Thursday, January 31, 2019
When I review the covers of my issues of Batman, it turns out some of my favorites were all scripted by the same guy: Len Wein. Unknown to me at the time, Wein had already co-created Swamp Thing for DC and rebooted the X-Men over at Marvel, including the co-creation of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus. Nope, all I cared about was good Batman stories, and for a stretch there in late 1978 and all through 1979, Len Wein was the monthly writer (mostly) for Batman.
With the cover date for Wein’s first issue being January 1979 (although it hit the spinner racks a month or so earlier), I thought it would be fun to re-read Wein’s Batman run forty years later and see how it holds up. Spoiler: his run is among my favorites of all-time. In fact, Wein wrote one of my favorite all-time comic stories, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk. But that’s for a later post.
Speaking of holding up, Batman and Bruce Wayne in the 1970s is my favorite version of the character. Dick Grayson is off to college, leaving Bruce to move out of Wayne Manor and into Gotham City proper. He takes up residence at the Wayne Foundation building, and operates there for most of the decade. It is one of the neatest buildings in comicdom, what with the giant tree in the middle of the building, which secretly houses an elevator to the basement where the Batmobile is kept. For a young boy like me, this was the coolest thing ever.
The building shows up in Batman issue 307, but not before in intriguing two-page prologue. A beggar woman is asking for spare change. A man in a trench coat, fedora, and scarf approaches and gives her two gold pieces. The next page, she falls dead, right under the title, “Dark Messenger of Mercy!” The artist in this issue is John Calnan and Dick Giordano.
The first time we see Bruce Wayne, he is in his office, staring out the window. Next to him is Lucius Fox in his debut. I’m not sure the thought process Wein went through to create Fox, but the character has been around for these last forty years. Morgan Freeman played him in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. From the chit-chat between Fox and Wayne, however, it’s clear Wayne has not shared his secret identity. The two men talk about business and name drop a man named Gregorian Falstaff (love the name) who, according to Wayne, “He’s rumored to have have a fortune which makes mine look like so much lunch money.”
Darkness literally falls over Gotham in one short panel, and Wayne excuses himself. He tags up with Alfred who has the Batman costume at the ready. As he swings off the top of the Foundation building, Batman makes a comment to Alfred: “When I start making value judgements—deciding who’s important enough to avenge—it’ll be time to hang up my mask forever.” Here in 2019, with the recent passing of Stan Lee, many folks mentioned Lee’s strong streak of social justice running through his words. Here, in 1979, Len Wein does the same thing for Batman.
Meanwhile...at police headquarters, a man named Quentin Conroy is livid. He wants Gotham’s finest to help him find stolen property, gold coins to be exact. Unbeknownst to both men, Batman is sitting in the same room, legs casually crossed, fingers steepled. The Caped Crusader in convinced he can find Conroy’s missing money, especially since two of the coins turned up on that dead woman’s corpse.
Street level, Batman approaches a sleep bum and there is a funny couple of panels. In the boxed panels, Wein writes “Without question, the Batman is an impressive figure. His unexpected visage, looming large out of the darkness, is often viewed with admiration...or hostility...or outright fear…” “But rarely indifference.” This as the bum goes back to sleep. See? You can have humor in a Batman story. Anyway, an Irishman named Shamrock (natch) approaches and asks the hero if he needs helps. When Batman says he’s investigating the murder of the woman, Shamrock knew her. He volunteers to escort Batman down into the sewers to meet some folks who might have seen something.
What Batman sees is a group of people living in an underground tunnel, the area kept warm by the steam pipes. Here, Batman meets Slugger (from the ‘48 Gotham Giants baseball team), Poet (Shakespeare of the sewers), and Good Queen Bess. Through dialogue alone, Wein gives these characters their accents and particular ways of speaking. Shamrock always says, “Laddie,” while Slugger talks like a New Yorker: “Pleased to meet ‘cha!” Batman learns there have been other deaths...and Queen Bess actually has two of the coins with her. The Dark Knight Detective ascertains the gold coins are laced with a contact poison, absorbed through the skin.
