I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
We interrupt "Merry Marvel Mainstream Madness" for a special DC Christmas edition of Longbox Junk because my daughter and I are both extremely light on Marvel Christmas issues. . .as in, we don't have any.
Welcome back to another special "Retro Review" edition of Longbox Junk, where I step away from my usual dollar box fare and take a look at some of the older or more "valuable" comics lurking in my 45 Longboxes.
Sheesh. . .45 boxes? My local comic shops should send me a Christmas card thanking me for clearing out their unwanted inventory.
AND SPEAKING OF CHRISTMAS. . .
Yeah, yeah. . .okay. That was pretty bad. But it fits because it's December and THIS Longbox Junk Retro Review is a Christmas Special! So step back with me to March 1979 for some Bronze Age Holiday fun with Batman and Plastic Man!
Wait. March? Never mind. Let's do this!
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD
"The Night The Mob Stole Xmas"
SCRIPT: Bob Haney
ART: Jim Aparo & Joe Staton
COVER: Jim Aparo
So this comic isn't particularly old (as far as comics go) and it's not really "valuable" (as far as that sweet, sweet collector cash money goes), but what it IS is a Supremely Seventies-Tastic story that is SO good, yet SO bad at the same time. . . providing a perfect holiday punch of Bronze Age silliness mixed with sober social awareness that makes a very nice cup of unintentional hilarity to be sipped by a crackling fireplace in the Merry Month of March.
As a bit of background, Jim Aparo was getting overworked on multiple titles at the time and things started getting behind is the reason why the Christmas issue came out 3 months late and had a second artist backing him up on it.
The story goes like this:
It starts with Commissioner Gordon and the G.C.P.D. investigating an empty semi-truck that was hauling bootleg cigarettes. The driver is dead and it looks like it was the work of a rival gang of cigarette smugglers known as. . .Buttleggers.
Okay. Let's stop here for a moment.
They play it with a straight face in this comic, throwing in a bit of social commentary about the danger surrounding illegal cigarette smuggling (which some research shows me was a bit of a problem in the late 70's), but I HAVE to applaud Bob Haney for being able to smuggle in the word "Butt" 10 times over 20 pages in a CCA-Approved mainstream superhero comic book. Well done, sir!
Continuing on. . .
Batman (literally) jumps in on the scene, Gordon lets him know that a gang of Buttleggers has been buying cheap smokes down south, slapping fake tax stamps on them, and selling them at a big mark-up in Gotham. They've even killed some store owners that have refused to sell the illegal cigarettes. For some reason, Batman's being a bit of a jerk and he pretty much tells Gordon he's got better things to do before speeding off in the Batmobile. . .
On an unrelated note, That's one of my all-time favorite Batmobiles right there. A compact low-slung beast built for speed that younger me thought was impossibly cool. . .and as far as older me goes, that still holds true. That Batman drives that bad boy around in the snow with the top down so everyone can hear his new Zeppelin 8-Track ( I imagine him just pounding "Heartbreaker" on top volume while on patrol in this comic) just makes it even better. There's other versions of Batman's ride that get a lot more attention than this one, but damn I love that late 70's Batmobile!
BUT I DIGRESS!
So even though Batman was pretending not to be interested in the case, he's really right on top of it and starts threatening and beating his way through Gotham looking for information, as Batman does. Unfortunately, he comes up with nothing.
BUT. . .
While he's shaking down informants uptown Batman takes a moment to admire the world-famous Christmas display outside of "Lacey's" Department Store. A kid runs into the street chasing a ball and is saved by a mangy street-corner Santa that turns out to be Plastic Man (revealed when Batman runs over, rips his beard off and shouts "PLASTIC MAN!" to everyone in earshot).
