Tagged: Detective Comics

Ed Catto: One Man’s Treasure

You know the old saying: One’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That applies to me and my pals so often.

Now, I realize I’m very blessed: I have a great bunch of friends. I share interests and/or a long history with each them. I guess that’s part of the definition of a friend. But we don’t all love the same stuff. And when it comes to Geek Culture, a bunch of my friends just aren’t that into it.

I pity those fools as I flip through the latest PaperGirls.

Freddie P is that type of friend. He’s a long-time pal. We grew up in the same small town, kept in touch through college and lived near another in those wild just-a-few-years-outta-college days. After that, we always stayed in touch. We’ve watched each other’s families grow up. We laughed in good times and were always there in tough times.

My pal and his effervescent wife, Mare, just came for a visit. We had way too much fun catching up and enjoying some of the local wines and craft brews. I’m now in the Finger Lakes NY region, and this place is just crawling with ‘em.

There was one thing that I didn’t expect. Freddie surprised me by bringing his dad’s stash of comics. He wanted to me to evaluate them, see if they were worth anything.

He carted up three tattered old boxes with about 100 comics. Spoiler Alert: there was no Action Comics #1 in the lot. But there sure were a lot of treasures. As near as we can figure, this collection was cobbled together at different times over the years. Some comics his dad collected and some he would’ve snagged from garage sales. The Freddie P Collection is a nutty, mixed-up combination of wildly different comics.

Some of the wacky highlights include:

Walt Disney Comics
There’s a bunch of gorgeous Walt Disney Comics and Donald Duck Comics in this collection. These stories were reprinted several times, and these particular comics are not from the first run. But they are still pretty old. Most are from the late 40s and early 50s. They are joyous to read and some of the features, like the one-pagers on the inside front covers, make you smile from ear-to-ear.

Treasure Chest

I really wasn’t that familiar with this anthology series, but I’m glad there were a bunch in the boxes. Treasure Chest is a “wholesome” comic that was distributed in Catholic schools until 1972. Each issue contains an eclectic mix of stories many with non-traditional themes. One issue sports a fantastic Reed Crandall cover. Another features an Eisenhower biography inked and penciled by Joe Sinnott. It’s gorgeous!

Barbarians at the Gate

This paragraph may be painful for collectors. There’s a copy of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #1 and Kull the Conqueror #1. They are both in pretty good shape, except for the fact the corner boxes of each have been clipped out. Was it a kid making a collage, a trademark lawyer, or a young Joe Jusko preparing for a later-in-life painting series? We may never know the truth. Grrr…

Still Watching the Detectives

For some reason, there’s a bunch of late 60s issues of Detective Comics (starring Batman and Robin) but not a single issue of Batman. As you may know, both titles were published concurrently since the early days of the industry. What type of kid would buy only Detective Comics but not Batman comics? Another mystery.

There’s even a copy of Detective Comics #414, one of my favorites, which I had written about here.

What’s that you say, Archie?

There’s a bunch of Archie comics here, but one in particular really grabbed my attention. One adolescent, probably just learning about sex and sexual terms, had vandalized modified the characters’ word balloons so they are each saying obscene things. It’s childish, tasteless and hilarious. It had me snickering and I just had to read the whole thing.

Two’s Company
Those old Marvel “split books” would force two characters to share one comic. There were some real economic reasons for this, but there’s no denying that each issue is jam-packed with a lot of story! Comparing and contrasting these treasures with so many of today’s comics’ decompressed storytelling, one is amazed by how long it takes to read each comic. This collection contains: Tales of Suspense #96 (starring Captain America and Iron Man), Strange Tales #160 (starring Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Tales to Astonish #72 (starring Sub-Mariner and The Hulk).

License to Thrill

It’s easy to forget how many licensed comics there were on the racks back on the day. The collection included these comics:

  • Get Smart
  • The Three Stooges
  • The Fantastic Voyages of Sinbad
  • Lassie
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

and last, but least:

  • Lancelot Link Secret Chimp

War is Heck

There’s just a smattering of war comics here, but what they offer a fantastic across the board representation of the genre Sgt. Rock, Capt. Storm, Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Air War stories, Combat and Sad Sack. The covers are particularly compelling – I can see why some kid snagged them all those years ago.

Metal Men

I never loved the Metal Men. Not even those issues with the Walt Simonson art. I kind of learned about these quirky robot heroes via reprints and the occasional Brave and the Bold team-up. So for me it wasn’t a big thrill to stumble across an old copy in this collection. But the weird part is that there are two issues of Metal Men #28 here! Seems like a pretty ordinary Metal Men adventure to me. The Metal Men fight bad guys, and get destroyed, and get rebuilt and then something happens with their responsometers and all the while Platinum, the female Metal Man, gets lovey-dovey with Doc Magnus (which still seems creepy to me). How did one kid in 1967 ever end up with two issue of Metal Men #28?

