Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Batman #221

Batman #221 (On Sale: March 3, 1970) has cover by Neal Adams, and what a cover. This is another one of those that I would stare at for hours and think, "Yeah, this is Batman!"

This issue begins with our cover-story "A Bat-Death for Batman" by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. This story is not nearly as exciting or moody as the cover and it could have been. Novick really needed to get some more blacks into the work and the coloring provides no mood whatsoever, relying heavily on stale blocks of orange and green. The story begins with strange goings on along the Rhine River in Germany. A man is devoured in the water by killer trout and a farmer is attacked by rampaging oxen. As luck, or the story would have it, Bruce Wayne is visiting Baron Willi Von Ritter, head of Biochem-Fabrik, Ltd, a chemical company on the Rhine.

Von Ritter lives in Fledermaus Castle, created in the shape of a giant Bat. Von Ritter and his company were cleared of accusations of conspiracy with the Nazis, but he refuses to cooperate with health inspectors who are investigating the strange animal activities. Once at the castle Bruce meets Von Ritter's wife Ilga and his head bio-chemist, Professor Otto Kramm.

That night as Batman, Bruce does a little reconnoitering of the castle's underground maze. There he finds a masked man egging on a lion to fight. The lions attacker? A lamb! The masked man says that he has synthesized the essential chemical elements that trigger the killer instinct in predators and that some of it accidentally overflowed into the Rhine. He plans on using the serum to see that Germany does not fail next time because its armies will possess the primal killer instincts of predators. With that the masked man traps Batman in the room and lets loose some bats which have been exposed to the serum.

Leaving Batman to his fate the masked man takes off his protective mask to reveal Otto Kramm as Ilga brings in the valet to be used as the first human test subject for the serum. However, before they can administer the serum, Batman shows up and Ilga injects Otto with the serum. Once infected Otto turns on Ilga for hurting him and Batman has to jump in to save her. In the ensuing fight Otto is thrown into the pit with the killer lamb and is killed by it.

Ilga is dying but wants to know how Batman escaped the bats and he explains that he used a wadded up piece of tin foil, ripped into strips to confuse the bats sonar and escape. OK, not much of a story here.

The back-up Batman story is "Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight" by Mike Friedrich, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. There is a heat wave in Gotham City and the fire department keeps being sent out on false alarms. On their way back from one such false alarm a truck gets a call of a fire in his own building. When they get there the place is in flames and a woman is yelling that her baby is trapped inside. Just then Batman is seen repelling down the side of the building, child in hand. Watching the spectacle are a couple of teenage kids who wonder what would have happened if that had been their kid sister in the fire. They decide to turn themselves in for calling in the false alarms.

Meanwhile, back at the fire the fire inspector says to the fireman that "All signs point toward the firs starting in your apartment Frank!" When they go upstairs they see that the door to Frank's apartment is not burned at all. Inside they find Frank's brother Joey who says he was just polishing an idol he brought back with him from Viet Nam. One of the firemen try to touch the idol and says he is overpowered by the feeling of evil it is generating. It begins to glow and some strange rays flash out from its eyes and suddenly Batman is there racing toward the idol.

He picks it up and with great effort tosses it out of the window where it shatters on the ground below. Once it does the eerie feeling disappears, along with Batman. The closing caption reads: "For the natural violence of life there is always the fireman! For the supernatural violence of life there is always the Batman!" Strange take and one of the first to give Batman some heretofore unknown ability to battle the supernatural. Not a great story, but it points the way that DC was moving and the way they were positioning the Batman. Reprinted in Limited Collectors' Edition C-25.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.


vinnie said...

Yeah, this is one of those covers that if you took off the date, price, logo, et al. and just looked at it as a piece of art, it pretty much captures the essence of the Batman.

The only downside to all those great Adams covers was that you were bound to be let down when you discovered the interior art was done by a lesser talent--which was pretty much everyone.

Luis said...

Fantastic cover. I love the perspective and sense of depth, as well as being a great drawing of Batman. It also features my favorite version of the Batman logo across the entire width of the comic!