Neal Adams’ cover for Batman #244 is probably one of the most famous and iconic comic book covers of its era. There are a number of good reasons for that, starting with the sheer drama of the moment it depicts, as our hero lies vanquished, perhaps even dead, at the feet of his greatest enemy, Ra’s al Ghul. Then there’s the strength of Adams’ composition, which frames that dramatic moment so perfectly, as well as the sophisticated coloring by Adams and Jack Adler, which wonderfully enhances the mood as well as the visual appeal of the illustration.
And then there’s the chest hair. Oh, and the nipples, of course. Mustn’t forget the nipples.
Interviewed in 2003 by Michael Kronenberg for The Batcave Companion (TwoMorrows, 2009), Adams described the pushback he got from Batman editor Julius Schwartz over his realistic rendering of the Caped Crusader’s topless torso:
Julie actually said, “Do you really think you ought to put nipples on him? They really don’t put nipples on people in comic books.” And I thought, “What a weird question.” “Yes, Julie, I think he should have nipples and hair on his chest.” So when I did it, it was like passed around the hall. Think about this. It never occurred to people that Batman had hair on his chest and had nipples.
In addition to the hair-and-nipples controversy, the late artist liked to call attention in interviews to another unusual aspect of the cover, albeit one that hasn’t been discussed quite as widely; the presence of two pairs of Bat-pants. As Adams told Dan Greenfield in 2016:
This is the gag that I do at conventions. I take the cover and say, “How many pairs of pants is Batman wearing?” And they say, “One? Two?” and then they ask why and I say, “Well, you have to take his shorts off to get his pants off. That makes him naked.”
What people don’t know is that this leg to the right, even though you can’t tell, is a naked leg. It’s drawn as a naked leg. It was intended to be a naked leg. And (editor) Julie Schwartz objected to it. He said, “You can’t do that.” He said, “How can you have the trunks on and not have that on?”
I said, “But then we’ll have two pairs of pants.” And he said, “So what? Nobody’ll notice.” “Okay, Julie, whatever you say.” So then we colored his legs. But if you were to look at the black and white of this, you go, “I can see the little hairs. It’s really a naked leg.”
Adams’ anecdote is a funny one; no question about it. But with all due respect to the recently departed artistic titan, your humble blogger believes there’s good reason to be skeptical of its veracity, at least in some aspects.
But we can’t really talk about why I feel that way until we get to the scene within our story that corresponds to the cover. And we’ve got quite a bit of story to enjoy before we reach that part, courtesy of Adams and his collaborators, writer Denny O’Neil and inker Dick Giordano…
We’ll skip the recap of what went down in Batman #243 that immediately follows this splash, since I’m sure you all recall my recent post on that issue (and if not, it’s easy to refresh your memory at the link, right?), and jump on ahead to the bottom of page 2…
“…so it’s my show!” Batman attempts to fake Ra’s out with a false left hook, before putting everything he’s got into a right — but…
Looking in the direction Molly is pointing, Batman sees a strangely-shaped hovercraft emerge from a heavy blanket of snow, then take to the air…
Ra’s and Talia emerge unscathed from the crashed hovercraft, and proceed to flee on foot, leaving Batman with the “rotten” choice of either pursuing them or tending to the wounded Molly — which is, as he puts it, “not really any choice at all!”
“Matches Malone is dead…” Uh, yeah, Bats, he sure is — just as he has been ever since page 5 of issue #242, when he got himself shot to death before your little Ra’s-hunting caper had even really gotten off the ground. You’ve been masquerading as him ever since, for reasons which have never been made clear and now, evidently, never will be.
As for the other members of this ad hoc Bat-squad, none of them will appear again before the end of the story — and for Lo Ling, it’s the end of the road, period. We’ll just have to hope the poor guy fully recovered from his injuries, since neither Denny O’Neil nor any other DC writer ever let us know his final fate, at least so far as I’ve been able to determine. As for Dr. Harris Blaine, he’d return as early as Batman #247 (Feb., 1973), but then would drop out of sight until the 1987 graphic novel Batman: Son of the Demon, in which he’d be, ah, murdered. (Tough break, Doc.) And Molly Post? She’d turn up one last time, in Detective #451 (Sep., 1975)… and that would be it for Batman’s “good girl”.
