Posts tagged ‘Spook’

Detective 526 – Jason Todd dons the costume

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Celebrating Batman’s 500th appearance, Detective 526 (May 1983) is a forgotten, but worthy, anniversary issue.  Crisis on Infinite Earths would remove this story from continuity, and the origin of Jason Todd radically changed, but this work by Gerry Conway, Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala stands on its own merit.

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The Joker calls together a mass assembly of Batman’s enemies.  Croc is out to kill Batman, but he’s a newbie, and not worthy of the honour, the Joker insists.  So he lays out a plan that will give them all chances of killing Batman that night.

The line-up includes the regulars: Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, and Scarecrow.  Cat-Man, Killer Moth, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, and Matt Hagen as Clayface had all appeared within the last few years.  The Cavalier had not been seen since an issue of Batman Family in the late 70s.  Tweedledum and Tweedledee had not been seen since the 1940s!  Technically, this is the first appearance of the Earth-1 versions of the characters, but with Crisis looming that scarcely matters.

Some of the newer villains are included as well: Black Spider, Captain Stingaree and the Spook.  Talia is there, without her father being involved in the story, which is rare.

The Gentleman Ghost is a Hawkman villain, but had fought Batman twice in his own book.  This is the only time he appears in a line-up of Batman villains.

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Catwoman watches, but takes no part in the meeting.  Talia also has no interest in killing Batman, but has to fight her way out.

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Both Catwoman and Talia head to the Batcave to warn Batman of the plans against him, but get involved in a cat fight of their own.

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Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Dick Grayson.  His great plan to use the Todds against Croc simply put them into his hands, and he has Jason driven to Wayne Manor to keep him safe.

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Barbara accompanies her father as Commissioner Gordon checks out the abandoned theatre where the villains met, and finds evidence pointing to a gathering of their enemies.

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Barbara goes to find Dick, and they suit up as Batgirl and Robin and head out to fight the villains, as Batman does the same, with Talia and Catwoman as back-up.  No one is at home, so Jason is left to explore Wayne Manor, and guess where he winds up?

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The Spook manages to get the drop on Talia, if only for a moment.  But with so many fighting against them, the two women and Batman get taken.

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Robin is the one to find the remains of the Todds, fed to his namesakes by Croc.

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Jason, unawares, has found an alternate Robin costume in the cave, and suited up.  He heads out to join the rest of the heroes.

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Batgirl and Robin fight well together. There is no hint of romance, as there had been in their Batman Family team-ups.  Robin is in a budding romance with Starfire in the pages of New Teen Titans, but their ease with each other reminds one of the bond between them, the best duo of Batman’s supporting cast.

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Jason happens upon  a group of the villains, which gives him the information he needs to find out where everyone else is.

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Finally the big climax, as the Joker gloats over his captured foes.

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Croc had been working behind the scenes with the Joker, using all the other villains to wear Batman down.  He makes his move, but Batman manages to duck at the right time, and Croc takes down the Joker.

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Jason Todd arrives just as Batman has beaten Croc into submission, and delivers the final blow.  Only afterwards does he discover his parents bodies.

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The epilogue sees Bruce sending Catwoman and Talia off together in a car.  Where is he sending them?  Why did he stick these two women in the same car together?  How far did they get before their fight forced the car off the road and into a ditch?

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The issue ends with Bruce and Jason Todd, who is looking relatively ok for a boy whose parents were horribly murdered the night before.  But he is to be the new Robin, and there is a sense of hope.

Which is all kind of weird now, because Jason Todd was given such a different origin, and made such a different character, in the post-Crisis reality.

But for a couple of years, this was the origin of Jason Todd, Robin.

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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 445 – Bat-Murderer continues, and Robin begins, again

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Len Wein and Jim Aparo’s Bat-Murderer saga has its second chapter in Detective 445 (Feb./March 1975).

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Jack Ryder cameos, recapping the previous issue’s events, and setting up his larger role to come next issue.  Alfred actually asks Batman if he did it, but really we can excuse that lack of faith as the necessary set-up to hear Batman’s side of the “murder.”

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Batman figures that Ra’s Al Ghul must have some knowledge of what is going on, or possible be behind it, and breaks into Gotham prison to question him.  Ra’s openly admits to being behind his daughter’s death, and then promptly pulls out a gun and kills himself.

