One of my favorite things about the San Diego Comic-Con is the “accidental discovery.” Sure, there are always plenty of things I’m looking for at the show, but oftentimes even better than that is the stuff I stumble across by accident, through sheer blind stinking luck.
Such was the case a few years back when I found DETECTIVE COMICS #456 (February 1976), “Death Kiss!” by writer Elliott S! Maggin and artist Ernie Chua (looking for all the world like he’s doing his best Jim Aparo impression. Here, take a look:
Another one of those comic books that fall vaguely into the category of “First comic book I ever read,” this may have been the first Batman comic I ever read, as I remember this comic book being around the house virtually my entire life, and in progressively worse shape over the years from the re-readings. In fact, for most of my childhood it looked more like this: with the cover torn away and lost at some point:
Now that’s a splash page. Batman cowering in fear from hundreds of pairs of giant floating lips. Comic-book gold.
The story here opens with millionaire Bruce Wayne in full smoothie mode, macking on his new ladyfriend Angie, before rushing off to his night job.
Soon Batman is out in patrol, and before long suffering from flashbacks and hallucinations, as rendered in this snappy bat-shaped interlude:
The Dark Knight shakes it off, though, and gets back to work, apprehending a band of building-climbing drug thieves:
In the midst of the fight, Batman suffers another hallucination, this time mistaking one of the thugs for Robin:
Curious thing about this panel — I don’t know if it was the hallucination aspect, or the weird all-blue coloring, but when I read this as a kid, I somehow translated it to mean that Robin had died somehow. Even when I started reading as lot more comics and saw that Robin was still out there and running around, still, every time I would read that comic, I’d think,”So I wonder how Robin died, anyway”? Weird.
Speaking of weird, here’s my nomination for the two worst sound effects in a comic ever — when Batman kicks two of the drug thieves, it makes this noise:
“Tuck”? “Pluck”? Really? I’m gonna just chalk that up to whatever drugs Batman is on…
Batman returns the stolen drugs to the doctor’s office, than promptly passes out. Not long after, he comes to in the grips of another hallucination:
This was another one that creeped me out as a kid, for some reason. It’s not even that scary, but just the sight of Batman seeing his dead parents always gave me the chills. Of course, Batman recovers quickly, thanks to the good doctor’s excellent bedside manner:
After slapping the Batman around, the doctor gives him the four-one-one: he’s been poisoned with an industrial material called “amory,” a sweet-smelling cream used to lubricate machinery, and eliminate one’s enemies. How versatile. The creation of an antidote would require more time than Batman has left, so his only hope so to track down the killer and hope they have the antidote, and to do so within the time he has left before the poison kills him: one hour.
After interrogating a single informant with a poolcue and extrapolating from that that no one must be out to kill Batman (which seems like a bit of a deductive stretch to me), Batman reflects on the sweet-smelling poison he’s been dosed with and has a bit of an epiphany:
Heading out to Angie’s place, the Batman once more leads with his feet, kicking two criminal goons there apparently just shooting the breeze with Bruce Wayne’s new squeeze.
Those don’t exactly look like the most powerful kicks, but again, I’ll chalk it up to the drugs…
Batman learns that Bruce Wayne was the target, a scheme by one of his business rivals, who forced Angie to dose Wayne with the poison lipstick. After Batman kayos the last of the thugs, Angie hands over the antidote, which he gulps down, and there’s your story.
It’s an odd little Batman tale. It’s hard to really get anything going in only 12 pages, and any sort of suspense is rendered pretty much moot by the fact that the critical twist of the whodunit, that it was Angie who poisoned Batman, is given away both on the cover and on the splash page.
Closing out the issue is an Elongated Man story, “The Un-Stretchable Sleuth,” by writer Bob Rozakis and artist Kurt Schaffenberger. Here, Ralph Dibny forgets to drink his Gingold and gets his ass kicked for his troubles. That’s pretty much the gist of it.
We open with Ralph and Sue enjoying breakfast at their hotel (Back then the Dibnys just traveled the world “looking for adventure,” or as one might less charitably call it, “spending up all of Sue’s inheritance.” ), until an enraged Sue finds out she’s no longer on the list of the nation’s 10 most admired women. (Although it’s unclear exactly what she used to be admired for. Ralph’s description of her as “Public Debutante Number One” makes her sound like the Paris Hilton of her day.)
Choosing to get out of Dodge, Ralph leaves Sue to her bitterness with a patronizing kiss on the forehead, in a panel that I have to admit has always been a personal favorite:
Out looking for something to occupy himself while Sue cools down, Ralph stumbles upon a trio of thieves making off with a rackful of mink coats, and leaps into the fray:
Unfortunately, Sue’s little tantrum that morning had resulted in Ralph’s spilling his bottle of Gingold, the fruit extract that gives him his stretching powers, and so in the midst of the butt-kicking, Ralph’s body unexpectedly snaps back to normal, and…
The story ends with poor Ralph being carted off to god knows where, and if anyone out there has the next issue, well, I’ve been wondering what happens for about 32 years. I wouldn’t mind a spoiler…