World's Finest #228 (March/April 1975)
"Crown for a New Batman"
Bob Haney-Dick Dillin/Tex Blaisdell
Doug: Hey, everyone -- it's been a long time since we looked in on a Bob Haney-penned Bronze Age DC. Too long. Of course, with our current series of reviews examining Steve Gerber's run on the Guardians of the Galaxy, we've been getting a certain sort of zaniness through those yarns. But we're back in somewhat familiar territory today, as we jump into another episode of the Super Sons. We first met these guys here on the BAB back in the fall of 2013. This particular issue is in the first half dozen adventures of the Super Sons as under the care of Haney and Dick Dillin, and I'm reading and scanning from the tpb Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons.
Doug: As with almost every DC comic of this era, the splash page sets up that issue's mystery. And are we faced with a humdinger in this one! Lying prone on the floor of his penthouse balcony is Bruce Wayne, Superman standing over his corpse. Emerging from the apartment are Bruce, Jr. and Clark, Jr. -- the Super Sons. And to lead off, Haney gives us some painful dialogue as young Clark says to young Bruce, "Cry it out, Bruce-buddy! Get all the grief out of you!" Ouch. As we turn the page, our heroes find a couple of clues beside Wayne's body -- a dried seal paw, and a dagger made of whale bone. Superman quickly uses his Super-brain to deduce that the killer must have come from the Arctic (ya think?), and young Bruce heads inside to tell his mother. Elsewhere, we see the city react to the news of the elder Wayne's passing, via the newspapers, and a somber Alfred set to put the cape and cowl into permanent storage. Later, as young Bruce tells his veiled (always) mother that he will assume the role of the new Batman, a voice calls loudly from off-panel. It's Dick Grayson, and he has come home to assume the mantle of the Bat himself. So you see where this is headed. The two youths bicker before Clark, Jr. tells them to cool it, but even the next day at the funeral each young man thinks to himself about personal memories of the Batman, and how he shall take over.
Doug: At the reading of Bruce Wayne's will, both Bruce, Jr. and Dick await the blessing of their deceased mentor. But while financial arrangements are mentioned (Alfred is going to live "comfortably" on $20K a year? My, how times have changed!), no word is spoken as to who shall become the new Batman. But what is strange is the last bequest -- that $5 million should go to a mystery partner of Wayne's, a Simon Link... but only if he comes forward to claim it. Later, Bruce, Jr. dons his own Batman costume and heads to his father's fresh grave to make an oath. Robin is there, however, with the same idea, and decides that these two rivals can settle things once and for all with a contest to see who can bring Bruce Wayne's killer to justice first. Now don't you think this is all just a little morbid and incredibly disrespectful to the deceased? Anyway, as the two young avengers shake on their deal they are split by a harpoon that lands in between them. Spying their assailant, the two take off after him, but end up stumbling over each other in their earnestness to be the apprehender.
Doug: This is a pretty fast-paced tale, as the very next day who should show up in Gotham City but Simon Link? Seems word about $5 million gets around quickly. He briefs our cast on just how he worked with Bruce Wayne, and that he figures Wayne left him so much money because he was always square in their dealings. But the executor reads one more stipulation from the will -- in order to fully collect, Link must first take Bruce, Jr. to the Bering Sea and show him the life of a seal hunter. Link's not too happy about this, claiming to be retired. But Bruce, Jr. blurts out the deal he had made with Robin -- man, he just outed half the DCU! And then he suggests that they team up with Link to solve this mystery. Shortly, the gang is headed for the Bering Sea on a small plane. Superman and Superman, Jr. fly outside, while Bruce, Jr. and Dick are with Link, who is piloting. Bruce tells that he heard an Eskimo named Malook was headed to the Arctic only days earlier; Link says Malook is a guy to watch. Soon they are at a base for seal hunters and the boys inspect the surroundings. Dick Dillin draws the worst-looking killer whale I have ever seen, by the way.
Doug: Seemingly conveniently, one of Link's men calls out that they are getting a distress call from another base that their ice flow is breaking up. Link orders the Superman family to fly ahead and assist, while they go it alone against potentially hostile Eskimos. Sure enough, as their ship continues they are eventually attacked by Eskimos in kayaks, firing rifles. Link orders Bruce and Dick below deck -- they protest, but he yells at them to move. What happens next raises an eyebrow, as Link fires on the Eskimos in the water with big guns and then rams them with his ship. Soon he's launching artillery onto land, destroying a village of women and children. But unbeknownst to Link, Bruce and Dick bailed off the ship and are making their way to land (Batman, Jr. via kayak, Dick being towed by a seal... no, really). The two are shocked to see the destruction Link has wrought. Then they remember to ask about Malook, and they are pointed toward a nearby cave. The boys strap on some snowshoes and off they go in pursuit. Soon cresting a hill, our heroes see Eskimos using rifles to slaughter seals. Batman, Jr. comes unglued and leaps into the midst of the "hunters". An Eskimo gets a drop on him from behind when Robin leaps to his rescue. The two fight hard, and knock off a mask. Not necessarily a rubber mask (which we are quite fond of around here, in a denigrating sort of way) -- this one appears to be of the Halloween variety, like when you were a kid -- face-fitting, with a rubber band that wrapped round your noggin? The "Eskimos" scatter, and Batman, Jr. is left to wonder which one is Malook. Robin says that none of them are.
