Friday, October 28, 2011

Ain't Nothin' Like Halloween in Rutland, Vermont! Part 2011


Batman #237 (December 1971)
"Night of the Reaper!"
Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Dick Giordano

Doug: Welcome back to our third annual trip to those Halloween days of yore, as celebrated in Rutland, Vermont. The early 1970's were filled with stories about the legendary Halloween parties and parades hosted by Tom Fagan. So far we've visited this town with the Defenders, and twice with the Avengers. Today we drop in on the Dark Knight Detective and his young ward, Robin. As you see from the creator credits, this was produced by the Hall of Fame crew that revitalized the Batman in the post-TV show days. A note to our readers -- while at one time I had this book, I'll be reading and scanning from Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 3. You'll notice that the images have been recolored, an act that Adams insisted on when these hardcovers were pitched to him.

Doug: We open with a quite-ominous splash page -- the Batman, staked through the heart to a tree! In the background, a darkened manse on a hill, and a sense of a windy chill in the air. Cue the next page, and elsewhere on this night the Halloween parade through Rutland, Vermont is taking place, and Dick Grayson and some college friends are there to see it. One of the fellows seems to be tripping on the lights and sounds. As the boys make their way along, eventually deciding to head to a party, they come upon a mugging in progress. As they approach, they see a group of thugs beating a youth in a Robin costume. Dick takes over, but the trippin' fool stumbles into him, leaving him wide open for a blow from a blackjack. The thugs run off as the boys lick their wounds.

Doug: Robin loses the guys, and we next see him in his fighting togs. Looking for clues as to why a professional hit squad would be working a small town like Rutland, Robin begins to explore the surroundings. He sees a familiar figure in the distance leaning next to a tree; upon moving closer, he sees the same Batman we'd seen on the title page -- a man in costume with a stake through his heart! As Robin squats to inspect for footprints, a shadow sweeps over him and a grim reaper appears, scythe swinging! Robin ducks, but rising to maneuver out of the way, he loses his balance and plunges over a cliff. He lands face down on the rocky shore of a brook. Suddenly the Batman swoops down from a nearby tree, turning the youth over to free his lungs from the rippling water. Scooping up his young ward, the Dark Knight carries him to the home of Tom Fagan, where a doctor friend is staying.



Doug: Batman's friend is a Doctor Gruener, who is a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Batman explains that he has come to Rutland not by chance, but to assist the doctor in finding and bringing to justice Colonel Kurt Schloss, known during the War as the Butcher! Schloss was accused of atrocities in the camps, notably the deaths of Dr. Gruener's family. The Colonel has allegedy been sighted in the Rutland area -- he has a fetish for masquerade parties and was known to have purchased a pirate costume. Batman and the doctor tell Robin that the goons the boys had tangled with might be the former henchmen of Schloss -- tracking him for his stolen Nazi gold. Batman decides to move among Fagan's party-goers (the shot of a Thor with a colander for a helmet is priceless), to see if he can pick up any clues.

Doug: We cut to the outside where Dick's "stoned" friend continues to stumble about. He comes across a dead body while being drawn toward a large house with a red beacon. The reaper appears again and our guy runs off. He's quickly intercepted by the Batman, who decides to head toward the light -- having eyeballed it for a few seconds, he ascertained that the beacon was sending Morse code! Arriving, Batman takes out one hood and then moves to the belltower. But unseen, Col. Schloss (replete with pirate doo-rag) sneaks out. In the tower, Batman accosts the light operator, tossing him onto the roof. Grabbing him and doing his best Michael Keaton impression, Batman gets some information -- the goons are indeed after Schloss, but not as allies. They feel that he's held out on them with the stolen gold, and want their cut. As a means of revenge, a car bomb has been set; and it's at that point that Batman hears an auto start and shift into gear.

