Posts tagged ‘Steve Englehart’

Detective 479 – Batman vs Clayface, and Hawkman vs Fadeaway Man

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Detective 479 (July/Aug. 1978) features the conclusion to the 2-part Clayface story, as well the conclusion to Steve Englehart’s run, and the collaboration with Rogers and Austin.  Up to this point, no creative team had told such an interconnected story, or given Batman such a strong romantic plotline.

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Batman manages to escape from Clayface, whose exoskeleton makes him much stronger, by electrocuting his suit.

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Though she is not identified, the cat hints that the mysterious woman who comes to visit Bruce Wayne is Catwoman.  This is the first appearance she makes following a story in Batman Family in which she battled the Huntress, and begins her path to redemption.  Current continuity would make this her first appearance after Zatanna’s mind wipe of her, as related in Identity Crisis.

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Batman manages to track Payne to his wax museum, and sees just how very disturbed the man is.  One of the things I really like about this third Clayface is that, as much of a killer as he is, he remains tragic and sympathetic.

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Though Batman does beat him, the wax museum catches fire.  Clayface, terrified for the “life” of the dummy he loves, bursts his bonds and runs back into the building burning as it collapses.

This Clayface returns in a few years, in a Batman Annual, with an amazing story by Alan Moore.

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Hawkman returns to the pages of Detective following his run in Showcase, which saw Hyathis conquer Thanagar, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl exiled again.  Len Wein and Rich Buckler contribute this story, which introduces a new villain and brings back an old supporting character.

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Returning to the Midway City Museum, Carter  and Shiera Hall are surprised to discover someone else in Carter’s office.  Mavis Trent, not seen since Hawkman 2, explains that Carter was fired after not showing up to work for months on end.  And can you blame them?

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Well, maybe you can, since the guy they hired has no trouble announcing that he is a villain, the Fadeaway Man, and uses his magic cloak to send Carter away.

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The writer clearly has backstory for this character, with his references to “who he truly is,” and I expect, had this back-up series not been abruptly cut short, he would have returned a few issues down the road.

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He vanishes, unwittingly, at the end of the story.  The Hawks assume him to be dead, but Fadeaway Man retutns a few years down the road in Brave and the Bold, taking on Hawkman and Batman.

Detective 478 – a new and deadly Clayface

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Englehart, Rogers and Austin reach the end of their run on Detective with this 2-part story that introduces Preston Payne, the third Clayface.

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Batman is not coping well with Silver’s departure, and is taking it out on Gotham’s criminals.

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Meanwhile, Gotham is being plagues by a series of robberies and unusual murders, which leave the bodies a pile of goo.  We see the new Clayface long before Batman does, and it’s not a pretty sight.

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The depths of Batman’s emotional state are made very clear in this powerful scene, in which he curses the portrait of his parents, and then realizes what he is doing.

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Jumping back to Clayface, we get the sad origin of Preston Payne.  Born with a deformed head, and ostracized both as a child and an adult, he became fascinated with Clayface’s body altering abilities.

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Payne visited Matt Hagen in prison, and though Hagen refused to divulge the secret of his powers, he did allow Payne to draw a simple of his blood.  Payne isolated the agent in Hagen’s blood that allowed the transformations, and injects himself. At first it works perfectly, and he creates his idealized body.

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But the process was unstable, and as his form began to melt, he discovered the other ability he now possessed – to spread this melting to others through touch.

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Driven completely insane, Payne now lives encased in an exoskeleton, in a wax museum with a dummy he treats as a girlfriend.

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The hero and villain, both in a state of heartbreak, face each other as the issue ends.

The story concludes next issue.

Detective 477 – mostly a reprint

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This issue is almost entirely a reprint of Detective 408, but issue 477 (May/June 1978) does have a few new pages at the beginning and ending.  There may not be much material by Englehart, Rogers and Austin, but what there is is important.

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Batman and Gordon go to see Boss Thorne, now in an asylum.  He tells them of Hugo Strange’s murder, and being haunted by his ghost.  Batman puzzles, if Strange is truly dead, who left him the gas meter?

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The final page has a wonderfully creepy murder, an introduction to the new Clayface, whose story will be told over the next two issues.

 

Detective 476 – The Laughing Fish concludes

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Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin bring their Joker story to a rousing conclusion in Detective 476 (March/April 1978).

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The Joker continues to murder those who he feels are denying him copyright on his fish, despite the best efforts of Batman and Commissioner Gordon.

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Near one of the murder sites, Batman’s attention is drawn by the ghost of Hugo Strange, and Batman discovers a gas meter.  He does not understand it’s significance, but uses it later, and it points out the Joker.  This was Strange’s device to make sure that only the bidders from the first night of his auction would be re-admitted.

