Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Crime Olympics, Part 1

If you are going to hold an Underworld Olympics, it seems to me that Gotham City is possibly the worst location at which to hold the event. Gee whiz, a competition involving pulling of bizarre crimes (and scoring points comparably to the level of success) should NOT be held in a city watched over by the second-greatest detective in history. Especially when that detective has always specialized in solving bizarre crimes. It's just not a good location for the event.

But, in Batman #272 (February 1976), that's just what four different international gangs choose to do. They sneak into Gotham and each gang randomly selects an envelope detailing a multi-part crime to be committed.

I'm assuming that writer David Vern (writing as David V. Reed) or the editors at DC decided to do an Olympics-themed story because the upcoming summer Olympics were going to be held in Montreal that year. Without the worry of extreme time zone differences and several U.S. athletes expected to do well, there was a lot of Olympics enthusiasm in the Games that year. So DC decided an Olympics story would be a good idea. That's just a guess, of course, but I think it makes sense.

Anyway, this first issue of the four-part story (with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez) gets the story off to a strong start. The South American gang is up first, tasked with staging a murder to look like an accident, then later stealing the body from the morgue and hiding it elsewhere.

To me, the premise feels like it would have been a little more at home in the Silver Age than the Bronze Age, but the script plays it straight and Batman is repeatedly shown using real detective skills throughout. Besides, its fun to get a story that throws us back to an earlier era in comic book history from time to time.

Batman manages to partially foil the crimes, though he has no idea yet why South American criminals are pulling off apparently senseless capers in his city. And the Dark Knight soon discovers that the case is far from over.

Ernie Chan, who inked the first issue, takes over as artist for the remaining three. In Batman #273, the European gang is up, stealing a Revolutionary War-ear cannon to start of their event.

That's followed by a bank robber, though complications ensue when some local crooks rob the same bank at the same time. But the gang soon ends up with both money from a specific safe deposit box and the cannon.

Batman, though, has figured out that the gang is going to use the cannon to shoot the money to a remote location outside of police roadblocks. He employs Alfred as a spotter, allowing him to ambush the bad guys as they try to recover the loot.

As I said earlier, the strength of the story is a combination of playing the silly premise straight and Batman's portrayal as a highly skilled detective. I maintain that during the 1970s, writers at DC struck just the right balance between Batman's major traits--detective, escape artist and martial artist. It is perhaps main reason this is my choice for the strongest ever Bat-Decade.

So at the end of Batman #273, the South American gang has 20 points, with the Europeans pulling ahead with 50 points. Next week, we'll see how the other gangs do in their crime-related events.

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