This one starts with some shifty dudes unloading boxes from a boat in the middle of the night … definitely suspicious behaviour. Batman seems to agree, since he shows up and beats the hell out of them. The boxes are full of heroin and Batman realizes the boat is from a ship called the Golden Girl II. He goes to check it out, sneaking aboard the ship and cornering the owner, Hannibal Hardwicke. Apparently Hardwicke has been suspected of being behind the heroin traffic around Gotham for a couple of years, but he always managed to wriggle out of the grasp of the law. Now Batman thinks they’ve got him dead to rights, but before he can haul Hardwicke in, Black Spider shows up and does his best to shoot Hardwicke. Batman whacks him with a lamp, which plunges the room into darkness. Black Spider starts blasting indiscriminately, but Batman has already whisked Hardwicke off the ship and onto the motor launch, leaving Black Spider rather frustrated. At police headquarters in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon says the Mayor doesn’t want Hardwicke held in the city jail (or police HQ), for fear Black Spider might attack and start a big shootout. We get a recap of Black Spider’s previous appearances in Detective 463 and 464 … basically, he’s an ex-junkie who declared war on drug dealers and started blowing them away. When Batman tried to stop him, Spider accidentally blew himself up—or so it seemed. Obviously he survived and now he’s gunning for Hardwicke … seemingly with more than his usual hatred for drug dealers, as Gordon points out. Batman says he’ll keep Hardwicke safe, then less than half an hour later leads him into the street where he’s promptly shot by Black Spider. But Spider notices “Hardwicke” isn’t bleeding and realizes Batman suckered him. While two cops (in bullet-proof vests) posing as Batman and Hardwicke went out the front, the real Caped Crusader and his charge slipped out the back (disguised as cops) and got away. Batman takes him to the Wayne Foundation Building (owned by his “good friend” Bruce Wayne, who just happens to be away) to hide out. But Black Spider manages to track them down and scales the giant tree in the middle of the building. Batman jumps him, but gets tossed off the tree and plunges down toward the artificial lake at the bottom. Black Spider reveals that he planted a tracker on Batman’s cape way back on the Golden Girl Ii before revealing himself. Black Spider gets zapped by the automated defense lasers but keeps looking for Hardwicke. Batman reappears (with half his costume, including the cape, missing) and jumps Black Spider. Spider gets away momentarily, but keels over moments after busting into the penthouse. Turns out Batman released some kind of knockout drug in the air in case Black Spider made it inside. Naturally Batman, Hardwicke, and Alfred were wearing nose filters. Alfred says Hardwicke confessed to him that he was the one who originally bankrolled Black Spider’s war against other drug dealers—to eliminate the competition. Then Hardwicke tried o eliminate Black Spider, which explains why Spider was so hell-bent on killing him.
- When they find the drugs on the boat, Commissioner Gordon has Batman open the crates because they don’t have the search warrant yet and he doesn’t want the evidence thrown out on a technicality. But isn’t Batman acting as an “instrument” of the police here? As far as I know, the police can’t do through someone else what they can’t legally do themselves, so the evidence probably would be thrown out after all.
- They’re all pretty lucky Black Spider didn’t go for a head shot when he fell for Batman’s “fake Hardwicke” ruse; otherwise, they’d have had a dead cop on their hands.
- We find out the tree in the middle of the Wayne Foundation Building has a trunk made of metal; I’m not sure what the leaves are made of … they sure seem real.
- The back-up story is an Unsolved Cases of the Batman (by Rozakis/Newton/Hunt) which continues from last issue. Basically Batman found a wedding ring on a dead woman that implied she was his wife. He tracked the ring to a jewelry shop in Maine, but couldn’t find anything. After returning home, he was confronted by some asshole who claimed to have killed the mystery woman—oh, and who says he has proof that Bruce Wayne is Batman. They tussle (in the Batcave!) and the intruder uses some kind of freezing gas to incapacitate Batman long enough to get away. Batman checks his fingerprints, but they lead nowhere. He tries voice print analysis after concluding that the intruder had some kind of voice training, like a performer would have. He tracks down a shitty actor named Richter and follows him night after night into the worst slums of Gotham. Batman realizes Richter is spreading some sort of plague virus that’s killing ghetto people and plans to blackmail the city once he’s racked up a high enough body count. Batman confronts Richter and during the struggle guess what happens? Yup, Richter is killed by his own virus, thus shielding Batman’s secret without Batman having to become a killer. Batman figures the evidence Richter had of his dual identity is buried in the unknown woman’s grave and leaves it there. I dunno, I might have dug it up just to be safe. Batman never does figure out why the woman’s ring was inscribed “Mrs. Batman”, so I guess that was just a MacGuffin … which feels like a bit of a cheat to me.
