Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

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Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Red_Robin » Feb 11th, 2012, 7:54 pm

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Strange Apparitions
by BobGun

The 70's were a strange era for Batman comics. Nowadays, they're mostly discarded as being camp or outdated, and there's a lot to back that view up. However, if you look through the ages of Batman, you'll find at least one defining story or arc which captures the time of its conception, and paves the way for future contributors to draw inspiration from.

Strange Apparitions is the defining story arc of the 70's, and arguably one of the most important arcs in Batman's history.

The team of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rodgers, along with Len Wein and Walt Simonson, bring us 11 weaving tales that introduce new villains, old favourites and, most importantly, a Gotham filled with character and atmosphere.

Spoilers ahead – some may consider major – you've been warned!

“...By Death's Eerie Light!”

We start with Batman returning home after a night of duty, when Alfred suddenly collapses. Bruce calls for an ambulance only to learn of an epidemic sweeping the city. Wasting no more time, he rushes Alfred to hospital, and begins his search for answers. More succumb, including Commissioner Gordon.

A new villain emerges – Dr Phosphorus! A glowing, fiery figure of doom threatens Gotham with retribution. Batman deduces his whereabouts at the Gotham reservoir, and after a brief encounter, Phosphorus escapes.

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“The Origin of Dr Phosphorus!”

We now get the back-story of Phosphorus, Dr Alex Sartorius. As well as Sartorius, we're introduced to another new player in Gotham – City Council Chairman, Rupert Thorne, who's hosting various businessmen and fellow members of the tobacconist' club, offering a tax shelter for those willing to invest in a new Power Plant.

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Rupert Thorne


Inevitably, things don't go to plan, and Sartorius looks to avenge those who wronged him. It's standard, clichéd stuff, however what's interesting is the depth surrounding the story. Bruce has relocated to a penthouse in the heart of Gotham, sighting practicality reasons, which affects both the playboy socialite and the creature of the night. It's also political; Thorne's impact is immediate as we see how his grip extends beyond the generic criminal fraternity


“The Master Plan of Dr Phosphorus!"

Things start to pick up when Batman is slapped with a subpoena while chasing down the best named hood in history, Smiley Royal. He visits Gordon in hospital (to find Alfred tending to him), who has no knowledge of his court summon. He's confronted by the head doctor – a member of the city council – who welcomes the decision, claiming the time has come to shut down Batman's vigilante quest, and that the council will force Gordon and his men to bring him in.

Phosphorus gases an entire concert where the Rolling Stones are playing. Sure they're not mentioned in name, but I know Jagger when I see him. “All Ri-ight!! Hello Gotham City! It's rily been a gas here tonight!” Amid the panic, Richards carries on, smoking, basking in the hazy fumes of Phosphorus.

...Meanwhile, back at the makeshift cave, Batman's injuries appear worse than originally feared...in fact, he's radioactive! He receives a tip-off about the concert attack and is warned with Gordon out of commission, he's on his own. Realising where Phosphorus is hiding, he heads out to the abandoned Power Plant. Teaming with guards, he decides not to chance it...just yet.

Wayne throws a swanky party aboard his luxury yacht, where all the major players are present. We now meet the beautiful Silver St Cloud, who more than catches the eye of the host. With a promise to meet up later, Bruce slips away into the shadows, knowing that dinner is still an hour away.

The Bat boat is quickly on its way back to the Power Plant to finally end Phosphorus. He returns in time for dinner, but we end this issue with a suspicious Silver St Cloud wondering why his hair is damp...


“The Dead Yet Live”

Thorne is once again laying the law down and pushing forward with plans to end the Caped Crusader, though his radioactive wounds may do the job for him. Bruce is smitten with Silver, though decides the time has come to seek medical aid, and with the advice of a colleague (one Jerry Robinson, no less), chooses Graytowers, an exclusive establishment, with a “no questions asked” policy.

Bruce is welcomed into Graytowers by a Dr Todhunter. He is shown to his quarters, where he is advised to “sleep”. The door closes to a darkened room and all of a sudden Bruce collapses into a nightmarish dream.

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When he awakes, he's given the news that he's in an asylum, not a clinic, and he isn't Bruce Wayne. Silver decides to visit, but is told about Bruce's radiation poisoning and would be unable to see any visitors for at least a week.

