Thursday, June 24, 2010

Detective #395

Often cited by those who are big on dividing lines as marking the end of the Silver Age Batman, Detective #395 includes the first O'Neil/Adams team-up on Batman. It's a terrific story, amazingly illustrated, and is featured (deservedly) in many "Best of Batman" collections.

But the idea that this is far from the rest of the (late) Silver Age Batman is a bit silly. Following the demise of the Batman TV show in early 1968, Julius Schwartz found that he needed to reinvent yet again the character he'd inherited as editor just before Batmania hit. And this time he hit on the correct formula: Bring in strong artists like Irv Novick (and occasional guest stars like Adams and Gil Kane), and return Batman to the nighttime man of mystery that he had been in the early Golden Age. This he did starting with Batman #204-205's solid (if not classic) Operation Blindfold. The stories published in Batman and Detective from about mid-1968 on all are pretty high-quality, especially compared to what came before.

And it's not as if Adams hadn't been doing Batman in The Brave and the Bold for the last year or so, even if it's O'Neil's first crack at the Caped Crusader. So Secret of the Waiting Graves is not some bolt from the blue; it's a continuation of a trend that had been gathering for about 2 years at the time it was published.

The story begins with Bruce at a party being hosted by a wealthy Mexican couple, the Muertos. The party takes place in a graveyard at night. The first event is a balloon race (yeah, a balloon race in the dark), in which the balloon occupied by one Pedro Valdes, is attacked by hawks and shredded. The man seems fated to fall on the rocks below when suddenly:

Batman's momentum carries the two of them into the river below instead of death on the rocks. Notice how the camera angles are chosen to present the maximum action against a large backdrop?

As the story continues, we begin to understand that the Muertos are not as youthful as they appear:

It subsequently becomes obvious that Valdes himself is definitely a target for murder, when a pottery explodes next to him, revealing the presence of a sniper. Bruce is already suspicious of the Muertos for holding this party anyway, since they are normally hermits. It turns out that they are being kept alive by the Sybil flower, which causes insanity and, oh, by the way, hallucinations:

Anybody, what are they really talking about there? Anybody? Bueller?

Batman saves Valdes and torches the plants:

And they topple into the waiting graves.

Comments: There are some holes in the story. For starters, would the Muertos be so foolish as to have only one patch of the plants that keep them alive? And why would the graves be dug out for them to collapse into? But overall those are quibbles about a tale that certainly does appear to be leading the way into the Bronze Age, with more adult-oriented plots. Adams' art, as always, is spectacular.

The Robin story is a continuation of a two-part tale. It's rather ridiculous. Dick has arrived at Hudson University, only to find a demonstration going on at the registrar's office. The demonstrators are trying to get the Dean to call in the cops, but he is insistent that he will talk with the leaders. A squad car arrives anyway, and the cops inside rough up the protestors. But Dick quickly realizes that the police are phonies as their car has an inspection sticker on it. It's all a plot to give the demonstration ringleaders more credibility with the students, and it appears to be working.

The cops? They're communist infiltrators. No kidding:

Comments: Silly story, enlivened quite a bit by the Gil Kane art.


hobbyfan said...

I remember having read "Secret of the Waiting Graves" some years back, either by obtaining Detective 395 as a back issue or in a trade collection. More than 40 years later, Batman could use a return to stories like these....

Karl La Fong said...

I love this era of Batman, and enjoyed this story, but must confess I didn't have much of a clue what was going on at some points...

Anonymous said...

I loved this Batman story. But I read the reprint from Dynamic Classics #1, which also included the first of the classic Manhunter stories illustrated by Walt Simonson. These two stories together made a powerful punch, as I was just getting into comics in earnest at the time.