A Tribute to the of

Greetings again, fans of the Silver Age of DC Comics. I'm afraid I've hit another bump in my interview project, but after having the wild good fortune to interview 27 creators thus far, it was bound to happen again and of course at some point in the not too distant future it's inevitable that my luck will run its course (I do have a couple more in the wings, though, so don't despair), but meanwhile, the show must go on, so I've decided to review an issue that I vividly remember reading as a child. It's from the longest running comic in DC's stable, the one whose initials became the company logo; Detective Comics. It's issue #374 from April of 1968. If you look carefully at the headline on the newspaper laying against the alley wall you'll discern the cover artist's "signature" of Irving Novick. The story is, of course, "Hunt for a Robin-Killer!" The author is Gardner Fox. Editing details were performed by Julie Schwartz and the pencil and ink team are Gil Kane and Sid Green, respectively.

I want to focus especially on the art for this issue, because I think it plays the key role not only in the story, but in my clear memory of this issue. Gil Kane really outdid himself on this one, beginning with the splash page, which is actually a 5-panel sequence done in a most imaginative way. The first is an extreme close-up of a pair of eyes. "These are the hate-filled eyes of a killer, searching the streets of Gotham City for prey…" I don't know why the bridge of the nose and flesh surrounding the eyes are colored green, but somehow it helps to convey the sense of dread in looking at them as they stare at you with such malevolence. The second panel is nearly identical to the first, but a small torso shot of Robin is shown walking in front of the eyes, which are now open wider: "Suddenly—the eyes bulge with the excitement of discovery…" The next three panels show the killer advancing, unseen on the boy wonder. All you can see are his hands, though, clenched and then spreading, ready to strike. On page 2, the assault begins, as the hands strike out repeatedly at the surprised sidekick of the Batman. It's another five panel sequence and Robin is getting a thorough beating. The fifth panel is particularly dramatic as you see his form flying backward from a terrific blow, alley debris and a stray cat flying about and a close up shot of Robin's anguished face filling half the background for additional dramatic effect. Page three shows the right fist of the attacker about to go in for the death blow when it pauses at the sound of the voice of Batman calling to his colleague. Next, a sneakered pair of feet are shown fleeing the scene and then a familiar bat-shaped shadow drapes the fallen Robin from an overhead shot. The last panel on this page goes to a reverse angle from behind the Boy Wonder looking up at a dismayed Batman who says, "Oh my God! It's all—my fault! I—killed Robin!" It should be noted here that Gil didn't miss a beat. Despite the reverse angle, the figure is precisely the same as in the previous panel. Really a great job of attention to detail. I'd also like to point out that there was no dialogue of any kind for the first 2-1/2 pages, so we're talking true visual story-telling and nearly all with dramatic action.

The next page shows a flashback to just a few moments before. The Dynamic Duo is closing in on the Lemon Brothers in a warehouse. Disembarking from the Batmobile, they go at it with Batman taking the front entrance and Robin covering the back. The three figures inside look on in dread as the Dark Knight approaches. Their faces are lit from the bottom and are colored green, perhaps to indicate the gloom of the warehouse. Then, the Batman sails into them, fists and bodies flying though another action-packed sequence, until all are unconscious and it is only then that the Gotham Goliath realizes his partner isn't with him.

Back to the present, Batman hangs his head, consumed with guilt that he sent Robin to his doom. It is only then that he realizes the youngster still has a pulse, and he carries him swiftly to the nearest hospital. After leaving him in the care of the emergency room, he emerges into the night, a dread figure with an avenging snarl on his face as he declares under the lightning streaked sky that he will find who did this to Robin.

Inevitably the World's Greatest Detective returns to the scene to collect his clues. He notes footprints from a pair of sneakers, corduroy and leather from a jacket and freshly broken planks from a missed punch, indicating great strength and height in the assailant. "A strong, tall man—wearing sneakers and a corduroy jacket with leather reinforcement at the elbows! It isn't much to go on—but it's enough for me!"