I’m going to take this collection to the Buffalo Comic Con this weekend (I’m a panelist on the Kirby panel) to find some fans who might treasure these comics. Maybe I’ll find some buyers. Who knows? Freddie P didn’t think these were treasures, but I sure do.

•     •     •     •     •

Thanks to Jeff Vaughn his merry band of dedicated and detail-oriented compatriots who publish the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Of course, we all know it’s great for estimating the value of comics. But The Overstreet Guide is indispensable when it comes to understanding the complicated numbering of series like Walt Disney Comics and Treasure Chest. (Full Disclosure: I have contributed articles to the Guide.)

Ed Catto: Watching the Detectives

Detective Comics is the longest running American comic book series. It was so important to the publisher, an outfit called National Periodical Publications, that one day they officially changed their name to reflect comic’s initials. They became DC Comics. Oh, sure, Detective Comics Comics doesn’t make sense, but let’s not split hairs and just chalk it all up to simpler times.

I’ve been reading Detective Comics for as long as I’ve been reading. Batman was the lead character since #27, 1939, and in the early days I admit I’d often choose the latest issue of Batman – with that big Batman logo – instead of the latest Detective Comics.

But then, right about the time that I was actively buying and reading comics on my own with minimal parental supervision, Detective Comics shifted direction. Batman’s superhero adventures morphed into detective and mystery stories. Many stories embraced a whodunit feel. And as an adolescent who was trying to leave behind the camp of the Batman TV series, this version seemed in synch with I wanted at the time.

Actually, Detective Comics would have many incarnations over the years. For a while it became “The Batman Family” and offered a variety of adventures of Bat-characters and detectives. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, helped initially by Walter Simonson, created one of the most definitive versions of a mysterious yet well-rounded Batman in a 70s run of Detective Comics. And for a while in the 80s, the plotlines of Detective Comics were intertwining with the Batman title, like comic double helix/DNA strands, to create a twice-monthly ongoing soap opera style narrative.

Surprisingly, I’m really enjoying the current Detective Comics series that’s part of DC’s Rebirth. Like so many TV dramas, it’s about a team of people working together in the cause of justice. In his book The Caped Crusade and the Rise of Nerd Culture, author Glen Weldon made the point that Batman always starts by being a loner and eventually transforms to a person surrounded by a group or family. That’s definitely the case here.

Each issue is adorned with a classic Detective Comics logo and the stories are full of lush, detailed art that often showcases smooth and confident inking.

One would think a traditionalist like me wouldn’t enjoy a Batman Team book, but somehow it all works.

But the other day, I ended up enjoying an old treasure. I happened across my ragged copy of Detective Comics #414, 1972. It’s a wonderful comic for so many reasons. I won’t say, “they don’t make them like that anymore,” but… they don’t.

The powerful Neal Adams cover creates a stunning sense of urgency. It might seem odd that a lighthouse is causing Batman to burst into flames while a ghostly specter angrily lords over it all – but it sure does look great.

From the vantage point of today, I’m especially impressed that the paste-up person in the production department tried to minimize the logo with a window-like effect. I understand that it’s necessary, but the trade dress just seems out of place on this stunning illustration

The lead story stars Batman. It’s called “Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse,” and starts off in a unique way – with a poem.

“One of the pleasures in working for editors like Julie Schwartz was that he’d allow his writers to stray from the beaten path, do wacky stuff like open on a poem,” writer Denny O’Neil reflected. “I remember very few details, but I do recall enjoying the writing of the story.”

The pencils for this page, by the often under-rated Irv Novick, are inked in a clever olde tyme/Gibson Girl style by Dick Giordano. The unorthodox inking visually reinforces the poem in this unique opening sequence.

The action starts in earnest on the second page. There we first see Batman, lurking in rafters of a Florida bar. He’s been tracking a planned arms sale and is just about ready to pounce.

The villain is the forgettable General Ruizo. He was a kind of a one-hit wonder, but without the “hit” part. The character who really steals the show is Loosy. She’s a faded beauty with a sordid past and a lifetime of regrets. She’s the type of character that you seldom see in the comics, and her tale of redemption, and Batman’s eventual respect for her, is heartfelt, natural and enduring.

To O’Neil’s credit, Loosy is the type of character that you remember for years. I’ve remembered her for about 45 years.

Batgirl and her detective boyfriend, Jason Bard, star in the second story, “Invitation to Murder.” The Frank Robbins, a fantastic artist, wrote this mystery. Longtime comics veteran Don Heck supplied the art. One might reflect on the inky similarities of Robbins’ and Heck’s art styles, but Heck’s art on this particular effort seems rushed and uninspired.

Still… extra points go to Babs (Batgirl) Gordon for one of the quickest costume changes – and the reverse change back into civilian clothes – in comic book history. In this adventure, she seems to transform in those little white gutters between the panels!

