Tuesday, June 19, 2018

100-Page FAKES! presents: DETECTIVE COMICS # 446

100-Page FAKES! imagines mid-1970s DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were...but should have been!

I was initially resistant when DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars began to add new material to the previously all-reprint format in 1973. That's puzzling in retrospect; I loved a lot of DC's new comics in the early '70s, and I loved Golden Age reprints, so what could be wrong with combining them? But I was distrustful of the change, and Detective Comics # 438--the first 100-page hybrid of new and reprinted superhero stories--did nothing to reassure me. The decision to expand to Super Spec size with that issue had been sudden and unexpected, leaving editorial wunderkind E. Nelson Bridwell very little time to assemble reprints and still get the issue off to the printer on schedule for its appointed rendezvous with the spinner racks. Consequently, the book contained nothing at all from the '40s, and I found the selected Silver Age reprints to be nothing special. What had DC done...?!

Still, the new stories were just terrific, and I realized that immediately. Archie Goodwin had taken over as editor of Detective Comics with the previous issue, and he was writing both the lead story starring The Batman and the back-up story starring Manhunter, the latter an update on the 1940s Joe Simon and Jack Kirby hero as revamped by Goodwin and a then-unknown artist named Walt Simonson. The Batman stories featured art by Jim Aparo, and he was doing some of the best work of his long and stellar career in this time frame. If the reprints weren't up to snuff, the new work in 'Tec could and should be considered among the best comics being published in America in 1973.

And the reprints got better. Given more prep time, Bridwell was able to fill the 100-Page Detectives with an incredible selection of vintage adventures from the '40s to the '60s: Dr. Fate! The Creeper! Kid Eternity! Doll Man! Ibis the Invincible! Plastic Man! These classic tales enhanced a package bookended by fabulous new exploits of The Batman and Manhunter. Even the departure of the seemingly irreplaceable Jim Aparo (whose workload drawing Batman and famous co-stars in The Brave And The Bold and The Spectre in Adventure Comics forced him to relinquish duties on Detective) was ultimately okay, as artists Sal Amendola (with Dick Giordano inks), Howard Chaykin, and the legendary Alex Toth took turns in ably delineating Gotham's Dark Knight. "Night Of The Stalker!" in Detective # 439 remains my all-time favorite stand-alone Batman story. Walt Simonson took over the artwork for the extra-length Batman-Manhunter team-up in Detective # 443, which was the finale to the Manhunter character and Archie Goodwin's tenure on 'Tec. Goodwin left DC, and Julie Schwartz resumed editorship of Detective Comics with its 444th issue.

And man, I was so disappointed by it.

The reprints immediately became pedestrian, even with Kid Eternity in # 444 and Dr. Mid-Nite in # 445. Where Goodwin and Simonson's Manhunter had been one of the best--probably the best--back-up strip in comics at the time, new rotating back-ups starring The Elongated Man, Robin, and later Hawkman were perfunctory in comparison. On the plus side, Jim Aparo returned to the lead feature, and that was great news, and a writer I liked--Len Wein--was 'Tec's new Bat-scripter. But as much as I loved Wein's work on Justice League Of America, I never got into his Batman stories.

Four and a half decades later, my opinion of Wein's Batman has warmed by a factor of a million or so. In the '70s, part of my problem with Wein on Batman was a matter of timing: here, he followed what I considered to be a nonpareil run by Archie Goodwin; in 1978, Wein returned to Batman in Detective following what I consider the definitive Batman series, written by Steve Englehart. Those were tough acts to follow. Taken away from that context, Wein's work on Batman in Detective Comics and later in Batman--hell, even on Batman vs The Incredible Hulk--is pretty damned good, and I owe myself an opportunity to immerse myself in all of it.

But in 1974 and '75, I wasn't ready for Len Wein's "Bat-murderer" serial. Jim Aparo's artwork was gorgeous--that was a given--but even the idea of Commissioner Gordon believing Batman could be guilty of murder struck me as wrong. If I overlook that complaint, though, Wein did pretty good work here. I like it enough now that I decided to expand its third chapter into the Super Spec format of the previous issues.

And I like my reprint selections for this imaginary Super Spec way more than the actual reprints used in Detective Comics # 444-445. You've got your 1940s Plastic Man and Robin the Boy Wonder, a 1950 Batman story, an energetic 1971 Aquaman adventure drawn by Aparo and written by Steve Skeates, and a 1951 obscurity with Astra, Girl Of The Future. Like Lady Danger in my Rima The Jungle Girl faux 100-pager, Astra was a forgotten back-up feature I stumbled upon in Sensation Comics, the anthology title starring Wonder Woman.

You know the 100-Page FAKES! drill by now: all material is copyright DC Comics Inc. That means we can only share a few representative pages publicly, though I do let my patrons see the whole thing privately. The Astra story is presumably in the public domain, and the Plastic Man story is definitely public domain, so we'll letcha have a full peak at those. Now, travel back to 1975 for the 100-Page Detective Comics # 446 that shoulda been. (And, if you're curious about the history of the real DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars, I direct you to my complete reminiscence here: Comic Book Retroview: DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars.)

Batman in "Slaughter In Silver," Detective Comics # 446 (April 1975)
Plastic Man in "The Game Of Death," Plastic Man # 1 (Summer 1943)
Aquaman in "The Creature That Devoured Detroit!," Aquaman # 56 (March-April 1971)
Robin the Boy Wonder in "Mr. Mystery," Star Spangled Comics # 83 (August 1948)
Astra, Girl Of The Future in "S.O.S. From Space!," Sensation Comics # 105 (September-October 1951)
Batman and Robin in "Bruce Wayne, Private Detective!," Detective Comics # 155 (January 1950)
Hawkman in "The Mystery Of The Flyaway Car!," Detective Comics # 446 (April 1975)


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