Doug: After the explosion, Batman is despondent over the loss of life -- and of legal justice. Robin attempts to encourage his mentor, but Batman brushes him off. He chastises Robin not seeing the bigger picture -- why would the Nazis off the man dressed as Batman, and rough up the kid dressed as Robin, if they were looking for Schloss? Batman is convinced that the reaper is still at large and sets off to find him. It doesn't take long, and Batman confronts the man in the flowing purple robes -- a man he knows as Dr. Gruener! Batman tells him that he deduced that the thugs had no way of knowing that Batman or Robin would be in the area unless they'd been tipped -- which Gruener arranged. Gruener then admitted that he had done that, because he'd decided that his revenge would be personal, and not through the Batman or through the courts. The reaper would make Schloss pay for the loss of Gruener's family. Batman begins to close on Gruener, they scuffle, and Gruener is able to get away. We see Dick's wayward friend one more time, talking with other kids on top of the local dam, and as fate would have it he is directly in the path of the fleeing reaper. There is contact, and as the youth falls his necklace becomes wrapped around the reaper's scythe. Dangling before his eyes is a Star of David, and Gruener questions what he has become. Next we see him fall/leap from the dam, apparently landing on his own weapon.

Doug: This was a well-done done-in-one. Denny O'Neil's words are straightforward and solid -- the mystery is good, and not obvious. Of course Neal Adams is incredible, and moody. Recently some of our commenters have questioned whether Adams was good on heroes like Thor, or the FF; I could enter that argument, but for the sake of staying on topic here, I'll offer that he is perhaps the best Batman artist -- ever. His long, lithe figurework perfectly suits the Dark Knight, and his Joker several stories later in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" is a classic. Toss in the fact that Adams had his finger on the pulse of fashion during the times he was at his peak, and you really have a complete artist. The recoloring is nice, and adds to the feel of the story. Adams is of course a perfectionist and I see care in his move to recoloring; others have likened it to interference, akin to George Lucas' meddling with the Star Wars films. Overall, a great example of the O'Neil/Adams/Giordano collaboration that is truly one of the highlights of the early '70's.



Doug: Incidentally, this isn't Neal Adams' only foray into material dealing with the Holocaust. Adams, along with Joe Kubert and hundreds of other comic book/strip artists, went to the defense of Dina Babbitt against the museum at Auschwitz. Babbitt, while a prisoner, was commissioned by Dr. Joseph Mengele (the "Angel of Death") to paint portraits of Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) prisoners. She did, and it saved her life as well as the life of her mother. In her later years, Babbitt worked tirelessly to get the artwork returned to her; the museum has steadfastly refused. Adams and others, attempting to drum up support, created a graphic novel telling of Babbitt's plight. You can see one version of it below:


21 comments:

MOCK! said...

I grew up in Rutland. I now have EVERY Halloween Parade issue. This is one of the best!!

david_b said...

Gawd, I've drooled over this cover for years, wondering what the inside art is like. Beautiful recoloring.., I'll have to pickup the Adams Batman volumes.

Adam's DC art has always been the Gold Standard of Art, quite simply. His renderings of DC heroes remains unmatched, like the heroics and action scenes are oozing off the page. It begged for deluxe-formatting, decades before anyone ever invented it. This issue looks like no exception. I was always a big Robin and Batgirl fan, more so than Bats himself, so it was hard to find really good stories of those two (AND good art) in the Bronze years, even as backup stories. Batman Family was a cool idea, but I couldn't handle the Heck art there after a while..

Simply one of Bronze's best gems..! Great column, Doug!

Anonymous said...

I do tend to feel that Adams didn’t necessarily do the most suited Marvel heroes. You mention the FF which I really do not remember him ever doing, but certainly Thor, the Avengers and a lot of Conan were not necessarily suited to his lithe style.

Imagine 70’s Daredevil scripted by Gerber or Englehart and drawn by Adams/Palmer. I’m touching myself inappropriately at the mere thought.

