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

Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May, 1971)

A half-century after the fact, I’m at something of a loss to explain why I stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man for almost an entire year, after my subscription ran out with issue #85 in March, 1970.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that my younger self went through a period of being considerably less interested in comic books than I previously had been, a period that began in the fall of 1969 and extended through the next spring.  But my subscription had actually carried through the bulk of that time span, as it had for my other favorite Marvel comic of the time, Fantastic Four; and I was back to picking up FF, at least occasionally, by June, 1970.  Somehow, though, even as late as February, 1971 — well after I’d resumed buying Avengers, Daredevil, and other Marvel standbys on a semi-regular basis — I was still avoiding becoming reacquainted with May Parker’s favorite nephew.

Until Amazing Spider-Man #96, that is.  This one brought me back into the fold.  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

It was April, 1970…

On July 21, 2015, this blog made its debut with a post entitled “It was the summer of ’65…”.  In that first installment, I described my earliest experiences with comic books, leading up to to my very first comics purchase in the, well, summer of ’65.  Since then, I’ve been writing about some of the most interesting individual issues I bought in my first few years as an avid comics reader (and nascent collector), while also attempting to chronicle, more generally, the evolution of my own comics tastes and interests, and setting that personal narrative in the broader context of what was going on in the funnybook industry (and, more broadly, in American culture), during those years.

But now, almost half a decade after starting this project, I’ve reached the point in the narrative of my comic book buying and reading where that story almost came to an end, fifty years ago.  I’ve arrived at the time in my life when, at least for a while, I stopped buying comics.  Read More

Aquaman #47 (Sept.-Oct., 1969)

When last we left Aquaman, the King of the Seven Seas had just been reunited with his long-lost Queen, Mera, and the two were swimming swiftly back to Atlantis to confront Narkran — the man whom Aquaman had trusted to rule Atlantis in his stead while he searched for the kidnapped Mera, and whom he’d since learned had actually been conspiring all along with surface-world gangsters to take and hold Mera prisoner.  Both King and Queen were unaware, however, of three other critical situations that were unfolding at the same time: the first (and most urgent) being the solitary battle of Aquaman’s junior partner Aqualad against a fearsome sea monster called the Bugala; the second, a burgeoning popular movement of rebellion against Narkran’s despotism by a band of young Atlanteans; and the third, an ongoing series of tremors that were rocking the undersea kingdom’s foundations.  Read More

Captain Marvel #12 (April, 1969)

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating — sometimes, I just have no idea why my younger self chose to buy a particular comic book fifty years ago.

That’s certainly the case with the subject of today’s post.  After passing Captain Marvel by on the stands for almost a year, in January, 1969 I decided to gamble twelve cents on the series’ twelfth issue.  How come?

Was it the cover, by John Romita and Sal Buscema (or maybe George Tuska and Buscema — the usual reference sources differ)?  I suppose it could be.  It’s not a particularly distinguished composition (at least, not to my present-day, 61-year-old eyes), but it’s not what I’d call bad — and those bright, contrasting colors really do pop.  So, maybe.

Perhaps it was the result of a long-simmering curiosity about the character that had been sparked by my reading of the “Captain Marvin” parody in the ninth issue of Marvel’s Not Brand Echh series, back in May of ’68.  That piece, produced by the “real” Captain Marvel’s onetime writer and penciller (Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, respectively) had served as a sort of primer on the origin, powers, and modus operandi of “Marvel’s Space-Born Super-Hero!™” — though one read through a cracked glass, as it were.  It had also been pretty funny to my then ten-year-old sensibilities, even if Thomas’ gags referencing the original Captain Marvel had gone right over my head.  So, maybe I recalled this story when I saw Captain Marvel #12 on the spinner rack, and decided to give the “real thing” a try.  Read More

The Brave and the Bold #82 (Feb.-March, 1969)

December, 1968, saw the publication of the fourth issue of Neal Adams and Bob Haney’s run on Brave and the Bold — a partnership that had begun with the duo’s “The Track of the Hook” some six months earlier, and which was gradually evolving the image of Batman towards a darker, more mysterious vision, one closer to how he’d originally been concerned by Bob Kane and Bill Finger thirty years before.  That vision was slowly becoming established as the proper take on the Caped Crusader in the minds of comics pros as well as fans (though there was as yet little evidence of its influence in the other series in which Batman regularly appeared).  And while this emerging new direction for Batman was inarguably driven almost entirely by the artistic efforts of Adams, Haney’s scripts — more grounded and serious than most of his earlier work with the character in BatB, which he’d produced during the TV show-inspired “camp” era — were consistent with the visual tone set by Adams’ drawings, and usually managed to carry their share of the weight in the ongoing enterprise of re-imagining DC Comics’ Darknight Detective.  That was true even in the context of a story like “The Sleepwalker from the Sea!”, which brought one of the publisher’s more fanciful heroes into the increasingly gritty urban milieu of Gotham City.   Read More

Aquaman #42 (Nov.-Dec., 1968)

Regular readers of this blog may recall that Aquaman was the very last Justice League member with their own book in the late ’60s that I got around to sampling as a solo draw.  And, as I posted almost one full year ago, what finally convinced me to pick up the Sea King’s 36th issue had less to do with the comic book itself, and more to do with the fact that the hero just debuted as one of the two titular stars of CBS’ animated series, The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure.  As things turned out, that single issue, featuring a story by the regular team of Bob Haney and Nick Cardy, failed to grab me enough for me to pick up the next issue, or the one after that.  By the time September, 1968 rolled around, one year later, the TV series had aired its last original episode, and with Aquaman only appearing in roughly every other issue of Justice League of America at the time, there wasn’t exactly a lot going on to spark a renewed interest in the hero’s solo adventures on my part.  Still, something convinced me to pick up Aquaman #42 when I saw it on the stands.  What could it have been?

Well, duh.  It was the cover, of course.   Read More

The Brave and the Bold #79 (Aug.-Sept., 1968)

The topic of today’s post is, I believe, one of the most important single comic books in the evolution of  Batman to appear during the character’s nearly eighty-year history — probably ranking in the top five or so such comics.  Chronologically speaking, it’s certainly the most important Batman comic that DC Comics had published since 1964’s Detective Comics #327, the issue in which editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino debuted a “New Look” for the Caped Crusader — and I think that a strong case can be made that there wouldn’t be another single Bat-book quite so significant until the publication of the first installment of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight, in 1986.

That’s because “The Track of the Hook”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Neal Adams, serves as the clearest point of origin for the most thorough overhaul ever of one of comics’ most iconic heroes — an overhaul that has often been called a return to the character’s original 1939 roots, but is probably more accurately viewed as an approach based on what comics writer Denny O’Neil once described as “remembering how we thought it should have been” [emphasis mine].  It was an approach which returned an air of mystery, a touch of noir, to Batman and his milieu — one which did indeed recover visual and thematic elements that had been present, or at least implicit, in the character’s earliest published adventures, but which explored and elaborated on those elements in a more sophisticated fashion than readers had ever seen before.  And it all started with Brave and the Bold #79, and the art of Neal Adams.  Read More

Strange Adventures #212 (May-June, 1968)

Since launching this blog back in July, 2015, I’ve endeavored to include my original impressions of the fifty-year-old comics I’m revisiting here, as well as to present my current opinions on same, and, frequently, some historical material about the characters and creators involved.  To accomplish the first part of that, I’ve obviously had to rely on memories of a half-century’s vintage.  Those memories have been vague and incomplete, without question; still, I’ve generally assumed that what I have been able to remember, and include in my blog posts, has been, for the most part, recollected accurately.

Until this post, that is.  Read More