Friday, November 27, 2015

An Oral (Well, Written) History of Christmas Decorating

Doug: Happy day-after Thanksgiving, friends -- or as some say, Black Friday. Meh...

Doug: Yesterday our well wishes featured a few comments about decorating for the holidays. Among others, Humanbelly suggested --

HB: Hmmmmm-- is our topic range expansive enough to touch on some sort of discussion of holiday decorating? Perhaps from the perspective of childhood memories vs. current things folks do? I kind of like the fact that we have a sizable international contingent to weigh in on something like that. . . 

Doug: Why, yes -- our topic range is! So there's your prompt for conversation today (and maybe into the weekend). One thing I recall about my youth was that we always had a real tree. However, it wasn't too long into my marriage that my wife and I decided that we both found that to be a hassle and have had artificial trees for the past 20+ years. It's just so much easier to leave the lights on them and with just a bit of bending and twisting we're ready to go the next year. We really only decorate our porch as far as outside goes -- we did lights on our shrubbery for a few years, but rabbits chewed through the wires. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I've pictured a "family heirloom" that's now come to my house from my mom's. Yes, that's a Coca-Cola Santa Claus. We have had that on display at Christmas time for as long as I can remember, and I love it. When my mom gave it to me a few years ago my sons thought it was a bit creepy. So now we playfully refer to him as "Chucky Claus". Sort of took the luster off of it for me, but what the heck.

Doug: OK, enough about me -- let's hear from you now.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bronze Age Babies

Doug: I'm thankful for all of our readers, and for talented people who take the things we love and make them funny. Enjoy your family and friends today, and all the best to all of you.

Visit Go Figures! for many more smiles like this one.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Who's the Worst... Suspension of Disbelief? Plus - 1st Civil War Trailer!

Doug: Today we're asking you for the most egregious request that you suspend your disbelief. Myself -- I need to ponder this one for a bit. But the first thing that came to mind? See below (even when I was 11 I was like "no way..."):

Doug: And, whether you saw it last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, or have seen it around the interwebs this morning, the first Captain America: Civil War trailer is out. Wowza, I say!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest Post - Under the Radar

Doug: Our pal Redartz is your shepherd today, and he's talking comics -- and who doesn't like that? Take it away!

Redartz: Greetings, folks! Today I'm taking a fairly common topic and turning it sideways; sort of (and a special tip-of-the-hat to our friend Humanbelly, for inspiring today's title with one of his recent comments). Everyone has a favorite comic story, probably several (too difficult to choose just one). Many of these favorites are shared by many other readers, and often have achieved legendary status. Think of the Kree/Skrull War, the Galactus Trilogy, Avengers/Defenders war, Korvac saga. Or DC- there are the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Great Darkness Saga, Dark Knight Returns, Flash of Two Worlds. You get the idea; these are all stories which have (quite rightfully) earned their place in four-color history. Whether it's a single issue story or a multi-issue blockbuster, these are all stories which many, if not all, of us (and most comic fans) have read.

We are not talking about these stories today. My question for you: what is your favorite comic story that most folks probably have never read; perhaps never even heard of?  Think of us sitting around in your living room, chatting about the greatest comic stories; surrounded by longboxes.  These boxes are full of  comics we share a love for, but you pull out a particular personal favorite that has flown “under the radar" of most readers. “Say, what is that?" I inquire. "This", you reply, "is the book that I mention when someone asks me to recommend something they've never read before." 

To start off the discussion, I've rooted out three of my personal favorites. One humor, one adventure, and one historical; from three different eras, two of which may familiar to many of you, the other which may not be.

First selection:

An indie comic from our beloved Bronze Age, “I Saw It” - the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. This comic, by writer/artist Keiji Nakazawa, was published in 1982, and was my first exposure to anything like Manga. Nakazawa, as a small boy, experienced firsthand the bombing that ended WWII,  but survived to adulthood. He became a comic artist, and used the opportunity to tell his tale. No blame or guilt is placed here, he simply describes (quite graphically) the effects of the bombing, and how they affected his later life. Extremely powerful reading, and enlightening.