This was the first issue of Detective Comics that had jumped to the then-overwhelming price of 25 cents. In order to compensate drastic price hike, several additional stories were added. But even so, Carmine Infantino implored fans to listen to the publisher’s reasoning for the price increase. “Let’s rap,” he asked in the half-page editorial notice. He explained that they would be adding pages added to compensate for increased price. “Not just ordinary pages,” he promises, “but specially selected stories that we were planning for special time…and that time is now!’

These special pages, in this particular comic, included two reprint stories. One story is a Gardner Fox/Carmine Infantino mystery thriller, where the actor who plays the lead in a TV show called Mark Gordon, Private Eye is whisked to Venus. They needed the help of real detective and thought the TV broadcasts were a documentary. This premise would be repeated many times over the years, most notably in the faux-Star Trek movie: Galaxy Quest.

It’s notable that the Venusians seem to look just like the Martians of the DC mythology. They are both tall green beings with blue capes topped off by oversized “opera style” collars. But who knows, maybe this was all a prank courtesy of J’Onn J’Onzz.

You may recall that J’Onn J’Onzz, The Martian Manhunter, was also a Detective Comics alumnus, so perhaps it was fitting. It all comes full circle, as J’Onn J’Onzz is now on TV each week in the Supergirl series.

(I still can’t believe that he’s on TV every week.)

The other reprint, a detective story called “The Australian Code Mystery,” is a real treat. Alex Toth’s art is masterful, creative and economical. David Vern wrote the story, and Mike Gold had some interesting insights about him:

Given my background in the youth social services field, at DC Comics I often was the go-to guy when somebody wanted to get a youth culture reference right. One day in, I believe, 1977, I was in my office pontificating on the subject of the availability of “pure” THC (tetrahydrocannabinol; the psychoactive part of marijuana). Lots of kids thought that various street drugs actually were THC, and I pointed out that THC per se wasn’t readily available outside of a laboratory that isn’t in the United States. I was asked about “angel dust,” which, in those days, often was sold as THC. In fact, angel dust usually was phencyclidine, a.k.a. PCP. As I said the word “phencyclidine” Dave Vern was visiting the office next to mine. He came running in to my area.

“Phencyclidine?” Dave asked. “PCP?” “Yeah,” I responded. “Angel dust.” Dave went into an excited and unending rant. “Great stuff! Powerful hallucinations! Makes a man out of you!”

“Well, sure, if you don’t mind the delusions and risk of seizure,” I replied, trying to be humorous.

“Of course it does! Why else use the stuff?”

“Because that’s the shit they inject into large simians in the last reel of ape movies!” I pointed out.

“Damn right it is,” Dave responded. He was about 53 at the time, and in those days serious, knowledgeable dopers did not look like Dave Vern, who appeared as though he might fill in for Principal Conklin on Our Miss Brooks. After Dave returned to his chores, one of the folks in my office said, “What would Batman say?” I think a better question would involve one of his best-known co-creations: What would Deadshot say?

Yes, David Vern, later called David V. Reed, was responsible for many important elements of Bat-Mythology. In addition to co-creating Deadshot, he also revamped the Batplane and reintroduced The Joker and Two-Face. Vern wrote “The Joker’s Utility Belt,” which would be adapted as memorable episodes of the 1960s Batman TV series. Two of his Batman stories, “Ride Bat-Hombre, Ride!” (drawn by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris) and “The Last Batman Story–?” (drawn by Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano) are among my personal favorites.

The back cover ad, announcing the short-lived Hot Birds toy, is just glorious! I imagine that the folks at Mattel were asking, “How can we extend the Hot Wheels brand?” Whoever raised their hand in that meeting and suggested, “What if we make them airplanes?” would have been regarded as a genius in my neighborhood. My brother Colin and I, aided by our neighborhood gang, instantly embarked on a mission to collect all the Hot Birds die-cast planes.

There were only six Hot Birds produced. Upon reflection, that’s probably a good thing.

But hey, that’s enough nostalgia! I’m looking forward to the next issue of Detective Comics. And kudos to all the talented creative types who take a magazine that’s been published since 1939 and making it seem so fresh and new!

* * *
For more of my Bat-writing, be sure to look for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide no.46 for my Legends of the Dark Knight essay. It’s on sale this summer. You just won’t be able to miss Jim Steranko’s Bat-Cover.

Ed Catto: Frank Robbins

detective_429_pg4_1000When I was a kid I’d make the trek to Lewis’ Drug Store to buy comics with my allowance money. Maxwell’s Food Store had a better selection, but that was on the other side of the treacherous “Five Points” intersection, and I wasn’t yet allowed to cross that on my own.

Detective Comics, starring Batman, was a favorite, and you can make a case that some of the very best Batman stories were appearing each month during that early 70s period. They were fantastic thrillers by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, with the occasional Michael Kaluta or Bernie Wrightson cover. I didn’t know how good I had it.

