Comics Reviews: Batman 297, Detective 476, Brave & the Bold 140

Batman 297 coverBatman #297 – “The Mad Hatter Goes Straight” – David V. Reed/Rich Buckler/Vince Colletta

This one starts at the taping of a lavish TV commercial for the Great Excursion Travel Agency. During the taping, the marquee lights up with the word “give” and everyone in the theatre comes forward like they’re hypnotized or something and puts all their money and jewelry into a hat. The commercial’s star takes the hatful of loot backstage and passes it to Mad Hatter. He goes back to his hideout with his new-found fortune, but his victory rings hollow. Hatter tells his men he put scopolamine in the water and coffee at the commercial taping, making everyone very suggestible. That explains why they ponied up their stuff when they saw the word “give” on the marquee. But Mad Hatter thinks crime has gotten too easy and misses the sense of adventure he got while working at his father’s hat shop, pretending to besaved by Mad Hatter different characters depending on what hat he wore. He decides to try the ultimate adventure … being a good guy. Some time later, Bruce Wayne and a woman named Kim are enjoying a hansom cab ride in Central—uh, I mean Midtown Park—when a couple of hoods stick them up. Bruce contemplates fighting but doesn’t want to blow his secret identity. Before he can hand over his wallet the crooks are roped and pounded by Mad Hatter, calling himself Sheriff Tetch. So I guess his reformation is going well … at least until Kim tells him he deserves a reward for helping them. His old larcenous instincts kick in and he grabs her pearl necklace and takes off. Bruce tells the cabbie to stop so he can go call the cops, but he changes to Batman and goes after Mad Hatter. He catches him, but accidentally knocks him into the back of a passing truck. To top it all off, when Bruce gets back to the cabbie, he finds out Kim went home in a huff. Later, Bruce tells Alfred Tetch crime spreeabout his misadventures and wonders if he’ll ever see Tetch again, or if he’ll just vanish. At the docks, we get the answer to that question. A ship from Africa is bringing in some special cargo—an aardvark for the Gotham Zoo. But it gets loose and digs into the nearby riverbank. Tetch is monitoring the police band, so he dresses like a stereotypical African explorer and goes to help, figuring he might have to take baby steps to reform. He manages to coax the aardvark out with some delicious termites, but then has another sudden impulse and steals it, having gotten it into his head the aardvark was worth a million dollars. Mad Hatter then goes on a spree, stealing everything from construction payrolls to valuable paintings. Batman decides to lure Tetch out with a score he won’t be able to resist. As Bruce Wayne, he opens up Wayne Manor for a big fundraiser where Jason Bard announces his intention to run for mayor. Bruce introduces Bard and the rich people cough up campaign money for him.Hatter pounded Bruce goes to put the money in the safe and he’s followed by Mad Hatter, disguised as a chef. But Hatter finds Batman waiting for him and quickly gets pounded. Batman later explains to Commissioner Gordon he knew Mad Hatter would come after the fundraiser money because Jason Bard was “throwing his hat into the ring” and “passing the hat”. Hatter’s hat obsession was so great that he was subconsciously compelled to strike. Batman concludes that Hatter really was trying to go straight, but just couldn’t follow through. The story ends with Bruce giving Kim’s pearl necklace back to her in the Park and going on a very long ride with her.

Noticeable Things:

  • I’m not sure if the whole great Excursion Travel Agency commercial extravaganza is supposed to reference a real-life company or not. If it is, I don’t know which one.
  • Judging by Bruce’s thoughts at the end of the story—and the fact that they were riding around the Park for two hours—I’m thinking maybe he gave Kim another kind of pearl necklace.

Detective 476 coverDetective Comics #476 – “Sign of the Joker” – Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