 Second selection:

Jonny Quest #2, from Comico, 1986. This is a superb story by writer William Messner-Loebs, penciler Wendy Pini and inker Joe Staton. This comic tells the story of Jonny's mother, and of how Race Bannon came to join the Quest group. I'll not go into great detail here (these aren't reviews, merely a tidbit to whet your appetite), but this story is dramatic, touching, and still features the adventure we'd expect from JQ. I've reread this comic again and again, , and it touches me every time. If you're a fan of Jonny Quest, you really should read this...

Third selection:

My humor selection is from the modern era: Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis II, published by Bongo Comics in 2005.  No doubt most are familiar with the Simpsons, and probably Futurama (Matt Groening's sci-fi romp), but perhaps haven't read any of their comics. This is a two-part story, written by Ian Boothby (a greatly talented writer, IMHO) and drawn by James Lloyd and Steve Steere, Jr. Long story short: the Simpsons are drawn into the future with Bender, Fry and the rest. The whole story is absolutely hilarious. 'Easter eggs' abound for fans of comics, literature and pop culture. Just a tiny sample of the references: underground comix, Star Wars, 2001:A Space Odyssey, Conan, the Village People and binary number theory. You will spend hours scouring each page for all the little touches and laughing all the while. I certainly did!

Now, how about you? What obscure gems do you recommend? I can't wait to hear about them...

Monday, November 23, 2015

War Games and Redemption - Detective Comics 492

Detective Comics #492 (July 1980)(Cover by Jim Aparo)
"Vengeance Trail" and "Chapter Two: At War With General Scarr"
Cary Burkett-Don Newton/Dan Adkins

Doug: Our pal Edo Bosnar, he of the frequent comment and occasional guest post, has long advocated the artistic talents of Don Newton. Upon his repeated recommendations I purchased (via eBay - sweet deal on a new but shelf-worn copy) the Tales of the Batman: Don Newton hardcover. I'll be scanning from that source today. The book contains 22 long and short Batman stories, and I have to declare that I really like what I've seen so far from Newton. The artist unfortunately met an early demise, passing away in 1984 at the age of 49; his comics career had lasted only a decade, and we're worse off for it. For those of you who are fans of Michael Golden, I think you'll see a little Golden in the scans I'll present today; I sometimes get an Alan Davis vibe as well. I chose this particular issue because of the presence of Batgirl. I know many readers eschew the derivative characters and/or sidekicks, but I've always been a sucker for the likes of Supergirl, Batgirl, and Kid Flash. So bear with me -- just sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures.

Doug: There are certain characters of a Spartan demeanor -- can't break 'em. Alfred Pennyworth would fall into that category. But it's a tearful Alfred who awakens Bruce Wayne on a sunny morning. Alfred weeps over a copy of one of the Gotham dailies and tells his employer to look at the headline. "Batgirl Slain by Assassain" is splashed across the top, with a photo of the heroine lying face down on the sidewalk. Bruce grabs his Batman costume and heads for the cave; Alfred just holds his head in his hands. Once down below, Batman phones Commissioner Jim Gordon to offer his condolences over the loss of his daughter and to get intelligence on the investigation. Gordon ask him to come to the house -- there's something he should know. But a few moments hence, Batman enters to find that Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) is very much alive!

Doug: Batman knew it all along, as Gordon's voice betrayed the truth. Batgirl relates her story of coming into contact with an assassin who was gunning for her. The newspaper had detailed that Batgirl had been blasted by automatic gunfire and had fallen 18 stories to her death. The reality was that there was a Batgirl dummy hanged from a flagpole that hung out from the building. Batgirl had taken fire and had been knocked over the precipice, but despite her wounds she'd managed to catch the flagpole. Pulling a knife from her utility belt, she cut the dummy loose and it fell the remaining 15 stories to the pavement. She crouched in the shadows as the gunman peered over the rooftop, assured that his work was done. Cary Burkett wrote this story, and I have no record with his work. But it seems silly that, since the gunman had hung the mannequin to lure Batgirl into the open, he'd perhaps have assumed that maybe it wasn't the real Batgirl laying in a pile beneath him? By the way, we'll learn in chapter two of this story that the gunman had actually taken a little girl hostage, and that's what had initially interested Batgirl. It's an important detail that would have worked much better here at the beginning of the story. I had hoped to not have to go to my "Oh, but this is a Bronze Age DC" place. I'm going to try hard to stay out of it.

