This year in Bat-history is perhaps best known for introducing Ra's Al Ghul and his daughter Talia.
|Batman 232 and Detective Comics 411, respectively. (I love that * editor's note.) Brought to life later by:|
1971 was also the year Two-Face returned to the Bat-verse (in Batman 234.) Outside of those three stories, things fall pretty neatly into one of two subjects: the generation gap / environmentalism (handled a bit clumsily) and the self-contained supernatural-detective stories (repetitive but fun enough.)
Before we get into it, I neglected to mention legendary editor and agent Julius Schwartz (Batman's overseer and outside of Neal Adams, perhaps the most influential member of the creative team during our period of examination) and Murray Boltinoff (who edited The Brave and the Bold, mainly) last time around. We'll have plenty more to say about both as we go along but just wanted to call attention to them. DC (and Marvel) have changed their editorial structure as necessary (and sometimes as unnecessary) in the years since, but in the 70s, it was common for an editor to be heavily involved in the plotting (and revision) of all stories under his or her purview.
In Schwartz's case, his editorial duties grew first from Superman and the JLA to Batman and then more and more titles over the course of the 70s. As his workload grew he began to pay less attention to Batman, as we shall see in due course. But here in 1971, consider Schwartz as at least the co-author of all that follows.
(issues 202, 207)
Writers: Len Wein, Denny O'Neil. Artists: Dick Dillin
Beginning in the 60s, Julius Schwartz began removing many of the elements of Mort Weisinger's Superman that he (and many fans) perceived as having become gimmicky. (The super-pets, the abundance of Kryptonite on planet Earth, etc.) In World's Finest #207, he excises the character of the Super-robots, another hallmark of the Weisinger era.
* I've likely told this one before. I'm terrific at repeating myself.
Before moving on, the title to one of the back-up reprints amused me:
(issues 87 - 95)
Writer: Mike Friedrich. Artists: Dick Dillin, Neal Adams
|Batman doing his best Crimson King (from the Dark Tower) impersonation.|
This was an era where fans could routinely get a gig writing freelance by simply writing in repeatedly to the editor, particularly when that editor was Julie Schwartz. If you leaf through the letter's pages in 1971 alone, you see letters from Martin Pasko, Michael Barr, Alan Brennart, Dave Sim, and Bob Rozakis, all of whom (except Sim, to my knowledge) ended up writing Batman stories in the years to come. Another such fan was Mike Friedrich, who Schwartz hired to write first back-ups and then take over JLA.
Friedrich went on to pen some memorable tales, but this stretch of JLA is pretty bad.
The worst comes in issue #89. As noted in The Comic Book Heroes:
"Nearly every story he wrote for Julie Schwartz was laden with political stances, hip references, and contemporary characterizations, all too obvious. He showed how different the new wave of writers was from the old, seeking to legitimize the passions of his fan days with a seriousness beyond his ability. Gardner Fox once wrote a cute tale around an 18th century novelist Henry Fielding meeting The Atom; (in JLA #89) Friedrich had a dark, tormented genius named Harlequin Ellis help the JLA, ever haunted by "the crash-pounding of his creative soul."
Not only is the story hijacked by this completely intrusive "Harlequin Eliss" author stand-in, there's this horrific panel above, where a) the fourth wall is pointlessly broken, b) the "mystery" of who Harlequin Ellis is supposed to be is confessed so absurdly, and c) there's even a damn dedication to Harlan Ellison. Like I say, he got better, but even for its anything-goes era, this is just fifty layers of awful.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
(issues 93 - 99)
Writers: Denny O'Neil, Bob Haney. Artists: Neal Adams, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown, Jim Aparo.
The first thing that jumped out at me about this stretch of stories was how much of a global traveler Batman was in 1971. Nearly every tale takes him far afield of Gotham City and sometimes from continent to continent all in a single story.
The roster of guest stars begins with the House of Mystery, albeit somewhat obliquely:
|Oh fine, whatever, Cain.|
This cracked me up as a means of introduction / identifying one's self:
is "really, really Now" to quote Adam from "The Way to Eden."
|Holy Hippies, Batman.|
|it's Plastic Man.|
The Phantom Stranger:
And the Flash in a story that put me in mind of Evil Dead 2:
|THAT THING IN THE CELLAR... IS NOT MY MOTHER!|
It all leads to what was undoubtedly meant as a watershed moment for Bruce Wayne:
|The Batman's self-diagnosis turns out to be a bit... optimistic.|
(Issues 228 - 237)
Writers: Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Denny O'Neil, Frank Robbins. Artists: Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Frank Robbins
The January and July issues were giant-sized all-reprint issues -
and a few issues appear to have missed shipping. As a result, Batman only published six issues with new stories in 1971. Most of which fall under one of the umbrellas (i.e. the generation gap / supernatural self-contained mysteries.)
|"Like -- we give him the business together!" is a line for the ages.|
The generation gap is explored (about as convincingly as it is the Beach Boys' "Student Demonstration Time," also released in 1971) in Robin's back-up stories.
One tale notable for its visual confusion:
|I cannot for the life of me explain the position of his hand or the size / placement of his ears.|
|The confusion extends to the title page.|
The Two-Face tale (issue #234) is probably the best of the lot, and while well before my time it has the distinction of being the first (thanks to that Greatest Batman Stories TPB) Two-Face tale I ever read.
(issues 407 - 418)
Writers: Frank Robbins, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Denny O'Neil. Artists: Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Irv Novick
Again, pretty much an even split between haunted houses -
and the hippie thing.
While I'm still not the biggest fan of the character, I enjoyed this description (again from The Comic Book Heroes:)
"Man-Bat was much like Ditko and Lee's The Lizard, but he was something new to DC: a morally ambivalent foe. And he provided a very different view of the effects of science from the Schwartz science-heroes of the past."
Speaking of science-heroes from DC's past, among the back-ups is this gem from the Silver Age, begging for a big-screen debut:
|Private Eyes of Venus (1957)|
a Zoolander-esque models-as-terrorists conspiracy:
and best of all, a Haunted Wigs mystery (shades of Halloween III.)
and best of all, a Haunted Wigs mystery (shades of Halloween III.)
|Even you, Batgirl!?|
|The wigs, eventually, prove no match for either Batgirl's fists or her dedication to jurisprudence.|
Batgirl also deals with the growing divide between straight and radical / student and establishment:
|He's never come out and said so, but I'd like to think this storyline was what Ice T was on about.|
AND THE BEST BATMAN STORY
OF 1971 WAS...
More my favorite, I guess, not "best." A less eccentric choice would be either of the Ra's Al Ghul tales, or the Two-Face one, or Detective Comics 410 where Batman saves the flipper-kid (an issue with intense and atmospheric art, to be sure.) But for my money, it's this team-up with the Phantom Stranger from The Brave and the Bold.
|This is the first Batman story illustrated by Jim Aparo but by no means the last. We'll be seeing quite a bit more of him in the posts to come.|
|"Hmmm... That's not the wallet inspector..."|
The plot has a lot of strange implications. First, we learn that Batman is godfather to a previously-unknown old friend's young boy. Next, the Batman learns there's something... different about his godson.
|Batman doesn't believe it. Until...|
|Worst. Godfather. Ever.|
All in all, an entertaining if fairly run-of-the-mill (but what a mill!) year for the Batman and friends.