Ironically, it’s “Matches” Malone — the man who wasn’t really ever even there — who would have the most prolific career of any of Batman’s little band. Malone would go on to play a significant role in any number of good stories through the Bronze Age and beyond — stories in which he was legitimately useful as a disguise that allowed the Darknight Detective to move effectively through the Gotham City underworld; a utility that never actually came into play in the context of the Ra’s al Ghul saga. One might call “Matches” Malone a great idea whose time had not yet come — but whom an enthusiastic Denny O’Neil shoved prematurely onto the stage, nonetheless.
Believe it or not, page 10 gives us the first actual words out of Ra’s al Ghul’s mouth (with the exception of page 5’s single “Y-yes”) since this multi-issue sequence began back in Batman #242. As you may recall, Ra’s didn’t even appear in the storyline’s inaugural chapter, save as an image projected on a screen; and in issue #243, he was already dead by the time Batman and his crew caught up to him.
As the Al Ghuls retire to a lavishly appointed tent, Ra’s explains to Talia that he’s gone to the Lazarus Pit too many times now, and so doesn’t have all that many years left to fulfill his goals. “I must begin putting into effect my plan…” he says, “my plans to restore harmony to this sad planet!” This is the first instance we have of the villain’s expressing his radical ecological vision — something which in the years and decades since has arguably come to define him every bit as much as his worldwide criminal empire, the League of Assassins, or even the Lazarus Pit itself…
Ra’s seems almost happy to see Batman turn up. “Detective,” he exclaims, “I respect you as I respect no other! You are truly a magnificent foe!” Indeed, Ra’s respects Bats so much that he’s unwilling to call for his men to come in and shoot him; rather, he challenges Batman to a duel to the death. “When do we begin?” our hero growls in response.
The duel between Batman and Ra’s is such a stone classic comic-book scene (seriously, was there a single comics fan watching The CW’s Arrow TV series in 2015 who was surprised when the show’s producers nicked it for their third season finale?) that it’s a little jarring to realize, upon revisiting the fight for the first time in a while, that it doesn’t even last for two full pages…
And so we come at last to the story situation upon which Neal Adams’ cover for this issue is based — and to the obvious reason why his explanation for its inclusion of two pairs of trousers doesn’t really fly. Because in the story, Batman never takes off his pants. Why the hell would he? And why would Ra’s strip him of his entire costume (excluding the cowl) after defeating him? And even if Batman’s legs were originally supposed to be bare on the cover, where’d the extra trunks come from?
Doesn’t it make more sense to believe that Adams simply got carried away while working on the cover, and drew Ra’s holding the Masked Manhunter’s nigh-complete ensemble — full set of tights, cape, gloves, utility belt — when just the shirt and cape were called for? It certainly does to your humble blogger. (But again, all due props to Mr. Adams, who seems to have gotten away with telling that yarn about Julius Schwartz making him color Batman’s naked leg gray for years — maybe even decades — without being called on it.)
And here we have one of the most memorable kisses in comic-book history — as well as the inspiration for writer Grant Morrison’s famous 2006 line about the “Neal Adams, hairy-chested, love-god” version of Batman that he hoped to evoke in his own then-forthcoming run on the character.
The final panel of “The Demon Lives Again!” may just be the single finest such panel of all the stories Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams ever collaborated on together. Indeed, it’s such a terrific ending that you might read it two, six, even twelve times (as I probably have) before it occurs to you to wonder how the hell Batman plans to carry the unconscious Ra’s out of an armed camp in the desert all the way to the nearest constabulary without being accosted, overwhelmed, and killed. But even after that thought crosses your mind, you’re as likely as not to simply shrug and say, “Ehh. He’s Batman. He’ll manage.” The ending — like the rest of the story preceding it — is simply that satisfying.
