Saturday, April 3, 2021

Len Wein’s Batman: Batman 307


Scott D. Parker

As a kid in the late 1970s, comics were one of my go-to things (Star Wars, KISS, and early Star Trek fandom were the other main loves of my life) and Batman was my favorite. Still being a young kid in late elementary, I didn’t pay attention to the names of the writers or artists. I just bought the books and read them, ingesting the stories over and over again.

When I review the covers of my issues of Batman, it turns out some of my favorites were all scripted by the same guy: Len Wein. Unknown to me at the time, Wein had already co-created Swamp Thing for DC and rebooted the X-Men over at Marvel, including the co-creation of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Nope, all I cared about was good Batman stories, and for a stretch there in late 1978 and all through 1979, Len Wein was the monthly writer (mostly) for Batman.

With the cover date for Wein’s first issue being January 1979 (although it hit the spinner racks a month or so earlier), I thought it would be fun to re-read Wein’s Batman run forty years later and see how it holds up. Spoiler: his run is among my favorites of all-time. In fact, Wein wrote one of my favorite all-time comic stories, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk. But that’s a different post.

Speaking of holding up, Batman and Bruce Wayne in the 1970s is my favorite version of the character. Dick Grayson is off to college, leaving Bruce to move out of Wayne Manor and into Gotham City proper. He takes up residence at the Wayne Foundation building, and operates there for most of the decade. It is one of the neatest buildings in comicdom, what with the giant tree in the middle of the building, which secretly houses an elevator to the basement where the Batmobile is kept. For a young boy like me, this was the coolest thing ever.

The building shows up in Batman issue 307, but not before in intriguing two-page prologue. A beggar woman is asking for spare change. A man in a trench coat, fedora, and scarf approaches and gives her two gold pieces. The next page, she falls dead, right under the title, “Dark Messenger of Mercy!” The artist in this issue is John Calnan and Dick Giordano.

The first time we see Bruce Wayne, he is in his office, staring out the window. Next to him is Lucius Fox in his debut. I’m not sure the thought process Wein went through to create Fox, but the character has been around for these last forty years. Morgan Freeman played him in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. From the chit-chat between Fox and Wayne, however, it’s clear Wayne has not shared his secret identity. The two men talk about business and name drop a man named Gregorian Falstaff (love the name) who, according to Wayne, “He’s rumored to have have a fortune which makes mine look like so much lunch money.”

Darkness literally falls over Gotham in one short panel, and Wayne excuses himself. He tags up with Alfred who has the Batman costume at the ready. As he swings off the top of the Foundation building, Batman makes a comment to Alfred: “When I start making value judgements—deciding who’s important enough to avenge—it’ll be time to hang up my mask forever.” Here in 2019, with the recent passing of Stan Lee, many folks mentioned Lee’s strong streak of social justice running through his words. Here, in 1979, Len Wein does the same thing for Batman. police headquarters, a man named Quentin Conroy is livid. He wants Gotham’s finest to help him find stolen property, gold coins to be exact. Unbeknownst to both men, Batman is sitting in the same room, legs casually crossed, fingers steepled. The Caped Crusader in convinced he can find Conroy’s missing money, especially since two of the coins turned up on that dead woman’s corpse.

Street level, Batman approaches a sleep bum and there is a funny couple of panels. In the boxed panels, Wein writes “Without question, the Batman is an impressive figure. His unexpected visage, looming large out of the darkness, is often viewed with admiration...or hostility...or outright fear…” “But rarely indifference.” This as the bum goes back to sleep. See? You can have humor in a Batman story. Anyway, an Irishman named Shamrock (natch) approaches and asks the hero if he needs helps. When Batman says he’s investigating the murder of the woman, Shamrock knew her. He volunteers to escort Batman down into the sewers to meet some folks who might have seen something.

What Batman sees is a group of people living in an underground tunnel, the area kept warm by the steam pipes. Here, Batman meets Slugger (from the ‘48 Gotham Giants baseball team), Poet (Shakespeare of the sewers), and Good Queen Bess. Through dialogue alone, Wein gives these characters their accents and particular ways of speaking. Shamrock always says, “Laddie,” while Slugger talks like a New Yorker: “Pleased to meet ‘cha!” Batman learns there have been other deaths...and Queen Bess actually has two of the coins with her. The Dark Knight Detective ascertains the gold coins are laced with a contact poison, absorbed through the skin.

No sooner does Batman make this discovery than a piercing scream fills the bowels of Gotham. Another woman is being attacked! It’s the man with the fedora and red scarf. Batman leaps to action. A fight ensues, and Batman gets himself whacked by Scarfman’s cane. In the melee, two things happen. One, Scarfman’s hat and scarf fall away, revealing a face the citizens of the underworld know. Two, Scarfman’s cane cracked a steam pipe. It’s about to blow. So Batman gets between the pipe and the people. It explodes, hurling Batman across the room.

