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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Mon Aug 29, 2022 11:08 am
by andersonh1
World's Finest Comics #69
March-April 1954

The Man Who Wanted to Die With Batman!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Stan Kaye

So that's a fairly morbid title, but the splash page is more amusing than creepy, and it's down to Batman and Robin sweating nervously as they look at two gravestones, as if they haven't been in danger of death every single day of their lives since taking up crime-fighting. The story begins with an execution. "Grey Mike" Riggs is being brought to justice, and the television cameras capture his walk down the hallway, with Batman there to observe as an official witness. Watching this on tv is explorer Tom Beckett, secretly the adopted son of Mike Riggs, who wants to make Batman pay. Beckett watches until the execution is confirmed, then collapses. His doctor diagnoses him with "a rare tropical virus" and gives him about a month to live. With the big deadline staring him in the face, Beckett snaps and decides to go through with his plan to get revenge on Batman, and he's willing to die in the process. This is pretty grim stuff for a kid's comic, all things considered. Feels like we're back in the early days of the Batman series with executions and a bizarre murderous criminal.

Beckett's plan is simple: rig his car to explode on impact and wait for the Batmobile to answer the summons of the Bat-signal. The plan goes awry as a blown tire results in Beckett's car impacting a tree after he is thrown clear. Batman saves him from a train, and the result is that Batman believes someone is trying to kill Beckett, who is delighted to have Batman's attention, because it makes his job easier. He makes another attempt to kill him via a bomb hidden in a globe, and when that fails, a pit trap in Beckett's house catches them both. Beckett lays out his whole story, leaving Batman to ponder his fate, trapped with a madman. But Batman is able to use a bamboo pole for air and summon help from Robin via belt radio. Beckett ends up in psychiatric, so case closed?

Nope, Beckett escapes, and though Batman gets lucky and finds his hideout in the basement of the aquarium, Beckett is able to use this story's giant prop, a mechanical lobster, to hold them while he escapes. Beckett then threatens to blow up City Hall if Batman doesn't give himself up, and he's an out and out suicide bomber here, with dozens of sticks of dynamite wrapped around his torso. Batman agrees to meet him not at City Hall, but in the basement of the aquarium, where he's able to soak them both and prevent the dynamite from exploding.

We do get a happy ending. Batman is familiar with the virus and a "native cure" for it, and it works. It seems to have had an effect on Beckett's mind as well, because he's in his right mind and quite repentant, and of course Batman is not vindictive, forgiving him and advising him to "become a useful citizen once again." I like the rare ending with a reformed villain, and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of this story feels very retro to me, like something we'd have seen a decade earlier.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Tue Aug 30, 2022 11:44 am
by andersonh1
Had a few comments on "Space Traveling Heroes" which collects Green Lantern/Green Arrow #90-106 from 1976 to 1978. Maybe I'll review the individual issues at some point, some of which I own and had read before, though not all. The earlier and far more famous run by Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams tackles a lot of social issues, while these issues from the revived series go back to a more conventional super-hero setup, albeit one that tries to balance the non-powered, down to Earth Green Arrow with the super-powered, space-based Green Lantern, and it's not always a good fit, as you might imagine. Mike Grell draws most of the issues and while he's not Neal Adams, he does a good job. Alex Saviuk fills in for him from time to time. There were five years between GL/GA #89 and #90, during which time GL was a backup feature in Flash, and I wish those stories had been included in this book. These aren't stellar and they aren't poor, they're serviceable super-hero team-up stories of the era that entertain and fill in a chapter in the fictional lives of GL and GA that I've read very little of. I'd like to see more reprint volumes like this continuing the late 70s and moving into the 80s. I've got the GL Sector 2814 trades which reprint 172-200 between the three volumes, so that stretch from 107 to 171 could stand to be collected.

Edit: I actually have a pretty decent collection of Bronze Age GL, but it had been so long since I read them I didn't remember what I had. Went through and did an inventory last night, and I have 49 issues out of the 134 published from GL/GA #90 - GLCorps #224, so about a third of them. I've read more than I thought I had. Not enough to have a comprehensive opinion on Bronze Age GL, but enough to have a good idea what parts of the era were like.

