Hasslein Blog: GUEST BLOG: Looking Back at Batman #229


Hasslein Blog

Saturday, March 30, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Looking Back at Batman #229

Batman #229
By Matthew Sunrich

Batman's not the kind of guy who frightens easily, so when we find him wearing an expression of abject terror, we can be sure that {expletive deleted} has gotten real. 

Such is the case on the cover of Batman #229.

Neal Adams evokes a sense of classical horror in this illustration. Whose meat-hooks are those manhandling the Caped Crusader? Who is that sinister-looking character in the background? And why isn't Batman kicking the crap out of all of them, as he usually does in these sorts of situations?

Does the story within have, in fact, anything at all to do with the cover?

Let's find out, shall we?

Our story, "Asylum of the Futurians," opens with a young woman, clearly upset, running down a deserted road outside Gotham City. Headlights appear behind her, which, thankfully, belong to the Batmobile.

The woman, Laura Grey, explains to Batman that her husband Stephen, a famous photographer of "psychic phenomena," disappeared from their home in the middle of the night. When she went out to look for him, what she found terrified her. When the Dark Knight asks her to elaborate, she leads him to an ostensibly abandoned house deep in the woods.

Batman looks in a window and observes a peculiar tableau inside. While it appears to be a normal dinner party at first blush, he soon realizes that the people involved are insane. Clad in strange raiment, the revelers enjoy music performed by a string trio with invisible instruments, imbibe "wine" from empty glasses, and ravenously partake of "food" from empty plates.

Stephen, seated among them and puzzled by their behavior, suddenly jumps up and exclaims that they are a bunch of freaks. They apparently drugged him and brought him to the house to take photographs of the soiree because of his reputation for being able to perceive things that others could not.

They are looking for the "Seventh Futurian," the one person on Earth deemed worthy to command their "cell" (of which there are reportedly many worldwide), and believed that Stephen might have been he, but finding that he is simply bemused by their silent music and invisible food and drink, their leader, the only female member of the group, proclaims that he must be destroyed.

Batman takes this opportunity to leap through an open window. He is immediately set upon by the Futurians but manages to dispatch all of them except the female. Impressed by his fighting prowess, she suggests that he might, in fact, be the Seventh Futurian. She explains that the members of their group, born with ESP powers that allow them to hear, taste, touch, and smell things that other people cannot, are destined to rule the world.

Deciding to play along until he can find out more about the attack they and the other cells around the globe are plotting, Batman allows the woman to place a crown on his head. The crown, however, begins to tighten around his skull, disorienting him and causing him to pass out.

For the final test of his mettle, the Futurians lock the incapacitated Dark Knight in a casket and toss it into a lake. He awakens and realizes that the humidity inside allows him to remove the crown. He uses the prongs to pick the lock and, with mere seconds of air left in his lungs, emerges from the depths.

The Futurians are duly impressed by his escape, but Batman wastes no time in subduing them. The authorities, summoned by Stephen, pick up the group of madmen and take them to prison.

So, does the story reflect the cover illustration? Not really.

But this is actually not an uncommon thing in the world of comics. The purpose of the cover is, after all, to sell the book, and sometimes artists take liberties in order to draw the attention of potential readers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as covers of this sort typically capture the "spirit" of the stories within. I believe this is the case here.

"Asylum of the Futurians," written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Irv Novick and Frank Giacoia, is an interesting story that, I believe, should have been longer. The concepts that were introduced were intriguing, but the length prevented them from being more thoroughly explored. The main story only occupies the first half of the book (the other half is, unfortunately, taken up by a Robin story).

I'm not sure at this point whether or not the Futurians made any other appearances in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics. It would be nice to see more of them.

Novick's art is very effective here. You can see the madness in the leader's eyes, and the sense of danger is almost palpable. The more of his work I see, the more I lament the fact that he was such an under-appreciated talent.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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At March 30, 2013 at 6:36 AM , Blogger T. Everett said...

I'm not sure at this point whether or not the Futurians made any other appearances in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics. It would be nice to see more of them.

Unfortunately, a quick check of the Batman wiki would seem to indicate not.


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