Retro Comics are Awesome

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Tue Jul 09, 2019 9:39 am

Detective Comics #154
December 1949

Underground Railroad of Crime!
This is the very last story with a 1940s cover date, and the 373rd Batman story.

Prisoners are escaping from the state prison and cannot be found. Batman is called in. The warden is convinced that the convicts are being smuggled out of the country somehow, and Batman speculates about an "underground railroad" for criminals, and since all the known escapees had loot hidden somewhere, they're paying their way out. He goes undercover, disguised as bank robber Jim Millan, known to have stolen loot hidden from the cops, in the hope that he'll be approached to make an escape. Sure enough, he is, but not before Millan's girlfriend comes to visit him in prison, and the disguised Bruce slips up by hinting to her that only he knows where the money is, when she knows as well. That turns out to be helpful when the syndicate does indeed break "Millan" out of prison and demand half his loot, and though Bruce does not know where it is, he tells them to ask his girlfriend to retrieve it.

In the end, Batman is forced to break cover, and having seen several stops on the "underground railroad" is able to find the last one, a helicopter ride to a boat out at sea. Batman is able to get on board the copter as it's taking off, break in through the cockpit, kayo the pilot and land the copter in the prison yard. In a nice way to end the story, Batman and Millan's girlfriend talk to the real Millan, and convince him to give up the location of the rest of his stolen loot, making him eligible for parole, and he vows to go straight, much to her delight. I always like it in these stories with hardened crooks when one is redeemed. Batman needs to score more wins than just putting men in jail. Nice concept for a story, and it's a chance for Batman to engage in some deduction, disguise and aerial acrobatics. Not bad.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Fri Jul 12, 2019 12:41 pm

Detective Comics #155
January 1950

Bruce Wayne, Detective!
Imagine Batman... having to study how to be a detective! The things I do to keep my identity a secret! (sigh)

Sometimes you can see the writers taking the same idea and exploring it from different angles over successive stories. On several occasions we've seen Bruce Wayne revealed as Batman only to contrive an explanation each time that preserves his secret identity, and we'll see more of that (though the association of Wayne with Batman in people's minds should be something Bruce avoids like the plague). Now we're starting to see Bruce as himself taking on more prominent roles in stories as well, which in some ways is a welcome idea to explore. He spends so much time as Batman we rarely see much of Bruce.

He's already spent a short stint as a policeman, and now thanks to Vicki Vale (who he is now dating... ask Linda Page and Julie Madison how that goes), Bruce takes a turn as a detective, as Vicki gets him to fill in for a detective friend of hers who is laid up in the hospital after an appendix operation. And naturally, Bruce is very good at the job. The plot really kicks in when a man wants to hire Bruce to get a model train that's in the Batcave. The man only knows it's there because Batman allowed Vicki in to photograph the cave and then publish the pictures! Say what? A second man also wants the train, and long story short, they both want it because a magnet in the model train made of wire wrapped around a tiny motor is actually a wire recording with blackmail information. The actual mystery about why the two crooks want the train is not bad, and I enjoy seeing Bruce acting as himself, but letting Vicki publicize the Batcave's existence and contents is a monumentally stupid thing for Bruce to do. But the plot hinges on it, so what can you do? Gripes aside, I liked this one.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Mon Jul 15, 2019 6:57 am

World's Finest Comics #44
February-March 1950

The Confession of Batman!
Dick is worried about Bruce, who hasn't been himself for a few days. When they head out as Batman and Robin to investigate a robbery, they find a clue in the form of a button. An examination yields no real clues, and then Dick notices that one of Bruce's suits is missing an identical button. The next night Bruce disappears and then returns, claiming not to know where he's been, and there is red clay on his shoes. Sure enough, the next "10 o'clock crime" shows that the crook left his footprints in some red clay, and casts prove the prints came from Bruce's shoes. Batman asks for a week to figure this out before turning the evidence over to the police, and Robin agrees.

