Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Agatha Christie Meets the Incredible Hulk

The arrival of Batman’s New Look in May 1964 cleared away not only the alien invaders he’d been fighting in recent years, but deemphasized his colorful rogue’s gallery of costumed villains as well.
Under editor Julius Schwartz instead of Jack Schiff, Batman was back to fighting gangsters and criminal masterminds with his wits and his fists.
The clean-lined yet elegantly moody New Look really did get my attention as a 9-year-old, and the full-page ad in Detective Comics 327 also caught my eye.
“Be first in your neighborhood to read each issue of Detective! Special Subscription Offer – 10 issues of Detective only $1.00. Just 10 cents each instead of 12 cents — like finding an extra 20 cents!”
I wrangled a dollar from my mom and bought my first comic book subscription (and was disappointed to see the issues arrive folded down the middle — a terrible thing to do to a young comic book lover).
Batman’s archenemy the Joker was still around, but new heavies included the mysterious, super-powered Outsider (really a resurrected, mutated and deranged Alfred Pennyworth) and the Blockbuster, Batman’s answer to the Incredible Hulk.
Chemist Mark Desmond increased his own size and strength at the price of his sanity, and was manipulated into committing crimes by his brother Roland.
Introduced in Detective Comics 345 (Nov. 1965) by writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino, Blockbuster returned in Detective Comics 349 (March 1966) and then in Justice League of America 46 and 47 (Aug.-Sept. 1966).
Obviously Batman, a costumed acrobat and detective, would have a hard time handling a Hulk, so the conflict intrigued me from the start.
The satisfying story might have been written by Agatha Christie, with her famous surprise twists. Blockbuster turned out to be the super-villain that Batman couldn’t defeat, but Bruce Wayne could! Having saved the Mark’s life when he was a child, Wayne’s presence could put a halt to his rampages.
 I loved the irony of the setup — Blockbuster was the one foe whom Batman defeated not by assuming his secret identity, but by exposing it.
The grunting, irresistible bruiser also served the interests of the storytelling elements required for the New Look.
“Since Batman had no super powers to play variations upon, Schwartz asked his writers to supply more fisticuffs — not wild Kirbyesque brawls, but choreographed gymnastics cleverly exploiting props and settings,” noted Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs in their book The Comic Book Heroes.
Blockbuster filled the bill.

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