Posts tagged ‘Mike W Barr’

Detective 507 – Batman vs the Mannikin, and a virtuoso street performer

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Gerry Conway and Don Newton conclude the story of the Mannikin in Detective 507 (Oct. 81).

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This half of the story gives the reader much more information about the Mannikin.  A former supermodel, disfigured in a car accident, blames those who no longer find her beautiful. She has a devoted assistant,who crafted her exosuit for her.

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Interestingly, Bruce Wayne is the one to dig up information on her, not Batman.  Wayne simply goes to visit a newspaper and discuss models in car accidents.

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Knowing both her identity and her targets makes it not so hard for Batman to track the Mannikin.

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And though the Mannikin is defeated, and her scars revealed, there is little feeling of triumph in this sad, but strong, story.

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Mike W Barr and Dan Spiegle contribute another excellent Tales of Gotham City in this issue, the story of a girl who longs to be a concert violinist, despite her parents protestations.

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The girl works as a waitress, using what money she makes to pay for lessons.  She hopes to attend a concert by her favourite violinist, but a scalper raises the price on her.

Oddly, even though her parents do not support her, they have their own tickets for the concert that night.

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A friend manages to sneak her in through a fire exit.  The violinist freaks out on the audience, saying that only the girl truly appreciates his music.  Then he storms out of the theatre, and joins her as the play on the street for change.

It’s all a bit of a fairy tale, but it tugs at the heart anyway.

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Detective 500 – 4 Batman stories, two of them team-ups, scads of detectives, and Elongated Man and Hawkman end

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Many anniversary issue build themselves up as being something really special, but few live up to their promise.  Detective 500 (March 1981) is one of the rare ones.  It’s not all gold, but enough of it is.

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The first story, by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, bring us to a parallel world, where a new Batman is about to be born.

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The Phantom Stranger brings Batman and Robin to this world, seemingly so that Bruce will have the opportunity to prevent his parents’ deaths.

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They find this world similar, but different.  James Gordon is still just a lieutenant, and Barbara , though a librabrian, is his fiancee, not his daughter.  Bruce is hunting for information on Joe Chill, while Dick discovers that this is a world with no heroic legends, no caped heroes, nothing to inspire heroism.

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Observing the Waynes, we see that Bruce is hardly a baby hero, more like a rich spoiled brat, but Batman is blind to this.

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Batman’s pursuit of Joe Chill, who on this world is not even from Gotham, and just arriving in the city, brings him into conflict with Gordon, but Batman manages to convince him that they are friends on another world.

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His search for Chill has raised such flags that the man is murdered by the Gotham mobs.  Batman learns that the planned murder of the Waynes is happening sooner than he expected – he had not counted the extra days from leap years.

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Robin, who has been watching the Waynes, sees the murder about to occur, and struggles within himself, thinking that is might be meant to be; but Batman swoops in saves the day, his parents, and himself.

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The Phantom Stranger takes the heroes back to their own world, and they are left to wonder what will become of Bruce, but the reader gets to see the impact the attempted murder had, and that even with his parents alive, young Bruce is on the road to becoming Batman.

Sadly, this is not a parallel world we ever visit again.

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Slam Bradley gets the billing, but this story, a re-write of a Batman tale from the 40s, by Len Wein and Jim Aparo, is pretty much a free for all with a vast line-up of detectives.

They are all at a celebration for an older detective, who gets murdered in front of them.

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The original version of this story has Batman working with a number of detective based on famous fictional ones from the era.  This story brings Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, Captain Compass, Mysto, Pow-Wow Smith, the Human Target and Roy Raymond together on the case.

For Captain Compass, Mysto, Pow-Wow Smith and Slam Bradley, this the first time the character appeared since the end of their own series.

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There are leads in a number of directions, which allow the detectives to split up and pursue them in smaller groups.  The story gives everyone at least one moment to shine, and they wind up stopping a number of bad guys.

