Monday, April 11, 2016

Breaking Up is Hard To Do - Detective Comics 369

Detective Comics #369 (November 1967)
"Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!"
Gardner Fox-Carmine Infantino/Sidney Green

Doug: My Bronze Age connection to this Silver Age gem? I first came across this tale between the covers of Batman Family #2 (Nov./Dec. 1975), which I acquired in some unknown manner; I know I didn't buy it off the spinner racks. So despite the fact that I'll be scanning from Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino (2014), I've known of this story for many a'moon. I'm curious as to the intentions of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino (and editor Julius Schwartz) -- this was only the 4th appearance of Batgirl, having debuted in Detective Comics #359 (cover dated January 1967). We know of her tie-in with the William Dozier television program, but I almost have to wonder if there wasn't some intent to create more of a triangle relationship between the three caped crimefighters. And no, I'm not even going to entertain the posits that float around about Batman and Robin -- that never occurred to me as a kid, and I'd prefer to leave that in the realm of people just stirring up trouble. But certainly Dick Grayson as an adolescent male, suddenly confronted with a powerful (and powerfully beautiful) female every bit his equal... well, who wouldn't take a second look? But I'm curious about Dick's age in the comics at this point. Without digging too deep, I'll assume that he was still high school aged (15 or 16?) -- which seems younger than he was portrayed on TV where I felt he was 18 or maybe 19. Even if the older suggestion is true, that would still put him a good 3-4 years or so younger than Barbara Gordon. While one can complete a bachelor's degree in library science, it was my sense that Barbara was a little higher up at the Gotham City Public Library and so perhaps had her M.S. -- she'd then be 23 or 24. So anyway, the match-up wasn't quite making sense to me as a kid, and I still have reservations and curiosities about it on the reread. I'd sure like to see others' take on this.

Doug: I've said it before, I'll say it again -- I have an affinity for Batman comics with Batgirl and for Superman comics with Supergirl. I don't know why... I guess I really like the feminized derivative costumes. So let's jump into this with a 100-Word Review and see just what the Dominoed Daredoll (yes, Fox uses that painful, PAINFUL expression on the third page of the story -- meet me in the "Ugly" section below) was up to in trying to end the Dynamic Duo.
Batgirl’s installed a “multi-color light-tracer beam” on her Batcycle that allows her to lock in on the specific vibrations of a car’s motor. This allows her to beat the Dynamic Duo to crime scenes – better tech = better crimefighting! Batman chauvinistically tries to take over, but in doing so ends up in a quicksand swamp. Batgirl soon deduces that he’s contracted the “swamp fever” and tells Robin. Knowing Batman won’t get bedrest, the new Dynamite Duo plot to beat him to every crime so he won’t have to work hard. In the end, Bruce Wayne is cured in the hospital.
The Good: Carmine Infantino's art trumps Gardner Fox's sometimes dopey script and dialogue. The plot is pretty typical Silver Age fare, but then I reflected on it and thought to myself, no -- Batman probably wouldn't quit crimefighting to mend from his illness. We've agreed in the past that Infantino is one of the classic cover designers, on par with any of the other artists in the "best" conversation. He's also not too bad at laying out a story. His pacing is great, and while I'd argue that he's as guilty as the next guy of using "stock poses", it works for me. It's a Carmine Infantino book. That being said, I'll stand by my comments that I did not generally care for his Bronze Age work at Marvel. But here, ten years earlier and at DC his pencils feel comfortable.

I enjoyed the camaraderie between Robin and Batgirl. As I said above, I'm not certain if there weren't romantic motives on the part of the powers-that-be, but if we just look at it through the lens that the two of them were closer in age it still works. There's also that generational element, with the "old guy", Batman, squeezed out. "Never trust anyone over 30", indeed! The creators do a nice job of ramping up the tension in the "triangle" once Batman is afflicted with the swamp fever. It's priceless when Batgirl shows up with a sidecar on her bike and Robin's logo affixed to it. This follows one of those uncomfortable times we all faced as kids when a parent had to drive us somewhere. Yep -- Robin can't drive the Batmobile alone, so Batman has to take him to his rendezvous with Batgirl! Awesome... The new "Dynamite Duo" do their best to keep Gotham City under control while Batman further spirals down with his illness. The whole time I was reading this, I just wanted to scream, "Tell the poor guy!", but as I said before -- there was no quit in the Dark Knight. The Bat-team of Fox, Infantino, and Schwartz came up with a fun solution.

The Bad: I don't really have anything of note here, other than perhaps the stock poses employed by Carmine Infantino. But since I feel like I need to raise at least one stink to show that this wasn't a perfect book, I'll settle on Catwoman's outfit. She appears in the last three panels of the story in her secret identity of Selina Kyle. Ahead of its time, Detective Comics #369 actually continued into the December issue of Batman (#197 - Holy crossover!) where a jealous Catwoman would seek out Batgirl to let the young interloper know that Batman was off-limits. The Infantino book reprints the cover (and there's that costume for which I don't care), but not the story. I'd have liked to read that!

The Ugly: Nicknames! Within these fourteen pages lurk the following: Boy Wonder, Caped Crusader, Teen Titan, Dynamic Duo (all of those are just on the splash page!), the aforementioned Dominoed Daredoll, Gotham Gangbusters, Masked Maiden, Bat-Beauty, Masked Manhunter, Chic Crimefighter... and several of those are repeated throughout the story! People complain about Bob Haney's forced language in the Teen Titans, but this style of Gardner Fox's is equally annoying. I know -- you can argue that it's part of the charm and I should view this as a "period piece". I get it. And I agree. But it was still a bit much in a 15-minute span.

