BHOC: DETECTIVE COMICS #451

That’s a really pretty Dick Giordano cover. Still, I have no recollection of buying this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, which makes me suspect that it may have been purchased by/for my brother, and eventually wound up with me. this wasn’t all that rare back in these days. I was much more of a comic book kid than he was, but he’d often ask for comic books when I did, if only so as to not be left out.

The lead Batman story is one that resonates well now, but which was tepid and a bit dull for eight-year-old me back in 1975. It would be a number of years before I’d truly understand how becoming the Batman might be as much a curse as a blessing; I didn’t yet have that level of sophistication. Why would anyone not want to be Batman, after all?

Art on this story was done by Ernie Chan, here credited as Ernie Chua. Chan was a fine artist, but his grasp on the particular style of exaggeration that made super hero anatomy successful was fluid at best. His batman throughout sometimes verges on looking like an air-filled balloon, especially next to the much more naturally-rendered ordinary people who surround him in this story.

The story opens in far-off San Lorenzo, where Bruce Wayne is in town for, of all things, a charity backgammon match. Also present is Molly Post, a recurring character who has a dread of the Batman. Turns out Batman is really present to prevent an assassination attempt. The Caped Crusader doesn’t know the target or the shooter, but he knows that underworld snitch Baldy Amber is working at the hotel as a janitor, and so he tries to shake Baldy down for info. But a small mob of guests, seeing Batman strong-arm the older Baldy, try to stop him, leading to an extended fight scene in which Batman beats the hell out of all these innocent people.

Batman tracks Baldy down, but again before he can get the needed info, he’s cold-cocked from behind by Molly wielding a wine bottle. An ignominious day for crime-fighting, to be sure! Unbowed, Batman tracks baldy down a THIRD time, and this time scares him into revealing that Bruce Wayne is the target of former baseball pitcher-turned-assassin Lefty Colon

But Batman isn’t buying it–something doesn’t add up. He can think of no reason why the underworld would want to rub out Bruce Wayne (apart from the obvious, of course.) Thinking it through, he makes a bee-line for Molly’s hotel room. Turns out that Molly, a championship skiier, is the true target, the syndicate having a huge bet placed against her in an upcoming competition. Batman arrives in time to save Molly after she is thrown from her hotel window, and returns to take on the killer (and reveal the details of how he figured all of this out.

Molly, though, is traumatized by the violence that has surrounded her, in particular Batman’s. It’s left to Bruce Wayne to explain that the Batman doesn’t enjoy the violence that he trades in, but rather he simply does what needs to be done. Which is a bit of a facile excuse given that Batman put maybe a dozen ordinary people into the hospital at the start of the story–but there you go. 

The back-up Robin story is a short confection in which the Teen Wonder brings the Parking Lot Bandit to bay, while also uncovering the true criminal who stole $50,000 from the treasury of Hudson University. This seems to be the second part of a two-part story, but I never read the first part, so that’s only a guess on my part.

The interesting thing about the story, if anything, is that it represents early work from artists who’d go on to do bigger and better things, Al Milgrom and Terry Austin. While the artwork here is shaky in some respects, it also has a bit more of a modern sensibility than a lot of the DC line, and portents where the look of the industry would eventually be going. In particular, there are some very nice wordless sequences that use exaggerated camera angles to good effect.

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