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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

WHAT IF? SO WHAT? The 1979 Fantasy And Science Fiction Journal, Part 6

Continuing entries from the journal I kept for Dr. Calvin Rich's Fantasy And Science Fiction class when I was a senior at Brockport in the Fall of 1979. This is the third of three parts discussing my love of comic books, particularly Batman. The narrative began here, and then here. And now, my teen thoughts on how one should approach writing...THE BATMAN!

# 6: 9/27/79

Let's wrap up with Batman so we can move on to something else. When approaching the problem of chronicling The Batman's adventures, one must consider certain aspects of the character's traditional mythos. Beginning with basic ideals for atmosphere: The Batman is a creature of the night, a creature of darkness and terror. A nocturnal setting is usually favored, but the contrast of ferocious Bat against stark daylight may also be used to good effect. Batman is also the proverbial "Defender Of Gotham City," and so is quite at home amidst the concrete towers of the metropolis. However, his nightmare image makes his appearance in a setting of haunted woods eerily fitting.

This brings up an important aspect of Batman: the versatility of his possible experiences and stories. A Batman story may take the character to any setting, from Gotham City to another planet, and the hero can still function. A Batman story may deal with straight detection, science fiction, the supernatural, violent realities (organized crime, political corruption, etc.), foreign intrigue and espionage, or simple action/adventure, and still retain a cohesive continuity with all other Batman stories; the tone may vary successfully from comic to tragic. One writer noted that this versatility may be a large part of the character's appeal to comics writers.

The role of the master villain in many Batman stories is not to be underestimated. Batman's Gallery Of Rogues (based loosely upon Dick Tracy's similar Gallery, but grander, more memorable) includes dozens of fiends whose incredible vileness and horrible features and quirks combined to create a figure of much-larger-than-life evil. Besides The Joker (arguably the greatest villain ever created for comic books), we have Death-Man (a cold-blooded murderer with a death's-head grafted onto his face, who bragged of being "the master of death," and came back from the grave twice to prove it); Mr. Freeze (a mad scientist who, as a result of a horrible accident, must live constantly in a sub-zero atmosphere), The Scarecrow (an insane college professor--what other kind is there?--who mastered the theories of the effects of fear on an enemy, and developed advanced chemical and psychological means for instilling this fear), Dr. Phosphorous (a radioactive killer whose touch was fatal), and quite a few others. If one is going to create worthy adventures for the Caped Crusader, these are the standards one must match.

So let's give it a quick shot.

Since serialized adventures have allowed for the most developed and exciting episodes of Batman's life in the '70s, we'll take that route. Our first chapter will re-introduce the villainy of Death-Man. In his first and only appearance ("Death Knocks Three Times" in 1966), Death-Man's first two "deaths" were actually nothing more than a well-executed trick of yogi mental control over one's body, enabling one to halt his breathing, pulse, heartbeat, etc., so that one may be pronounced dead by an unknowing physician. At story's end, Death-Man met death for real when a lightning bolt electrocuted him. In our story, though, Death-Man has returned from the grave for real, and is haunting Batman, taunting Batman, and threatening Batman and the people dear to him. Everywhere Batman turns, the image of Death-Man is there, laughing at him. Finally, events lead to a confrontation between hero and villain at the same graveyard in which Death-Man met his supposed end more than ten years ago. The psychological advantage is Death-Man's, and soon the Caped Crusader is at his enemy's mercy. END OF PART ONE.

In Part Two, as Death-Man stands triumphantly over his fallen foe, he laughs insanely and is suddenly dissipated in the blowing snow, leaving Batman totally bewildered. In the next few days, no more is heard of Death-Man, but a new menace comes to terrorize Gotham City: Torquemada (named, of course, for the infamous figure of the Spanish Inquisition). Or is he a menace? Appearing suddenly out of the flying snow astride his white horse Destroyer, the black-hooded, red-and-black-clad Torquemada strikes swiftly with his fiery sword, banishing various politicians of questionable morals and reputations to some unknown netherworld. Batman gets on the case immediately. In an eventual confrontation, Batman defeats Torquemada, only to see this enemy vanish in a swirl of blowing snow, and to be once again standing face-to-face with Death-Man.

Before Batman can make a move to apprehend Death-Man, the "master of death" again vanishes into the snow. Suddenly, Batman is confronted by The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Ra's al Ghul, Hugo Strange, The Bounty Hunter, and other foes, all of whom are laughing smugly at him. Then, these figures vanish and are replaced by the figures of Batman's friends: Robin, Alfred, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, Superman--all taunting, all laughing. They, too, vanish, leaving Batman alone. And then, Batman vanishes also.