The Batman starts to visit some seedy establishments and soon locates his quarry, who matches his profile right down to the gashed knuckles. He orders everyone out but the suspect and then proceeds to take him apart, wondering all the while if he's allowing his hatred for what happened to Robin to affect his tactics. In the final panel of page 8, it's lights out for the man.

At the office of Commissioner Gordon, however, the Caped Crimebuster is in for a rude awakening when Gordon tells him that the man in Batman's custody has an iron clad alibi. "He was at the Prizefight Club tonight at the very hour Robin was beaten up. I saw him there myself! After Jim Condors knocked out his opponent in the main event, I went to his dressing room to get his autograph—" The Dark Knight asks to see Gordon's fight card and compares the autograph to a signature he got from Condors and they match perfectly. The enraged Jim Condors shrieks that he's going to file a million dollar lawsuit against Batman for assault and battery and have Gotham City place a restraining order on him.

Later, the grim hero visits Robin at the hospital. The Boy Wonder asks if he got him and Batman can only reply that he did, hating that he is lying. The physician tells Batman that with those few words he did as much good as he had with medical treatment. Our hero tells the doctor that it was worth revealing Robin's secret identity in order to save his life and the doc replies that he has no idea who Robin might be in a city of 8 million.

Meanwhile, back in the Batcave, it's time to get back to work and a search of the case file reveals that in the past Robin had captured a criminal named Ed Condors, who is a dead ringer for his brother Jim. Soon a dark figure is paying a visit to Ed Condors. The Batman accuses Ed of taking his brother's place at the fight and that Jim had previously signed a fight card that Ed clandestinely traded for the one Commissioner Gordon handed him while he turned to "sign" it. When the frightened crook asks how he knew all that, Batman realizes to himself that his bluff worked and he knocks Condors cold.

About an hour later, Jim Condors comes home to find his brother working a crossword. "Ed" tells him that Robin survived the attack and will be able to I.D. his assailant. Jim sneers that he thought ahead: "I promised you I'd avenge your imprisonment by Robin—by killing him with my bare hands—and I almost did..I wore a mask at the time—on the off chance that Batman might somehow track me down.." Ed asks how he got rid of the mask and Jim smugly replies that he's still got it and then exits to retrieve it. When he returns, he is confronted by the Batman who states that the mask covered with his prints will be the final necessary evidence. Condors erupts with a powerful left hook that temporarily sends the Dark Knight reeling, but quickly recovering, the World's Greatest Detective delivers a knockout blow to the prizefighter that fills an entire page with the dynamic action.

The final half page has Batman delivery the Condors brothers to James Gordon and then much later retrieving his recovered partner from the hospital. The 14-page story ends there. This issue also contains a backup tale of the Elongated Man, but you can look that one up for yourself if you choose.

To me, this was the epitome of a well-drawn action story and it was a tour de force that brilliantly showcased the talents of Gil Kane. I counted 24 panels that showed action and since there was a total of 67, well over a third was dedicated to those dramatic effects. Add in Gil's great skill in the way he draws hands and expressions and it just didn't get any better than this. I also appreciated the fact that Batman was in his element, using not only his physical prowess, but his legendary detective skills to untangle this mystery against an ordinary, two-bit criminal (and his brother) in the big city. Small wonder that this issue made such an impression on me as a child and looked so readily familiar. This was just a splendidly satisfying story, particularly for one so short, and I can easily give it a rating of 9 on the 10-point scale.

Gil Kane has nearly 4,000(!) credits in the Grand Comic Database. While he's been gone for several years now, he left a large body of work as his legacy for all of us to enjoy. I even recently discovered a story in the House of Mystery reprint book where he drew himself (and Joe Orlando) in a story where he was being sucked into his drawing board. Entertaining stuff, but that was Gil's forte, it seems. I sure wish I'd had a chance to get acquainted. I'm told he was a fascinating conversationalist in addition to his other talents. Pick this issue up if you're able. You'll be glad you did.

Please continue to tap your way here to our humble corner of the World Wide Web in about two weeks for the next installment. By then I should have the next interview ready for your perusal along with an appropriate accompanying review. Please also feel free to drop a line with your thoughts to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2008 by B.D.S.

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