One other possible quibble you might have, however (one which might not even take twelve readings to occur to you), regards the rather large loose end the finale leaves dangling: What about Bruce Wayne? This storyline began in Batman #242 with our hero faking the death of his secret identity in a “jungle plane crash”, so that Ra’s wouldn’t be able to use his knowledge of that identity against him. How does Batman plan to bring Bruce back?
In fact, O’Neil and Adams provided the answer to that question in the very next issue of Batman — in a story that hasn’t been reprinted nearly as often as the “main” Ra’s al Ghul saga, despite its serving as a coda of sorts to it. And we’re going to discuss that answer here in this post — though not immediately. Because as classic as “The Demon Lives Again!” is, it only accounts for the first 15 1/2 pages of Batman #244. That means we still have another entire story left to look at before we’re done with this comic book… so let’s get to it, shall we?
Though the artists for this issue’s “Robin” backup feature, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, were familiar names to any regular reader of Batman and/or Detective, the writer might be less so. This was the first tale scribed for either of the Bat-books by a relative newcomer to DC, Elliot Maggin (or, as he’d eventually style himself, Elliot S! Maggin); it was also the first “Robin” story in roughly three years not to have been written by Mike Friedrich, who’d left DC for Marvel Comics following Batman #242. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, Friedrich was in a rather unique position during his tenure on “Robin”, being that rare example of a professional comics creator writing about a college student who was himself of college-going age — and who indeed was still attending classes when he wrote his first tales of Dick Grayson at Hudson University. That perspective served to inform his scripts, which, whatever their other flaws might be, at least seemed to reflect the concerns of actual young Americans at the turn of the decade
Like Friedrich, Maggin was young — he’d sold his first published story (“What Can One Man Do?”, Green Lantern #87 [Dec.-Jan., 1971]) to Julius Schwartz less than a year before, while still at Brandeis University — and might well have been expected to follow his predecessor’s lead in crafting “Robin” stories that strove to be relevant to the lived experiences of readers in their late teens and early twenties.
“It goes to kids from places like Gotham City… Metropolis… kids who could probably afford it anyway!” explains the young thief. “All those Hudson creeps are loaded! What chance is there for a local kid like me to make it to Hudson… for free? — Zilch!”
Robin opines that that’s not a good enough reason to steal — nevertheless, he doesn’t bust the kid, but instead gives him a ride home on his motorcycle (all the while musing to himself how “Bats” likely wouldn’t approve). Upon their arrival in the kid’s skeevy neighborhood, our hero tells his new acquaintance, “I’ll be sending a friend of mine to rap with you tomorrow — a Hudson student named Dick Grayson!” Tommy Duffy — that’s the kid’s name — is considerably less than enthusiastic at this prospect, but Rob doesn’t give him a choice.
After Tommy goes inside, the Teen Wonder is about to hop on his bike and head back to campus, but…
Naturally, Robin knocks these guys on their asses in a handful of panels; still, the sequence underscores the lousy conditions that Tommy and others like him are forced to live in (and also sets up the story’s final action sequence a few pages on).
I don’t have to explain to anyone reading this that the song Tommy is playing is Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie”, do I? I didn’t think so.
As you can imagine, Dick ultimately wins Tommy over through persistence, kindness, and a willingness to listen — plus free lessons in how to fingerpick the guitar. (Had Dick ever been shown to be an expert guitar player before this? Did he ever play the guitar again after this story? I have no idea, frankly — if you do, please share your knowledge in the comments section.)
Things go swell for several weeks — and then one day, the guys who tried to jump Robin earlier in the story show up and start to make trouble:
Elliot Maggin gets points for tacking an aspect of college life — the so-called “town-and-gown” divide — that Mike Friedrich had never touched on, as far as I know. But the treatment of the general issue is so superficial — and the resolution of the immediate situation so pat — one almost wonders if the story was really written by a 21-year-old recent college grad, or if a veteran DC writer of the previous generation — Bob Haney, say — slipped a script in under Maggin’s byline.
