[This post originally was published in July 2016]
Nearly a calendar year after Batman 253, Batman 259 landed in the spinner racks across America in December 1974. Denny O’Neil is again the writer. The artists, whom I failed to note, are also the same: Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. The opening splash page shows a shoot-out with three hoodlums, a shadow in the shape of The Shadow, and a nurse, a gentleman in a suit, and a young boy. Breathlessly, O’Neil warns young readers that they haven’t opened the wrong magazine. “The Caped Crusader is in this scene! But you may not recognize him…because the event you are witnessing occurred a quarter of a century ago.” The gentleman turns out to be Thomas Wayne; the boy is his son, Bruce. The hoods are making their way off with the Starlight Tiara. The unsuspecting civilians walk into the escape and the nurse trips and falls. In the process, the nurse rips off the bandana from one of the hoods. It’s Willy Hank Stamper, the Boy Genius of Crime [doncha just love all the extras to characters back then?]. Just as Stamper is about to shoot her, Thomas Wayne leaps into action. He knocks Stamper away. A shootout ensues and Thomas, Bruce, and the nurse huddle on the floor. There, young Bruce is traumatized by the gunshots. The Shadow triumphs, Stamper is put in jail, but the scars in young Bruce remain.
In a quick two pages, we see Stamper in jail, the murder of Bruce’s parents, and the appearance of the dread Batman. (I always loved that O’Neil used “dread” as an adjective to describe Batman.) After a brief conversation between Batman and Commissioner Gordon—where the cop questions why Batman never uses a gun—Batman as Bruce goes to visit Mildred, the nurse from the opening panel. It’s just at the right time, too. She’s in her wheelchair on the roof of her old folks’ home. Stamper is there! So is Swofford, the jeweler, holding a large jewelry box. A quick fight ensues, but Stamper gets away because Swofford suffers a heart attack and dies. Interestingly, the box of jewels disappears right under Batman’s nose. Hmmm…
The next evening, at the Rare Gem Exhibit, the Starlight Tiara is on display. Bruce Wayne expects Stamper to strike. Instead, there’s a note that claims the Tiara is a fake. Upon closer inspection, it’s true! Suddenly, that peculiar laughter fills the loud speaker. Bruce knows that laugh. He also understands the message: “It will end where it began!” Now, Bruce heads back to the same building as the opening panel. The Swofford jewelry shop is now a dilapidated mannequin store. Batman walks in. Stamper’s there, of course, but he has no quarrel with Batman. Nonetheless, the Dark Knight Detective leaps into action. Stamper shoots at him, and then there’s an odd thing. Batman/Bruce has a flashback to that night 25 years ago. Again, he’s like the young Bruce who was traumatized by the gunshots. It freezes him as he remembers. Stamper’s about to shoot Batman when The Shadow’s laughter interrupts the action. Batman is snapped out of his fright and takes out Stamper.
Now, I’ll admit that in this day and age, Batman is all but a super man. He can do no wrong and has thought things out ten steps ahead of everyone. His brain is his super power. However, one of the things I still enjoy about Batman in the 1970s is that he’s still a man. He has the occasional moments like this. It humanizes him. So this scene worked for me.
The issue ends with Batman and The Shadow talking. The Shadow offers Batman a gift of a gun. Batman refuses. The Shadow points out that the box Swofford [where does O’Neil get these names?] was carrying had a hidden compartment. In there was the real Tiara. Lastly, Batman asks the obvious question: “You know my real identity.” That was the implication from their first adventure in issue 253, but it’s out in the open now. The Shadow assures Bruce that the secret is safe with him. The Shadow disappears into the night. Batman/Bruce laments that he didn’t get a chance to thank him. “He’s freed me from a dread [see the nice counter-use of the word here?] I didn’t realize I had.” O’Neil ends the issue with a text box: “The Batman does not fail…and neither does The Shadow.”
Overall, this is another excellent issue with these two heroes. It makes you really want to have more adventures with these two characters. Too bad that never came to pass. The last panel is a simple box: “We dedicate this story to the memory of our friend Bill Finger.” The co-creator of Batman died in January 1974. Back then, I think only a few knew of Finger’s contributions to the Batman mythos. Now, it’s generally acknowledged that the character we know today as Batman is the way he is largely as a result of Bill Finger. Glad he got his nod.
One more thing: This issue is one of the 100-page issues. DC would write a new story for the featured character and then fill in the rest of the pages with reprints. This way, they could charge $0.60. It was a bargain! In the days before trade paperback collections, this was the best (only?) way for young readers like I was to read the older stories. There would also be special features, like “The Strange Costumes of Batman” in this issue. Best of all for someone of my age, this issue had the new Saturday Morning Schedule for CBS. It was a two-page spread of all the new shows and the times. Back when cartoons and kids’ programming was relegated to Saturday mornings, I would often look for current issues and hope they had a spread like this one. Granted, 1974 was a little ahead of my time, but it is still good to have a peek at what CBS thought kids would like. Good times, huh?