Friday, October 16, 2009

Batman #217

Batman #217 (On Sale: October 16, 1969) has a cover by Neal Adams, which is sometimes, inexplicably, credited to Irv Novick and Dick Giordano (which is pure lunacy).

Maybe Julius Schwartz was heeding the advice of Neal Adams when he told Julie that Batman had to change, had to be more like the Batman in the Brave and the Bold. Maybe that explains this issue and the massive changes it attempted to bring to the character. Whatever the reason, this issue marks the beginning of yet another revamping of the Batman character. As the cover depicts, Wayne Manor and the Batcave are mothballed. As last week's Detective Comics cover hinted at, Batman and Robin are a team no more as Dick Grayson goes off to college. This certainly allows for the opportunity for Batman to return to being a figure of the night, which is good, but there are other changes here that don't fare nearly as well, as you will see.

"One Bullet Too Many" is by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano and you certainly cannot complain about the artwork, which is wonderful. We begin with Dick Grayson saying his goodbyes to Bruce and Alfred at Wayne Manor as he heads off to Hudson University. After he leaves, Bruce explains to Alfred that Wayne Manor is just too big for the two of them and that Batman must change as well. He plans on streamlining the Batman operation and reestablishing the trademark of old: Batman as a figure that strikes fear in the hearts of criminals.

And not just gangsters but those who use "phony respectablilty...big business fronts--legal cover-ups--and hide in the fortress towers of Gotham's metropolis!" So they move out of Wayne Manor and into the heart of Gotham, to the Wayne Foundation building. Bruce goes on to tell Alfred how he wants to set up a special program of the Wayne Foundation to help the victims of crime, a program they end up calling V.I.P., Victims, Inc. Program, an inane name if ever there was one. Based on a newspaper article, Bruce chooses Dr. Susan Felding, the widow of a recently slain doctor, as their first "client."

Bruce first insults the woman and then offers her a zero-interest loan from the Wayne Foundation and the Batman's help in solving the murder of her husband. they go over the night he was killed, how he answered the door late at night and helped a wounded man into his office. She later heard two gunshots and went down to find her husband shot dead and a bullet in a tray that he had taken out of the wounded man. There are no clues to the wounded man's identity and Bruce leaves.

Later that night Batman visits Susan Felding and talks her into being the "bait" in a plan to flush out the killer. In many disguises Batman plants the story in Gotham's seedier side the Susan Felding got a look at the man who shot her husband. The next day he stakes out her office to see if anyone takes the bait. The killer does show up and Batman almost misses him only to be caught flat-footed and letting the killer escape while he takes a bullet meant for Susan.

He asks Susan to extract the bullet immediately and they take it to police HQ where they compare it to the bullet that shot Susan's husband and the bullet he removed from the wounded stranger's arm. They are all the same, meaning that the man who killed Susan's husband was not the wounded man, but another individual who must have also been in Dr. Felding's office that night.

Surmising that the wounded man was killed by his partner, the man who shot Batman and Dr. Felding, the police are able to track down and arrest "Stub" Sartel. Later in Bruce's office he writes a letter to Dick telling him of the first success of Victim's, Inc. Program when a Native American bursts into his office and pulls a gun on Bruce. This story was reprinted in Batman from the 30s to the 70s HC, Batman in the Sixties TPB and Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 TPB.

My problem with this whole Victim's, Inc. Program idea is that it is so unnecessary and restricts and confines the stories that can be told. It just seems like a really dumb idea and not the kind of thing that is going to help in making Batman a fearsome character again. Instead it makes him a pawn used by a charitable organization. V.I.P. was a step in the wrong direction for Batman. And instead of this issue breaking up the Batman and Robin team, it began the Batman and Bruce Wayne team, and man was that a dumb idea.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.


RAB said...

Another bad idea in this issue was Bruce Wayne's reckless choice to start calling his butler "Alf" and "Alfie" for unknown reasons. I don't think that lasted too long hopes because Pennyworth took Master Bruce off-panel and boxed him smartly around the ears.

-Keller said...

DC was an exciting place during these years, but one reason for that was you never quite knew what they were going to try to stem the flow of reader defections to Marvel. So, what you got were a lot of guys (editors) trying anything to shake things up. For the most part I liked Frank Robbins' writing, but Schwartz let him get away with a lot of stuff that should never have happened.