I didn't quite realize how long certain writers were on the property. The vast majority of the 1960s, with a few random exceptions, were written by John Broome or Gardner Fox. The entire decade of the 1970s, again with a few exceptions here and there, were written by Denny O'Neil.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Fri Sep 02, 2022 7:25 am
by andersonh1
Green Lantern #43
March 1966

Catastrophic Crimes of Major Disaster!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

Isn't it the living end having super-heroes for boy friends? - Carol Ferris to Iris West

They really knew how to make covers back in the day, because seeing GL and the Flash with each other's powers gets me curious right off the bat. I have to see what's going on with them and with this fireball throwing villain with the silly thigh-high button-up boots. And the story does not disappoint as right from the first page, I'm left to wonder how in the world Carol has received a dossier containing all the facts about Hal's secret identity as Green Lantern. Similarly, Iris West has been told all about Barry Allen's Flash identity. The two couples meet in Pineaire City where Iris and Carol can't wait to tell each other all about what they've learned, while Hal and Barry sit there sullenly. They sit down to eat but an earthquake requires the attention of the Flash and Green Lantern to save lives and to deal with the many devastating side effects.

The plot thickens when a group of costumed men walk calmly through all the falling debris from buildings, completely unaffected, and rob a bank. Both Hal and Barry's powers cannot touch these men, and in fact both men lose their powers and end up unconscious on the street as new villain Major Disaster drives his men away, gloating triumphantly. He caused this disaster, and not only that, he sent the letters to Carol and Iris. And he cancelled out GL and Flash's powers, or rather "because of the laws of conservation of mass and energy", as Major Disaster explains, since he couldn't actually rid either man of their energy, he just transferred them. It's comic-book science, I'll just roll with it. The green energy is contained in Flash's aura, and Flash's speed is in GL's power ring. The ladies are disappointed that the men seem to have lost their powers, but being the decent human beings that they are, declare that it's the men they love, not their powers, and they're standing by them. Iris used to get on my nerves in the days when I was reviewing the first Silver Age Flash omnibus, but she's quite admirable here and my opinion of her is much higher.

Hal decides they should return to Coast City and try to recharge his ring. And in so doing they catch Major Disaster and his crew attempting another robbery in Coast City right as they arrive. Both men dive in, powerless as they believe themselves to be, and try to save lives and tackle the crooks. You have to cheer both these guys on for their never-say-die attitude, and some solid punches that take out the robbers. Major Disaster decides to get out while the getting is good. Later, when Hal charges his ring, the recharge floods the Flash with power, and they figure out that their powers have been switched. I love Flash's ribbing of Hal testing his speed. "You can do better than that GL! It took you five whole seconds to run around the Earth!" And in a nice bit of plotting that turns a framing device into a story element, it turns out that Paul Booker, aka Major Disaster, discovered Tom's book where he recorded Green Lantern's adventures during a burglary at Tom's house, and that's how Booker learned all about Hal and Barry. His powers came from the discoveries of the scientists who work for him, and his discovery of Tom's book inspired his crime spree, because he figured he could handle whatever GL and Flash could throw at him.

Now that they know what happened, Flash is able to use GL's powers to switch them back to the proper hero, and they take out Major Disaster's hirelings. Major Disaster attempts to use "his greatest disaster maker of all" which looks like a giant sci-fi generator or projector, but he forgets his insulated gloves and apparently dies while operating the machine. The only problem left now for Hal and Barry is that the girls know their secret IDs, and while Hal could easily delete the memories with his ring, he wants to find another solution. I'm not sure what to think of the mass amnesia as a result of the meteors drawn there by Major Disaster as that solution. It would be far too convenient... except that Hal could easily have done the same thing with his power ring, so it's not as though the story needed this unexplained phenomenon. It's an odd storytelling choice to make. I guess Gardner Fox wanted to avoid the obvious.

Status quo is restored, the secret identities are secret once again, and while Iris and Barry are clearly in love, Carol insists to Hal that they are just friends, but Hal insists right back that he'll win her love away from his costumed rival. Gil Kane continues to be great with the facial expressions as Carol eats it all up. "I never realized you were so masterful, Hal! You're sort of like Green Lantern himself when you act this way!" Hal, just tell her who you are, you idiot. After what happened in this story, it's obviously going to work out well for you! Trust the girls to keep the secret!! Argh!!

