[Orginally shared on Superland in May 2006]
Detective Comics #51. Grade: D+. A muddled plot about crooks hiding out in a carnival is just a set-up for Robin to shine by showing he can lick any crooks – as long as they happen to be in a funhouse. Lucky none of them brought guns in with them! What really earns the low grade is the ringleader thinking he can escape Batman on a roller coaster and Batman not just waiting until the ride is over to catch him.
DC #52. Grade: C+. A nice set-up for a mystery, involving a jade box and a legendary ring, quickly derails once Batman spends a whole page beating up a dog with his fists. The last two panels are extremely word-heavy as the writer realized he had left explaining the plot until then.
DC #53. Grade: C+. I'm being generous because I like feel-good stories – Batman saves a nobody actress from killing herself and then convinces virtually all of Gotham City to pretend she's a big star to impress her parents when they are in town. Actually, the "storming of the crooks' hideout" sequence has some of the better page layouts in this volume.
DC #54. Grade: B+. These harbor pirates wouldn't be worth mentioning if not for their leader, Hook Morgan. His gimmick is just a hook for a hand, but he's a vicious fighter and nearly kills Batman – and not in the silly "Batman happens to trip and gives the villain a break" way, but almost physically overpowers Batman at a time when violence was beginning to be less realistic in the comics. That Hook Morgan never returns is a crime.
DC #55. Grade: B-. The science behind the brain burglar is hokey even for a golden age comic (Fifth columnists want a professor's brain machine and atom destroyer, apparently ignorant of truth serum and atom smashers). What is significant here is a very rare occurrence of Batman going up against fifth columnists and Nazis. The blimp battle reminded me of the Rocketeer movie.
DC #56. Grade: D+. A rare vacation adventure, here Batman and Robin go to Gulch City, where apparently everyone is nuts. First they believe that Indians used to worship stone idols, and then when the stone idol seems to come to life, the townsfolk start worshipping it and offer the mayor as a sacrifice. Inbreeding, perhaps? The saving grace is when Batman almost goes mad with worry when Robin inexplicably vanishes.
DC #57. Grade: B+. Jasper Sneed is a man with a million dollars and an exotic poison in his body that will kill him in 24-hours. Driven insane by the poison, Sneed decides to use his money to kill off the family that longs to inherit it. The characters are stock B-movie characters to go along with a B-movie plot – even the butler did it – though once the butler's real identity is revealed the story ends on a nice twist.
DC #58. Grade: B+. The first appearance of the Penguin! It's interesting to see how the Penguin was originally intended – as Batman's physical equal despite his comical appearance. I had also read before, so was not surprised to see, that the Penguin was a cold-blooded killer when he debuted, offing the gang boss that the Penguin had slowly replaced from within the gang. The Penguin goes by the name of Mr. Boniface in this story, but it's pretty clearly an alias and not his real name. The plot about framing Batman is actually pretty good.
DC #59. Grade: C+. It's the Penguin's second appearance and already he's starting to wear out. The Penguin's scheme this time is much less inspired (perhaps purposely meant to contrast with his high-brow personality) as he turns in crooked hoboes for the reward money, then frees them, and splits the reward money with them. It also just gets old so quickly watching crooks that should be smarter choose not to shoot Batman when they have the upper hand. The Penguin opts for the drama of a sword fight at the end.
DC #60. Grade: C+. This is a pretty good story, but not a great Joker story or even a very good Batman story. The scheme is that crooks are masquerading as uniformed public servants at each crime. Instead of punching out the Joker at the post office, Batman pushes stamps in his face because it goes with the pun he's delivering. The Joker is acting smarter than the heroes here, throwing money out of his getaway vehicle so kids will fill the street and stop the Batmobile from catching up to him. In a scene that surely inspired a generation of cross-dressers, Robin dresses up like a girl to hide from the Joker and his henchmen.
DC #61. Grade: A. One of the first comic books I ever owned was one of those Batman 100-page reprint volumes that came out in the early `70s. I still have it, but it's missing part of the book including the first half of this story – "The Three Racketeers." I like to think my good review of it is not based entirely on nostalgia, but I really do think it's one of the smarter stories in this volume, with crooks coming up with clever schemes that might have worked. Because there are three stories here and three villains, the pacing is much tighter than usual and Batman makes no careless blunders that pad out the story. I find Prof. Post and his lethargy serum the most intriguing adversary for Batman and think it's a shame he or his invention have never returned.
DC #62. Grade: B. The Joker kills off famous comedians (or comedians that happen to look like famous comedians) in order to collect the clues to collect a dead comedian's inheritance. Very dark, considering how many of the comedians are murdered, but it's a fairly intelligent caper without too much corniness. In a scene that surely inspired a generation of homosexuals, Robin is straddling an unconscious man and giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
DC #63. Grade: C+. This is the only appearance of Mr. Baffle, a villain so dashing, so clever, that he is able to disguise himself from Batman – on several occasions – simply by shaving his beard. Linda Page, who has seen him with and without a mask over just part of his face, recognizes him not by his face but by the roughness of his hands. If you can overlook this, the rest of the story isn't that bad and Mr. Baffle is notable for a villain that Batman wants to like and feels he could have been friends with under other circumstances.
Groovy Christmases Past: 1974
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