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Slam suspects there is more to the case, and it’s Roy Raymond who provides the real solution, that this was an elaborate suicide, designed to prompt the men to tidy up some hanging cases of his.

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Jason Bard and the Human Target both return in the pages of Detective within the next couple of years, while Roy Raymond pops up in DC Comics Presents.  Many of the rest have their next, and final, appearances in Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Slam Bradley returns a little after Crisis, returning to the pages of Detective for one story.

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The next story in the issue is a wonderful 2-pager, by Len Wein and Walt Simonson, that uses Snoopy’s “It was a dark and stormy night…” as it’s text.  Clever, and visually gorgeous.

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The Elongated Man gets his final solo story in this book, by Mike W Barr and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  As well as being a decent mystery story on its own, it delves into the facts around the death of Edgar Allen Poe.

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Chiefly, the identity of the mysterious “Reynolds” that Poe called out for shortly before dying.  The story has to do with a letter explaining who Reynolds was, and leading to an unpublished magazine by Poe.

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Garcia-Lopez’s art is great, and Ralph and Sue are always fun to read about.

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One of his best mysteries, this is also the Elongated Man’s last solo story until his miniseries in the 90s.

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On the downside of the issue, there is this text story by Walter Gibson, with some scattered art by Tom Yeates.  I recall reading this as a kid, but not finding it particularly memorable.  And I dislike text stories like this in comics.  If I’m going to read a book, I’ll read a book.  I read comics for the visuals.

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Hawkman also has his last solo story in Detective in this issue.  Well, kind of a solo, really he and Hawkgirl get equal roles.

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Paul Levitz and Joe Kubert helm this tale, that sees Katar and Shayera trying to solve the mystery of the death of a scientist many years earlier.

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There’s some great Kubert art, and the story itself is not bad, but it’s a bit of a tease.

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At the end, Hawkman reveals that the scientist whose death they were investigating was Dr. Erdel, who had died after bringing the Martian Manhunter to Earth.  J’onn had blamed himself, and Hawkman wanted proof that it was not J’onn’s fault.

Hawkman’s next solo outing is the Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries.

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The final story in this issue was also a let-down to me.  Even moreso, as it’s a Batman/Deadman team-up, and those had been above average stories, on the whole.  But Carmine Infantino’s art is not what it was, and Cary Bates’ story doesn’t help much either.

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Pursuing some criminals, Batman gets killed.  Sort of.  Almost dead.  Robin is really stressed, but Deadman shows up and decides to inhabit Batman’s body to bring his killers to justice.

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Oops, someone spilled a plate of scrambled eggs on the comic.  Oh, wait, that’s Infantino’s art for showing Batman and Deadman conversing on the astral plane.

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Deadman moves Batman around and catches the bad guys, and doing so ignites the spark that brings him back to life.  A shame this story closed the issue.  It would have done less damage buried in the middle.

Detective 491 – Maxie Zeus and the Golden Fleece, the origin of Jason Bard, Robin has a tail, Black Lightning shorts out, and a new job for Barbara Gordon

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The split cover for Detective 491 (June 1980) might be considered a metaphor for the variable quality of the stories it contains.

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Denny O’Neil and Don Newton contribute an excellent Maxie Zeus story.

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It begins with a Wayne Foundation scientist showing Bruce Wayne some actual gold cloth he had created – before gunmen burst in, kill him and steal the cloth.  Bruce does his best to pursue them, but most of them get away.

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Batman impersonates one of Maxie Zeus’s captured men, and goes to see him at Arkham.  Batman slips up, not knowing the plans, and Maxie knocks him out, and escapes.

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The story takes a surprising turn, as we discover that Maxie’s plan for the cloth was to give it to his daughter, Medea, as a gift.  Batman has the grace to stop this, but provide a different gift for the girl.  This is Medea’s first appearance, but she would become an integral element of Maxie Zeus’ world.

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This gets followed by another great scene.  Batman and Maxie leave the home where Medea is being raised, and have a calm conversation about Maxie’s plans, and the fact that the murder was not part of the scheme – and all the while Batman is fighting Maxie’s men.

