A Study in Bronze: Empty Graves and Empty Nests

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(Hey, I said I’d try to get this out on Monday nights.)

First, we must define our terms.

The Bronze Age of Comics is said to generally fall between 1970 to about 1985-1986, depending on when you want to pinpoint the era’s end. It’s an incredibly vague description, really; more than likely thought up well after the fact of the time period going into full swing. Unlike the Golden, Silver and Modern Ages, there’s no real massive flashpoint for the beginning of the Bronze Age. There is, in my humble opinion, a point of no return for the whole era, but that’s still down the road. For now, let’s ask ourselves a question: why am I starting my mad little quest through the Bronze Age in 1969?

For one, my blog, my rules. For another, it gives me a chance to touch on the early appearances of some notable figures of the Bronze Age, both real and fictional. The former is what interests us right now, for our subject for today is Detective Comics #395 (cover dated Jan. 1970), the first appearance of the O’Neil/Adams team.

Note: Allow me to explain the discrepancy. Cover dates for comics generally put the date as two to three months after the comic is initially published, so a book with the cover date of May 2017 would more than likely have come out around February or March. From my research (i.e. Wikipedia) DC was on a two month discrepancy at the time, so the issue we’re talking about today probably came out sometime between October or November.

For those of you who have no idea who I’m talking about, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were a comic book writer/editor and comic book artist respectively. To say that both these men would have a transformative and, dare I say, a possibly profound effect on DC’s output in the Bronze Age would be a gross understatement. But let’s cross those bridges later; right now, my dear friends, we must focus on the story at hand, “The Secret of the Waiting Graves!”

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I love this panel

The story we get is a rather simple one, but effective and entertaining nonetheless. Our villains are a married couple named Juan and Dolores Muerto, and they’re throwing a fabulous little soirée in a graveyard at their Mexican estate (they must be related to the Addams family), with every socialite in the western hemisphere invited. They use the party is actually a front to eliminate one Pedro Valdes, an undercover cop investigating the two*. Batman is there as millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, naturally (and dressed in one of the Third Doctor’s suits), and manages to save Pedro from the Muerto’s assassination attempts, the first of which involves setting up a late night hot air balloon race and sending trained falcons to rupture the balloon and make poor Pedro fall to his doom**.

After the second assassination attempt (which goes the more sober route of having a sniper shoot at the poor bastard) the Muertos take Pedro to an abandoned monastery and reveal why the birth years on their graves peg both Juan and Dolores to having been born in the mid-nineteenth century: there’s a special breed of flower that grown in the monastery that can confer immortality…at the cost of the person’s own sanity. Pedro tries to arrest the two, Dolores knocks Pedro out with a judo chop to the back of the neck, and Batman shows up to try and do a slightly more competent job with capturing these two. Sadly, he steps into the flowers, and faster than you can say Timothy Leary, the Dark Knight finds his mind going through a pink-hued hellscape.

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Bat Drug Trip #386

The Muertos tie up the two and sick their pet falcons on them, because when you have killer birds, it’s a waste not to use them to eliminate your enemies. Bruce powers through, thanks to sheer willpower and the falcon’s attack snapping his mind back to reality. He escapes his bonds, gets Valdes and himself the hell out of dodge, and uses a torch Juan dropped to burn the Muerto’s stash. (I guess Pedro was a narc.)

Not wanting to see their ticket to immortality turn to ash, Dolores rushes to stop the blaze, Juan following after her. Juan starts giving a speech about how excitement causes the years to come back rapidly, which to me seems like an excuse to give the World’s Greatest Detective an out of committing accidental manslaughter. The Muertos age to death and ironically fall into their own graves and we’re done.

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What I find most fascinating it how much this story seems to represent the early encroachment of the Bronze Age. The story, from my very limited perspective, seems to fit in with the style of the time, but the two men involved help give it a unique flavor. O’Neil’s writing is melodramatic, yes, but it’s the good kind of melodramatic; never going too over the top and engaging the reader. The Muertos, while thinly sketched as characters, are nevertheless compelling one-off antagonists. And I can’t help but think of this a precursor to what O’Neil will eventually introduce with Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adams’ art is probably the highlight of this story to me. He’s already got his version of the Bat down (probably helped by the covers for Detective Comics he did before this) and the expressions he gives people are just so dynamic…yet, still somehow human. Every panel seems to have a sort of raw energy to it. Like, look at this shot of Valdes’ face when his balloon is attacked by the killer hawks:

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You can just see the terror in the guy’s eyes, can’t ya?

Detective 395 also has a story Robin story written by the then current main writer on the book, Frank Robbins. The yarn, “Drop Out…or Drop Dead!” is the second part of a story Robbins started in Det. 394, where the no-longer-a-Boy Wonder is caught in a scheme to discredit the university he’s attending by framing the police for police brutality against student protesters***. Dick figures out that the cops are phony and that the plan’s being led by a bunch of criminals wanting to get back at the cops. Dick, of course, foils the plan (after getting knocked out, kidnapped, changing into Robin while trapped in an empty silo, accidentally helping the phony cops plans by beating the stuffing out of the protesters, getting knocked out again, escaping, changing back into Dick and crashing one of the fake police cars into the one the fake pigs are driving) and gives a quite bland speech that somehow solves the unrest.

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And everyone in the crowd immediately thought Grayson was an undercover cop for the rest of the year.

On its own, “Drop Out…or Drop Dead!” is an average story at best with some pretty good Gil Kane art. Compared to “The Secret of the Waiting Graves!” this just feels stale. I don’t mean that as an insult to either Robbins or Kane; I’m sure both were incredibly talented and professional cats. But neither of these men seems to be working at their full potential with this story…which, given it’s a backup story; I can’t really blame ‘em.