I never collected DC, but these Giordano inks on Adams are fantastic. Even give Palmer a run for his money. I also had no idea that Tom Fagan featured in the DC universe. How cool is that?

Adams is a fascinating guy. He has a lot of oft-ridiculed ideas about crust displacement, Pangaea and modern theories of geology which are very interesting. What is cool is that rather than simply ranting about what he disbelieves, he has come up with a completely alternate theory of continental drift, asteroids, planet formation and everything else. He actually believes the Earth is growing and that our inability to accept that the science is all wrong is going to have dire consequences in terms of what is wrongly called crust displacement.

Personally, I think it’s just a scam and as soon as his version of events is accepted he’ll make a fortune selling......(wait for it).....Neil Adams’ Crusty Bunkers.

You thought I wasn’t going there, didn’t you?

Richard

david_b said...

Richard, you see Adam's rendition of Marvel's FF in Avengers 93 for a few panels. It just makes me wince every time, being for me the worst part of ish 93. Looks rushed as well. I totally understand drawing Ben Grimm has always been one of the largest challenges for any artist: This was a huge example. Perhaps it's the inking, not sure.

IMHO, you never really believe the House of Ideas has a 'certain style' or branding about its product, even with a bullpen of wide-ranging artists (the Buscemas, Steranko, Tuska..), until you have another superb, yet different artist come in (like Adams) to have everything suddenly appear 'different'.

cuvan said...

I was a ten-year-old child growing up in Scotland when this comic came out. In those days it wasn't always easy to get my hands on American comics, but luckily for me I somehow managed to collect almost all of the Batman/Detective/B&B comics from the late-60's through to the mid-70's. It was only later that I realised how fortunate it was that my time spent collecting Batman comics coincided almost exactly with the time Neal Adams spent drawing them, whether it was interior art or just covers.

Of course, there were several other artists drawing Batman at the same time - Nick Cardy and Irv Novick were both very good, and, of course, Jim Aparo was about to start his run on Brave & Bold - but young as I was I could see that there was something special about Adams' portrayal of the character.

There were a lot of highlights through the years - the Man-Bat stories, the Ra's Al Ghul stories (to name a few), as well as all those great covers (Batman #241 is my all-time favourite) - but it was in Night of the Reaper! that everything came together best, I think. The cover is outstanding - Death looks magnificent - and the interior art is Adams (and Giordano, to give him his due) at his moody best. It's a shame you weren't able to show us the opening splash page of Batman propped up against a tree, as it's one of the very best. As is the two-page spread following it of Dick and his friends in front of the float. The story itself was interesting and ambitious, although not altogether successful.

As for the new colours: I can see what Adams was trying to do and in some instances it works quite well, but overall it just seems a bit garish for my taste. I think I'll just stick with the original comic version.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I've been critical of Adams in recent comment sdections. I don't think that highly of his Marvel work and I'm not a fan of his Green Lantern/Green Arrow work either. (Give me Mike Grell any day.)

To me, his photorealism just seemed to emphasize how odd a person would really look wearing superhero tights. You never had that problem with the Brothers Buscema ...

But his Batman was damn good. Like Gene Colan, he seemed better suited to moody, noir-ish tales. Even his habit of oddly laid out panels works in these stories because it gives them a tense, unpredictable feeling.

Per Richard, I understand that Adams has some pretty ... eccentric, let's say, scientific theories. Well, so what? He's an artist, not a policymaker.

Doug said...

I believe it was in an interview in TwoMorrows' Comic Book Artist magazine where I first discovered Neal's theories on the Earth changing in size. I read it, read it again, and then (use your imagination here) just got an expression on my face like Patrick Star: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh........

Doug

pete doree said...

Did I imagine it, but I thought I read somewhere that there was a whole crossover thing between Marvel & DC with real creators appearing in the Rutland stories, as they went every year for real. Rascally Roy turned up in that Avengers one for sure.
I'm sure I heard that Dick's friends are Steve Englehart, Berni Wrightson & Alan Weiss ( the stoned one )
Is that right?