Batman solves the murder mystery, a rival co-worker, but it’s the scenes with Maxie Zeus that stand out so much.

Maxie Zeus returns in an issue of Batman later in the year.

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Jason Bard stars in this chapter of Tales of Gotham City, as we learn his sad background, from Mike W Barr and Dan Spiegle.

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We learn that Jaosn grew up in a small town, the son of an alocholic, abusive, criminal father, and a long-suffering mother whose suffering was cut short when the father killed her.

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After being discharged from the army because of his wound, Jason became a detective, in the hopes of one day finding and apprehending his father.  He does find him, and the man is even worse than Jason remembered.  Still, he is not pleased when his father dies in a shoot out.

A really good background story for this character, and Dan Spiegle’s art is perfect for it.  I wish he had done more Jason Bard stories.

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On the weaker side of the issue, we have the Robin story, by Jack C Harris, Alex Saviuk and Vince Colletta.

I should have mentioned in the last post, that starting with the last issue, Robin notices that he, and Dick Grayson, are being followed by a mysterious man in black.  He will pop up in each story until his character is explained.

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This story deals with a killer on campus, and evidence that points to a black basketball player with anger management troubles.  Robin realizes the guy is just being framed, and finds the real killer.

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Black Lightning wakes to discover himself powerless in this second half, by Marty Pasko, Pat Broederick and Frank McLaughlin.

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I remember reading this as a kid, and expecting that this story would see the boy he was trapped with gain his powers, but nope, nothing like that.  We do learn that the voodoo queen’s big plan was this spell, that would make her son and Black Lightning equal in power.  But the spell did not give her son powers, just removed those of the hero.

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Black Lightning isn’t even very stressed about the situation, figuring that he became a hero before he got his powers anyway.

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The Batgirl story in this issue, by Cary Burkett, with art by Jose Delbo and Joe Giella, would have repercussions that lasted through Crisis on Infinite Earths and beyond.

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Crime boss General Scarr debuts, upset that Batgirl has returned to Gotham, and figuring that she will be a menace to their plans.  Apparently Batman doesn’t bother him at all, but whatever.  He has brought in a hired killer, Cormorant, to kill Batgirl.

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Meanwhile, Barbara Gordon has started a new job, as the head of social services, for the Human Research and Development Centre, which sounds very vague yet progressive.  She meets a couple of her co-workers, a handsome but rude man, Richard Bender, and an unattractive but pleasant and brilliant one, Roger Barton.

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Cormorant lures Batgirl to the roof of a building by dangling the dummy of her from a flagpole, as seen on the splash page.  He holds a little girl hostage, demanding she stand out in the open and allow herself to get shot.

We appear to see her fall to her death at the end of the story.  Obviously not, and it continues next issue.

 

Detective 490- Batman relaxes in a garden, Batgirl learns to dance, a snowy encounter, Robin takes a test and Black Lightning takes a shower

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Denny O’Neil and Don Newton being their League of Assassins war storyline to a conclusion in Detective 490 (May 1980), although it’s a bit less confrontational than the cover implies.

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Batman fights Lurk for the second time, following their encounter in a DC Special from a couple of years earlier. Lurk looks almost identical to Ra’s Al Ghul’s earlier sidekick, Ubu.  In later years, it would be established that Ubu is more of a title than a name, so Lurk would be the second Ubu, really.

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Working with the seismologist Batman freed last issue, he determines that the League’s plan is to cause an earthquake.  Checking the fault lines, Batman figures out that the goal must be a high level peace conference being held in an estate on the line.

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Batman has to fight his way in, and warns the men to leave before the earthquake hits, and is less then impressed with one religious leader who refuses to go, saying it would be bowing to terrorism.

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Ra’s Al Ghul, the Sensei and Talia only show up for the last few pages.  Talia shoot Batman with a tranquilizer, and takes him away, as his father and the Sensei have their standoff in the mansion.  It gets destroyed in the earthquake.  Though the implication is that both men have died, Ra’s Al Ghul shows up in Batman not too long down the road.  The Sensei, however, may well have died, as his next appearance is in the Deadman mini-series, set years earlier.

