Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part IV

Batman_275Batman 275 sports a decent cover, but a fantastic splash page.

bat_275_001I’ve always loved Batman images that use his cape as a framing device. You’ll see also, in the upper right corner, the logo for this four-issue fun of the Underworld Olympics ’76. And here we are at the final story.

The opening few panels are basically a pre-credits sequence of a James Bond movie. It sets up Batman’s continual frustration with this gang of criminals who are conducting odd activities that add up to nothing. We get a shot of our ringleader addressing the crowd and even the updated scorecard:

South America: 20
Europe: 50
Afro-Asian: 33 1/3
North America: …well, it’s their turn now!

They have a big problem. The end of their assignment is to take place on the Tompkinsville Ferry at midnight, but budget cuts have cancelled that route. What are they to do? They complain. The liaison says they can forfeit. “Forfeit? That’s a laugh!” cries a dude who looks like a hippie. Well, our North American team concocts a daring scheme: they rob some fellow criminals of their cash reserves. Next thing you know, the mayor is on TV announcing that an anonymous group has donated a million dollars to get the Tompkinsville Ferry up and running again. Viola! The North Americans are in business.

And Bruce Wayne is in a pissy mood. When he reads that an historical key was stolen from City Hall, he knows it’s the work of this group. Alfred reminds him that the Wayne Foundation Benefit Soccer Game is that evening and they go. In a jarring couple of panels set at the game, Alfred starts to tell Bruce the differences between a soccer field and a football field. Now, what this really is is a chance for David V. Reed, the writer of these issues, to feed some useful information to the kids reading the book.* But what happens is that Bruce snaps at his manservant. “Alfred, I invited you here because it’s your national pastime…but please don’t instruct me. I played soccer in college.” Then, in the next panel, Bruce’s thought balloon is this: “I came to relax…and he’s driving me nuts! Ah, there’s my chance—” The ‘chance’ is two young ladies. Ah, the 70s!

But before Bruce can sashay over to the ladies, some goons emerge from under the field and disrupt the game. Reminded me of the circus scene in “Batman Forever.” Batman shows up and fights them, but not before one of them toss the soccer ball into the net of a guy on a motorcycle who gets away. In a funny series of panels without any dialogue, a disgusted Batman watches the cyclist roar away…and he takes out his frustration with a swift kick on a remaining goon who isn’t quite unconscious.

Back at the Batcave, Batman fetches the Whirlybat! This issue is cover dated May 1976 so I’m not sure how long it had been since the Whirlybat was in use, but it certainly wasn’t in this story arc. Batman actually is shown taking the tarp off the device that is essentially a helicopter attached to a chair. I actually found an image from the internet.

Batman #275 - Page 22Okay, maybe it’s the adult version of myself looking at this, but wouldn’t the cape get snagged in the rotors? Ah, fooey! The image looks good.

Aloft now, Batman, complete with headphones, makes his silent patrol over the river. He spots the ferry and two motorboats in pursuit. He spots the two drivers as two of the goons from the soccer stadium…but can’t name them. [Sidenote: when he met Amba Kadiri *from India* last issue, he knew who she was, but he doesn’t know some North American bad guys?] He takes out the hippie and tethers that guy’s boat to the ferry. Then he uses the Whirlybat to get onto the ferry itself. There, the rest of the North Americans are in the process of lashing the wheel in place to head straight for a buoy. Batman frees the wheel and turns the ferry, but the trailing boat hits it. “Then, for one frightful instant, night becomes day…” reads the textbox.

But Batman isn’t done. He spots the other trailing boat turning around and leaving. In the Whirlybat, he follows that guy and actually snags him with a retractable line. Which brings us to the last few panels of this issue and this story arc. The leader awards the North Americans 90 points, winning the entire Underworld Olympics. As all bad guys like to do, he calls Commissioner Gordon to boast. Gordon’s nonplussed because he’s got a cadre of cops stationed outside the headquarters of the Underworld Olympics! Boom!

As in all issues of this run, the story ends with Batman and Gordon talking about the case. They make the observation that all of these events rarely had any profit to them. Gordon likes the irony of it. Batman, on the other hand, wonders “about the fiendish brain who dreamed and planned and arranged and organized the Underworld Olympics of ’76!” Indeed, Batman. This guy, who never got a name, would be an interesting person to return to and study. I’m not sure he ever was.