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But that’s towards the end of the story.  Before that, we are treated to the Joker in his insane glory.  The writing and art combine perfectly to create an entertaining, blood thirsty madness.

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The story catches up with Boss Thorne and Silver St. Cloud, whose car ride goes from silent introspection, to a heated argument about Batman and corruption in Gotham.  Thorne kicks Silver out of the car, and she searches for a way back to Gotham.

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Not a good move on Thorne’s part, as it turns out Silver’s presence was the only thing delaying Hugo Strange’s ghost.

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So as I said before, Batman uses that gas meter and finds the Joker and they have a big fight.  Silver returns during it, watching the electrifying climax of the battle.

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She explains to Batman that she knows who he is, and loves him, but could never live with the day to day reality of the danger he faces.  She tells him she has to leave him, before she cares so much that she couldn’t leave him.  And she goes.

A beautifully played out scene, the news that Thorne has talked and that Batman is no longer banned is left as a hollow victory.

It’s many, many years before Silver St. Cloud returns.  First in a Legends of the Dark Knight storyline, and then in a Batman mini-series.  Neither were really satisfying.

Detective 475 – The Laughing Fish

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And the hits just keep coming on Englehart, Rogers and Austin’s run on Detective, as issue 475 begins the classic Laughing Fish storyline.

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The story begins with a superb scene, so tense and awkward, as Batman goes to see Silver St. Cloud after taking Deadhot in.  They both know that they both know, but neither is confident enough to speak, and where this could have been the moment they came together, in reality, it drives them further apart.

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The Joker’s entrance is a masterful piece of drawing.  This one panel is how I always envision the character.  His plan, in this 2-parter, is to copyright fish.  He has infected the water with his smile toxin, so all the fish being caught have Joker faces.  When the patent office guy explains that one cannot copyright fish, the Joker simply explains that he has until tonight to change his mind, or he will die.

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Despite the Batman’s precautions, the Joker succeeds.  The death scene is chilling, and more like his murders from the 1940s.

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This issue has also had more of Boss Thorne’s descent, including a scene between him and the Joker, in which the Joker expresses the same high regard for Batman that Hugo Strange had.  At issue’s end, Thorne is fleeing Gotham, and picks up Silver St. Cloud, also on the run.

Detective 474 – Deadshot returns

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Before this story, Deadshot had made only his debut appearance, in Batman in the early 50s, and a one panel cameo, in prison, in an issue of Detective Comics shortly afterwards.  Detective 474 (Dec. 77) brought the character back, gave him a better outfit and mask, and he soon became a major player in the DC Universe.

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The story, by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin, opens with some really great bonding between Batman and Robin, before he heads off, back to school, and a meeting of the Teen Titans.  Wonder Girl cameos, and there is a visual of Duela Dent, at this point calling herself Harlequin, as well.  In fact, this meeting would see the Titans break up, but there is no hint of that.

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The Penguin is returned to prison, and placed in a cell next to Floyd Lawton.  The Penguin has a laser monocle he intends to use to escape, but Floyd grabs that off of him and uses it himself.

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A lot of this issue is spent on the supporting cast.  Boss Thorne gets another visit from Hugo Strange’s ghost, and Silver St. Cloud goes on a date with Bruce, asking perceptive questions, and making him wish he could tell her the truth.  We also get to see her at work, organizing conventions.

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Considering the impact this story had, it’s kind of surprising how little time Deadshot gets in it – but what he has is worth the wait.  The mask would not normally be shown to be reflective, as on the page above, but even still it looks great.  And Batman and Deadshot wind up fighting on a giant, functioning, typewriter, in a beautiful throwback moment.  This is the convention at which Silver is working, and she is in the crowd, seeing Batman for the first time.

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And it only takes one look, and she knows.

Detective 473 – The Penguin goes after the silver bird

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The Penguin toys with Batman and Robin in Detective 473 (Nov. 77), another Englehart/Rogers/Austin collaboration.

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The Penguin returns to the theatre for the next round of bidding on Batman’s identity, only to discover that none of the other bidders showed, nor did Strange.  He hears the Joker’s laugh, and, unsure of what is happening, decides to write this off.

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Bruce is on the mend, and goes to see Silver St. Cloud in the hospital, along with Dick.  Although the scene is G rated, it’s still by far the more intense physical relationship that we have ever seen Bruce in at this point.

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Boss Thorne, meanwhile, is deriving no pleasure from Hugo Strange’s death, as his ghost begins haunting Thorne.

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But the meat of the story is the Penguin.  Batman and Robin believe he has plans to steal a silver sculpture, the Malay Penguin. Someone has started backing a musical next door, the sounds of which keep setting off the sensitive alarm system.  The Penguin is seem lurking nearby, and though he flees the heroes, he leaves odd clues – such as “never pitch rolls at a bank.”

