Batman #232 (June, 1971)

Panel from Detective #411. Text by Denny O’Neil (and, presumably, Julius Schwartz), art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.

Last month we took a look at Detective Comics #411, featuring the first appearance of Talia al Ghul, and the first mention of her father, Ra’s.  As we noted at the time, despite that story giving the appearance of being one chapter in an extended story arc dating back to the first appearance of the League of Assassins in Detective #405, with the next installment already lined up for the very next issue of Batman, #432 (per a blurb in the story’s final panel), that wasn’t writer Denny O’Neil’s original intention at all.  Rather, as he’d later tell fellow Bat-writer Mike W. Barr in an interview for Amazing Heroes #50 (July 1, 1984), Talia was created specifically “to serve the needs of that plot and that story [i.e., Detective #411’s “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers”], with no thought that she would ever appear again, or that she would have a father, or any of that stuff.”  But somewhere in between the writer’s original conception and the story’s final published form, someone — perhaps Detective and Batman editor Julius Schwartz — had another idea; and the League of Assassins story arc, rather than concluding tidily with its third installment (fourth, if you count Detective #408’s “The House That Haunted Batman!”), instead became just the prelude to what was ultimately a much more influential saga, that of Ra’s al Ghul, “the Demon’s Head”.

But whence came Ra’s al Ghul?  Read More

Detective Comics #411 (May, 1971)

As of March, 1971, my thirteen-year-old self was picking up Detective Comics on a fairly consistent basis — but it was a habit I’d acquired only recently (or perhaps I should say reacquired, as I’d been a regular reader of the title before, back in 1965-67).  For that reason, I’d missed writer Denny O’Neil’s first two “League of Assassins” stories, which had run in issues #405 and #406, respectively.  On the other hand, I had bought and read Detective #408, whose lead Batman story, though not scripted by O’Neil, had featured an attempt by the villainous Dr. Tzin-Tzin to eliminate the Darknight Detective at the League’s behest.  So it wasn’t like I was completely unfamiliar with the sinister organization prior to my purchasing issue #411.  Rather, I was intrigued by the little I knew — and though I realized I was coming in late, I was eager to catch up. Luckily, this third installment of O’Neil’s League saga didn’t depend very much on knowledge of the previous two at all — and what little I did need to know, I’d manage to pick up easily through the script’s unobtrusive exposition.    Read More

Justice League of America #89 (May, 1971)

As noted in my recent post regarding Gold Key’s Star Trek, I didn’t get to see the TV series on which that comic was based until it hit my local market in syndicated re-runs, around 1970-71.  And since I started consuming licensed Trek tie-in media (what there was of it) almost immediately upon discovering the show, concurrent with my viewing the television episodes for the very first time, my initial encounters with some classic Trek stories ended up being by way of the printed page, rather than the cathode-ray tube.  That’s because the earliest licensed prose fiction based on the property, a series of paperback books written by James Blish and published by Bantam Books, were collections of short stories adapted from the TV episodes themselves.  Read More

Detective Comics #408 (February, 1971)

There’s an interesting story behind Detective #408’s lead Batman feature (and cover story), “The House That Haunted Batman!”.  Or perhaps we should say, in the interest of total accuracy, that there are four of them.

Back in 1998, in the 1st issue of Comic Book Artist, editor Jon B. Cooke published “The Story That Haunted Julie Schwartz”, a collection of interviews with four of the personnel who’d been involved with producing this classic Detective story:  editor Julius Schwartz, writers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, and penciller Neal Adams.  The funny thing about it, though, was that in spite of the interviews’ brevity (the entire article ran only two pages) the four veteran comics pros’ recollections differed in certain details, lending the whole enterprise a Rashomon-like quality.

This much, at least, the quartet could agree on:  Quite early on in their professional careers, longtime friends Len Wein and Marv Wolfman wrote a Batman story together which they hoped to sell to Julius Schwartz.  Somewhere along the line, Neal Adams took an interest in the as-yet-unbought script and ended up drawing it in his spare time, on spec — a remarkably generous gesture, considering how busy the artist was (not to mention what his time was worth).  Ultimately, despite the irregularity of the process, editor Schwartz did indeed buy the completed 15-pager, and scheduled it for the next available issue of Detective ComicsRead More

Justice League of America #87 (February, 1971)

Some fifteen months ago, I blogged about Avengers #70, which featured the first full appearance of the Squadron Sinister.  Regular readers may recall my sheepish confession in that post that, despite how blindingly obvious it is to me now that these four characters were homages to/parodies of (take your pick) DC Comics’ Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern, in September, 1969 my then twelve-year-old self didn’t pick up on the joke at all.

