Marty Pasko and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez craft a decent whodunnit in Detective 459 (May 1976), but unfortunately it really has little connection to Ernie Chan’s cover.
The story deals with a successful mystery novelist, whose books always have a trademark “clue before dying.” He is wealthy, successful arrogant, hated, and fairly obviously going to be the victim.
His body is found, along with a clue left before dying. But was the clue really his, or a distraction by the killer?
Some good action scenes, and a solid mystery that plays fair.
The concluding half of the Man-Bat story, also by Pasko, with art by Pablo Marcos, has the villain trying to draw supernatural energy off of Man-Bat and She-Bat. Up to now, there had never been anything supernatural ascribed to them, and though by and large the Man-Bat stories would stay in the realm of the scientific, occasionally he would be portrayed as something magical.
Much of this story has Kirk fighting the bad guy, both in human form, and as a demon. It’s not clear which of the two forms is the villains true nature.
Kirk manages to defeat him, and frees Francine, restoring her to human form. The Langstroms return a year down the road, when Man-Bat gets a series in Batman Family.
Detective 458 (April 1976) is one of those issues that I loved as a kid, but that really don’t stand up well.
Elliot S! Maggin and Ernie Chan tell this story, in which a policeman, dressed as Batman for a policeman’s ball, is murdered, with a tattoo on his forehead warning Batman. Bruce Wayne happens to be at the ball, and Commissioner Gordon fills him in on everything. Gordon also leaves it up to Batman to contact the widow. Coward.
There is a bit of a mystery as to which tattoo artist is behind it, but most of the story is Batman chasing people and beating them up for information.
I do like the art at the story’s climax, the terrified face of the gunman as Batman approaches him.
Man-Bat begins a two-part story, crafted out of the unpublished third issue of his own, quickly cancelled, series, by Marty Pasko, Pablo Marcos and Tex Blaisdel.
The story has Kirk explaining his origin to his sister, as part of explaining why he has tied Francine to a bed. She has fallen under the spell of an evil magician, who is forcing her to transform into She-Bat.
Kirk changes to Man-Bat and follows Francine, and discovers that she has been turned into a stone gargoyle. Oh no!
The story concludes next issue.
Frank Robbins writes and draws another Man-Bat story in Detective 429 (Nov. 72), and it’s far superior to his earlier one.
After seeing a news report about an apparent attack by a giant vampire bat in Las Vegas, and discovering that Kirk and Francine Langstrom are there, Batman heads out to take down Man-Bat.
Batman gets a chorus girl to act as bait, luring the giant creature. Batman is surprised at how much more violent Kirk has become as Man-Bat. The creature flees, but Batman tracks it to its lair.
Batman discovers that it is not Kirk Langstrom terrorizing the city, but Francine, as She-Bat. Francine was scratched by a vampire bat while they were working, and it set off her “condition.” The story ends with Batman preparing another cure for her.
Man-Bat returns, as a hero, in an issue of Batman early the next year. His next appearance in Detective follows the cancellation of his (very) short-lived series a couple years down the road.
The conclusion to the Man-Bat trilogy is in Detective 407 (Jan. 71), by Frank Robbins, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.
The story picks up from the last Man-Bat tale, with Batman’s attempt to cure Kirk Langstrom. Once again, the crazed Man-Bat flees from Batman.
Kirk returns to Francine, and begs her to go along with his plans. While I loved this story as a kid, and it still reads like a twisted gothic romance, it’s hard to swallow Francine’s extreme submissiveness in this story.
Chiefly, that she agreed to take the serum herself, transforming her into She-Bat. Batman does manage to stop their wedding, but is taken aback when he sees Francine’s change.
Batman does ultimately corner the couple, and injects them both with the antidote.
As with the original Two-Face trilogy, this does bring their story to an end. But the huge popularity of the character ensured his return the following year.