Avoiding the drugged soup on offer, Bruce feels it's safe to delve into the secret compartment in his case, and moments later, the Batman is ready! A vial of acid eats through the bars, and as he reaches the roof of Graytowers, he meets two of Todhunter's monsters.

Todhunter and his assistant hear the commotion and go to see what remains of the prowler. Batman crashes through the window, claiming he's been trailing Todhunter for weeks...however, his bluff is called when Todhunter reveals himself to be none other than...

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Strange has been experimenting with the wealthy clients of Graytowers, transforming them into mindless slaves, creating monster men and women to do his bidding, and forcing them to recommend suitable donors to “Dr Todhunter”, in the promise of an antidote. Batman vows to stop him, but is attacked by a green mamba snake. With Bruce stricken, Strange administers the anti-venom...and when he wakes...

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“Your secrets are secrets no longer...Bruce Wayne!”


“I am the Batman!”

We begin with the iconic panel of Strange dressed as Batman, basking in his discovery, while perfecting the vocal tone of Bruce Wayne, and plotting to plunder the Wayne fortune.

Strange's admiration of Batman, bordering on infatuation, along with his aptitude for disguise and science, makes him a wonderful villain, one which is larger than life, but is logical in his villainy. He cites Batman as his only true challenge and the reason for his return.

Alfred is apprehended and cast deep in Graytowers, along with his Master. Strange puts his plans into motion by impersonating Bruce at Wayne Towers, and making outrageous moves in the stock market. To his horror, Silver appears out of the blue and “Bruce” callously calls of their romance. With suspicion, Silver decides to visit Graytowers.

Her suspicions are realised when Strange's assistant claims Wayne is still unavailable. With no one else to go to, she decides to contact Dick Grayson, who is off at college. Dick plays down her concerns, but Robin is quickly on his way to Gotham.

Strange is counting the spoils of impersonating Wayne. In less than a week, he's accumulated close to seven million. Again, the admiration flows. “The Batman was altogether an exceptional man! He ruled the city by day as well as by night! No one else could even touch the hem of my garment! He was...irreplaceable...!”

Hugo convenes at an abandoned warehouse, monster men in tow, with the intent to sell the secrets of Bruce Wayne to the highest bidder, though, tonight is purely to identify serious applicants. With three opening bids cast from the shadows, Strange concludes business for the evening, citing tomorrow as the official auction.

As they exit, Hugo and his monsters are attacked. The cigar-chomping figure of Rupert Thorne watches from the shadows as his men tranquillise the monsters, before apprehending Hugo. Obviously not willing to wait for the bidding, Thorne has the answers in front of him and plans to get them, whatever it takes.

Robin is now on the grounds of Graytowers, and after prowling around, finally finds the cell of Bruce and Alfred. Robin storms the building and takes down the remaining monsters left by Strange.

We end this issue with an intense torture scene. Throne's men are laying into Strange, but he remains silent throughout the ordeal. “You will never steal my secret, Thorne! Because – it is not my secret! It belongs to the Batman! To learn Batman's secrets you must triumph over him – not me! I was a fool to ever think of selling them! The Batman is too good for such as you, Thorne! He and I – we are two – of a kind! I will – never – betray...”

Hugo's lifeless body slumps to the floor.

The next two issues, “The Malay Penguin” and “The Deadshot Ricochet” are fairly mediocre, certainly compared to the rest. Penguin's story has him chasing a rare statue that wouldn't be out of place on the 60's series. However, these issues take stock of past events and set in place what's still to come. Bruce and Silver's relationship is strengthening; something which isn't lost on both Alfred or Dick.

We also learn that Penguin was one of the mystery bidders. When he returns to the auction only to find the place empty, he wonders what the game is. A rain of laughter echoes down from the stands above...the Joker?

This issue also briefly returns to Thorne's dealings. He's met with disdain from a fellow board member for wanting the Batman murdered. This doesn't go down well with Thorne, and as he orders his men to take him away, he's met with a chilling sight...the ghost of Hugo Strange! “Go on – take him, Thorne! Take him as you took me! But soon – I shall take you!”

With Penguin taken care of, Robin receives a call from the Teen Titans. Batman demands he returns to help them, leaving him to take Thorne down alone. A new problem arises with Deadshot breaking out of Prison, seeking revenge for his incarceration.