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The story concludes as Batman and Talia relax in a garden as she tends to his wounds.  The big battle with a bit of a let-down, but the ending is strong, if only because it is such an untypical, happy ending.

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Batgirl’s story, by Mike W Barr, John Calnan and Joe Giella, has her on the trail of someone who is trying to kill a b=famous ballet dancer.

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In order to keep an eye on the potential victim, Barbara goes undercover as a ballerina.  Probably wise, as the murder attempts just keep coming.

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The story has a sadly ironic resolution, as the wannabe killer is revealed as the ballet master’s son, who felt his father was keeping him out of the spotlight.  The father is devastated – he was planning to retire that night, and make his son the main dancer.

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Bob Rozakis and George Tuska craft an excellent Tales of Gotham City in this issue.  There is no talking, but the narrative relates a radio interview with a policeman about how women need to keep safe and know how to protect themselves.  As we read this, we watch a woman struggling to drive during a snowstorm.  Her car gets stuck, and she sees a shadowy man approach.

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The story has a happy ending – the man is a police officer – but it’s great to see that the woman is shown capable and prepared to defend herself.

So a good story, if not a really “Gotham”-y story.

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Jack C Harris, Alex Saviuk and John Calnan put Robin into the middle of an exam nightmare in this issue.

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After a teacher finds evidence that some students had the exam questions before the test, he announces that there will be second exam, the first was invalid.  Jennifer comes to tell Dick, and almost catches him in his Robin gear.  Perhaps he should change out of it before sleeping.

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The professor himself turns out to be the bad guy, selling the exam results for extra money.  Perhaps not a ground-breaking story, but certainly a realistic, university-based tale.

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Black Lighting, who had not been seen since an issue of World’s Finest the previous year, begins a short run in Detective with this issue.  Marty Pasko, Pat Broederick and Frank McLaughlin are teh creative team as high school teacher Jefferson Pierce dons his costume again to help another student.

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The story is a curious one.  It begins with the student kidnapped out of the school showers.

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The trail leads him to drug dealing gangs, and an aging voodoo queen, but even still, Black Lightning cannot make any sense of their actions.

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But the voodoo queen knows what she is doing, even if no one else does.  The story ends with an electrocuted Black Lightning and the student trapped together.

Detective 488 – The Spook sends Batman to death row, Tales of Gotham City begins, Batgirl comes home, the Elongated Man looks for a car, and Robin gets a new girlfriend

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Detective 488 (Feb./March 1980) sees the Spook return.  He had last appeared in an issue of Batman two years earlier.  Cary Burkett scripts, with Don Newton on the art.

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The story also sees Selina Kyle appear, in her budding romance with Bruce Wayne, which had been happening in the pages of Batman.  She, along with much of Gotham, has been reading a runaway best-seller by a man on death row.  His agent and publisher both talk about how much money they could make off a sequel, but of course the author is due to be executed.

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The Spook gets hired to break the man out of prison, and the story adds a mystery element by keeping the identity of the man behind it a secret.

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Lucius Fox, who had been introduced months earlier in Batman, also makes an appearance in this story. giving more background information on the writer.

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The Spook lures Batman to the prison, and uses some special who knows what to make everyone see Batman as the man on death row.  So the Spook breaks the writer out of prison, but no one realizes it, and Batman is due to be executed in his place.

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The Spook even shows up to taunt Batman.  Of course, he manages to escape and catch the writer, the man who hired the Spook, and the big name villain as well.

This was pretty much the last appearance of the Spook, so far as I recall, aside from a couple of stories in the next few years that feature huge line-ups of Batman villains.

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Denny O’Neil scripts the first installment of a new series, Tales of Gotham City.  Some of the stories would feature known characters, but the best of these stories dealt with the every day people of Gotham.