So you can imagine my surprise when I picked up Detective Comics #429 and looked at the interior story’s artwork by Frank Robbins. I remember thinking “Is this a joke?” and “Is this a Golden Age reprint?” His cartoony figures and heaving brushwork was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. In fact, I thought it was hideous.

johnny-hazard-ad“Besides, isn’t this ‘artist’ Frank Robbins guy really a writer?” I thought. I had recognized his name as the writer credited to so many cool Batman mysteries. My pre-teen brain immediately declared he should stick to writing. I thought he was an awful artist.

I seem to remember a few issues later, in the letter’s page, a fan wrote that he felt the same way. Like me, that fan didn’t know what to make of Robbins’ artwork. One of his snarky comments stuck with me: he said that Batman looked as if he had just finished working on the Batmobile’s engine and was covered in grease!

But things change. And in this case, it wasn’t the artist and it wasn’t the artist’s work. It was me.

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate Frank Robbins. He’s now one of my favorites.

As my tastes have matured, I’ve grown to realize that there are so many types of art. It’s so much more than just “who can draw the most realistically.” Way back when, Neal Adams was probably my favorite artist. He probably still is one of my very top favorites (as both an artist and as a person). But with age, one develops an appreciation for different artists’ skills and visions.

I’m not the only child of the 70s that has learned to love Frank Robbins’ work later in life.

hazard-sundayFrank Robbins has a flavor that’s all his own. Oh, many will point out that he’s from the same school as Milt Caniff and Noel Sickles, but I think he’s more than that. I think he’s gone beyond that wonderful style and his artwork has established its own coherent universe.

Contemporary artist Chris Samnee is the same way. He’s clever and pushes the envelope routinely. When I read a Samnee story, I feel like there’s a whole Samnee universe out there. A universe where all the visuals fit together and more importantly, are fascinating and beautiful to behold.

Mark Waid, Samnee’s frequent collaborator, recently told me “Chris Samnee is one of the most talented storytellers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. His linework is spot-on, the way he spots blacks and uses contrast is masterful, but it’s his ability to tell the most story with the least amount of extra lines that I most appreciate. It’s a lean look without an ounce of fat.”

As usual, Mark is spot-on.

I’m not yet ready to argue that Frank Robbins is the Golden Age Samnee or that Chris Samnee is the modern age Frank Robbins, but I’m getting close. In reality, both artists’ work is brilliant and can be enjoyed without any forced comparisons. But you get the idea.

And that’s why I’m loving Hermes’ Press Frank Robbins’ Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies collection. This adventure strip ran for an astounding 33 years – from 1944 to 1977. Again, it was initially cut from the same cloth as Caniff’s Steve Canyon or Sickles’ Scorchy Smith. But in reality, Johnny Hazard started more like Indiana Jones and ended up more like a Sean Connery 007 movie.

johnny-hazard-vol-1-coverThis wonderful newspaper comic strip jumped right into the action, as Johnny Hazard was a WWII pilot. These gorgeous Hermes volumes start with the very first strips.

I’m very appreciative of the format of these books. They are landscape style with two daily strips per page. Robbins artwork has an extreme sense of urgency, but there’s so much detail that the reader is caught up in this wonderful push-pull. On the one hand, you can’t wait to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, the eye is lured into lingering over the figure work, the lush backgrounds, the stunning aircraft art or Robbins’ pretty girls. These books fulfill each of these artistic interests.

And while I’ve been gushing about Robbins’ artwork, I’m surprised how much I enjoy the characterization of the initial female lead. Brandy, a love interest introduced early in the Johnny Hazard continuity, is fresh and fun. She’s a plucky mix of Eve Arden’s confident wit mashed up with Veronica Lake’s stylized sexiness. She’s a memorable character and I want to see more of her adventures.

an-inky-samnee-illustrationI recently spent some time reviewing original Frank Robbins pages from the 60s. By that time, his style had progressed and he became masterful with his rendering and pacing of the globetrotting adventures. It’s astounding how comfortable Robbins was rendering everything from downtown Hong Kong to mountain climbing adventures – sometimes back to back.

But the Hermes collection showcases work from years before that. Right now, four volumes are available and the fifth one is scheduled for this November. The good news is that with the abundant adventures that Johnny Hazard enjoyed, there’s years of material to be collected.

In retrospect, it’s a shame that it never made the leap to other media. A radio adventure or a 60s TV show seem like no brainers. Johnny Hazard toys and merchandise would have been fun. Why wasn’t there a Big Little Book? Why were his forays into comic books so rare? At the very least, in ’66, Johnny Hazard should have had his own Captain Action costume set.

My younger self wouldn’t believe that my middle-aged self would be so enthusiastic about Frank Robbins artwork. But then again, I used to think girls were icky and wine tasted awful. I’m grateful for my maturing tastes.

Hermes Press Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies Volume 5 is available November 29, 2016. Like all this series, this is reproduced entirely from the King Features Press Proofs.


Martha Thomases: 4DX, Batman’s Religion, and Me

batmans-jewishIt’s a twofer this week, folks. I have two things that are obsessing me, neither of which really qualifies for a full column, but both are so interesting (to me, anyway) that I must opine.

