Hasslein Blog: Matthew Sunrich Presents: Batman #267


Hasslein Blog

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Matthew Sunrich Presents: Batman #267

Batman #267
By Matthew Sunrich

There are few more iconic or compelling images than the Grim Reaper. Dating back to the fifteenth century, the cloaked skeleton, often wearing a devilish grin, automatically brings to mind death in general and graveyards and all the trappings that go along with them a larger sense.

The cover of Batman #267 (1975) uses the hooded personification of death to spectacular effect. The fact that the Reaper is larger than Batman is not only striking but also works on a metaphorical level. He is a giant that must be slain, and the Dark Knight may have to go into battle less well-equipped than his foe. The glowing invitation, being hurled like a shuriken, suggests the immediacy of the situation, the extreme danger, and the fact that Batman will have to be at the very top of his game to avoid a horrible fate. (Not bad for a "funny-book," huh?)

This tale, "Invitation to a Murder," is penned by David V. Reed, chronicler of many of Batman's Bronze-Age adventures. Having read quite a few of his stories, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one. Opinions of Reed's stories vary wildly, but the one thing I'm sure everyone can agree on is that he spins yarns that stretch the Caped Crusader's detective skills to the limit. His stories are usually fairly implausible, and Batman's ability to successfully close a case often relies heavily on chance, but they're always entertaining and intriguing.

Our tale opens with Commissioner Gordon's receiving a mysterious glowing letter. It is, strangely enough, an invitation to a robbery at the Jewelers' Exchange Building at midnight. Gordon, of course, immediately summons Batman. The glow, the Caped Crusader deduces, is attributable to a chemical the envelope has been soaked in, but it fails to elucidate the situation any. Gordon orders the building surrounded, but at the stroke of midnight the edifice bursts into flames.

Fire-fighters rush to the scene, and when Batman scales the building to investigate, he finds them in the midst of a heist. Bursting through a window, the Dark Knight sets about apprehending the ersatz firemen but succumbs to smoke sprayed on him by one of the perpetrators, and they make a clean getaway.

The following night, Gordon receives another note. This one is an invitation to the airport to witness the landing of an experimental aircraft, after a thirty-three-hour flight around the globe. As soon as the plane touches down, a member of the service crew holds the pilot and copilot at gunpoint, demanding that they take the craft back into the air so he can hold them for a huge ransom. Batman, having boarded during a refueling stop, subdues two of the hijackers, but the third steals a parachute and jumps from the plane.

Based on the clues he's collected, and with Alfred's help, Batman works out the criminal mastermind's identity: a man known as Django (no, not the "unchained" one). When the Caped Crusader visits police headquarters to apprise Gordon of his conclusions, the commissioner hands him another luminescent invitation, this one to a rock festival at Gotham Palace, where the attendees will witness Batman's execution.

The Dark Knight shows up at the venue as Bruce Wayne and does a bit of schmoozing before donning his costume. Watching the concert from the catwalk, he quickly recognizes the disguised Django, based on his actions, and follows him off the stage. Confronted, he initially denies everything but drops the charade when Batman informs him that he has deactivated the explosive devices that he attached to the invitations of Waxey Kruger and Big Jim Cody, Gotham's two top mobsters, who had attended the event to see the Batman expire.

Django tears off his mask, holding aloft a pair of finger cymbals, which he claims will detonate a similar device that he planted on Batman during the fight in the burning building. He commands the Caped Crusader to remove his cowl so that he can learn his identity before he kills him but is shocked to see his own face underneath. (This mirrors a scene in Detective Comics #355, "Hate of the Hooded Hangman," where the titular Hangman similarly finds his own visage when he removes Batman's mask.) Django clicks the cymbals together, but nothing happens, as Batman had defused the device a couple of nights before. Realizing he has been caught, he makes once last attempt at escape but finds himself no match for the Batman.

His plan, it turns out, was to eliminate Batman, Kruger, and Cody all at one time so he could take over Gotham's criminal underworld. With everything wrapped up, Gordon asks Batman how Django managed to plant the invitations, and Batman is forced to admit that he's still trying to work that part out.

The art chores for this story are handled by Ernie Chan and Dick Giordano. Both are talented artists, certainly, but I'm not sure that they work particularly well together, as their styles vary greatly. The art manages to tell the story effectively, and there are a few really nice panels, but there is nothing eye-popping here. Readers seeking dazzling illustrations should look elsewhere.

I appreciate the fact that Reed manages to cover all the bases, as it were, explaining how Batman worked out the perpetrator's identity and how he managed to deduce the significance of clues. Batman is frequently called the "World's Greatest Detective," and Reed's stories certainly provide credence to his right to the title. Coincidence does play a part, but it's up to Batman to determine how everything fits together.

Overall, a good issue.

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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