Welcome comic book fans across America (and the world) and all the ships at sea. You’ve tuned in to a new RETRO REVIEW and this week I am looking at a comic from DC Comics. And what is that comic, you might ask? And I will answer, the comic this week is Detective Comics # 437, cover dated November 1973. The first thing all comic book fans look at is the cover and this one;s a beaut! Take a look …
As you may, or may not, tell, it is drawn by the great, Jim Aparo. He supplied both the pencils and the inks for this little gem. The comic book features two separate stories this issue, with the first being a Batman tale entitled; “Deathmask!”. It is written by Archie Goodwin and again both the pencils and inks are done by Jim Aparo.
The splash page features an engraved invitation, for The Batman, to attend a preview showing of a special exhibit at the Gotham Museum. It further shows masked men scaling the roof of said museum prepared to break in and steal the new prized artifact. Batman shows up and captures three men quite easily. But what he doesn’t realize is that there was a four man. The scene shifts inside the museum, where Bruce Wayne makes a late entrance.
Goodwin reveals that the new artifact is the Mask of the Xochipecs’ God of Death, Matuchima (the Deathmask of the title). Once Wayne’s late entrance is explained to Commissioner Gordon and Bruce’s two, yes, count them, two, dates, a scream rings out from the next room where the Deathmask is displayed. Bruce quickly leaps out the window, only to reappear moments later in his Batman costume.
Batman now faces a living being (?) wearing the Deathmask. They battle and Batman is bested, and the living spirit (?) flees from the room through another busted window. When Batman regains his senses, he and Gordon find the body of the fourth crook, beaten to death. Batman and Gordon attempt to trial the being/spirit and find another body in the park. The new victim is Marcus Wingate, the museum’s director.
Batman immediately is suspicious of two people and leaves to visit them both. At the home of the first person, Batman once again encounters the being/spirit wearing the Deathmask, who is attempting to kill the man Batman suspects. Again Batman comes up short and is thrown from a rooftop. By the time he recovers, Deathmask has again fled. Meanwhile Gordon has gone to check on the other suspect. The police do not find him at home but both Gordon and Batman return to the museum, where that find the suspect in the Deathmask mask being shot by another man.
This man strips off the mask and attempts to flee with it. Batman gives chase and the man falls to his death. Not Batman at his best by any stretch of the imagination, either in winning fights or in correctly determining who the guilty party was until the very end. But still a pretty good twelve (12) story with excellent art.
Which brings us to the second story of this issue. It is entitled; “The Himalayan Incident” and it is also written by Archie Goodwin, but the pencils and inks for this second story are done by Walt Simonson. It is this eight (8) page story that introduces, or maybe I should say, reintroduces, the Golden-Age character, The Manhunter!
I want to mention, when I first bought this comic book off the newsstand in 1973, I thought the artist was named Jim Olson, as in, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olson. Why did I think that? Well, take a look at the signature after the caption: Artist, on the splash page:
Okay, that’s likely too small for you to actually see, so let’s see if I can supply a blown up section to look at …
Okay, it’s a little blurry, since I had to blow it up in size, but let me walk you through my reasoning. First, the S looks a little bit like a J, then clearly an i and an m follows. What’s that spell? JIM. Next appears a large O, could very easily be a Capitol O to start the last name, couldn’t it? Next the sideways n looks quite a bit like the letter l, which is then clearly followed by a s, an o and an n. Put that together and you get Olson. now altogether, Jim Olson, the artist’s name.
Well that fall, or maybe the following spring, I had the pleasure to meet the artist himself at a small comic book convention in Jackson, Michigan, where I had him sign my comic on the bottom of this very splash page and told him that I had thought his name was Jim Olson, not Simonson and how I thought it was pretty cool to have an artist named after a comic book character. He thought that was pretty funny, but explained what his signature actually represented. Look closely at it again. Go ahead, I’ll wait … … …
Okay back? Walt’s signature is meant to portray a dinosaur. It starts out on the left with the S, which represents the tail of the dinosaur, gets larger through the body becoming largest with the O and then gets smaller again on the right, with the sideways N representing the dinosaur’s head. Wow, that’s even cooler than being named after Superman’s pal!
Okay, but what about the story? The introduction to this eight part series begins in this comic, with this eight page story, and with the splash page I’ve reproduced above. Wherein Christine St. Clair, of Interpol, has come to Nepal in search of a man going by the name of Paul Kirk. She asks people on the street if they have seen the man or have heard anything about him. She even confronts beggars in the streets. After one such encounter she finds a beggar who tells her a story, of a man who was attacked by members of the Cult of Thieves, a trespasser. Who fought them off. The beggar reveals that the man looks similar to the man in St. Clair’s photo. He further tells her the man came to a Sherpa village in the Himalayan Mountains and from there to a monastery famous for it’s blind archers.
That night, the man secretly entered the monastery, overcame two of the blind archers, but was shot by the third. A killing shot, but he did not die. He claimed he is not so easily killed to the very man he was tracking, Dharmata. Before their meeting be concluded the man is set upon by five (5) monks. The man kills the attacking monks and it is revealed that the monks look exactly like the Manhunter. For some reason the Manhunter then leaves Dharmata at the monastery and leaves.
All this the beggar reveals to St. Clair. She asks him to contact Interpol if he sees the man again and she leaves. As she walks away, she fails to turn around for one last look, but if she had, she would have send the beggar rise to his feet, shed his tattered robe and reveal himself as the very man she was searching for, Paul Kirk, the Manhunter!
Besides the one loose end left dangling, what did the Manhunter want from Dharmata, or was he going to kill him, but then doesn’t, it’s a great little story and definitely left me waiting with baited breath for the next issue so that I could read part two (2) of this storyline. As I said before, this is the first of an eight part story, with all parts being done by Goodwin and Simonson. I highly recommend that you pick up the eight issues in a row that the story ran. And in fact, the final story in the series took up the complete issue and guest starred the Batman.
It is also available in trades, which reprints the complete storyline under one cover, if you prefer that packaging. I actually own the first printing of the first trade, as well as, the original comics. But, hey, that’s me, and frankly I can’t give this a higher rating of a finite comic story line by any company. High praise? You bet, but worth every word! Definitely hunt it down. And yes, that pun was intended!
One last thing, here’s the cover to the fanzine, The Comic Reader, that came out just before the comic did at the end of the summer, which showed the first image of Manhunter:
Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and I hope you found some enjoyment from it. Plus please come back next Friday for a new Fabulous Find. Be seeing you and have a fun and safe Fourth of July!