EP0053: Tales of the Batman: Len Wein, Part One (Review)

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A look at Len Wein’s Bat-murderer saga in the early 1970s. Then in the later 1970s, Wein became the writer of Batman and introduced a love interest in the form of Selina Kyle.

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Transcript below:

Graham: Can Batman survive the danger posed by such foes as Ra’s al Ghul and Signalman? We’ll tell you all about it next as we take a look at Tales of the Batman: Len Wein straight ahead.

[Into Music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise Idaho, here is your host Adam Graham.

Graham: Len Wein was one of those really great comic book readers tied into a lot of things was a co-creator of Swamp Thing and also of Wolverine as well as helping to revamp the X-Men and was rightly inducted into the comic book Hall of Fame in 2008, passed away in 2017. Today we’re taking a look at Tales of the Batman: Len Wein, which collects his work on the Cape Crusader. These range from one off appearance in Detective Comics to his own run as writer of Batman and actually the very first graphic novel I ever read. So, let’s go ahead and take a look.

The book starts out with a story from Detective Comics 408 and it opens with Batman seemingly in a haunted house where nothing is quite as it appears. This is just a really, really good story and the art by Neal Adams is just fabulous. It does a great job setting the scene, the atmosphere, giving it all this sort of Twilight Zone feel to it. So, both writing and art are really good here and then there is an appearance in World’s Finest, the Batman/Superman team up book and me it’s another one with Neal Adams artwork and it’s a story in which Clark Kent is apparently trying to hire thugs to kill Superman and Batman is trying to figure out what’s going on. Now this one is a fairly good story. It does end with a pretty nice super villain battle with Dr Light. It’s not my favorite World’s Finest story but I enjoyed it pretty well.

Alright, so the next thing that he ends up writing is the Bat-Murderer saga, which was a series in Detective Comics #444 to #448 and it’s mostly has the art by Jim Aparo and the plot in this involves Batman picking up a gun and appearing to shoot Talia al Ghul and the police declare the him wanted for murder because he won’t turn himself in and he’s on the run from the police trying to clear his name. He breaks into jail to question Ra’s al Ghul about what happened to Talia and then he appears to shoot Ra’s and so it’s a story where he is on the run from the police and then The Creeper gets into the action to try and hunt down Batman. The story is interesting. It’s essential the first 4 or half issue stories with the other half of the comic book and Detective Comics taken up by the backup feature but in issue 448, we get a full-fledged resolution at a circus. The story’s not perfect and he does also fight a villain, Silversmith, in the middle of this. This is a really good serialized story for the era. It manages to build action, to build consequences, to increase the pressure as The Creeper rejoins the hunt and you get a reveal. It’s not completely surprising. It just does tend to make a lot of sense.

Next stop is another guest writing appearance in Detective Comics #466. In this one, Batman is dealing with the return of an obscure villain named Signalman. Signalman is one of those villains that just shows the strength of the Batman Rogues Gallery and how you can really go back through history to see some characters who are not considered all that successful and make them interesting. In this case Signalman really does give Batman a run for his money and actually comes close to killing Batman, which you wouldn’t really expect from a villain like signal man but he tried to kill him in the most Signalman way possible, tying him up inside the Bat-Signal so that when Commissioner Gordon turned on the signal it would fry Batman and of course he gets out of it. I think the whole story, for the most part other than that little death trap, felt a lot like Golden Age Batman stories as there is a method to the seeming madness of Signalman with some of the strange steps he chooses and Batman has to figure out what the connection is and guess what comes next.

Next, we have stories from Detective Comics #478 and 479, which saw the introduction of the third Clayface and this comes, actually, right after Steve Engelhart’s really good run on Detective Comics came to an end and he intended to retire and he’d been taking Batman in a little more hardboiled direction and Len Wein tries to pick that up and it doesn’t quite work as well. He’s sitting there, because his girlfriend, Silver St Cloud, left in the last Engelhart issues. He’s beating up thugs and telling them that he’s doing it because of his relationship problems, which is just not a very Batman thing to do. As for Clayface three, his whole becoming Clayface was because of his vanity about his looks. However, the formula that he copied from Clayface 2 had negative side effects. So, now he has to kill in order to maintain the power of the glue that allows him to be Clayface. He is just a really unhinged, sad, vane character, who does know he’s evil and tries to avoid it but ends up killing people anyway. The art in here is notable. It’s by Marshall Rogers and he does some really interesting things with shading. It’s not realistic at all but it really does feature some colours that just bring out the situation beautifully. So, that one was fairly good but I think a bit flawed because of going a bit over the top.