Thorne's paranoia is growing, first with a visit from Batman, then another ghostly vision of Hugo Strange, this time warning him “When you see me a third time it will be...the end!”

Silver decides to show Bruce her world. Her company arranges conventions, and, as chance would have it, Batman and Deadshot's fight ends up crashing through that particular convention later that night...

With Deadshot defeated, Silver calls out to the masked man as he makes his exit. He turns to look at her, and in an instant, she knows it's Bruce.

“The Laughing Fish!”

Now we have one of the most iconic Joker stories of all time. Batman appears at Silver's apartment to find out the extent of the damage, and whether she does indeed know...has his indulgence cost him his secret? Both back off without admitting anything, though Silver decides she has to get out of town.

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Batman returns to his patrol, and his attention is drawn to the docks where fishermen are disgusted to find their entire catch has been tainted with the ghastly grin of the Joker. It soon spreads up and down the coast, with the “Laughing Fish” becoming the main focus of the news.

High noon, and the Joker makes the grandest of entrances at the copyright commission department, to the horror of a Mr Francis. His demand is simple: he wants his Joker-Fish copyrighted. When he's told you can't copyright a natural source, he gives Mr Francis the ultimatum that if he doesn't change his mind by midnight...he'll be dead as a mackerel.

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Thorne is holed up at home, scared of his own reflection. A fright from one of his men leads him to the bathroom where the Joker appears from a cubicle. Joker can tell by his body language that he had something to do with Strange's disappearance. Joker also knows he bid for Batman's identity, and is only alive because no one found it out...and it better stay that way.

“You? You're protecting him?”

“The Joker must have the Batman! Nay, the Joker deserves the Batman! What fun would there be in humbling mere policemen? I am the greatest criminal ever known! And for anyone else to destroy the Batman would be unworthy of me!”


Thorne decides he has to get out of Gotham, as the bat signal lights the sky.

Commissioner Gordon meets Batman at the home of Mr Francis, and before he can explain the situation, the Joker's face appears on the TV screen.

“Good evening, my fellow Americans! Tonight. At precisely twelve o'clock, I will kill G. Carl Francis! The Joker has spoken!”

The police and Batman start searching the premises for anything that could cause harm. With everything covered, Batman is brooding over The Joker, Hugo and Silver, when suddenly gas starts pouring through the heating ducts. Quickly, Bats gets a gas mask on Francis, but it's too late...his mouth twists and is pulled into a ghastly grin...the sign of the Joker.

Batman recognizes the gas as being part of a binary compound, and that on their own they're harmless, but mixed, it becomes deadly...Joker must've exposed Francis to the other compound earlier. As he explains this to Gordon, the face of the Joker reappears on TV.

“Hello, late-show lovers – and lovers of the late-show! G. Carl Francis is dead, as I vowed! But I still don't have what I require – a legal claim to your new – improved – Joker-Fish! If that doesn't change by 3 a.m., the number two bureaucrat will feel my wrath! The Joker has spoken!”

We end this issue at the other end of town with Thorne picking up a distressed girl, whose car has broken down...one Silver St Cloud!

“Sign of the Joker!”

Batman and the police are stationed at the home of a Mr Jackson, who is next on Joker's hit-list. It's nearly three, and a creak alerts the men. It's only Mr Jackson's cat, but it has a Joker-fish in its mouth! It's affected the cat, too, which leaps into the air, scratching at Batman, who falls uncontrollably into a fit of dying laughter...

Batman explains that he swapped places with Jackson in a bid to deceive, but the cat saw through the disguise. As he changes back to Batman, the familiar face of the Joker returns again.

“Hello there, Batman! Thomas Jackson is dead as I vowed! But I still don't have my legal claim to my Joker-Fish! If that doesn't change by dawn, the next commission member will feel my wrath! The Joker has spoken!”

Batman springs to life, claiming the Joker must be near due to no TV station broadcasting at this hour. Leaving the Jackson residence, Batman hurries through the woods...in front of him he sees a shimmering form that looks like Hugo Strange! Rushing forwards, the ghost is gone. No footprints, no bent grass...only a vapour analysis meter, which to Batman, was not left by mistake. But who left it and why?