Doug: The real shocker comes at the conclusion of Batgirl's story when she tells the Dark Knight that she's through -- that she could have died has proven to her that crimefighting as she's been doing may not be for her. Batman is bewildered by her stance, and Batgirl storms out at the pressure she feels she's getting from both Batman and her father. The two men are left alone, and I must say I was surprised at Gordon's take: he tells his old friend that he supports his daughter. After all, he never would have chosen this life for her. We then scene shift to downtown Gotham, where a General Scarr is holding court with a bunch of nasties. Although we've not heard of him prior, Scarr is apparently a bigtime crime boss in Gotham City. His Agent Cormorant is receiving a medal for killing Batgirl; some of the assembled toughs think it's silly to go on like this, but they seem to tolerate Scarr's eccentricities. The group moves to the planning room, where they plot against the revenge mission they know the Batman will soon undertake. There's a trap laid, and they can't wait.

Doug: Batman found a tag in the Batgirl costume worn by the dummy, and follows it to the shop from which it was sold. As usual, he's operating under cover of the night, and uses no light as he enters the shop. Moving silently through the store, he doesn't see Scarr's men hiding. Back at the Gordon household, Barbara is in her father's study holding some of the memorabilia from his police career. Gordon enters and they have a conversation about his career. In the exchange, Gordon says, when asked about the constant danger, "Frankly, there were times when I felt I couldn't take the chance any longer! I guess I thought about what would happen if everyone gave up -- if nobody was willing to take the risks to fight crime! Somehow I felt that if I didn't do my part to help people, then I couldn't expect anyone else to!" You see right where this is heading, right?

Doug: The Gordons' conversation continues as we're taken back to the costume store. Gordon's narration of his admiration for the Batman, his training, his perseverance, is side-by-side with the attack by Scarr's goons. They open fire with machine guns, and the Batman barely avoids the first bullets. But as Gordon says, he's no normal man and takes the battle right at his assailants. Newton's choreography in this scene is fantastic, with a great blend of emotional close-ups and drawn back action panels. The colorist (Adrienne Roy) also does a great job in this sequence. Of course the Batman beats the odds, and his victory comes as Gordon tells Barbara that Batman defines what a hero is and does. Batman grabs one of the bad guys, the only one who is still conscious, and gets information from him that Scarr is behind things. Batman calls Gordon to inform him, and Gordon leaves the house. Barbara stands at the window, lamenting that she cannot now even fight her own battles.

Doug: We cut then back to Scarr's headquarters, where his men from the costume shop are back on their feet and reporting that they'd let the Batman get away. Scarr's hearing none of it, though, and has Cormorant put a gun to the head of one of the men, dressed in a knight's suit of armor. Scarr orders the man to remove the helmet, and it's revealed that the Batman had actually gotten into a costume (as many of the men had done for the initial ambush at the costume store) and had left the shop with Scarr's own men! Scarr asks him if he doesn't think that this "Trojan Horse" ploy isn't a bit old? Scarr goes on a rant about how smart he is -- Batman counters with the truth: Scarr never made it past private! Scarr tells the tale his way, narrating a blah blah blah of how his superiors never respected his talents, etc. In his mind, the army even tried to kill him in a combat drill -- the source of his facial scar. So he deserted, and swore he'd build up his own army. This is apparently how he came to be a crime lord in Gotham City, although again -- even the Batman had only heard mention (he says) of this guy before this issue. Part One of the story ends with Batman's hands chained above his head, his feet dangling inches from the floor. And oh yeah -- there's a firing squad awaiting Scarr's orders!

