JEFF ALAN POLIER Returns with MY FIRST ISSUE… of Batman!

26 Sep

Hey everyone, Mike here. There’s going to be some more guest work on the site, thanks to my crazy schedule and burned-up hand… Hope you enjoy Jeff’s Batman piece! Let us know what you think!

Take it away, Jeff:

My First Issue of Batman

Batman #247

February, 1973
Batman 247 cover
            Just like my first Superman comic, my first Batman comic came from my Dad’s parents’ house. I called Grandma Onda recently and asked her why she had so many comics (there were over seventy of them). Her first answer is that she can’t remember what she had for breakfast yesterday, so how could she remember what happened 30+ years ago? Her serious answer was that she was fairly sure she would just pick up some of them on a whim but that many of them had been put in Christmas stockings and then left at their house. The Christmas stocking idea works particularly well for the issues of Superman and Batman. Despite their February 1973 cover dates, they would have actually been released in December 1972. This issue was written by Denny O’Neil. The interior art was by Irv Novick (part one only) and Dick Giordano. The editor was, of course, Julius Schwartz.
            Dick Giordano’s cover is quite thrilling. Batman is strapped to a New Year’s ball. (You know—the kind that drops to the ground at midnight to kick off the new year.) Above Batman, riding the ball down, is a red-haired terrorist in a gas mask. His left hand grasps the cable the ball slides down (which I think would hurt as he isn’t even wearing a glove) and his right hand holds a vial of something emitting fumes even though it has a cork. The terrorist is bragging: “At the stroke of midnight…everybody in Gotham gets struck dead!” Just to hammer that point home, the “happy” part of the “Happy New Year” printed on the globe has been crossed out and “Deadly” painted above it. Deadly New Year, indeed. The crowd of literally hundreds below are all standing shocked or running in terror. I find it amazing how much emotion Giordano was able to give these background characters when they are really little more than stick figures.
            Part one of the story is entitled “Merry Christmas” and is six pages long. A young couple and their child struggle to reach a lonely house in a snow storm. Approaching the same house from the opposite direction is Batman. The family reaches the house first and ask to come in because their car broke down. The owner rudely tells them to go away but a voice behind him tells the apparent Grinch to let them in. Once inside, the young wife recognizes the person who told the owner to let them in. He is Chimp Manners, a criminal who stole a vial of nerve gas from the Army. Manners informs them that they are all going to die. “Including me, Manners?” comes the voice of Batman from the front door. Manners pulls a gun on Batman but the Dark Knight Detective quickly disarms him.
            Manners still has an ace in the hole, though: the nerve gas. He reasons that he may as well open it rather than be captured and demands that Batman return his gun to him. He escorts all five of his hostages outside. He plans on using the house for a while and doesn’t want bodies in it. Before he can shoot anybody, a bright light blinds him. He fires wildly and misses. Batman knocks him out with one mighty blow. Batman comments that he would like the thank whoever it was that shot the flare and blinded Manners. The home owner, a professional astronomer for 40 years, informs Batman that it may have been a freak occurrence but the bright light was definitely a star.
            The rest of the issue is part two: “…And a Deadly New Year!” It begins just a few minutes after part one. Batman is handcuffed to Manners and dragging him to a waiting car. (A car that is, for reasons not explained, a Mustang and not the Batmobile.) Batman informs Manners that Commissioner Gordon and a squad of officers will be waiting for them at the Gotham City limits. Manners is unnaturally confident they won’t make it to Gotham. Manners was right, though, and a truck loaded with Christmas trees cuts off their car on the snowy road. Batman’s Mustang is forced into a snowy embankment. Batman realizes that no truck should be hauling Christmas trees on Christmas morning and jumps out, ready for battle. His instincts are right and thugs jump out of the trees on the back of the truck. Normally, these three thugs would be no match for him but Manners is still handcuffed to Batman’s wrist and is doing his best to impede Batman’s ability to battle. A sap (AKA blackjack) ends the fight and Batman is unconscious. A mysterious fifth villain orders the others to take his car and leave their truck.
            Short digression here. Why didn’t they kill Batman? No idea. Did they lift his mask and take a peek? Of course not. Why leave him the truck instead of taking both vehicles? I have absolutely no idea.
            Batman wakes up 15 minutes later and discovers that the villains took the nerve gas back from him. The only clue he can find in the truck that they left is an invitation to a charity New Year’s Eve Gala in Gotham.