The story doesn't leave us in suspense at all. The real culprit is a man named Jacuqes Venta, a former criminal turned botanist. He has a rare orchid in his house that has a hypnotic fragrance, and he got to Bruce while Bruce was visiting, and every night at 10 Bruce is under his control. Venta wants revenge because Bruce prevented his escape from a hotel after Venta had shot and robbed a guest there. Venta is going to frame Bruce for crimes that Bruce isn't actually committing. So every night Venta creates a crime and sees to it that Bruce is there and that evidence of his presence is found there. But Bruce worked it out by the scent of an orchid that Venta wore in his lapel when he woke from his hypnotism at one of the crime scenes, and a little theatricality with Robin playing along helps to trap Venta.

Apart from the unexplained ability of Venta to control Bruce from across town (where Bruce cannot possibly hear his voice), I very much enjoy that we get another "adventure of Bruce Wayne" here and get to see a lot more of Bruce outside the Batman costume. There seems to be a bit of an effort here to tone down the "playboy" persona and to elevate Bruce's moral standing in the public eye, and we'll see more of that soon. Robin's unwillingness to withhold evidence from the police comes across as odd, but it fits in an era where these two characters are essentially deputized lawmen, not vigilantes. And of course, the old idea that a hypnotized person cannot be made to act against their own beliefs comes into play, as Venta can direct Bruce to the various crime scenes, but has to commit the crimes himself since he cannot force Bruce to do so.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Thu Jul 18, 2019 5:58 am

Batman #57
February-March 1950

The Trial of Bruce Wayne!

I will show that this society playboy is of bad moral character... that he has a sordid reputation... is irresponsible... and a bad influence!

Bruce Wayne is in court, where the prosecuting attorney is attempting to prove that he's not a fit guardian for Dick Grayson. Various witnesses are called and they tell stories about Bruce getting into a fight at a nightclub, driving recklessly and refusing to pay his bills. Of course Bruce (and the readers for that matter) know he's innocent of wrongdoing, though we're shown some of these events seemingly happening as described by the witnesses. If you suspect a setup, you'd be correct. Gangster Ed Kolum, charity swindler, was found out by Bruce and spent time in jail, so he's out to get revenge. When Kolum got out of jail he tracked Bruce down, and there's a great panel where he's standing, gun drawn, watching Bruce and Dick enjoy dinner in some restaurant. "All nice and cozy... him and that adopted kid! One bullet will break up that happy combo!" But that's too quick and easy, and Kolum decides that it will hurt Bruce more if he can see that Dick is taken away, and he sets about framing Bruce.

But of course Bruce has been investigating as Batman, and he's figured out that Kolum is the prime suspect, and with a little trickery, manages to learn the truth. He still has to prove it in court though, and he has no evidence. He has Robin take Kolum to the courtroom, and then shows up as Batman, accusing Wayne of murder and saying Kolum paid Wayne to kill him. This freaks Kolum out and he panics, denying the murder charge but spilling the beans about paying the bouncer to frame Bruce. This of course changes everything, and the fake witnesses are arrested for perjury, while Batman gets on the stand and testifies on behalf of Bruce Wayne's strong moral character. "I tell you I know Wayne as well as I know myself!" I think that's cheating, Bruce.

Once again, it's good to see more of Bruce Wayne in a story. I wonder about the timing of when these stories were written, because it seems odd to get two stories in a row (in two different books admittedly) where a crook wants to take his revenge on Bruce Wayne for helping send him to jail. And of course, I can't help but think of the story from Batman #20 with a similar idea behind the plot, where Dick Grayson's aunt and uncle temporarily win guardianship of Dick by attacking Bruce's moral character. There seems to be an attempt here to downplay Bruce's playboy persona and leave it mostly in the past as Batman has become more and more a trusted establishment authority figure.Mention is made of Bruce quietly fighting crime, and of the many charities that he contributes to.

The Walking Mummy!
Professor Brink and his assistant Andrews excavate an Egyptian tomb, the "greatest discovery since the opening of King Tut's tomb", filled with priceless gold relics. There is a warning in the sarcophagus about a curse for anyone who disturbs the tomb. It's not hard to see where this story is going and who the villain will be right from the second and third panels, it's telegraphed so heavily. Once back in Gotham, the mummy comes to life and attempts to reclaim his treasure. If you guessed that the greedy Andrews is the mummy, you'd be correct. I was almost expecting a twist ending where it was someone else, it was so obvious, but no. Of interest in this story is the fact that the Batplane is wrecked, and Batman mentions that it's a good thing he and Robin are building a new and improved model. A couple of stories later in this volume will see both the Batplane and Batmobile upgraded, so maybe they already had that in mind here.