Later, Batman’s “new tattered friends” say Scarfman looks just like one of their own: “Limehouse” John Francis Conroy, a man who used to sleep with them before just disappearing. Being the detective, Batman soon finds his way to Quentin Conroy’s house (because Batman can get into any room in Gotham, right?). Heated words are exchanged and Quentin confesses John Francis was his father. He kept the gold coins as a remembrance of his father, a man who ran out on his family while Quentin was a kid. The modern pressures of the world drove John Francis to the streets, supposedly dying in a gutter.

But Batman isn’t so sure.

The next night, we see Scarfman prowling about. He gives coins to a man who extends his hand...the gloved hand of The Batman! Oddly, Batman is wearing a sling, proof not only did the steam explosion hurt him worse than we saw three pages ago, but reminding readers the Caped Crusader is really just a man, a man who can get injured. A second battle commences, but Batman’s shoulder hampers him. Scarfman swings the cane too wide, allowing Batman to come in underneath him. A powerful punch to the mid-section topples Scarfman. The odd cast of characters are also there, cheering on Batman. Scarfman questions their motives. All he wants is to give these street people some mercy and peace. But “the peace of the grave” is something they shun. Just as they shun him.
Scarfman’s mind snaps. He accuses Batman of turning these “friends of his” away from him. His face is misshapen, resembling John Francis Conroy, but a few panels later, it is revealed to be Quentin all along. Quentin, looking almost like a young boy.

Wein wraps up the entire story in three thin panels. We see Quentin being led away and Commissioner Gordon asking Batman about the clue. It was the heels of Quentin’s shoes, something we saw a few pages before. Many of the 1970s stories had clues the reader could follow, and it’ fun to go back and notice certain things you might have missed the first go-round.

Wein wrote a pretty decent script. I enjoy the non-super-villain aspect of these kinds of stories. Kind of like a breather before we get to the next issue featuring Mr. Freeze. Wein brings Batman’s humanity to the fore, both in how he protects the homeless but also, at the end, when he hopes young Quentin will receive the help he needs. He’s a true hero to all, discriminating toward none.

What did y’all think about this story?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Revolving with Beau

This week, Beau takes a look at Revolver by Michael Patrick Hicks.

"Wow. Just... Wow. Revolver aims at the world we live in and blows its head off." - Edward Lorn, author of Bays End and The Sound of Broken Ribs

"Terrific and brutally aggressive." - Glenn Rolfe, author of Becoming and Blood and Rain

"Revolver is the most relevant work of fiction right now!" - Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews

“Hicks has written a seminal political – psychological thriller that packs a massive punch in a short space. … I think it’s a piece of fiction that will stand the test of time.” - Steve Stred, Kendall Reviews

"Hicks paints a picture of a world that's uncomfortably possible...passionate and well-written." - Black Guys Do Read

“Revolver ... takes the ‘shocking’ gold medal. A classic example of social science fiction … most gripping.” - David Wailing, author of Auto

"[A] truly gut twisting, heart wrenching, sphincter squeezing tale of lossand abandonment that stuck with me long after the last page." - Anthony Vicino, author of Time Heist

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

WRW: Breaking Bad


For WRITERS' ROOM WEDNESDAY, we're visiting the BREAKING BAD folks.

Read some

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Nasty Against Nasty

While I await the epic fight that I'm sure we'll see in the coming Godzilla vs. Kong (which I hope I like as much as I liked the old King Kong vs. Godzilla as a child), I am thinking of the battle I saw presented when I watched I Care a Lot the other night.  

There's Rosamund Pike as the "lioness" Marla Grayson, who works the system to get court-appointed guardianship over helpless and affluent retirees so that she can get them consigned to assisted-living facilities and strip them of all their assets.  Not admirable, but she does what she does with such sociopathic skill and ferocity, not to mention sheer ballsiness, that you can't help but be impressed by her.  She has had a successful run for quite some time, apparently, and lives a stylish and comfortable life with her partner both professional and personal, Fran (played by Elisa Gonzalez).  With the unwitting aid of a clueless judge and the purposeful help from people in this world -- a doctor willing to make false diagnoses of dementia, an assisted living facility chief who aids Marla in isolating the unwitting seniors sent his way -- Marla has everything in place to keep accruing the wealth she is so keen on accumulating.  But then she works her scam on a woman named Jennifer, Dianne Wiest, and this particular elderly woman not only has all her faculties, but is not as alone in the world as Marla and her cohorts, despite their research into Jennifer's past, thought. Jennifer has a connection to a person who turns out to be a Russian gangster, and this gangster, in the person of Peter Dinklage, is as ruthless as Marla, as determined to "win" as Marla is.