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Dick can’t make head not tail out of the odd clues, but does piece together a viable solution to the Penguin’s plans to steal the statue.  And he is completely wrong.

Bruce has figured out that the statue is not the goal at all, that the Penguin intends to hijack an airplane, and stops him.

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It’s an entertaining tale of wits and diversions, with the added touch that the Penguin had stolen the Malay Penguin before the story even started.  And a pleasant change to see Batman and Robin working together again.

Detective 472 – Hugo Strange becomes Batman

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Such a great cover for Detective 472 (Sept. 77), as Englehart, Rogers and Austin conclude the Hugo Strange story.

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The first page, with Hugo Strange in double disguise, as Batman and Bruce Wayne, is the first time we see Hugo Strange in the Batman outfit – though this will be a common visual for the character in his future appearances.

Although he dresses as Batman for the opening, he only impersonates Bruce Wayne for the rest of the tale.

Alfred gets captured, both to tend to the heavily drugged Bruce, and to keep him from exposing Strange’s impersonation.

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As he liquidates various holdings of Wayne Enterprises, Silver St. Cloud bursts into his office.  Strange has no idea who she is, and brushes her off, but Silver gets very suspicious of his actions.  She returns to the clinic to try to find out more, but Strange’s sidekick, Magda, rebuffs her as well.

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Desperate, she telephones Dick Grayson for help.  Although he acts as if he, too, is giving her the cold shoulder, Dick immediately gets into his Robin gear and heads for Gotham. Too late for Silver, as Magda has two of her monster men grab the woman.

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Hugo Strange decides to auction off the secret of Batman’s identity.  It’s a shame the copy I have of this page is faded, as the original looked very good, with the three bidders in blackness. Still, it’s not hard to spot the ring of Boss Thorne, the Penguin’s umbrella and cigarette holder, and the Joker’s glove.

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Though his role in this is small, it’s a decent outing for Robin, who looks more like a college student than a teenager, for once, and who gets to show off his fighting abilities against Strange’s men.

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Even Alfred gets some action, as Magda attempts to turn Bruce into a monster.  Alfred fights with her, and injects her with the serum instead.

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And it’s not Bruce to defeats Hugo Strange at all.  Instead, Boss Thorne has his men grab Hugo after the first bid at the auction, and beat him for the secret.  Hugo refuses to speak, and regrets ever having thought of selling Batman’s identity.  Thorne is emotionless as his men beat Hugo Strange to death.

Detective 471 – Hugo Strange returns

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Although Hugo Strange had not appeared since the 1940s, he was not unknown to me when I read Detective 471 (Aug. 77) at age 12.  He had appeared in Batman 1, which had been reprinted in oversize format a year earlier.

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Rogers and Austin are back on the art, joining Englehart as we see that Dr. Phosphorus’ apparent death has not stopped Thorne or his crew from pursuing their anti-Batman agenda.

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Bruce Wayne, suffering from radiation burns from his battle last issue, seeks out an exclusive clinic for wealthy people, Graytowers, that he has heard about.  Once admitted, he is drugged, and has a great nightmare.  Maybe not so great for him, but thanks to the art, great for us.

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Silver St.Cloud attempts to visit Bruce, but is turned away at the door, while Bruce realizes that he has become a prisoner there.

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Bruce switches to his Batman gear, and pretends to have broken in.  He confronts the doctor in charge, who reveals himself to be Hugo Strange, having survived his apparent deaths decades earlier.  He distracts Batman with his ravings, as a python attacks the hero.

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Waking from the attack, Batman finds himself unmasked.  Hugo Strange now knows he is Bruce Wayne, and he is still the man’s prisoner.

 

Detective 470 – Batman vs Dr. Phosphorus

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The concluding half of the Dr. Phosphorus story is featured in Detective 470 (June 1977), by Englehart, Simonson and Milgrom.

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Batman goes to discuss Dr. Phosphorus with Jim Gordon, who is sharing a hospital room with Alfred.  With Gordon incapacitated, the city council, under Boss Thorne, push through a bill outlawing Batman.

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Meanwhile, Dr. Phosphorus continues his reign of terror, wiping out the entire audience at a rock concert.

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Aware that Dr. Phosphorus is using the abandoned nuclear plant as his base, but incapable of approaching it subtly, Bruce goes the other way, and hosts a huge party on his yacht, using that to sail near the plant.  Boss Thorne is there, but so is a new character, Silver St. Cloud.  She doesn’t do much aside from flirt with Bruce in this story, but she’ll be back.

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With a specially insulated costume, Bruce swims away from the yacht and confronts Phosphorus.  They battle, and it’s not so much that Batman beats him, as that Phosphorus causes his own defeat, as his hands burn though the railings and he falls into the reactor, setting off an explosion.

Dr. Phosphorus returns in a couple of years, in the pages of Batman.

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