Doug: Part Two commences with Batgirl on the rooftops, her arm still in a sling. She tries to swing between rooftops, but has no balance with only one useful arm. So she does what only Spider-Man would do -- she hits the pavement and hops into an idling cab. She asks the driver to take her to the Krak de Chevaliers building. When she's been working the case earlier, she'd noticed a security passcard in the shirt pocket of Cormorant. It's really the only clue she has to go on, and hopes it pays off. Arriving at her destination, she's met by a security guard, but a right uppercut takes care of his diversion. Grabbing an elevator, Batgirl begins to ascend toward the floors where she'd heard a ruckus. Upstairs... ruckus indeed! The Batman is doing his best to swing away from the gunfire that's meant to kill him. He manages to use his legs to grab Scarr, who had ventured too close (idiot). As the two men swing about, we learn that the Batman had palmed a lock pick as the men were binding his hands. He drops Scarr at the moment his hands come free, so you know it's game on. You'd think these thugs would know.

Doug: Scarr makes tracks, fast, to a control room where he seals himself. Before Batman can get out of the "execution room" the doors all slam shut. Soon sliding panels open to reveal miniature tanks, firing real shells! Moments later, fighter planes enter the mix and Batman is ducking and dodging for his very life. In a separate viewing room Cormorant is watching the festivities. We see Batgirl enter the room through a door left ajar. But she's filled with self-doubt and wonders to herself if she'll be able to attack the man who thought he'd killed her. And that ends up being her ace -- Cormorant turns to meet her and he's so freaked out that she's alive that he falls to his knees, begging for mercy. Batgirl uses her good hand to smash Cormorant's face against a wall. Minutes later she uses an acid vial in her belt to burn through the lock on the door behind which Scarr is gleefully watching the mechanical attacks on Batman. Batgirl also dispenses a little manual justice to Scarr, and it's mission over. Batman is freed from his "danger room" and Commissioner Gordon and his men arrive to clean up the mess. Scarr tosses an insult Batgirl's way as he's hauled away, but Batman turns it into a compliment, helping to restore Barbara's confidence.

Doug: While this wasn't a horrible Batman story, it wasn't the greatest. The art definitely carried the day. I did enjoy the inclusion of Batgirl, although when I sat down to read it she was not treated as I'd thought she would be. The character was, however, redeemed at the end of the tale, and it was refreshing to see someone other than Batman save the day (although he certainly did his share of extraordinary things). I think the other thing worth mentioning is the length of the story. At 25 pages, it's indicative of the value the reader received when purchasing a Dollar Comic. The original material ran five pages longer than a typical story, and there were three more yarns included (also all new, to the best of my knowledge) -- a "tales of Gotham" story and adventures featuring Man-Bat and Robin. Talk about 60 minutes of pure joy!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Discuss: Flame-outs

Doug: We have all seen moments of brilliance - zenith, even - followed by Poof! Gone! I'm thinking of the aforementioned Mike Ploog on Monster of Frankenstein. Obviously as moderator I don't want to take any more suggestions away from our conversational readers, but I'd lie if I didn't say Marshall Rogers' run on Detective Comics didn't fit into this category.

Doug: So here's the charge today -- who are those creators whose tenures on a given book were so short that it just left a hole in your reading enjoyment after their departure? And as we said last Tuesday, the following writer or artist (or combination) didn't have to be a step down -- I mean, John Buscema followed Ploog, for crying out loud! Not exactly a consolation prize. You might mention, if you know, who the succeeding creator was (hey, if you know the preceding creator that might be fun as well) and we can add that to our discussion. Should be fun!

PS: Karen's a lucky duck -- she and her husband have been at Disneyland the past few days. She hopes to bring you a report very soon on the Marvel and Star Wars influences in the park. I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Spinner Rack - January 1977

Doug: For lack of a better date, I thought we'd use the cover date from this past Monday's review of Invaders #12. As you know by now (unless today's your first day -- then we bid thee "Welcome!"), click right past here to be taken to Mike's Amazing World of Comics, where you'll see all of this month's offerings. And as usual, clicking on the date below will shoot you over to the Comic Book Database for some more information on your favorite Richie Rich titles. Enjoy!

Doug: I usually give you 6 covers to whet your appetite, but when I saw this baby sitting there I knew today it was going to be 7!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Guests Review - DC's Manhunter Saga, Part Two

Doug: Today we feature the conclusion of Mike W's and Edo Bosnar's review of the Manhunter saga.