I can't remember the last time I saw a gleefully nasty black comedy, but I Care a Lot is certainly one.  Do you enjoy a movie that pits one cold and unscrupulous person against an icy, albeit thoughtful, gangster?  If you do, you should like this.  And you can never go wrong with Dianne Wiest, whose character for a good stretch knows more than Marla does and whose secretive chuckle makes you chuckle with her. 

In Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike was totally committed to her character, and that movie played much more as a dark comedy on marriage than any sort of mystery or thriller.  Once again, in I Care a Lot, she's pitch-perfect, and as I watched, I was thinking how this kind of person is in some ways more unsettling than the proverbial tv and film serial killer. There are more people like Marla floating around the world, working their grifts and harming people, than serial killers.  And I won't give away the end, but let's just say that overall the film follows its basic premise through to its logical conclusion.  The Marlas of the world and the outwardly respectable gangsters of the world are doing quite well these days, and there are plenty of media venues for them, with their gleaming smiles, to talk up and promote their businesses. We are doing the planet a world of good, they say, and their media enablers nod approvingly.

Hard not to like a film that leaves you both laughing and with a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.

Monday, March 29, 2021

UNLOADED: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns


With recent, horrific gun related murders as a backdrop, our society continues to argue about gun violence. The call for commonsense laws and local community efforts to raise awareness about gun safety is a starting point, but a point we should have been at years, if not decades, ago.

On the fifth anniversary of its publication, Do Some Damage takes a look back at the ground-breaking, Anthony nominated anthology UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS and the equally popular follow-up, released in 2018, UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

Both collections were edited by Eric Beetner and authors for the first collection included; J.L. Abramo, Patricia Abbott, Trey R. Barker, Alec Cizak, Joe Clifford, Reed Farrel Coleman, Angel Luis Colón, Hilary Davidson, Paul J. Garth, Alison Gaylin, Kent Gowran, Rob Hart, Jeffery Hess, Grant Jerkins, Joe R. Lansdale, S.W. Lauden, Tim O’Mara, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Pitts, Thomas Pluck, Keith Rawson, Kelli Stanley, Ryan Sayles, and Holly West. While bestselling authors E.A. Aymar, Chris Holm, Dana King, Nick Kolakowski, Lori Rader-Day, Bill Crider, Laura McHugh, James R. Tuck, Scott Loring Sanders, James Ziskin, John Rector, Sara Paretsky, and many more contributed to UNLOADED VOLUME 2.

All the writers provided their stories for free, and the proceeds from both anthologies were and continue to be donated to States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization that supports gun violence prevention groups across the country.

The main objective of these two anthologies, both featuring tales of suspense, crime, and mystery, but no guns, is to draw the reader in with the action, tense story line, and pace they are used to from crime tales. With a variety of settings featured, the point that violent crimes can and will happen everywhere is effectively driven home. That violence can be unintentional, planned or fueled by rage is secondary to the tragic mark it leaves on the characters.

The collections speak to how the stories, with or without guns and much like society, will continue to thrill even in the absence of guns. In fact, when the crutch of a gun is removed, the writers create plenty of wicked ways to end a life; baseball bats, incinerators, trains, and cash registers. And the plots are interesting and hair-raising, as well; think a simian on the loose, a dying serial killer out for one last thrill, or androids with buried secrets. All of the stories are creative and dynamic, featuring traditional and non-traditional protagonists up to their necks in trouble and willing to go to extremes to come out on top.

These are tough tales, brutal stories that will leave the reader thoughtful and unnerved. A highly suggested collection with quite a bit to say about our society.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Two Giants, and How One Paved the Way for the Other

By Claire Booth

I was scrolling through the news Friday night when I saw one thing. And right below it, another. Beverly Cleary died. Larry McMurtry died.

Two giants in the world of writers, who couldn’t be more different. He wrote tomes as varied as Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment. She wrote almost exclusively for children and young adults. He was mostly identified with Westerns and his “unromantic” (the New York Times’s word) view of that facet of American history. She reveled in the everydayness of being a kid and took on current issues. 

He won a Pulitzer.

She sold 85 million books.

He was 84.

She was 104.

So she came first. And I mean that as more than an observation about their ages.

If you went on to reading someone like McMurtry, you probably started with Henry Huggins, or Ramona the Brave. Especially if you’re from my Gen X cohort. If you fell in love with reading, if you identified with characters in a book, there’s a very good chance it’s because of Cleary. I remember reading the Ramona books and thinking, “This could’ve been written by a kid,” which when you’re a kid, is the highest praise possible.

And if you’ve experienced reading that good—that relatable—of course you’re going to seek out more. I didn’t arrive at McMurtry until adulthood, but his characters are just as universal. Which is the key to great literature. Which was what they both produced, to the benefit of generations of readers—of all ages.