Friday, May 11, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics


I guess I remember The Spook.

I remember in 1977, when DC published the "Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?" series, there were a bunch of extraneous Batman villains hanging about, some of them serving on the jury. One of them was The Spook. And I think I already knew there was a Batman villain called The Spook. So I must have seen an ad for a comic book with The Spook. Or maybe he was mentioned in a letters column in Batman or Detective.

So I got this comic pretty recently. It's Detective Comics #488, cover-dated February/March 1980. It's from that era when DC was publishing gigantic comic books, almost no ads, and bunches of brand-new stories. They cost a dollar when comic books were forty or fifty cents. This has a lead Batman story in addition to shorter tales featuing Batgirl (just after her stint as a U.S. congresswoman), Robin, the Elongated Man and a story about a Gotham City transit cop.

I love the $1 comics of the late 1970s. At the time, I wasn't so thrilled with them. I'm pretty sure I didn't buy a single one off the stands when they were brand new. But I eventually bought the six issues of Adventure Comics that have the Justice Society (as well as Flash, Wonder Woman, Deadman and I forgot what else) and I've grown to appreciate the unknown joys of these comics. (Such as the awesome Joe Staton art in the JSA series in Adventure Comics.)

The best thing about these comics is the modest offerings from some of the great artists of yesteryear. Detective Comics #488, for example, provided a showcase for the likes of Don Newton, Dan Adkins, Johnny Craig (yes, THAT Johnny Craig, who drew so many of those great horror stories for EC in the 1950s), Ed Barretto, Joe Giella, Kurt Schaffenberger and Vince Colletta. I especially like the Jose Delbo and Frank Chiaramonte art on the Batgirl feature.

But let's get back to The Spook. He first appeared a few years earlier, in Detective Comics #434 in 1973, and he appeared a few times over the next few years. He seems to be a guy with some very impressive parlor tricks. It's surprising that the Batman had so much trouble with him, until you remember that this is the stupid Bronze Age Batman we're talking about.

In Detective Comics #488, there's a guy on Death Row who's written a book about prison and it's become a best-seller. So the villainous book agent and the villainous publisher and the villainous major stockholder and the villainous ghost writer all decide that it would be a good idea to hire The Spook to get the dude out of prison so he can write them another best-seller.


So The Spook tricks Batman into coming to the prison and he uses his hypnotic ray (which Batman is apparently immune to) to make everybody think Batman is the dude who's going to be executed. So the guards put Batman in the condemned man's cell (he's going to go into the electric chair at midnight) and The Spook drugs Commissioner Gordon and takes his place and pretends to have a heart attack so Gordon can't possibly help Batman out of his predicament and The Spook taunts Batman with a glowing green balloon that looks just like The Spook and, uh, somehow Batman uses the remains of the balloon after it pops to overpower the guards when they show up to take him on the last mile and then he goes and apprehends The Spook because he guesses that the only people who would want to free the condemned best-selling author would be the villainous publishing company people.

The End.

Not the dumbest comic book I've ever read, but you can see why Hollywood's biggest stars are not busting down Christopher Nolan's door so they can play The Spook in a Batman movie.

It takes all kinds to make a world. Even a fictional world.

Especially a fictional world.


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