Nor was I aware that this comic book was one half of a “stealth crossover” of sorts between Marvel Comics’ Avengers and its counterpart title over at DC, Justice League of AmericaSaid crossover apparently had its origins at a party at which comics writer Mike Friedrich suggested to a couple of his cohorts, Roy Thomas (the writer of Avengers) and Denny O’Neil (then the writer of JLA), that they each present a “tip of the hat” of some sort from the super-team book they were writing to its rival, in issues coming out in the same month.  Thomas and O’Neil both agreed, and Avengers #70 and JLA #75 were the results.  But while the inspiration for Thomas’ Squadron Sinister was all but self-evident (though of course not to me, or to the other fans who chimed in after my September, 2019 blog post that they hadn’t caught on either), the relationship of the supposed Avengers analogues in O’Neil’s story — evil doppelgängers of the Justice League called “the Destructors” — to their Marvel models was obscure to the point of opacity, with the parallels being limited to such bits as having Superman’s dark twin refer to himself as being as powerful as Thor.  (Um, sure.)  I didn’t actually buy JLA #75 when it came out, but I’m all but 100% certain I wouldn’t have realized what O’Neil was up to with such subtle shenanigans, even if I had.  Read More

Detective Comics #407 (January, 1971)

Seven months ago, I blogged about a number of comics that I wish I’d bought back in April, 1970, the only month in the last 55 years in which I didn’t acquire a single new comic book.  (At least not until April, 2020, when COVID-19’s temporary shutdown of the comics industry took the matter out of my, and everyone else’s, hands for a while.)  Regular readers of this blog with good memories may recall that among those “comics that got away” was the 400th issue of Detective Comics.

That, of course, was the issue that featured the first appearance of Man-Bat — an important new adversary (and sometime ally) of Batman — created by artist Neal Adams.  Unless, of course it was actually editor Julius Schwartz who came up with the character.  In any event, it wasn’t writer Frank Robbins.  Probably not, anyway.  Read More

The Brave and the Bold #93 (December, 1970)

Based on this note from editor Murray Boltinoff that appeared on the issue’s letters page, Brave and the Bold #93’s “Red Water Crimson Death” by Denny O’Neil (writer) and Neal Adams (artist) had been in the works for a while:

“…one of the most distinguished and inspired examples of comic mag art”?  That’s some pretty high praise from Mr. Boltinoff.  But my thirteen-year-old self wouldn’t have argued with him back in 1970; and it still sounds just about right to sixty-three-year-old me, here and now in 2020.

In any event, regardless of how and why the production of this story might have been delayed, its ultimate release could hardly have been more opportunely timed — October 27, just four days before Halloween.  What better time for Batman to dare enter the House of Mystery?  Read More

World’s Finest Comics #199 (December, 1970)

Ah, here we are again, pondering the eternal question:  Who’s faster, Superman or the Flash?  Let’s see if I can recall where we’ve already been, and how we got where we are “now”, in October, 1970…

Oh, yeah, I remember.  Way back in the June of 1967, when your humble blogger had not yet reached the tender age of ten years, his DC superhero-besotted self thrilled to the first ever race between the Man of Steel and the Scarlet Speedster, as chronicled by the team of Jim Shooter, Curt Swan, and George Klein in Superman #199.  Thrilled, that is, up until the story’s last page, when the Flash was robbed — robbed, I say! — of his rightful victory, when the race ended in a tie.  (Why was I rooting for the Flash?  Essentially, because super-speed was his one and only thing, while Superman had a dozen other super-abilities he could be “best” at.)  Shooter’s story might have framed this as a necessary move by the heroes to thwart two gambling syndicates that were illegally betting on the race — but my younger self knew a rip-off when he saw one:  Read More

Green Lantern #81 (December, 1970)

Green Lantern #81, the sixth issue of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams’ classic “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” run, represented a couple of “firsts” for the series.  For one, the superheroine Black Canary, who’d previously appeared in issues #78 and #79, was cover-billed as a guest-star for the first time.  For another, this was the first installment that overtly heralded the major social issue dramatized within the book’s pages with a cover blurb, i.e., the “Population Explosion!”

Along with these firsts, however, issue #81 almost had the added distinction of being the last issue drawn by Neal Adams.  As the artist would later tell interviewer Arlen Schumer (in Comic Book Marketplace #40 [Oct., 1996]), “I thought we started to run out of ideas when we ran the overpopulation story… Politically, I had a problem with the book.” Read More

Avengers #83 (December, 1970)

Fifty years ago, one didn’t necessarily expect fresh linguistic coinages to turn up in comic books right away.  If anything, comics were notorious for incorporating slang words and expressions (especially those presumably favored by America’s youth) years past their peak of popularity– if, indeed, they’d ever been popular at all.

But in its incorporation of the phrase “male chauvinist pigs” on its cover, Marvel Comics’ Avengers #83 seems to have been right on the money.  Read More