Doug: Several of us have praised DC for getting all manner of Batman (mostly Bronze Age) material back in print through these hardcover series -- "Tales of the Batman" and "Legends of the Dark Knight". The books are certainly pricey if you're into paying the cover rate; me -- I usually pre-order my copies or get them from places like In-Stock Trades. I feel like if I can pay $30 for one of these rather than $50, then I've taken care of myself both economically and nostalgically. And, since I don't buy comics any more these books are a wonderful way to acquire a nice run at prices below what I'd pay for back issues. Win!


Humanbelly said...

Very enjoyable little Silver Age review, there, Doug!

Chronologically, is it possible that Fox had been encouraged to emulate the campy style of voiceover and dialog from the TV series? 'Cause, man, that's what the incessant, forced nick-naming really reminds me of.

I. . . I can't look at the cover. I'm sorry. I will NEVER be able to get past the fact that NO teenage boy (be he 13 or 15 or 19) should EVER be cavorting around in public wearing green women's underpants (and a smile, as it were)... To be perfectly honest, no teenage girl should either, y'know? Bare-legged super-heroes--- dumbest conceit EVER. . . !

HB (pullin' up in the CurmudgeWagon--!)

Doug said...

We can thank Neal Adams for the redesign of the Robin costume, complete with black leggings and boots. Much more palatable to the eye -- and to the self-esteem of the wearer!


Redartz said...

Nice review of a bit of 60's fun, Doug. It's always a pleasure to touch bases with that Silver Age era from which this issue came: about the time I picked up my first comic...

Totally agree with you, HB, regarding Robin's outfit. Probably not many teenage boys would be inclined to fight in public in those green panties and booties. Nightwing is so much better, in so many ways!

Doug- I have that issue of Batman that continues this story. Has a great Infantino cover that you represented. Story is by Fox, pencilled by Frank Springer and inked by Greene. I prefer the look of Infantino's as shown in your review. The story itself is lightweight, and way overloaded with "cat" puns. A fun read, though...

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug! I recall reading a number of these Silver Age Bat stories featuring Infantino's art in the reprint digests. I'm also on record as not being the biggest fan of Infantino, but I'll agree that his work in the '60s was far better than his work in the '70s. As for the stories, I suppose they were better than the complete silliness of the 1950s Batman, but still not quite my cup of tea.
By the way, what's going on with Catwoman's waist in that second-to-last panel? That looks downright unhealthy...

J.A. Morris said...

Great review Doug. It's a nice reminder of all the Silver Age stories that were reprinted off the Bronze and sold on spinner racks. You could get an Infantino Batman story or a Lee-Romita Spider-Man issue at 7-11, right next to the Claremont-Byrne Iron Fist issues.

As for the Gardner Fox nicknames:To a certain extent, I get it. When I review stuff at my blog, I try very hard not to type "Spider-Man is attacked by the vulture, then Spider-Man stops a robbery." I find myself calling him "Spidey" or "the webhead" or "webslinger." But most of those Fox nicknames are terrible. "Dominoed Doll" might be the worst nickname ever. Chic Crimefighter isn't much better.

Doug said...

Redartz, thanks for the tip on the creative team of the continued story.

Edo - I thought the same thing in regard to Catwoman's waist. That's some corset she must have on!

J.A. - Had I a time machine, I would not now ignore all of the reprinted material available to young Doug back in the day. Funny how I eschewed it as a youngster, but crave it now.


Humanbelly said...

Exactly the same take on Selina Kyle's 8"-ish waist--!
Cripes, she's CAT-Woman, not WASP-Woman-!

And. . . why is she in a GREEN outfit on that cover image? Even with green being practically the default, go-to color for so many villains-- there's no logical reason on earth to go with that for a CAT-based character-! Sheesh! (It's one of those things that make you try to re-imagine the editorial conversations going on at the time. Surely more than a few eyes rolled and shoulders shrugged when some non-artist type higher up on the food chain insisted she be put in a green cat-suit. . . )


dbutler16 said...

Ah, Batman Family. I just loved having all of those Bat-related characters in one comic.

As far as Batgirl & Robin’s ages, I’d always figured that Batgirl was a bit older in the TV show, but that they were about the same age in the comic.

I agree with Doug that Infantino’s Bronze Age Marvel work is less than impressive, but his Silver Age stuff ir pretty solid.

Wow, Selina Kyle must have an 18 inch waist in that last picture! And yes, the green Catwoman costume is awful, and it doesn’t make any sense. How does that even remotely resemble a cat?

Yes, the occasional nickname is fun and a part of the times and the charm of Silver Age DC, but Gardner does lay it on thick. I have to put in a good word for zany Bob Haney’s dialogue, though. It’s one of the more fun things about those early Teen Titans tales.

Redartz said...

Perhaps Selina Kyle was rooming with Pamela Isley at the time, and shared Ivy's wardobe...

Anonymous said...

Dick was definitely high school age in the TV show because there were several references to his studies and a Joker episode that largely took place at his high school.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell Barbara Gordon was forced upon the Batbooks by the TV series (back in the day the printed books were changed to reflect other media, rather than producing "tie-in" series)and one of the ways they sought to avoid a similar dynamic (and fate) with the previous Kanes (Kathy and Betty) was to place her squarely between Bruce and Dick agewise. Too old to consider Robin, and too young (and hip!) to date Batman. Making her a "family member" would seemingly ensure that she couldn't be "limboed" as the previous Batgals had been as well.
Selina's green outfit WAS awful, but the overall look was similar to the TV version's costume. They probably were looking for something other than the dark tone of Batgirl's duds to distinguish them and settled upon green. I thought the purple that she usually wore would have worked better, even on that look.
Dick had been a circus performer, which, back when he was created, would involve garish costumes, so the Robin thing "fit" his character. Shorts are incredibly easy to move in, if you are running or doing gymnastics. It's the cape that's problematic.

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