DETECTIVE COMICS #328 June 1964
Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella original artists
|As dramatic a scene as the one that illustrates the cover for "Gotham Gang Line-Up" is, this second "New Look" DETECTIVE COMICS frontispiece has always been vaguely disturbing to me. Just for a moment, toss out any and all considerations for penciller Infantino's solidly staged design and inker Giella's smooth and supple inks, and just take a look at what is actually HAPPENING:|
|Batman and Robin--handcuffed to one another,
while standing before a mock line-up, at
the mercy of a group of grinning gangsters,
most of whom are toting machine guns--have
ABSOLUTELY NO EXPRESSIONS WHATSOEVER ON THEIR
FACES!?! Gee, given the situation, you think
they'd show at least a little concern, y'know?
I realize they're heroes--I don't expect
them to be cowering in fear (though if they
were, it wouldn't be the first time such
a craven emotion ran across the face of a
DC character of that bygone era in a calculated
attempt to prompt potential customers to
dig deep into their pockets for loose change
...)--but they might try showing their cocky
captors a smidgen of defiance, if only to
keep up their game faces. But no. They look
about as blase as you might figure them to
be when confronted with the devastating news
that, oh darn, Snapper Carr's not going to
be able to make it over to the Manor for
Sunday dinner after all. Tsk tsk--such a
shame. C'mon--get at least a little shook
up, fellas--I'm pretty sure this trigger-happy
group is well stocked in bullets, dig?...
Getting past the cover, there were more surprises to be had inside. Brand-new editor Schwartz had warned us the previous month that the marvelous Carmine wouldn't be illustrating all the "New Look" stories, but would instead be alternating art chores with "Bob Kane". Now, I say "Bob Kane" in quotes because in reality the pictures were being provided, as always, by the ever shadowy figure of perennial ghost artist Sheldon Moldoff. The primary pair of big-time differences from the Shelly art last seen in DETECTIVE COMICS placing the Dreary Duo in a gilded cage for the edification of some awkward alien zoo patrons (go figure) two issues--and one radical revamp--earlier was that long-time collaborator Charles Paris was no longer wielding the brush but had in turn yielded to Schwartz inking mainstay, Joe Giellla. The other? Well, I never actually got it until I read the explanation somewhere recently, but the theory is, instead of trying to imitate the classic Kane style (by way of Chester Gould's immortal "Dick Tracy"), Moldoff began trying to draw like Infantino!?! A tall order for the best of artists, mind you, so I'm not surprised Moldoff came up short. Most folks would. Still, there was a definite modernization to his approach, and that provided somewhat of an improvement. Not a quantum leap in quality, sure, but it WAS something...
Despite everyone's best intentions, in retrospect, I'm not sure Giella was the best choice for this assignment. Perhaps the boldness of a Bernie Sachs would have better served to bring out the requisite drama submerged in the "Kane" pencils. Most folks, I've found, seem to be divided on Giella in general. On the one hand, I've always found him to be perfectly suited for Infantino, with his unobtrusive style effectively reigning in some of Carmine's more eccentric and rougher edges. He was, to these eyes, the perfect partner for Infantino on the Flash. Conversely, his embellishment seemed to mute the potential power of Gil Kane's pencil work on Green Lantern and other features. Giella seemed more often than not to amp down the excitement with his inks, and that was definitely NOT what was needed here. Still, Julie told us going in we could only have his star artist six times a year, so we manfully accepted his terms and took solace in the knowledge that, hey, the scripts were certainly going to be better, no matter WHO was bringing them to life!...
Turns out "Gotham Gang Line-Up" was going to be quite the shocker, the likes of which one rarely found back in 1964. For those of you who don't know, this is the story that put loyal Wayne butler Alfred in the grave--at least for a few years. (Television revived him--but that's a whole 'nother digression...) Y'see, after our two heroes carelessly allow themselves to be captured by a criminal conclave, each member is soon vying to be the one to claim the rare privilege of killing the underworld's two greatest foes. So, yeah, there's lots of needless talking going on. That gives Alfred, through a series of events I won't even bother to go into here, just enough time to rescue his costumed charges from their bad Bat-nappers. But--not without a price to be paid, a heavy, heavy price...(Cue sweeping dramatic musical accompaniment in your mind--or does that just happen in MY head?...)
Speeding up behind the pair on his trusty Alfred-cycle, the heroic butler shoves the surprised--and continuously careless--crime busters out from under the trajectory of a massive and swiftly falling boulder. Except--well, that big ol' rock has gotta land SOMEWHERE, y'know. Guess where? Yup, right on our pal Al. If this scene seems at all reminiscent of Robin's bogus demise in the Moldoff illoed "Robin Dies At Dawn" from BATMAN #156, new editor Schwartz had learned at least ONE thing from reviewing that earlier story--the bone-crushing impact occurs off panel, with the art focusing on Batman's anguished reaction instead. This allows for a more emotional sequence--and considering the way Robin was (allegedly) flattened, a far better drawn one as well...
So Alfred was dead. Whoa! And he never even had the good fortune to have had Infantino draw him (he was missing from that first "New Look" story)--THAT might've been the saddest thing of all! Because after subduing the thugs responsible--"like avenging angels", so sayeth the understated text--carrying Alfred's lifeless body off the bloody battlefield, returning from his funeral, AND establishing a charitable organization in his name--all over a mere six panels!--this tragic tale ends with young Dick Grayson's Aunt Harriet arriving on the doorstep of Wayne Manor, ready, willing and more than able to take care of the two fellas in the absence of the now-conveniently slain butler. Introduced to placate the Werthamites in the audience who raised their eyebrows at the provocative notion of three males kicking around that big old house unsupervised, this women arrived a cipher, and when she finally departed several years later, left a non-entity. And her very presence, of course, begs the obvious question--just WHERE the heck was this Aunt Harriet when Dick's parents were murdered, leaving the boy an orphan? She stood by silently and let her blood relative be taken in by an unmarried stranger. Luckily for her, her nephew found himself a happy--if not always safe--home at Wayne Manor. What would she have said had he wound up at the Neverland Ranch instead I wonder??...
One last Bat-Note: this issue also featured a two-page autobiography of Batman's originator, Bob Kane, complete with accompanying photograph of the artist proudly posed in front of a drawing of the Caped Crusader that he may--or may not--have actually drawn. Years later, artist Infantino spilled in HIS autobiography the fact that DC was obliged--if not necessarily happy--to keep Bob aboard due to a contract already firmly set in place, calling each month for a specific amount of art signed by Kane. But for all the good cheer found in these two self-serving pages, you'd've thought the two parties were absolutely enchanted to be working with one another!?! And no, there was no mention whatsoever of writer--and key collaborator--Bill Finger. Raise your hands if you're the least bit surprised. And please, don't shoot your arm up just to give ME the Finger! The piece ended with this little flight of fancy, some advice to aspiring cartoonists: "I've never found a short cut and I don't believe you will either as I still find after 20 years or so of sticking to the grindstone that I am still more or less "glued" to the drawing board." Would that be "more" or would that be "less", hmm?..
Even as a kid, I often wondered, if this Bob Kane guy was such hot stuff, how come I never saw him draw any OTHER DC comic? Oh well, I figured--there'd be time to ponder such imponderables later--Carmine would be back at the drawing board (and in his case, for honest to gosh REAL) in 30 short days. Wonder what he's gonna come up with NEXT time? Whatever it was, I had me a sneaking suspicion that it was gonna be mighty good!
Was I ever right...
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