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for Monday, March 27, 2006

Detective Comics 272

The "crystal creature" on the cover of DETECTIVE COMICS #272 [October, 1959] fascinated me as a kid. For some reason, I found the monster slightly unsettling. I looked at the issue on each of three trips to the store before I actually bought it.

The cover was by Curt Swan (pencils) and Stan Kaye (inks), but it wasn't a particularly strong cover. It was the monster and the coloring that drew me to it. I recall trying to draw the creature when I got home, maybe figuring all those angles would make it easy to copy. I could draw straight lines with a ruler; how hard could it be to draw this monster?

None of my artistic attempts were good enough for me to keep. I have virtually no memory of the issue's stories. But that cover has stayed with me all these years and, when it came time to choose a vintage Batman comic to lead today's TOT, it was the first one I thought of.

The Grand Comics Database [] has not identified the writer of "The Crystal Creature" at this time, but the 12-page story was pencilled by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charles Paris. The GCD lists associate editors Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoff, and George Kashdan, but Schiff likely did the heavy lifting on this and other Batman comics of the era.

Here's what Michael L. Fleisher wrote about the story in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMIC BOOK HEROES VOLUME 1: BATMAN, an astonishing reference work published by Collier Books in 1976:

CRYSTAL CREATURE, THE. The term used to describe a bizarre crystalline creature, vaguely humanoid in form, which digests metal with two "green rays" fired from its head, and sets objects on fire with a red "heat-ray" fired from its hand, apparently as a display of anger. One scientist has theorized that "the crystal creature" came into being when an underwater volcanic eruption cracked open a thick lead container housing abandoned atomic waste, thus allowing radiation to pour forth which ultimately "caused some ordinary fish to mutate into the crystal creature!" In October, 1959, the crystal creature wreaks havoc in Gotham City, voraciously consuming all the metal in its path until Robin finally lures it out of the city by dropping it appetizing steel cubes to eat from the back of a moving truck. Batman ultimately destroys the creature by bombarding it with high-frequency sound waves from a large radio transmitter until finally, "like a bursting prism, the crystal creature shatters into thousands of faceted fragments!" "And so," concludes the textual narrative, "the menace that once threatened to wipe out a city, a country - the whole world, perhaps - now lies in a mass of glittering rubble!"

Kids got a lot for their comic-book dime in 1959. Besides the Batman story, this issue also featured:

"It's Fun to Learn!" (a single-page public service by Schiff with art by Bernard Bailey);

Warden Wills (a single-page gag strip by the prolific Henry Boltinoff);

Roy Raymond, TV Detective in "Roy Raymond's Fantastic Powers" (six pages, drawn by Ruben Moreira);

Casey the Cop (a half-page gag by Boltinoff the cartoonist, as opposed to his brother, the editor);

"Law Curios!" (a half-page fact filler);

"Blind Eyewitness" (single-page text article); and,

Manhunter From Mars in "The Super-Sleuth's Bodyguard" (a six-page story drawn by Joe Certa). This John Jones tale takes place before his existence was revealed to the world. I didn't remember it until I read this brief summary from MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS []:

John Jones is responsible for crook Willie Harper getting convicted. Harper swears revenge, so Captain Harding assigns patrolman Mike Hanson to protect Jones. When Harper's gang attacks Jones, Hanson tries to protect him. Jones acts invisibly as the Martian Manhunter to help Hanson. Working together the two men avoid the gang's traps. Hanson then charges in to capture the gang without knowing the Manhunter is secretly helping him.

Even with the above, I still don't remember the story clearly, but the basic plot of a hidden hero helping someone else catch some crooks or accomplish some great feat was common to many super-hero yarns. Those spandex-clad guys and gals of the Golden and Silver Ages were truly a modest lot.

The OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE opines a near-mint condition copy of DETECTIVE COMICS #272 would run a collector about $240. The COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS deems $125 to be a more accurate price. When I checked eBay, I found a number of copies of the book ranging in condition from poor to very fine and with "buy it now" prices under $75.

Batman - the sane Batman who appeared in comics prior to Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS opened the door for lesser talents to muck with the character - has been one of my favorite characters since I started reading comic books. Look for more vintage Batman covers in future editions of this column.



It's Monday and that means there are new questions waiting for you at our TONY POLLS page. This week, I'm asking you to weigh in on the V FOR VENDETTA theatrical release and the ULTIMATE AVENGERS direct-to-DVD feature. You can cast your votes at:



I'm going "short form" on TOT today through Wednesday while I juggle some pressing family and work responsibilities. I'll still be here those days, but I'll be shutting up a whole lot sooner than I usually do. If all goes well, I'll resume full-length columns by Thursday and you'll again have more of me to love.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more (but less than usual) stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/24/2006 | 03/27/2006 | 03/28/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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