Monday, September 6, 2010
The Bat and the Demon (part 2): Batman 243
Batman #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 choreographed 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 into 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 into 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 Molly'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 addition 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?