BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #17

When she first arrived at DC as the new publisher, Jenette Kahn instituted a pet format that she hoped would help reverse DC’s fortunes in the mainstream newsstand market: the Dollar Comic. As it said right in the name, a Dollar Comic cost a buck, but you got an awful lot of material for that dollar–especially in the earliest releases, which ran without ads, a decision that was shortly reversed for fiscal reasons. In any event, this was the first Dollar Comics issue of BATMAN FAMILY, and I think I bought it in a supermarket–DC had some good initial success at getting its new Dollar books placement in supermarkets and other venues thanks to the higher profit margin generated. As I recall, they didn’t get to stay there for long.

There are only three stories in this issue of BATMAN FAMILY, but they’re all the length of a regular comic book or longer, so it adds up to a substantial reading experience. The opening story seems to have been prepared as possibly an inventory issue of either BATMAN or BRAVE AND BOLD, and features a then-rare team-up between Batman and Robin, who had gone off to college and was primarily appearing in his own solo feature as well as places such as TEEN TITANS while that series was running. The artwork is by Jim Aparo, surely one of the greatest Batman artists of the era.

This lead story also includes a special appearance by the Huntress from Earth-2. This original version of the Huntress was the daughter of the Batman and Catwoman of Earth-2, and here she has journeyed to Earth-1 looking for advice from her father’s counterpart on her own crime-fighting career, as the Earth-2 Batman has forbidden her from following in his footsteps. This plot thread serves to link this story with the next one, as Batman recommends that Helena meet up with Kathy Kane, the former Batwoman, who may be able to give her the help she needs.

The actual adventure concerns a former beau of Robin’s girlfriend Lori Elton. He was a promising footballer whose face was scarred during a game and who lost his grip on reality. Adopting the alias of Scar, he’s been abducting the wealthy and well-to-do of Gotham and surgically altering them into freaks. At a certain point he gets the drop on Batman and puts the Caped Crusader into a death trap, which gives Batman the chance to show off his prowess. And writer Gerry Conway borrows a page from Jack Kirby’s conception of Doctor Doom: when Batman finally unmasks Scar, we see that he’s only got a tiny little scratch on his otherwise-perfect face.

The second story in the issue is a Batgirl entry which guest stars both the Huntress and Batwoman, thus continuing the story thread from the opener. Madame Zodiac gives horoscope advice to Catwoman and Poison Ivy about their upcoming crimes which proves to be prophetic–and in Catwoman’s case, she winds up being almost foiled by her daughter from another Earth, the Huntress. It all comes down to a three-on-three battle, and the heroines come out on top, of course–but the elusive Madame Zodiac gets away with the mystic pipe that she was after, fading away into mist. There’s a blurb at the end promising her return to clash with Batgirl again in a forthcoming issue. It’s a harmless adventure, but nothing particularly memorable, and I had forgotten it entirely until pulling the book out for this write-up.

The third story in the issue is perhaps the showstopper of the book, thanks to the artwork of Michael Golden. Golden was one of the young newcomers who was shaking things up at DC, and while his approach to comics was an acquired taste sometimes (at least to me–I never quite warmed to his work as completely as some others) it was absolutely more dramatic and impactful than much of the rest of the DC line. More importantly, it looked like it was of its era, where the preceding Batgirl story could have been published ten years previous and would have fit in just fine. The plot thread of the issue is continued here as Batman and Batgirl take the Huntress to the Justice League satellite headquarters so that she can beam herself back to Earth-2. But in doing so, the heroes accidentally and unknowingly free the Demon’s nemesis Morgaine Le Fey from her interdimensional imprisonment.

This leads to a team-up between Man-Bat and the Demon to defeat Le Fey, who is awaiting the birth of a powerful demon-spawn. It’s all happening just as Man-Bat’s wife Francine, who has been pregnant for many issues, is giving birth, and the story closes with the possible intimation that Man-Bat’s daughter may be the Rosemary’s Baby that Morgaine was waiting for. I don’t believe this thread was ever really followed up on, though, so I guess she really wasn’t.

This is also about the point where Jenette gave up her monthly “publishorial” column and abandoned attempting to create a Stan Lee-like persona for herself. In its place was an expanded version of Bob Rozakis’ Answer Man column. This feature had been running in miniature on the weekly Daily Planet plug page that was included with most DC issues, but here it got a full half-page in which Bob could answer the queries of the readers and provide some inside information.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #17

  1. Actually the first Dollar Comics did have ads- they dropped the ad pages and went from 80 to 68 right before the Implosion.

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  2. First comic book I ever remember having. I was 4 going on 5. As long as I’ve lived, I remember that splash page introducing Man-Bat’s child very vividly. It wasn’t the original copy that I had but I had a copy signed by Michael Golden in 2011. I’ve since had two copies of this particular issue and the signed copy is now framed on my wall waiting to be signed by the surviving creators.

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