Comics Reviews: Batman 296, Detective 475, Warlord 11

Batman 296 coverBatman #296 – “The Sinister Straws of the Scarecrow” – David V. Reed/Sal Amendola

One thing about David V. Reed as a writer … he sure does his research. This one is a psychological thriller, focusing on fear. We start with Scarecrow bragging to a couple of his “Strawmen” that he’s isolated a drug that will bring out anyone’s hidden fears. It attacks the brain somehow and makes the victim think they’re being affected by whatever they fear most. Scarecrow says it’ll even work on Batman, since everyone has something they’re afraid of. He tests the drug on one of his Strawmen, who freaks out because he thinks he’s being attacked by Batman, which is his biggest fear apparently. We next see a fence named Skibo, who finds some straws ontest his desk. He picks them up and gets gassed with Scarecrow’s drug, which makes Skibo think he’s been buried alive. Scarecrow gives him the antidote, but says he’ll keep subjecting him to his greatest fear unless he coughs up some bonds he stole from the Bank a while back. He does, but instead of keeping the bonds, Scarecrow has Skibo return them to the Bank night deposit slot. The bankers call Bruce Wayne to tell him about it the next day and he wonders why someone would steal the bonds then return them. He decides to set a trap, then looks up one of his snitches. The snitch tells him that whoever stole the bonds used a top-level fence who specialized in securities; his name? Skibo. So now Batman’s on Skibo’s trail, and his trap is sprung too; the evening paper has a story about the returned bonds being fake. When Scarecrow reads that, he freaks, Batman pounds strawmenwondering if Skibo somehow beat his fear drug. He goes to rough Skibo up and Batman is waiting for him. Batman tussles with Scarecow’s henchmen and an explosion allows the crooks to get away. Batman interrogates Skibo, whose fear of being buried alive turns out to be less than his fear of Batman. Skibo talks and Batman figures out Scarecrow’s plan; he’s going after crooks who have stolen loot but held onto it until the heat was off. Scarecrow steals the loot from the crooks and they can’t call anyone for help. Batman starts looking through unsolved robberies and finds one with potential. A Gutenberg Bible disappeared from the Library and Batman figures out the Library’s director must’ve stolen it. Later that night, Scarecrow and his men show up at the Library director’s place to extort the stolen Bible from him, but he turns out to be Batman in disguise. Batman pounds the threeBatman beats drug crooks, but Scarecrow gives him a dose of the new fear drug. Batman’s hidden fear—of not being good enough to defeat evil—starts to come out, but he fights it off and beats the shit out of Scarecrow. Batman later explains to Commissioner Gordon that he forced the director to give the newspapers a story about resigning from the Library board and leaving town. That forced Scarecrow to move him to the top of his extortion list. Batman refuses to tell Gordon exactly how he fought off the Scarecrow’s fear drug, but says it was an exhilarating experience. I think you’ve been at this too long, Bats.

Noticeable Things:

  • Sal Amendola’s art is kinda quirky here, with lots of weird panel layouts and such, but it fits with the mood of the story.
  • Reed uses a lot of jargon in this story: there are a lot of fancy terms describing different fears, then when Batman’s snitch is talking, he uses some weird underground cant. Luckily, Reed gives us translations for everything.

Detective 475 coverDetective Comics #475 – “The Laughing Fish” – Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

This is part one of the famous “laughing fish” story featuring the Joker. It starts with Batman paying a visit to an almost-naked Silver St. Cloud. Nothing he hasn’t seen before, I’m sure. Batman is 99% certain that Silver knows he’s Bruce Wayne and he’s basically giving her the chance to confront him with it. But she pretends not to know, so Batman figures he’d better not confess his secret, just in case he’s wrong about her knowing. But after he leaves, we see that Silver does know the truth, she’s just too scared of losing Bruce to admit it. Bruce calls a few minutes later, saying he’ll be late, and she puts off the date until she can figure out what to do. As Batman patrols Gotham, he thinks about Silver and realizes he lovesSilver her. But he knows his double life could put her in constant danger, so he’s not sure what to do. He hears a yell for help and heads over to the docks, where he finds a bunch of fishermen whose fish all have the Joker’s face. Batman tells them the Joker is a nutcase, so who the hell knows why he’d give fish his face. We soon find out, as we see Joker entering the Copyright Office the next day. He tells the guy there (G. Carl Francis) that he wants to copyright the fish, since they have his face. That way, he’ll get money for every fish that’s caught from the ocean. Apparently, he’s been dumping whatever chemical he used to alter the fish all along the Atlantic seaboard. Francis tells him fish are a natural resource, so they can’t be copyrighted. Naturally, that pisses Joker off. He threatens Francis, then leaves. He tells his men to Joker entrancekeep dumping the chemicals and we get the (in)famous scene of Joker pushing one of his own henchmen in front of a truck just for the hell of it. We next see Rupert Thorne, who’s really losing it now. He’s so paranoid about Hugo Strange’s ghost that he mistakes one of his oldest friends for the ghost. Then when he goes to the can, he almost shits himself when Joker pops out of a stall to tell him to lay off Batman. Joker says he’s the only one worthy of destroying Batman, so Thorne better stop trying to figure out Batman’s secret identity. Thorne loses his shit, laughing like a maniac and going on about Strange. He jumps in a car and takes off, probably leaving Joker to wonder if he’s just been out-crazied. Batman is officially persona non grata with the cops, but Commissioner Gordon calls him anyway when Joker threatens to kill the copyright guy (Francis) by midnight. Batman checks every inch of Francis’s place and puts a police cordon outside. Even food and water are checked, but at midnight gas starts pouring in through the heating ducts. Batman slaps his gas mask on Francis’s face, but it doesn’t matter; Francis dies from the gas and gets the Joker grin on his face. BatmanFrancis dead realizes the gas could only affect Francis, since it was part of a binary compound. Joker must’ve sprayed Francis with the other half of the compound at the Copyright Office. Joker threatens to kill another bureaucrat if his “laughing fish” copyright isn’t put into effect. Elsewhere, we see Rupert Thorne still driving, trying to get as far away from Gotham as possible. He comes across a stalled car and the driver turns out to be Silver St. Cloud. She bums a ride and off they go. We’ll see what happens with them (and Joker) next issue, which is also Englehart’s last issue as writer on Detective.

Noticeable Things:

  • I think Englehart has said that this was his way of showing just how fucked up the Joker really is. His crimes don’t make sense to anyone but him, and his homicidal urges strike at random. It actually makes the Joker a lot scarier; if he’s impossible to predict, that makes him a hell of a lot more dangerous.
  • Joker compares himself to Colonel Sanders while trying to copyright the Joker-faced fish.

Warlord 11 cover Warlord #11 – “Flashback” – Mike Grell

This is basically a reprint of Warlord’s first appearance in First Issue Special # with a short framing device. Morgan, Mariah, and Machiste are still trying to get back to Shamballah and have to hide in a cave from a pissed-off triceratops. As the others sleep, Morgan reflects back on his origin, which I won’t go into depth here. Basically, he was a Vietnam War pilot, shot down over Russia, ended up in Skartaris where he met Tara who taught him how to fight … and probably fucked his brains loose. They fought Deimos and got separated, and he’s been trying to get back to her ever since.

Noticeable Things:

  • I’m assuming they were having deadline problems here, something that seemed to plague DC all through 1978.
  • I forgot how weird Morgan looked without the beard/moustache.Flashback

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