5.01.2014

Batman '74

When I sat down to corral 1974's Bat-titles onto my flash drive, I discovered that we've arrived at the 100-page-giant era:



Perhaps a word on why and how this dramatic page-count increase came to be is in order. But first... Bat-Puzzle.


As recounted in greater detail here:

"In response to a rapidly declining readership (a steady loss that had begun 25 years before-and would continue 25 years hence,) publishers desperately sought new formats for their comics (...) to ferment excitement with the bored kids. 

"One of Martin Goodman's outrageously successful business moves during the last years of his tenure at Marvel was to trick DC (...) into committing an ultimately disastrous page-count and pricing change (...) resulting in what then DC editorial director (soon to be publisher) Carmine Infantino characterized as a "slaughter." In an audaciously daring move, the House of Ideas raised the page count of its regular titles 75% from 32 to 48 pages, accompanied by a 75% price hike from 15¢ to 25¢ on its October and November 1971 cover-dated books. Immediately DC followed suit, though significantly increasing their page count 100%, from 32 to 64 pages. But within a month, in a move that sent shockwaves through the industry, Goodman immediately dropped page count back to 32 pages yet only reducing the price per book to 20¢, still a 25% price increase from two months prior.

The results of Martin's gambit? Marvel was able to give wholesalers a 50% discount off the cover price of their line, as compared to DC's mere 40% price break. And whose titles would the retailers be more likely to push, do you think? Plus, what kid could resist getting five snappy, all-new Marvels for a buck, compared to four DCs, padded with moldy, old reprints? Also, as DC had to lock into ordering huge quantities of paper-a full year's supply-the publisher was trapped at the 25¢, 64-page format for an entire year. (...) Those 12 months were all the time DC's competitor needed to come out on top and, for the first time in their decades-old rivalry, Marvel surpassed DC in sales, only rarely looking back in the quarter-century passed since that fateful year. The DC supremacy on the comics racks ended in 1972 after an astonishing 35-year reign, a dynasty suddenly in disarray, scrambling to get back on top, while Martin Goodman sat very prettily indeed, ensconced in his new role as the King of Comics in this New Marvel Age."

Part of DC's "disarray" resulted in these 100-page giants. Martin Goodman's good fortune didn't last long, but that is as they say a story for another day. DC's fortunes would continue to plummet, but as the so-called Implosion happens a bit later in our countdown, we'll cover that in the blogs to come.

Just an ad for the Menomonee Falls Gazette - apparently a very popular eBay item. Dangerous info, that.
What all of that means for me is that instead of the usual number of pages to read for any given Bat-year, I was looking at something like 2700 pages (!!) for 1974: an insurmountable (or at least unexplainable, to self or wife) number of pages to tackle.

What to do? Focus only on stories written that calendar year, i.e. no reprints? But the reprints are a lot of the fun in these things. Focus only on stories starring Batman? No way - '74 is the year of Manhunter. Split all of this up into 5 different posts, one for each title? The best of the bad solutions, but one that would still entail me taking several eightballs of Batman to the brain. Sounds awesome! But inadvisable.

So, I chose to reprogram the Kobayashi to my own imperfect specifications, namely to review only Detective Comics


Before deciding this, though, I grabbed a few things worth sharing:

From Batman 257, another haunted castle tale.
Not a huge fan of the character, but Ditko.
I've been enjoying the evolution of Daisy BB Gun ads over the decade. This one has nothing to do with BB guns that I can see, except this kid in the plaid reading the comic looks kind of squirrely to me.
Perhaps too high-concept. I cropped out the text, but this is the image that accompanies one of the ads. Presumably, the boy's abandoned his bike and gone off in a Daisy delirium? But... kind of ominous, especially in 2014 but even for '74.
Over in The Brave and the Bold, Batman's concussion-woes continue:

Wrap it up - I'll take it.
Also of note, (incredulous Troy McClure voice) The Batman teaming up with the Joker?!

The occasion prompts this bit of over-the-top-ness from both the Caped Crusader and his caption-narrator:
That is one long-ass thought balloon.
With security measures like these, it's no wonder that Ra's Al-Ghul was able to just waltz into the Bat-cave so easily a few years back.
The first issue of Batman to be a 100-page giant advertised its new approach somewhat amusingly:


And one for trivia night:


DETECTIVE COMICS
(Issues 438 - 443)
Writers: Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart. Artists: Vin and Sal Amendola, Jim Aparo, Alex Toth, Walt Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Dick Giordano

Things get started with the sort of supernatural-mystery story we've seen often enough in these pages.


It's a competent story with some great Aparo art but ultimately nothing special. Ditto for #439, the first Bat-story Steve Englehart wrote for DC.

We'll be seeing a lot more of Mr. Englehart in the years to come.
Most of the 100-pagers have fun Table of Contents pages. (from 440)
This issue has Bruce Wayne hanging out at the Playboy Playhour Club where conveniently enough, hi-jinks ensue.
The yokels with guns are there to retrieve their sister who as seen below has been "hidin' in the city, takin' on airs."

Batman really has to work on detecting people sneaking up behind him and knocking him unconscious.
This is a fun little story. The Batman mixes it up with a small-town sheriff and his excitable deputies, as well as an Appalachian cult that worships a legendary mountain monster.

Mud on the boots = may be an important clue.

# 441 is notable for another fine table of contents:


and for being the first Batman story illustrated by Howard Chaykin.


