Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bat and the Demon (part 2): Batman 243

#243 (August 1972)
"The Lazarus Pit!"
Writer: Denny O'Neill
Artist: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano

Karen: Time to get down with the second part of our little Batman -Ra's Al Ghul fest. This time, we've got the dynamic duo of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano on the art chores, and it makes a real difference. Reading this issue was a lot like watching one of the late 70s Bond films - there's great action and breath-taking scenery, if not a lot of things that make sense.

Doug: Throughout this story I, like you, was struck with how similar this reading was to a Bond film. Neal Adams carries this out as if he were doing storyboards.

Karen: We start with Batman
fighting a duel with Ling, the man sent by Ra's last time to kidnap scientist Dr. Blaine. Since Batman saved Ling's life, he is sworn to serve him; however, because Ra's also once saved him, his loyalties are divided. He feels a duel is the only way for him to determine whose path to follow.
Doug: You're right about Adams' art. While Irv Novick was certainly decent last issue, there is just an air of polish about this month's pencils. Adams' art is always attention-commanding.
Karen: I just wish I had the original issues so I could see what the color looked like -this coloring in the TPB is jarring to me. The fight is really well choreograph
ed and exciting. Of course, Batman wins, but there's a few tense moments. The most irritating (to me at least) element from the previous issue, the fake Matches Malone, is carried over to this issue, this time with Robin playing the criminal! Doug and I have discussed before how amazing masks are in comic universes -they apparently look and move exactly like human flesh!

Doug: And how about the fact that Dick had his own mask on under the prostheses, and left the building in his full costume? So much for subtlety!

Karen: Batman sends Robin back off to school -he was in college by this time -not wanting to risk his life in his battle against Ra's. "If I don't....survive, it'll be up to Robin to carry on the tradition of the Batman!" Batman once again dons the insipid Malone disguise and heads to the airport where Ling and Dr. Blaine await. They fly to Switzerland, where Ra's is supposedly staying.

Doug: Through both parts of this story, I just felt it was dumb that Batman was doing all of this without Robin. It just didn't make any sense. If Ra's was truly as dangerous as he thought, then only a trained partner would make any sense. Bringing these other innocents i
nto it was even more irresponsible than taking a minor into battle. Why didn't Batman enlist the aid of a fellow JLAer?

Karen: Honestly I was thinking along the same lines the whole time I read this. First, it's kind of hard to believe that Batman felt the need for help -but this just may be me super-imposing his modern personality over this much older
story. But secondly, if he needed help, it's not clear why he first went to Malone, and why Dr. Blaine was necessary. He just sort of lucked into getting Ling on-board! I suppose the JLA were left out of the story to keep it more grounded, but still the question could be asked why Batman didn't grab any of them.

Karen: In Switzerland the gang runs in
to Talia and Ra's hulking henchman. Batman seems to be getting the better of him when he is hit in the head with skis (!) by skiing star Molly Post, who thinks Batman is assaulting Talia. Things quickly change once Molly discovers that Batman is going after Ra's. The story really heads into Bond movie style at this point, as we learn in rather awkward manner that Molly's fiance was ruined by Ra's. She joins up with Batman to stop Ra's. I know it's a comic book, but it all feels so contrived.

Doug: Yeah, the story began to degenerate into The Dirty Dozen; or maybe it was the Bad News Bears! Adding Molly Post (what the?!?) to the tale was dumb. And to be really honest, seeing Batman riding on the back of M
olly's snowmobile was just so 1966 Batman tv show!

Karen: You're right, you could imagine the green screen behind them, projecting images of snow-covered slopes! Did you notice that although Batman gets on behind her, it's his hand on the throttle?! The Dark Detective and his motley crew manage to fight their way into Ra's mountain-top HQ, only to discover that the criminal mastermind is dead!

Doug: How about when Batman tangles with Ra's goon again, defeating him easily? Batman muses to himself, "He'll sleep the sleep of the fat, ugly, and stupid." Man, that struck a chord with me from Animal House: "Drunk, fat, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." Hahaha!