No sooner does Batman make this discovery than a piercing scream fills the bowels of Gotham. Another woman is being attacked! It’s the man with the fedora and red scarf. Batman leaps to action. A fight ensues, and Batman gets himself whacked by Scarfman’s cane. In the melee, two things happen. One, Scarfman’s hat and scarf fall away, revealing a face the citizens of the underworld know. Two, Scarfman’s cane cracked a steam pipe. It’s about to blow. So Batman gets between the pipe and the people. It explodes, hurling Batman across the room.
Later, Batman’s “new tattered friends” say Scarfman looks just like one of their own: “Limehouse” John Francis Conroy, a man who used to sleep with them before just disappearing. Being the detective, Batman soon finds his way to Quentin Conroy’s house (because Batman can get into any room in Gotham, right?). Heated words are exchanged and Quentin confesses John Francis was his father. He kept the gold coins as a remembrance of his father, a man who ran out on his family while Quentin was a kid. The modern pressures of the world drove John Francis to the streets, supposedly dying in a gutter.
But Batman isn’t so sure.
The next night, we see Scarfman prowling about. He gives coins to a man who extends his hand...the gloved hand of The Batman! Oddly, Batman is wearing a sling, proof not only did the steam explosion hurt him worse than we saw three pages ago, but reminding readers the Caped Crusader is really just a man, a man who can get injured. A second battle commences, but Batman’s shoulder hampers him. Scarfman swings the cane too wide, allowing Batman to come in underneath him. A powerful punch to the mid-section topples Scarfman. The odd cast of characters are also there, cheering on Batman. Scarfman questions their motives. All he wants is to give these street people some mercy and peace. But “the peace of the grave” is something they shun. Just as they shun him.
Scarfman’s mind snaps. He accuses Batman of turning these “friends of his” away from him. His face is misshapen, resembling John Francis Conroy, but a few panels later, it is revealed to be Quentin all along. Quentin, looking almost like a young boy.
Wein wraps up the entire story in three thin panels. We see Quentin being led away and Commissioner Gordon asking Batman about the clue. It was the heels of Quentin’s shoes, something we saw a few pages before. Many of the 1970s stories had clues the reader could follow, and it’ fun to go back and notice certain things you might have missed the first go-round.
Wein wrote a pretty decent script. I enjoy the non-super-villain aspect of these kinds of stories. Kind of like a breather before we get to the next issue featuring Mr. Freeze. Wein brings Batman’s humanity to the fore, both in how he protects the homeless but also, at the end, when he hopes young Quentin will receive the help he needs. He’s a true hero to all, discriminating toward none.
What did y’all think about this story?
Saturday, January 26, 2019
BLOG POST TO READ
Ever since I read this post by Dean Wesley Smith, “No One Cares,” I’ve been giving it some thought. It’s churned around in my brain, off and on, for two weeks now. And it’s allowed me the freedom to change—potentially—my publishing schedule for the year.
What I’ve said from New Year’s Day on is that this is the year of Calvin Carter. Yes, I will be publishing at least the five novels I’ve already written. Each of these six books will be published on the odd-numbered months. EMPTY COFFINS on New Year’s Day. HELL DRAGON on 1 March.
But what y’all didn’t know is my plan for the even-numbered months. I had a whole other schedule planned out.
What I realized this week—early on, actually—was that I wasn’t ready for 1 February. At least, not for a novel.
So I’m preparing a couple of short stories. They are modern crime fiction featuring a character named Anne Chambers. She’s a homicide detective for the Houston Police Department. One of the stories was originally published as part of Do Some Damage’s COLLATERAL DAMAGE anthology (2011). The latter was originally published at David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp blog. Now, they are paired together in a short collection.
In other words, when you are an independent writer and publisher and you haven’t made public your schedule, you can do whatever you want...because your company is agile.
ALWAYS LEARNING - INSTAGRAM
I’m a member of Western Fictioneers, a writing group dedicated to western fiction. I’ve been a member since the group’s founding in 2009. We are a great group of folks who read each other’s works and collectively promote western stories and books.