This one starts only a few hours after last issue. If you remember, Joker used a chemical to give all the fish caught off the coast near Gotham his own face, then tried to copyright the fish so he could get royalties on each fish sold. The copyright office told him that was impossible, so he killed one of the copyright commissioners and vowed to kill more until they acquiesced. Batman and the cops are at another commission member’s house, which has been sealed off to keep Joker away. As the hour approaches, the guy’s cat comes in with a Joker-fish in its mouth. The cat then attacks Batman, leaving him dead from Joker venom with the trademark rictus on his lips. Turns out Batman was disguised as the copyright commissioner and vice versa, but by using the cat as his weapon, Joker bypassed the disguise since the cat knew its owndead commission member master. Joker broadcasts another taunt and Batman realizes he must have his own transmitter. He goes out to look for it and thinks he sees Hugo Strange in the trees, but whatever he saw disappears right away. Batman finds no sign of Strange, but stumbles onto a handy Vapor Detector on the ground. At his hideout, Joker worries people might just stop eating fish, but concludes he could use his chemical to copyright cows too and decides to proceed with his plan. Elsewhere, we see Boss Rupert Thorne (who fled Gotham last issue to get away from Hugo Strange’s ghost) and Silver St. Cloud (who he picked up after her car broke down) driving down a rain-soaked highway. Silver is wondering if she should go back and confront Bruce Wayne (her boyfriend) about his being Batman. Thorne is still stewing over Strange’s ghost. Thorne turns on the radio and hears a Strange's ghostnews bulletin about the Joker’s murders. He starts talking shit about Batman and naturally Silver defends him, and mentions how crooked Thorne himself is. He gets mad and tells her to get the hell out. Luckily for her, there’s a small airstrip nearby and she asks the pilot if she can charter his plane. Thorne continues down the highway, but soon finds an even worse hitchhiker—Hugo Strange’s ghost, which starts to strangle him. Back in Gotham, Batman and the cops are at the next copyright commissioner’s house. Batman uses the Vapor Detector to figure out the Joker is disguised as a cop and Joker realizes it detected the gas that Hugo Strange sprayed him with back in issue #472. He and Batman tussle and Joker takes off out the window, Batman chases him just as Silver arrives below in a cab. Batman pursues Joker over the rain-slick roofs to a construction site, where they both end up perched on a swinging girder. Joker tries to spraylightning Batman with his acid-flower, but Batman leaps to safety and the girder is struck by lightning. Joker falls into the water and doesn’t come up. Batman isn’t sure he’s dead, but at least he’s out of commission for now. Silver shows up and tells Batman she can’t be with someone who constantly risks his life, even though she loves him. She leaves, telling him not to contact her. Commissioner Gordon tells Batman that Rupert Thorne turned himself in, scared shitless, and confessed all his crimes for the last few decades. So Batman’s no longer persona non grata in Gotham. But Bats isn’t in a celebratory mood, so he just swings off.

Noticeable Things:

  • The last page could refer equally well to Steve Englehart as to Batman, since this is Englehart’s last issue as scripter.last page I generally enjoyed his run; I thought the political stuff was realistic and he wrote Gotham as a very gritty, noirish sort of city. Later writers like Conway and Moench will continue in that vein and expand on it.
  • I also like Marshall Rogers art, but luckily he isn’t leaving just yet. He’ll be back next issue with a new writer.

Brave and Bold 140Brave & the Bold #140 – “Dastardly Events Aboard The Hellship” – Bob Haney/Jim Aparo

