Tag Archives: Denny O’Neil

Batman 303 – Batman gets things backwards, and Unsolved Cases of Batman begins

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A really good cover for Batman 303 (Sept. 78), as the book expands as part of the DC Explosion, gaining a rotating back-up series, the Unsolved Cases of Batman.

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But the lead story, by Reed, Calnan and Giordano, doesn’t really come together very well.  The villain pictured on the cover is the Dodo Man, which is just a terrible name to begin with. He is a collector of anything he can find relating to the extinct bird.

But the Dodo Man is not really the most important thing in the story anyway.  Batman gets a head injury early on, and this results in him thinking that Bruce Wayne is his secret, heroic identity, and Batman his everyday public persona.

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There are some enjoyable sequences.  Commissioner Gordon thinking that Batman is disguising himself as Bruce Wayne for some unknown reason, and Alfred fretting and doing his bet to convince Bruce that something is wrong with his mind.

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Had the Dodo Man either caused this personality switch intentionally, or it been significant in Batman’s defeat of the character, it might have pulled together. But by the time the hero faces the villain for the climax, Batman has regained his proper identity orientation anyway.

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The Unsolved Cases of the Batman also let me down as a kid, despite a decent tale by Denny O’Neil, Michael Golden and Jack Abel.  I had been expecting a genuinely unsolved mystery, but that is not what got served up.

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Batman comes across a sleazy reporter being chased by a big goon. On the surface it would seem that the big guy is the bad one, and the reporter the potential victim, but that is not quite the case.

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The reporter has stolen information about the shady past of an otherwise philanthropic man, who raised the hulking figure chasing the reporter.  Both men die in their fight, and Batman allows the case to appear unsolved, in order to save the reputation of a man who spent most of his life trying to pay for his earlier sins.

So the case is not really unsolved, it’s just that Batman refuses to reveal what really happened.  Not quite the same thing.

Batman 286 – the Joker goes to the fairground

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The Joker returns to the pages of Batman in issue 286 (April 1977), a few months after his appearance in the classic DC Special that had heroes and villains playing baseball against each other.  I am sooo looking forward to the day I get around to that one.

I really loved the cover to this issue as a kid.  Now, I admire it far less, as I found it swipes from a classic Neal Adams Deadman story.

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The story, by O’Neil, Novick and Bob Wiacek, is a good one.  The Joker escapes, taking his psychiatrist hostage, and kills him with a shrinking gas. Robin is in town, and joins Batman on this mission.  The dying psychiatrist leaves behind a clue, informing Batman that the Joker intends to hit the Revelry in the Park fair.

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So that’s where the heroes go, and almost immediately Batman spots the Joker.  But it’s not the real villain, it’s his last attorney, wearing a Joker costume just for the fun of it.  As the story plays out, Batman realizes that the attorney is the one the Joker is after, as the shady lawyer has arranged to sell the jewels the Joker stole in his last robbery.

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A good use is made of the location, with the climax in a hall of mirrors.

The Joker next appears, in a couple of months, in the pages of Detective Comics, at Hugo Strange’s auction for the secret of Batman’s identity.

Batman 266 – The Curious Case of the Catwoman Coincidences

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A great cover for Batman 266 (Aug. 75), and a really fun story by O’Neil, Novick and Giordano.  Generally, the use of a lot of coincidences in a story is a sign of weak writing.  But this story actively draws attention to those plot devices, making them central to the tale, which adds a weird slant to the whole thing.

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Selina Kyle is being transferred to another prison by train as the story opens.  As she escaped at the end of her last appearance, it’s unclear exactly when she got imprisoned.  A runaway caterpillar tractor slams into the train, releasing the inmates.

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Selina debates sticking around and letting herself be taken in.  She had intended to serve out her full term.  But a carload of her former gang members happens to drive by, and she joins them, getting back into her classic outfit.

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Even Batman getting onto her trail is a coincidence, as he had other, more violently dangerous, criminals to pursue.  But he happens across her jewel robbery, using a trained cat to commit the actual theft.