We return to Silver and Thorne. The car is silent as both ponder their predicaments. A news bulletin announces the murders in Gotham at the hands of the Joker, regardless of Batman's attempts to stop him. An argument ensues when Thorne remarks about Batman being the cause of the city's problems. When Silver claims that Thorne is corrupt, he quickly kicks her to the kerb.

Silver follows a trail of light to a small airport. She finds a man tending to a light-aircraft, and asks if he she can charter his plane.

Thorne continues alone, happy for the peace. Then, in the distance, the ethereal body of Hugo Strange floats unnervingly towards him. “My spirit couldn't rest until we settled our score, Rupert Thorne! Now, we shall both rest in peace!”

Back in Gotham, dawn has come, and Batman is primed and ready for the Joker. One of the cops catches his attention, and he knows instantly who it is. The Joker is here, live in person, announcing it was time to do the job himself. Batman dodges a spray of acid from his badge, and the fight is taken to the rooftops above.

The sky lights up, rain pouring down upon the Dark Knight and the Caliph of Clowns as they fight to the death. A taxi pulls up below and Silver St Cloud exits to witness the terror above. “Have I come back to Gotham...just to see Bruce die?” Joker makes a leap of faith to a girder splitting two buildings. A flash of lightning strikes the beam, illuminating the Joker and sending him crashing into the river below.

With no sign of the Joker, Batman approaches Silver. She loves Bruce, but not Batman, and after witnessing their fight, she knows that this is how it is, every night, not knowing when the luck will run out. She asks Bruce not to call and to stay away.

Gordon explains to Batman that Thorne has showed up, scared out of his wits, confessing to everything he's ever done, including trying to frame him. We end this issue with the Batman disappearing into the dawning of a new day.

Fin


There are another two issues in this collection that concentrate on Clayface. They are written by the legendary Len Wein and pencilled by Marshall Rogers. They really don't fit the overall story, and they're slightly overlooked because of the strength of the last two issues. I would like to revisit these two issues at a later date, because they are worthy, and more than a mere bonus.

So there you have it, that was Strange Apparitions. For those who haven't read it, so much of this will probably feel familiar. Batman: The Animated Series adapted large portions of this arc and it was clearly a major inspiration for the show. The Laughing Fish not only lifts the plot, but large sections of the dialogue is also used.

Considering how highly regarded TAS is amongst both causal and hardcore Bat fans, shows the strength of this particular series. You can see how this Joker influenced Jack's take, and certainly Dini used this template for his Joker. Nolan's Batman had him relocate to a penthouse, etc, and there's so many more small nods that are scattered throughout the various incarnations of modern Batman.

From a personal point of view, this is my favourite comic book Batman. It balances the dark and light of Batman, in every sense. The Joker is clownish, but murderously creative and calculating. Bruce isn't a reclusive loner, but someone who very much adapts to the situation he's in. He looks like he enjoys playing the playboy, but you still get his mental anguish.

The writing consistently gets better throughout and you can really see how much effort went in to establishing all the elements of the story, and how the characters on show – barring a few interludes along the way – really grow and drive the plot forward. Englehart's Joker is second only to Dini, but that's because he basically approaches him in the same way, just a bit creepier.

The artwork is simply amazing. Rogers Batman, Joker and Gotham is definitive to me. His 'pimp' Joker is brilliantly displayed; he manages to capture sinister and dapper better than anyone. From the smoky council chambers, to downtown Gotham, to the docks, it's all thick with atmosphere, which compliments the story and really makes Gotham feel alive. This is Strange Apparitions greatest strength.

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Now, of course, it's not perfect. It has dated elements, and some moments that'll make you chuckle for the wrong reasons, but hey, it was the 70's! If you're firmly a modern Batman reader it might not be for you, but I would urge anyone looking for a classic tale to hunt this down.

The team of Englehart and Rogers continued their story with Batman: Dark Detective, which is also a personal favourite, but not as ground-breaking. They had a proposed third part green-lit by DC until the untimely death of Rogers. Englehart's relationship with DC soured when he claimed he was asked for input in the early stages of Nolan's Batman, and that they stole elements from Dark Detective. David Goyer admitted that various writers were approached with the view to adapt material, such as Chuck Dixon, Jeph Loeb, Denny O'Neil, as well as Englehart. Politics aside, it highlights Goyer's wish to draw from all aspects of Batman, not just Miller.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and I hope you enjoyed Strange Apparitions!
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby CROD » Feb 19th, 2012, 6:21 pm

70's Batman, Radioactive monsters, Hugo Strange, Batman's version of the movie Face Off, Hugo-Batman Bromance with Hugo keeping a secret, Penguin, Hugo's ghost, JOKER, Deadshot, Joker-Fish!, Joker-Cat and Joker dressed like a cop.

