4.07.2014

Batman: 1971


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.

WORLD'S FINEST
(issues 202, 207)
Writers: Len Wein, Denny O'Neil. Artists: Dick Dillin

Despite that cover blurb, it kinda is, though.
Batman only appears in 2 World's Finests in 1971. Both of which are fine but not particularly mind-blowing. In the one above, a mummy's return wreaks havoc. In another, Dr. Light attempts to destroy Superman with a bizarre plan that of course goes tits-up.

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.


My father grew up with Weisinger's version of the character, and I remember how he blew my mind circa 1984 by rattling off to me all these weird details about gold kryptonite and Kandor and the super-pets. To 10-year-old-me, this was like discovering someone in your immediate family knew George Lucas or something. This more than likely laid the groundwork for my enduring affection for that 1950s/ early 1960s era of Superman. This anecdote * ends on all-too-familiar note: my grandmother threw out a small fortune of my Dad's old Superman comics when he went to Vietnam. (Not that he was all that particular about them as a collection, just in hindsight.)

* 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:


JLA
(issues 87 - 95)
Writer: Mike Friedrich. Artists: Dick Dillin, Neal Adams

Not the best year in JLA history.
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:

The one with Wildcat is okay but probably the weakest of the bunch.  Whereas the one with the Teen Titans:


is "really, really Now" to quote Adam from "The Way to Eden."

Holy Hippies, Batman.
In more than one of these stories, Batman is recruited as an emissary between the establishment and "young dissidents." ("They'll listen to you, Batman!") This particular story recalls the movie Wild in the Streets, something also recalled more recently in LXG Century: 1969 (or perhaps it was Black Dossier, I forget.) I think it's safe to say no one involved in the making of the movie would have predicted it would cast even a flicker of a shadow much less such a long-lived one in the comics world.

Next up:
Hint:
it's Plastic Man.
Sgt. Rock, an issue where people seem to be going out of their way to not say "Batman."


The Phantom Stranger:

Also included in this issue: a reprint of the character's first appearance.
 

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.
BATMAN
(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.


DETECTIVE COMICS
(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.

Sometimes both at the same time.
Issue #416 features the return of Man-Bat.


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)
The lead stories are unexpectedly outdone by the Batgirl back-ups, which I found pretty zany (and with some great art by Don Heck, whose career is seriously overdue a re-appraisal.) Batgirl wrangles with Phantom Bullfighters:
a Zoolander-esque models-as-terrorists conspiracy:


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.
The story is more than a little reminiscent of the previous year's The Demon of Gothos Mansion, but who cares?

"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...
 
(This sure happens to Batman a lot.)
 
Things escalate.
SATAN.
To get to the bottom of things, Batman does what anyone would do: he kidnaps his godson and subjects him to three days of horrifying psychological torment.

Worst. Godfather. Ever.
Whereupon he discovers his old friend actually had twins, and it's the other brother who's the emissary of Satan. A few punches to the jaw and swirling mists and apparitions later, case closed. Sorry, kid. Good luck with the PTSD.

All in all, an entertaining if fairly run-of-the-mill (but what a mill!) year for the Batman and friends.

16 comments:

  1. I'm currently (by which I mean, literally, this morning) in the middle of writing a comics blog post of my own, in which I'm doing a fair amount of complaining about art in "Spawn" comics by Alan Moore. Simultaneously, I've been kvetching about the $92 I just paid for a Cemetery Dance edition of Stephen King's "Carrie."

    All of which means that I am primed and ready to complain about just how incredibly awful that Harelquin Ellis panel is. Holy God, that's like satire of a satire of satire. I wonder what Harlan Ellison made of that. Because, to be honest, I'm not sure if it was meant negatively or as a bit of praise. Wow.

    You may already know this, but Denny O'Neil recently appeared on three successive episodes of Kevin Smith's "Fat Man on Batman" podcast. They talked for, like, almost four hours altogether. Pretty good stuff. I don't recall any of the specific issues he wrote here being mentioned, but he certainly talked about the period a bit. He also answered, once and for all, how to pronounce "Ra's Al Ghul."

    "El Bathombre"!!! Fantastic!

    Doesn't it seem like no line of Batman dialogue should ever begin with the phrase "But seriously"? Because isn't he basically always serious? Even in 1971?

    "The Man Who Saw with His Fingers" -- eeeenteresting... I did a little research on that one. It was in the May 1971 issue. Stephen King's vaguely similar story "I Am the Doorway" had been published two months before in an issue of "Cavalier." These things are probably coincidental, but still, you never know. Either way, looking at the hand makes my brain hurt. Is he one of those weird dudes with the backwards head due to self-broken-neck from Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing"? Probably not.

    "Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow" -- ye gods, what a title.

    Great art in that "Mansion of the Misbegotten" issue. Especially the Satan panel.

    Sigh...I'm going to eventually have to cave in and read a bunch of stuff from this era.

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  2. I'll keep an eye/ ear out for that podcast. I've been making my way through the uploaded audio of a panel Marc Evanier hosted with Denny and Neal that I wish someone would transcribe, as it's so chock-full of great stuff and I'm getting sick of pausing so I can take notes. Cutting-and-pasting would be so much easier.

    That is interesting timing with "I Am the Doorway," indeed.

    I love "El Bathombre," myself. (I love how the guy stops short of translating "bat!")

    And good lord, yeah, that JLA panel... the story itself is bad enough, but stopping the story to say "Wait, hey, hold on a minute..." (in such purple prose, that I won't even try to emulate) "this story you've been reading? About this Harlequin Ellis guy? That's ME. And hey! HARLAN ELLISON! THIS IS FOR YOU, BROTHER! HEEEEEE-EEEYYY!!"

