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
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 Comics. Read More
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
If you’ve ever read this blog, the cover of Detective #354 should already be familiar to you. There it is, proudly displayed in the header above every post. (UPDATE: The original header was retired in May, 2020, but can still be accessed via the link given above.) Obviously, I have a lot of affection for this particular offering from the team of Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella, who contributed so many classic covers to this era of Batman comics (and even got to sign this one — not a routine occurrence at the time).
In some ways, it’s a head-scratcher that the cover is as effective as it is. A dozen or so thugs — none of them especially formidable-looking — are depicted standing in a half-circle around Batman, shaking their fists at him. The cover copy describes this as “The Caped Crusader’s most dangerous trap”. Really? Even in 1966, and even without taking the then-insanely-popular TV show’s weekly cliffhangers into consideration, I believe my eight-year-old self must have been skeptical of that claim. Sure, the odds are against him, but he’s Batman. These hoods aren’t even armed. Even if he’s not able to take them all down, our hero should at least be able to break free of this “most dangerous trap” and escape. And while those “force lines” drawn around the thugs’ brandished fists may be intended to make them look more threatening, the actual effect comes off as just a little bit silly. Read More