It's a fun story. The power switching between Flash and GL gives us some good moments, and the use of Tom's GL casebook is a nice way to take what was a framing device for a few stories and use it as an actual plot device. That book is loaded with secrets that any of GL's enemies would love to get their hands on, so one of them finding it is an idea that had to happen sooner or later. It reminds me of the Superman episode where the crooks found his costume when they broke into Clark Kent's apartment. And I really like the girls standing by their men when the chips were down, and Hal and Barry showing that they were determined and capable even without powers. I'm calling this one an above-average issue.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Sun Sep 04, 2022 12:35 pm
by andersonh1
Green Lantern #44
April 1966

Evil Star's Death-Duel Summons
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

When Hal starts to charge his ring, with Tom watching, the battery is suddenly out of power. At the very same time, Evil Star attacks Ferris Air, meaning Hal is stuck with a powerless ring against one of his most powerful enemies. Good old Tom, smacking and shaking the lantern to try and get it to work, apparently actually does so, and Hal is able to charge up his ring. Able to fly and fight now, he remembers that Evil Star momentarily freezes every time he uses power from his Star Band and punches him out (with a giant POW! sound effect) thinking about how this is "almost too easy."

Well, yes, it was. The Evil Star he just slugged was a projection, challenging him to fight the real Evil Star on Oa. And as the image disintegrates he tells GL that he's actually eliminated that one weakness, so don't expect that to work again. Tom is worried, but Hal is confident that he can come up with a plan to win.

On Oa, Evil Star has all the Guardians paralyzed. He negated the power of the central battery with his star band, only allowing just enough energy through so that Hal could recharge his ring. All the Guardians are out of the fight, and none of the other GLs can help. Evil Star intends this to be a one on one grudge match, and he intends to beat Hal in the very place where Hal beat him. When GL shows up to answer the challenge, Evil Star steals his ring almost instantly (and Hal's thoughts indicated that he expected this) but Hal leaps the table and is able to shield himself with the body of one of the Guardians. Goodness only knows what the Guardian was thinking! I know Ganthet hasn't been introduced at this point, but it would be funny if one day he mentioned to Hal "Do you remember that time you used me as a shield to protect yourself from Evil Star? Good times, good times!"

After Hal dodges his attacks a few more times, Evil Star figures out that he couldn't possibly have done all of this on his own, and that he must have another power ring hidden nearby, where he could operate it remotely. Sure enough he did, but just as Evil Star destroys it, Hal's ultimate plan kicked in as the Central Power Battery reactivates and puts a force field around Oa, blocking the stellar radiation that powers Evil Star's star bands. And of course, when it comes to powerless man versus powerless man in a duel of fisticuffs, Hal is going to win the day. Evil Star rallies briefly with a broken tree branch, but Hal knocks him out with an uppercut and revives the Guardians, who give him yet another new ring, though this time it's "an exact duplicate" fashioned "from the remnants of your exploded rings!" So this new ring is made up of material from both the ring Hal got from Abin Sur and the replacement that the Guardians gave him. So I guess the statement that Hal is still wearing Abin's ring is partially true, and he beat Evil Star using his reassembled original ring, which seems appropriate. At any rate, the Guardians praise him, and I still appreciate the characterization of them in these Silver Age stories as wise, well-intentioned and appreciative of the work their Green Lanterns do. The Guardians as written by Denny O'Neil and later writers are hard to like, and it's not hard to see why Hal gets into conflicts with them, but I prefer the wise immortals that John Broome and Gardner Fox gave us.

Hal explains it all to Tom when he gets back to Earth, and despite the stereotype of Hal as someone who charges in without a plan, that's not always the case, and it's certainly not the case here. He planned ahead carefully on this one, using his knowledge of how Evil Star would likely behave and taking measures to not only survive his attacks, but to recharge the central battery and cut off Evil Star's power. Planning ahead and taking big risks paid off, and make Hal look both smart and resourceful. The fact that he could defeat someone powerful enough to take out the Guardians is pretty impressive.

Saga of the Millionaire Schemer!
Script - John Broome Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

We're back to dropping in on some of Hal's relatives. I always enjoy these "Jordan brothers" stories. Hal's rich uncle Titus hires his younger brother Jim, now an "image maker", to do something about his reputation as a man with a terrible temper. That's an accurate reputation, by the way. All three of the Jordan brothers are due at Titus Jordan's home that weekend for a reunion. Uncle Titus has a secret agenda here, he promised Sue to help her figure out if Jim really is Green Lantern. After dinner, while Jim is led away on a pretext, Titus lets Hal and Jack in on the plan, much to Hal's amusement. He's less amused when he learns that the plan involves faking a supervillain attack to get Jim to reveal himself, and that Hal has to play the villain.

