Our TOT rotation brings us back around to Batman today. The "Caped Crusader" is one of my all-time favorite comics characters, though he has been badly handled by many of his caretakers over the past couple decades. But these openings focus on Batman's Golden, Silver, and, occasionally, Bronze Age tales, issues that represent fond memories for me and other older readers.
DETECTIVE COMICS #294 [August, 1961] was one such issue. As a kid, I was fascinated by the periodic table, so, even if I hadn't been a Batman fan, I still would've eagerly handed over a dime for a comic featuring "The Villain of 100 Elements."
The cover was drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, who also pencilled and maybe inked Bill Finger's 12.66-page thriller. On the Grand Comics Database [www.comics.org], both Moldoff and Joe Giella are listed as possible inkers. The GCD lists Jack Schiff, Murray Boltinoff, and George Kashdan as "associate editors," but the Batman story is almost certainly a Schiff production.
ELEMENTAL MAN, THE. A fearsome criminal who commits a series of spectacular crimes before he is finally apprehended by Batman in August 1961. He is John Dolan, a man who, while assisting a Gotham City scientist in the construction of a machine designed to "alter the molecular structure of elements," became exposed to a prolonged energy-leak from the machine's power source, which drove him "criminally insane" and endowed him with the awesome power to control the molecular structure of his own body so long as he wears a special control-belt.
[Batman and Robin's] efforts to defeat the Elemental Man and drain him of his elemental powers with a special machine receives a severe setback when the accidental explosion of the new machine strikes Batman with "the same affliction as Dolan's" and causes his body to become continually and uncontrollably transformed from one basic element to another. Ultimately, however, after an improved power-draining machine has been constructed, Batman lures the Elemental Man into a trap, drains every last vestige of elemental energy from both the villain's body and his own, and apprehends the Elemental Man's two gangland accomplices.
Left out of the above was that the police feared Batman would turn criminal as well. Locked in a jail cell, Batman waits until he changes into a being of mercury, at which time, he simply flows out of his cell. To this day, I can instantly visualize that panel of Batman as a shiny puddle.
Batman feigns the same kind of criminal insanity as afflicts Dolan, hooks up with him, and then lures the Elemental Man into the trap. Readers were treated to a dizzying array of transformations as the story roared to its conclusion.
Also in this issue:
Aquaman in "The Fantastic Fish That Defeated Aquaman" (5.66 pages) with art by Nick Cardy;
"The Bullets That Backfired" (1-page text); and,
John Jones, Manhunter From Mars in "The Martian Weakling" (6.66 pages) with art by Joe Certa.
The Elemental Man never returned to challenge Batman and Robin again, but, just a few years later, writer Bob Haney, artist Ramona Fradon, and editor George Kashdan would, in the pages of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #57 [January, 1965] introduce a new super-hero by the name of Metamorpho the Element Man. From his first B&B appearance, Metamorpho became a favorite of mine and, though he hasn't always been well used in modern times, he's still one of the few DC super-heroes I'd like to write...*if* I could restore some of the wilder, ah, elements, of his early adventures.
MOONSTONE NOIR: PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE by writer Steven Grant and artist Tom Mandrake [Moonstone; $4.95] updates the hard-boiled P.I. whose radio adventures were broadcast in the late 1940s and who was played by Dragnet's Jack Webb when the program went from regional to national. In the radio show, Novak owned a San Francisco boat shop and hired out to do odd jobs; his detective work being more of a byproduct of those jobs rather than his profession.
In this 52-page black-and-white comic, the elderly Novak lives on the Bay with his granddaughter. He still thinks and talks like he's the toughest guy on the docks, his hard-boiled speech pattern baffling most of the folks he meets. When an old case of his comes back to haunt him, he hires himself out once again.
Grant and Mandrake do a superb job of capturing both the dark humor of their premise and the grim-and-gritty ambience of classic hard-boiled detective fiction. I love their portrayal of Novak as this slightly crazy guy sharp enough and tough enough to face the modern world on his own terms. Their story is solid from start to finish, making for one of the most satisfying comic books I've read recently.
