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Dead bat walkin’ on the green mile! Dead bat walkin’ on the green mile! – Batman #206

January 16, 2011

 

What a magnificent cover. From the bald priest to the arms poking out of the death row cells to the text incorporated into the logo to the laceless boots, it’s a triumph. My only quibble is the tag. When I read the way it’s written, I trip over it. “This is the…end!” seems like it should be written as “This is…the end!,”know what I mean?

Or maybe I’m way off base.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the story inside is a bit of a letdown after that splendiferous cover. Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Joe Giella bring us a tale which finds Batman and Robin squaring off against the reputation-ruining machinations of the Planner. After the Dynamic Duo foils a scheme involving robbery and a Native American-themed band (a foiling replete with the customary and groan-inducing puns), the Planner (a villain who devises crimes for others from his dark construction-site stomping grounds)decides to destroy them by taking on the guise of “E.G. Never” and showing that they aren’t the great detectives that they purport to be:

Batman gets a little spooked, thinking that this man may be onto his secret identity, and agrees to the challenge — see who can solve crimes first.

The Planner of course rigs the game by, you guessed it, planning the crimes and solving them with ease. Here’s the first one:

So Batman didn’t pick up on the fact that this guy knows where the perps are hiding despite a complete lack of any evidence? Maybe this Never gent is onto something…

To prove this first triumph isn’t a fluke, the Planner next plans (hey!) a burglary with a costumed thief known as the Cat-Crook, and our heroes have some egg on their faces when they bring in the wrong man and Never delivers the goods. Then the villain ups the ante, while the Cat-Crook has a revelation:

Notice how the Cat-Crook’s costume is so much like Batman’s? That’s important, because Batman and Robin go after Never when he leaves (pretending to be furious with him), and this is all part of his plan (again with the plans!) to finally off the two of them in “self-defense.” But the Cat-Crook, realizing that the Planner double-crossed him, follows too, and sets up this big oopsie:

The Planner shoots the shadowy figure — really the Cat-Crook — dead, and after a brief tussle Batman and Robin bring him to justice. The other criminals who the Planner has manipulated along the way all ID him by voice at his trial, and then we finally build to what we were promised earlier:

Now that the Planner is irrevocably coocoo for Cocoa Puffs, we get the other side of the cover image:

You have to love a justice system that allows a condemned man to meet his maker in costume. “Screw the last meal — fetch me my cape, mask and tights!”

The story’s a bit of a clunker. While the situation depicted is kind of cool, the details are hammy. Just for one example — the suspect that Batman and Robin drag in instead of the Cat-Crook is a TV repairman called A.N. Tenna. I kid you not. And Irv Novick’s art, while more than adequate, seems a bit unfocused. The frequent diagonal panels are a little much — it’s a graphic gimmick that can be effective in limited doses, but one that wears out its welcome all too quickly when overused, and Novick’s style is less suited to them than someone else’s might be. I know Gene Colan often employed them, and that always worked in my eyes.

But that cover…Magnifique!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. neill permalink
    January 16, 2011 12:32 pm

    DC at that period had so many enticing covers and devastatingly bad interior stories. But your mention of the the copy on the cover, I think, is quite significant. The rhythm of “the…end” is all off to the inner ear. This is where Stan Lee was so superior; whether he conceived of the plots or not, his ear for the rhythm of language made it all convincing, as we know from a comparison of Kirby’s (and I would argue Ditko’s as well) work without him.

    • January 16, 2011 6:04 pm

      No one rolls their eyes at Stan’s puffery more than I do, but you’re very right about the quality of his verbal tempo. He understood how important phonetic cadence could be, and covers like this one, covers that have it all but for one glaring fault, that make me appreciate all the more what he brought to the fold.

  2. January 20, 2011 1:07 pm

    Not to mention that an ellipsis is supposed to indicate missing words, not a dramatic pause (although I use it in the latter fashion at times myself).

    It’s one of the first comics I bought when I started “collecting” comics. The story is certainly far from perfect, but it’s miles better than the stuff that came before. It helps if you read, say Batman 150-219 in order to understand what a significant improvement came around Batman #204, when Novick took over the art chores and the stories took a much darker turn. It was the beginning of a very solid era for Batman after nearly 15 years of mediocrity.

    • January 20, 2011 4:50 pm

      Fair points all. With stories from this era (or any, for that matter) I should probably give some manner of bifurcated grade, one half that’s objective and one that’s on some sort of curve. I often forget how dreadful things might have been before a story comes out, and that context certainly would turn a gentleman’s C into a more respectable B. I do usually get a kick out of Novick’s stuff — I think in this particular case I was so blown away by that cover my expectations were raised a bit too high.

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