Because of the DC Implosion, Detective Comics was almost cancelled but ended up being saved at the last minute by merging with Batman Family. So, for the next couple of years or so, Detective will have five or six stories per issue. I’ll try to cover each story, though I won’t get too deep into each one, but I’ll make sure they all get covered. The lead stories are a bit more important, so I’ll give them a little extra attention.
“Ticket to Tragedy” – Denny O’Neil/Marshall Rogers
This one starts with Batman in London, England, lurking outside a hospital. Two men come out, a heart surgeon (Basil Smythe) and a patient. The patient is shot by a hidden gunman, but there are actually two simultaneous shots. Batman nabs the closest gunman, but his gun is loaded with blanks, so Batman realizes he was just a decoy. Batman finds the spot where the real killer hid to take the fatal shot, but his quarry is long gone, leaving behind only the spent shell casing and a train ticket. Batman got involved because Basil Smythe is Alfred Pennyworth’s cousin and he’s been receiving death threats for a while now. Smythe has also perfected a technique to make heart transplants almost foolproof, but his patient being killed in front of him has brought out his cynical streak. He thinks humanity is a bunch of assholes and figures he may as well destroy the notes on his technique instead of publishing them. Batman makes a deal with him: if Batman can bring the killer to justice by six pm the day after next (when Smythe is appearing at a medical conference in Gotham), the Doc agrees to publish his life-saving technique. The train ticket Batman found in London is for the inaugural run of a new railway line from Gotham to the state capital. Since the train is kind of fancy, the organizer (Milt Solo) invites 200 of the swankiest socialites and bigwigs and has them all dress in Victorian regalia. Batman boards the train as a conductor and checks all 200 tickets, finding none missing. He concludes one of the tickets must be counterfeit, since the one he found in London is genuine. He changes to Batman, but is accosted by railway cops, who say they were tipped off that someone dressed as Batman would try to sabotage the train. After Batman gets their attention (with some well-placed punches), he enlists their help. In the Batcave, Alfred has been checking Dr. Smythe’s old patient list and thinks he’s found a motive for whoever’s trying to kill the Doc: Smythe accidentally crippled the killer’s brother years ago during a botched operation. . Alfred takes the Bat-copter to the railway station to wait for the train. Batman checks all the tickets and finds they’re all genuine. He realizes who the killer must be, but before he can do anything, the train is separated. Batman hooks the moving section of the train and “water-skies” (so to speak) along the rails, reeling himself onto the moving train. Batman can’t find his quarry inside, so he heads to the roof of the train. The killer turns out to be Milt Solo, the organizer; Batman figured he’s the only one who could get aboard without a ticket and would be likely to carry an extra ticket, like the one he dropped in London. Batman saves Solo from getting decapitated by a tunnel and drags him to the airport just in time to stop Smythe from burning his notes.
- The British stereotypes—especially the accents—are really overdone here, like most comics that are set in the UK.
- The patient with Smythe who got shot was just an innocent bystander, who Solo shot by accident. (Or in story terms, he was something of a red herring.)
Robin “Does the Costume Make the Hero?” – Bob Rozakis/Don Newton/Dan Adkins
This one starts with Robin trying out some new costumes. He spots a guy taking photos of him and goes after the dude (one of the costumes has a rocket pack!), but ends up tangling with a villain named Raven. Robin gets pounded by Raven, but Police Chief McDonald recognized the guy with the camera as a small-time thug named Twitchell. They go to Twitchell’s hideout and Robin pounds him, then chases Twitchell’s two accomplices. He catches them by the docks, but they seem inordinately scared of him for some reason. He figures out it’s not him they’re scared of, it’s his new costume. Robin dives into the water and the costume explodes seconds later. Chief McDonald bags the two crooks and Robin surfaces, telling the Chief he’ll need another costume to wear. There’s no explanation of how he survived the explosion, or how his costume got sabotaged in the first place, but I guess we’ll get those answers next issue.
