Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 214: Detective Comics #395
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams! Today’s page is from Detective Comics #395, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1970. This scan is from Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 2, which was released in 2004. Enjoy!
The votes have been tallied, and we have three winners and one “second” place finisher. The three artist/writer teams that received the most votes will be featured for eight (8) days, which leaves seven (7) days for the final duo. That’s awfully handy, isn’t it? I’m going in chronological order for the first three duos, which means O’Neil and Adams are up first! I will apologize in advance if I don’t feature a comic you’re looking for. Obviously, over the next week (+1) we’ll see a lot of Batman, but there’s some other stuff in here as well!
First up is one of the early collaborations between these two, Detective Comics #395, “The Secret of the Waiting Graves.” Based on the timing of certain other books, it might actually be the first time they teamed up, which makes it all the more impressive considering how excellent this story is. This was actually one of the earliest Batman stories I’ve ever read – it was collected in a book that I checked out of the library when I was probably 10 or 11, and it holds a special place in my heart because, frankly, it’s brilliant.
O’Neil begins with portentous narration – we know we’re in central Mexico, and O’Neil superfluously tells us that there are two open graves in front of us. It doesn’t matter that we can see the graves, because O’Neil is going for a mood, and the opening passage certainly sets that up well. That continues with the caption box on the opposite end of the panel – O’Neil is simply setting a mood, and with phrases like “hear the wind howling like souls in torment” and “breathe deeply and sniff the scent of death,” he does a fine job. O’Neil was 30 when this book came out, and presumably he read some of the horror comics back when he was a young lad, so this comic is deliberately evoking those creepy tales. I can’t find out who lettered this, but whoever did the title gave it a nice, 3-D effect that seems to be more “horror”-oriented than just a flat font. You might feel differently, but it’s always seemed that way to me.
In the second panel, O’Neil catches us up on some of the particulars, as we learn that the Muertos (Denny O’Neil: Not the most subtle of writers) are throwing a party in the family burial ground, that Bruce Wayne is attending, and that a balloon race is about to start. All of this is fairly important, and O’Neil does a pretty good job of making the exposition as naturalistic as possible. We move onto the second page with a good grasp of the basics, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Adams gives us a tremendous opening panel, if you ask me. The cape off to the left helps guide us into the panel, leading us to the oversized moon (I love fiction that gives us giant moons, because it’s so ridiculous – the first time I can recall seeing something like that is E.T., where a moon that big would cause gigantic tides and probably wipe out Elliot and that alien) that sits on the horizon, acting as a bridge to the gravestones. The crypt in the background is a nice touch, as it gives us a good sense of place, and then we get to the gravestones and the names with no death dates. Adams lays Batman’s shadow across the open graves, drawing our eyes to them (we might question where the light source is if we were cynical bastards, but let’s not question it!) and over them to Batman’s feet. The panel is framed wonderfully by the cape and the feet, implying the large presence of our Caped Crusader. The fact that the graves are empty and the people for whom they are reserved are apparently well over 100 years old is freaky, but Batman’s presence there is calming – he has found a mystery, and his shadow has now fallen over the graves and he will solve the conundrum.
Panel 2 is a nice introduction to the other characters, as Adams places the Muertos in the foreground and on the right, so that our eyes gravitate toward them as we pass over the scene behind them. We take in the other people, but we can figure out that they’re not too important, and we see the balloons in the background, but the Muertos dominate the scene, as they are the important people in the story. Dolores’ hair even points us to the second page, which is fun.
I don’t know how this was originally colored, but Adams and his Continuity Studio “reconstructed” the coloring, and it’s okay, I guess. It’s better than some modern recoloring, certainly, but I don’t know what it originally looked like. Sorry!
Anyway, this is a fine place to begin our look at the O’Neil/Adams partnership. They produced a lot of superb comics over the first 3-4 years of the new decade! Unfortunately, our next installment isn’t quite one of those. It’s not a terribly comic, but it’s a little goofy. But onward we forge! Be sure to waste some time in the archives!