            When he finally arrives at police headquarters to report his failure to Commissioner Gordon, Gordon has even more bad news for him. A note has been delivered demanding that Boss Halstrom must be released from prison or the nerve gas will be deployed in Gotham by midnight Saturday. The obvious plan—let Halstrom out and tail him—won’t work because he had a heart attack the previous night and has gone to his just reward (someplace very, very warm, one would presume).
            Back in the “lavish penthouse” belonging to Bruce Wayne, Bruce explains the situation to Alfred and Dick. The fact that the bad guys knew what route to take to stop Batman from returning with Manners to Gotham tells them that there is a mole in the GCPD. Bruce assigns Dick to go undercover as a cadet as see if he can find the leak at headquarters. Alfred’s job is to find the link between Boss Halstrom and anybody invited to the charity event. Bruce, as Batman, will try and find Manners after visiting Dr. Harris Blaine.
            Dr. Blaine tells Batman what he can about the stolen nerve gas, Project-J. He explains that it is a catalyst and produces toxic fumes when it interacts with the nitrogen in the atmosphere. The fumes would have no color but there might be the smell of violets. Batman pulls his disappearing act without even saying “thanks.”
            On Monday night, “Matches” Malone enters a dive in a bad part of town. He asks the proprietor, Freddy, if Manners has been around. “Matches” can tell that Freddy’s negative reply is a lie and sees a food tray being taken into a back room. In a dark alley outside, the “Matches” identity is replaced with another disguise—that of Batman!
            Batman sneaks in on Manners who is busy bragging about how he (supposedly) took down Batman. Batman surprises him and Manners draws a gun. Batman deflects his arm and Manners’ shot takes out the only light source in the room. As those two shuffle, Manners’ compatriot fires three times in the dark and is certain he has gunned Batman. A mighty left-handed punch flattens the braggart. Batman lights a match and finds that one of those three wild shots went right through the heart of Chimp Manners. This line of investigation is now a (ahem) dead end.
            The next afternoon sees Dick “Robin” Grayson in disguise as blonde cadet. Since he knows that Commissioner Gordon was alone when Batman telephoned him about the Manners arrest, Dick figures there must’ve been a wire-tap. He finds a tap that would have been connected to a now-missing tape recorder. Switching to the familiar red, yellow, and green of Robin, he goes to speak with Gordon. Gordon says that the records show there was a substitute engineer on duty for Christmas. Batman and Robin have now both hit dead-ends!
            Alfred to the rescue! He interrupts Bruce & Dick working out to let them know what he has found about the invitees to the gala. “Three millionaires invited to the New Year’s festivities whose fortunes were in danger—until a month ago, that is! At that time, each apparently receive a large sum of cash!” he tells the Dynamic Duo. Bruce is sure that one of the three, Wilson Ennet, Sandour Grogan, or Marsden van Dyne III, was paid by Boss Halstom to secure his release. They now have only four days to find out which millionaire is also a potential mass-murderer.
            On Thursday night, our mysterious millionaire (MM) has read about Boss Halstrom’s death but, of course, doesn’t believe it. His chauffer and apparent confidant is doubtful that the vial will really be opened. MM assures him that they will, indeed, carry through on their threat but that they will be protected. MM then attaches the nerve gas to an explosive timed to go off at midnight, New Year’s Eve. The chauffer takes the deadly package so it can be placed in a pre-arranged place. (Remember the cover?)
            With only 53 hours remaining, Commissioner Gordon is nearly panicking. The detectives following Ennet, Grogan, and van Dyne have found nothing incriminating. To order an evacuation of the city would cause wide-spread panic. Batman assures him that they can trick the would-be terrorist into revealing himself. Batman & Robin return to the Batcave to prepare some chemical trick.
            It is finally New Year’s Eve. Batman, as Bruce Wayne, attends the same party as the three suspects. At five minutes to midnight, Bruce signals Alfred who breaks a glass bottle. The smell of violets wafts through the ballroom…and Ennet pulls out a gas mask! Bruce, who snuck away and changed clothes, takes out Ennet as Batman. Robin K.O.s the similarly gas-masked chauffer. Batman noticed that Ennet looked towards the window when the violet smell was revealed. Deducing that the bomb must be on the ball, Batman dives out the window and onto the ball. The crowd below is thrilled to see Batman riding the ball to the ground, not knowing that he just disabled the explosive that would have released the nerve gas. “Happy New Year, pally!” shouts one festive civilian. “Yeah…” Batman replies, “…it sure is!”

            Except for the bits of writer fiat I mentioned earlier, this is a great issue. The mystery is engaging, the dialogue (fairly) realistic, and the art in both parts of the story is terrific. This is the standard that I hold other Batman stories to. I expect Batman to be a detective and a hero like he was in this story. When Batman is just being a hero, he just doesn’t seem that smart to me. I love that O’Neil included the detective part of the Dark Knight Detective!

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