A Tribute to the of






For many years now, animators have tried their hand at giving motion and voice to the two-dimensional creations of comic book artists with somewhat mixed results.  I've got tapes of the 17 1940's Superman shorts in glorious Technicolor and they're pretty darned impressive, particularly considering the era.  Later results have had their ups and downs.  For example, I sometimes equate the Super Friends (Gag!) with the 1960's Batman television series.  It was good to see some of our favorite heroes in a Saturday morning cartoon format, but it just didn't quite cut it.  I've enjoyed the JL/JLU offerings of late, as you've heard me comment many times before.  I've caught a few episodes of Teen Titans and I don't know if it's just the fact that I don't care much for the team, am not a particular fan of Japanese animation with the bugged out eyes, huge sweat droplets and grossly distorted mouths when they shout or what, but it hasn't much turned my crank.  Just the other day I stumbled across Krypto, a new series about the super dog from Krypton.  I admit I laughed aloud at the appearance of Ace the Bat-hound and Streaky, the super-cat as well.  It looks like it could be fun in small doses.  All that considered, however, if you haven't caught the new series on the WB or Cartoon Network, The Batman, you, my friend, are missing out.  I've seen two episodes to date, but I've been tremendously impressed.  From that unforgettably eerie instrumental theme song, performed by U2's The Edge, to the genuinely menacing villains I've seen so far (The Penguin and Man-bat,) to the whole dark, dangerous night-time world of Gotham city; I do believe they've got it nailed.  No Robin around; a suspicious, untrusting detective keeping tabs on the Batman; a no-nonsense, helpful-but-not-meddling Alfred and a Dark Knight who goes about his business methodically and purposefully.  A true avenger.  Oh, I'm telling you, it is possibly the best animated interpretation I've seen, even though I like the "Batman, the animated series" version and the current JL/JLU incarnation.   Shoot, I even get a kick out of the old, cranky Bruce Wayne in "Batman Beyond."  Still, there's just something about this one that is very true to what I believe the Batman is all about.  Do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven't already…soon.

I've decided to pull out an issue that has been waiting in the wings for quite some time.  The webmaster sent it to me nearly 8 months ago, but the time just never seemed quite ripe.  Now, perhaps is the time to explore Detective Comics #395 from January of 1970.  The lead tale and subject of this review is "The Secret of the Waiting Graves!"  The story comes to us courtesy of author Denny O'Neil, ably assisted artistically by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano with the legendary Julie Schwartz providing editorial oversight. [Reprinted with a Dick Giordano cover in Dynamic Classics #1, October, 1978.]

The upper half of the splash page sets an eerie tone as we witness the scene.  It is a hillside in central Mexico.  The moon is beginning to rise and two open graves are in evidence with a familiar shadow cast across them and a pair of dark blue boots is visible along with a bit of a blue cape seen fluttering above.

We then shift our focus to a party being thrown by the wealthy Muertos, Juan and Dolores, an obviously Hispanic husband and wife.  The party is actually being thrown in their family burial grounds and the balloon race is about to begin. 

Soon six of the colorful airbags are aloft, racing (if such a thing is really possible with a hot-air balloon; I've seen a few "stampedes" and remain unconvinced) toward the cliff on the far side of the river.  One balloonist drifts away and is startled to see some trained falcons suddenly appear and begin ripping his balloon to pieces.  The pilot, Pedro Valdes, assumes it is his end when his plummet is intercepted by a dark figure that leaps from the edge of a nearby cliff and guides them both past the rocks into the waiting river.  Up on the bank, a surprised and grateful Pedro begins to thank the American hero, but Batman has vanished into the darkness.

We soon discover Bruce Wayne doing a quick change so that he can get back to the Muerto's party.  He thinks to himself that this entire fiesta is very out of character for the reclusive Muerto and he is intent on learning what is going on.  Soon he is introduced to Dolores Muerto who comments upon his youthfulness.  Bruce finds this odd as she doesn't appear to be appreciably older than he and he feels an odd mustiness about her.  He then notes the return of Pedro Valdes and in the next surprising moment, a brazier by the man explodes.  Bruce believes he's heard a muffled report of a rifle, as well.  He excuses himself and does another change, back to the familiar garb of the Batman.  After a swift journey of about 100 yards, the World's Greatest Detective leaps into the midst of a small group of riflemen, his otherworldly appearance bringing the desired effect; the men are terrified.  One by one, they fall under the skilled combat maneuvers of this superbly trained athlete.  Then, one of the men blows into a whistle and a pair of wolves arrives.  Batman leaps into a nearby tree to escape the pets of Juan Muerto and before the thugs can take a potshot, he leaps yet again, over the edge of the cliff.  The gunmen hear no telltale splash, so they presume he has crumpled into the rocks below. 