So we're all set for the latest wacky Jordan brothers mistaken identity plot, only there's a twist. The costume that Titus gives Hal, "the Bottler", is the exact duplicate of one that he saw a villain in Coast City wearing the day before. The Bottler got away, and Hal wonders how he could have met someone dressed up like this figure his uncle made up. As odds would have it, the real Bottler plans to rob the house and knocks Hal out. This isn't a random robbery though, as we'll see. Jim sees him, and though he's figured out the scheme, goes through with it, thinking the figure in the costume is Hal. I won't go through all the identity shenanigans here, but suffice it to say, the actual Green Lantern shows up and captures the Bottler (Hal having recovered quickly), revealing that it is Uncle Titus's chauffeur, and Sue once again thinks that Jim is Green Lantern. Jim solves Uncle Titus's image by telling him to his face that he really does have a bad temper, and Titus, impressed by his honesty, does his best to start curbing his bad temper.

As I noted, these stories are always fun, even if Sue thinking that Jim is Green Lantern gets a bit repetitious after a while! I've always enjoyed the fact that Hal has a fairly large extended family that grows from time to time as a new member is added to the cast. Jim and his family have been put to good use in the modern day Green Lantern comics, and having family who know his secret identity (even if they don't yet in these 1960s stories) gives him confidants to talk to and really humanizes the character. And I always smile at his niece and nephew cheering for "Uncle Hal!". Not that we're there yet, it's all sitcom family/mistaken identity shenanigans in these older stories, which are fun in their own way.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2022 6:25 am
by andersonh1
Green Lantern #45
June 1966

This is the one Silver Age Green Lantern issue that I actually have a copy of, as opposed to a reprint in an omnibus. I found it back in the early 90s at Dave's Comics in Fort Mill, SC. For that reason, it's a sentimental favorite. Roger Stern wrote a sequel to it in Green Lantern Corps Quarterly #3.

Prince Peril's Power Play
Script - John Broome Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

Another Green Lantern? Ha ha! I thrive on your Green Lanterns! I can handle them by the bushel!

The story actually opens with "Once Upon a Time...", so it's immediately clear that we're getting a classic fairy tale here (of sorts), mixed with 1960s Green Lantern sensibilities. There's a princess in distress because she has to get married, and she hates her intended husband, the evil Prince Peril. With a name like that, you know this guy is bad news. Princess Ramia is a "modern, uninhibited" princess, as the narration informs us, and no one on her planet of Myrg suits her, so she takes off to look for a man on other planets. And where does she end up, but Earth-2, where the first person she encounters is Doiby Dickles, who is lovestruck by her beauty. Doiby of course thinks she could never be interested in him, and intends to set her up with Alan Scott. Ramia can read minds, so she's aware of this and that Alan is Green Lantern.

Before that can happen, Prince Peril himself arrives and attempts to take Ramia back to Myrg, with an angry Doiby intervening. He has no chance against the large, burly, armored Prince Peril, but Ramia telepathically summons Alan, who takes on Peril in combat. Peril's sword fires energy that Alan struggles to combat even with his power ring, and when the two weapons are neutralized, the two men turn to fisticuffs. Peril manages to grasp his sword and incapacitate Alan. He thinks he's killed Alan, but of course that's not going to happen. Meanwhile Doiby drives Ramia away in his taxi "Goitrude" and they cross dimensions thanks to her tech in an attempt to escape. No points for guessing where they end up... on Earth-1, where Doiby uses his signal flare to summon Hal for help. It's the first time these two have met, and it's Doiby's first trip across the dimensional barrier between the two Earths.

Round two, this time Hal versus Prince Peril. But Hal hasn't charged his ring since yesterday (I love the "sputter sputter!" sound effect as though it's an engine almost out of gas!) so he uses the last of the power to destroy Peril's sword. So now it's more great Gil Kane-drawn punches as Hal and Peril go for the knockout blow. Hal loving hand to hand fighting the way he does, this fight goes on for far longer than Alan's fight with Peril, but the end result is the same with Hal down for the count, and Peril taking both Ramia and Doiby with him.

So Gil Kane himself steps in for part 3 to let the readers know that things are going to be okay, and that both Green Lanterns have survived and compared notes across the dimensions. The two Green Lanterns head for Myrg and pour it on, defeating Peril and his army, while Gil Kane appears again to let us know that Ramia is getting married. Not to Alan and not to Hal, but to good old Doiby Dickles, now king of Myrg and married to his beautiful Princess. And he even took Goitrude to Myrg with him.