Karen: Yeah, I thought that was inconsistent -is the guy a threat or a joke? I don't know. Talia shows them Ra's body, laying on a slab. Convinced that Ra's is no longer a threat, Batman takes Talia into custody and the group heads back down the mountain. As they leave, we see mechanisms go to work, and the slab sinks below the floor, into a churning pit of green chemicals. Ra's body is immersed. Moments later, the Demon rises, alive again.

Doug: I've seen Adams use variations on the portrait of Ra's face as he emerges from the Lazarus Pit, most notably when including art on one of his signed books. The leering grin on Ra's face in this panel is chilling.Karen: Yes, those last panels are pretty nice. And Adams' Talia is always beautiful. There's some great art in this issue, but again, the writing left me a bit cold. It's all focused on the single story, with no sub-plots, which just feels a bit sparse. It's story-driven, and not much is given to character development. Not having been a regular reader of Batman then, I don't know if this was the norm. It's just odd when you compare it to something like Spider-Man at the same period, with all the supporting characters and numerous sub-plots.

Doug: I agree. Sometimes we talk about linear art -- our look at Super-Villain Team-Up would fit into this category. So it's strange to me that with Adams' dynamic art, Denny O'Neil writes such a straightforward script. It's no wonder we feel every additio
n to the plot is contrived -- it's all straight out of left field! This is a mystery story where only the author knows the clues. We the readers are not participating, only watching. How could anyone tell how this story will turn out, when every seeming-twist is just some deus ex machina?


Daniel Graves said...

I still loved every minute of it as a kid.

Fr. Dan

Edo Bosnar said...

When you guys started reviewing these issues, it prompted me to start reading my recently-purchased copy of Tales of the Demon.
Since you mentioned the coloring in both posts, Karen, I have to say I agree with you that it's jarring in those stories drawn by Novick, but I find it doesn't bother me in these stories done by Adams.
And Doug, it wasn't just the snowmobile scene that reminded me of the campy TV show - it was Molly Post herself. I could almost hear the over-the-top voice of that show's narrator saying something like, "And the caped crusader is joined by Molly Post, beautiful international ski champion! But will even that be enough to stop the dastardly Ra's?"

Doug said...

In regard to the coloring, and I can't recall if I saw this in Comic Book Artist or in an issue of Back Issue!, but I've seen Neal Adams comment on the color palette used by DC in the Silver Age. When he got there, one of the first things he did was (again, forgive me) almost double the available colors used in the printing process.

That being said, one of the criticisms of the Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams collection was Neal's insistence on re-coloring his work, himself. So, in light of that, I've lied to you. I said I had to read the Novick issue out of the Limited Collector's Edition copy that I own. Well, instead of switching to the hardcover like I said for the Adams issues, I stuck with the LCE simply because it's printed on newsprint and looks the same way the comics looked when published.

It's true that the coloring used in the printing process today is beautifully rich and adds layers of texture to the art not formerly available -- it can be dazzling to the eye. But for my Silver and Bronze Age fun, just give me the basic ol' four-color fun! I'm a traditionalist in that these stories should be reprinted AS IS.

My two cents on coloring...


Steve Does Comics said...

Argh, modern colouring. I hate modern colouring. It's way too clean. It's one of the main reasons I don't read modern comics.

Not that I'm shallow or anything.

Fred W. Hill said...

I didn't see any of Adams' Batman art until I started collecting some of what I could find in the early '80s, after I overcame my silly distaste for anything that wasn't Marvel! I've seen samples of Batman stories circa 1964 and it's amazing how much of a transformation they made in story and art between then and, say,'69. Strange that during most of the '60s, DCs comics featuring their top characters, Batman & Superman, had generally terrible stories and mediocre art, while Marvels top two, the FF & Spider-Man, had the Kirby & Ditko & Romita producing some of the best comics art ever, along with some guy named Lee helping out with the stories & writing.
At least by the early '70s the art on Batman was no longer embarassing to look at and the stories were far more sophisticated, even if they didn't make much sense.

Karen said...

Fred, you make a very good point about how far DC had come by the late 60s/early 70s. I tend to be fairly critical of these stories and I should probably think more about the context under which they were produced. Certainly the O'Neil/Adams work was a big step up from things like "The Rainbow Batman" and Bat-Mite and all that silly stuff!


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