Friday, April 19, 2013
Batman has his very own personal Dr. Fu Manchu!
His name is Dr. Tzin-Tzin.
Dr. Fu Manchu is, of course, the iconic Asian mastermind, a shadowy and evil character from the Orient who always has some unwieldy master plan that he hopes to enact with his super-science and his faithful hordes of assassins and warriors. He originally appeared in 13 novels published between 1913 and 1959, written by Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward under the pen name Sax Rohmer. The novels spawned a number of films (with such actors as Boris Karloff, Warner Oland, Christopher Lee and Peter Sellers as Fu Manchu), radio shows, comic books and so on.
(Actually, I could write an entry on Dr. Fu Manchu as one of the reasons to love Detective Comics because, in the very early days of Detective Comics, Fu Manchu was one of the features! It ran from #17 to #28 and I would guess that it's an adaptation of one of the novels. And you may notice that Detecive Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman himself, is included in that run! So Fu Manchu appeared in the very first comic book that Batman ever appeared in!)
Fu Manchu has spawned a number of imitators, the most notable among them being The Mandarin, who used to be Iron Man's arch-enemy, and The Yellow Claw, who had his own comic book in the 1950s and used to pop up sporadically to fight Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man, Nova and the Avengers. (The Mandarin and the Yellow Claw are both Marvel characters, which makes Marvel look kind of greedy. Did they really need two Fu Manchu surrogates, especially when you realize that - for a time - they had Fu Manchu as well?)
Which bring us to Dr. Tzin-Tzin.
That's him. The lemon-colored fellow on this page from Detective Comics #354, 1966.
To defy me is to die!
I guess that, what with Marvel greedily hogging all the "good" Fu Manchu imitators, by the time DC got around to jumping on the Fu Manchu imitator bandwagon, all that was left was Dr. Tzin-Tzin.
He shows up every once in a while with some weird scheme. He took a hiatus after his first appearance, showing up a few years later in Detetcive #408. (He was now affiliated with the League of Assassins and didn't seem quite so ludicrous with Neal Adams drawing him.) A few months after that, he fought Supergirl in Adventure #418. A few years later, in 1977, he appeared in a few issues of Batman, where our hero foiled his atampts to steal New Gotham Stadium or something.
And then he took another hiatus, later showing up in The Peacemaker in the late 1980s.
Not very ambitious. Dr. Tzin-Tzin needs to try harder!
Friday, April 12, 2013
Well, he was never in an issue of Detective Comics, but I still love Mr. Camera for being such a stereotypical lame one-shot Batman villain.
(He's probably not a one-shot villain anymore. Somebody's probably used him for some weird purpose over the lat 15 years. And I don't feel like looking it up. But his single appearance in the classic era of Batman was Batman #81 in 1954.)
He has a suit and tie. And an opera cloak. And a camera on his head.
(Look at the panel where you can see his face through the lens! What is up with that?!)
And his crimes revolve around cameras.
Isn't that a certain type of awesome?
(The people of Gotham City are a bunch of FREAKS!)
The story actually revolves around Robin. It starts off with Dick Grayson going to school and confessing that he is Robin. And that means that Bruce Wayne is Batman! Soon it's all over the news, the talk of Gotham City!
It's just part of an elaborate ruse, you see.
Mr. Camera is about to get out of prison. (The bulk of the story about Mr. Camera took place some time ago, even though it was never revealed until now as part of the explanation as to why Dick Grayson admitted he was Robin.) During hs past escapades matching wits with Batman and Robin, Mr. Camera had set up a camera in an alley next to a crime scene - he liked to film his exploits, you see - and he thinks he filmed Batman and Robin changing from their secret identities! He hid the film before he was apprehended, but he never had a chance to develop it and look at it.
So Batman and Robin attempt a pre-emptive strike. If they debunk yet another "Bruce Wayne is Batman" incident just before Mr. Camera's big reveleation, people will be more likely to just blow it off. So Dick Grayson admits he's Robin, setting off another Batman's Identity Scandal for Bruce Wayne to deal with.
Despite numerous difficulties, they pull it off. Dick Grayson admits he said he was Robin just to impress a girl. The crisis blows over. And then it turns out that Mr. Camera's film was badly overexposed and didn't show anything anyway.
Mr. Camera can't do anything right.
