Detective Comics #64. Grade: A. Easily the best Joker story in the book, in this one the Joker turns himself in and accepts a swiftly executed death sentence so that his henchmen can revive him with a serum and protect him from any further persecution for his past crimes. Reminiscent of the first Penguin appearance, the Joker frames the Batman – this time for breaking and entering his hotel room. Batman has to solve how the Joker is still leading his gang while seemingly not contacting them, and it's a puzzle nicely done. There's also a great moment when the Joker questions why he does what he does and not just unmask Batman when he keeps capturing him.
DC #65. Grade: C+. This story starts with a bizarre flashback that has Batman already active and known by the police back in 1937 (and wearing his current style of cape to boot). When we return to the present, it's so that Batman and Robin can be summoned to Commissioner Gordon's office for no other reason than to be invited on Gordon's vacation to rural Montana (or somewhere like that). Without even checking Bruce Wayne's social calendar or wondering who will protect Gotham City in their absence, Batman and Robin both agree to go (Robin even thinks this sounds "swell"). This is all a set-up for Batman to meet state trooper Tom Nolan, the cop who hates Batman. The relation between Tom and Batman is actually interesting -- Batman is shown to have a strong need for acceptance from authority figures (being hated by Tom actually gives him nightmares) and Tom doesn't just dislike Batman, he hates him enough that he starts a fistfight with Batman. The match is so one-sided, and Tom's perseverance so noble, that you're actually rooting for Tom!
DC #66. Grade: A-. The first appearance of Two-Face! It's interesting how Two-Face arrived fully formed and has been little changed over the years (except for a few temporary cures). The bit about having Two-Face scaring the movie theater audience by
projecting himself on the screen, and Batman and Two-Face fighting in front of the screen with Two-Face's giant face behind them – was a nice touch that emphasizes Two-Face's defining feature. An even better hoot, though, is that the audience is watching a Superman cartoon before that.
DC #67. Grade: C. The Penguin's third appearance, and how mediocre he's become already! He can't even try to hold his own against Batman in a fight anymore, like he could the first time around. The real problem here is how improbable the bird-based crimes in this story are. The Penguin has a falcon hidden in his umbrella and no one notices that…?
DC #68. Grade: B-. This is literally part two of #66, picking up right where it left off. There's a nice scene with Two-Face pretending to be cured so he can see his old girlfriend one more time, and a pretty good plot about one of Two-Face's gang and who he really is, but the story is otherwise bogged down with scene-chewing characters like the eccentric millionaire who builds everything out of matches. It's hard to forgive the scene of Two-Face knocking out Batman by throwing his silver dollar in Batman's face, though. And, in a scene that surely inspired a generation of boys dressing up as old ladies, Robin disguises himself as an old lady.
DC #69. Grade: C+. There's an interesting premise here of the Joker sending seemingly prank gifts to a group of businessmen that mean nothing to anyone else, but make those men very afraid. Unfortunately, the meaning behind the gifts turns out to be rather unsatisfying once revealed. Linda and Bruce spend two pages stuck on a carnival ride together while the Batman is needed, echoing the kind of domestic drama that was taking over Superman at the time. There's an odd bit of meta-humor as Batman and Robin beat the Joker right away and are struck by how odd it was that he didn't get the better of them first. The story ends with Batman and Robin chase the Joker through a war propaganda comic – I mean, an aircraft factory.
DC #70. Grade: B-. Not as goofy a read as it sounds – Carlo is a phony mind-reader who undergoes brain surgery and, because of a slip up, actually gains the ability to read minds. Sure, if he kept this quieter he could have made a safe fortune, but he goes a little nutty and starts using mind-reading for things like learning safe combinations so he can enjoy the excitement of being a cat burglar. When Batman and Robin confront him, he's got nothing until he cleverly says he knows who Batman really is, which makes Batman think about who he really is. The schtick of trying to trick a villain into disbelieving what they know of Batman's identity hadn't been invented yet, so instead Batman and Robin stoically try one last mission to stop Carlo, even though it will mean the end of their careers…unless Carlo conveniently dies. There is, however, an odd detail about Batman having a diamond bat-shaped badge that he only feels like carrying on him because this is his last case.
Wolverine by Paul Smith
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