This one starts with that hoary old trope where we come in right in the middle of the action, then get an extended flashback to catch us up. Any longtime readers of this blog will know I hate that as a storytelling device. This one starts with a (presumably) hypnotized Batman and Wonder Woman literally jumping through hoops and growling like animals, under the command of some dick in a ringmaster costume. How’d they get here? Cue the flashback! Not long before, Batman was asked by a rich industrialist named Belmont tocircus tricks rescue his kidnapped daughter. Belmont says he’ll give ten million dollars to Batman’s favourite charity if he gets his daughter Esmerelda back from a guy named Dimitrios. Dimitrios is a master of industrial espionage, stealing tech secrets and selling them to the highest bidder. He kidnapped Esmerelda because she knew the secret of a new solar cell and Belmont’s afraid Dimitrios will torture her to get the secret. Batman agrees to help and hitches a ride from the Coast Guard to the middle of the ocean where Dimitrios’s ship, the Argosy, is located. In New York, Diana Prince is talking to her boss about Dimitrios and how they’d love to get him for all the espionage. Diana decides to go after him as Wonder Woman and flies WW saves Batmanher invisible jet out to the Argosy. She conjures a waterspout with her lasso to cover her infiltration of the ship. Meanwhile, Batman is underwater, performing an infiltration of his own. Unfortunately, he ends up inside a huge water tank with a giant squid and a killer whale. Wonder Woman stumbles onto the scene and rescues Batman by smashing the tank. Dimitrios soon figures out there are intruders aboard and sends the Simian Squad to get them. For some reason, Dimitrios has a bunch of displays on his ship, like a movie studio backlot; there’s an Arctic scene, a Western town, a  downtown Gotham robbery, and Wonder Woman capturing a crook at the U. N. The Simian Squad, which turns out to be a bunch of apes wearing human clothes, tracks Batman to the Gotham street scene and sniffs out the fact that he took the place of the Batman statue there. One of Dimitrios’s henchmen gasses Batman and the apes beat the shit out of him, but are ordered not to kill him.Batman pounded At the U.N. street scene, Wonder Woman uses the same trick as Batman, taking the place of her own statue. She pounds the apes that come after her, but gets gassed by the henchman too. That brings us to where we started, with Batman and Wonder Woman forced to obey Dimitrios because of the hypnotic gas. Esmerelda sits nearby and cheers as Dimitrios orders the heroes to humiliate themselves. Batman is startled to find out Esmerelda wasn’t really kidnapped, she came willingly to see Dimitrios, who gloats by Batman swallows prototypetossing the solar cell prototype in his hand. But Batman lunges forward and swallows it! Dimitrios orders his apes to catch Batman so his stomach can be pumped (I guess it’s either that or wait until he grunts one out), but Batman takes off. He hides in the ship’s nuclear engine room, where he finds a guy chained up. It turns out to be Dr. Morgan, the guy who invented the solar cell. Dimitrios kidnapped him and stole the prototype he was working on. Batman had assumed Esmerelda gave Dimitrios the prototype, but Morgan says he was kidnapped weeks ago, with the only working prototype. Batman realizes Belmont’s whole kidnapping story about Esmerelda was bullshit, but Batman was bullshitting a bit himself; he never really swallowed the prototype, just palmed it. But when Morgan sees it, he tells Batman it’s a fake. Just then, two apes bust through the door and attack them (wasn’t that a piece of writing advice from Chandler?). Batman fights them but gets tangled in a net and dragged to an operating theater.Wonder Woman pounds apes Dimitrios orders one of his apes to excise the solar cell from Batman’s stomach, warning that the ape has heightened intelligence, but he’s no surgeon. Morgan can’t figure out why Batman is letting this happen since the cell isn’t really in his stomach and it’s a fake. Wonder Woman gets so pissed off she busts the chains on her wrists (even though that’s supposed to be impossible) and starts wailing on the apes. Morgan frees Batman, who conks out Dimitrios as he’s trying to shoot Wonder Woman. Esmerelda shows her true colours by pointing a gun at Morgan’s head and taking him hostage. She says she’ll kill him if they try to stop her from leaving and heads for a helicopter on deck. As Esmerelda’s boarding the chopper, Wonder Woman uses her lasso to snag her arm, making her drop the gun. But Dimitrios appears on deck with another of his stolen inventions, a grenade full of “Greek fire”. Wonder Woman refuses to let Esmerelda go and uses her magic lasso to Esmerelda tells the truthforce the truth from her. Apparently, Esmerelda wasn’t quite so enamoured of Dimitrios after all, she only got close to him so she could steal the solar cell and take it back to her father. Dimitrios freaks and tosses the fire grenade, but Wonder Woman uses a whirlwind to put it out. Dimitrios tries to escape in the chopper, but Wonder Woman summons her invisible jet, which knocks the chopper back to the deck. Later in New York, Diana tells Batman she knew someone had to have switched the fake solar cell for the real one and since Esmerlda was ready to take off without her supposed boyfriend, it had to be her. Batman mentions that everyone—Esmerelda, her father, and Dimitrios—are going to trial for various crimes. I’m not sure what happened to the whole “they’re untouchable because they’re in international waters” thing, but whatever. Batman also says he’s going to found a medical school for gorillas in case he’s ever in that situation again. Ah, if only.

Noticeable Things:

  • The fact that Belmont offered Batman money was suspicious to start with. Wouldn’t Batman want to save a kidnapped girl, whether or not Belmont gave money to charity?
  • Dimitrios reminds me of the Greek shipping tycoons of the era, like Ari Onassis or Stavros Niarchos. I’m sure that’s what Haney was going for, though as far as I know, Onassis never had any hyper-intelligent apes working for him.
  • The Coast Guard tells Batman the Argosy runs on nuclear power, so it only has to refuel every few years. It only puts into ports that don’t mind Dimitrios’s shady dealings, spending the rest of the time in international waters.
  • As far as I know, killer whales don’t actually attack people, but maybe this one was genetically modified like Dimitrios’s apes.
  • Dimitrios seems to be reading the novelization of Star Wars when Batman and Wonder Woman are first detected on the ship.
  • I’m not sure exactly when (or how) Batman and Wonder Woman’s brainwashing wore off. One minute they’re performing circus tricks, the next Batman is swallowing the prototype and running away.
  • Batman explains that he let himself almost get cut open so Wonder Woman would get mad enough to break her chains and fight the apes. I think he might be confusing her with the Hulk.
  • Wonder Woman comes off pretty well in this story. She saves Batman from the killer whale and squid, she saves him again in the operating room, she figures out Esmerelda’s game, snuffs the fire, and captures Dimitrios … all without any diatribes about men. She’s depicted as being a competent professional, Batman’s equal as a superhero. Take note, other late-70s writers, that’s how you do a feminist comic book story.
  • Between the unnatural violent tendencies and the various poundings they suffer, gorillas don’t come off too well in this story. Gulliver was not pleased … Gulliver upset

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