We also help each other figure out how to promote our stuff and share marketing techniques. No matter how your stories are published, you simply must do the lion’s share of your own promotion. It is a constant learning process. For some, this process can be frustrating. For me, it’s a challenge, but one I actually enjoy. As much as I would love for there to be a “set it and forget it” solution, there simply isn’t one.
Which circled me back to Instagram this week.
I’ve been on Instagram for a few years now, but did nothing other than follow a graphic designer friend of mine, Mark Hamill, Neal Adams, and Kevin Smith. But after reading an internal Western Fictioneers email thread, I’m turning back to Instagram. I even uploaded my first...post? What do you call individual Instagram posts? Who knows? But I did it. And I plan on doing it more often in 2019.
Follow me on Instagram here. And if you’re of a mind, follow S. L. Matthews.
DEAL OF THE WEEK...AND ANOTHER LESSON
Do Some Damage alumnus, Kristi Belcamino, has a terrific deal.
I’ve subscribed to her newsletter for a few years now. She has forged ahead as an independent author and she is rocking it. She’s got her newsletter, her Facebook group, and her video channel where she talks about books, her own works, and the utterly charming “Coffee Talk Puppy Talk” series. You should subscribe to her channel. She’s at 95 subscribers as of yesterday. Let’s get her to 100 this week.
She’s got six books in her Gia Santella Crime Thriller series. With those six books, she has lots of options for promoting and selling them. And as of today, you can get all six books...for $0.99.
A dollar! Six books. Are you kidding me? You should buy that on principle. It’s a remarkable deal. Over 1,000 pages of crime fiction. And, as of today, she ranks as #1 in her fields. That’s how you marshal your books to your advantage.
If you are not following Kristi, you should. She’s a leader in what you can do as an indie writer.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
I’ve got an early favorite for my song of the year.
When it comes to melodic hard rock and metal, Frontiers Music is leading the charge at keeping legacy acts in the public eye while showcasing new artists. To start 2019, they have a free sampler when you join their email list. It’s a list of twelve tracks by bands I’ve never heard of (save one: One Desire).With a hashtag of #RockAintDead, how can you go wrong?
If you like hard rock with a melodic edge, go now to this site, sign up, and download this music. It is really, really good. How good? There’s not a bad song on this sampler. And how about this: I’ve already purchased two albums by artists featured on the sampler. One Desire’s self-titled debut and ALL RISE, an album by the band Perfect Plan. Both of these bands sit right in that wonderful pocket of taking old songs and styles and making them their own.
It is “In and Out of Love” by Perfect Plan that I find myself singing while washing dishes or folding laundry. Want to hear it?
That’s the update for Week 4 of 2019.
How has your 2019 been going?
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Calvin Carter has arrived.
The year 2019 will be the year of Calvin Carter, railroad detective, here at the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio. We've got six--count 'em six--novels on the way. They will be published every other month starting on New Year's Day. I am so excited about this series and I can't wait for you to meet Detective Carter.
The first book is EMPTY COFFINS.
And I have to tell you, I simply love the opening chapter. But before you get to that, here's the Description:
When a group of bandits derails a train and murders an engineer in cold blood, it’s not the loot they’re after.
It’s the coffins.
Debonair former actor turned railroad detective, Calvin Carter, is on that train. He zeroes in on the object of the robbery. From the clues left behind, corpses weren’t the only things in the caskets. And a sniper’s bullet silences the only witness.
Now, Carter may be the only player in this twisted script who can solve this Wild West mystery. But will he get to the truth in time, or end up in a pine box himself?
Heck, I'd read that. Hope it whets your curiosity to discover who Carter is and how he goes about investigating his cases. If you want a little teaser, head on over to the EMPTY COFFINS page for the complete chapter 1. Have a read and see how fun Carter is…and how I think he's a little different than your average detective. Or cowboy.
I'll have much more on Carter as this month and year goes on. There are other books on the horizon as well*, but today, with the dawn of a new year, I want to focus on Calvin Carter, a new type of detective.
*If you want to keep up with my existing and growing catalog of stories and receive a free sampler catalog of all my stories, sign up for my email list.