The Funny Man Crimes!
The Joker is back once again, mad that he's not on the list of the funniest comedians. It's interesting that the opening narration lists actual comedians by name: Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Milton Berle, while the actual story gives us ersatz near-lookalikes as the Joker goes on the "Bob Mope" show, or "Harley Hapless" instead of Charlie Chaplin. I guess names were one thing, but names and likenesses required licensing. This is a typical Joker runaround where he does crazy things and causes trouble and gets away with it a few times before Batman finally captures him again. Once again we get a scene where the Joker almost unmasks Batman, but decides he enjoys the contest with Batman too much to ruin it by exposing his identity. Really, at this point these Joker stories are all almost interchangeable, with only a few standing out as memorable.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:04 am

Batman volume 8 has been announced, but it's not out until April of next year. It also seems to be a bit shorter than previous volumes, if the solicitation is correct. I've read elsewhere that they're starting Silver Age branding about the time that the Comics Code begins in 1954, so maybe they're dividing up the remaining stories until then to get two fairly even volumes in terms of page count and content.

Batman: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 8
$125.00 On sale Apr 07, 2020, 680 Pages

Batman’s adventures from the early 1950s are collected for the first time in new hardcover omnibus series, continuing here with Batman: The Golden Age Vol. 8.

These Batman stories from the early 1950s are dominated by the Gotham City underworld, the mysteries of Batman’s own crime-fighting techniques and Batman’s foes The Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin and Catwoman. Along the way, Batman and Robin venture into the underworld bank, meet the underworld crime committee, explore an undersea hideout for criminals and investigate a rash of robberies in the Batcave. Plus, The Joker starts a newspaper of crime, Catwoman meets the King of Cats and the Penguin claims to go straight by opening an umbrella shop.

Collects the Batman stories/covers from Batman #67-75, Detective Comics #175-191 and World’s Finest Comics #54-62.


I've been enjoying some Silver Age Marvel, so I'll be looking to pick up a few more of their omnibuses as well. Spider Man is on the list, certainly. I can only afford so many of those books, so a longer wait for the next Batman volume is fine with me. I can get some other series in the meantime.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Mon Jul 22, 2019 8:15 am

A few thoughts on 1960s Marvel. I had ordered Fantastic Four omnibus 1, and then I ran across Captain America vol. 1 and Thor vol. 3 in one of the used bookstores. The price was good, and I ended up with all three. This is more Marvel than I've probably ever read (at least in a long time), and though I can't say that I have the same affection for the characters that I do for DC's characters, I'm enjoying the books, with Thor easily my favorite of the three.

- Fantastic Four: these early issues are a little rough, probably because they feel like what they are: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby attempting to figure out how to write a new kind of super hero comic, compared both to what DC was doing at the time and what both men had done in the past. They're making this stuff up as they go, and it's very obvious, but the book improves as it goes on. The Thing is a very annoying character, and probably my least favorite of the four in these early stories. The love triangle with both Reed Richards and Namor both pursuing Sue Storm is something I didn't expect.

- Captain America: Most of the book seems to be stories from "Tales of Suspense" which has Captain America and Iron Man on the covers, with CA getting his own book later in the volume. We get a few modern day stories before the book goes into flashback mode and retells the origin story and then gives us a number of stories with Bucky set during World War 2. Present day Captain America is still pretty morose about Bucky's death, while WW2 Cap and Bucky are written with pretty authentic 1940s characterization. I can never quite nail down just what the serum is supposed to have done to Steve Rogers. I guess he's not quite superhuman, he is just faster, stronger, more agile and has more endurance than a typical person.

- The Mighty Thor: while the other two books have so far been a series of self-contained or two-part stories, Thor is a bunch of ongoing storylines where one plot bleeds right into the next one. There's always something going on in the background. So far there's been the threat of Mangog, Baldur resisting the queen of the Norns, Galactus versus Ego the living planet, "Him" stealing Lady Sif... on and on it goes, and it's a fun action series with fake Shakespearean dialogue and big cosmic adventures. There hasn't been a lot of time spent on Earth so far. Loki, as I noted elsewhere, reminds me a lot of Starscream, always backstabbing and ready to seize power, but not all that brave when it comes down to it.

