Thursday, November 26, 2009

Detective Comics #395

Detective Comics #395 (On Sale: November 26, 1969) has a wonderful cover by Neal Adams. The cover could only have been improved if they had let it go the full height of the book, with the logo on the illustration instead of above it.

We begin with Batman in "The Secret of the Waiting Graves" by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. This classic issue redefined what a Batman story should be. Building on the ideas Neal Adams has told Julius Schwartz months earlier, this is a different Batman than we have seen before. First, without any of the nonsense of his previous few issues, this is Batman alone. No Robin, no Alfred, no Wayne Manor or Wayne Foundation, no V.I.P., no Batmobile or Batarang. Besides his body and his mind, the only tool Batman uses is a rope (not called a Batrope mind you). The entire story takes place at night and one of the tools Batman does use is that his appearance scares people. Nothing campy or hammy in this story.

This is not the guy you have seen before; the character has been remolded to more aptly fit the way Neal Adams draws him. It is not the most complicated of stories, but it is just enough to give you a feel of this new character, the one replacing the Batman you have known in the past.

The entire story takes place on a single night in Central Mexico. Bruce Wayne and every other "social butterfly in the Western Hemisphere" have been invited to a huge fiesta on the estate of notorious recluse Juan Muerto. Bruce is out touring the estate when trouble first appears. Some of the guests are engaging in a night-time hot-air balloon race when the balloon of one of the competitors, Pedro Valdes, is attacked by trained falcons, which shred his balloon. As Valdes plummets to the ground he is saved from certain death by Batman, who as Bruce Wayne quickly returns to the party.

There Bruce dances with Juan's wife, Delores, a beautiful young woman who speaks to Bruce in an oddly condescending way, as if she were talking to a child. Bruce senses a strange mustiness about her, that he can't explain. Bruce mentions how odd it is for them to hold their fiesta in a graveyard and Delores responds that she and Juan choose to laugh at death rather than fear it. Just then the returning Valdes is attacked once again, as a brazier near him shatters and Bruce hears the muffled sound of a silenced gun. Slipping away from Delores Muerto, Bruce once again sheds his civilian guise to become the Dark Knight.

He finds a group of killers on top of a nearby ridge and leaps into their midst. His sudden appearance frightens them and his quick fists begin to work them over. But one of the men summons a pair of wolves who attack Batman. He leaps into a tree to escape their jaws and from there leaps off a cliff, plummeting over the edge. The killers hear no splash of batman hitting the water below and assume he has hit the rocks and is no longer a problem.

Back at the fiesta, the Muertos decide that two bungled assassinations are enough for one night and will take matters into their own hands. They find Valdes and say they want to show him something that can be found in the old monastery on the grounds. Valdes wonders if it might be a flower. Hanging from a rope under the cliff, Batman hears the discussion and follows the group to the monastery. The Muertos show Valdes the Sybil flowers, which according to legend bestow immortality at the cost of one's sanity. Valdes reveals that he is a government agent, here to arrest the Muertos who accidentally left one of the Sybil blossoms in their hotel room during a recent stay in Mexico City. The Muertos attack Valdes and overpower him and when Batman comes to his rescue he is overtaken by the hallucinogenic nature of the scent given off by the Sybils.

Batman is knocked out by Muerto and when he comes to he and Valdes are tied up in the Monastery. The Muertos let loose the trained falcons to tear their captives apart, but Batman has been using Valdes' badge to cut at his ropes and the pain caused by the falcon attack has cleared his brain somewhat. He kicks a few falcons senseless and bags the last one with his cape before dragging Valdes out of the monastery. Once clear of the flowers Batman tosses back a torch setting the Sybils afire.

From afar the Muertos see the flames. Delores laments that this is the last patch of Sybils left and that their immortality is being "burned from the soil" She rushes off to save them and Juan follows, extolling her to calm herself, to remember that extreme excitement cancels the effect of the flowers fumes. As they race through the graveyard toward the monastery, Juan warns her that she will lose her beauty, that age will seize her, that her limbs will stiffen, the skin of her face will crack and crease and her heart will wither. that they are opening the portals of death itself. With each step they grow older and more enfeebled till finally they fall together into a set of waiting graves. Batman arrives and adds in their date of death. Juan was 129, his wife 126.

This classic tale, the first real modern Batman story has been reprinted in Batman from the 30s to the 70s HC, Dynamic Classics #1, Saga of Ra's Al Ghul #2, Millennium Edition: Detective Comics 395 (#27) and Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 2 HC.

The back-up is Robin in "Drop Out...or Drop Dead!" by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. Continuing from last issue the phony cops are happy when Robin shows up and starts pounding Jonah the CTT leader. They are more than happy to have Robin provide the physical proof of their police brutality. Robin is knocked unconscious. While out the other CTT members are stirring up the campus, but the students are still not ready to strike. From the campus the CTT members call the "cops" to bring in the "clincher."

Jonah tells them not to harm Robin and Dick (who they think is locked in the silo) and the "cops" agree, but after Jonah has left they attempt to kill Robin. They are some sort of "reds" who want to shut down America's campuses one at a time. Robin takes them out and as Disk, returns them to the campus, where they are in time to stop the strike vote and expose the fraud of the CTT. This story has been reprinted in Millennium Edition: Detective Comics 395 (#27) and Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.

1 comment:

cerebus660 said...

What a classic Batman story! I first read it in the '30s To The '70s book then years later tracked down the original. It was worth it!