I love the fun and sweet "fairy tale" tone of this story, and I love that Doiby gets the girl rather than either of our two dashing leading men. I always liked Doiby in the 1940s Green Lantern stories that I've read. For the "comic sidekick" character he's actually stalwart and reliable and not annoying, unlike some other examples. His loyalty to his buddy Alan is good to see, and he deserves this happy ending.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2022 9:14 am
by andersonh1
Detective Comics #206
April 1954

The Trapper of Gotham City!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Stan Kaye

Jason Bard is the name of one of the main villains in Batman Eternal. I wondered if the writers took his name from this story, but it turns out that the Jason Bard they were revising for the New 52 was a character introduced in the late 60s who dated Batgirl from time to time and was a private investigator in Gotham. But that was not the first use of the name. The original is found in this story. He's the villain calling himself "the Trapper", who from childhood enjoyed trapping animals and became obsessed with becoming "the greatest trapper of all". He dresses like a stereotypical trapper from history, with buckskins, coonskin cap and no doubt a French accent. Jailed for illegal trapping, he vows revenge and turns to crime, gathering a gang in Gotham City.

It's another Bill Finger villain with a psychotic fixation on something that goes back to childhood. Sometimes these work well, while other times they don't, and this is one of those other times. Honestly, apart from my interest in the name Jason Bard, this is a fairly forgettable formula story. The Trapper is successful for a while until Batman finally catches him, and Batman has to escape a trap partway through the story. I do like Batman's method of capturing the Trapper at the end. By staging a spectacle and swinging from the spire at the top of a building, he and Robin create a traffic jam of onlookers. The Trapper and his men can't escape in their car as planned, meaning Batman traps the Trapper.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2022 8:20 am
by andersonh1
Batman #83
April 1954

The Duplicate Batman!
Writer: David Vern Reed Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Will Elder

On a foggy night, Batman crashes the Batplane and is injured. He radios for help, but the signal is weak enough that only some crooks led by "Fish" Frye hear it, and they take full advantage of his absence from the city. They decide that to keep the police from realizing Batman is gone, someone needs to take his place. No one is suitable until one of Frye's men thinks of a former cellmate of his, Harry Larson... who happens to resemble Bruce Wayne. In the tradition of stories like this, he is in fact an exact double. If this was a tv episode, the same actor would play Batman and Larson. Larson appears in public as Batman but knocks himself out while trying to swing on a rope and is found by Robin and Alfred while searching for the missing Bruce, and even they think he's the real deal.

So now we have the setup. Harry Larson who thinks he's Batman after that blow to the head, led on by Robin, and the real Batman stuck up on the mountain. But when Bruce fixes the radio and listens in to news from Gotham, he figures out there's an impostor. He manages to return to town despite his injuries but is captured by the crooks, who unmask him and think he's Harry. They plan to kill him by leaving him to roast to death, tied to a massive searchlight. Even in these tamer days for the Batman series, we still sometimes get a potentially pretty gruesome death for Batman, and this is one of those times.

I wasn't surprised when the fake Batman rescued the real one, and the fake one dying when he falls on high tension wires isn't a surprise either, given that Larson had learned so much about Batman that he had to die to preserve the secret. Seeing the poor guy electrocuted and screaming is a pretty unpleasant sight, and we learn from Batman that he's so burned by electricity that his face isn't recognizable, making Larson's death even more gruesome. I know that this is how these "someone learns Batman's secret ID" stories always go, but it's still just too neat and tidy and therefore unsatisfying as an ending. It was never going to end any other way though, so I can't really complain too much. Frye and his gang are captured off-panel, which is also unsatisfying, and the story ends with Robin and Batman discussing Harry Larson's fate.

While I liked this story, it felt to me like it simply had too much plot for the page count, hence the rushed ending and probably not enough build-up for Harry Larson's various mental states. I think more time was needed to show the reader what was going through his mind. We're supposed to be left with the impression that he made a heroic sacrifice, and maybe he did. I can't help but feel that the character deserved better.

The Deep-Sea Diver Mystery!
Writer: Alvin Schwartz Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Will Elder

This story has a great hook as a man in a deep-sea diver's suit exits a taxi outside Gordon's home and his then shot by a drive-by shooter as he enters. The dying man giving Gordon a clue with his last words is a bit cliched, but it keeps the plot moving and gives Batman and Robin a mystery to solve once they become involved. They investigate and end up in a gymnasium where a run in with crooks ends with them captured and left to die in the steam room. Another potentially gruesome death for Batman for the second story in a row, but we get a nice character moment as he endures some pain in order to loosen his bonds and escape, saving his life and Robin's.