I still prefer Batman and Superman to these guys, but I have to admit, they are good books and fun characters.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 4:50 am

Detective Comics #156
February 1950

The Batmobile of 1950!
The Batmobile's getting pretty old - but it's faster than anything else on wheels!

I love the opening scene of this story, with Bruce in full "vapid playboy" mode at a party with some clueless giggling blonde on his arm laughing at a magician, and Bruce is thinking "He's almost as boring as she is! Wish I could get away!" Thank goodness a robbery happens down on the street so Bruce can ditch his date and go change into Batman! He calls Robin to bring the Batmobile while Dick is sitting at home reading Action Comics. Batman tackles the robbers and gets grazed by a bullet again (and the distinction between being grazed and being shot will become a plot point in a story down the line, interestingly). Robin arrives and a car chase ensues, but the crooks have planned ahead and detonate an explosive under a bridge after they cross it. The Batmobile can't stop, and they plunge off the bridge. Robin manages to exit the car and remain uninjured by diving into the river, but the Batmobile is badly damaged, and Batman is hurt and ends up in the hospital. Long story short, Batman isn't hurt all that badly, but he does have a broken leg. He shrugs off the loss of the Batmobile, because he's been planning to build a new one.

The Gotham underworld is ecstatic that Batman may be crippled for life, but Bruce and Dick are busy drawing up blueprints and welding the new Batmobile together. This car has a mobile crime lab, rocket tubes, radar, a steel blade on the front bumper to cut through barriers, a searchlight... it is, Batman brags, ten years ahead of anything else on wheels. And as you might imagine Batman and Robin use every trick the new car has to track down and stop the gang of crooks, with Gordon congratulating them and the police envious of the hot new car.

This is a story that would have been tailor-made for the action figure market, if such a thing actually existed at the time. "Kids, you must own the modern Batmobile of 1950!" And already the passage of time in DC Comics is problematic, because while the original Batmobile is "getting old", Robin has not aged ten years. He's still a kid. Batman shakes off his injuries far too easily, but that's par for the course. I have to admit, it's just fun watching Batman and Robin geek out over this cool new car they build. They're guys alright!
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Thu Jul 25, 2019 5:44 am

Detective Comics #157
March 1950

Race of the Century
That boy's a real thoroughbred! He won against tough odds, too! They're champions... both of them!

In the Canadian Rockies, the "Masked Highwayman", a bandit wearing a mask and riding a horse, goes on a crime spree that somehow merits the involvement of Batman and Robin to help the Mounties stop him. The highwayman kills Atkins, the Mountie, but Batman takes the Highwayman out with a punch to the jaw. The bullet that killed Atkins cannot be found. With the bandit in jail, Bruce and Dick decide to stay and vacation, and while camping, they run across the Highwayman's horse, which the Mounties present as a gift to Robin, who thinks having his own horse is awesome. But the Highwayman has escaped jail and tries to kill Batman while Batman heads back to Gotham, only to fail in the attempt and escape again.

Back at the Wayne home, Vicki Vale (blond in this story instead of red-headed... her hair color is as inconsistent as Commissioner Gordon's!) is once again suspicious of Bruce since Robin's horse is stabled with Bruce's polo ponies, but Bruce insists he's just renting the stable to Robin. The horse, which Robin christens "Rocket" does not like Robin, though everyone else has no problem with him. Long story short, it's Robin's mask that's the problem, since the Highwayman wore a similar mask. The HIghwayman comes to Gotham and makes an attempt to kill the horse, because the bullet that can prove him guilty of murder is lodged in Rocket's neck. When Robin attempts to ride Rocket in the steeplechase, he finally connects the mask with Rocket's dislike of him, removes it, slathers his face in mud to keep his identity a secret, and wins the race.