MOONSTONE NOIR: PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE gets the full five out of five Tonys. This is the good stuff, my friends.
DIGITAL WEBBING PRESENTS
The first 20-something pages of DIGITAL WEBBING PRESENTS #29 [$3.99] looks like a 1970s Marvel comic book and that got a smile out of me. I'll further grant you that the Fist of Justice story by writer Mike Imboden and artist Chad Hardin (with co-plotting by publisher Ed Dukeshire) isn't a half-bad super-hero story. But I'm not sure the joke doesn't do a disservice to the super-hero story and vice versa.
Backing up the lead feature are stories starring Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher and Klik Boom Exterminators. Scripted and co-plotted by Matt Peters and drawn and co-plotted by Bill Presing, the Steele adventure is thin but amusing. On the minus side, the Klik Boom episode didn't do a thing for me. I never got a good side of who the characters were or exactly what they were doing.
DIGITAL WEBBING PRESENTS #29 is good for three Tonys this time around, but I don't think I'd give next issue that high a score if the Fist of Justice doesn't move beyond its nostalgic homage to an era well represented by reprints of the real thing.
THE PHANTOM [Moonstone; $3.50 per issue) continues to present new and terrific stories of one of the truly classic super-heroes, though this one got his start in the newspapers and not the comic books. Lee Falk's legendary creation has millions of fans around the world and, though "the Ghost Who Walks" might be more popular elsewhere than in the land of his "birth," these new comics carry on the legend admirably.
In THE PHANTOM #9 and #10, writer Chuck Dixon delves into the "Slave Trade" as the Phantom meets up with an American missionary trying to buy the freedom of captive Christians. Dixon doesn't shy away from some hard truths about the missionary's well-intentioned plan, adding a layer of thoughtfulness to a cracking good thriller. When it comes to down-to-earth adventure, Dixon is one of the best writers in comics. Artists Eric J and Peter Guzman hold up their end of the story as well.
THE PHANTOM #9 and #10 each earn four Tonys.
Starting this month and (hopefully) running at least a couple times each month, "Phantom Files" will be appearing in this column. I'll be reviewing the Frew Phantom comics published in Australia, many of which feature Phantom adventures that have never appeared in the United States.
While you're waiting for the first of these reviews, let me recommend my source for the Frew Phantom comics. I order them from Australia's own PALADIN COMICS at:
Every other month, Paladin bills me via PayPal for the Phantom issues which have been published in that time period. The comics always arrive quickly and in great shape. Even with the shipping costs, it still comes out to a very reasonable price for these 32-page comics and for Frew's 100-page-and-up special issues. If you want more Phantom in your life, and you should, this is an easy and painless way to get it.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
Wherever I drive, movie marquees are heralding the return of Superman in SUPERMAN RETURNS! I haven't seen the movie yet, but I won't let that stop me from honoring the Man of Steel is this super special edition of COMICS IN THE COMICS.
Superman and buddy Batman made an appearance in John Deering's STRANGE BREW panel for March 21:
Yes, Marvel sends me royalty checks when the company reprints my stories. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, they have never *not* paid me for American reprints of my stories. Moreover, I have never had to chase them for the checks. Marvel has been great about sending them without me having to lift a finger, except to sign and deposit them. I wish all publishers treated me as well.
Some quick thanks to hand out before we close:
JUSTIN, the wondrous web-wizard of World Famous Comics, comes through for TOT time and time again. We're both butt-deep in this and that, but we're going to do our best to bring you a new column every other day this month.
Thanks to the trio of TOT readers who respond to our request for TIP THE TIPSTER donations. We were hoping there would be more readers willing to chip in a few bucks to help us keep this column coming your way, but that in no way lessens our gratitude to those who did contribute and who have contributed in the past. The link is elsewhere on this page if anyone else wants to use it.
Thanks to the creators and publishers who send review copies of their comics and books to me. By fall, I hope to have many more opportunities to review your stuff.
And, as always, thanks to all of you reading this for spending part of your day with us.
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.
Please send material you would like me to review to: