Friday, April 11, 2014


My first selection is a personal one, though I can defend it on other grounds as well.


DETECTIVE COMICS #343 contained the book-length story "The Secret War of the Phantom General," dated September 1965, meaning that it was on stands roughly six months before the debut of ABC's BATMAN teleseries.  Since 1964, when editor Julie Schwartz had initiated the so-called "New Look" to DC's Batman franchise, the title DETECTIVE COMICS was usually divided between a Batman story and a shorter back-up feature starring the stretchable "Elongated Man," given his own berth in DETECTIVE COMICS after assorted guest-appearances in the FLASH title.  "Phantom General" was the second of two book-length stories which devoted the entirety of a DETECTIVE issue to a team-up of Batman, his partner Robin and the Elongated Man.

What's personally interesting for me about this comic is that though I'd been reading comic strips and kiddie comics for years, in 1965 I had yet to take a chance on superhero comics.  The 1966 BATMAN teleseries in part converted me to this strange new genre, of which I've been a devotee ever since. I would have seen this cover when I was either nine or ten years old, and it's one of three covers-- all from DC comics, incidentally-- that mildly freaked me out. 

I was probably just as ambivalent back then toward fantasy in other media.  Some fantasies I liked, such as most of the Disney oeuvre, but I was standoffish toward a lot of the horror-films if I thought that they were too violent or perverse. I say "perverse" purely as a matter of subjective attitude, not because at ten years old I had any conception of what made one story acceptable to me and another unacceptable.

I didn't read this story when I first saw it at an acquaintance's house in 1965. The sight of a man in a purple costume stretching his limbs like python-coils was freaky enough, but no less bewildering was the sight of the ghostly head of the "Phantom General" commanding the purple guy to "wring the life out of Batman and Robin." I don't think I knew who Batman and Robin were at the time; it was the insinuation of violence-by-strangulation that I didn't like. In other words, even though no adult of the time would have regarded this BATMAN cover as transgressive, I reacted to it the way adults of the 1950s reacted to the over-the-top horror-comics of that decade.

The BATMAN teleseries, with its comedic-ironic take on the comics-character, probably served to inoculate me against the largely imagined perils of the Phantom General. I probably acquired a copy of the issue a year or two later.  I found no horrors therein; it was just a decent journeyman story by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino.  Both men did better individual stories for both BATMAN and ELONGATED MAN, but this was their best crossover of two featured heroes.

The villain of the piece was General Von Dort, one of many, many recrudescent Nazis who came out of hiding in Silver Age comic books and began making trouble for heroes.  Von Dort had a plan to conquer the world with a death-ray, but unlike many super-villains before him, who paid no attention to mundane matters, the general needed capital. He came to Gotham City and engineered various robberies by training gangsters in commando-style tactics, so that he fell afoul of the Dynamic Duo. For good measure the Elongated Man also came to Gotham, having received a tip about the long-missing Nazi's current activities, so the three heroes teamed up to ferret out the Phantom General's hideout.

The story's climax is perfectly serviceable: it just doesn't have the delirious intensity of the cover's rendition. At said climax Von Dort does indeed take command of the Elongated Man's will, by use of a hypnotic monocle (the villain looked like your basic Prussian officer stereotype). Batman and Robin manage to take out their opponent by using his own strategy against him, circling around him so that he gets tied up by his own arms, and then pulling taut so that the stretchable superhero passes out. Then Batman resists Von Dort's hypnosis and takes him out.

This comic also makes a good example for my concept of the "DYNAMIC CROSSOVER." When these type of crossovers are produced by company-owned characters, the emphasis is upon seeing how two or more characters from two or more features work together. This may also include crossovers between teams, for the emphasis is not upon how many characters encounter one another, but on the approach used by the authors to show the "mana" of characters from separate franchises bouncing off of one another.

In my next example I'll choose a crossover that exemplifies the opposite type.

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