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The first story deals with a cop on his last day before retirement.  He was proud of his record, that he had never had to pull his gun during his time on the force.

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He winds up on a subway car with an escaped convict disguised as a woman, who disappears during the moments the train blacks out in a tunnel.

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It’s a good mystery, for its brevity, and comes to a warm and fuzzy conclusion as the cop subdues the convict without needing to pull his gun and break his perfect record.

True, this is not the dark and seedy Gotham we have come to know and love, but the series would move there.

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Batgirl returns to Gotham in this story by Jack C Harris, with art by Jose Delbo and Frank Chiaramonte.

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The main part of the story deals with rival gang on the verge of a war after the leader of one is murdered, but the better scenes are between Barbara and her father, as they discuss her loss in the recent election.  What caused it, what lessons to take, and where to go from here.

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She averts the gang war, proving that the leader was killed by one of his own gang.

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The final scene shows the exterior of Commissioner Gordon’s house, not something often seen.  He sure seems to make a lot of money as a police commissioner.  I don’t think there is any other story showing him living in such a massive house.

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The Elongated Man is back, with a mysterious car theft in front of a huge crowd, told by Mike W Barr, with art by Eduardo Barreto and Joe Giella.  I don’t know if it’s because this is very early Barreto, or it’s Giella’s inks, but it looks absolutely nothing like his later work.

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The mystery is good enough.  The car simply vanishes, leaving no trace, and Ralph is puzzled until a chance remark by Sue makes him realize the car the crowd saw was just a collapsable shell, not a real car at all.

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Robin’s story, by Jack C Harris, with art by Schaffenberger and Colletta, has a number of wealthy students get kidnapped the first day of the semester.

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One of those grabbed is Jennifer Anne, a pretty blonde that Dick Grayson has been scoping.  So of course he gets into Robin gear to go rescue her.

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The kidnappings turn out to be more extensive than he thought, and Dick learns that he was an intended victim as well.  But knowing that he was meant to be grabbed makes him realize the poor kid, who was handing out assignments to help pay his tuition, is one of the bad guys.

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Robin rescues Jennifer, but Dick gets to make out with her.  There is a “funny” ending, as Alfred gets the ransom note just as Bruce gets Dick’s call about the situation.

But it bothers me that the message seems to be to not trust kids who have to work to pay their tuition.

Detective 444 – Batman murders Talia, and the Elongated Man and the magic mirror

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A 5 part story begins in Detective 444 (Dec.74/Jan. 75), called Bat-Murderer, by Len Wein and Jim Aparo.  It’s the first story with Ra’s al Ghul and Talia since the end of their big, multi-part story a year earlier in Batman.

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It opens with Commissioner Gordon telling a policeman not to use the Bat-Signal, that Batman is now a wanted murderer.  Gordon then relates the events of the previous day, Batman stopping a truck hijacking, and discovering that Talia is leading the men committing the crime.  She tosses a gun down in front of Batman, turns and runs away.  In front of witnesses, Batman picks up the gun and shoots her.

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Batman insists he did not pull the trigger, but ballistics shows nothing unusual with the gun, and Gordon is forced to place Batman under arrest.  Batman fights off the cops and flees into the night, certain that he is innocent, but incapable of explaining what has happened.

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Because multi-part stories like this were quite rare, although that was soon to change, each issue this ran in had a disclaimer announcing that the events in these issues were taking place after the events in other Batman comics coming out, to explain why Batman was not being hunted as a killer in those books.

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The Elongated Man returns in this issue.  The last back-up before Manhunter, and the first one after it.

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Mike W. Barr and Ernie Chan tell this story, in which Ralph and Sue stumble across a magic mirror in a small town.  It’s fairly obviously a fake, designed to pique Ralph’s interest, but there is decent mystery story, and a runaway daughter of a dying millionaire.

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After the conclusion to the Manhunter saga, and the heavy events in this issue’s Batman story, happy and romantic ending to the Elongated Man tale sits well.

 

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