A Tribute to the of
This one is gonna be tough. As I looked over the fifth issue in the Zatanna series that we're going through together I couldn't help but think, "Uh-oh, here we go again." As I said in the last review at the very end we're back to Detective Comics, issue #355, September 1966. Now 9 months has elapsed since the last installment and the marketing department at DC seems to have been asleep at the switch. For some odd reason they've suddenly reverted to the "technique" of not revealing that Zatanna appears in this issue. Furthermore, you've got our Caped Crusader, beaten and disheveled on the cover and being held by The Hooded Hangman. The villain is obviously a professional wrestler and the line behind his head says, "Holy Gallows! Batman's life—hanging by a thread!" I tell you, it puts my teeth on edge. When you open the cover, by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, things don't get much better. The splash page shows the Dark Knight locked in a full nelson by the Hangman and he's thinking, "Got to break it—or he'll break my neck!" You know, the last time I did much reading on the Batman I learned that he's mastered many forms of unarmed combat. I have a VERY difficult time swallowing the idea that a wrestler could put him into jeopardy. For that matter it stretches credibility to the breaking point when the story, by John Broome, entitled, "Hate of the Hooded Hangman!" opens at a well-attended wrestling match and the spectators include Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The Lord of Wayne Manor at a wrestling match? What? Was the bowling alley closed for renovations or something? It gets better. After the match, Dick suggests that it might be a hoot if they undertook the challenge of uncovering the Hangman's secret identity. Bruce replies that while it's tempting, it wouldn't be ethical. Spot on, Bruce old boy.
Later, while the Batman is on patrol, he sees none other than the Hangman running along the sidewalk in the proximity of a pawnshop whose shrill burglar alarm is ringing. The World's Greatest Detective tackles the wrestler, who protests that his is innocent and then promptly puts a few moves on our hero and finally cold cocks him against a light pole. (Here's a page of the original black & white art.) Just before he can remove the familiar cowl, however, police sirens cause him to hastily depart, leaving a dazed and confused Masked Manhunter in his wake. End of Part I.
Part II opens at the breakfast table of Wayne Manor where Bruce, sporting a couple of bandages on his face, is telling Dick about last night's adventure. He then discovers in the newspaper that a pair of suspects was nabbed by the police for the pawnshop robbery. Perhaps the Hooded Hangman was telling the truth after all?
The next night it's another patrol and Batman hears a cry for help. Rushing to the scene, he again meets up with the masked wrestler who again claims he is there under less than sinister motives. Batman muses that his voice sounds familiar, and then informs the Hangman that he must accompany him to police headquarters. The wrestler responds with the full nelson hold, which our hero quickly breaks. After a brief but furious fight, filled with such action as Zopp! and Thok!, the Hangman escapes through a nearby door.
Later, in the den of Wayne Manor, Bruce continues to wonder about the Hangman and muses to Dick that if they knew his identity, perhaps they could figure out what he's up to. The television news in the background soon causes Bruce to perk up his ears. He points to the newscaster's face and says that Telman Davies' voice sounds like that of the Hangman and his cheek reveals a mark, identical to the place where Batman landed a blow the prior evening. Dick's response? "Holy Hydrogen Peroxide!" (Groan…)
Fade now to the Gotham City Arena, where a familiar figure is sitting at ringside. The Hangman approaches Batman and proposes that they settle their quarrel once and for all. Our hero agrees and they leave the arena for a nearby rooftop where a new battle ensues. The Hooded Hangman manages to get Batman into the dreaded Hangman's Knot and after Bruce succumbs to unconsciousness, the wrestler removes his cowl to reveal…Telman Davies! Startled, the Hangman pauses and the disguised Bruce leaps back into the fray, knocking him cold and turning the tables by removing his hood where he is revealed to be…Telman Davies!
Meanwhile, back at the office of Commissioner Gordon, Batman reveals what has transpired. It seems the Hangman had decided to become Gotham's most famous secret identity, but in order to pull it off, he had to put Batman out of the way, so he staged the meetings with the Dark Knight to try and unmask him. Gordon replies that Davies was fired from the TV station and has disappeared from Gotham City. The tale ends with a bitter Davies aboard a ship bound for South America as he bemoans his failure to unmask his rival, the Batman. This story was reprinted in 1974's Limited Collectors' Edition #C-25.