But we love him just the same! Somewhere between Signalman and the Spinner, Mr. Camera takes his place in the Batman pantheon.
Friday, April 05, 2013
There's a certain charm in most of the crude art in the early years of Detective Comics. Oh, sure, some of it was done by dudes like Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang, but a lot of it was ... not quite so dynamic.
And then there was Jack Burnley:
He knew how to draw.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The first issue you ever bought
For me, the first issue of Detective Comics that I picked up at the newsstand was #473.
It was a great place to start! This was the era when Steve Englehart was the writer and Marshall Rogers was the artist. (We mustn't forget the magical inking of Terry Austin.) To some, this era is not just among the best Batman comics, this handful of issues is among the best comics ever! (Count me in!)
I had been buying comics for a few years at this point, and I picked up Batman's own comic book every once in a while, but I had never read an issue of Detective Comics. I'm trying to even remember why I didn't like Detective. Partly it was because I didn't read very much DC, but it was also probably because I just couldn't really get into anthology comics. You know, like Action and Adventure and House of Secrets and stuff like that. I was more used to the Marvel way, and the anthology comic at Marvel (for super-heroes anyway) was long over by the end of 1977, when this issue was published.
I had to get it because it had The Penguin! (You can see his shadow on the warehouse in the cover above.)
Even though I didn't buy Batman on a regular basis back then, I would pick it up if it had one of the great villains on the cover. (And I knew which ones were the great villains because I had seen them on the Adam West TV show when I was a little kid. The Joker! Yay! The Penguin! Yay! The Riddler! Yay! Catwoman! Yay! Egg-Head! Yay! Two-Face! Who's that?)
There's this statue of a penguin. And the Penguin plans to steal it. And there's a bunch of dumb clues. And Robin shows up! (He was busy with the Teen Titans at this point abd hadn't been Batman's regular partner for years.) And the body of Professor Hugo Strange! And Rupert Thorne! And Silver St. Cloud. And the Joker ... well, you don't see him, you just hear him laughing. But just wait until the next issue!
Comics don't get much better than this.
Friday, March 22, 2013
Yes, this is a real guy! I mean, he's a real guy in a comic book! As in, not someone I made up!
Here's the proof, the cover to Detective Comics #300:
That was back in the early 1960s, when the comic book publishers didn't see any reason to make a big deal out of anniversary issues. You see, this here is Detective Comics #300, and not only did they not make a big deal out of it, they sort of did the reverse by putting Mr. Polka Dot in it! (Though, to be fair, it's not really any worse than a lot of the stories in Detective Comics at this time. I mean, they can't all have Batwoman or Bat-Mite or Clayface or Professor Arnold Hugo or aliens that turn Batman into a Zebra-Batman! Be fair!)
I used to have this one, in the late 1970s, when it was about 15 years old. (And this is one of those stories that seemed just as ancient then (when it was 15 years old) as it does now (when it's just passed the half-century mark).) I don't remember it very well, even after reading the synopsis in the Batman encyclopedia (which is an actual book, not a Web site, and I can't figure out how to link to it).
But just look at it! The dude is wearing a white suit with pollka dots on it and he can turn each dot into a weapon! And he rides a giant floating dot! And his gang is probably full of guys with names like Circle Sam and Roundy. And you know his crimes are all based around dots and round things! (The Batman encyclopedia says he steals a black pearl from a foreign dignitary who has a leopard for a pet.)
Yeah, in the early 1960s, there were times when the J'onn J'onzz story was the highlight of Detective.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Stories that make no sense!
It's true! Sometimes Detective Comics presents stories that don't make any sense.
Like the one in #355.
(It has a black and white checkerboard across the top. These are called go-go checks. DC ran these across the tops of their comics for a time in the 1960s. These go-go checks are usually a pretty good sign that you're about to see a story that makes no sense. (And go here for more info on go-go checks.))
So let's see. What's going on in this one.
Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Dick Grayson (Robin) are at a wrestling match in Gotham City. There's this big masked wrestler called the Hangman, and his gimmick is that nobody knows who he is and nobody will ever know until he is defeated and unmasked for the whole city to see. He faces the Arizona Apache and everybody boos the Hangman when the Apache is defeated because the Hangman has became a bad-guy wrestler that everybody wants to see defeated.