Hey! There’s a new movie format!

It’s called 4DX, and it’s not a better picture or more frames per second or three dimensional. Instead, it involves seats that vibrate and sometimes move, fans that mimic wind, and sometimes water and aroma effects.

Apparently, this format has been around for a few months, but I only found out about it this past weekend. My friend Renee and I went to see The Magnificent Seven. When we got to the theater, we found out that the show we had planned to see was in this funky new format. It was going to be another 45 minutes before the next show in a normal theater. So, we paid the extra $8.00 (!!!) each, and decided to consider it an adventure.

It was hilarious.

It’s not as funny as Smell-o-Vision” or the John Waters movie Polyester, filmed in “Odorama.” In fact, there were no discernible smells, at least for this movie. Which is a good thing, because there were lots of horses and very few humans seemed to bathe very often.

Although a sweaty Denzel can come sit by me anytime.

Every time a person opened a door, there was a breeze. When horses galloped across a stream, a fine mist of water sprayed from the chair. Every time the camera moved, the seats moved with it. Every time a horse galloped on land, the seats vibrated.

I didn’t feel like I was part of the movie, but I did feel like I was at Walt Disney World. I was on an amusement park ride that lasted longer than the wait on line to get on.

This format was probably not designed for westerns. It was probably meant for super-hero movies, with lots of flying and explosions. I don’t think I will ever pay extra for it again, unless maybe they provide virtual reality goggles to go with it.

Batman’s Jewish?

In the last few issues of Batman and Detective comics, since Rebirth, it has been revealed that Kate (Batwoman) Kane’s mother is Martha Wayne’s sister. It was previously established that the Kane’s are Jewish. According to tradition, the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish.

(Aside: I don’t believe that, because I think one’s religion is a matter of what one believes and not one’s genetic make-up. This is why the Haredi don’t want me in Israel.)

I searched the Google, and no one seems to have said anything about this, at least not on the Internet. I suppose it’s possible I’m reading it wrong. I suppose it’s possible that this will be dealt with in future storylines. I suppose the Waynes might have been extremely closeted about their heritage, or that Thomas Wayne never told his parents that his wife was Hebrew. Maybe it’s a modern day Ivanhoe.

It might be December before we find out if there are menorahs in stately Wayne Manor.

Mike Gold: Batman’s Rainbow Coalition

Detective Comics 241You’ve probably heard this one; the story has been going around for more than a half-century.

During the 1950s, publishers and sales directors would carefully gawk at their covers, most often all tacked up on one wall, and discuss sales figures and the all-important “sell-through” percentages, the latter being the percentage of comics sold against the number of comics printed. They would try to figure out what cover elements sold best. Mind you, this wasn’t simply an activity of the 1950s: in the late 1970s I started at DC’s wall of covers and noticed Batman was dead on a half-dozen separate titles. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have pointed this out.

But getting back to the 50s, the story goes there were three elements that caught the readers’ eyes: the color purple (no, not the movie; that was much later), fire, and talking apes. That’s the folklore, and it reeks of truthiness. Being who I am – an obnoxious sot – I maintain there was a fourth element.


dc-collectibles-rainbow-batmanThere were a hell of a lot of rainbow covers back in the day. I admit they attract the eye, although not so much the imagination, as compared to all those talking ape covers. My favorite by far was on Detective Comics #241, “The Rainbow Batman.” The cover was drawn by Shelly Moldoff and the story itself was written by science-fiction master Edmond Hamilton and penciled by Shelly and inked by Stan Kaye.

The plot is irrelevant, at least for my purposes today. I was six years old at the time – yep, obnoxious and precocious is a wonderful combination in a human of that age. Anyway, the story worked for me and it still works for me because, like many Geek Culture fans, I suffer from the disease called “nostalgia.”

So, when I saw that DC will be coming out with a set of Rainbow Batman action figures this summer, I let out a apoplectic yelp that is common to our ilk but generally perceived as childish by mainstream humanity…

If such exists.

But I’ll cop to the childish part. I immediately texted the link to The Point’s Mike Raub, knowing full well he would have a similar reaction. I did not share it with my daughter, who has been tolerating such nonsense most of her life. But I bet she’ll find this sort of cool.

Yes, I know Funko Pop did such a set several months ago, but it wasn’t realistic. Think about that for a moment. That’s not realistic? Well, no, it’s not: the real Rainbow Batmen were not hydrocephalic.

Childish as it may be – well, is – I shan’t be playing with the Rainbow Batman action figures in my bath.

But I will take them out of the box!

Dennis O’Neil: Gotham’s Doctor, Batman’s Saint

You may have seen it yourself: the scene a while back in which James Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thompkins stand in front of their police department colleagues getting very well acquainted. It happened during an episode of Gotham and although the television Leslie wasn’t the Leslie Dick Giordano and I introduced in Detective Comics #457, I didn’t mind. I know that television shows are not comic books: they have different techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and that the story being told there on the tube wasn’t our story and that serialized characters have to evolve if they are to survive for decades, as Leslie has.

