Sunday, April 15, 2012

Detective Comics 396

After the heights of the last couple of Batman stories, Detective Comics 396 is a bit of a letdown. Written by Frank Robbins and drawn by Bob Brown and Joe Giella, "The Brain-Pickers!" features the oddball tale of a stock-market whiz who calls in his stock picks to his office via short-wave radio while he motorcycles across the country. A gang of crooks decide to take advantage of his skill by forcing him to work for them. But he convinces them that he can only work his magic by using his tried and true methods. So they follow him as he rides his bike, and it's up to Batman to figure out his location and save him.
There's nothing wrong with the way Batman solves the story (stockbroker Rory Bell sends clues to his location disguised as stock buys). But it feels as if the story was written with the idea of Batman having to track someone by hearing clues broadcast over the radio, and then Robbins worked backwards to figure out a situation where that would be necessary. It feels unnecessarily contrived, and that makes it less enjoyable for me.
The art, by Brown and Giella, continues to tell the story perfectly well. Compared to the work of Neal Adams and Irv Novick, however, it's not particularly outstanding.
The Batgirl backup story, written by Robbins and drawn by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, is a different story. Telling the first part of Barbara Gordon's investigation of a series of dating-agency-related murders, it's a mystery that actually creates some suspense. It's also a case that could only be investigated from the inside by Batgirl.
The idea of a serial killer preying upon women, and our heroine placing herself in a position of jeopardy through her investigation isn't a new one. However, within those parameters, Robbins creates a believable investigation. He also gives it some depth by allowing Barbara's undercover investigation to cause some tension between her and her boyfriend, private eye Jason Bard. Overall, it's an effective first installment that packs a lot into its short page count, and leaves me eagerly awaiting the next chapter.
It helps that the art is a great deal more dynamic and exiting that that of the lead story. Kane's layouts are a lot more interesting, and his characters a lot more fluid, than Bob Brown's. Brown gets the job done, but Kane gets it done with style.

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