This issue of BATMAN marked the end of an era, and the beginning of another, shorter one. It was the first DC GIANT issue that I purchased, the smaller replacement for the 100-PAGE SPECTACULARS that I loved. Time and inflation had made that format untenable for DC, so they retrenched and reduced, coming up with this similar-but-shorter package. The GIANTS were good, but never quite as good as the 100-PAGE SPECS.
Only three stories in this one, a new opener and then a two-part reprint. It does have a really nice cover, in which Ernie Chan channels his best Joe Kubert impersonation. And the lead story was my first exposure to long-time Batman foe the Scarecrow. It’s a pretty good story to boot.
It opens with Batman chasing down a criminal who had made off with $100,000 from a charity ball the previous month. Bringing the man to ground, Batman attempts to coerce the location of the loot from him, but the man is too scared to speak–and Batman himself begins to feel some dread. He’s quick enough, though, to avoid being run down by a speeding car.
Batman surmises that this signals the return of the Scarecrow, and that he’s developed some method of generating fear from a distance. In a plot point perhaps inspired by the Parker novel Slayground, Batman and Commissioner Gordon have narrowed down the location of the missing cash to a nearby amusement park. Scarecrow and his gunmen are set u in the park, looking for the loot. Batman convinces Gordon to allow him to go in after the Scarecrow alone.
As in Slayground, Batman moves from attraction to attraction, battling his own sourceless fear as well as the criminals who are trying to eliminate him. Writer Denny O’Neil and artists Ernie Chan (credited as Ernie Chua) and Dick Giordano employ several effective silent sequences during this game of cat-and mouse.
Then it’s time for the main event. As the Scarecrow waits for the approaching Batman atop a slide, he increases the strength of his remote fear signal. But Batman, through an effort of extreme will power, overcomes his fear and corners the Scarecrow, who himself breaks down in paroxysms of fear.
There’s a wonderfully silly panel at the climax of Batman coming down the slide, before he can put the clues together and reveal the location of the missing money. It’s a strong and evocative tale, with a good use of the environment (borrowed tough some of its beats may be) and a fine depiction of Batman as a supremely-trained human being, rather than the absolutely-unbeatable superhuman he’s become in more recent years.
The backup story is a two-part tale from the 1960s by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. It was always a pleasure to see Carmine’s Batman. In it, Bruce Wayne receives a chemically-treated letter that compels him to go to a certain location and kill someone–in his case, Commissioner Gordon. Gordon, too, has received a similar letter, so there’s an entire chain of people being programmed to kill one another. It’s the work of criminal genius “Doc” Hastings, who had been incarcerated seven years earlier due to the efforts of the men he has targeted. Because Batman is struggling under the effects of his own compulsion, Robin gets to be central to the action, figuring out most of the plot and functioning not as a sidekick but rather as a true hero and detective on his own.
Knowing that he will not be able to overcome the compulsion to kill or be killed, Batman leaves Robin a coded message in the form of a Last Will and Testament–the compulsion apparently won’t let him tell Robin what he’s experiencing directly, so this is Batman’s way of getting around that limitation. He uses the dollar amount of $10.66 as a clue to the identity of Doc Hastings–this story imparted to me the knowledge that the Battle of Hastings took place in the year 1066, something I’ve never forgotten since. Robin is able to prevent Bruce Wayne’s death, but Hastings leaves the unconscious Boy Wonder behind as a death trap for Wayne, lying atop an active grenade. Needless to say, the gambit fails, and Batman is eventually able to bring down Hastings. A pretty great little two-parter.
The issue also included another of these pages taking old covers and adding humorous copy to them. I always enjoyed seeing these old covers, and they made me want to read the stories these covers suggested, doctored or not.