Bat Signal

Issue 411 – “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back for a new installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with no real context. And, we’re taking another trip to the weird, pulpy world of the early 1970s this week. You know, the strange globetrotting comics that were usually penned by Denny O’Neil and that sent Batman on insane quests all around the globe, fighting terrorists and vast world-wide criminal conspiracies. They’re often a complete hoot, and this week is no different. Also, this is weirdly a sequel to an issue I talked about almost two years ago, but which actually only a handful of issues previous to this one. But, that wasn’t a particularly memorable one, so we’ll have to do some refreshing.

The issue begins with Batman arriving at the Statue of Freedom, the Statue of Liberty ripoff that sits in Gotham City harbor. He climbs to the small room inside the torch, where a man is waiting for him, after having reached out to request a meeting. Batman’s a little wary, since people don’t often send him meeting requests, but the guy quickly establishes why Batman should pay attention. Because the guy says that he has information on the League of Assassins in general, and Dr. Ebenezar Darrk in particular. And, in case you don’t remember, and why would you, Dr. Darrk is a member of the League of Assassins who went around killing shipping magnates, including an attempt on the life of a personal friend of Bruce Wayne’s, leading to he and Batman fighting in a castle that almost ended up Batman getting beheaded by a giant ax. But, Darrk escaped, and Batman has been searching for him ever since. So, he agrees to help the man, protect him from the League in exchange for information. Which, lasts two seconds before an Assassin comes and kills him.

 

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Batman begins fighting with the Assassins, and is pretty easily able to subdue them. But, they’re able to slip away from him, throwing a bunch of razor-sharp jacks on the ground to distract him as they leap from the torch and flee. So, Batman accepts his loss, and goes to talk to the dying man, who has been poisoned by the hooks the Assassins were wielding, and is only able to slip out a few words before he dies. And some of them are “Soom Express.” Which, seems like gibberish, but apparently in the world of the DC Universe the Soom Express is a grand old rail-line in Asia, essentially the Orient Express. So, Batman heads to an undisclosed Asian country, dresses himself up as a little old woman, and board the Soom Express along with Darrk, and an unnamed young woman.

Batman follows Darrk until he and the woman leap off the train in the middle of nowhere. This causes Batman to blow his cover, rip off his old lady costume, and also leap off the train. Unfortunately, it turns out that Darrk discovered Batman’s costume earlier, and he was waiting for him with a bunch of Assassins wielding bo-staffs. And, on Darrk’s command, the Assassins begin pummeling the hell out of Batman with their sticks, until he finally succumbs to their abuse, and passes out. And, some time later, Batman wakes up in a cell underneath an abandoned Buddhist monastery, where he’s imprisoned with the woman from earlier. And, she just so happens to be someone important.

 

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Oh shit! It’s Talia al Ghul! In fact, the first appearance of Talia al Ghul. She explains to Batman that she and her father, you know, Ra’s, are in the middle of a feud and she’s been taken captive. So, Batman promises to escape with her, and defend her. And, it turns out that that’s going to be easier said than done, because Darrk has cooked up an absolutely insane death trap. See, he and Talia are going to be placed in a large room in the monastery, where Talia will be tied to a pole, at which point a furious bull will be released, giving Batman a chance to escape while it gores Talia, or defend her. And, of course, Batman defends the innocent. He wraps his cape around the bull’s head and starts punching the hell out of it until it’s nice and confused, causing it to ram into some of the assassins.

At this point Batman frees Talia from the post, and then uses it to straight up pole-vault up and into the special little balcony that Darrk has been watching them from. He drop-kicks Darrk in the head, knocking him unconscious, at which point he lowers a rope to grab Talia and save her from the charging Assassins who survived the furious bull. Batman, Talia, and the unconscious Darrk then escape, and begin heading back to the Soom Express to escape. And, along he way, Darrk wakes back up, and begins spilling the beans, telling Batman that he had been killing shipping magnates due to a contract that some political party put out on them. But, with Batman’s curiosity sated, Darrk decides to do one final shitty thing, and maces Batman so he can stab him. But, before Darrk can kill him, Talia grabs his gun and shoot Darrk in the back, causing him to fall in front of the Soom and get gruesomely eviscerated. But hey, Batman has a new girlfriend!

 

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There’s just something about these weird Denny O’Neal books that I just really adore. Batman can be all sorts of things, that’s one thing that we’ve certainly learned over the years that I’ve been doing this project. He can be a Dark Knight, the World’s Greatest Detective, a guy who fight space aliens, a dark noir hero, a jolly crime-fighter, and sometimes a weird international spy who fights pulpy assassins. And, I really don’t think I have a specifically favorite version of the character. Most of them have their own pros and cons, which crate the sum total of the Batman experience, but I do have a huge affection for this type of Batman. He’s essentially James Bond, jet-setting around the planet and fighting a straight up world-conquering supervillain from beyond the grave. And, this issue is a pretty great distillation of all of that. Plus, it’s pretty awesome to see what appears to be the first appearance of Talia al Ghul, a character that literally changes Batman forever. Yeah, there’s nothing too special about her at this point, she’s mainly just a damsel in distress, but she’s a character I quite like when she gets a little more character thrown onto her. But, it’s a fun issue regardless. Plus, how often do we get to see Batman literally punch a bull in the face?

 

“Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!” was written by Dennis O’Neal, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by Ben Oda, and edited by Julius Schwartz, 1971.

 

 

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