- This story is continued from Batman Family, so there are references to past events that have no context: Robin and raven have fought before; Robin recognizes one of the guys meeting Twitchell as an executive for a company called Allied Engineering Associates, which has something to do with the disappearance of a guy named Gary; and Robin’s also mooning over his ex-girlfriend, who’s seeing a new guy.
- The three new costumes were designed by actual comics fans for a contest; the three winners are featured here. That’s something DC used to do every now and then back in the 70s. I think they did it more than once with the Legion.
Batgirl “A Slow Death in China” – Bob Rozakis/Don Heck/Bob Smith
This is another story that seems to be continued from Batman Family. Barbara Gordon is in China with other government officials (Barbara’s a Congresswoman at this point in her career) for some kind of good will tour. She’s also investigating some Chinese super heroes called the Sino-Supermen and trying to figure out if her brother’s death years ago was really an accident. She’s with some friend of hers named Leslie, who’s a photojournalist. But when some nutcase attacks the delegation with a grenade, Leslie kicks his ass and tosses the grenade away. Barbara’s surprised, but Leslie says she’s been working out and training to fight since Barbara knew her in college. We see a sinister-looking Chinese dude straight out of a Sax Rohmer novel telling his lackey to send the Sino-Supermen to abduct Barbara Gordon. Leslie surprises the Sino-Supermen in Barbara’s room that night. She jumps them and Barbara slips out to change to Batgirl, then comes in to attack the Chinese superheroes. Leslie takes down the super-speed woman while Batgirl slaps the other two around. One of them explodes (!) and the other takes off when security guards start knocking the door down. Batgirl takes her mask off and gets into bed, telling the guards that Leslie ran into the bed and fell over. Leslie seems dazed from the fight but goes along with Barbara’s story. (It’s obvious Leslie doesn’t know Barbara’s secret identity, though how she hasn’t figured it out yet I don’t know.) Batgirl changes back to Barbara when Leslie’s in the bathroom and they discuss Barbara’s brother Tony, who supposedly died in a balloon accident years ago. But Barbara’s afraid Tony may have been spying for the Chinese and it got him killed. When the Sino-Supermen show up empty-handed, the Sax Rohmer reject sends them right back after Barbara. They throw gas pellets into the room and capture Barbara and Leslie. Of course, we have to wait until next issue to see what happens.
- The Chinese people in this story are drawn almost like caricatures; it reminds me of the old racist depictions of “Orientals” from Golden Age comics. Not exactly progress.
- The Sino-Supermen seem to be knock-offs on American heroes and even have similar costumes. One looks like Superman, another one (a woman) is a Flash analogue, but I’m not sure who the third one is patterned after. His costume reminds me a little of Firestorm and Shade the Changing Man and he seems to have energy powers of some kind.
- I’m not sure how Leslie managed to trip the villainess running at super speed without breaking her own leg. Speaking of the speedy villain, what happened to her when the security guys busted in? She was lying on the floor unconscious (or close to it), but she’d disappeared by the time they entered. I guess she recovered and left at super speed?
- I think the security guys would’ve known something was up in Barbara’s room after the big brawl that took place there. And wouldn’t she change rooms afterwards? They did smash her door down, so it’s not exactly a secure environment.
Man-Bat “The Whittles Snatch” – Bob Rozakis/Don Newton/Dave Hunt
This one is narrated by Kirk Langstrom aka Man-Bat, as he tells his wife Francine about his latest adventure. This story takes place at a time when Man-Bat can control his transformations and is partners with Jason Bard in a detective agency. Kirk tells Francine they got a job from a guy named Whittles whose wife had been kidnapped. He got a ransom note for $500,000 but could only get $150,000 together. He wanted Bard and Langstrom to make the drop and find out who the kidnapper was. He’d already tried a bunch of other detectives, but none of them could find his wife. Bard made the drop and Man-Bat hovered nearby and trailed the pickup man. He jumped the guy, but it turned out to be one of the old detectives Whittles had hired; he was just trying to cash in since he knew Whittles’ wife was still missing. Bard told Langstrom that Mrs. Whittles had been taking dancing lessons lately—modern dancing, like they do in discos. Bard and Langstrom hit every disco in town until they found Mrs. Whittles, but some guy was following them. Bard dragged Mrs. Whittles out and was confronted by the guy who’d been trailing them. Between him and Man-Bat, they took the guy down (he turned out to be another private eye hired and fired by Whittles) and returned Mrs. Whittles to her husband. Apparently, she was never really kidnapped, she just got bored and wanted to go out and shake her groove thang … and probably get laid, I’m guessing.
