Friday, March 26, 2010

Detective Comics #399

Detective Comics #399 (On Sale: March 26, 1970) has a great cover by Neal Adams.

Our cover-story is "Death Comes to a Small, Locked Room" by Denny O'Neil, Bob Brown and Joe Giella. During a demonstration for cadets at the Gotham City Police Academy, Batman embarrasses Khan, a master of judo, karate and kung fu. When an enraged Khan comes after Batman with a steel identification bracelet across his knuckles, Batman decks him. In steps Arthur Reeves, the mayor's new Public Works Coordinator and soon to be a regular pain in Batman's backside.

Reeves wants to know what Batman is hiding behind that mask, why he isn't up front and out in the open. When Batman asks Reeves if that is what he believes in and Reeves answers in the affirmative, Batman lifts up Reeves toupee and quickly ducks out a window.

A month goes by and the incident quickly slides form Batman's memory till one night, 30 days later Batman is called to the site of Khan's training school which has been destroyed in a furnace explosion with Khan inside. Reeves shows up and accuses Batman of maybe causing the explosion to get back at Khan and Batman suggests that Reeves stick to sharing his fantasies with his barber.

Gordon and Batman have an appointment to get to, a séance of some sort to which they have been invited in an invitation that hinted at "solving a crime if we show." As they pull into the parking lot in Gordon's cruiser the car is strafed with machine gun bullets and crashes into a tree. As the machine gun-toting thug comes out to inspect his handy-work, Batman takes him out. Just then a man appears, "Big Dough" Joe Brunner a man sent to the pen by Gordon who is now out and wants to thank Gordon for setting his life straight. After he leaves Gordon wonders is "Big Dough" might not be behind the attack, but Batman says if he is, they know where to find him.

Inside the séance they meet the Great Dilbert--Medium Extraordinary who says he will "zummon spirits of dead!" He begins and the "spirit" has a message for Batman. The spirit seems to be speaking in Khan's voice and says that since Batman humiliated him in life he will humiliate Batman in death by killing Commissioner Gordon at midnight tomorrow. The lights go out and zee Great Dilbert has skedaddled. Batman says that Dilbert was a ventriloquist and wore a high collar to hide the movement of his throat muscles.

The next night Reeves tries to lock Gordon into a sealed vault for his protection, but one of the guards is actually Batman, who once again makes Reeves look life a fool. But the embarrassment just keeps on coming as Batman reveals that Gordon is not Gordon but actually the Great Dilbert. Pulling of Dilbert's mask and handing it to him Batman explains that "Gordon" was too clean shaven to have been on the job all day. Dilbert says that he might as well tell them where Gordon is really being held, but as he attempts to do so he dies from a poison on the outside of the Gordon mask Dilbert was holding. As he dies Dilbert says "" and one of the guards says that it is obvious that the filler is "Big Dough" Joe Brunner, AKA Dough Joe.

Reeves sends men out to pick up Joe Brunner, but Batman has other ideas and heads back to Khan's training school, or dojo! There in a fireproof vault under the rubble Batman confronts and takes out Khan before he can harm Commissioner Gordon.

The back-up is Robin in "Panic by Moonglow" by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane and Vinny Colletta. Continuing from last issue where the moon rock turned geeky student Herb Stroud squeaky green and all, raising a panic within NASA, but leaving Robin with that not so subtle taste of hoax in his mouth. So much so that he went and checked out the shower Herb used, finding some funny smelling soap and a massive headache when someone slammed his head into a wall and stole the soap of questionable properties. When Robin comes around it is with the help of Zukov, the Russian exchange professor, whose hands have that tell-tell smell of gimmicked out soap.

The campus is quarantined by NASA so Robin needs a place to crash and Zukov offers his cottage guest-room. using a stolen stethoscope, Robin listens in as Zukov and some cronies hidden under his floor discuss their plan to make NASA look irresponsible for "polluting our glorious planet," losing public support and dropping out of the space race so that the Soviets can get their moon program on track and once again be the leaders in space. But first they want to get Robin out of the way.

However, when they kick down the door to his room, he has of course fled the scene and is heading for the science-hall to retrieve the lunar rock sample. After skirmishing with some of Zukov's men, Robin comes in through the roof, but gets his cape caught on a piece of broken glass, hanging him up in the air. Zukov shows up with a pencil laser gun he used to drill a hole into the glass case containing the moon rock, so that he could inject a secret gas that could be triggered by cosmic rays to turn the rock and Herb a lovely shade of green. Now he plans to use the same pencil to drill a hole into Robin's brain, but Robin slips out of his cape and collar and swings into the darkness on a batrope (or do we call this a robinrope?)

Shooting wildly after Robin's ever-moving voice, Zukov severs one of the legs of a Lunar Module on display and it crashes down on him with a satisfying KRUNCH! With Robin's information the NASA people are able to determine that Herb has been exposed to a Russian nerve-virus and they are able to give him an antidote in time to stave off the bitter green end. This story has been reprinted in Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.

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