Monday, March 25, 2019

Batman 278: Stop Me Before I Kill

Another comic from my long boxes collected back in my youth is Batman 278. Like my recent series examining Batman's Underworld Olympics last week (covering issues 272, 273, 274, and 275), this issue was published in 1976. The cover date is August 1976, but the ads inside the book indicate the street date was likely May 1976.

“Stop Me Before I Kill” was written by David V. Reed with art by Ernie Chua and Tech Blaisdell. The villain in question is someone the characters dub The Wringer. Batman has a partner, but it’s not Robin. The man’s name is Inspector Kittredge from New Scotland Yard. He’s there riding shotgun with Batman on his nightly excursions and he wants to have one of Batman’s more bizarre cases.

Enter the Wringer

I’ll be honest, The Wringer is a bit of a cheesy villain. He wears green leotards with a purple hood/robe with eyes cut out so that the hood can act as a mask. Here's a page where you get both the Wringer and Kittredge.

Batman and Kittredge are presented with a few bizarre clues all dealing with little dolls who walk and talk. It all adds up to a rather interesting conclusion. Surprisingly at one point, Batman crushes the Batmobile into a truck to stop the larger vehicle with no apparent damage to the Batmobile. Must be made of something really hard.

Inspector Kittredge is staying with Bruce Wayne at the mid-70s Wayne foundation penthouse. Always love the way this building was built with huge giant tree in the middle. Of course, if you find the one issue where the breakdown with the tree really is, it’s a series of elevators and walkways. Here's one of the images I remember, with art by Terry Austin.

Naturally, Bruce Wayne is pretty far ahead of Kittredge, but he is not the Bat-God he is nowadays. One of the neatest things is that Bruce Wayne and Inspector Kittredge go to the Bicentennial Expo the Gotham Coliseum. The historian in me as well as the pop culture enthusiast is always fascinated how comics dealt with then real-world events, and the bicentennial was a big deal.

I have to say, the art work is pretty decent. Very kinetic especially with the use of the “grayscale” version of characters to indicate starting position versus the ending position. And of course I love it when the book characters manage a repartee as they’re punching out the bad guys. My favorite line has got to be when The Wringer—who has strong hands—throws what appears to be a lamp base at Batman. The Dark Knight picks up a fireplace poker and swings and hits the lamppost. Batman’s quip “You can pitch them–can you catch?” And Batman says it with a smile. Yes, Batman used to smile!

The closing panels, with Batman’s reasoning, is, frankly, cheesy. But, in 1976, where young readers (the primary audience) were given clues to the capers, it may have been just the type of thing they were looking for.

At the end of the comic book is the Daily Planet/Direct Currents column. This is when you got to read about a few of the titles coming up, the closest thing you had to the internet back then. There is something charming when the titles include Justice League, Hercules, DC Superstars of Space, Kung Fu Fighter, House of Mystery, Metal Men, and Ragman. The trivia quiz for this issue is the following.

Villains are all the rage these days so let’s test your knowledge on some of ours. Do you know the real names of:

The Riddler
Mirror master
Tara man
The Mad Hatter
The Joker

Again, the audience was young, and for them to know the answers to these questions meant they'd have to read Batman comics regularly. Yeah, it was a means to get the kids to part with more of their dimes, but it also built a family.

Still, I wonder what the answer was to the Joker's originally identity? The 1989 Batman movie gave the Joker a name, but The Killing Joke graphic novel did not. I suspect the new movie with Joaquin Phoenix will attach a name to the man who ultimately becomes The Clown Prince of Crime. I, for one, prefer anonymity. To switch comic companies for a second, if anyone could wear the Spider-Man suit, then could anyone become the Joker?

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