Bizarro Back Issues: Batman’s Deadly New Year! (1972)
Last week, one of the questions that came in for my Ask Chris column came from someone who was curious about how Batman celebrated New Year's Eve, and really, that's a pretty interesting question. I mean, we have plenty of comics, cartoons and even one goofy-ass movie about how he spends Christmas, but stories that address whether or not he watches the ball drop and toasts a cup of kindness are significantly harder to come by. Fortunately, we have Batman #247, a classic from the Bronze Age that addresses exactly this question.
As it turns out, Batman spends his New Year's Eve punching out criminals. What the hell did you think he was going to do?
This particular story comes from the legendary team of Denny O'Neil and Dick Giordano, and is part of a "Special Holiday Issue" that pulls double duty by dealing with both Christmas and New Year's. The former is covered in "Merry Christmas," a quick story featuring the art of Irv Novick that crams all of the craziness of the yuletide season into six pages. Let's see if we can break it down, shall we?
For starters, Batman is hunting down an escaped criminal with the truly unfortunate name of Chimp Manners (1), who has taken refuge after a helicopter crash (2) with a surly amateur astronomer (3), holding him and a family of unfortunate motorists hostage with a vial of poison gas deadly enough that even that tiny amount can kill "half a city" (4), and who gets knocked right the F out by Batman when he gets blinded by a mysterious and miraculous Christmas star (5). That's five bizarre things in six pages, and while that's not quite up to Bob Haney standards, it should give you a pretty good idea of what we're going to be working with here.
As it turns out, though, "Merry Christmas" is mere prelude to the 17-and-a-half pages that follow in "...And A DEADLY New Year!" We open with Batman hauling Chimp Manners through the snow, dragging him back to Gotham City and justice:
Say what you will about Chimp Manners (which is probably that he's known to fling his own feces, if that name's any indication), but it is a pretty tough dude who mouths off to Batman while being dragged through a snowbank with handcuffs on.
One of the more interesting things about this story from a historical perspective (well, Bat-historical, anyway) is that it's one of those tales where the Caped Crusader switched out his customized Batmobiles in favor of just straight up Vin Deseling around in a muscle car. In this case, it looks to be a '73 Mustang, and really, I kind of wish that was something that had stuck around. I realize that there is licensing potential to worry about here, but there's something about Batman jumping over, say, the Joker in a Dukes of Hazzard Charger that appeals to my Southern sensibilities.
Unfortunately, there's a good reason why he doesn't do that much anymore. As O'Neil's script is quick to point out when a truckload of Christmas trees shows up to smash him off the road, the old Mach 1 is something of a "frail vehicle."
I guess once you've driven what essentially amounts to a tank with your face painted on the hood, everything else seems a little less tough.
In addition to festive firs, the truck also contains a bunch of ski-masked goons who try their hand at taking on the Batman hand-to-hand, and friends, that is a losing proposition. Not only does it not work, but Batman decides to break out his rarely seen trash talk in response:
Kind of makes me wonder who he trained with to hone his skills at cutting a promo, so if any of you know which issue of Brave and the Bold features a flashback to his time working with Ric Flair in the NWA, drop me an email.
Sadly, as I have learned quite a few times in my life, running one's mouth does not necessarily preclude getting whacked upside the head. This is, of course, every man of action's secret weakness, and in Batman's case, it comes in the form of a blackjack swung by a thug with the truly amazing dialogue of "awwww, knuckles against the Batman are nothin'!", which makes me want an ongoing monthly comic called KNUCKLES AGAINST THE BATMAN. They knock him unconscious and then, as you might expect, they shoot him in the head and that's why we don't have any more Batman stories.
Wait, sorry, I got my notes mixed up. For reasons known only to themselves, they not only leave Batman alive, they decide to all cram into the Mustang and leave their truck there so that if he should, oh, I don't know, wake up within fifteen minutes, he can easily follow them:
They are unquestionably the worst criminals ever, and what really gets me is that one guy's confident reference to renting the truck under a phony name. Good job, crook! Batman will never be able to track you by checking out the rental agreement! Hey, you know what else would've kept him from tracking you down? Shooting him in the head, or at the very least, splitting up and taking both cars and leaving him to die in the bitter cold without transportation. And not only that, but they manage to leave him an actual clue in the form of an invitation to a swanky New Year's Eve charity gala.
Incidentally, even at this point in the life and times of Batman, why on Earth was anyone having a charity gala in Gotham City? Did those ever happen without someone at least trying to rob them, or in a far more common scenario, attempting to murder everyone with poison gas? Just write a check to the orphanage and stay home, folks. You will avoid being murdered by the Riddler that way.
Batman rolls back into town to find out that Chimp and his fellow primates are holding the city hostage with that vial of nerve gas until they agree to release Boss Halstrom from prison. The problem? Boss Halstrom died of a heart attack the previous night, and the crooks are just going to think that's a ploy by the cops. Even worse, Batman suspects a leak in the police department, since only Commissioner Gordon knew the road he was going to be on when he was ambushed, giving them two problems to fix and a mere six days to solve it all.
For starters, Batman heads out to a chemist and discovers that, while colorless, the gas probably smells like violets, and then decides to go undercover to rustle up some info on Chimp:
I always like it when Matches Malone shows up. The fact that Batman puts on a mustache and sunglasses and goes and hangs out with criminals to rustle up information is one of the best little pulp touches to the character, and here, O'Neil and Giordano add a whole other level to it by having Matches claim that he bet someone a thousand bucks that Batman would beat the crap out of him. I can't imagine that's a bet Matches loses often.
Plus, this particular appearance leads to what might be the single best entrance Batman has ever made:
Batman. Not only will he punch you in the face and send you to jail, he will also cold walk up behind you and eat your dinner right off your goddamn fork. Fantastic.
Chimp and his cohort are a little less impressed by that smooth bit of dining, and a fight breaks out. The lights get blasted with gunfire, and in the confusion, Chimp's pal fires off a shot into what he thinks is the Dark Knight, and then gets clocked in the mouth in a prime example of Batman's comedic timing:
I don't even know how hard you have to hit somebody to make a sound like "kr-eezch," but I assume that guy will not be eating solid food for quite some time.
Needless to say, the guy actually shot Chimp, killing him and taking away the one lead Batman had in this increasingly bizarre case. Fortunately, they're dealing with the World's Greatest Detective, whose skills of deduction and crime-fighting are unparalleled. Faced with a seemingly hopeless case, Batman decides to... basically make Alfred and Robin do everything while he does gymnastics in his underpants and a pair of boots:
Batman is a weird dude, you guys.
Alfred pops up with a few suspects based on that invitation to the charity gala, so Batman cooks up a last-minute plan to figure out who's planning on blowing the nerve gas at midnight. When the evening rolls around, they head to the club and smash a bottle of violet-scented perfume on the ground, waiting for someone to catch a whiff and start freaking the f**k out. It is... a foolproof plan.
And it works! The mastermind turns out to be one Wilson Ennet, who promptly gets a punch in the face for his trouble before Batman goes off to disarm the actual bomb:
Because really, where else would it be in a New Year's Eve story?
Thus, Batman has saved New Year's, Gotham City's One Percenters are able to enjoy their carousing in (relative) safety, and Batman gets to up his quota of well-punched faces for the year right at the last minute.
So as we ourselves turn to a New Year, let us follow the example of the Caped Crusader, smashing our problems right in the nose and making the most of the time we have.
In Loving Memory of Chimp Manners
1972 - 1972