Thus ends the Underworld Olympics of 1976. It was a fun, goofy, somewhat preposterous storyline, but not without its charms. The Whirlbat! Tons of deductions. Lots of Bruce Wayne. This story was certainly a product of its time when kids read comics, but it was enjoyable if you didn’t think too much and just had a good time.

*I’ll say this about the comics of my youth: they would always try and teach something to kids. Whether it was Alfred’s description of the differences between a soccer field and football field or that the million dollars cash was from a mobster-run numbers game, the writers (adults obviously) would write their story and the editors would either let the content sail through or add little info dumps scattered throughout the issues. They didn’t always pander to kids. That’s a great thing and probably taught some neat facts to kids along the way. Not sure that’s there anymore. Too bad.

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part III

Batman_274First the South Americans had a go at the Underworld Olympics and Batman shut them down. Next came the Europeans. Now, in Batman 274, it is the turn of the Afro-Asian bloc. Yeah, that’s the term used in 1976 to group African and Asian criminals in the “Gotham City Treasure Hunt.”

Now, that title pretty much tells  you all you need to know about this issue. The unnamed leader allows Amba Kadiri—the villain on the cover—to select the challenge. This time, we’re in Da Vinci Code territory. They get a clue in the form of a coded poem which references “the vault of ancient learning.” That leads the A-A team to the Gotham library. There, they burn the wax seal which reveals the next hidden clue. (Let’s not ask how the bad guys knew this. Actually, let’s not ask any questions, shall we, and just enjoy the tale.)

On patrol, Batman hears the police band report and races to the library. He takes out the two A-A members quickly. One of the guys tries to torch Batman but the Dark Knight Detective quickly takes off his cape and smothers that guy. I’ve always loved when Bats does that. He takes the damaged book, the torch, and the chain back to the Batcave for some tests and ruminations.

Here, we get one of my favorite things: Bruce Wayne, in the batsuit, but with the cowl down. Not sure why I like this so much, but always have. Probably something along the lines of the “man” part of Batman. Batman #274 - Page 12

The prisoners are transferred on live TV (!) and they give hand signals to the remaining members of the team. They see the signs and decode them. Batman sees the signs and doesn’t know what to make of them, but his deductions takes him to the Gotham Aquarium where he meets Amba Kadiri. She’s got razors for fingernails. The pair fight and she slices off part of Batman’s cape. Her costume is actually pretty good. It’s less a costume than a body glove. Very efficient. But Batman gets the drops on her and she surrenders…much too easily. Batman has been decoyed. You see, the rest of A-A team are at this very moment secreting some additional pieces of the treasure hunt.

The theft shows up in the morning papers and Bruce is none too happy about being fooled. He actually snaps at Alfred before walking the streets, oblivious to everything, lost in thought. Finally, that night, Batman arrives at the Cinema Palace and the film festivals because “the more bananas it [his deduction] sounds, the more I believe it.” Yeah, Batman said “bananas.” Well, he takes out the rest of the A-A gang, including this line “Uncle Batman wants you.” Whew!

Batman #274 - Page 31
In the closing panels, Batman and Gordon are discussing the events. Batman actually namedrops “underworld Olympics” which made me roll my eyes. He correctly identifies the remaining group: the North Americans. But that’s in the next issue.

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part II


When we last left our hero in Batman 272, Batman stood in Commissioner Gordon’s office and pondered why all the hoods he had bagged were from South America. Little does he know that now, the Europeans have a go at the Dark Knight Detective.
In Batman 273, we have “The Bank Shot That Baffled Batman.” The cover is an oddball cover to be sure. The modern Batman would never have allowed himself to get into a position like that, but that’s also why I love the 70s version of Batman because he’s often more human.

This story not only gets the 1976 Olympic vibe, but it also deals with the American Bicentennial. In the opening panels, some reenactors are rehearsing their part of the upcoming celebration. They have a colonial cannon and supposed to keep the redcoats at bay. But the redcoats have live ammunition. In the ensuing commission, the cannon is stolen.

Interestingly, the first we see of Batman, he’s in the JLA satellite standing watch. Cut to Underworld Olympic HQ and our announcer. He informs the betting crowd that the Europeans have successfully completed phase 1 of their assigned tasks. Phase 2 involves a theft from the bank…in which Bruce Wayne happens to be working. During the heist, it’s Wayne who sees the action and, in no time, has already changed clothes and swoops in as Batman. With swift action and funny dialogue, Batman narrates his takedown of the goons, but one of them gets a way with the safe deposit boxes.