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In a really nice touch, Batman escapes the prison using one of the Spook’s passages.  But now he is wanted for two murders.

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Robin’s series moves back into Detective from Batman, after a year with no solo tales, in this story by Bob Rozakis and Mike Grell.  Robin joins the rotating back-up slot.

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Robin is still at Hudson University, but his previous supporting cast and campus issue based stories are done.  This tale deals with vandalism of a football from a historic game, and a long held grudge leading to a murder attempt.

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The story isn’t bad, and Grell’s art is a treat.  Police captain Frank McDonald is introduced, and will be a part of the Robin series for the next few years.

Detective 435 – Batman vs the Spook, and Jason Bard ends

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The concluding half of the Spook’s introduction is featured in Detective 435 (June/July 1973), by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, who also did the cover.

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Batman’s attempt to draw out the Spook fails, and he realizes that the Spook must have multiple bugs on the hoods he ensures, and was getting a duplicate signal, clueing him in that the Big Turk in prison was a phony.  And Batman is dead on with all of that.

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He then, finally checks out the scene where the Batmobile was stolen, and figures out how that was done – a huge trick that relied on Batman driving onto one exact street – although the Spook more or less implies that there are similar set-ups around Gotham.  So he must employ a road works crew.

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So Batman follows the tunnel and confronts the Spook, but finds it all but impossible to actually tale hold of the man, between his tricks and flexibility.  He finally plays on his ego and goads him into a position where Batman can grab his controls and neutralize them.

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The story has a surprising twist at the end, as it’s revealed that the Spook is Val Kaliban, a man executed 10 years earlier.

The Spook returns in a couple of months in the pages of Batman.

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Jason Bard has his final outing in Detective done by Frank Robbins.  It’s better than his Don Heck stories, but it bothers me in a different way.  Jason is on hand when a man dies while group parachuting, by being stabbed in the back.  As can be seen in that very first page, they all go down together as a unit.

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When the man hits the ground, he has a knife in his back.  Jason ponders which of the other skydivers could have done this.  And has so much trouble figuring t out he goes up in a plane with them to re-enact it.

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Only then does he realize that the killer had to be the one standing behind the dead man when they jumped.  The only possible person.  AND, Jason, with his bad leg, is going to sky dive?  REALLY?  Because he wants to be even more crippled?

So that’s the end of Jason Bard’s less than impressive run in Detective.  He would remain a supporting character and pop up all over the Batman books as the years pass.  He would even get a back-up series again in Detective, part of One Year Later.

 

Detective 434 -The Spook debuts, and Hawkman ends

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Mike Kaluta does the cover for Detective 434 (April 1973), the first half of the introduction of the Spook, a major player against Batman in the 70s.

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The Spook is introduced by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and  Dick Giordano, materializing in a cell in Gotham’s new high security prison, offering the man incarcerated , Big Turk, a way out.  The Spook blinds the man with dust first, to keep it a secret.

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No one can figure out how the escape was done, but Batman does manage to round up Big Turk, and has him in the Batmobile when the Spook suddenly appears in the road before him.  Batman gets out to investigate, but the Spook vanishes.  More frustratingly, so do the Batmobile and his prisoner!

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While Batman is getting humiliated by having the police return the abandoned Batmobile to him, we get to see the Spook’s lair, and his intricate monitoring system, while he gives his sales pitch to a hood.  For a price, the Spook will ensure to free anyone who gets captured.

There is nothing supernatural in the way this character is played, despite his name.  Anything that gets explained, is shown to be scientific in nature, or a trick.

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At story’s end, Batman disguises himself as Big Turk, and heads to prison, in order to get to face the Spook and see his game for himself.

The story concludes next issue.

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Hawkman solves a puzzling mystery in this issue, about the serial thief who keeps getting caught, but the stolen goods keep vanishing.

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E Nelson Bridwell scripts, with Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano on the art.  Hawkman eventually figures out that the thefts were done earlier, and the “stolen goods” he was caught with were dissolving duplicates.  Kind of impressive scientific stuff for a thief.  Bet he stole the secret on how to do that.

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This is Hawkman’s last solo story before he is ordered back to Thanagar, and resigns his position with the Justice League.  In a couple of years he gets exiled, and returns to Earth, and his next solo story is also in the pages of Detective.

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