Okay, we struggled through that one. Now we go to the backup story where Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man, deals with "The Tantalizing Troubles of the Tripod Thieves!" Carmine Infantino supplies art for this story.
Things get right down to matters as we peek in on a pair of jewel thieves plying their trade. In the next incredible instant, the two unintentionally take flight and begin crying for help when who should be driving by in his convertible, but The Elongated Man. Using his stretching ability, Ralph quickly snakes his arms up to grab the thieves. As he draws them near to him, he peppers them with questions, which they cannot answer when they suddenly shoot upward again. As the inevitable recoil takes place, they each extend a fist to clock Ralph on the chin. Then it's skyward yet again as they desperately explain that they didn't purposely strike him. When they come back down again, E.M. has had about enough of being a punching bag and he uses his feet to knock them senseless. Even unconscious, however, they batter him and finally knock him out. As they fly away under the power of the strange force that has been dictating their actions, Ralph's famous mystery-sniffing nose begins its familiar twitch. He reaches over to the dropped bags of jewels and notices that that some of the pearls glow when held in a particular place. They seem, in fact, to follow the flight path of the crooks, so he decides to use them as a guide.
While the ductile detective follows his nose, we join the airborne crooks at their ultimate destination, Fantasy Props, Inc., where they encounter none other than the magician Zatanna. Demanding to know why they're there, the duo soon learns that Zatanna had come to this store to purchase the Golden Ting Tripod, only to learn it had been stolen and by them. Replying that the tripod is worthless, the maid magician responds that the Chinese sorcerers who fashioned it had coated the solid gold with dross metal and then a gold plating to fool thieves. Unable to find it, Zatanna has decided that the next best thing is to find the thieves so they can take her to it. Meanwhile, the owner of the store has been listening in the shadows and is determined to recover the priceless tripod for himself. Emerging with a pistol, he subdues Zatanna, due largely to the fact that her magic has suddenly failed her. In yet another twist, we find that Ralph has been just outside the prop shop, also listening in and his thoughts reveal that he is aware of Zatanna's quest. He feels the time is ripe for the Elongated Man to join the list of heroes who have tried to assist the magician in her search for her father, Zatara. Stretching forth a long arm, Ralph knocks the pistol from the owner's hand and the fight is on with Dibney calling all his stretching ability into play to knock the two thugs out while Zatanna engages the owner with some good old-fashioned judo. She then discovers a book that has fallen from his pocket that has magical properties. It is the book of I Ching and now that it has been set aside, she can cast her spells to finish him off as well.
In the aftermath, the two heroes confer and Zatanna explains that it was her magic that was causing the odd behavior of the jewel thieves, but that she had no way of knowing what was keeping them from answering her beckoning. She then states that with the Ting Tripod and I Ching book she can now use them to control the forces of black magic, which will allow her to enter the dark realm where she hopes to find Zatara at last. Ralph pleads to join her, but she reluctantly tells him that no normal human being could exist there and so she must go it alone.
The final panels take us to the Dibney residence where Ralph is recounting his latest adventure to his wife, Sue. When she asks why the owner of the shop suddenly turned crooked, Ralph explains that the shop was only a cover for a stolen goods operation. That wraps up this latest case for the Elongated Man and takes us one step closer to the conclusion of the Zatanna series.
I had a tough time with this one, faithful readers. The lead story frankly stunk. More pandering to the silly (yet very popular) television series and a complete disregard for the accurate portrayal of what Batman should be all about. I was disappointed, yet again in the way one of my favorite characters was handled. The second story, which of course was the true focus of this review, was so short (9.66 pages) and unimaginative that it almost seemed like an afterthought. Maybe someone (Detective Comics editor Julius Schwartz, perhaps?) said, "Hey, Gardner (Fox)! You haven't done anything on the Zatanna series in awhile, how about knocking something out before the readers lose all interest?" This wasn't much of an addition to the quest as far as I'm concerned, though I must confess I like the way Carmine Infantino drew Zatanna. She was quite…fetching. Despite that, this one is rated at a 4 on my 10-point scale. It was very simply nothing to write home about.
Do not lose heart, though. The next review contains the climax of this series. It promises to be done in style, too, as Zatanna joins the entire Justice League! You won't want to miss out on this one, so c'mon back in two weeks for the conclusion. In the interim, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long live the Silver Age!
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