Chapter 4. Rebellion

The chapter opens with a nice action sequence in which Manhunter dispatches Nostrand with the old “light a match to the trail of leaking gasoline to blow up the car” trick. Manhunter then finishes telling St. Clair about his past. He recounts a meeting, more like an audience, he and Nitobe have with Mykros in the Council Chamber. It turns out that the other members of the Council are all in cryogenic stasis, with Mykros acting as their representative and spokesman. He explains that this is because one of their number, the geneticist Dr. Oka (for whom Nitobe served as bodyguard) had died, and besides enhancing Manhunter and creating the clones, he was also supposed to devise a way to make them immortal. With immorality off the table, they opted for going into the deep freeze to keep the Council alive as long as possible. It’s during this bit of monologuing that Manhunter sees that Mykros is rather mad and that the Council’s apparent concern for humankind is basically just a ploy to take over the world. So when Manhunter goes on his first mission to eliminate the Interpol official, he warns him about the assassination, only to be told by that same official – none other than Mr. Nostrand – that he’s in fact already working for the Council – it was a test and he failed. The room is full of clones sent to kill him, but he takes them all down and gets away. He then goes to Nairobi, contacting the son of an old acquaintance named Kolu Mbeya, who is an arms manufacturer and dealer. Mbeya outfits him with a number of specially designed weapons and added features to his battle suit. After Manhunter finishes telling his story to St. Clair, they go to Nostrand’s hotel room, where they find a plane ticket to Istanbul and priest’s vestments, and they assume that he was heading there for a secret meeting of Council operatives. St. Clair is about to contact Interpol, when Manhunter discovers that Nostrand had already put them both on the international wanted list.

M.S. Wilson: Another interesting chapter. We see the rest of Manhuter's origin and the present storyline moves ahead as well. I like way the Council tested Kirk's obedience by sending him to kill someone who was one of their own...although I have to wonder what would have happened if Kirk HAD obeyed orders; was Nostrand considered expendable by the Council? He seemed to be in on the ruse, but I can't imagine him willingly sacrificing himself just to test Kirk's loyalty. Mbeya is interesting too. It's convenient for Kirk to have someone who can supply him with weapons, but Mbeya has a reason to exist other than plot convenience--he supplies weapons to various rebel groups in Africa. I guess that could be read as plot convenience too, but at least it's plausible. Speaking of convenience, Nostrand's hotel key being thrown clear of his exploding car is a little hard to swallow. But I like the fact that Nostrand had Interpol issue warrants for Manhunter and Christine. It keeps them from going to the authorities and it hampers their movements. Nice to see the bad guys acting logically for once.

EB: Yeah, that bit with the hotel key was just a little too far-fetched – one of the few places where I was thrown out of the story a bit and found myself thinking, “yeah, right.” Anyway, I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that the Council is quite ruthless in the pursuit of its aims, so if Manhunter had killed Nostrand as ordered, I imagine Mykros would have received the news with steepled fingers, muttering “excellent” a la Montgomery Burns, and not giving Nostrand another thought.  I really liked the addition of Mbeya to the cast. As you indicated, he’s not just a two-dimensional deus ex machina; instead, he has a reason for being that’s not connected to the story: he has his own history, life, and motivations.

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, when I was originally reading the story, I thought Batman (um, Batman?) was going to recognize Mbeya's name and say something like "Oh yes, Mbeya, I know him...we're old friends." I'm glad they didn't do that. It's also cool that Mbeya ended up joining them...after being set up by the Council, it's a logical move on his part.

