Tuesday, August 09, 2005
BATMAN #268 DC Comics, 1975
So here's the cover of Batman #268.
I know what you're thinking: The Sheikh? WTF? Wasn't he a WWF wrestler?
Or perhaps you're thinking: What in God's name is that thing The Sheikh is riding? A tauntaun? John Merrick's pony? Somebody please give that cover artist a photo reference so he can draw a frickin' camel properly. My cat looks more like a camel than that thing does.
Or OK, maybe you're thinking: Did The Sheikh rig the butt of his rifle with explosives so when he struck people in the ribcage it would explode? If it was me, I'd just shoot the gun, but then I've never tried swatting people with an exploding rifle before. Maybe it works really well.
This issue was written by Denny O'Neil with pencils by Irv Novick and inks by Tex Blaisdell - all edited by the legendary Julius Schwartz. I think this book is a product of it's time and a good indicator at the general tone of DC books at the time. By that, I mean it's goofy as hell. Batman and Robin go up against The Sheikh, a masked Arab assassin who is seemingly killing people at random. I hope I don't wreck it for you when I say The Sheikh is actually two white guys conspiring to kill a business partner, or something. I'm a little fuzzy on the details; all I know is that it ends with a big ice skating fight and The Sheikh likes to swat people with his exploding rifle.
The Sheikh is a good example of a character that lasts an entire issue due to The Riddler Factor, the sustained plot contrivance that allows otherwise lame villains to survive much longer than they should be able to. For instance, in this comics Batman doesn't kick the shit out of The Sheikh in two seconds flat because:
1.) The Sheikh is wearing body armor under his robes.
2.) The Sheikh gets a few lucky shots in.
3.) The Sheik's rifle butt explodes whenever it strikes a human or dog rib cage.
4.) Batman is incredibly wimpy in this comic and whines like a little boy.
Check this out, here's The Sheikh and Batman going at it:
"Oww?" Did he say "oww?" And then he spends a whole panel bitching about how much his hand smarts? Nuh-uh. Not my Batman. I'm all for different interpretations of the Dark Knight Detective and all, but Batman doesn't say "oww."
Okay, I guess he does say "oww."
The panels above are taken from a rooftop fight at the beginning of the comic. Not only does The Riddler Factor protect The Sheikh during this fight, but it lets him get a lucky shot in and smash Batman with his rifle butt. Fortunately for Batman, the Sheikh's rifle butt does not explode. He does, however, fall off the building. Batman forgets in mid-air that he has a Batline that he swings from all the time and instead, he slows his fall by grabbing a long neon sign, fucking his hands up real bad.
Here's Alfred taking care of Batman, who is still bitching about his owies:
"Wrap them in fist form... I have a hunch I'm not done punching tonight."
This is where the comic derails and plunges to a fiery doom at the bottom of Quality Gulch.
The Riddler Factor is so pervasive in this book that Batman makes some insanely stupid choices. "I'm not done punching tonight so wrap my hands up into big soft boxing gloves, Alfred! Wrap them in fist form because I only plan on punching tonight! That's all I've got on the agenda. No driving, no opening doors, no picking things up, no ice hockey... nope, just punching." It's so stupid that the first time I read this comic I thought Denny O'Neil was trying to be funny, but no.
Let's get back to the story. Batman, with his hands encased in big cotton balls, visits the wealthy Mr. Lunt, who is next on The Sheikh's hit list. Because the plot requires Batman to be incompetent, Lunt is gunned down by The Sheikh. He escapes Batman by...
...well, by closing a door.
"What kind of clever fiend am I dealing with? He went through a door - and locked it! It's as if he knew my hands would be wrapped in yards of cotton bandages and I would be unable to operate a door handle! Blast him! Blast that wily denizen of the desert!"
In the end, Batman figures out The Sheikh's nefarious plans - he isn't a wily denizen of the desert after all, he is just the aforementioned two white guys. Naturally, this saga of murder and mayhem concludes with a big hockey fight.
That's right, Batman and Robin strap on ice skates. And you thought it was just in that stupid movie. No, there is an actual literary precedent to the scene in Batman and Robin where they all fight on ice skates, and here it is:
I don't know how suddenly Batman can hold a hockey stick with those big fist-shaped bandages, but he can, and he uses said hockey stick to easily beat the crap out of the same losers who gave him so much trouble for twenty pages.
What can I say? That's how DC rolled in the 70s: ice skating Batman.
One cool thing about this comic is the little artistic touches that they use, stuff you can only find in comics, where story and art combine. I'm actually being serious here, work with me. Check out the panel below, where Irv Novick has worked a little illustration of the Lunt Mansion into the narrative caption:
That's good stuff. I wish comic artists today took advantage of the medium and did more playful stuff like that.
Oh, and how could I forget? Here's Batman choking a camel:
I'm at a bit of a loss. Insert your own "camel choking" joke here.