Doug: Our not-so-dynamic duo quickly discover that the "Eskimos" made off not on foot, but on hidden snowmobiles. But our heroes have only snowshoes, so they trudge off in the direction in which they think Malook is located. They soon come upon another guy, sans Eskimo mask, who lies dead at the foot of some rocks. They blame his death on this Malook character, and then commandeer the dead guy's snowmobile and head off in hopes of finally solving this mystery. As we enter chapter three, the boys come upon another dead white man. This guy also had a snowmobile, so now both Robin and Batman, Jr. have one. So they race along, until very shortly they come upon a menacing-looking fellow with a rifle. They have finally found their man, Malook! Robin falls to a graze wound, and as the Eskimo approaches him, Batman, Jr. rides hard on his snowmobile, launching himself off of it and onto Malook's back. A shot goes off, but into the sky. Robin is all right, having faked his wound. So now begins the interrogation, and I have to say -- if Bob Haney isn't the product of his times in regard to perspectives and stereotypes on Native Americans, then I don't know who is! The dialogue in this section is painfully racist, both in terminology used as well as the broken English "dialect". Dick Dillin is complicit and assisting, as he draws Malook with the stereotypical buck teeth. Young Malook paints himself as a freedom fighter, and tells the boys that he and his people wanted to remove Simon Link from their area due to his depletion of the seal population; since Bruce Wayne was his major benefactor, then he also needed to go. But Batman, Jr. and Robin aren't so sure that Malook is telling the truth.
Doug: To wrap this one up, Malook tells the boys that there is a man frozen inside an iceberg that looks like a polar bear (no lie). The man in question allegedly would not kill seals as Link had ordered. In that man's pocket is a paper that proves that Link had given orders to kill the Eskimos. Not sure if Malook is totally on the up-and-up, the boys decide to tie him up and stick him in a cave until they return. So it's out of the fightin' togs and back to Link's ship. Link isn't too happy to see them, and orders them back onto the boat -- he says that he's aware of the costumed interlopers, and he'll mete out his justice against them. Bruce tells Link about the man in the ice with the note. And sure enough -- a short time later there's an iceberg. Shaped like a polar bear. Well, Link starts shelling it (dude's got some big guns aboard that seal catcher), and soon enough a body appears, frozen in the belly of the "bear". The corpse is loosed, and Link's men bring it on board. But before any note can be found, Dick says that this proves that Link has not only been illegally harvesting seals, but that he's also perpetrated genocide against the natives. Link orders his men to grab the boys. But all of a sudden, the corpse springs to life -- it's Superman! And Superman, Jr. arrives right away. But before any real pleasantries can be exchanged, they notice that Link has beaten it out of there. Superman, Jr. is in pursuit, and comes across a group of seals making their way across the ice. One of them is really Link, wearing a seal skin for cover. And you can probably guess where this is going -- a killer whale punches through the ice, grabs Link, and hauls him underwater. Back on the ship, who should arrive with the cavalry but Batman?
Doug: Yep, the Caped Crusader himself. Long story short -- Malook really did try to kill Bruce Wayne, but the plainclothes Dark Knight disarmed him and listened to his story. Malook told him about Simon Link, so Wayne took pity on the man and created the ruse that we've seen play out. Superman was in on it from the beginning, but no one else. And how cruel is that? Fake your death, the wife and kid don't know, have a funeral, announce it to the world... I guess Bob Haney thinks all's well that ends well, but I had some problems with this plot the first time I read it and I do again on the re-read. I can take zany -- and we've seen quite a bit of that. But this one, and it may be due in large part to being a product of the time in which the creators grew up and the time in which this saw publication... I found the plot of today's comic overly zany, racist, and with characterization from Robin that wasn't quite right. Overall, this was one of my least enjoyable Haney reads. And I've gone on record stating how the guy has grown on me as I've read more and more of his work. But today really wasn't a satisfying experience, aside from the general Bronze Age aspects of the publication of the book itself.