They figure out that since the pool was empty, the next step would be to check the water tower on the roof. Gotta love how Batman's keen sense of deduction is always working. Even after he's just escaped being killed, he's still working on the case. They find a goldfish at the bottom of the water tower, but the crooks attempt to kill them by lowering the water level enough that they can't get out, so they'll eventually tire and drown. Batman is able to drive a screwdriver from his utility belt into the wall and stand on it long enough to lift Robin to the edge so both can escape. Batman had heard the crooks discussing the information on a band tied around the goldfish, and follow the crooks to a railroad yard and bust the gang, discovering that they are part of a counterfeiting ring. Turns out that the guy that tried to warn Gordon was a member of the gang who was supposed to dive into the tower and got cold feet, trying to tip Gordon off instead, and was killed by the gang for his troubles.

I thought this was a nice little mystery with a great hook to lure the readers in, and of course Dick Sprang's art elevates the whole thing nicely. The downside to the plot is that this is one of those times that Batman and Robin just run headlong into danger without keeping an eye on the crooks, and it costs them since they get caught twice in a short span of time. I've commented before that Robin is only as smart and competent as the plot needs him to be, but really the same can be said of Batman, who makes a couple of careless mistakes in the story. Still, it's a good one that feels well-paced, with revelations at several points in the story that tie all the clues together nicely.

The Testing of Batman!
Writer: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Two Dick Sprang-drawn stories in a row! I love the perspective shots on the skyscraper, both from street level and then from high up looking down as Batman and Robin climb up the outside of it (and both of them have nerves of steel to do that!). They catch the Gulden mob in full view of the public, attracting the attention of Dr. Thorson, who wants to run some psychological tests on Batman. Since the offer is made in public, a reporter hears it and writes a story, so mob boss Hatchet Marley learns of it and sees it as an opportunity. He takes over the facility and tells Batman that if he runs a battery of tests that the crooks have devised, they won't unmask them then and there, and Batman agrees. They're all potentially deadly, but Batman and Robin survive them all.

So at this point in the story I'm wondering why the crooks don't just kill them, and it becomes clear that Marley is using Batman to figure out how to break into the Gotham Mint, and the tests have been staged so the crooks can see how Batman does it. He's figured out their scheme and takes steps to prevent them learning how he opens the vault, and even though Marley figures out that Batman is on to him, Batman buys a few seconds head start and it's enough to turn the various physical tests against the crooks and take them down one by one.

Unlike the last story, this one does a far better job of making Batman and Robin look smart and capable. They walk into a trap, but there's no way for them to know it was coming, and once there they are able to use their wits and training to survive and turn the tables on Marley and his gang. I liked all three stories this issue, but I think this one is my favorite of the three.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Mon Sep 12, 2022 8:21 am
by andersonh1
Detective Comics #207
May 1954

Batman the Magician!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

Batman with a Swami's turban on over his cowl is not a good look, that's all I'm saying. Thankfully the story is better than the splash page would imply. A crime boss is subjected to a cruel fate by the Moriarity gang, who chain his hands together and filled the links with an explosive that will go off if he's not very careful. A billboard across the street advertising Merko the magician at Gotham Theater gives him the idea to kidnap Merko and get the escape artist magician to free him. The gang capture him after his show but before the encore, making Bruce Wayne (in the audience of course) suspicious. So of course he investigates as Batman and determines that a kidnapping has taken place.

Batman decides to impersonate Merko for his shows, and then hunt for him afterwards. Naturally he's an expert magician in addition to his other talents (and Bill Finger takes the opportunity to explain how some of the tricks worked, interestingly) while running into the gang when not on stage. They meanwhile see Merko's act reviewed in the newspaper and figure out what Batman is up to and try to kill him. He survives and in turn trails them to their hideout, capturing them all and rescuing Merko. Turns out the chains, while real, were never filled with explosives at all and Batman worked it out, much to the chagrin of the crime boss, who I don't think was ever named.