Chapter 5. Cathedral Perilous

A family of American tourists approaches the Romulus Cathedral in Istanbul. The wife is getting bored with all of the inspections of religious buildings, the father thinks it will be interesting because it’s not a mosque, and the little boy is more focused on playing with his toy gun – the scenes of this family interspersed into the story are entertaining and fit into the story well. Meanwhile, Manhunter and St. Clair sneak in and knock out a pair of apparent monks and then don their robes. Anyway, Manhunter and St. Clair join up with a bunch of other ‘monks’ to infiltrate a meeting of Council followers. The proceedings are interrupted by the arrival of Mykros and a few Kirk clones in something called the ‘Gateway,’ which is apparently a teleportation device. Mykros informs them of Nostrand’s death, at which point the guy presiding over the meeting asks to be promoted to Nostrand’s position. This leads to an argument about the inner workings of the Council, and why no one was selected to replace the deceased Dr. Oka. Mykros then reveals that Oka was in fact killed because he began to question the Council’s motives. However, at this point, a device on Mykros’ ring indicates that they’re being recorded and he sounds the alarm. Manhunter decides to reveal himself to create a distraction so St. Clair can get away. Manhunter manages to disable the Gateway, and then another nicely rendered fight scene ensues, as Manhunter takes on the clone assassins. The latter actually manage to subdue him, and one gets ready to shoot him in the head when the little boy (the only one to actually see all of the fighting going on) drops his toy gun from a mezzanine, hitting the clone in the head and giving Manhunter an opportunity to take him down. As Mykros stalks away from the scene with the ambitious Council acolyte who wants a promotion, it’s revealed that the latter is St. Clair’s father.

M.S. Wilson: We learn a bit more about the Council in this chapter. The revelation about Christine's father being one of the bad guys seems a bit too coincidental, but I guess unexpected connections are a staple of comics (and pulp fiction in general). On the other hand, the "matter transmitter" thing makes it feel less pulpy and more like a regular comic book. I actually got a little tired of the "hick tourists" running joke (which seems like it might be a comment on how Americans act when on vacation...or am I reaching?) and the kid wandering off and playing cowboy. I guess I shouldn't complain too much...if it wasn't for the kid, Manhunter would've been blown away.

EB: Like I said in the summary, I found the tourists a nice twist – it’s a different way to move the story along. In fact, if I were to pick single chapter to call my favorite, or just as a sample of how cool this story is, I think this would be it. I also like the fact that, as good as Manhunter is at what he does best (and what he does best isn’t … holy crap! Déjà vu!), he can be bested occasionally, and sometimes needs a little help to get out of a jam, even if that help is just a kid and his toy gun. Also, the one panel showing the toy gun getting tossed back up to the little boy is a nice touch.

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, Manhunter returning the kid's gun was kinda nice (although the first time I read it, my first thought was that he'd thrown the bad guy's gun up to the kid...not very responsible of him!) You're right about Manhunter not being shown as's more realistic. And that idea is repeated in the next chapter when Nitobe bests him one-on-one.

EB: Oh, man. If he’d given that kid a real gun, the story would have taken a really dark turn…

Chapter 6. To Duel the Master

Manhunter awaits a plane that is landing near Matsue, Japan. Mykros disembarks, feeling rather surly because the destroyed matter transmitter means he has to travel the hard way. Manhunter begins stalking him, but is then confronted by his mentor, Asano Nitobe. The scene then switches to the Orient Express two days earlier, with Agent St. Clair in a private compartment. Her father enters, and soon reveals that he is involved with the Council. He threatens to shoot her if she doesn’t give him the recording from the meeting in Istanbul, but she calls his bluff. He departs from the train in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he is gunned down soon afterward. Back in Japan, two days later, Manhunter and Nitobe are still going at it. Manhunter is unable to convince Nitobe that the Council had Dr. Oka killed, because Nitobe has been brainwashed in such a way that he can’t believe anything Manhunter says. Eventually, Nitobe gets the best of Manhunter and is about to deliver the killing blow, when he’s hailed by St. Clair speaking from a loudspeaker in a chopper above. She plays the recording of Mykros detailing how Oka was killed, and this turns Asano, who swears to help Manhunter and St. Clair take down the Council.

M.S. Wilson: This chapter has the big confrontation between Manhunter and his former mentor, Asano Nitobe. The whole "student-confronts-the-master" thing is almost a cliché, since it's been done so many times, but to be fair, this story predates Star Wars, Wolverine, and a lot of the other uses of this trope. The fight is well done--Simonson doesn't shy away from showing how brutal it is. I'm not sure about how it ended, but I guess it makes sense for Christine's words to convince Nitobe, since it was only Kirk he was brainwashed to disbelieve. Speaking of Wolverine, the mask Nitobe wears looks a lot like the one worn by Ogun in the Wolverine miniseries. I wonder if Frank Miller had this story in mind, or if it's just a traditional Japanese design? The confrontation between Christine and her father was handled well, and him being gunned down immediately after fits what we know about the Council--they don't tolerate failure.