Perhaps Maggin got better at this sort of thing as time went by — I haven’t read any of his other “Robin” stories with the exception of Batman #245’s “Who Stole the Gift from Nowhere!” — but after revisiting “[The] Teen-Age Trap!” for the first time in half a century, it rather feels like someone let all the air out of the tires on Robin’s microbus following Mike Friedrich’s departure.
Murder? But wasn’t that “jungle plane crash” that Batman faked (somehow) supposed to have been an accident?
Well, yeah, it was. I guess things are going to have to get more complicated before they can be straightened out…
The two men having the public altercation are two Gotham City political bosses, Bilker and Harvey. Why does Bilker say he believes Harvey murdered Bruce Wayne? Because right before he disappeared, Wayne had publicly withdrawn support from the mayoral candidate backed by Harvey. That last bit is actually true, as Batman well knows (“…Bilker’s candidate is the best of a rotten lot!” he thinks to himself). But that doesn’t mean that Harvey had Wayne killed, because, well, you know.
Later, Batman shows up at Bilker’s office, demanding to see his evidence…
Leaving Bilker, Batman next heads to a residential neighborhood, where he invades the home of a computer scientist named Osgood Peabody…
“…Nor was it difficult to find a specimen of Wayne’s handwriting! You’ve used your little toy to commit forgery — haven’t you?” In response to Batman’s accusation, the panicked Peabody flees — but not before tossing a couple of live wires onto the metal table upon which the Darknight Detective’s hand rests, thereby sending hundreds of volts of electricity coursing through our hero’s body. Moments later, the lab catches on fire — and though the dazed Batman ultimately manages to get to safety before the whole house goes up in flames, it’s a very close call…
Meanwhile, Peabody has scurried to Bilker’s office. The political boss assures the scientist everything will be fine — he and his underling Richard will drive Peabody to the harbor, where a ship is supposedly waiting to take the terrified man to Africa. But when they arrive at the docks…
Moments later, Commissioner Gordon and several GCPD officers arrive on the scene, having been tipped off by Batman…
So how did Batman manage to pull off Bruce Wayne’s miraculous “survival”? Um, the same way he faked his death in the first place, I guess… which is another way of saying I really have no idea. But as with the end of “The Demon Lives Again!”, I suspect that most readers have just rolled with this bit over the years (and that new ones will continue to do so as well). He’s Batman, after all; he manages.
Though my younger self would never have guessed it at the time, “The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!” was the last “Batman” story by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams that I would buy new off the stands. Indeed, it was almost the very last such tale that anyone would buy new off the stands, as the two creators would collaborate just one more time to chronicle an adventure of the Gotham Guardian; that story would be the instant classic “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!”, published a little less than a year later, in Batman #251 (Sept., 1973). As I’ve written here previously, I have no idea why I didn’t pick that one up — maybe I thought that the Joker, who hadn’t been seen since the end of the campy “Batmania” era, was too silly to take seriously; or maybe I just never saw it. Either way, however, it would never have occurred to me that that book would be it for the O’Neil-Adams Batman.
But it was; and even more than that, it was almost the last time they’d collaborate, period. The two creators would share a byline just two more times — once for a “Green Lantern” backup in Flash #226 (Mar.-Apr., 1974), and then for 1978’s All New Collectors’ Edition C-56 (or, as it’s generally better known, “Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali”). In other words, as of July, 1972, the creative partnership between Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams — a partnership which, along with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, exemplified the best DC Comics had to offer in the early Bronze Age (at least so far as your humble blogger is concerned) — was all but at an end. And we had no idea.
Like the song says: you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.
UPDATE, 7/16/22, 10:00 a.m.: The original version of this post erroneously stated that O’Neil and Adams only collaborated once more following Batman #251. Thanks to Chris A. for the correction.