Wednesday, April 29, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Detective Comics #388

Detective Comics #388 (On Sale: April 29, 1969) has a so-so Batman cover by Irv Novick. The big news on this cover though is not the art, it is the price! DC comics used their flagship title to usher in the era of 15 cent comics.

I wish I could say the lead-off Batman story was worth the extra three cents, but it isn't. "Public Luna-Tic Number One" by John Broome, Bob Brown and Joe Giella is laughably bad. I think Broome had been watching too many episodes of the Batman TV show; every line of dialog Robin has rings of Burt Ward's over-the-top delivery and it may have seemed cool in 1969, I don't remember, but in retrospect it's just grating.

There is a crime spree going on in Gotham being perpetrated by someone the press has dubbed Public Luna-tic Number One because the crimes were all committed under a full moon. The Dynamic Duo are tooling around Gotham discussing how they think he must be the Joker when they see a light on at the planetarium. Rushing in they find the Joker and his henchmen. A fight ensues and the Joker and his men get away.

Sometime later Bruce Wayne attends a demonstration of believed crack-pot scientist Dr. Doomer, who has invented an anti-gravity device. He tests if for some military fellows and it fails to do anything. The Army brass storm out vowing to never attend another one of Dr. Doomer's demonstrations, but Bruce hangs back and he and the doctor discover that a fake device has been substituted for Dr. Doomer's anti-gravity device. When they pull a string they find in the fake device a recording of the Joker's laugh plays.

The next full moon finds the Joker's gang at Gotham Central Station where they use the anti-gravity device to disable the police while they steal funds from the cash drawers. The Joker himself pushes the alarm button and they await the arrival of Batman and Robin. Joker's men have been practicing with the anti-gravity device for weeks and are therefore able to subdue Batman and Robin, knocking them out cold.

When they awake they are in space suits on the moon, where Joker explains through a radio in their suits that since America is going to the moon he wants to be the greatest criminal on the moon and has decided that his first lunar crime will be to kill Batman and Robin. Figuring out that they are not really on the Moon (duh!), the Dynamic Duo bound through the underground cave they are in until they find the Joker and his men, subduing them and destroying the anti-gravity device in the ruckus.

They take the broken device back to Dr. Doomer who laments that it will take him years to build another one.

The back-up Batgirl story, "Surprise! This'll Kill You" is by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson and the artwork is just beautiful. Gil Kane's Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is beautiful and sexy and Anderson's smooth inks add just the right touch. Barbara Gordon answers a personals ad offering to share a free apartment with a 5ft. 4in. medium build redhead. She shows up to a hallway of other applicants, all of which DC has given the wrong color of hair. Each woman knocks on the door and is told through the peephole to leave. When Barbara knocks, the door opens and a woman in a Batgirl costume invites her in.

Darlene Dawson explains that she is a flight attendant who is being awarded "Air-Hostess With the Mostest" at the annual airlines costume ball tonight, but that it is also her granddad's 85th birthday and she plans on being in two places at the same time, with Barbara's help of course. Barbara gets into Darlene's Batgirl costume and Darlene heads off to her grandfather's telling Barbara that her escort will be arriving soon. Through the peephole Barbara sees that Darlene's escort is dressed as Batman, but when she opens the door he points a gun at her and threatens to kill her for being a double-crosser.

A fight seemingly between Batman and Batgirl ensues and Barbara falls out the window, supposedly to her death. In reality she maneuvered there in order to fake being killed so she could trail "Batman" back to his leader. She follows him back to the airline costume party where he meets with Superman, Green Lantern and Flash, all members of a diamond smuggling gang of which Darlene was a part. She had apparently been using her position as a flight attendant to smuggle gems into the country, but had been keeping more than her fair share.

The gems that "Batman" had recovered from Barbara are found to be fakes and Barbara confronts the gang only to be outnumbered and without her own bag of weapons. This story was reprinted in Batman in the Sixties TPB and Showcase Presents: Batgirl Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.

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