    I mean, on one hand, I'm distantly charmed by the amateurishness of it all and wonder if this is a pure whiff of 1971 or something, some innocence-among-comics/sci-fi fans or something. But on the other (and dominant) hand, good lord, this is a train wreck of Writing 101 Thou Shalt Not... errors, all in one panel.

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  3. I forgot to mention the "Way to Eden" reference. Yea, brother...

    The hippie stuff here is just mind-boggling to me. I mean, look . . . I'm actually a bit of an apologist for "The Way to Eden." Maybe even a defender of it, in some ways. But when it came out, it was already hopelessly square. And these Batman comics came out TWO YEARS later! That goes beyond square, spends a little circular time in kitschdom, and then turns square again.

    But it kind of makes sense for "Batman," in some way I can't quite put my finger on.

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    1. Agreed on each and every county, there, brother. (Yaaaaaaay brother...)

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  4. I read this on my phone while having lunch at a Chinese buffet.

    That Harlequin Ellis panel...oof...even speaking as a self-indulgent writer, that guy was...well, if he wasn't doing some kind of parody or satire...so up his own arse he must have evolved to breathe methane. That's some cringe-inducing stuff right there.

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    1. I don't THINK it's parody or satire, but perhaps it sailed over my head. The rest of the issue makes me think it was meant sincerely.

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    3. I had to correct a bit of grammar that was bothering me; thus the deleted comment.

      I believe you're right; I'm just so flabbergasted by its over-the-top nature that I'm grasping at straws. I ended up embarrassed for the guy.

      The rest is a good, solid overview. None of this sounds like the Robin-is-beaten-to-a-pulp story I remember from when I was a kid, but I do vaguely recall reading comics like Batman from this era. It makes me more curious what year that one I'm thinking of is from.

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    4. Gotcha' - I do that often enough myself. I wish Blogger had an "edit comment after the fact" function.

      Glad you enjoyed. I try and keep these things as short as possible, but I have a feeling they'll all be more or less the same length. (Especially once we start adding Batman Family and The Joker and Adventure Comics to the mix in the mid-to-late 70s. Oy vey...)

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  5. You must do the most amazing research for these posts!! I wish I had done a Batman month on my blog since it's his 75 year anniversary. Oh well.. since I am going to Comic Con in July I might do a month for geeks. Some of the art above is like WHOA!

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    1. I wish I could do MORE research for these posts! I also wish I could make them more concise. The eternal blogging struggle.

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    2. I've more or less given up on the idea of concision. Which is probably a mistake. Either way, I don't think you've got anything to worry about here -- your posts never seem too long.

      I'd like to go to Comic Con one of these years.

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  6. So, Batman actually puts his childhood trauma to rest?!

    If you listen carefully, you can here DC's editors hitting the reboot button yet again.

    Actually, that type of story was taken even further. I remember owning this one comic that dated from sometime during this era. In it, Batman travels back in time AND ACTUALLY PREVENTS HIS PARENT'S DEATHS.

    The result? Er, a young Bruce Wayne is inspired by this act of vigilante heroism on the part of a complete stranger, so much so that he decides to become the Batman, even though in this new timeline, his parents presumably to a ripe old age.....Yeah.......REBOOT!

    Actually, I remember seeing an Alan Moore review on Bryant's blog where he showed a few panels of a light-hearted tribute by Moore to this era of comics, ad I'm sorry if a can't quite recall recall the title.

    As for Harlan Ellison, my gosh is that really supposed to be him? Was it something the real Ellison might have said (again)? Also, what's with all the haunted houses? Was it possibly because the early 70s saw a shot in the arm for traditional horror, like King talked about in Danse Macabre?

    ChrisC

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    1. The story you mention with the Batman preventing his parents' deaths is a Brave and the Bold, I think, with the Phantom Stranger. It may even have come out in the 70s; if so, I look forward to getting to that one. (As I recall, it's not a reboot but a visit to an alternate dimension where the PS gives Bruce Wayne the (yet another) opportunity to exorcise his demons. But I haven't read it in nigh-on 20 years.)

      Like you say, any attempt to cleanse Bruce Wayne's soul will be reversed by editorial somewhere down the road!

      I've been watching the Brave and the Bold cartoon and am enjoying it, by the by. Great stuff. I've always liked the animated series, but this is one I'd never watched.

      I'm going to assume the Moore you mean is 1963. One of my faves, that. His Superman / Silver Age pastiche on his Supreme room is similarly really well done.

      That's as likely a reason as any for the abundance of haunted houses and supernatural detective stories in this era of Batman. Probably!

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    2. I wanted to say the Phantom Stranger might have been involved in the story I was thinking of. It was just so long ago and I couldn't remember (I don't even know if I have the comic anymore).

      I knew at least that the character gets back to the past by some supernatural means and it involved one of DC's supernatural heroes, I just didn't know if a I remembered correctly.

      One element I still remember from this particular issue was the issue of exactly "who" offed Bats' parents. The killer is at first thought to be some guy named Joe Chill, later in the comic, Bats finds out it isn't but someone else (I forget who).

      I've seen and read (though never participated in) a lot of fan disputes about that particular continuity issue. I don't know who's being tagged with the label of the man who created Batman in the current 52 reboot, but having seen the original 1930s origin story, I can say that the character is really just a blank slate, it could be anybody anyone wishes.

      At least that's all I got to offer to that particular debate.

      Also, thanks for reminding me of that Moore title. I knew it was something like that.

      ChrisC

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