Friday, April 06, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics


Do you see that? 100 pages for only 60 cents!

I mean:


Yeah, that's what the 1970s were like. For a few years, DC Comics offered these really thick comic books, 100 pages worth of comics, and it was only 60 cents!


I lived through it, I still have some of those comics, and I can still hardly believe that it was real!

Here's the one we're going to be talking about, Detective Comics #443, with a cover date of October-November 1974. (This is from the period when Detective Comics was published bi-monthly.)

Sometimes they were all reprints. But most of the time, the lead feature was brand new and the rest was reprints of old comic books dating back to the early 1940s. Each issue was a little piece of pop culture history, and there was all kind of crazy-ass King Hell capers going on in those crazy stories.

Detective Comics #443 starts off with Batman and Manhunter in a story written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Walt Simonson. (This is NOT the same character as The Martian Manhunter that I wrote about recently. This is the Paul Kirk version of the Manhunter and I don't really feel like going into this character's somewhat convoluted history. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. You're on your own with this one.) This lead story is the conclusion of a Manhunter storyline that had been running since Detective #437 and, sad to say, I've only read a few of the chapters. So I don't really have too much to say about it. I'm definitely intrigued and I would like to eventually read the rest of it. I will say that it's highly regarded by a lot of the Bronze Age babies (as those of us who read comics in the 1970s are sometimes called), so it's probably worth a look.

The rest of this comic book is reprints, and what glorious reprints they are! From More Fun Comics #65 (1941), we get The Spectre fighting a mysterious figure called The Blue Flame, who robs all the spectators at the theater where the magician Dr. Mephisto is performing. The Spectre does his thing, grabs the culprit's assistant, drags him across time and space, threatens him with a giant purple dinosaur with horns and a snake tongue, gets the information he needs and, through a few more pages of wildly improbable adventures, finally unmasks the real culprit!

The early Spectre stories are CRAZEE! During the Golden Age, he only lasted from 1940 to the end of 1944. I think they just ran out of ideas! The earliest stories were just so insane that there was just nowhere else to go after a few years.

Next up is a story called "The End of Sports," a Green Lantern adventure from All-American Comics #98 (1948). This is the Alan Scott incarnation, the guy with the wacky costume. He had a power ring that he could use to do pretty much whatever he wanted, but it was useless against wood for some reason. Here, he fights The Sportsmaster, one of those crazy theme villains that we love so much. He uses sports-related weapons and traps, and he appeared a few times in the 1940s. The potential for some REALLY DUMB comic bookery is very high with a character called The Sportsmaster, but I find The Sportsmaster stories that I've read to be very inventive. This is some fun comic-book writing. The Alex Toth art doesn't hurt a bit!

This is followed by the longest story in Detective Comics #443, "The Coming of the Creeper" from Showcase #73 (1968). The editors didn't always go all the way back to the 1940s for some crazy-ass comics. They didn't have to. They just had to reach back to 1968, just a few years in the past, to find this amazing little gem, drawn by the amazing Steve Ditko. Yes, it's true, it wasn't 20 or 30 years old like most of the other stories in this issue, but it was already a cult classic of sorts by 1974, definitely worthy of inclusion among the random reprints of this comic book. It may not have been "The First Smash Hit of '68!" like it says on the cover. (Well ... maybe it was!) But I know if I had picked up Detective #443 in 1974, I wouldn't have been the least bit disappointed that one of the stories was from just a few years previously.

I'm not going to describe the first Creeper story. It has to be seen to be believed. Man, that Ditko cat came up with some crazy-ass shit!

The final story in Detective Comics #443 is a Batman and Robin story, "The Secret of Hunter's Inn" from Batman #18 (1943). The villains are Tweedledee and Tweedledum. You see, they are these villainous fat guys named Deever and Dumfree Tweed who are identical twins, even though they are cousins, and they build a tavern that's identical to a nearby tavern and they steer rich dudes to their fake tavern and they rob them and the guy who owns the other tavern gets blamed and Batman and Robin show up and ...

Yeah, it makes no sense. I swear I didn't make this up! Tweedledee and Tweedledum are real Batman villains.

You know, it's kind of fun when some of it makes even less sense than usual.

And that's why we love Detective Comics!


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