RETRO REVIEW: Batman #222 (June 1970)

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Or – “Turn Me On, Batman…  Turn Me On, Batman…”

It’s a hard day’s night, but the Batman is ready to work 8 Days A Week to figure out the secret of the Fab Four’s fallen bass-player and his rumored rubber soul.  It’s time to twist and shout as Batman and Robin embark on a magical mystery tour to answer the musical question:  “Is Saul dead?”

Also:  Yellow Submarine.

Batman #222
“Dead… Til Proven Alive!”
Script: Frank Robbins
Pencils: Irv Novick
Inks: Dick Giordano

Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price:15 Cents

Current Near-Mint Pricing: $75.00

Previously, on Batman: Seriously, do we even need this section?  I could just make stuff up here, and you’d still know all about the story of Batman, how his parents were the victim of a random crime that turned him into a recluse/ninja/detective/street-fighter/playboy/super-genius.  So, here is the new origin of the Dark Knight: Rocketed from the dead planet Orph-ton, Way-En was waylaid on the way to Earth by a Gamma Bomb thrown by the embodiment of the Dreaming out of the back of a van full of radioactive materials.  Raised by bats, he learned to use his hidden radar sense to shift back and forth from one genre of story to another, and gained his greatest strength, the undying love of the fans and most of the creative staff.  Thanks to his training by Qui-Gon Jinn in the mountainous regions of Attilan (where he became adept in Venusian Aikido) Batman is now able to cloud men’s minds into believing that he has powers that he does not, as well as the ability to move tons of merchandise using only the occasional catchphrase and dead sidekick.  And if you think that anyone could become the Batman, let me point out that while very few people are bitten by irradiated insects every year, it’s probably just about equal to the number of multi-billionaires with eidetic memories in the world.  And now you know… the REST of the Story!

Oh, we also forgot to mention that he adopted a circus boy, and then raised him to college age, at which time Robin, the Teen Wonder went off to Hudson University to matriculate in a very, very boring way.  Here, he and his fellow sweater vests listen to the hip tunes of the times, a band of moptops from Liverpool called the Oliver Twists…

There’s a particularly rabid fanbase for the Twists, you see, and for the last couple of years rumors have been swirling that their bassist, Saul Cartwright (the cute one) is secretly dead, and the Twists have included hints and secret backmasked admissions of the truth in their recordings alluding to that fact.  (Any of this sounding familiar?  Maybe another famous bassist who was rumored dead?  No, not Sting…)  Dick Grayson’s pals ask him to get involved and try to bring the Twists to town to see if any of the Fab Four are pushing up the daisies, and the Teen Wonder mulls it over before deciding…

I really love the swirly ghost-images of the heroes masked faces, and the pensive expression on Bruce’s face as he ponders the mystery.  Irv Novick is an underrated workhorse from DC’s Bronze Age, turning in tons of pages on Batman, Flash and more, but nobody ever seems to talk about what a strong storyteller he is/was.  The inks of the late Dick Giordano are pretty noticeable here, too, especially in the hair and eyebrows.  The Masked Manhunter pulls some strings and brings the Twists to town, even putting them up at Stately Wayne Manor for their gig, all the while trying to capture Saul Cartwright’s voice on tape and verify whether he has, indeed, been replaced with a doppelgänger.

It’s nice to see Batman and Robin interacting like teacher and student here, something that I kind of miss, even as I enjoy the super-competent grown-up Grayson as Batman and/or Nightwing.  Saul’s words make the Dynamic Duo suspicious, as does the odd fact that the Twists have enough money to make Solomon blush, but are awed by the opulence of Wayne Manor.  Robin attempts to sneak in and take Saul’s recorder, but gets blindsided by an unseen assailant.  The Caped Crusaders come up with a simple way to trick Saul into singing…

Illegal wiretapping from the Batman?  Say it ain’t so, Bruce!!  Our erstwhile Saul tells the studio owner to leave the key under the mat, but as soon as they arrive, Bats realizes that they’ve been outmaneuvered, deftly ducking a hail of gunfire that could hae been lethal.  Batman and Robin take out a group of thugs in seconds, and Robin asks the ten-thousand dollar Pyramid question:  “How’d you groove it was a trap, Batman?”  Like, what far-out and groovy things are happening in your dome, Bat-baby?  Or something…

There is seldom anything in comics that is quite as jarring and vaguely embarrassing as the pseudo-hip dialogue of young characters.  If you don’t believe me, pick up a Bob Haney-written Teen Titans or Brave & The Bold sometime.  Still, Batman has all the evidence that he needs, being a super-genius, and heads home to confront the Twists.  Amazingly, Saul is surprised by the allegations, and swears up and down that he is the genuine article, when lead singer Glennan pulls a gun on Batman & Robin…

So, the cover of “Flabbey Road” was all a red herring?  And what about all the backmasking on the Ivory Album?  You mean that the opening lyrics of “Banana Fields Ubiquitious” don’t really say “I buried Saul”?  But if the others are fakes, what happened to the real Beat–  Err, Twists?

What’s really interesting is how much Glennan looks like comic creator Tom DeFalco in that second-to-last panel…  Batman convinces Saul that he has to come clean about his mates’ untimely deaths, but Robin has one final bit of advice:  “If these boys are as ‘real good’ as you say they are, you may have a new group and a new sound!”  But can they match the brilliance that is ‘Admiral Halsey/Uncle Albert?’  Glennan is dragged away to jail, and the rest of the Twists form a new group called the Phoenix Trio.  “And we owe it all to Batman and Robin,” enthuses one hipster as they all enjoy the groups first single.  The backup story in the issue is a shorter tale, a story of how an exhausted Batman runs into one final crime, a mugger who steals an expensive camera from a deaf-mute man.  Batman is barely able to summon the energy to retrieve it, but when he does…

…the man takes a picture that he later sells to the Enquirer for 11,000,000 bucks, ending Batman’s ‘urban legend’ status once and for all.  No, wait, that didn’t come until much later, in the late 80′s.  It’s a pretty charming ending to a pretty weird issue for me, and seeing Batman act like a normal person several times in the issue is wonderful as well.  The lead story is more than just a little bit dated, but it’s fun (and a bit unusual) to see DC dealing in pop culture, and even showing a Batman with human weaknesses and curiosity.  Of course, this is in the midst of DC’s relevant years, as Green Lantern and Green Arrow had recently embarked on their odyssey across America, Superman was about to be de-powered and become a TV newscaster, and Wonder Woman was karate-chopping her way through mod adventures with I-Ching.  It’s not an earth-shattering crisis, nor is it the kind of book that you’ll necessarily remember, but it’s a charming issue, with a compelling mystery hook and lovely artwork throughout.  Batman #222 is mostly memorable to fans of the real Fab Four and the occasional student of comic book ephemera like m’self, but it’s a good book nonetheless, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