BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #5

It would have been shortly after the Six Million Dollar Man series aired the first of its Bigfoot episodes–featuring the mysterious woodland creature as an alien robot–that I picked up this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, most likely at my regular 7-11. By this point, the DC giants had gone from being squarebound to they typical two-staple binding, which made them seem just a little bit less special. But I’m sure the move helped to keep the cover price down.

The book opened with a Batgirl-Robin team-up story–the series fluctuated between doing team-up adventures of the pair and solo exploits of the two of them. The good news here is that the story was illustrated by the great Curt Swan, whose sensitive pencils could make any situation, no matter how ludicrous it was, look good. The bad news is that, once again, he was being inked by Vince Colletta. Even as a kid, I found Colletta’s finishes to be sloppy and unappealing, and the fact that he made all of the ladies’ faces look the same was distracting to my eye.

The story involves two disparate threads that come together by the end. The first involves Alexsi Bruno, known as the Vagabond Storyteller, who is a refugee from “a country of repression” and is in the U.S. speaking at Robin’s Hudson University. Dick Grayson and the son of the Governor of the State smuggle Alexsi away from his entourage, to show him the “real America.” At the same time, Congresswoman Barbara Gordon is an escort for Princess Evalina, the young new ruler of a postage stamp country who has several progressive notions.

But the evil Maze assassination group has been hired to kill Evalina and to discredit Bruno–and they plan to do the second by framing him for the first. Individually, Robin and Batgirl fight to protect their charges, eventually coming together for the finale. Meanwhile, WGBS on-air reporter Clark Kent, who is present throughout the story, does nothing more than cover the news.

This is followed up by the first of two reprints, in this case the story that introduced Ace, the Bat-Hound. The 1970s were a time of transition for Batman, as he made his way from caped crusader to Dark Knight, and so different stories held different flavors. Speaking for myself as a young reader, I never had any difficulty relating the sort-of strange and off-model 1950s Batman stories to the character presently being featured in BATMAN and DETECTIVE (and on television in BATMAN ‘66 reruns and on SUPER-FRIENDS.) 

Still, this is a pretty crazy story. Batman and Robin save a drowning dog, one that’s got a distinctive marking on its forehead. After Bruce Wayne puts out ads looking for the dog’s rightful owner, the Dynamic Duo are forced to take him along on a case–and so to conceal his true canine identity and safeguard Batman’s secret, Robin fits Ace up with a black mask and a Bat-symbol on his collar. It’s worth noting that Ace was introduced before Krypto became a part of the Superman mythos, which is the reverse of how these developments most often happened. No doubt he was inspired by the then-popularity of Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin and other similar do crusaders.

The second reprint in the issue introduced me to one of the lesser lights of the Batman rogues’ gallery, the Signalman. He’s kind of a cut-rate Riddler, who plans all of his crimes around signs and symbols, and sends them as clues to the Police and to Batman . He’s desperate to make a reputation for himself with the underworld, but his poor outings against the Caped Crusaders haven’t helped him in that regard.

In an unlikely turn, in a subsequent story, the Signalman would run into one of Green Arrow’s old enemies in prison and, thus inspired, would adopt the new costumed identity of the Blue Bowman for his next match against Batman. But to no avail. Like most everything else in this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, the Signalman would prove to be very forgettable.

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