So the Bronze Age tentatively crawls forward; not fully replacing the old order but making its coming known. I hope you enjoyed this first entry and come back when we have another. And to those who think I haven’t talked about Denny and Neal enough, don’t worry; this isn’t the last O’Neil/Adams joint we’ll be covering.

*The investigation was started when la policía realized that there was a couple named Muerto running around and, having some degree of awareness of what universe they live in, immediately figured they were evil.
**Don’t ask me why the balloon race/killer falcons plan was their first assassination idea.
***This just makes me wonder what Robbins thought when the Kent State shootings happened months later. Yeah, I know that was the Ohio National Guard, but I still wonder.
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A Study in Bronze: Introduction

I need to get back on track.

Allow me to explain myself a bit: I started the Obsessive Geek Blog mostly to start fresh with this whole blogging hobby. My first blog, One Man’s Obsession(s), was something I kept up for years but never was able to get a stable readership for. That’s entirely my fault; I let the blog fall by the wayside for various reasons (writer’s block, disinterest, procrastination, ect). So when I discovered that my page view figures for OMO(s) were being goosed up by some anonymous Russian spam site, I decided it was time to move on to green pastures.

But it seems all I’ve done is trade procrastinating on one hosting site for another. As of this writing, I haven’t posted anything regularly on the Obsessive Geek Blog since December of last year. That’s just pure, unadulterated laziness, right there; Sloth of the highest accord. We must do better, Jordan. We must do better.

And I thought, in my eternal solitude, that a project was just the thing I needed. Yes, a project. Something to keep me focused. Something that can keep my typing fingers going and my passions alight.

So, what do I do? Another marathon month, like I did last October? No, I need a project without a definite end date; a good, long undertaking.

I need, I need…..

Then suddenly, a week or so ago, a truly unique feeling came over me. An intoxicating siren call I had not heard in years, pulling me towards what I believe now is my ultimate destiny. I wanted to read a Batman story. Not just any Batman story. I wanted to read….

Joker'sFiveWayRevenge

And the Dark Knight provided.

….and my eyes opened. An idea, great and powerful, took hold of my brain. It refuses to let go, no matter my procrastinating nature.

And so, without further ado, I bring to you

 

A Study in Bronze:

A Very Informal Survey of Comic Books

From 1969-1986

 

Now, I’m sure you all have some question as to what the hell I’m doing. As such, I’m going to be an incredibly presumptuous jackass and do a little Q and A for you, theoretical reader.

  • So, why are you doing this?

As I stated earlier, I first and foremost want to give myself a project to get myself back on track with my blog. I’ve basically ignored the poor thing for months and I don’t want to spend another minute just doing nothing with it.

Second, I just find the Bronze Age of Comics fascinating. It, from my perspective, seemed like the most fluid, for lack of a better term, of the pre-Crisis comic books periods: socially conscious, yes, but not married to the violent spasms towards “realism” and “maturity” that still crop up to this day. Being a time period that lasted for the better portion of two decades, it changed as the culture, changed, while still retaining its own identity. Not to mention that there are some damn good stories going on in that time period.

Third is nostalgia. Not for the ’70s, of course; I was born on May 4th, 1990. But I did watch an astonishing amount of cartoons growing up in the ‘90s, and those cartoons were, to varying degrees, influenced by this particular time period of comic book history than anything that cropped in the Dark Age. I remember reading Amazing Spider-Man #121 and #122, known as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”, and “The Green Goblin’s Last Stand” respectively, and getting this funny feeling that melodramatic dialogue and tone felt familiar somehow. Surprise, surprise, I find that the same type of melodramatic delivery was used in the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon show

That’ not all, of course; there was also the much venerated Batman: The Animated Series, which hued more to the tone of Bronze Age than anything happening to the Dark Knight in the ‘90s, be it in his comics or his live action blockbusters. Hell, B:TAS straight up adapted several Bronze Age stories, including The Laughing Fish (which sprinkled together bits of its titular comics tale with the earlier published “Joker’s Five Way Revenge”), one of my favorite episodes of the series.

And it goes without saying that without Claremont’s run the X-Men would not be the powerhouse franchise it is/was. So I have engendered a sort of affection for the time period, even if I didn’t live through it myself.

  • What Will You Be Covering?

Generally, I’ll be covering comic books published from the late 1970s to around 1986 from the “Big Two”, DC Comics and Marvel Comics. I will do this until

A: I feel satisfied in my coverage of the time period

Or

B: I drive myself hopelessly insane in this undertaking.

And that doesn’t mean I’ll only be covering mainstream American comics exclusively. Hell, I won’t even be covering comic books exclusively: other comic related media that became popular or warped the public perception of certain characters will be covered as well (i.e. yes, Superman: the Movie is going to be a subject of my informal analysis at one point).

  • When will these posts come out?

When they’re done; I’m not even going to pretend that I can keep up to a schedule while blogging. I will try, repeat, try to get one post out every Monday night, but I make no promises.

  • Will you be covering everything issue by issue?

To quote Will Smith in mid to late 90s’: oh hell no! Sometimes we’ll be doing an issue by issue analysis, and others I’ll be giving brief summaries. Have to at least try to keep my sanity.

  • Where Will You Begin?

We will begin Detective Comics #395; when Denny O’Neil began his writing duties for the World’s Greatest Detective.

  • Where Will You End?

I believe I’ll end with the Punisher’s five issue limited series.

So stay tuned, nerds and nerdettes, the best is yet to come