BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #12

The next comic I bought was a regular on my list: BATMAN FAMILY. The switch-over to all-new material hadn’t dampened my enthusiasm for big, oversized comics. This lovely Jim Aparo cover is a hair deceptive, though–indicating that Robin, Batgirl and Man-Bat will all be sharing linked stories in this issue, which wasn’t the case. But it’s a strong image, so that’s not of much consequence.

The issue opened with a Batgirl solo story in which writer Bob Rozakis borught back an obscure figure from past Batman continuity: Tony Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s long-forgotten son. Like Chuck on Happy Days, Tony Gordon had been a factor in a couple stories in the 1950s and then faded from view, seemingly forgotten by everybody. (He’d fade away again pretty much after this story, until decades later, Scott Snyder brought him back as a homicidal killer in one of his first Batman stories.)

Rozakis’ story reveals that Tony Gordon was believed dead in an accident while he was trying to complete a balloon trip around the world. The truth was a bit more fantastic: Tony was really a spy for the government, using that balloon journey to spot the locations of hostile missile sites. He was captured by the Communist Chinese but managed to escape. But to prevent an international incident, he needed to adopt a new identity, which also meant no contact with his family. There’s a plot here about Tony nearly running into Batgirl as she battles the villain Captain Aero at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum where Tony now works incognito, but frankly that’s nowhere near as interesting.

The middle story was another stylish Man-Bat tale illustrated by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. I don’t know that Man-Bat was all that great a character, especially as a hero, but Rogers and Austin made his series so visually appealing that it really didn’t matter. In this particular story, Man-Bat chases down the Sunset Gang, as depicted on the cover, hoping to pick up a reward for his troubles.

But Kirk Langstrom faces some hurtles along the way. He’s first bitten by a jaguar (!!!) and then exposed to the Sunset Gang’s concentrated moonlight gun, all of which combines with the bat-serum already in his body to transform him into a were-jaguar. Hunted as a monster, Kirk needs to make it through the night until the sun can come up and reverse his transformation (or, more properly, turn him back into Man-Bat, whom the gun-happy police that are hunting him aren’t any less likely to shoot at.) What’s more, he doesn’t get his reward, and we learn that the Sunset Gang were operating under the instructions of a mysterious Mr. O. More on that to come.

Next came the first installment of a feature that I enjoyed, the Bureau of Missing Batman Villains. Along the lines of the 100 Issues Ago in JLA feature that was running in JUSTICE LEAGUE at the time, this segment profiled obscure and forgotten villains from batman’s past. This inaugural installment summarized the criminal career of the two versions of Clayface that had been Batman foes up to this point. (It’s hard to believe at this later date that Clayfae counted as a forgotten foe–but in 1977, he did!) This feature even predicts a Clayface Number Three, which would come along in about a year’s time.

And the issue finishes up with a low-key Robin adventure in which the Teen Wonder takes down some thieves attempting to heist rare and priceless books from the Hudson University library. It’s a well-told tale, but thoroughly inconsequential.

But the issue does end with a two-page sequence in which both Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson are summoned to New York by talking, self-driving versions of their motorcycles. It’s the set-up for next issue’s adventure, but we’ll get to that all in due time.

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