I'm of two minds about this story. On the one hand, the plot (Robin gets a horse) doesn't really hold my interest. On the other hand, it is a Robin-centric story, and it's always good to see Dick Grayson get some focus as a character. I'm not sure why Bruce and Dick would remain in costume while vacationing in the mountains, but I do enjoy seeing Dick solve his problem with his mask at the end. I guess the bottom line is that I like the character moments while not really caring much for the plot of this one.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 6:24 am

World's Finest Comics #45
April-May 1950

The Historian of Crime!
Script: John Broome Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz

Professor Ezra Dorn owns, according to Bruce Wayne, "the world's largest criminal library and collection of historical crime souvenirs." When crimes are committed in Gotham using some of these historical artifacts, Professor Dorn is Batman's first suspect. When Batman visits his home, Dorn's secretary, Simmons, says that the Professor left hours ago and he hasn't heard from him. The "historical crime wave" continues, with Batman and Robin trying and failing to catch the culprit several times. As you probably suspect, when they finally do catch him it's not Professor Dorn, but Simmons who is committing the crimes, in a plot very similar to "The Walking Mummy" from the previous month's Batman issue. I've started noting writers with this review, because having noticed the repetition and variation of the same story ideas, I'm curious to see which writer is using which idea multiple times. This is the 381st Batman story in the 11 year publication life of this series, and it does not surprise me that we're seeing similar ideas and formulas appear over and over due to the sheer volume of content produced in that time. In retrospect, it does make last month's story about Robin and his horse a bit better, because that is something new that we haven't seen before.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Postby andersonh1 » Tue Jul 30, 2019 6:55 am

Batman #58
April-May 1950

The State-Bird Crimes!
Script: Bill Woolfolk Pencils: Dick Sprang

Bruce and Dick attend the "Birdlovers Society Bird Show" where, to their surprise, there is a penguin among the exhibition of state birds. The Penguin is out on parole, and when the society ladies kick him out of their exhibition, the Penguin's ego gets the better of him once again. He goes on a crime spree against the bird society patrons by committing crimes inspired by the various state birds. Most of the set pieces are fun enough, with the Penguin engaging in a few quick robberies before finally being undone thanks to a giant pipe organ, the latest giant prop to appear in the series. I generally enjoy Penguin stories these days, probably because they've cut back on appearances enough that the character is not as overexposed as he used to be.

The Brand of a Hero!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Dick Sprang

It's time for more time travel via hypnosis as Bruce's friend Rex Spears tells Bruce that an ancestor of his, also named Rex, vanished with a fortune in gold in 1854 California. Bruce and Dick are so eager to solve the mystery that they call on Professor Carter Nichols at midnight, and he's glad to see them. He sends them back in time to 1854, where as usual they quickly switch into costume to break up a bar fight where, coincidentally, they find the man they're looking for. Rex sold his ranch for a quarter million dollars (and is apparently not at all shy about broadcasting that fact, hence the attack on him in the bar). His money is locked up in the Express office, where Batman and Robin foil a robbery attempt by notorious bandit Joaquin Murieta. Interestingly, Murieta was an actual historical figure, about whom exist many conflicting accounts of what he did and did not do, but who did indeed become a bandit during the 1850s California gold rush, and who was also apparently an inspiration for the character of Zorro. I was not familiar with him, so by looking him up after his appearance here, I've actually learned a bit from a Batman history adventure. Comics can be educational, kids.

Murieta attempts to rob the stage out on the open road. Batman is shot again (just grazed this time) but drives Murieta off. It's not enough to save Spears, who abandoned the coach with his young friend Lorenzo to try and save both them and the money, but Spears ends up being bitten by a rattlesnake. He buried his money and marked the location before he died, but a landslide covered it all as Batman and Robin arrived. Returning to the present, they're able to find the exact spot the money was buried, and the modern day Spears shares it with the modern day descendant of Lorenzo, just as his ancestor wanted.

The Black Diamond!
Script: ? Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz

The Black Diamond smuggles men out of prison when he needs their particular skills, and he's intent on building up a criminal empire. But before he can do that, Batman and Robin must be killed. The four men broken out of prison all attempt to kill them in various ways. "Nitro" plans to kill them with an explosive while Batman is giving a lecture on bomb disposal of all things (and the story reveals that Batman was in London during the war to study this problem, so we get some wartime experience retconned into his past), but Batman detects the explosive and captures Nitro. Other attempts also fail, and during an attempt by a sniper to kill him, Batman is able to switch places with him and trail the Black Diamond back to his hideout, arresting the entire gang. Like Count Florian, the Black Diamond feels like a good villain that needed more than 12 pages to properly explore.
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