A highlight of this issue is Batman being a detective. Of the 20 pages of action, only four show Batman actually punching bad guys. The rest of the time, he’s figuring out the clues and following leads. One of those clues gets Batman to a warehouse (natch) where…he’s bonked on the head from behind. Again, love the 70s version, because you know modern Batman would have taken him out. When Boris the Russian bad guy explains to his pals how he was able to get the drop on our hero and snatch the missing safe deposit box from under Batman’s nose, he merely said he followed Batman. Really? Did he swing through the skies on ropes? Oh well, it was the 70s.

The next day, Bruce Wayne makes an appearance at the bank to watch the “owners” of the boxes arrive. Turns out Bruce notes the heels of a man named Boris being the exact type of heels from the goons he smacked down last night. Soon, he’s back into Batman garb and, using Bruce Wayne’s keys—and Batman actually says “Very convenient having Bruce Wayne’s keys! Save time” Why does he do this? It’s all his stuff—he sneaks into the safe deposit vault. There, he picks the locks of every box registered to the two shady characters. It’s all a bunch of sectioned and machine metal pieces.

Are you ready for what comes next? Batman actually puts together…the stolen cannon. In the bank vault. Yes, really. He determines the projectile is hollow so he paints it with an invisible coating of uranium nitrate that he just happens to carry…on his utility belt? He calls Alfred and asks him to track the trajectory of the projectile when it’s fired. And then Batman disassembles the entire cannon and puts all the pieces back into their respective boxes.

Pretty riveting comic reading, I know, but the action picks back up when the goons return, build the cannon, insert the stolen loot into the hollow projectile, shoot it, blow a hole through the bank vault, and only then does Batman make his entrance. Gotta love it, right? He dispatches these bad guys, then goes to where the projectile landed and takes out those guys, too.

Darn that Batman. He keeps screwing up the Underworld Olympics! The Europeans did all they were asked to do, earning them 80 points, but the leader deducted 30 because the entire European squad was captured by Batman. So, if you’re keeping score at home, it’s South America with 30 and Europe with 50. In the closing panel, Batman wonders what’s next for Gotham. What’s next? Why nothing less than the “Gotham City Treasure Hunt.”

As I wrote before, the whole concept is goofy, but seeing Batman actually use his brains more than his fists was great. I enjoy re-reading these older stories not merely for the nostalgia or the ads but for a more human Batman. Again David V. Reed penned the story and Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin created the art. This Batman is still drawn in the more slim style of Neal Adams, but with a larger upper body. Almost like a swimmer, say, the way American swimmer Nathan Adrian looks. I’m beginning to think I may read more issue past this four-part run.

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part I

Batman_272No matter the year, everyone likes to jump on the Olympics bandwagon. Be it Citibank or Coke or McDonald’s in 2016, every business wants a bite at Olympic golden advertising. Well, back in 1976, DC Comics put Batman in the mix.

With a cover date of February 1976—which probably meant a late 1975 newsstand appearance, especially considering the ad for the treasury edition of “Christmas with the Super Heroes”—Batman issue 272 has the title of “The Underworld Olympics ’76.” That title ended up covering four consecutive issues. Considering I’ve been watching the Olympics for a week now, I thought it would be a great time to read these books.

In the opening panels, Batman arrives at the Gotham airport and nabs a smuggler. He even schools the cops on what to look for. Unbeknownst to the Dark Knight, that was merely a ruse to let other folks slip into the city. Said folks were the South American contingent. No sooner than a mere flip of a page and we learn they are the last team to join the First International Crime Olympics. The unnamed chairman has four envelopes, each containing a crime to be committed. And there’s a point system involved complete with various deductions. The South American pick first and the games are off.

Now, before I got any further, I’ll admit that yes, this is a goofy concept. I won’t disagree if that’s the first thing you thought of when you read the title of this blog. David V. Reed penned the story while J. L. Garcia Lopez and Ernie Chua handled the art. If you can get beyond the goofy concept, the story ain’t half bad…provided you accept the premise.

If there’s one thing I love about 1970s-era Bruce Wayne it was him playing up his debonair alter ego. The victim of the South Americans’ event is hosting a swanky party, and Bruce is there chatting with a provocatively dressed woman. As one tends to do when one is a millionaire playboy. But he deduces the host’s quick exit is not on the level and, dressed as Batman, takes *his own car*. Any observant party goer might ask “Hey, why is Batman driving Bruce Wayne’s car” but that’s neither here nor there. Suffice it to say, Batman is too late to prevent the host/victim from death.