At that same moment, Juan and Dolores are conferring.  Somehow Juan knows the gunmen have failed and Dolores responds that they will have to attend to Valdes themselves.  The couple then approaches Pedro and offers to show him something at the old monastery that will make him very happy.  He asks if it could be a flower and they respond that it may indeed be what he seeks.  As they walk along, an unseen eavesdropper in the form of the Dark Knight hangs just below on a line he'd left there previously.  He'd anticipated a potential need for it, but didn't realize it would save his life and afford him a chance to listen to what the Muerto's are up to.

He scales the cliff and follows at a discreet distance.  Once inside the monastery, with the light of a torch, Juan shows Pedro the prize; a large number of Sybil flowers.  Valdes agrees the flowers are beautiful, but dangerous and that the legends speak of their power to confer immortality, but at the cost of total insanity.  Pedro then draws a pistol, announcing that the Muerto's had made a mistake by leaving one of the flower's blossoms in their motel room in Mexico City.  As a Government agent, he must arrest them.  The Muerto's then double-team Valdes, with Juan driving him back with his torch while Dolores aims a vicious chop at the side of his neck.  Now that their prey is helpless and unconscious they reveal that the entire fiesta was a ruse to reveal the agent they suspected of following them.  The Dark Knight then makes his presence known and Juan and Dolores draw him into the field of Sybil flowers.  Batman, senses fully alert, follows, but upon inhaling the fragrance of the flowers is soon in distress, as a massive, jumbled apparition of nightmare proportions appears before him, blocking out all other sensations, while Juan Muerto leaps forward with a punishing blow. 

Both men securely bound by Tenemos vines, which contract further when the prisoners struggle.  Juan gloats at the ease with which the Batman was captured, while Dolores reminds him of how they were once affected by the flowers. 

A short while later, the cowled crusader regains painful consciousness and struggles to resist the hallucinations.  He gropes for Valdes' badge to use to cut his bonds.  (Kinda makes me wonder why he didn't pull something from the utility belt.  Oh, well…) Outside, the Muerto's are sending their falcons to do away with their prisoners.  As they descend upon the Gotham Goliath he struggles to finish cutting through the vine while also wondering if this new menace is real or another apparition of the strange flowers.  When a falcon clamps into his boot, it both confirms its corporeal nature and helps the Dark Knight to clear his mind.  He completes his task of cutting the vine, then detaches his cape, snares the attacker and calmly smashes it into a nearby pillar.  He then drags Valdes outside and the cool night air further aids the clearing of his mind.  Batman realizes the potential threat of these flowers and the affect they could have on the world's population.  It would literally be a world gone mad.  Picking up Muerto's discarded torch, Batman hurls it into the Sybils and starts a destructive fire. 

Nearby, looking on in horror, Dolores and Juan exclaim that it is the last remaining patch of the Sybils and that their immortality is being burned.  Dolores begins to run toward the burning monastery, with her husband close behind, pleading:  "No…stay, my Dolores!  Remember…extreme excitement cancels the effect of the flowers' fumes…would you be old?  With each hurried step that is exactly what is happening as we watch the couple age at an alarming rate.  "…would you lose your beauty?  Let the chill of age seize your bones…?"  "…your limbs stiffen…the skin of your face crack and crease…your heart wither…would you open the portals…the p-portals of…death itself…"  At precisely that moment, both of them impossibly old and frail, the two bizarre figures tumble into the open graves that we first glimpsed at the outset of this story.  As a matter of fact, it becomes clear that this is the same scene, with the story itself being one long flashback.  In the final two panels we now see the Batman standing in front of the stone markers and then stooping to fill in the death year with mud:  Dolores Muerto; 1843 – 1969 and Juan Muerto; 1840 – 1969.    

As you can see, this story served pretty handily as a departure from several years of lighter fare.  Much like the new Batman series I've been raving about, this version of the Dark Knight is more in line with my idea of the character.  In fact, here's what writer Denny O'Neil had to say about his work, which he described as:  "...a conscious desire to break out of the Batman TV show; to throw in everything and announce to the world, "Hey, We're not doing camp." We wanted to reestablish Batman not only as the best detective in the world and the best athlete, but also as a dark, frightening creature--if not supernatural, then close to it, by virtue of his prowess.Sam Hamm, co-writer of the 1989 Batman movie says: "It was dark, mysterious, gothic. It was moodily and beautifully drawn. It was subtly unlike anything that had appeared in the Batman titles for years."

As far as I'm concerned, Mr. O'Neil is in a class by himself, at least as far as interpretation of Batman is concerned.  I still think his novelization of "Knightfall" takes the reader into the world of Batman in a unique and gifted way.  I've read and re-read it and always finish it with the satisfaction that this is, indeed the Dark Knight, owner of Gotham City after the setting of the sun, or indeed anywhere he happens to be operating, even Mexico.  Denny's pretty good with a short story, too and this candidate from the waning years of the Silver Age gets a rating of 9.                

Thanks for joining us, dear reader and don't forget to take the journey again in about two weeks when I'll once more take to the keyboard and with the help of our fine host, the webmaster, bring you yet another offering from the finest era in comics.  If you have anything on your mind you'd like to share, express yourself at professor_the@hotmail.com.  I'm always available.

Long live the Silver Age!



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