EB: The fight between Manhunter and Nitobe is indeed rendered quite nicely. And yes, it’s a storytelling cliché, but usually it’s the pupil who ends up winning (provided that he/she is the story’s protagonist). In this case, though, Nitobe eventually prevails, which realistically should be the case, since he was sort of hyped up as almost the living embodiment of ninjutsu. And I also liked the interlude showing Christine dealing with her father. It’s very, well cinematic (I just keep coming back to that word when thinking about this story).

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, Simonson's panel layouts are really different from what most artists were doing back then. I'm more of a "writing" guy than an "art" guy, but I can appreciate the artistry on display here.

Chapter 7. Götterdämmerung

The prologue takes place in Gotham City. The police have found the body of a private detective and martial arts instructor, Dan Kingdom, an ex-Green Beret. Batman appears at the scene, noting that Kingdom was following a lead on some jeopardy involving the new prime minister of the African nation of ‘Congola’ (ah, yes, gotta love comic-book political geography), for whom a reception is being held that very evening at Wayne Manor. And later, at the reception, the prime minister is assassinated by a sniper right under Bruce Wayne’s nose. Wayne changes into Batman and rushes after the killer and almost catches him outside. However, a mysterious masked figure calling himself the Enforcer gets in the way. He manages to stun Batman with a very distinctive punch and he and the sniper get away, although the sniper dropped his rifle in the confusion. Batman takes it to a former arms dealer, who tells him it’s a specially made weapon that was most like put together by a certain Kolu Mbeya of Nairobi.

The scene then switches to Nairobi and Mbeya’s shop, where Manhunter is trying to take the weapon-smith to join the assault on the Council’s Sanctuary. While they’re talking, he’s looking through a sniper scope and spots a bat-like silhouette on the rooftops above – and so does the actual sniper from before. He’s got Batman in his sights, but then Manhunter appears beside him. He drops his rifle in terror and starts running toward Batman, shouting that the ‘Council’ ordered the hit on the African prime minister’s and promising to tell him everything if he just keeps Manhunter away. Just as he reaches Batman, Manhunter shoots him dead. This rubs Batman the wrong way, but Manhunter pulls a blade from the dead man’s sleeve, noting that he had intended to kill Batman. Batman replies that he’s had similar attempts made on him before and resolved the situation without fatalities.

As they make their way back to Mbeya’s shop, Batman wants to know more about the Council, so Manhunter and the others fill him in. He wants to participate in their assault on the Council, but Manhunter declines the offer, noting that Batman’s code about not killing means he just won’t be an asset on this mission (imagine that – Batman being told he’s not one of the cool kids). So they part ways.

Manhunter, St. Clair, Nitobe and Mbeya take off in a plane, and eventually land in the middle of nowhere in a desert in Australia. As they disembark, gunshots ring out, and Mbeya is hit and apparently killed. The others move to for a counterattack, but then Batman appears with two unconscious gunmen. Manhunter is impressed that Batman’s detecting abilities, and they agree to join forces after all. Nitobe leads them to hidden ventilation shaft and they make their way into the Council’s underground base. Eventually they run into resistance, with the mysterious Enforcer showing up as well. He starts pummeling Manhunter, but Batman intervenes and tells him to keep going toward the Council Chamber while the rest of the group deals with the henchmen. It’s eventually revealed that the Enforcer is none other than Dan Kingdom, while the body found in Gotham was that of a clone. In the Council Chamber, Manhunter confronts Mykros, who’s wearing something he calls a psionic helmet that gives him mental control over all power and communication systems in the complex. He uses it to create a bolt of radiation from the reactor that nearly fries Manhunter completely. Elsewhere, our heroes are joined by Mbeya, who was not killed – rather Manhunter used some kind of nerve pinch to knock him out cold when he saw that he was injured. He takes down a bunch of the henchmen with machine gun fire. In the Council Chamber, Manhunter, almost dead, doggedly struggles with Mykros and manages to remove the psionic helmet, donning it himself. He then sets the Council’s entire complex to self-destruct, which explodes just as the Batman and the others manage to get away in the plane.