It turns out that Plastic Man has fallen on hard times and is pretty depressed about his situation. He tells Batman that since their last case together, his life has fallen apart and the only work he can find outside of being a carnival freak is crappy jobs like being a street corner Santa. BatScrooge tosses Plastic Man a single coin in his cauldron and tells him that he's got stuff to do. . .but hey, Happy Holidays, pal!
Through the night, Batman continues his patrol and search for clues leading to the Buttleggers, but still comes up empty. He decides to swing back by Lacey's (presumably to rev his engine and blast some Zeppelin while cruising with the top down past Plastic Man's street corner) and discovers that while he was away the entire Lacey's Christmas display has been stolen right out from in front of the store!
Commissioner Gordon and the Mayor are on the scene, along with the G.C.P.D. Gordon is trying to calm the Mayor down, who is literally ready to declare a state of emergency over the situation. Gordon tells Batman that a convoy of trucks was spotted packing the display up. Still being a jerk for some reason, Batman just drives off without saying a thing (the art hilariously shows him throwing a rooster tail of slush onto a couple of patrolmen as he speeds away).
Batman heads to Plastic Man's street corner, wondering if he might have seen anything, but Plastic Man is gone and his charity cauldron (presumably with Ebenezer BatScrooge's single coin still in it) dumped in a pile by a message scrawled in the snow. Batman decides it's time to get the portable WhirlyBat-Copter out of the trunk in order to catch up to the departed convoy heading South out of Gotham.
After he catches up, Batman ditches the WhirlyBat and jumps on to the last truck, where he finds Plastic Man inside. . .along with some live reindeer. Plastic Man tells Batman that he spotted the crooks packing up the store display, but when he tried to stop them he got sucker-punched from behind and taken prisoner because the robbers were talking about how they "needed a Santa Claus for the shindig". Luckily, before he blacked out, he was able to leave the message that he just KNEW Batman would find.
Batman spots one of the reindeer eating some loose tobacco and suddenly realizes that by some astounding coincidence that the display thieves are ALSO part of the buttlegging ring! When the convoy stops at a gas station, Batman decides the detective work is over and we get a nice fight scene including the kind of merciless throat chop that we really don't get from modern Batman.
CHOP! 70's Batman didn't mess around.
Let's take a brief intermission here in order to spotlight one of the things I LOVE about doing these "Retro Reviews". The ads. To me, there's nothing that makes an old comic into a printed time machine taking me right back to that time more than the ads. Call me crazy, but they're one of my favorite things about older comics. Case in point:
Awwwwwwwwww. . .YEAH!
The rest of the super-swag on this ad is great, no doubt about that, but move your eye over to the left and take in the glory of the Batman Utility Belt! I remember not just WANTING that belt when I was a kid. . .but NEEDING that belt more than just about anything. I begged my mom for that belt and she was like "It's plastic junk that won't last a week and I don't have the money to waste."
Every time I read a DC comic book afterwards that had this ad in it, I felt the bitter sting of denial. I STILL remember the feeling of emptiness that was my life knowing I'd never have a Batman Utility Belt of my own. Yes, indeed. . .I was a deprived child living in an uncaring world. Truly a more miserable wretch worthy of the finest pity party could not be found.
See. . .THAT'S what is great about older comics to me. They may not always be masterpieces of literature or art, but they sometimes can bring me right back to a moment in time like nothing else except maybe certain songs or movies.
BUT I DIGRESS (again)!
Despite Batman's brutal throat chops, he's outnumbered and outgunned and finds himself on the losing end of the battle after he makes a bad move and falls into an oil pit. Luckily for the Caped Crusader, the thugs are more concerned with making a a getaway than finishing him off. Plastic Man rescues Batman, but not before the convoy has escaped. But after running Batman through the car wash (?!) to clean the oil off him, Plastic Man informs him that he heard the trucks were headed for Florida, and an overjoyed Batman is back on the chase to the Sunshine State!
Batman's pretty chipper for a guy who just got buffed in a car wash. . .
