Friday, January 29, 2010

Detective Comics #397

Detective Comics #397 (On Sale: January 29, 1970) has a beautiful Batman cover by Neal Adams.

There is a real difference between the Batman in "Paint a Picture of Peril" by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, and the Batman DC has been publishing for decades. I think Denny O'Neil understood where to take the character better than any writer at DC and of course, Neal Adams really "got" who Batman was.

The opening sequence of this story could be used as a crib sheet for writers and artists for years to come on how to portray "the Batman." Sure, he has his "toys," his batarang and in this story a pretty cool undersea sled, but for the most part, his major tools of the trade are that he is a fairly good fighter and he scares the hell out of people.

Great stuff by both Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. As you can see the story opens with Batman attempting to foil a nighttime robbery of an art exhibit. By the way, there was nothing special going on during Batman's eerie stand against the robbers; he simply tried to dodge the spears by moving his body under his cape. Yeah, tried to dodge; he almost pulled it off, but got hit in the nerve of his right arm, making it all but useless and him unable to follow the underwater robbers. Up top he finds that they took a painting called "The Startled Mermaid," the least valuable item in the exhibit.

Changing back to Bruce Wayne he heads to his mid-town penthouse where he finds his cleaning lady has left the TV on. There is a special documentary on the life of wealthy Orson Payne, a Charles Foster Kane type, who bears a striking resemblance to Orson Welles. He was engaged to opera star Caterina Valance 25 years earlier when she mysteriously vanished and Payne became a recluse in his huge castle home. This is playing in the background while Bruce tends to his wounds and does yoga to "restore circulation."

As he finishes up, his cleaning woman, Cathy, comes back for her forgotten handbag and turns off the TV calling it a "vile thing." As she leaves Bruce remembers that while under water he noticed that the algae was glowing and surmises that the glow came from a submarine with low-yield nuclear engines. So come midnight we find Batman at a deserted pier launching a new underwater bat-sled and following the lingering radiation trail. The trail leads to a small nuclear sub at one of the island estates. Batman recognizes the place, it is Orson Payne's.

Sneaking past Payne's personal guards, Batman finds the man talking to an empty room of statues and paintings. Batman confronts Payne and points out the stolen painting. Payne says that he must have every likeness of Caterina, the woman who spurned him and when owners will not sell, he still acquires the piece. Since he cannot have Caterina, he now consoles himself with images of her.

Batman chases the crazed Payne through his estate, where he is lured into a trap, falling through a trap door into a small cell. Payne pulls a lever that slowly lowers a two-ton deathfall into the cell. Using a batarang on a rope Batman pulls down a chandelier, wedging it between the top of the cell and the lowering deathfall. As he comes for Payne, Payne's grip on sanity finally snaps and he sees his beloved Caterina floating in the air outside his balcony. He reaches for her, stumbling through the crumbling railing and over the edge of the balcony. Swinging out an a bat-rope Batman catches Payne who thinks he is in the arms of his beloved.

The following morning a healing Bruce is watching the coverage of the story on the news when his cleaning woman Cathy comes in and turnes off the TV saying, "You shouldn't be watching such trash." Bruce realizes it is not the TV she hates, but rather Orson Payne, and asks her if she was ever an opera singer. She says that, yes, she was, but she gave it all up to gain her freedom. Bruce says her secret is safe with him, that he sympathizes with people who want to keep secrets. Reprinted in Limited Collectors' Edition C-44 and Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 2 HC.

The back-up story is "The Hollow Man," the conclusion of last issue's Batgirl story, by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. Remember, Batgirl is trying to catch the Orchid Killer, who has been preying on redheads, and is using Barbara Gordon as bait, joining the same computer-dating service as the victims. Mousy Max Tournov brought her an orchid and she tossed him over her shoulder. He crushed the orchid and ran off and she gave chase as Batgirl, only to lose him and be pulled into a dark alley by someone who says, "A red-headed Batgirl will do for now!" So much for the recap!

She tosses this guy and is surprised that he is not Max, but instead is a rather handsome guy. Startled she lets the mystery man get the best of her, knocking her out cold. When she wakes up she is being comforted by Max Tournov, who she thanks before leaving.

Two nights later as Barbara she is back in the computer-dating scene, saddled with a really homely guy named John Milman who meets her at the door with an orchid. When the uneventful date is over, Barbara says she hopes they can see each other again and when Milman presses her on it, he becomes angry. John says he knows she doesn't mean it, that he is ugly and repulsive, "Liars! All of you! You're all fragile blossoms--too precious to touch! Well--I dare to touch! And crush you all!" As Barbara gets ready to attack back, John is accosted by Jason Bard, who with his "darned trick knee" fouls everything up and lets John escape. Jason says he saw them coming out a movie and followed them out of jealousy.

Ditching Jason, Batgirl crashes John Milman's apartment, only to find him packing for a quick exit from town. Only, he isn't John Milman, he is the handsome mugger from the alley and in his possession Batgirl finds rubber masks of John Milman and Max Tournov. When he comes to the man explains that women have always fawned over him for being so handsome, but that he felt his beauty was a barrier to finding the inner beauty of women. So he used a mask to hide his own beauty and dated homely women in order to release their inner beauty. But he found them all hollow and so he needed to crush them. Batgirl says that the hollowness was not within the women but within him, that he is "the hollow man--finding ugliness in everything!"

Edited by Julius Schwartz.


Dave Potts said...

The artwork is, of course, excellent -- but man! That is some of the worst coloring I've ever seen! The Batman left completely white (or, in one panel, solid gray), with the crooks colored entirely green!

From the preponderance of green, I'm going to guess that this was colored by Jerry Serpe, who was known for using lots of green, but I don't want to malign the man unfairly, as this looks way below his usual standards, so maybe this was by someone else, or maybe he had an especially tight deadline. (Having said that, I should add that I do like the coloring of the water in the first panel on page 1.)

And as long as I'm commenting, I'll say what a pleasure it is to look at an old comic and see the great lettering of the legendary Ben Oda. It's been 25 years since Oda died, and I still miss his work.

-Keller said...

Some of the coloring issues may be my fault. I was trying to get the yellow out of the old pages and may have gone way overboard. The white Batman figures are actually blue for example. I wanted to correct these, but my scanner has been pretty much on the fritz since I scanned in these pages.