Quite possibly at the same time that my brother Ken got yesterday’s copy of G.I. COMBAT, I bought this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, thus beginning a short stint of regularly buying the title. Some of it, I’m sure, is that I knew the Signalman from a reprint in an issue of BATMAN FAMILY. Can you plausibly imagine anybody doing this cover today, where Batman is clobbered by the Signalman? Clearly, we are not yet in the era of the all-powerful master-of-all-forms-of-combat-thinks-seven-moves-ahead interpretation of the Caped Crusader. And boy, Vince Colletta’s not doing Ernie Chua/Chan any favors in his inks for this cover, is he?
Sadly, this was a circumstance that continued on the interior art. I was never a fan of Colletta’s inks over just about anybody, even at this early age where I only had a vague sense as to what an inker did. But I knew that most comics looked crummier when Colletta was involved, even those produced by artists whose work I typically liked; it wasn’t difficult to make the connection. And during this period, he had been hired as DC’s art director, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the weeks to come.
The story, written by the late Len Wein, was pretty fun, and as was typical of Len’s work had a couple of good bits in it. One interesting thing is that Wein (or maybe editor Julie Schwartz) makes a reference to the events of the back-up story in this same issue, in which the Calculator disrupts a World Series ballgame–that’s a simple bit of tight continuity that DC didn’t typically indulge in during this period.
The plot is nothing to write home about. The Signalman is back, and he’s on a crime spree using different signals to cause mayhem. He changes the switch-track signals on the Gotham railway line so that two trains collide and he can loot the wreckage, and he has the scoreboards at Gotham Stadium broadcast a Fire warning to cause a riot for the exits so that he can elude Batman. (For some reason, there’s still a ballgame going on despite the fact that the World Series is happening elsewhere–that makes no real sense.)
In their next encounter, Batman and the Signalman trade blows in a nice montage image–all of which makes Batman seem a bit overrated, as he can’t even seem to overpower the Signalman. And when Batman has to divert to rescue some bystanders, the Signalman clocks him from behind–and then, rather than unmasking him, takes him to the top of the Gotham Police Headquarters where he traps Batman within the Bat-Signal–when Gordon turns it on to summon Batman, the Dark Knight will fry. This is a great death-trap, and it’s amazing that nobody thought to do it earlier.
But here, by sheer skill, Batman is able to free himself and come bursting through the Bat-Signal before Gordon can throw the fatal switch. And the story wraps up with Batman tracking down the Signalman and the latter’s car hurtling into a gorge because he neglected to notice a Dead End sign. The whole story is very by-the-numbers, but it had a costumed super-villain and an interesting trap, so I was pretty satisfied by it.
The back-up story was a continuation of the serialized Calculator plotline, in which the villain would take on a different hero each issue and succeed in “immunizing” himself against them, even as he was defeated, so that they would no longer be able to foil him. Here, his target is Green Arrow, who is throwing out the opening pitch at the final game of the World Series at Star City Stadium.
The Elongated Man has come to Green Arrow for help, having heard that the Calculator has again broken prison. But when the villain disrupts the game, Ralph Dibney finds himself unable to make a move against the Calculator. In the end, Green Arrow turns his friend into the world’s largest bowstring and launches himself at the Calculator, kayoing the criminal (but not before he was able to similarly immunize himself against GA.) Te young art team of Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin do some attractive work here–of note is the way that Rogers breaks the story beats up into more individual panels that was the custom of the era. I’m told that Rogers’ approach was divisive up at the DC offices of yore, and that Julie took some crap for having hired him–but clearly the kid had something, and that opportunity would soon pan out in a big way.