BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #14

I don’t really have any strong memories of this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, apart from the fact that I would have purchased it at my local 7-11. It was, I expect, a perfectly entertaining outing, but not one that was noteworthy in any way. And ever since DC had dropped their classic reprints in favor of all-new material–a move that I expect most readers applauded–I didn’t have quite the same level of interest in these sorts of titles as I once did. 

The lead story, another team-up tale between Batgirl and Robin, also once again brought back Batwoman. I was familiar with Batwoman from the BATMAN: FROM THE 30s TO THE 70s hardcover, but she hadn’t really been a going concern in the Batman titles since the very early 1960s. But writer Bob Rozakis clearly had a fondness for her, and so here she was, back again. It wouldn’t be too long before her niece would also resurface as the original Bat-Girl–and then again, not long after that when Kathy Kane would be murdered by the League of Assassins, thus ending Batwoman’s career. But all of that was still to come at this moment.

The artist on this story was Don Heck, who had carved out a niche for himself at DC doing Batgirl stories, having been suggested for the assignment by Jack Kirby some years earlier. Heck is one of those divisive figures in comics history, in that he was never as comfortable drawing super hero stories as he might have been doing westerns or war tales or romance stories. But super heroes were what the audience wanted, so that’s what he did. He was famously called the “worst artist in the business” during an interview between Harlan Ellison and Gary Groth, and that undeserved reputation as a hack dogged him thereafter. Heck drew a lot of comic books, he was certainly talented, and very much ubiquitous when I was growing up.

The story opens where the previous issue left off, with Batwoman appearing on Barbara Gordon’s doorstep and disintegrating before her eyes. Here, the clock winds back a few hours so that we can see Batwoman attempting to break up a robbery and getting zapped with a strange ray gun that begins to discombobulate her. Barbara examines Batwoman’s remains, and recognizes the residue left on her costume as being a hybrid virus of the sort created by her old chemistry instructor Professor Hu. At Batgirl, she flies up to Hudson University where Hu is situated now, and learns that she herself has contracted the same condition from the virus.

Forced to wear a containment suit to prevent others from being exposed to the virus, Batgirl calls in Robin to assist on the case. The Dynamite Duo retraces Batwoman’s steps and question the owners of the house that was being burgled in the opening of the issue–only for their car to be stolen! Robin gives chase (Batgirl forced to the sidelines for fear of tearing her protective suit) and quickly brings the car thieves to heel. But this is an unconnected robbery, so all it’s done is cost the heroes some time.

The duo follows a trail of clues to the traveling carnival that Batwoman owns in her Kathy Kane identity, hoping to smoke out the burglars by their very presence. The criminals are Mr. Braian dn Dr. Brawn, a carny pair, and they’re unaware of the destructive power of the weapon they had previously heisted. Robin confronts them in the middle of their performance in that day’s show, and the usual fight breaks out. Robin takes a shot from the same ray gun before dispatching Mr. Brain, and Batgirl is able to take down Dr. Brawn since, completely encased in her containment suit, the ray gun can’t affect her.

But the virus is doing its work and Batgirl is beginning to disintegrate. Robin calls in Kid Flash, who is able to zip the pair and the weapon back up to Professor Hu so that he can work out a way to reverse it. And in typical comic book deus ex machina, the ray is actually a condenser which miniaturizes matter–so when the reverser is turned on Batwoman’s costume, she re-expands to fill it, and is likewise fine. Kid Flash offers to spread the cure around Washington DC in case anybody else was affected during the fight, and everything ends swimmingly.

After a feature page devoted to forgotten Batman villain Mr Zodiac came a silly but charming Man-Bat story illustrated by Howard Chaykin. In it, Kirk Langstrom’s neighbor Ambrose Robertson catches a glimpse of Kirk transforming into Man-Bat, and being a huge monster movie buff realizes that he needs to exorcise Kirk. The kid lures Man-Bat to his booby-trapped apartment, and a farce ensues as he tries assorted monster movie methods of overcoming Kirk. In the end, Langstrom pops one of the pills that turns him back to human and lets Ambrose think that his exorcism was successful.

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