Thursday, March 21, 2019

Batman’s Underworld Olympics ’76: Part IV

Batman 275 sports a decent cover, but a fantastic splash page.

I’ve always loved Batman images that use his cape as a framing device. You’ll see also, in the upper right corner, the logo for this four-issue fun of the Underworld Olympics ’76. And here we are at the final story.

The opening few panels are basically a pre-credits sequence of a James Bond movie. It sets up Batman’s continual frustration with this gang of criminals who are conducting odd activities that add up to nothing. We get a shot of our ringleader addressing the crowd and even the updated scorecard:

South America: 20 (in Batman 272)
Europe: 50 (in Batman 273)
Afro-Asian: 33 1/3 (in Batman 274)
North America: …well, it’s their turn now!

They have a big problem. The end of their assignment is to take place on the Tompkinsville Ferry at midnight, but budget cuts have cancelled that route. What are they to do? They complain. The liaison says they can forfeit. “Forfeit? That’s a laugh!” cries a dude who looks like a hippie. Well, our North American team concocts a daring scheme: they rob some fellow criminals of their cash reserves. Next thing you know, the mayor is on TV announcing that an anonymous group has donated a million dollars to get the Tompkinsville Ferry up and running again. Viola! The North Americans are in business.

And Bruce Wayne is in a pissy mood. When he reads that an historical key was stolen from City Hall, he knows it’s the work of this group. Alfred reminds him that the Wayne Foundation Benefit Soccer Game is that evening and they go. In a jarring couple of panels set at the game, Alfred starts to tell Bruce the differences between a soccer field and a football field. Now, what this really is is a chance for David V. Reed, the writer of these issues, to feed some useful information to the kids reading the book.* But what happens is that Bruce snaps at his manservant. “Alfred, I invited you here because it’s your national pastime…but please don’t instruct me. I played soccer in college.” Then, in the next panel, Bruce’s thought balloon is this: “I came to relax…and he’s driving me nuts! Ah, there’s my chance—” The ‘chance’ is two young ladies. Ah, the 70s!

But before Bruce can sashay over to the ladies, some goons emerge from under the field and disrupt the game. Reminded me of the circus scene in “Batman Forever.” Batman shows up and fights them, but not before one of them toss the soccer ball into the net of a guy on a motorcycle who gets away. In a funny series of panels without any dialogue, a disgusted Batman watches the cyclist roar away…and he takes out his frustration with a swift kick on a remaining goon who isn’t quite unconscious.

Back at the Batcave, Batman fetches the Whirlybat! This issue is cover dated May 1976 so I’m not sure how long it had been since the Whirlybat was in use, but it certainly wasn’t in this story arc. Batman actually is shown taking the tarp off the device that is essentially a helicopter attached to a chair. I actually found an image from the internet.

Batman #275 - Page 22
Okay, maybe it’s the adult version of myself looking at this, but wouldn’t the cape get snagged in the rotors? Ah, fooey! The image looks good.

Aloft now, Batman, complete with headphones, makes his silent patrol over the river. He spots the ferry and two motorboats in pursuit. He spots the two drivers as two of the goons from the soccer stadium…but can’t name them. [Sidenote: when he met Amba Kadiri *from India* last issue, he knew who she was, but he doesn’t know some North American bad guys?] He takes out the hippie and tethers that guy’s boat to the ferry. Then he uses the Whirlybat to get onto the ferry itself. There, the rest of the North Americans are in the process of lashing the wheel in place to head straight for a buoy. Batman frees the wheel and turns the ferry, but the trailing boat hits it. “Then, for one frightful instant, night becomes day…” reads the textbox.

But Batman isn’t done. He spots the other trailing boat turning around and leaving. In the Whirlybat, he follows that guy and actually snags him with a retractable line. Which brings us to the last few panels of this issue and this story arc. The leader awards the North Americans 90 points, winning the entire Underworld Olympics. As all bad guys like to do, he calls Commissioner Gordon to boast. Gordon’s nonplussed because he’s got a cadre of cops stationed outside the headquarters of the Underworld Olympics! Boom!

As in all issues of this run, the story ends with Batman and Gordon talking about the case. They make the observation that all of these events rarely had any profit to them. Gordon likes the irony of it. Batman, on the other hand, wonders “about the fiendish brain who dreamed and planned and arranged and organized the Underworld Olympics of ’76!” Indeed, Batman. This guy, who never got a name, would be an interesting person to return to and study. I’m not sure he ever was.

Thus ends the Underworld Olympics of 1976. It was a fun, goofy, somewhat preposterous storyline, but not without its charms. The Whirlbat! Tons of deductions. Lots of Bruce Wayne. This story was certainly a product of its time when kids read comics, but it was enjoyable if you didn’t think too much and just had a good time.

*I’ll say this about the comics of my youth: they would always try and teach something to kids. Whether it was Alfred’s description of the differences between a soccer field and football field or that the million dollars cash was from a mobster-run numbers game, the writers (adults obviously) would write their story and the editors would either let the content sail through or add little info dumps scattered throughout the issues. They didn’t always pander to kids. That’s a great thing and probably taught some neat facts to kids along the way. Not sure that’s there anymore. Too bad.

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