In a flurry of violent snow, Batman reappears in an immense palace of ice in the Himalayas, the captive of...THE SNOWMAN: a face of white, frozen horror, not even remotely human, with a mouth of frozen blue ice, and cold, killer eyes of sub-zero blue with deadly orbs of flaming red floating within. (See sketch)

Look into my eyes, Batman! This is drugs! This is your BRAIN on drugs! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA!
The Snowman is an insane god of frozen death. The images of Death-Man and Torquemada were created magically by him, the first to torment and tease Batman, the second as a sort of dry run of his plan to "purify" the world he wishes to dominate and play with. Why? Why not? It all makes perfect sense to the mad demon, as he gives The Batman one final chance to vanquish this demi-god: a sword fight. Batman throws aside his utility belt, and The Snowman throws aside the bejeweled crown from which he derives his magical power; both throw aside their cloaks. The enemies meet in battle: metal clangs against metal, the fate of the world hanging in the balance. With a feverish thrust, Batman disarms his opponent. Desperately, The Snowman lunges for his crown, but hurtles instead down a bottomless ice pit, and is buried there beneath tons of frozen debris. The Batman stares down at the debris, and then silently retrieves his belt and cape and begins the long journey back to Gotham City.

BUT--can anything truly destroy a god of ice? Only future adventures will tell!

DR. RICH'S COMMENT: Next to my paragraph about Batman's many classic enemies, and the established standards a writer must seek to match in crafting a new foe for Batman, Dr. Rich wrote, "You do a fine job working up to this."

2017 POSTSCRIPT: Where to start? Although writer Steve Englehart's work on Batman in Detective Comics from 1977 to 1978 was fresh in my mind, this is more heavily influenced by writer Denny O'Neil's Batman stories from earlier in the decade, particularly a fondly-remembered seral pitting Batman against O'Neil's creation Ra's al Ghul, and particularly in the climactic sword fight between The Batman and The Snowman.

"Death Knocks Three Times!," Death-Man's first appearance in Batman # 180, was the subject of my very first Comic Book Retroview. In 1975 or '76, I wrote "Nightmare Resurrection," a completely-scripted (and terrible) sequel to that story. I submitted that to DC, but they--wisely!--weren't buying. Torquemada was a Batman villain I created in high school, though I never got around to writing anything beyond a proposed story title, "The Judgement Of Gotham!"

I was entirely too dismissive of Dick Tracy's Rogues Gallery. Dick Tracy's battle with Flattop is one of the greatest thrillers ever to appear in comics. On the other hand, it's interesting that I dropped The Bounty Hunter into my list of Batfoes taunting our hero; The Bounty Hunter was a one-off bad guy created by Bob Haney, and the character only appeared in The Brave And The Bold # 102 in 1972. For whatever reason, The Bounty Hunter intrigued me enough that I always wanted to bring him back.

I had wanted to create a character called The Snowman for years. The idea came from one of Jules Feiffer's childhood comic-book creations, as shown in his book The Great Comic Book Heroes. Feiffer's Snowman looked like it was supposed to be a copy of The Shadow, so that was my initial idea for my own [cough] original Snowman. I started writing a Snowman pulp novel in a high school study hall, with each chapter ending with a cliffhanger. I also wrote and drew a Snowman comic book for my freshman Spanish class (El Hombre Nieve), coupled with a humor strip called Detective Enchilada. The Snowman turned up more recently (albeit just in passing) in ETERNITY MAN!, my work-in-progress rock 'n' roll time-travel superhero novel. Somewhere in between, in either the late '70s or early '80s, I drew a single page of an unfinished Snowman comics story:

He coulda been a contender. Or not.

I readily admit this Batman story will never give Steve Englehart or Denny O'Neil any sense of competition, but it's really not as bad as I thought I remembered. A future Notebook Notions entry may look back on my subsequent outline for a Batman story called "The Day I Met The Batman!," which was submitted to (and promptly rejected by) DC Comics in the mid-'80s. And I never tire of linking to The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, the Batman and Aquaman pulp short I wrote for this blog in 2016. That one? I'm proud of that one.

WHEN WHAT IF? SO WHAT? RETURNS: Fatal sex, and a journey to Hell.

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