Bat Signal

Issue 471 – “The Dead Yet Live”

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Welcome back everybody, it’s that time again to dive into the back issues of Detective Comics and pull up whatever weird little story my random number generator decides needs to be read. And today’s lucky winner is an odd little story from the late 70s, back when Batman was essentially a caped James Bond, travelling around the world solving crazy crimes. But this time we get a pretty simple story with Batman just hanging out in Gotham, dealing with some crazy doctors and evidently a man who can pull his own face off. Yep, there’s a lot to  take in with that cover, most importantly the fact that there was some kind of contest to be in the Christopher Reeve Superman movie, which sounds pretty rad. But that’s not important, let’s figure out why the dead are alive.

The issue starts off with a collection of gangster led by Boss Rupert Thorne, hanging out and complaining about how Batman always ruins their plans. This was apparently just after a couple-issue story, so the gangster fill each other in on the plot of the previous story, which basically revolved around some new villain called Dr. Phosphorous, and how he tried to kill Batman. The gangster complain about having to work with freaks, especially when it didn’t actually lead to anything. Batman apparently took down this Dr. Phosphorous, who had some sort of radioactive touch, and just ruined all of their plans, like he always does. Thorne then suggests that it’s time to quit playing around, and that they should just kill Batman. Basically everyone else in the room is pretty against that logic, and even mention the fact that Batman has never been able to bring them down, and that he’s always busy messing with the freaks in Gotham, so why rattle his cage and get him on their scent? It’s a legitimate question, but one that’s passed right over by Thorne, who is all about killing Batman at this point. Luckily though, Batman is aware of this conversation, because even though he’s still nursing some radioactive burns along his torso from his fight with Dr. Phosphorous, he’s still manages to shove himself down Thorne’s chimney to listen to their malevolent plans.

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Ho ho ho

So Batman hops out of the chimney, irritated that these gangster are planning on killing him. But instead of planning an elaborate comeuppance involving a fake funeral, he just decides to deal with that another day, and heads off to take care of his radioactive burns. Which really does seem like something you shouldn’t put off. So he hops down to the Batmobile, and drives downtown to the main building of the Wayne Foundation, which is apparently where the Batcave is in this era. He heads own a secret entrance in Finger Ally, which is great, and gets down to the cave where Alfred is waiting. The two commiserate about Bruce’s radioactive burns, and they agree that he needs some outside help. Luckily, some rich friend of Bruce’s has told him about an exclusive hospital for the super rich called the Graytowers, that works on some sort of “no questions asked” basis, and that should be able to cure his burns quietly. Which is weird, but whatever. So Bruce gives a call to his longtime love interest Silver St. Cloud, who we haven’t come across yet in this series, and lets her know that he’s breaking a date to go to the hospital.

So Bruce heads to the fancy hospital, and is allowed in since he’s so damn rich. He meets with the odd Dr. Tophunter, the chief of staff for the hospital, and I guess says the secret codeword that lets him to the fancy hospital. He also meets some woman named Magda, who does’t appear to be a medical professional, and just seems to be eye-candy. But that’s okay for Bruce, who gets oddly flirty, and starts hitting on Magda while she shows him to his room. Unfortunately, as soon as he gets into the room, he realizes some sort of trap has been sprung, and he passes out unconscious, while having a crazy dream that’s visualized with a crazy-ass splash page.

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Look at that! That is some Steranko-level weirdness right there. That shit needs to be painted on the side of a van! And after a night of vivid night-terrors, Bruce wakes up in a strange room, stripped down to his boxers, with a lot of questions. He decides Magda must have knocked him out with some chloroform perfume, and starts planning his escape. Which begins by politely asking if someone would let him out of the room. And that doesn’t go very well, because a surly orderly opens the screen in the door and informs Bruce that he’s a) not Bruce Wayne, and b) in a mental institution. And things just keep getting sketchier, because we see Silver show up to visit Bruce, and then get told that he’s in quarantine for his radioactive burns, and can’t be seen for days. Silver is a little taken aback about the radiation, but just leaves all the same.

Meanwhile, Bruce has gotten to his suitcase…which they didn’t confiscate, and opens it to reveal his Batman costume. So he suits up and starts heading out to figure out what the hell’s happening. He opens his window, and finds that there’s a fake wall near it, which provides air to his room while hiding the true face of the hospital from the outside world. Which is something a normal hospital totally has. So Batman climbs up onto the roof, figuring that he can find some way inside from there. And while that’s true, he first comes across two goons, which may or may not be giants. Some panels they were drawn as if they were ten-feet tall, and other times they were just Batman’s size, so I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but nevertheless Batman beats up two dudes, and finds Magda and Dr. Tophunter peeping out of a window at him. They freak out, especially when Batman comes crashing through the window. At which point Dr. Tophunter decides to abandon all pretenses, and just rips his face off, revealing himself to be Hugo Strange all along. Oh Hugo Strange, what an odd villain. Anyway, Hugo just flat out starts explaining his villainous plan with essentially no provocation, and tells Batman all about how he’s running a fake hospital for the rich with the intentions of hypnotizing them into being his army of millionaires. Which sadly isn’t anywhere near the strangest plot I’ve had on this series, so, good work Hugo. Unfortunately, even though Batman is able to knock Hugo out with one punch, the tables are turned once again when a venomous snake drops from the ceiling and bites Batman, knocking him out yet again. And when he wakes up he’s stunned to find that his mask is missing, and that Hugo totally knows how he is now!

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Oh no! Hugo Strange knows Bruce Wayne’s secret identity! That’s terrible! What’s Batman going to do about…wait…is this the end of the issue? Aw damn it! Another cliffhanger?! I’ve seriously picked three issues in a row that happened to be the first parts of larger stories? What the hell are the odds of that? This is getting ridiculous! I would even be up for reading like, a part two or something, even though that would be confusing there would still be some closure! I mean, once again, I’m going to make the bold prediction that Batman wins, but c’mon, I want to see Batman actually accomplish something! Because the last few weeks have primarily been stories where Batman just isn’t doing well at his job. He keeps getting caught in ridiculous predicaments, because we keep cutting before the finale. I’m barely seeing Batman do any detective work, because he just keeps getting trapped! And this time was a total accident. He wasn’t even meaning to run into Hugo Strange. He wasn’t investigating this sketchy-ass hospital, he was trying to get his crazy radioactive burns treated. The issue started off as if we were going to read about Bruce taking down Rupert Thorne, and instead he got sidetracked on a doctor’s appointment, and ended up getting his secret identity revealed. That’s not really what I expect to happen to Bruce Wayne, that’s more something I could see happening to Ultimate Peter Parker. Whatever. It was an okay issue with some fun 70s stuff, but it was more or less frustrating because of the whole cliffhanger thing. Now i just have to hope that next week I actually get something with a conclusion, because this is getting ridiculous.

“The Dead Yet Live” was written by Steve Engelhart and drawn by Marshall Rogers, 1977.

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This is one of my favorite Batman lines of all time.

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