But he isn’t too late to take on the two South Americans in hand-to-hand combat. Bats wins, of course, and the South Americans are arrested. Bummer, because that counts as a deduction. (Just go with me here.) Batman is in full-on detective mode, questioning each piece of this rather bizarre puzzle. The Underworld Olympic Committee (because that’s what they are, right?) have spotters in the field (seriously) and the presence of Batman complicates matters. Cut to panels of other criminals, back at Underworld Olympics HQ, placing new bets.

I hope they bet on Batman. No sooner does he track an electronic bug to Gotham’s “Central Park” that he walks into an ambush. He catches the “olympians” red-handed and puts them away. Too bad, because that just means more deductions. And that leaves Batman to wonder why all the bad guys he put in jail are all from South America.

In an era where multi-issue story arcs were either rare or nonexistent, the Underworld Olympics run is unique. I just wonder how good it is, or if “goofy” will be the watchword of the arc. I’ve only read the first story, but I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of Batman 273 where the Europeans try for “The Bankshot that Baffled Batman.”

Thoughts on Suicide Squad

Suicide_Squad_(film)_PosterI won’t bury the lede: I liked this movie. But, like all three of DC’s movies, Suicide Squad seemed to be a collection of great scenes mashed into a serviceable plot. I’ll start with things I liked. And there will be spoilers.

Batman Doing Batman Things

Since 1989, Cinematic Batman is one who kills. Most of that deals with the need for a movie to blow stuff up and the coolest way possible. Michael Keaton’s Batman killed some of Joker’s goons in the factory. I’m pretty sure Val Kilmer killed some folks in the car chase. Ditto George Clooney. I’m trying to remember if Christian Bale did or not. Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman definitely did. But in Suicide Squad, Batman doesn’t kill. In fact, in a flashback, we see him rescue Harley Quinn after the Joker drove his car into the water. Batman, complete with Rebreather (!), dives in a saves Harley. That’s Batman. He even saves the criminals

Also, the visuals of Batman coming down from above to capture Deadshot? Loved it.

All in all, Batman/Bruce Wayne in Suicide Squad was pretty darn good. Ironic considering so many reviled against his casting. Just goes to show you that you shouldn’t make an opinion until you’ve seen the movie.

Introductions

I loved the early scene when Amada Waller (Viola Davis) introduces all the main characters. We get nice, short, bite-sized origins and background…and that’s all we need. Period. We didn’t need an entire movie to describe Deadshot or Boomerang. Well, Deadshot maybe, but still, we get what we need and then we move on. And it was presented like splash pages in a comic book. Loved it.

Humor

People make jokes that are situational jokes. I laughed. The other members of the audience laughed. That’s what is supposed to happen in movies of this kind. We’re supposed to have a good time. BvS had, what, two jokes, one of which was in the trailer.

Magic!

Finally, we have a villain that has magical powers. Not quite sure what they were, exactly, but I loved it.

Will Smith

The man oozes charisma from his pores. I haven’t watched everything he’s done, but in terms of being a likable movie star, he’s great. I like portrayals of heroes who are badasses but have the one humanizing flaw. Plus, he’s funny. And the ending where he has to make the choice he does? Nicely done.

Margot Robbie

Up until now, with me not being a player of any of the Batman video games, Harley Quinn was Joker’s sidekick from Batman: The Animated Series as voiced by Arleen Sorkin. Also up until Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie was best known as Jane from The Legend of Tarzan. But she inhabits the role of Harley. She played crazy, sane, and sad very well. The backstory wasn’t as good as it could have been, but hey. It’s a first-time live-action version. I’ll settle. Plus, in the flashback, you get a live action shot of one of the famous Joker/Herley images.

Harley_Quinn_and_the_Joker_(art_by_Alex_Ross)Viola Davis as Amanda Waller

Wow. To be one of the best villains the cinematic DC has put on screen and not be a supervillain is a real treat. Davis knocked it out of the park. But, at the end, during the mid-credits sequence, I liked that she was a little off her game. Nicely done. And then at the end, what she does? Pretty dang surprising.

Characters That Weren’t Batman or Superman

Finally, we get some DC characters that isn’t the big two and their associated supporting cast. Captain Boomerang is in a real, live movie. Let that sink into your brain. And Diablo. And Deadshot. Did you think we’d ever get characters like that in a movie? Me, neither. Loved that.

Diablo

I’m a comic reader, but know little of him, so the movie version is my first real taste of this character. I liked him quite a bit. I’m guessing his powers came from the same source as Enchantress’s brother?

