Monday, March 18, 2019

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part I

[Batman turns 80 this month. Next week, issue 1,000 of Detective Comics will be published. To get in on the Bat-anniversary festivities, this week, I take a look at a run of four stories published in 1976.]

No matter the year, everyone likes to jump on the Olympics bandwagon. Be it Citibank or Coke or McDonald’s in 2016, every business wants a bite at Olympic golden advertising. Well, back in 1976, DC Comics put Batman in the mix.

With a cover date of February 1976—which probably meant a late 1975 newsstand appearance, especially considering the ad for the treasury edition of “Christmas with the Super Heroes”—Batman issue 272 has the title of “The Underworld Olympics ’76.” That title ended up covering four consecutive issues. Considering I’ve been watching the Olympics for a week now, I thought it would be a great time to read these books.

In the opening panels, Batman arrives at the Gotham airport and nabs a smuggler. He even schools the cops on what to look for. Unbeknownst to the Dark Knight, that was merely a ruse to let other folks slip into the city. Said folks were the South American contingent. No sooner than a mere flip of a page and we learn they are the last team to join the First International Crime Olympics. The unnamed chairman has four envelopes, each containing a crime to be committed. And there’s a point system involved complete with various deductions. The South American pick first and the games are off.

Now, before I got any further, I’ll admit that yes, this is a goofy concept. I won’t disagree if that’s the first thing you thought of when you read the title of this blog. David V. Reed penned the story while J. L. Garcia Lopez and Ernie Chua handled the art. If you can get beyond the goofy concept, the story ain’t half bad…provided you accept the premise.

If there’s one thing I love about 1970s-era Bruce Wayne it was him playing up his debonair alter ego. The victim of the South Americans’ event is hosting a swanky party, and Bruce is there chatting with a provocatively dressed woman. As one tends to do when one is a millionaire playboy. But he deduces the host’s quick exit is not on the level and, dressed as Batman, takes *his own car*. Any observant party goer might ask “Hey, why is Batman driving Bruce Wayne’s car” but that’s neither here nor there. Suffice it to say, Batman is too late to prevent the host/victim from death.

But he isn’t too late to take on the two South Americans in hand-to-hand combat. Bats wins, of course, and the South Americans are arrested. Bummer, because that counts as a deduction. (Just go with me here.) Batman is in full-on detective mode, questioning each piece of this rather bizarre puzzle. The Underworld Olympic Committee (because that’s what they are, right?) have spotters in the field (seriously) and the presence of Batman complicates matters. Cut to panels of other criminals, back at Underworld Olympics HQ, placing new bets.

I hope they bet on Batman. No sooner does he track an electronic bug to Gotham’s “Central Park” that he walks into an ambush. He catches the “olympians” red-handed and puts them away. Too bad, because that just means more deductions. And that leaves Batman to wonder why all the bad guys he put in jail are all from South America.

In an era where multi-issue story arcs were either rare or nonexistent, the Underworld Olympics run is unique. I just wonder how good it is, or if “goofy” will be the watchword of the arc. I’ve only read the first story, but I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of Batman 273 where the Europeans try for “The Bankshot that Baffled Batman.”

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