Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part II

When we last left our hero in Batman 272, Batman stood in Commissioner Gordon’s office and pondered why all the hoods he had bagged were from South America. Little does he know that now, the Europeans have a go at the Dark Knight Detective.

In Batman 273, we have “The Bank Shot That Baffled Batman.” The cover is an oddball cover to be sure. The modern Batman would never have allowed himself to get into a position like that, but that’s also why I love the 70s version of Batman because he’s often more human.

This story not only gets the 1976 Olympic vibe, but it also deals with the American Bicentennial. In the opening panels, some reenactors are rehearsing their part of the upcoming celebration. They have a colonial cannon and are supposed to keep the redcoats at bay. But the redcoats have live ammunition. In the ensuing excitement, the cannon is stolen.

Interestingly, the first we see of Batman, he’s in the JLA satellite standing watch. Cut to Underworld Olympic HQ and our announcer. He informs the betting crowd that the Europeans have successfully completed phase 1 of their assigned tasks. Phase 2 involves a theft from the bank…in which Bruce Wayne happens to be working. During the heist, it’s Wayne who sees the action and, in no time, has already changed clothes and swoops in as Batman. With swift action and funny dialogue, Batman narrates his take-down of the goons, but one of them gets away with the safe deposit boxes.

A highlight of this issue is Batman being a detective. Of the 20 pages of action, only four show Batman actually punching bad guys. The rest of the time, he’s figuring out the clues and following leads. One of those clues gets Batman to a warehouse (natch) where…he’s bonked on the head from behind. Again, love the 70s version, because you know modern Batman would have taken out that goon. When Boris the Russian bad guy explains to his pals how he was able to get the drop on our hero and snatch the missing safe deposit box from under Batman’s nose, he merely said he followed Batman. Really? Did he swing through the skies on ropes? Oh well, it was the 70s.

The next day, Bruce Wayne makes an appearance at the bank to watch the “owners” of the boxes arrive. Turns out Bruce notes the heels of a man named Boris being the exact type of heels from the goons he smacked down last night. Soon, he’s back into Batman garb and, using Bruce Wayne’s keys—and Batman actually says “Very convenient having Bruce Wayne’s keys! Save time” Why does he do this? It’s all his stuff—he sneaks into the safe deposit vault. There, he picks the locks of every box registered to the two shady characters. It’s all a bunch of sectioned and machine metal pieces.

Are you ready for what comes next? Batman actually puts together…the stolen cannon. In the bank vault. Yes, really. He determines the projectile is hollow so he paints it with an invisible coating of uranium nitrate that he just happens to carry…on his utility belt? He calls Alfred and asks him to track the trajectory of the projectile when it’s fired. And then Batman disassembles the entire cannon and puts all the pieces back into their respective boxes.

Pretty riveting comic reading, I know, but the action picks back up when the goons return, build the cannon, insert the stolen loot into the hollow projectile, shoot it, blow a hole through the bank vault, and only then does Batman make his entrance. Gotta love it, right? He dispatches these bad guys, then goes to where the projectile landed and takes out those guys, too.

Darn that Batman. He keeps screwing up the Underworld Olympics! The Europeans did all they were asked to do, earning them 80 points, but the leader deducted 30 because the entire European squad was captured by Batman. So, if you’re keeping score at home, it’s South America with 30 and Europe with 50. In the closing panel, Batman wonders what’s next for Gotham. What’s next? Why nothing less than the “Gotham City Treasure Hunt.”

As I wrote before, the whole concept is goofy, but seeing Batman actually use his brains more than his fists was great. I enjoy re-reading these older stories not merely for the nostalgia or the ads but for a more human Batman. Again David V. Reed penned the story and Ernie Chua and Frank McLaughlin created the art. This Batman is still drawn in the more slim style of Neal Adams, but with a larger upper body. Almost like a swimmer, say, the way American swimmer Nathan Adrian looks. I’m beginning to think I may read more issue past this four-part run.

No comments: