Posts tagged ‘Walt Simonson’

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 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.

Detective 469 – Dr. Phosphorus debuts

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At 12 years old, the conclusion to the Calculator storyline had been so exciting I had not expected much from Detective 469 (May 1977).  I was very wrong. It doesn’t start huge, but the Steve Englehart run on Detective that begins in this issue would be the best Batman storyline of my childhood, and would be reprinted numerous times over the years, in whole and in part.

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Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom handle the art on this first issue, which opens with Alfred falling mysteriously ill.  Bruce rushes him to the hospital, and discovers that people all across Gotham are suddenly collapsing.

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Dr. Phosphorus claims responsibility.  He is a glowing skeletal form, his skin made of phosphorus, burning when exposed to air.  He poisoned Gotham’s water supply simply by immersing himself in it.  Batman attempts to fight him, but any contact burns his hands, and the villain flees.

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There is also a back-up story in this issue, again by Englehart, Simonson and Milgrom, giving the origin of Dr.Phosphorus.

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More importantly, in the big picture, this story also introduces Boss Rupert Thorne, the big power broker in Gotham City.

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We see that Dr. Sartorius was a jerk even before the explosion at the nuclear power plant, which gave him his powers.  But as with Thorne, the more important element is his connection to the major players in Gotham politics, which would have repercussions next issue.

Detective 450 – Batman gets waxed, and Robin chases the Parking Lot Bandit

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There is one really great moment in the Batman story from Detective 450 (Aug. 75), but despite Walt Simonson’s art, Elliot S! Maggin’s story is not structured as well as it might be.

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A professional hit men gets hired to acquire Batman’s cape and cowl, not to kill him, and we follow how he lures Batman to a wax museum and into a pouring chamber.

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He explains to Batman that he has no interest in Batman’s identity, he simply wants the cape and cowl and will allow him to leave safely.  Remarkably, he gets the garb he wants.

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Bringing it back to the man who hired him, he asks what the man wants it for.  The man insists he will trade for that, demanding to know how the hit man pulled off a recent murder.  After that, we discover, in the best moment of the tale, that Batman was the one who hired the hit man to get his cape and cowl, it was all a big set-up.

But then the story has a few more pages of them fighting, which seems extraneous.  The revelation scene was strong enough to be the ending to the story.

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Dick Grayson’s girlfriend, Lori Elton, is introduced in this story about a serial thief who prays on people in parking lots, stealing their keys and then robbing their homes.

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Bob Rozakis, Al Milgrom and Terry Austin are the creative team on this story, which takes an interesting twist.  Robin is working with police chief Frank McDonald on the case, and almost captures the thief, when his wig falls off.

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Because the thief was not wearing a wig in an earlier encounter, Robin is inclined to believe the note he receives at the end of the story, from the Parking Lot Bandit, insisting he is being framed for a robbery he did not commit.

The story concludes next issue.

Detective 443 – Batman and Manhunter fight together

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It’s the big finale to the Manhunter saga in Detective 443 (Oct./Nov. 74), as Batman joins forces with Paul Kirk in this Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson spectacular, with a cover by Jim Aparo.

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An assassination gets Batman involved in the case, and on the trail of the African weapons expert that Manhunter works with.  Batman is also hunting the Council because he believes them responsible for the death of a police friend, Dan Kingdom.

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Manhunter explains his story and their mission to Batman, as he meets Christine St. Clair and the rest of Kirk’s crew.  Batman decides to join forces with them, but in an unexpected twist, Manhunter refuses, explaining that this is a killing mission, and Batman doesn’t kill.

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Killer or not, Batman still reaches their destination first, and proves a big help as they assault the Council base.  He also finds Dan Kingdom, not dead, but now a Council assassin.

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The story climaxes with Paul Kirk sacrificing himself to destroy the Council base and it’s leaders.  This was mind-shattering. Heroes did not die, and back-up series did not reach big conclusions like this one.

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There was no such thing as a mini-series in comics at this time. Stories about heroes were meant to be open-ended, to be continued if audience response and sales warranted.  Manhunter was always written as a series with a finale, that told one tale.

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True, the clones did present an opening, and they would be brought back, with clone versions of Paul Kirk in the line-up of Secret Society of Super-Villains a couple years down the road, and also in Power Company a decade or two away.  But as neither was meant to be the Paul Kirk who died in this issue, it kept this ending sacrosanct.

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More than 20 years later there would be one final Manhunter story by Goodwin and Simonson, published shortly after Goodwin’s death, which brings back Christine St. Clair, and manages to be a worthy sequel story that didn’t tarnish the original.

Detective 442 – Biplane Batman, and Manhunter faces his master

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Detective 442 (Aug./Sept. 74) features another Aparo cover, but it’s Alex Toth art on the Archie Goodwin story.

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The story is a murder mystery, with a World War 1 biplane used as a weapon.  It was viewed as a follow-up to the Batman/Enemy Ace tale from a few years earlier, but has no direct connection.

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It’s fairly straightforward, and the villain’s identity is obvious, but it’s the Toth art that carries the tale.

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The penultimate chapter, and last solo story, for Goodwin and Simonson’s Manhunter series sees Paul Kirk in Japan, hunting down the man who trained him.

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The best page of the story has Christine’s father pulling a gun on her, but unable to use it.  She walks out on him, and the lower half of the page is wonderfully evocative as he heads to his doom.

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Manhunter battles his master, Asano Nitobe, to a standstill, trying to convince him to join his crusade against the Council, but it’s Christine who flies in with the evidence to convince him.

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This marks the end of the Manhunter solo series, as the story concludes next issue in a Batman team-up.

Detective 441 – Batman faces judgement, and Manhunter goes to church

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Jim Aparo does the cover again, for Detective 441 (June/July 1974), but the Archie Goodwin Batman story inside has art by Howard Chaykin.

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This story also features the debut of Harvey Bullock, a Gotham police lieutenant who is not impressed with Batman or his methods at all.  His role is quite small, just at the top of the story, the set-up that leads Batman to the house where he faces Robin’s kidnapper.  Bullock would not appear again for almost 10 years, but eventually become a solid supporting cast member for Batman.

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The bulk of the story has Batman in a trap-filled house, facing a self-appointed judge who has passed sentence on Batman, blaming him for his daughter’s blindness as the result of a mugging, which he failed to prevent.

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The daughter does not blame Batman, and tries to stop her father.  Unwittingly, she succeeds when her blindness leads her in to one of the traps, which kills her.  Heart-broken, her father gives up to Batman.

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This issue contains absolutely the best chapter of Goodwin and Simonson’s Manhunter saga, taking place entirely within a crumbling church in Istanbul.  Every person I know who loves this series, picks this chapter as the high point.

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Using information from Damon, Paul Kirk and Christine St. Clair come to Istanbul to infiltrate a gathering of the Council, but what makes this tale great is the American tourist family, exploring the same church at the same time, completely oblivious to the other plot.

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We see that all is not well with the outer members of the Council, who find there always seem to be reasons to keep them out of the precious inner circle.  Christine St. Clair’s father is also introduced, a high ranking member of the outer circle, encouraged to stop his daughter’s investigations.

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Of the tourist family, only the boy sees the battle that occurs between Manhunter and his clones.

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The story has such a great ending, as the boy saves Paul with his toy gun, and his clueless parents drag him away, complaining that all churches are the same.

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