Then Wein took over as the regular writer of Batman. His tenure lasted 21 months and he wrote 18 of the 21 issues. The ongoing themes or plots that came out of that. The big one is in his first issue he introduced the character of Lucius Fox, as Bruce Wayne’s business advisor and friend and a really key vital part of Wayne’s inner process and this would be a character who would be carried over into the post-crisis world and continue on even to the movie. So, it’s probably his most lasting contribution and of course Wayne was dealing with a business rival, mainly through Lucius Fox.
Wayne had become aware of the in-game at the time that Wein left Batman and you also had the return of Selina Kyle and she was not returning as Catwoman but as Selina Kyle and she ends up taking on a relationship with Bruce Wayne after Bruce is at first somewhat unsure when she comes wanting to invest in his company and there’s actually a background check conducted by Lucius, who reveals this to Selena, which causes friction between them and also with Bruce.
It turns out that Selina does have a terminal disease which can only be cured by some powder that is in a rare Egyptian artifact. So, she has to tame that and it does involve her becoming Catwoman but the big question is whether she’ll go back to a life of crime. This is an interesting ongoing plot thread and I thought that it made for good reading. The art in here is pretty good. It’s by Irv Novick, who was always just such a very competent artist. No one really thinks of him in the Jim Aparo, Marshall Rogers, Neal Adams pantheon of great Batman artists but this is pretty solid throughout. You also have a good run of us ongoing villains. You have some well-known ones like Two-Face in a two -parter, Mr. Freeze and then you also have some more of these lesser known villains. I like the one with Calendar Man and of course Kite Man was in here as was the Gentleman Ghost. Probably the only one that I really didn’t like was the Joker story. It was for the 40th anniversary of the Joker and it really just did not quite meet my expectations and just kind of a meh comic.
If I added another criticism, it is that I think that D.C. and Wein in particular were really trying to imitate Marvel Comics. Now in many ways it made sense to respond to what Marvel had done. D.C. characters were pretty functional and didn’t tend to have really distinct personalities say during the Silver Age of comics but Marvel really created character who were a bit more in depth. They had some character, they had some personality and so D.C. had to respond to that and I think in many ways, Wein does things, and D.C. had done things previous to Wein coming on board, to really make Batman more relatable such as having him move into the center of the city to be near the people that he’s helping as opposed to out in the country at Wayne Manor and even the romantic relationships with Selina Kyle and before that with Silver St Cloud was not something you would have seen happen in the Silver Age but there are some moments, where, as I’m reading this, I’m like, Oh my Gosh, totally ripping off Marvel in ways that really don’t work with Batman. For example, Batman after Selina Kyle leaves, goes on top of a roof and since they are brooding. “Now I’m alone again looking for somewhere else to place the blame, looking for someone to punch,” and it’s like OK this sort of sitting on the rooftop brooding about your love life, that is a Spider-Man thing to do. Spider-Man does that. Batman does not do that.
It just really does not look good on him and for that matter I did think that the departure of Selina Kyle was a bit abrupt. I think that they’d gotten a lot of stuff out of the way and so the natural progression was for that relationship to get more serious but they didn’t want to go that direction so they have Selina up and leave town for a very spurious reason.

Still despite those points I actually found this enjoyable. Len Wein’s run on Batman was not like some all-time great run but it was a really good run. He used a lot of fun characters and particularly, if you grew up during this era, this is a book I think you will enjoy checking out.

Well we have a few more stories to go and we will go ahead and come back next time with the rest of this book. If you do have a comment email to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com, follow me on Twitter at classycomicsguy and be sure and rate the show on iTunes. From Boise Idaho, is your host and I’m Graham signing off.

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