In the weeks since the television Leslie was introduced, we’ve seen her become her own person – witty, intelligent, feisty. Independent. I’d happily watch her if her name were Honorifica Flabdiggle, especially if Bertha, like Leslie, were played by the talented and truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

She was created – Leslie, not Honorifica- to serve the plot of the particular story we were working on, to supplement Bruce Wayne’s biography, and to add an element to the Batman mythos.

I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day. Dorothy began her professional life as a journalist, wrote a novel, lived the Greenwich Village life. In 1939, she cofounded The Catholic Worker, an organization located in a section of lower Manhattan not much frequented by the white shoe crowd. The Worker had three missions: to serve the poor by providing food, shelter and clothing; to help drunks get sober; and to protest war – all war, any war, and any violence.

We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it.

What the fictional Leslie did for Bruce Wayne was to serve as a surrogate for his murdered mother and to give him information; she told him that not everyone believed that violence solved problems. If Bruce had existed – these are fictions, remember – he might have been sympathized with Leslie’s convictions and regretted his own dependence on violence, while having nothing he considered to be another viable modus operandi.

I don’t expect to hear Dr. Leslie Thompkins endorsing Dorothy Day’s convictions. Gotham is a venue for action/melodrama, after all, and not a pulpit. And there are reasons why we respond to this sort of entertainment and they’re not too distant from the reasons our wonky species hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs. But still…what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could maybe slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so ably creating a nuance uniquely her own.

Just asking.


Marc Alan Fishman: Wanted, Dead or Alive … Not Both.

Wolverine Potato HeadSo I guess when the AV Club is reporting on the future death of Wolverine, the cat is out of the bag, eh? In yet another PR stunt, the mainstream comic houses show their full hand in hopes mega media attention will somehow garner a boost in pulp sales. I’m reminded of that saying concerning the definition of insanity. And surely this is a topic we, the snarky columnists of any number of media outlets, have covered… well… to death. It’s still worth another look though, so indulge me, kiddos. It’s time to beat a dead horse.

Isn’t it a shame when the knee-jerk reaction of your most dedicated fan-base upon hearing about the death of a beloved character comes with an audible snicker and eye roll? Suffice to say when I’d read the newswire piece it didn’t come as a shock, as much as a continual reminder that my favorite medium was often regarded as kitsch. And truly, no other medium comes to mind – save perhaps for soap operas or pro wrestling– where the announcement of a significant loss bares no bitter fruit as much as it comes complete with scoffs from the peanut gallery.

Wolverine to be stripped of his healing factor and killed. Peter Parker’s mind is destroyed, only to be inhabited by Otto Octavius. Batman banished forever in time by the impact of some Omega beams. Superman dead. Thor dead. Professor X dead. Steve Rogers dead. Jean Grey dead. Colossus dead. Hell… Bucky Barnes dead. Phil Coulson dead.

Feh, I say. Feh! In each instance of the leaked announcement, I immediately retort “…until sales drop, or a movie comes out.” And if you’re a betting man, you’d be smart to go all in each time. I think though, that ranting and railing against something you could count on as easily as the tide coming in, is a waste of negative feelings.

What sits at the root of all of these stabs into the mainstream ether is the soul-crushing realization that our beloved cape-and-cowl crowd are all for-profit entities, each built to harness the dollars and cents of a loyal customer base that has proven more often than not to continually purchase product even while loudly protesting it. Simply put, one need not sweat the wrath of the fanboys and girls until they leave you high and dry at the checkout counter. And as attendance at comic conventions continue to swell, and the multiplex becomes choked annually with blockbuster after blockbuster… there’s little need to fear that our ink-and-paper rags are going away while the licenses need to be coddled.

And what would you do if you were the EIC of a major comic book publisher? You’d keep hitting your cash piñatas until they stop dropping Tootsie Rolls. One can’t simply let their comic character live and die with the times. They must constantly be in a cycle or dramatic repartee with one another. They must converge on mighty battlegrounds. They must make odd alliances. They must recalibrate, reinvent, and redefine their very being every few months. The moment they stop, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Even to let a mortal man, like Frank Castle – a character whose very mission is clearly drawn in severe black and white terms – die a hero’s death, is really just another way to bookmark him for a new series later. One cannot simply let a comic character die… not when there’s a bloodstone to find and money left on the table.

To learn of Wolverine’s impending dirt map should not actually be met with a scoff, and an upturned nose. As in nearly all my aforementioned examples of re-re-retconned demises… in their immediate wake came some of the best stories I’d ever read concerning that character! When Batman was time-bulleted away, Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics gave me the Dick Grayson I’ve always wanted to read. When Dan Slott took the leap to let Otto drive as the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, he opened up a fantastic object lesson in proactive versus reactive heroism. And when Wolverine bites the big one, it will be less about ending his story as it is opening up a new chapter in the plethora of X-books that will no doubt be touched by the loss. Death, as it were, is then less about the loss specifically of the character in question, rather, it’s about the aftermath that needs to be considered.