So not a bad story, if a bit contrived. Bill Finger clearly wanted Batman to act as a magician for a story and probably built the story around that idea, and it's not a bad attempt. Given that Finger explained several magician's tricks, I'd bet a book about that topic inspired him. Odd that the gang boss is never given a name, but then I suppose he doesn't need one to play his part in the story. It's interesting to see the "gang vs gang" plotline that gives us a glimpse of what Gotham's underworld gets up to when they're not fighting Batman. And Bruce is a showman at heart. Perhaps if his parents hadn't been killed, he'd have gone into acting on stage. And really, doesn't he put on a performance with his Batman persona? Robin is a performer, a former acrobat, and even Alfred has been a stage actor at one point in his life. Interesting connection between these characters that I hadn't really thought about before, all inspired by Batman on stage, giving a magic show.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Sat Sep 24, 2022 1:58 pm
by andersonh1
World's Finest Comics #70
May-June 1954

The Crime Consultant!
Writer: Bill Finger Art: Dick Sprang

The splash page shows a bunch of crooks breaking through a hole in the wall of the Batcave, telling Batman to take off his mask since they know who he is. The story proper opens with a highway construction crew clearing a route for a new road when they accidentally break into the Batcave. Batman and Robin quickly evacuate their records and equipment (the story credits them with doing so in "minutes") as reporters eagerly begin photographing the cave and writing up the story, assuming that the nearby house must be where Batman really lives. What a great hook for a story, even though I know going into this that Bruce's secret will be maintained, and that he'll get out of this somehow.

The story flashes back to Batman and Robin watching the home of Jay Varden, an engineer who they say is a criminal. They trail a criminal who met with Varden, a man named Bud Parsons (Batman describes him as "a stupid crook with a long record", which is brutal but accurate) and he and Robin trail Parsons to the Gotham Watch Company where Batman gets into a fight with him inside a giant cuckoo clock. Batman is convinced that Varden is planning crimes for Parsons and others, but it can't be proven. Batman comes up with a plan: make the underworld turn against Varden, and to do so, he plans to expose him as Batman, using a cave near Varden's home that the highway construction will uncover if they stick to their current route. That explains the opening scene. "Remember to look surprised and upset!" Batman tells Robin. The plan works, with the media convinced that Varden is Batman, despite his protests. I love Batman using the news media this way, and even though Varden figures out what they're up to, there's nothing he can do about it. Varden tries to turn the tables and set a trap, but Batman is ahead of him every step of the way. The crooks are captured, and though Varden gets away, Batman removes his cowl in front of them to reveal himself disguised as Varden, sealing the deal with the underworld (and I love his knowing smile as he walks away with the crook promising to send him to jail too.) Varden is captured, and with his former cohorts to testify against him, he'll sit in jail for a long time.

Great story with a really good hook to get me interested, and for once Batman is never on the backfoot at all. He's constantly in control of events, outthinking and outmaneuvering the crook every step of the way. I like Batman to be challenged, but every now and then a story like this, showing just how good he is, makes a welcome change. Dick Sprang's art is of course perfect for the story. I quite liked this one.

We've reached a milestone here with the final issue of World's Finest to feature solo Batman and Superman stories. Next issue of World's Finest would starting featuring Superman, Batman and Robin in a single feature starting with the story "Batman - Double for Superman" which has been reprinted over in the first World's Finest Omnibus. So this will be the final World's Finest to appear in the Golden Age Batman omnibus reprints and in my reviews. Just to note how far behind the Golden Age Superman omnibuses are compared to Batman, Superman volume 6 has only reached World's Finest #36. If volume 7 actually appears in November, it will reach World's Finest #47, leaving it four years and 23 issues behind Batman even though DC published the first GA Superman omnibus several years before Batman's first volume. But I'll give DC credit for getting the first 15 years of Batman back into print and for sticking with the project for this long. Here's hoping we'll see plenty more volumes, because I've enjoyed reading every one of them.

Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Posted: Sun Sep 25, 2022 9:16 am
by andersonh1
Green Lantern #46
July 1966

The cover shows a long procession of tearful Green Lanterns (and Guardians!) carrying torches and a dead Hal Jordan, a hook that immediately has me eager to read the story and learn what happened. So it's disappointing when the next page has nothing to do with the cover, but is instead a shocked Hal in jail, thinking of a bank robbery that he's blamed for. That's interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the cover scenario.

