Friday, December 28, 2012
Frank Robbins just doesn't get enough love!
When it comes to the creative people on Batman, we hear a lot about people like Dennis O'Neil, Bob Kane, Marshall Rogers, Jerry Robinson, Neal Adams, Bill Finger, Frank Miller, Steve Englehart, Don Newton and many others.
But Frank Robbins ... well, he's not completely unknown, but he wrote Detective Comics for a long time. He wrote most of the issues between 1968 and 1973. He wrote the lead feature - Batman - and he wrote backup stories for Batgirl and Jason Bard.
He wrote all the early Man-Bat stories! He wrote the "Barbara Gordon runs for Congress" issues!
"The Gal Most Likely To Be - Batman's Widow!" THAT was Frank Robbins!
So it's quite a run, and I think he should get a little more credit. Hence, this post, my first Batman Friday post devoted to a creator.
I love these stories! The pacing sometimes seems off to the modern comic book reader, but that's because there were no continued stories and, in addition, There were two stories - and sometimes more - in every issue. So that means the writer had to do EVERYTHING in 16 or fewer pages. Introduce the main characters and the main plot elements, develop the plot threads, and bring it all together in a satisfying conclusion - Frank Robbins did it every time.
It does take a little getting used to, I admit, but only a little, and eventually you realize that you are privileged to be able to read Frank Robbins' Batman. (I always imagine that, when he's involved in a long and complicated caper involving the Joker or R'as al Ghul, Batman takes a break by slipping into a Frank Robbins story. Just for the boost he must get from the sense of accomplishment he feels when he solves a case in a mere 15 pages.)
And Frank Robbins was also an artist. He drew comic strips going back all the way to the late 1930s. He's probably most famous for drawing "The Invaders" - which was one crazy comic, as I recall - and he also drew Captain America for a a time, a run that includes one of my favorite Red Skull storylines (#184 to #186).
He didn't draw Batman very often, though. But he did draw a few, including the Man-Bat story in Detective Comics #429. Here's the cover (drawn by the amazing Nick Cardy, not by the amazing Frank Robbins):
And here's the splash page, definitely by Frank Robbins:
Let's see. What crazy-ass crap is going down in this story, titled "Man-Bat Over Vegas!" Hmm.
There's a series of vampire attacks in Las Vegas. Batman suspects that the Langstroms - those crazy Langstroms! - are involved. So off he goes to Las Vegas.
(Perhaps I should mention, for the uninitiated, that the Langstroms are Kirk and Francine. They've both imbibed of the serum that turns people into man-sized bats. (But not into vampires, per se.) And they are in the Southwest studying bats, and that's why Batman is suspicious.)
So Batman hires a showgirl to stand on the roof at the "Aces-Hi" skytop cabaret to act as bait for the "vampire." And it works within about four panels! The man-sized bat attacks and Batman mixes it up with the creature for a few pages. The Man-Bat escapes and Batman follows in a helicopter. And the key moment is when he finds a Band-Aid stuck to his glove. (???????)
From there, we quickly roll to the conclusion.
SPOILER ALERT!! Story's big twist about to be revealed ahead!
It's not Kirk! It's Francine! She was bitten by a vampire bat while studying them in the Southwest. (Vampire bats don't usually venture this far north, but these are special vampire bats. This seeming mistake is addressed in the story.) The bite of the vampire bat somehow interacted with the Man-Bat serum in Francine's blood and she turned into a blood-sucking, man-hunting, giant bat during the full moon.
Batman and Kirk subdue Francine and the story ends with them taking her to a hospital for a full blood transfusion.
Those Langstroms are a couple of FREAKS! Even the Dibnys shun them.
I hate to imagine what would happen if the Langstroms ever had a baby! Oh, wait! I don't have to imagine it! It happened! Perhaps I will start off the new year with a post on that particular story. (It happened in Detective Comics.)
Frank Robbins did not write Batman much longer after the "Man-Bat Over Vegas!" story. Detective Comics #436 would be his last issue. But he had done his part with several years' worth of entertaining short stories about Batman.
I like to think of him as the James Thurber of Batman writers.
Frank Robbins is definitely one of the reason why we love Detective Comics.