M.S. Wilson: The last chapter wraps things up nicely. The first six parts of the story were fairly violent, but we get a look at the non-lethal approach once Batman joins the team. The “kill/no kill” debate reminds me of Spider-Man and Punisher (and like Spider-Man, Batman seems to condemn Manhunter’s methods without taking any active steps to stop him). The whole thing with Dan Kingdom/Enforcer seems a little superfluous, but I guess Batman needed someone to fight (non-lethally, of course) at the end; plus Kingdom's “death” was the MacGuffin that got Batman involved in the first place. You mentioned the fictional country of “Congola”...I noticed that too, and it kind of bothers me. One of the things I liked about the first six chapters was how they used real locations--Kathmandu, Zurich, Istanbul, Marrakech, Nairobi; it made it more realistic. But throwing a fake country into the last chapter takes me out of the story a bit. It makes it read more like a conventional comic and less like a pulpy spy-thriller. I have nothing against conventional comics (and the tropes therein), but the shift in tone is a bit jarring for me. The same goes for the “psionic amplifier” thing; I guess old pulp stories had mind-amplifier devices, but it just seemed a bit out of place to me. As for using Batman, I think it worked. Batman was inspired by the old pulp stories, so he definitely fits into that style.

EB: I just let the comic-book geography roll off my back; yeah, it would have been better if a real country had been used, but since the story involved the assassination of a prime minister, Goodwin decided to go the fictional route to avoid any confusion with actual political events. And as far as I know, the old pulp stories had quite a bit of fake geography; in fact, I think the comic book writers just assumed the practice from the pulp writers. Same with the wonky technology like the psionic amplifier – I think the Doc Savage stories in particular blazed the trail for that kind of stuff. All that said, I can see why you could have been taken out of the story by these aspects, because most of this does read like a spy thriller more or less grounded in the real world. I guess it just didn’t trouble me as much, especially since pretty much from the start the whole Council aspect, with its amazing technology, indicates that the story will have the fantastic elements more typical of standard superhero comics. Overall, it’s pretty obvious that I just love this story, and repeated readings have not diminished my fondness for it (quite the opposite in fact). I like that it’s a complete saga that had a planned conclusion from the very beginning, and the ending, although tragic, is very fitting and, ultimately, satisfying. And I can’t think of any artist who would have done a better job with this than Simonson. He really went all out, and everything comes together perfectly: the figure work, the backgrounds and the overall flow and pacing. Coming back to that word cinematic, it often seems like the panels are storyboards for what would be a mind-blowingly awesome action movie.

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, I'm a sucker for that pulp atmosphere (though a lot of the actual "classic" pulp stories leave something to be desired). I was never a big Doc Savage fan...the idea sounds good, but the few stories I've read just didn't do anything for me. I agree that the ending feels right. In the intro to my edition, Goodwin said that if the concept had been open-ended (i.e. if Manhunter had lived), the story probably wouldn't have achieved the impact or reputation that it did. I think he's right... Manhunter's heroic sacrifice rounds off the story perfectly, and it's true to his character as well.

EB: Needless to say, I agree with Goodwin that it worked out better like this. (Just as an aside, on the topic of the original pulp stories, there’s a lot of good stuff there, and – given the sheer volume – a lot of bad stuff as well. I tend to agree with you about the Doc Savage stories: I’ve read a few of the novels and found them just o.k. On the other hand, all of the Shadow novels I’ve read – admittedly not many – are actually pretty good.)

* Just as a footnote, when the Special Edition reprint of this story was published in 1999 (the edition I have), a story called “The Final Chapter” was printed as well. This is an epilogue which Goodwin and Simonson had plotted out, and then Simonson drew it, but Goodwin unfortunately died before he could complete the final script. So Simonson just finished the art and it was printed as a “silent” story, with no dialogue or narration (just sound effects). It’s really well done, and doesn’t take anything away from the original saga.

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