The Jailing of Hal Jordan!
Script - Gardner Fox Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

In the middle of a dance with Carol, Hal has to leave to stop a bank robbery. He catches the three men that he sees escaping with the money but misses a fourth, who escapes with $50,000. However the fourth robber, Pete Claypool, inherits a massive estate from his uncle, and decides that he needs to get rid of the stolen money, lest he be caught and go to jail and be unable to enjoy his newfound inheritance. While trying to figure out what to do, Pete enjoys his newfound wealth and lives it up, and when he notices Hal and Carol walking along near his yacht, he falls for Carol and has his thugs try to scare Hal into leaving Carol alone (as you might guess, that doesn't work on "the man without fear"), so then he frames Hal for the robbery that he himself helped commit. The stolen money is found in Hal's apartment, and he's put in jail, where he sees the thugs who threatened him. He probes their memories with the ring and discovers Claypool's part in all this. Hal uses the ring to plant a compulsion in Claypool's mind to come to the police station and confess everything, which clears a pretty smug Hal Jordan. Once again, I have to appreciate Gil Kane's use of facial expressions to convey a character's mood. My appreciation of him as an artist has grown quite a bit while reading and reviewing these stories.

Pretty simple story, with crooks that aren't much of a challenge for someone with Green Lantern's power. The ring allows the story to avoid spending page after page on deductive reasoning since Hal can just read the crooks' minds and learn the truth, once he knows who they are. I like the way the story indicates that Claypool is under the influence of the ring by coloring him green in four of the panels on page 11, which is surely not how he appears to the police.

The End of a Gladiator!
Script - John Broome Pencils - Gil Kane Inks - Sid Greene

There is a saying on Earth... Greater love hath no man than he who gives up his life for his friend!... My master did that! Now you know how he died... - Hal's power ring, describing his death.

The splash page shows a dead or unconscious Tom Kalmaku lying in a lab, with Hal, his ring almost out of power, fighting Dr. Polaris. The story itself opens with various Green Lanterns, including Katma Tui and Tomar-Re, summoned to Oa by the Guardians, who are informed by sorrowful Guardians that they must perform funeral rites for the Green Lantern of Earth. Hal Jordan is dead. His ring should have protected him, and despite Tomar-Re pointing this out, the Guardians cannot explain why it failed. For those who are used to the heartless, emotionless modern Guardians, the panel with the Guardians weeping, overcome with emotion, will surely be very strange, but I vastly prefer it to the modern interpretation of these characters. Green Lanterns die by the dozens in the modern comics, and though we do get sorrowful funeral scenes sometimes, the deaths start to lose their effectiveness after a while. Here it's honestly heartwarming to see Hal's fellow Green Lanterns caring for their dead comrade, and determined to learn why he died.

Tomar-Re charges Hal's ring, using Hal's oath to do so (so the "In Brightest Day..." oath is not universal at this point, it's still something personal for Hal), and question his ring about his death. The ring relates the story of how Tom and Hal were talking when Tom asked about the ring's ability to protect the wearer form mortal harm. Hal tells him that he once didn't know the answer, so he asked the ring, but the power battery telepathically gave him the answer. There is a reserve charge even when the power has been exhausted that cannot normally be accessed, and it protects the bearer from death. Suddenly Tom is kidnapped and vanishes. Dr. Polaris, in a new costume, has captured him because he figured out through studying news reports on Green Lantern that Tom must be a close confidant, and he hopes to lure Green Lantern in. He is able to make the unconscious Tom speak using his machines and so Polaris learns all about the power battery at Ferris, and that the rings only holds a 24 hour charge. Polaris gleefully uses this information to put a barrier around the battery so that when Hal thinks he's charging the ring he really isn't.

Meanwhile Hal works out how Tom must have been kidnapped and is able to trail him to Polaris's lab, where he attacks him. But he quickly learns the ring is out of power, and he's shocked since he just charged it. Unable to save Tom without a powered-up ring (and it's notable that Hal never thinks of himself here, just his friend), he is able to tap into the reserve power and put a protective barrier around Tom. And despite getting a few good hits in on Polaris, Hal is now completely unprotected, and Polaris's weapon kills him. His fellow Green Lanterns have their answer. "A hero's death" one says. They reluctantly have to return to their sectors, with only Katma Tui remaining, unwilling to leave Hal's side.

And that's the end of the issue! Hal's actually dead, having lost his life to one of his enemies while trying to protect his friend. The villain's plan worked. So why did none of the other Green Lanterns go to Earth to arrest Dr. Polaris? Finish Hal's fight for him? If that crazy Earthman has enough power to kill a Green Lantern, then surely he merits the attention of the Corps to arrest him. That aside, this is quite a cliffhanger (and the next issue box assures the reader that a follow up story will be in the next issue). I really enjoy the portrayal of the Corps as a group that care for their fellow members, and I certainly like these caring Guardians of the Universe and prefer them to the monsters of the later Geoff Johns run. Even though I obviously know Hal will be back, the classic story of a hero willing to give his life to protect his friend is still emotionally effective.