Damn

Great write up BobGun. Strange Apparitions sounds awesome and crazy as hell.
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Enigma » Feb 19th, 2012, 6:49 pm

Great review, BobGun! I love the 70's Batman comics. To me they have the perfect mixture of camp from the Silver Age and dark from everything else. Moreso than more modern comics.

Hugo Strange in Strange Apparitions was the biggest influence to my still-not-close-to-being-finished fan-made Batman movie plot.

The Laughing Fish will always be one of my favourite Joker stories. The episode of BTAS is my favourite episode to date. (Even though they have their differences.)
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby robofreak » Feb 19th, 2012, 6:57 pm

also hugo stange lived so what if that means he will return in a3 :hugo2: :hugo: :ugeek:
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Enigma » Feb 19th, 2012, 7:04 pm

robofreak wrote:also hugo stange lived so what if that means he will return in a3

How did you connect this and AC together? :-|

By the way, Hugo Strange cheats death. Same as Joker.
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Red_Robin » Feb 19th, 2012, 7:53 pm

Strange Apparitions has been on my 'want to read' list for a while, but I haven't gotten around to tracking the last few issues down. I'll be looking for them on eBay and amazon this week.

Thanks, BobGun!
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Chob » Feb 19th, 2012, 10:32 pm

I was lucky enough to find the Strange Apparitions trade at a local con after having searched for it for a while and seeing ridiculously high prices for it online. I found one in such a good condition it was most likely just sitting on a shelf somewhere for years without ever having been bought. The price of $7 couldn't be beat either. To this day it remains my most treasured "find" comics wise, and it came from a vendor that mostly sold toys oddly enough, so he probably didn't know it's true value.

I love seeing this run get more attention. The popular story is always that Batman, from the introduction of Robin onwards was pure camp until Miller and Moore came along and took the character back to his darker roots and that story has been told to death in comics retrospectives. This run had a huge influence on the '89 movie and Batman stories to come. Unfortunately, since Steve Englehart is not too fond of DC Comics these days, a reprint is unlikely at this point. Also it would seem that DC wants to focus on the digital market when it comes to older material. But Prey is getting a re-release so who knows.
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby TFDutchman » Feb 19th, 2012, 11:04 pm

Wow, great work BobGun. Definitely put a lot of effort into this massive write up. I love the sound of Hugo's involvement and the Laughing Fish was always a great BTAS episode. Great to see where it was adapted from :D
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Maultest » Feb 19th, 2012, 11:16 pm

They don't put strange in the title for nothing
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby BobGun » Feb 20th, 2012, 2:44 am

Thanks alot guys, the kind words are very much appreciated!

To be honest, there's so much going on in this collection that I barely scratched the surface. Reading it for the first time, I couldn't believe how much of it exists in modern Batman in some form, and along with Dennis O'Neil's stories with Ra's, they really capture an interesting period in Batman's history. I'd like to maybe look at :ras: "Tales of the Demon" :ras: , if no one else would like to claim it!

Chob, my finding of Strange Apps was very much like yours, and it's my most treasured comic, too - it's a real shame it's so hard to find. It really is worth tracking down.

Big thanks to the mods for giving us all the chance to share our favourite stories :alfred:
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby LiAm_SOLLO- » Feb 20th, 2012, 5:29 am

Good work Bobgun :hugo:
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Harvey Bullock » Feb 20th, 2012, 3:35 pm

Fantastic write up! This is one of my personal faves, especially the Laughing Fish.
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Scarecrow112 » Feb 20th, 2012, 10:24 pm

Sweet review I had no idea the BTAS episode 'The Laughing Fish' came the comics
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby Arp N Ranpike » Feb 21st, 2012, 4:31 am

Why is Doctor Steel talking to batman?
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Re: Treasure Chest Comics #12: Batman - Strange Apparitions

Postby TheHauntedKnight » Feb 21st, 2012, 10:36 am

I'll have to pick this up soon, awesome review!
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