson Smith, a private detective supposedly investigating Speed Motors, who dies as the victim of one of his own defective cars while trying to get away from Superman.

The story is built around a typical formula of a problem that requires Superman to solve, which he does as soon as he can learn who the top villain is. So it's nothing we haven't seen before, but I enjoy the formula as long as it's mixed in with other types of plots. It's nice to be reminded of Superman's roots here, even this early in his existence. Clark has to guard his secret ID, Lois gets in trouble while investigating, the two compete for headlines... it's all typical fun Superman story trappings, executed well enough to be enjoyable.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Back to GA Batman vol. 8:

Detective Comics #188
October 1952

The Doom in the Bat-Cave!
Script: ? Pencils: Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Someday, someone will stop you, Batman! You can't defy the odds forever!

"Hook" Deering's gang is stealing along Gotham's waterfront, and Batman is on the case, but Hook is difficult to corner. To complicate things, Hook sends a note to Batman care of Commissioner Gordon threatening to kill him and to do so in the Batcave. Deering attempts this first by getting a chemical on Batman's cape that later bursts into flame, and then by switching tires on the Batmobile, substituting ones filled with a deadly gas. The guy is creative, no doubt about it. Batman figures both times that the attack was too obvious, meaning Hook didn't really think he'd get them, so there must be a bomb somewhere, so he and Robin sweep the place for it, with no success.

But there's a twist. Batman captures Hook, who claims that he never threatened Batman or saw the Bat-cave. Batman and Robin decide that he's lying and take him to the cave to force him to talk, or be killed by his own trap. With minutes to go, Batman figures it out: the bomb was concealed in Hook's new artificial arm, placed there by the mastermind behind the robberies: Milden, the warehouse owner supposedly being robbed back in the opening panels of the story. Milden planned to get rid of Hook so he could get a bigger cut of the loot, and kill Batman at the same time. This was a nice little mystery with a smart and determined Batman up against a pretty vicious and creative criminal. I liked it quite a bit. And the cover nicely encapsulates the threat and the race against time.

Detective Comics #189
November 1952

The Undersea Hideout!
Script: Bill Finger? Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

The mysterious Mr. Styx (a reference that will become clear) is taking criminals out of Gotham and hiding them where the law can't find them: in the "Aqua-lair", an undersea hideout that Batman has heard rumors about, but hadn't taken seriously. The lair is so deep that a secret formula of Styx's own making is required to survive at that ocean depth. He charges a mere $1000 a day to each crook who hides out there. When Batman and Robin attempt to follow Styx's submarine down in the "batosphere", they are unable to go as deep as the sub and have to give up pursuit.

But they get to see the Aqua Lair up close when they're captured and taken there, 2000 fathoms down. That's about 3.6 kilometers, and looking at some modern ocean depths that we've reached, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Tench is 10.91 km, or 5965 fathoms, almost three times the depth. The science in this story is dated of course (not surprising since it was published almost 70 years ago), but that hardly spoils the idea. Mr. Styx is an allusion to the river Styx in Greek mythology that the ferryman Charon would take the dead across to reach the underworld, and of course this story uses the myth in a more modern context, with Styx taking criminals down to the "underworld" of his undersea hideout.

Styx decides that letting the crooks hunt down Batman and Robin and unmask them will be good sport and good for morale. We even get a cutaway drawing of the lair for context of the hunt as Batman and Robin try to dodge 100 crooks, all eager to take out their nemesis. As is often the case in these old stories, it's the small details that clue Batman into what's really going on, and in this case the fact that a fountain pen still writes tells him that they're not actually very deep at all, because it shouldn't be able to work if they were under great pressure at the bottom of the sea. The lair is just in Gotham bay, and the police are easily able to round up all the crooks there now that the secret is known. Styx had used a decoy to trick Batman when he followed Styx's sub earlier in the story.

That's two good "Batman vs. crooks" stories in a row, and shows that there's still a lot of mileage to be had in letting him go up against gangsters with guns and schemes.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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World's Finest Comics #61
November-December 1952

The Crimes of Batman!
Writer: David Verr Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

The Joker has been released from prison and claims to have "gone straight". It hasn't been that long since he was put in prison, so what kind of sentence did he get? Batman doesn't buy that he's given up a life of crime any more than the reader does, so he bugs the Joker's car. When the Joker mentions that he knows who pulled a recent robbery, Batman uses the information to bust the crook, and rather foolishly credits the Joker. When that makes the news, the Joker is of course not happy that he's been used to uphold the law. So to even the score he decides that he has to turn Batman into a criminal.

He does this by kidnapping Robin and forcing Batman to become a cheat, a thief, and a killer. We're back to the situation from the story about the flying Batcave where Batman figures out a technicality that allows him to fulfill those requirements without actually cheating, stealing or killing. The first two make the Joker angry enough that he decides to personally supervise as Batman kills the cashier at the circus while the Joker and his gang rob the safe. But Batman uses sawdust on the floor to blind the gang, and drags the Joker up on to the highwire where he goes through a trapeze act, taunting the Joker the whole time. "This act ought to kill you!""I'm going to kill time while circus guards are rounding up your men.""Don't you be a kill-joy!" It's actually pretty funny stuff as we get nearly a full page of Batman taunting the Joker who is terrified of falling to his death. When the Joker finally escapes so he can call his hideout and have Robin killed, Batman stops him by "killing" the lights. Robin is rescued and the Joker heads back to prison.

So the story starts with an impossible to accept premise, that the Joker has been released from prison, and the Joker's plot to make Batman a criminal is set into motion only because Batman was dumb enough to broadcast that he'd bugged a crook thanks to the Joker so that the press got wind of it. Robin gets to be a hostage again, which has become a tired cliche already. Then Batman dodging the Joker's requirements feels like a repeated idea from not that long ago. But that page of Batman's non stop mockery of the Joker was worth all of it. Man, I laughed reading that page. This story avoids the old Joker formula of themed crimes, so it gets points for that too. It's not great, it's not bad, it's a mixture of both, depending at what point in the story the reader is.

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