After the match, Dick suggests to Bruce that maybe the city's most famous detectives (Batman and Robin, natch) should investigate and find out who the Hangman is!
But if we did it, it would have to be in our spare time - and for our own private satisfaction! We couldn't tell anyone about it - that would be unethical!
Batman goes on patrol by himself - because Dick has to do homework - and he comes across the Hangman running away from the scene of a crime! The Hangman says he's innocent but Batman doesn't believe him, so they fight and the Hangman cleans Batman's clock! He rams him into a fence, swings him around over his head and tosses him headfirst into a lamppost with a loud
The Hangman is about to unmask the stunned Batman, but he loses his nerve and runs off when he hears a police siren. And that's the end of Part 1.
Part 2 opens with Bruce and Dick having breakfast and Bruce has little Band-Aids on his face that look almost like little pieces of toilet paper, as if he cut himself shaving. (Alfred is not present as this is that weird period of time in the 1960s when Alfred was dead. But was he really dead?) The newspaper shows that the Hangman really was innocent. But why was he running? Hmm ...
Batman is on his own again later that night because Robin has exams. And he comes across the Hangman again and they fight, but this time Batman really beats him up and the Hangman just barely manages to escape. Batman thinks his voice is familiar but he just can't quite place it ...
But the next day, Bruce is watching a local news report and he notices that the newscaster has a mark on his cheel where Batman punched the Hangman the night before and then he realizes why the voice is familiar ... the Hangman is the newscaster!
HOLY HYDROGEN PEROXIDE!
says Robin. For some reason.
Well, Batman and the Hangman meet on a rooftop for a big showdown and the Hangman beats Batman and unmasks him and sees his own face! (Because Batman was wearing makeup under the mask for just such an occasion.) Seeing his own face shocks the Hangman enough that Batman manages to recover and takes him out with one last punch.
And the Hangman's motive? I'll let Batman explain it and then we will move on without comment:
The Hangman resolved to beome the most famous secret-identity personality in Gotham City! But in order to achieve that aim he had to eliminate me - his chief masked rival!
The Elongated Man story is pretty dumb as well, but it can't even begin to compete with the lead story. But at least Sue gets a string of pearls!
Friday, March 08, 2013
Well, we love us some Steve Ditko around here, and I thought this might be a good place to say a few words about some of the random stuff you sometimes find in the issues of a comic book like Detective Comics that has been around since 1937 and has been through numerous format changes.
For example, comics legend Steve Ditko, in his many, many years as a comic book writer and artist, only got into Detective Comics four times - in issues #483, #484, #485 and #487. Detective Comics at this time (1979 to 1980) was about as thick as three comics books and it was only a dollar. And there were no ads! (Regular comics were still 50 cents. And there were lots of ads.)
It was an experiment by DC, trying to find a format to cope with inflation. A lot of the comics at DC were published in this format. (Was it a successful experiment? It lasted for 15 bimonthly issues of Detective Comics. It was probably successful at the start and then became less so.)
When filling those pages, the editors at DC seemed to be interested in sticking to the theme, when possible, and Detective Comics was a natural home for Robin, Batgirl and Man-Bat. Then there was Etrigan the Demon. He wasn't really a natural choice for Detective, but he had appeared with Batman a few times in titles like The Brave and the Bold. So Michael Golden drew one story (for #482) and Steve Ditko drew three more. And then the Demon was gone from Detective. (He eventually got his own series again in 1987.)
Etrigan is a Jack Kirby creation, but Kirby had moved on and Ditko took over for a few issues. The Ditko Etrigan looked like this:
(That's him on the right. He's fighting Baron Tyme. Unfortunately, the series was canceled before he could get to Baron Parsley, Baron Sage and Baron Rosemary.)
There was also one story featuring The Odd Man, a character written and drawn by Ditko for "Shade the Changing Man," where it was the backup feature. "Shade the Changing Man" was canceled and The Odd Man became The Odd Man Out and his last story ended up in Detective Comics #487.
(I've never read a single story with The Odd Man. So I don't really know what he's doing here.)
The only one of the issues of Detective Comics with Steve Ditko art that I have is #485. It's a lot of fun!
I'll get the other issues eventually, I guess. Waiting to see how these stories turn out is one of the reasons we love Detective Comics!