Doug said...

Pete --

I've heard that. As you mention, the character to Dick's left in the first panel sample does indeed strongly resemble Wrightson. In the Thor panel, the guy in the middle with the hat is Denny O'Neil, and I'll assume the fella in the foreground is Adams -- he resembles photos of Neal from this era.

Anyone out there have further confirmation, or want to undertake some detective work? "Your assignment, should you choose to accept it..."

Doug

pete doree said...

That's definately Denny, but I'd say the guy in the foreground is Marv Wolfman. Make more sense if it's Neal tho'. Hey, It's the game anyone can play!

Anonymous said...

The thing you’re thinking of is a continuous story which pops between Thor 206 & 207, Am Adv 16, and JLA 103. It’s Len & Glynis Wein, Steve Englehart and Gerry Conway. Then when Loki is blasted off a cliff to his cetain doom at the end, he is plucked out of the sky by Dormammu who offers him the partnership that starts the Avengers Defenders War.

“ I was pals with Gerry Conway, who wrote THOR, and Len Wein, who wrote JUSTICE LEAGUE, and somehow we decided to plot a story that ran through all three books - even though JLA wasn't from Marvel, and even though their books were much bigger than mine. Gerry, Len, Len's then-wife Glynis, and I appear in all three plotlines, each of which stands on its own but also fits into one larger story. (They came out at the same time but Marvel's cover dates were a month ahead of DC's.)” Steve Englehart.

Richard

dbutler16 said...

It doesn't get much better than Adams/O'Neil/Giordano Batman! The art here is, of course, amazing, and from what I see, I like the re-coloring. I love the fact that Batman actually does some detective work here, too. The good ol' days, I guess. I'd really love to add some O'Neil/Adams Batmans & Green Lanterns to my collection, but I don't think I can justify the cost to my wife.

Also, I love the Rutland Halloween stories. It's one of those bits of Bronze Age fun that's gone forever...except in reprints and back issues, of course. Next year you should do a JLA Rutland story. I seem to recall they had at least one (with the Phantom Stranger?).

david_b said...

Nope, just call me Bronze-ignorant.., I had no inkling that DC used Rutland as an on-going storyline as well. I only knew it cropping up a few times in the Avengers book (the Liberators and the Collector stories), and heard about that Defenders story.

Simply Amazing...

Much like other missed opportunities we've mentioned during our Bronze Age studies, it was a primo idea which wasn't used to it's full potential.

Steve Does Comics said...

All these years, and I never realised Tom Fagan was a real person.

Doug said...

Question -- what do you think of Adams drawing Robin with eyes, rather than as having just white slits for eyes? I know I always think Batman looks funny when drawn with eyes; yet Captain America would look strange without eyes...

Doug

starfoxxx said...

The re-coloring is fantastic.

david_b said...

Doug.. Sal drew Cap without eyes numerous times.. Actually an even split of eyes vs. white slits, but I haven't counted it out. Typically more mid-distance shots, not close-ups, if that's what you mean.

Edo Bosnar said...

One of the my favorite aspects of this story has always been the guy dressed like Thor with a claw-hammer tucked into his belt. Meanwhile, the image of Denny O'Neill always reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson...

Rip Jagger said...

This is the crossover reprint collection I'm most eager to see. I doubt it will ever happen, but it would be exceedingly cool if DC and Marvel could give ups these classic tales in a volume or two.

Rip Off

dbutler16 said...

Eyes? Hmmm...Well, Batman is supposed to be a mysterious, foreboding, intimidating figure, so I guess no eyes adds to that mystique. I've always thought of Robin as a more human and accessible version of Batman, so drawing him with eyes is OK, I think, though I'm more used to seeing him without eyes.

Anonymous said...

Man, that is some bad comic book art. The coloring is so muddy. Who's responsible for that mess? Yuck!

Where's Dick Sprang when you need him?

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