Batman “Murder in the Night” – Jim Starlin/P. Craig Russell
Batman investigates a brutal killing, where the victim was literally torn to pieces. This is the third such killing in the last while. Batman finds a tuft of animal fur and thinks the killer might be an animal because of the brutality. He recognizes a photo on the wall and realizes there’s a connection between the victims: years ago, Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas told him about some soldiers he served with in the war. One of them raped a woman and the others (including Thomas) testified against him. He was thrown in prison and vowed vengeance. Of course, Thomas Wayne was shot before the soldier could get revenge on him, but he’s killed the other three. Batman goes to see the bitter old man (Xavier Thomas) and Thomas brags about killing the three men and that he knows Batman’s secret identity from observing Bruce Wayne for years. Xavier also mentions he’s been experimenting with a way to switch human and animal minds. Batman thinks he’s nuts, especially when Xavier seems to electrocute himself, but it turns out his body is just in some weird coma-state. His voice taunts Batman and he tries to drug Batman with gas in the air, but the Caped Crusader overcomes it. So Xavier resorts to cruder methods, dumping him into a pit and sealing off all the exits before confronting Batman in his new body … that of a giant white gorilla. Always trying to make gorillas the bad guys. We’ll see what happens next issue.
This one starts with Batman shadowing a diamond smuggler named Lustig. He trails Lustig to a shoe store and figures out that’s where the diamonds are being passed off. He goes in and pounds Lustig, then follows the clerk outside. The clerk tries to shoot Batman, but Phantom Stranger shows up out of nowhere and saves his ass—talk about a deus ex machina. At police headquarters, Batman and Commissioner Gordon show Lustig that he was paid with counterfeit money and try to get him to testify against his bosses. He’s freaked out, but says he’ll testify if Batman guarantees his safety. At the indictment, Batman is late and Lustig freaks out, saying that someone named Kaluu will kill him without Batman’s protection. Lustig keels over and we see a hand holding a Lustig voodoo doll with a pin stuck right through it. Whatever Kaluu did, it seems to have rendered Lustig unable to speak, though all the doctors say it must be psychological because there’s nothing physically wrong with him. Phantom Stranger pops up again and tells Batman that Kaluu is the leader of the smuggling gang and controls his minions with fear of his voodoo powers. Batman doesn’t believe all that shit, but Phantom Stranger warns him there are powers beyond his reckoning. He also warns that Batman has a darkness inside himself that he should be wary of. Stranger gives Batman a clue and the Darknight invades Kaluu’s office and finds the voodoo doll of Lustig. Batman and Stranger slap Kaluu’s security guys around, but Kaluu reminds them they have no legal recourse against him. Batman agrees and wants to take Kaluu down by the book to show his men he’s not to be feared. Before they leave, Kaluu manages to get a hair from Phantom Stranger’s head. Batman takes Lustig (blindfolded) to the Batcave and tries to frighten him into talking, but realizes he’s just making Lustig’s condition worse. Batman also realizes that by using fear to manipulate Lustig, he’s using the same tactics Kallu did. Stranger pops in to tell him he passed the test, defeating the dark impulse within him. Stranger reminds Batman that Lustig looked at him as a protector, so Batman encourages Lustig to take control of his own life, instead of letting Kaluu manipulate him through fear. Lustig pulls the pin from the voodoo doll (which turns out to be a fake that Batman substituted for the real one) and spills his guts about Kaluu’s operation. Batman and Stranger go to arrest Kaluu, but Kaluu has a big zombie-like dude as a bodyguard. Batman fights the zombie bodyguard and Kaluu threatens to stab a voodoo doll of Phantom Stranger. Stranger tells him to go ahead, and when he does, it’s Kaluu that keels over dead. Kaluu’s death stops the zombie dude in his tracks and Stranger tells Batman the power of truth was stronger than the power of suggestion. Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.