Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Penguin's Plot of Plunder

Detective Comics #473 (November 1977)
"The Malay Penguin"
Steve Englehart-Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin

Doug: How about a little Bronze Age Batman, kids? This one comes from The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, Volume 2; it was on the shelves at the same time Batman Returns was in the theaters. This trade paperback is a collection of Batman's adventures against Catwoman and the Penguin. The original publication hails from Detective Comics #473. And how about that creative team? Marshall Rogers has always been a favorite of mine, and he doesn't disappoint this time around. Of course, the influence of Terry Austin's inks are generally good over anyone.

The lead story is only 17 pages long. And to be honest, that's OK. I would not count this one as one of Steve Englehart's finer efforts -- dialogue-wise. The story is crafted well enough, but I thought some of the speech balloons seemed a bit off. So, what's the plot?

Apparently there were some big doings involving Hugo Strange in the previous ish. Seems Batman and his love, Silver St. Cloud (yeah, Rogers always drew her well) had been captured and subjected to some drugs. However, Bats escaped and appears no worse for the wear. Strange put the word out through the goon-network that he was willing to auction the secret ID of the Batman (Englehart refers to him with "the" throughout the story -- I liked that), and one of the interested parties who showed up to bid was the Penguin. The other subplot running through this story is the corruption in city government involving Rupert Thorne (looking just like the Dean Wormer-voiced character from Batman: The Animated Series). I felt like a johnny-come-lately to this part of the story, as I don't have any books prior to this.

The Reed Gallery of Art is about to put the Malay Penguin, a priceless statue, on display. As it's splashed all over the papers, Batman and Robin pay a visit to the gallery to chastise the owner -- after all, everyone knows that the Penguin flew the coop only weeks earlier. Mr. Reed declares that the statue is safe due to his security systems. Batman's not so sure. The Dynamic Duo head to Bruce's penthouse for some shut-eye (separate beds, ya sickos!!), where Alfred reminds Bruce that he's to journey to Paris to attend a meeting of the Securities Exchange. Bruce balks, and tells Alfred he'll send his man Broome instead. After a visit to see Silver at the hospital, Batman and Robin go on Penguin patrol. By the way, I want to see the hospital that has gowns like the one Silver is sporting. What, does she have it on backwards??

They find their bird coming out of the theater that is next door to the art gallery. The Penguin, upon seeing his nemeses, immediately employs a buzz-umbrella to hold them off. He then ups the speed on the rotor and lifts up, up, and away. But while leaving, he tosses a riddle at our heroes: "Never pitch rolls at a bank." They ponder that for awhile, but can't figure it out. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin check in on the gallery, where the alarms have been set off. Mr. Reed tells that the dancing showgirls next door at the aforementioned theater have set off the seismic alarms. Upon investigation, Batman finds that the show is being bankrolled by a secret billionaire. Weird... So Robin's daydreaming, when he notices a flock of geese flying in a formation resembling the Penguin's profile, and dropping leaflets all over Gotham. Each has a $20 gold coin attached to it, and offers a further challenge to Batman.

As this all turns out, the Penguin wasn't intending to rob the gallery in the first place. Instead, he was hoping to hijack the plane that would be carrying the Securities Exchange officers and hold them for ransom. All of the clues eventually fit together, and of course Batman figures it all out and saves the day in the 11th hour; Robin comes off (once again) looking like a dope. Funny how in the Teen Titans, the Boy Wonder was a junior Batman, but in his own mag he was always just a dope. Anyway, the Penguin is captured and you know what? He'd stolen that stupid statue anyway -- weeks ago, and replaced it with a fake!

Overall this was a decent-enough story and for the most part was a done-in-one. I'd mentioned at the top that Englehart's dialogue was a bit different. It just didn't seem to have the right flow to it at times. Rogers and Austin do a great job -- I especially like the hard angles on Batman's cape. Perhaps it's not physically accurate, but it looks cool. And how about those ears?? Has anyone this side of Bernie Wrightson in Batman: The Cult drawn bat-ears like that? I always admire the scribes who come up with all of the clues and riddles. I'm more in Robin's camp when it comes to figuring all of that stuff out. But hey -- it's fun to see how it all gets resolved.


Jonathan Stover said...

You can pick up the entire Engelhart/Rogers/Simonson/Wein run from this era in an inexpensive trade called Batman: Strange Apparitions.

Edo Bosnar said...

Jonathan, that Strange Apparitions trade is nice, but it's hardly inexpensive; it's not in print any more and about the cheapest copy you can currently find from online comic shops or on Ebay is about $30 (and some sellers are charging from $80 to $100 for it).
I found my copy on Ebay last fall relatively cheap (under $20 including postage) from a seller in the UK and I consider that a stroke of freakish good luck.

Jonathan Stover said...

I've been spoiled by the freakishly large assortment of remaindered trades at both my LCS's, Edo, where I picked it up for $6.99. But that was two years ago and I haven't seen a copy since.

Unknown said...

I'm glad I got my copy of Strange Apparitions a few years ago from Amazon, at the standard price. It's a nice collection. I've noticed I haven't seen it at my local LCS or anywhere else.


Fred W. Hill said...

I entirely missed Englehart's run on Bat Man in the '70s as I was such a loyal Marvel geek in those days. However, I managed to obtain reprints and several originals in the '80s, including this Penguin story. One of the very few Penquin tales I've ever read and while not a masterpiece, still a fun read. Although from the TV series and Meredith Burgess' portrayal, the Penguin is one of Bat Man's best known villains, his character doesn't really lend itself to great stories, at least not for a "grim and dirty" version of the Bat Man. At least that's my perception, and maybe they've changed him over the decades since this story came out. Perhaps even to better resemble the malformed version in Tim Burton's movies.

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