Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 216: Detective Comics #404
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 #404, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1970. This scan is from The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, which was released in 1988. Enjoy!
“Ghost of the Killer Skies” is another comic I remember from my youth, and now I own it in two different collections, neither of which features the original coloring. I like Tatjana Wood’s coloring of this page more than Neal Adams’ Continuity Studio (which is darker and blander), so I used the scan from this collection rather than the other one! Deal with it!
This is another tremendous first page, as Adams cleverly uses negative space to highlight the biplane flying closer to the cliff. The plane and the rock are so starkly highlighted that even without O’Neil’s narration, you get the sense of foreboding from the first two panels nicely. The dramatic mid-air flip is handled well, leading to Panel 4, where the plane crashes, explodes, and we finally get some context, as Adams draws Batman standing on the cliff watching events unfold. It’s a dramatic scene, well paced and beautifully drawn by Adams, and he gives us an interesting Caped Crusader, powerful in his body yet, hunched over like he is, powerless to stop the murder from happening right in front of him. The more you look at him, the weirder Batman looks – his torso looks too long, for instance, and his pose is extremely odd – but Adams is trying to show him both as an observer and as someone ready to spring into action, and it doesn’t quite work. Still, as the “camera” shot of the rocks pulls back slowly in Panels 1-3, Panel 4 is a nice reveal of Batman, who of course will solve the murder (rather easily, too).
O’Neil, as usual, gives us plenty of information. He decides to use second person, which often adds immediacy to narration, and it’s an interesting choice given the circumstances. O’Neil is trying to make us feel the inevitable death that is bearing down on Batman, something he’s powerless to stop, so he links us to Batman with the second person. Batman is in Spain and the plane is a Nieuport 17 from World War I. Batman knows his World War I planes, man! Batman can tell that it’s murder even though he only has his feelings to tell him so – he’s the Batman, so of course he’s right! In the final panel, O’Neil simply purples up his prose as he shifts out of second person to “follow the Caped Avenger through a tangle of crime and into the bleakest corner of a man’ soul …” Good stuff, there. We do find out why Bruce Wayne is in Spain, but we can only infer why Batman is hanging out on a cliff, because O’Neil never gives us a good reason for it. Probably because he’s motherfucking Batman, so he knows where crimes will happen before they occur!
This is a nice, tense opening page that gives us plenty of information and throws us right into the story. It’s Adams’ showcase, because even though O’Neil does give us some information, it’s nothing we can’t figure out for ourselves or that we don’t find out soon enough in the story. That’s okay, though – the caption boxes are off to the side, so we can revel in Adams’ nifty page layout without worrying too much about the text!
Next: More Batman, I’m afraid. That’s just the way it is! Don’t let that dissuade you from checking out the archives!