It is sad to me that we must accept this as fate; that our heroes and villains are merely pawns in a never ending churn and burn of story arcs and universe resets. In the time since its inception, the Marvel Universe (the 616), and the DCU (whatever we call current continuity since it’s neither new, nor 52) have relegated themselves to reinvention at every turn of the corner. Unlike a soap or the WWE, where fictional characters can eventually die in real life… or even Doctor Who, who remains the same alien in spirit, but purposefully reimagined to coincide with the times – mainstream comic books must remain forever in Neverland. While DC tried hard to create legacies with a few of their major heroes (The Flash and Green Lantern, most of all), they too eventually succumbed to a massive PR stunt (the still-absolutely-unbearable Flashpoint), in order to move the zeitgeist back into its clutches.

So mourn not for James Howlett, folks. Let no tears stain your mutton-chopped cheeks for his once robust form. For now, he will join any number of other X-Men at the famed Marvel Island. He’ll enjoy the umbrella drinks, and free bacon… as the 616 spins out of control.

Because let’s face it, a world with Wolverine leaves a roster spot open on at least 1,246 different teams. And that is why we mourn.

THE LAW IS A ASS #311: Commissioner Gordon: Threat Or Menace?

All I can conclude is that James Gordon attended police academy with Steve Guttenberg. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for what he did in Detective Comics #25.

Detective Comics #25 is set during Batman: Year Zero which, despite that title means the story takes place during Batman’s first year, not his zeroth year. At this time, James Gordon wasn’t Commissioner of the G.C.P.D. yet, just a recent transfer from Chicago who found himself in a city overrun by mobsters and crooked cops paid to look the other way while the mobsters mobbed. Gordon wanted to take down both the mobsters and the corrupt cops, starting with Roman Sionis, who Gordon suspected was the secret head behind the Black Mask gang. So what Gordon did was…

Oh, wait. SPOILER WARNING! Leaving your milk out will spoil the milk. Reading this column will spoil Detective Comics # 25. If you don’t want either your milk or comic books spoiled, don’t leave your milk out and don’t read this column. (No, wait. Do read it, just finish reading Detective Comics # 25 first.) (more…)

Dennis O’Neil: The Talia al Ghul I Know… and The Sister I Don’t

Talia-and-Nyssa-Al-GhulI was surprised to learn that Talia has a sister.   Understand, Talia and I go back a long way.   I first encountered her in a script I was writing for Detective 411.  I really didn’t know much about her, though I was probably aware that she had a father who would grab attention at some point.  I didn’t come face-to-face with him until I looked at a copy of Batman 322.

His relationship to his daughter was open information from the beginning and when you think about it, his having progeny is a bit odd; his biggest concern is the destruction of the Earth’s ecosphere and that includes the problem of overpopulation.  And although Ra’s al Ghul is something like 400 years old, I’m pretty sure that Talia is still a young woman – young by our standards, not just her father’s.  So this man who thinks there are already too many people adds to the number?  It doesn’t seem to parse.

But we should remember that Ra’s is a megalomaniacal sociopath.  Such a man might feel that anything he does, including adding to a crisis by siring a child, is righteous because he does it.  If you do it: bad.  If he does it: bravo.  Of course, he may have had a practical reason for becoming a parent: maybe he was looking for someone to take over the family business after he retired.  (I suppose that when you pass 350 or so, you lose a step or two and begin to consider successors.)  Or he might have been having trouble finding good help and decided to grow his own.  Or maybe he planned to begin an al Ghul dynasty.

Well. maybe not an al Ghul dynasty.  That’s not a name, that al Ghul.  More like a title.  According to the late Julius Schwartz, who contributed it, Ra’s al Ghul means something like “head of the demon.”  Surely at some other time, he was called something else, perhaps with the title “doctor” prefacing it.  He was a doctor, you know, and a scientist and perhaps a bit of a humanitarian in a country that has absolutely and vanished from history.  Not a trace left.  Nada. Zilch.  (How, then, do I know about it? That would be telling.)

About that sister: her name is Nyssa al Ghul – she obviously doesn’t know that what she’s calling herself isn’t a name, unless she does know and is being a rebel.  She showed up in a recent episode of a television presentation titled Arrow and proceeded to do some major ass-kicking. I don’t think she’s much like her sister. (Do they even have the same mother?)  My Talia has pacifistic instincts that are unfortunately often obliterated by a slavish devotion to her father.  A really expert therapist might do wonders for her.  Nyssa, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy combat and to be very good at it.  Though, I admit, we have barely met the woman and can’t really judge her motives.

