Back in the Seventies, when they had these old fashioned things called “letter columns” in the back of comic books, Detective Comics was always abbreviated ‘TEC. When I was a kid, I thought that was cool as hell: a comic book that had its own nickname.
Everything about ‘TEC was cool as hell to Young Dave. My first print exposure to Batman was in Detective Comics, specifically the era when Marshall Rogers was penciling the book. Everything about those comics seemed designed to be -yes- cool as hell.
The most classic comics in this most classic of Batman eras were Detective Comics 471-476, issues that teamed Marshall Rogers with writer Steve Englehart and inker Terry Austin. These “Dark Detective” comics were considered the definitive interpretation of the character for years and truly deserve the reverence many old school fans hold for them.
I came to the party a little late, but have since hunted down and collected originals of all those Englehart/Rogers issues, which are as rad as everyone says they are. Silver St. Cloud? The Laughing Fish? Phosphorous Man? Radness, I say.
However, my first exposure to Marshall Rogers’ “cool as hell” version of Batman was in this particular issue, ‘TEC #479, where he takes on the Preston Payne version of Clayface. My dad bought me this issue in 1978 during our annual automobile pilgrimage to Saskatchewan for summer vacation. Laying in the back of our family’s huge Malibu station wagon, I read this comic over and over and over again as the endless Canadian prairie rolled by.
Man, I loved this book.
Even Young Dave could tell that there was something special about the art. I had a few other DC comics and a Gold Key or two on that trip, but with the exception of a Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes issue, the art sucked compared to ‘TEC.
Marshall Rogers was in a class all his own. His clean, smooth pencils were really enhanced by top inkers like Austin and, in this issue, Dick Giordano. Trained as an architect, Rogers had a particular knack for drawing buildings, cars, bridges, technology - you name it. His perspective drawings were impeccable. Plus, Rogers drew his own sound effects, integrating them into the art -- none of those stock drag-and-drop computer-generated sound effects that kids use these days. The background effects and zipatone shading are like icing on top of a delicious sequential art cake. Nearly nobody in '78 was producing comics that looked this good.
To be honest, ‘TEC 479 isn’t quite the same caliber as the Englehart/Rogers issues that preceded it, mostly due to Len Wein’s overwrought script. In a nutshell, Batman tries to stop Clayface, who is on a maniacal quest to resurrect his beloved dead wife. His strange condition is very painful and more than a little ugly, so on occasion Clayface has to melt some poor schmuck’s face in order to feel better. I think we’ve all been there.
Here’s Clayface meeting his next victim, a drunk asshole in a Datsun. You can tell he’s drunk becaushe 1) he's waving a party horn, 2) he’s wearing a party hat, and 3) he announces that he’s drunk. Subtle, no?
Woah, Batman's pulling a Shatner. Get a hold of yourself, man. It's embarassing. Write it in your journal or something.