 

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE

They weren’t recruited for THIS job

In the trailers, you get the impression that the big villain was so bad that the squad needed to be formed to defeat that villain. Not the only case. Waller tries to get the team together and fails. Only when Enchantress goes rogue does the team come back and get the gig. I would’ve liked it better if Waller came with the Task Force X idea as a result of Enchantress versus a take two.

Katana

Why was she in the movie? Don’t get me wrong. I loved her look at lot, I liked that she wasn’t a bad guy, and her slim backstory was somewhat good. But you take her out and, say, give Boomerang the moves she made, it would be just fine. And it would have given him more to do.

Enchantress

What was she really doing in Midway City? It would be one thing if she was, say, channeling in inner earth core to assemble a thing that would make all human subservient. But it looked like she was trying to kill everyone. I could have sworn that she liked it when the humans worshipped her and her brother. Then why kill everyone? So her big plan and the plan to stay in one place was baffling.

THING I BOTH LIKED AND DISLIKED

Joker

There were 19 years between Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Heath Ledger’s. That’s a generation. Time enough to let Jack’s version fade into history. Not so Ledger’s. Only eight years ago this summer, Ledger’s take on the Joker was playing on the screens. You can help but compare.

And Jared Leto’s version suffers in comparison.

I really liked Joker as a mobster. It reminded me of Joker by Brian Azzarello from 2008 when Joker wasn’t the Joker as we know him. Heck, Ledger’s Joker is more down-to-earth, but he’s still master of all he surveys. And Ledger’s Joker commands the screen when he’s on it. He sucks you in with his vocal delivery, his cadence, and his unpredictability. He made you watch.

Leto’s Joker, in the trailers, looked like a fiendish man who would do despicable things for the mere thrill of it. He looked scary, and if the cinematic DC is known for anything, it’s making comic book things “real” and “scary.” But he wasn’t. In fact, strangely enough, Joker is a romantic lead. The only thing he seems to be after is to get Harley out of Arkham Asylum.

And that’s perfectly okay. Heck, it’s a fresh take on Joker. But that’s not the impression the trailers gave. Perhaps Joker should have been held back a little in the marketing to be present as this lovelorn man. Needless to say, I was expecting one Joker, but got another. Again, the more I think on it, romantic Joker is one I’d like to see more of, and I hope we get to in later films.

 

All in all, a fun two hours. I enjoyed the film, but I wanted to love it. To date, my favorite comic book film of the year is Captain America: Civil War.

Rough Start

I started the second Lillian Saxton book today, but only managed about 300 words. I have over 35 scenes mapped out, but this morning was more of a detail day. I sketched the opening scene in broad strokes. Then, I had to fill in the gaps. More difficult than I expected. Here’s hoping that tomorrow is better.

Vacation Books

I just returned from a wonderful eight-day trip out to Texas’s Big Bend country. For those of y’all that don’t know where it it, visualize a map of Texas. Now, from the far left point, follow the Rio Grande (southern border) from El Paso to Brownsville. Big Bend is literally the point where the river makes a big bend. The family and I hiked, saw stars and satellites every night, and just enjoyed being away from the everyday.

Naturally, one of the things I love doing is visiting bookstores and antique stores. Interestingly, there were very few of each, although the antique stores outnumbered the bookstores. Two of the bookstores I visited were in Alpine, Texas, a great little town along Highway 90. Front Street Books is a block or two down from the Amtrak train station. They have new and used books. They had some old western pulp magazines, but I zeroed in on a couple of books.

IMG_0773
I have only a few Longarm novels, but how could I pass up the adventure that takes place in the Big Bend region?

FullSizeRender
Ironically, there was a Star Western pulp magazine in the back, but I found this anthology instead. At $6.00, I was pretty much gonna buy it anyway, but the inclusion of a Day Keene story is what took it over the top.

IMG_0772
The Alpine Public Library has a used book store and a nice western section. Lots of Louis L’Amour, but I selected this title based on the author and, especially, the cover painting.

Now, on the way back, we stopped in Uvalde, Texas, (also on Highway 90) at the Antiques on the Square store. I had traversed the entire store, not really finding anything that struck my fancy, until I was near the checkout counter. On a shelf, tucked almost unseen, was this book.

FullSizeRender(1)
You are probably wondering why in the world I would buy this book from 1943. Because I write a series of books set in 1940 and will continue through World War II and beyond. This book is chock full of data, tables, photos, and details that the internet will likely just not have. In addition, many of the laws and executive orders are reprinted. To sum up, this is a perfect reference for future novels!