I guess we should stay tuned.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Superior Spider-Ploy

SPOILER ALERT: To be fair… if you’ve not read Amazing Spider-Man #700, and care about the ending, and haven’t scoured the interwebs for spoilers previously? Please don’t read this week. Go read Dennis O’Neil’s article instead. It’s better than mine anyway.

Awhile back Michael Davis and I got into a heated argument over balls. Not kickballs. Not softballs. Not soccer balls. Balls. Juevos. Or Huevos, depending on how you look at it. We bickered a bit on whether DC’s New52 was a move made with testicular fortitude. Well, I’d like to think ultimately I won. I said they didn’t use enough man-juice. They got the bump in sales they wanted, but I don’t believe for a second they “changed the industry,” “changed the game,” or did anything more than what they did after the first Crisis on Infinite Earths – but in a significantly more watered down way. But I digress. This week, I’m not here to chastise DC. This week. I’m here to celebrate a bold and ballsy move by none other than Dan Slott. His Superior Spider-Man is a gutsy concept that deserves recognition.

Slott started in on his run on Amazing Spider-Man way back at issue #546. One-two-skip-a-few-ninety-nine-six-hundred. At issue #600 Dan started what would lead to a hundred issue long game wherein he would eventually do the (mostly) unthinkable: he would kill Peter Parker, and in true comic fashion mind-swap Otto Octavious into the titular hero’s body. And he’d keep it that way. Thus, when Marvel launches Superior Spider-Man with Doc Ock as Peter Parker… we have a new(ish) Spider-Man in the 616. Balls, kiddos.

The ideology here is simple. Thwarted time and again, Octavious decided to play one of the longest cons in comic history. In bits and pieces and dribs and drabs, Doc Ock found ways into Peter Parker’s head. And after his nefarious plan succeeds, in very a Ozymandias’ way, we are left with Spider-Ock. But instead of proclaiming potential world domination, instead Slott aims Octavious towards a goal that makes him more a shade of gray than previously thought. To paraphrase: all Otto’s ever wanted (aside from a dead nemesis for years and years, and maybe a better haircut) was to improve the world. Now, with this newfound great power will come great solutions. He has proclaimed that he will be the superior Spider-Man. Natch.

Now, the whole body swap thing has been done before. As has the “replace the title character with character X.” Bucky-Cap. Dick Grayson-Bats. Frog-Thor. And yes, we know that Spidey-Classic will no doubt be back in his own body safe and sound. And let’s even be so bold as to suggest somehow Otto will get himself a new body too. Younger. Stronger. Designed with 100% more lines and angst. It’s just the nature of this business. Don’t believe me? Go look at Frank Castle. Bloodstone my Jewish ass. But that’s a whole ‘nother show, as Alton Brown might say. The key here, and the reason I’m so excited about this, is because of the sheer novelty.

It’s widely known my favorite book of 2011 was Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics, starring Dick Grayson under the cape and cowl. I had not purchased a Batman book for eight years prior. Thank you, Hush. Why did I return? Especially when I didn’t know Scott from a hole in the wall? Because of the opportunity to give me something new. And whereas seemingly all other Marvel titles being brought into the “NOW,” here Slott decided to end his pre-now run with a big bang. Everyone else put the toys neatly back on the shelf. Balls. Of course, it may be a bit unfair to say that. Slott leaves Amazing Spider-Man to go to… Superior Spider-Man. So, perhaps he’s only semi-ballsy? Nay. To start a new number one with such a concept – for however long it goes on for – is a calculated risk.

Most of us in comic land know that a shiny new #1 on the shelf is an invitation to hop on board the bandwagon before it’s too late. I missed the boat (er… wagon) already on Daredevil, Hawkeye, and a few others outside the big two. To start a book by throwing out the previously known characteristics of your lead hero is something even more refreshing that Bucky-Cap and the like. Octo-Spidey has a cold and calculating mind behind the bright spandex. He has knowledge of the underworld other heroes would not be privy to. And he has all of Peter’s knowledge on top of his own. That’s two super-scientists for the price of one, for those counting. All of these things contribute to an amazing (superior? Nah, too easy) amount of potential energy. So long as Slott can convert that to kinetic energy he has an opportunity to redefine a hero with decades of backstory (and a ton of it truly despised). Goodbye clone saga. Goodbye “One More Day.” Hello new stories. For however long they last.

Speaking of that length, I cite Señor Miguel Oro. “…It’s not merely a matter of execution: eventually, the readers’ patience will wear out. The trick it to make the arc so compelling you don’t want it to revert. That’s some trick. But even then, you’re racing against the reader’s expectations.”

And therein lies the ultimate question. How long can Dan Slott keep the ball in the air. The longer he does it, the more attention will gather around the book. I mean, with a major motion picture looming not too far off in the distance, can Slott successfully maintain a Spider-Man that isn’t? Only one way to tell. And while I only read “Ends of the Earth” on his Amazing Spider-Man run before being lured elsewhere… I for one will jump on board as long as he delivers.

Dan Slott, the balls are in your court. Now (heh), use them.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander