Thursday, August 27, 2015

Detective Comics #404

Detective Comics #404 (On Sale: August 27, 1970) has a wonderfully colored cover of Batman and Enemy Ace by Neal Adams. This sucker just leaped off the newsstand. Such wonderful eye candy looks good in black and white but amazing in color.  I love the sense of depth and motion in this cover; the flaming bi-plane retreating from us in the background, the leaping Batman coming towards us in the middle-ground and the Enemy Ace sliding across the foreground firing up at Batman. Just great stuff from Neal Adams at his peak.

We begin with "The Ghost of the Killer Skies!" by Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. It opens with the murder of a stunt pilot on the Spanish set of "The Hammer From Hell." As in the recent Brave and the Bold #92, Bruce Wayne is in Europe looking into the production of a film into which he has invested money.
Also like the Brave and Bold story, there is murder on the set and Bruce/Batman decides to investigate it, after learning that the shoot has been plagued with mishaps and sabotage and Anson, the director, asks if it is even worth finishing when another WWI film is being made at the same time? Bruce reaffirms his faith in his director. 

Bruce meets Heinrich Franz, technical advisor for the time and a dead ringer for Joe Kubert's Enemy Ace.  Heinrich tells Bruce that perhaps they are "not fated to complete zis film...Von Hammer was a great believer in fate...the destiny of the killer skies, he called it." It is back in his hotel room when Bruce is looking through information on the film that he realizes Franz is a dead ringer for Von Hammer.

That night, two men, under the guidance of a third try to blow up the remaining bi-planes only to be thwarted by the Batman. He captures one of the men but when he gets him to talk he says he does not know who their leader is, only that he is masked in goggles and scarf and pays them to "ruin the work of the American filmmakers."  Batman tells the man to turn himself and his companions into the police and then runs off thinking he knows who the mysterious leader really is.

Returning to the film companies living area Bruce sees a light on in the trailer of his suspect and inside confronts Gavin the cameraman removing his Von Hammer costume. Gavin confesses to sabotaging the film for the company making the other WWI movie, but says he had nothing to do with the pilots murder. Just then shots ring out and Batman hurries to discover Anson the director dying, saying he was shot by the ghost of Von Hammer.

Batman realizes that two people are sabotaging the movie for different reasons, and since he does not believe in ghosts he has a pretty good idea who the second saboteur must be. batman hears an engine being started out on the airstrip and runs there to see a pilotless Fokker triplane readied for takeoff. batman is met by a man calling himself the ghost of Hans Von Hammer, but Batman knows him as Heinrich Franz. 

Franz says he has been sabotaging the movie because it is "an insult to the memory of Germany's finest hero." Franz says he is going to kill Batman, who responds by asking if that is how Von Hammer would have done it, "Or would he have welcomed a fair fight?" Franz agrees and tells Batman to meet him in the killer skies. As Batman climbs into the cockpit he recalls how an old stunt pilot had once taught him how to fly these plane and hopes it all comes back to him or Franz will kill him and get away.

Franz tried to shoot at Batman with his Lugar and as he tries to avoid Franz's shots he maneuvers the plane with a skill far beyond his own, as if another were piloting the plane. batman's fuel line gets hit and he does the unexpected, jumping from his plane to Franz's. In the insuring fight Franz's scarf is caught by the plane's propeller and he is flung from the plane to his death.

As batman lands the plane he wonders if Franz was a descendant of Von Hammer or just a victim of the grimmest love of all, the love of war. The story ends with a proclamation that is has been a tribute to the Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher.

This story has been reprinted in Limited Collectors' Edition C-25, Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told HC, Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told TPB, Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 2 HC, Showcase Presents:Enemy Ace Vol. 1 TPB, Showcase Presents:Batman Vol. 5 TPB and Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol. 2 TPB.

The backup Batgirl story is "Midnight Doom-Boy" by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia. When a police surveillance film showing Jason Bard murdering X-rated film director Billy Warlock, the criminologist is arrested. Although the evidence shows that Bard killed Warlock, Barbara Gordon believes that Bard is innocent of the crime and begins launching her own investigation as Batgirl. 

Reviewing the film she sees that in the footage of Bard leaving the scene, "Bard" is putting weight on his bad leg. Realizing the footage has been doctored with, she goes to Warlock's studio (Where the reels where originally taken) to find that the footage shows Veda, the woman who Bard claimed drugged and framed him for the murder was on the scene. But before Batgirl can do anything she is attacked by Veda herself, and during the combat a studio light is broken and the fumes inside knock Batgirl out. When some comes too she finds herself bound to a chair and Veda preparing a plaster mix to pour on Batgirl... This story is continued next issue. 

Reprinted In Showcase Presents:Batgirl Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julie Schwartz.

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