Wednesday, August 15, 2018
The Crime Olympics, Part 2
Batman #274 (April 1976) is the third part of the Underworld Olympics story arc that we began talking about last week. Writer David Vern (writing as David V. Reed) and artist Ernie Chan continue to take a potentially silly premise and turn it into a series of clever and entertaining detective stories.
So far, the European and South American gangs have been tasked with pulling off a series of bizarre crimes, scoring points each time they are successful. But Batman, though he doesn't yet know about the Olympics, has foiled the final crime of each gang and sent a fair number of them to jail.
With this issue, a combined Asian/African gang steps up to take its turn. "Gotham City Treasure Hunt" might be my favorite of the four issues. The crooks have to commit a crime to get a clue to the next crime--and so on until they find out what they have to steal to win the contest.
There a particular element in this story that I simply love. At one point, Batman captures two crooks after they gained a clue, but before they can pass this on to the rest of the gang.
So they take advantage of TV news cameras to use "Cameroon hand signals" to pass on the clue to their confederates. Batman sees this as well, but the gang figures on this and manages to initially decoy him into a trap, where he faces off against a lady assassin.
It's great stuff, with a clever script that shows a keen understanding of the different aspects of the Dark Knight. He continues to show a combination of deductive reasoning skills and martial artistry that should always be equally important elements of his character.
Anyway, he manages to stop the gang before they commit their final crime. But there is still a North American gang waiting for their turn to compete.
This gang gets its chance in Batman #275. But their crime depends on using a ferry boat that has recently stopped its service due to Gotham City budget cuts. So the first thing the gang has to do is rob a local criminal, then donate that untraceable money to the city to put the ferry back in service.
From there, we get a story nearly as clever as the one in the previous issue. The gang's crimes build on each other and are supposed to end with the destruction of the ferry, but Batman has by now figured out what is going on--including the fact that there is an Underworld Olympics being held in Gotham.
But in reality, Batman has finally tracked them down. The Olympic chief calls Gordon to gloat about what they've been doing. Gordon takes the call--on his car radio as his men surround the criminal Olympians.
I mentioned last week that the premise of the Underworld Olympics feels more like a Silver Age than Bronze Age idea to me. But in its execution, it is very much a Bronze Age story. The 1970s really was the Decade of Batman, with writers and artists who understood how to write for the character and gave us solid, astutely-plotted stories.
Next week, we'll be hanging out with Wonder Woman as she battles ALIEN DINOSAURS FROM SPACE! I can't describe how much I enjoyed writing that sentence.