Bat Signal

Issue 442 – “Death Flies the Haunted Sky!”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to Bat Signal, my weekly quest to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order, and with very little context. And I have something very special to talk to you about today. I mean, just look at that cover. Batman’s going to fight a ghost plane?! Well, we’ll see about that. But regardless of if aviator ghosts do in fact appear in this issue, it’s still a real blast. Even though this comic is from 1974 it has a very throwback feel to it, feeling like one of the classic issues I’ve discussed from Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff or something. And, to enhance that feeling, we have an artist on today’s comic that kind of blew my mind. Just like when I was shocked when the random number generator gods gave me an issue penciled by Gene Colan, today I have another issue drawn by an artist I wasn’t familiar with working on Batman. Alex Toth. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you, look up Toth’s work, which is primarily known for animation, and bask in the Golden Age glory of his designs.

The issue starts off with a woman named Eve Dancer arriving at the Gotham highrise apartment of a man named Mason Terrell. Eve wasn’t expected, and she and Mason make some small talk in his apartment when something unexpected happens. They glance out the window of the apartment and find a World War I style biplane rapidly approaching the apartment, spraying bullets into the apartment, instantly killing Mason Terrell. Luckily, Batman was just apparently hanging out on the roof of this apartment building, so when a spectral plane showed up and gunned down a Gotham citizen he’s able to quickly spring into action, and leap onto the plane. Batman grapples with the plane, trying to get a good look at the pilot, but it ends up doing a barrel-roll and dropping him from the sky, right into a water-tower on a nearby rooftop, letting the plane escape. Batman’s able to claw his way out of the water-tower, and finds something surprising on the roof. Eve Dancer trying to sneak away.

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So apparently Batman was able to spot Eve Dance trying to escape, and realized that she must have known what was going on. So he’s planning on interrogating her about the apparent plane-homicide of Mason Terrell, until she says that more people will die. This obviously catches Batman’s attention, so he agrees to hear Eve out. They head down to the street, hop in her car, and she begins telling Batman the story of her life. Turns out Eve’s father was a famous pilot who returned from the Korean War and decided to devote his life to refurbishing old biplanes. But her father recently committed suicide by crashing his plane, and Eve says that the men who drove him to do such a thing are now being murdered. Apparently Eve’s father met a group of wealthy aviators named Mason Terrell, Doug Garth, and Rick Halstrom, who all ended up buying their own biplanes, and flying around together. Unfortunately the other three men eventually decided that their refurbished planes could be used to make money, and they wanted to build some sort of aerial circus, which Eve’s father wanted nothing to do with. And, I’m not quite sure why, but these men were somehow able to sue Eve’s father, and destroy his life, leading to the suicide.

Eve explains that her brother, also a fighter-pilot, was so infuriated by what these men did to their father that he quit the air force and claimed he was going to get revenge on the men. Her brother Benjy then recreated their father’s biplane, painted it white, and swore that he would kill all of those men, while tricking them into thinking it was their father from beyond the grave. Batman has no reason to doubt this, so they head on to the next member of the plane cabal, Doug Garth, whose farm is housing the plane circus. But, when they get there they find that Benjy has seemingly beaten them, because the aerodrome is on fire.

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Batman races into the fire, and confirms from a security guard that Garth was still inside the blaze. It sure doesn’t seem like Garth is going to survive this, but Batman does his best anyway, and tries to leap into the building. However, it immediately becomes clear that no one could be alive inside, and Batman has no choice but to give up, leaving Garth to his fate, and hoping that they can save the final man, Halstrom. Unfortunately the fire took down the phone lines, and Halstrom lives twenty minutes away. But Batman suggests an alternative. Take Garth’s plane and fly there.

So Batman and Eve get into Garth’s plane, and hit the skies, flying toward Halstrom’s farm. The two chat a bit during the flight, while Batman starts to reminisce about other times he’s apparently flown World War I era biplanes, until they get close to Hastrom’s farm. But almost immediately they notice a car of his, shot to pieces by this evil plane. They also notice Halstrom himself, running through a field while the plane is firing at him, pulling a North By Northwest. So Batman and Eve decide to attack the plane, and cause it to leave Halstrom alone or else crash. This works, and Batman’s even able to leap from Eve’s plane onto the murderer plane. Batman grapples with the plane once more, but eventually is tossed off once again. Luckily this time Eve is there to help, and she maneuvers her plane to catch Batman. And in all of the chaos the white plane gets distracted, and crashes into another water-tower on Halstrom’s farm. Eve is obviously terrified, thinking her brother just crashed, but Batman has news for her. It wasn’t Benjy piloting the plane. It was Doug Garth. Apparently he planned this whole thing, after abducting Benjy and stealing his plane, and has been trying to kill off all of his business partners to take everything over. So the truth has been revealed, the killer has been caught, the siblings have been reunited, and Batman has saved the day!

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This issue is a whole lot of fun. It’s a very classic Detective Comics story, with a self-contained plot that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of characters, a simple an concise mystery, and a whole lot of traversing the vast wilderness outside of Gotham. And those are all things that I’ve come to enjoy here on Bat Signal. Yeah, it’s another one of those frustrating mysteries that you can’t really solve on your own, because Batman doesn’t divulge that he suspected Garth wasn’t inside that fire until we learn that Garth was the killer, and I’m still a little disappointed there wasn’t actually a ghost plane in this comic, but whatever. Because any problem that I may have with the story can be wiped aside with the knowledge that this is an Alex Toth Batman book. I know that this Golden Age style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it, and the designs in this book are great. Batman looks fantastic, and there’s some great choices made in this books that really make it a hell of a thing to look at. Plus, now I’ll know to be on the lookout for more Toth Batman stories. Hopefully this isn’t the only one.

 

“Death Flies the Haunted Sky!” was written by Archie Goodwin, and penciled, inked, and lettered by Alex Toth, 1974.

 

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