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And in the end, Catwoman gets caught only because she chose to hide in a warehouse holding catnip.

What a coincidence!

Catwoman returns a year down the road in the final issue of the Joker’s comic.

 

Batman 264 – almost-but-not-quite-Evel Knievel

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I didn’t own Batman 264 (June1975) as a kid, but my best friend Brian did.  He was a big Evel Knievel fan, and even had the stunt set.

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O’Neil, Chan and Giordano make no bones about who the stunt cyclist is meant to be, as Evel Knievel and his failed jump over Snake River Canyon are referenced right at the top of the story.  But the man featured on the cover is called “Devil” Dayre.  He has, apparently, been kidnapped, and Batman spends much of the story looking for him.

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I had forgotten that the whirly-bats were still in use in this era, helpfully brought out by Alfred so that Batman can pursue the man watching him as Batman completes the jump Dayre was meant to do.

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The only real problem to this fun little story is that the cover reveals that Dayre is the villain of the tale, something the story itself does not get around to until the final few pages.

Batman 263 – the Riddler’s answer riddles

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The Riddler had not appeared since 1968, but makes a return in Batman 263 (May 1975), in a story by O’Neil, Chan and Giordano.

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One thing I always really appreciated about Ernie Chan’s art was the detail given to the furnishings.  I know that sounds silly, but no artist before this had made Bruce Wayne look like he was actually rich.  Under Chan, Bruce and Alfred move through rooms of wealth and taste.

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As for the Riddler, he is back in action, sending clues to Batman.  But the key one is done in reverse, sending him the answer to a riddle, and leaving him to figure it out.

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The Riddler assumes that Batman will go for the more obvious interpretation, and not realize that the loot the Riddler is after is hidden in the zoo.  But that’s just underestimating Batman.  Which is never smart.

The Riddler returns the following year.

Batman 262 – the Scarecrow at the amusement park

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The Scarecrow is back in Batman 262 (April 1975), in a story by Denny O’Neil, with art by Ernie Chan and Dick Giordano.

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It’s a very serviceable tale, which sees both Batman and the Scarecrow hunting for hidden loot in an amusement park, closed for the winter.  The Scarecrow has a new machine that induces the physical effects of intense fear in people, which is enough to make them terrified.  Batman convinces Commissioner Gordon to allow him to enter the park alone, that armed police would be too dangerously vulnerable to the Scarecrow’s device.

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Chan does some great work on the park, so the visuals throughout the story are lush.

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Batman suffers the first time the Scarecrow uses his machine on him, but later, is able to withstand it.  Simply put, he realizes that the effects are only physical, and that there is no reason to feel genuine fear.  The physical effects alone are something that Batman can simply ignore, and the Scarecrow collapses in genuine fear at Batman’s approach.

This story follows the Scarecrow’s appearance in the first Injustice League story in JLA, and a few months before he pops up in the Creeper story in First Issue Special.

Batman 260 – Batman laughs

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Batman 260 (Jan/Feb 75) was another issue that I really enjoyed, fronted by an excellent Joker story, by O’Neil, Novick and Giordano.

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The story opens in Arkham Asylum, as the Joker breaks out, and opens the cells of many of the other inmates, sending them after Batman.

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Two-Face gets a cameo in the story, helping Batman when the others get the best of him, thanks to an unscarred flip of the coin.  But Batman does get doused with an urn of drugged coffee.

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The drug has the property of making Batman laugh at things that are not funny, and the laughter is so intense it’s downright crippling, as well as being a slow acting poison, giving him only three days to live.

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It makes for a great climactic scene, as the Joker tells extremely unfunny jokes, and Batman can barely reach the villain, never mind do anything to take him down.  Only by focusing on truly humourous stuff (he thinks of Marx Brothers movies) does he get some control over himself, and triumph.

The Joker returns in a couple of months in Brave and the Bold, before heading into his own comic, which happens to be the next appearance of Two-Face as well.