30 August 2010

My Top 10 Comics #3: Enter the Batman!!!

Well, are we up to #3 already? Excellent!

Number 3 has a special place in my heart; it's 
Detective Comics #450, August, 1975.

Why is a pretty mediocre issue in my top ten? Well, glad you asked. That's because it's the first comic I ever bought myself.

It was summer and my grandmother took me to the grocery store with her. Next door to the grocery was a drug store (Louis-Morgan, to be precise, on the corner of Marshall Ave. and Alpine, Longview, TX). She gave me a quarter and told me to "go and buy a funny book." Really? All by myself? Cool! (I was only 5!)

Well, I went in and looked and saw...Batman! Now, even as kid, Supes was my favorite, but Bats was "ok." (As I got older and more "mature," Bats would win out. The circle is now complete and I'm more of a Supes fan these days. Smiley )

Well, I went to the counter where a teenage girl was working to pay for my "funny book." "26 cents," she said, after ringing it up.

26? I only had a quarter (sales tax was beyond me at the time). I must have looked crestfallen, because she laughed and said that the quarter would be fine. Ecstatic, I took my purchase outside to read on the curb while granny finished shopping.

I still have that comic. It's not as good as the one in the picture, probably fair to good. A lot of my comics didn't survive over the years--they were scribbled in, lost covers, had pictures cut out. But, somehow, this particular one has made it with me, to the army and now in my own home. It's the pride of my collection.

Louis-Morgan Drugs is no more. There are a couple left around East Texas (it was a chain), but that store was tore down in the early 90s to make way for a bigger and better "super market." My grandmother died last year. But I have my memories of her and the comic she gave me a quarter to buy.

Batman's history is practically as long as Supes' or Cap's. I think that the reason I shied away from Bats as a kid is well, Adam West. "Batman '66" was in syndication and West was still voicing Bats in the cartoons. It's not that I dislike West's portrayal; his Bat's is a "Nice Guy" sort of like Supes. The campiness and the hilarity are fun but it's...forced for want of a better word. It wasn't true to the essence and character of the Batman. Michale Keaton is a Nice Guy himself, but his Bats in the 1989 movie mad it clear from the get-go that he wasn't a Nice Guy: "Who are you?!!" "I'm BATMAN!" ~smack~

West portrayal was a result of the Comics Code Authority and the backlash of the anti-violence movements and concern "for the children." Batman became this almost Boy Scout like figure who's job and purpose was to be a role model. That's not the purpose of the Batman. the Batman's job is to strike fear and terror into the hearts of criminals and bring them to justice. If Batman is a role model, it's more because of his refusal to use lethal force. Lately, that has turned into an anti-gun platform (cf., Batman: The Seduction of the Gun), but that's another debate.

The point is that, although West was true to the character as written, that character was not true to the Spirit of the Bat.

But about this issue specifically. The mid 70s was an interesting time for comics. they were trying to get rid of the CCA and tell relevant stories again (there's that 'R-word' again!)--you know things that reflected society as it was like assassinations, drug use, promiscuity, etc. One comic that handled that from DC was Green Lantern-Green Arrow #65.

That issue didn't make my cut, but it was close. This issue of Detective Comics touches on some of those issues. The antagonist isn't some campy, zany, costumed psychopath. No, Wormwood is a mercenary who kills for money flat out and simple. He's hired to get Batman's cape and cowl. Of course, it's all an elaborate plot by Batman to obtain evidence about the murder of a U.S. Congressman. There's a wonderful shot of Bruce Wayne drinking scotch or brandy while wearing a smoking jacket...he almost looks like a young Hugh Hefner!

This Batman is, in some ways, transitional. Note the elaborate plot to get the evidence: he's pretending to be someone who wants Batman's cape and cowl. But he strikes terror into the Wormwood's heart by disappearing without a trace after the cops put the cuffs on him. "He's not human!" Wormwood shouts.

On a side note, this issue was later adapted for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series as the "Cape and Cowl Conspiracy." There are some minor changes in the story...Wormwood becomes the 'Interrogator' and his look changes although he still doesn't wear a costume. Such is inevitable after 20 years, I guess.

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