Batman and Plastic Man (who, for some reason, is still wearing his Santa suit) make their way to Florida. It's not really shown how they get there. The next time we see the two of them, they are scuba diving toward their final destination. Bat-Sub, maybe?
It turns out that the convoy carrying the stolen Christmas display was headed for the Florida estate of a mobster Kingpin named Jake Doyle who is dying and has invited all his mob friends and enemies to his estate for one last big Christmas party before he dies. . .explaining why he stole one of the most famous Christmas displays in the world. But what the rest of the guests don't know is that Doyle isn't really dying and it's all an elaborate setup to get all his Buttlegging competition in one place so he can take them all down at once.
While Batman and Plastic Man recon Doyle's mansion, some thugs get the drop on them and the pair are captured. Batman folds like a chump without even throwing a single throat chop and then is strung up on the giant Christmas tree like an ornament while Plastic Man (still in his Santa suit and beard) is forced to play the part of Santa Claus at the mob Christmas Party/Trap.
When Doyle tells Plastic Man/Santa Claus to open a giant present, a bunch of machine gun-toting thugs jump out of the box and begin hosing the party guests with lead. Plastic Man drops his Santa disguise and puffs himself up like a giant shield to absorb the bullets.
Big Jake gets PO'd that his party isn't going the way he wants it to, so he drops the dying act and jumps out of his wheelchair, trying to shoot Plastic Man. This makes the other mob bosses and their henchmen realize it was all a trap and a big gunfight breaks out between them all.
In the confusion, Batman frees himself and brutally takes down the mastermind of the whole fiasco in a way that leaves absolutely NO doubt that you've gotten on the wrong side of the wrong guy. . .
You just got Batmanned son!
Out of nowhere, It starts snowing, which freaks everyone out, considering this is taking place in Florida. . .but it’s just a helicopter dropping fake snow as part of Doyle’s party plans. Plastic Man funnels the snow into a whirlwind and buries the gunmen, who quickly surrender.
Batman laments Gotham’s loss of its holiday display and the ruination of Christmas, so Plastic Man suggests they conscript the crooks into loading everything on the trucks so they can haul it all back to Gotham.
Using their mob slave labor force (With Plastic Man being the whip-cracking overseer back in full Santa Garb) the world-famous "Lacey's" display is put back in place. . .the Buttlegger ring is broken, and Batman gets the credit for saving Christmas (even though Plastic Man did most of the heavy lifting). All's well that ends well!
It would be easy to bag on this comic. From a modern and objective point of view, it's pretty bad. The story hinges on coincidence, the team-up is forced, the premise is utterly ridiculous, the dialogue is pretty cringeworthy, and the art is workmanlike to be kind. Just on the good side of crappy to be unkind.
THAT SAID. . .
I can't help but like this comic. It has a lot of problems to the modern eye, but at the heart of it all, this is just good old fashioned FUN! It's played with a straight face, but that just makes it unintentionally hilarious to read. From Batman cruising around through a snowstorm with the Batmobile's top down, to Plastic Man running Batman through the car wash, this comic is just goofy as hell, and that makes it awesome in its own way.
Is this story great? Not even close to it. Is it even good? Not really. But did I like it? Yeah. . .I liked it a lot for what it is, and that is a time capsule of a lost time in comics history when publishers were in a transition between the passing Bronze Age and the upcoming Modern Age. A time where comics were caught between the ridiculous and the serious. It's a time that I was growing up in and these are the kind of comics I grew up on.
So in the spirit of the season, despite this comic's many faults I can't really be negative about it. It's bad, but it's FUN. . .and I think that these days we could all probably use a little more fun in our lives.
And so I end this Longbox Junk Christmas Special Retro Review in the best way I can think of. . .
A very Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year from me and my comic-lovin' daughter to all the readers of Longbox Junk!
Up Next. . .
Back to Longbox Junk business as usual, with some more Merry Marvel Mainstream Madness.
Be there or be square!
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