I've been reading this Bare Bones blog by Jack Seabrook and Peter Enfantino as I make my way through these. Their 70s Batman overview is much more in-depth than my own and has been a fantastic resource. (They're also responsible for A Thriller A Day, something which was very much a part of my daily routine a few years back.) Jack and Peter had opposite reactions to this story, but I agree with Peter: "A story that has a few too many plot holes, way too much exposition in its climax, and a few too many roads that wind up at dead ends." Still, it's fun enough.

#442 isn't the greatest story, but it's illustrated by Alex Toth, so, you know, 'nuff said.

 

Finally, running as a back-up throughout Detective Comics in '74 is:

Along the way we get some reprints of the Simon/Kirby Golden Age version.
Appearing at the height of America's fascination with kung-fu and ninjas, the Goodwin/Simonson Manhunter was originally not meant to be the same person as the 1940s character, but this was later established to be the case. For those unfamiliar with the character, here's a quick origin story:

Paul Kirk was believed to have been killed by an elephant on safari in the 1940s, but in actuality, his body was captured and cryogenically preserved by the mysterious "Council," a secret society that (of course) dabbles in assassination and espionage pursuant to controlling the world. He is injected with nanobots that give him an accelerated healing factor and trained in ninjutsu, the last master of which (Asano Nitobe) is believed to have been killed in the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. Nitobe teaches Kirk everything he knows, but when Kirk balks at an order to assassinate an Interpol official, they become mortal enemies. Until they inevitably team up to go after the Council.

The series is notable for its cinematic action sequences and tight paneling, which Walt Simonson has always maintained was designed almost exclusively by Archie Goodwin. (A side note - if there is anyone in comics who is better-liked by his peers than Walt Simonson, it is Archie Goodwin. I have never read or heard a single bad word about the man; moreover, almost every word I have read or heard is lavish with praise.)

The story is a pretty standard espionage affair to 2014 eyes, but that's not to say it's not well-told. And the art is still loads of fun.

Some random panels and pages submitted for your approval.

The back-up and feature combine for the lead story in Detective 443:

 

As Walt Simonson would later recollect, "There was no organized fandom like there is today, no comic book shops back then. But we were very well received by fellow professionals." (It won a number of Shazam Awards from the short-lived Academy of Comic Book Arts.) "Archie got a letter from somebody who came across our Manhunter story in reprint, and he wanted to know how we'd been able to steal Frank Miller's ninja idea 10 years before Frank."

That anecdote (How did you so perfectly anticipate Frank Miller's use of ninjas?) has always cracked me up.

The "Gotterdammerung" story ends with Manhunter's death. Goodwin and Simonson were later asked to create a Final Chapter to be included in a Special Edition collecting the original stories, but the project was terminated when Goodwin died while it was still being developed. Walt's wife Louise (née Jones) suggested they release it without dialogue as a tribute to Goodwin, and such is how it appeared in 1999.

R.I.P. Archie Goodwin.
It was this Special Edition that introduced me to the character/ this story. I had no idea of any of the above. I recall mentioning it to a few people who told me bemusedly that this was among the most critically-acclaimed stories in comics history and where the hell had I been? Search me - I'd never even heard of it. Late to the party or not, it's still one helluva shindig.

6 comments:

  1. (1) Why in hell was it called the Menomonee Falls Gazette? That's a needlessly cumbersome title for what seems like an awesome publication.

    (2) I don't even know what to say about those Daisy BB Gun ads. Maybe "you'll shoot someone ELSE'S eye out" works.

    (3) That LV for The Fabulous Thunderbirds seems unlikely to be surrounded by a Bond-esque bevy of pool babes. What an odd video.

    (4) Batman's password is "Batman"?!? Holy gee...

    (5) That panel of the yokels' sister huddling against Batman is sexier than I might have expected from a 1974 comic book.

    (6) I don't believe I'd ever heard of Manhunter. (Although if I did, I might have assumed it was in reference to Martian Manhunter.) That's a weird costume he's got.

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    1. No idea about why the MFG was called what it was. That one's a mystery to me. Anyone out there know?

      I agree on the video for "Wrap It Up." The song's a silly but catchy little tune, and then there's this over the top Playboy Mansion scenario to accompany it. It was shot at Liberace's house, according to the bass-player Preston Hubbard's prison diaries. (He later got busted for dealing heroin and served time.)

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    2. Guess where in Wisconsin the editors came from and that might explain the MFG!!

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  2. I really enjoy this era of Batman. A big reason is Jim Aparo. He drew MY Batman. (And my Aquaman.) To this day, when I think of the character it's Aparo's version I'm seeing. This era also had art by Dick Dillon and Irv Novick, 2 terminally-underrated artists. Plus Adams when he could be bothered to meet a deadline. I can't think of another Bat era that had so many awesome artists working on the character.

    You're spot-on about Archie Goodwin. He seems to be the most universally liked comic book veteran of all time. I met him once, back in the mid-90s when Bob Greenberger gave me a tour of the DC offices. Archie took time out of his schedule to talk to me and answer some questions. HIs death was a loss for all of us.

    The Manhunter stuff was great. Goodwin and Simonson were one hell of a team.

    There's an issue of Detective (I think) during this run that bears mentioning. Someone has planted a bomb in Commissioner Gordon's car. It arms when the car hits 50 mph and it'll explode if the speed drops below that mark. Sound familiar?

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    1. I'll keep an eye out for the Speed story, definitely.

      Couldn't agree more on Aparo. Or this era of Bat-artists in particular. Dick Dillin was treated rather badly by DC, even for an era where artists were routinely treated badly. It's good to see these guys get the respect they always deserved these days.

      How cool you got to meet Archie and tour DC's offices. Glad to hear he was a mensch in person as well as print.

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