THE COMICS OF SUMMER: By the Pool With BATMAN & Friends

Recalling those lazy days of action and adventure…

13th Dimension contributor Rob Kelly of the Fire and Water Podcast Network has something neat going on right now — a recurring series of episodes on what he calls his Mountain Comics. These are issues he bought and read as a kid while on vacation in the Poconos with his parents.

Each episode covers a different comic and he has a guest on to discuss it, ads and all. I was just on an episode myself, covering 1977’s Teen Titans #51, which you can check out here.

I never had Mountain Comics per se, but I definitely had a handful of what I can call Pool Comics, four of which I distinctly remember reading one afternoon when I was 12.

It’s hard to say why you remember certain days more than others. I mean, I spent so much of my childhood reading comics that you’d think it’d all be a blur — and most of it is.

But there was one August afternoon in 1979 that was particularly memorable, when I was visiting my Dad and I went to the pool at what probably was his girlfriend’s apartment complex. (I don’t recall for sure.) The place was deserted so I had the place to myself. In between swimming, I relaxed on a chaise lounge and read Batman #316 and #317, and Justice League of America #171 and #172, all of which came out in July and August that summer.

Maybe it’s because it was peaceful. Maybe it’s because I was happily alone at a pool. Maybe it’s just an uncommonly warm memory of visiting my dad, with whom I had a rancorous relationship. Whatever it was, those few hours are indelible.

Batman #316 and #317 were smack in the middle of Len Wein’s too-brief run as regular Batman writer. Issue #316 featured Crazy Quilt and #317 co-starred the Riddler, both with art by Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin. (The latter happens to also be one of Rob’s Mountain Comics, and you can check out his episode with Chris Franklin here. I highly recommend it.)

What was great was that Robin co-starred in both — because he was on summer vacation from Hudson University. As a kid who often identified with Dick Grayson, this was a wonderfully fitting idea: “Hey, Robin’s on summer vacation — like me!” And it didn’t hurt that both were crackling little adventures.

I think these two comics are also especially memorable because they marked the period in which I really became a collector. I’d been getting comics since I was about 5, whether they were given by family friends or whether I could persuade my Mom or Dad to buy some from Krauszer’s, the drug store, flea market, or wherever.

Hey, look! A house ad in Batman #317 for JLA #172! And Bruce and Selina smooching!

But earlier in 1979, I actually set about buying new issues on a regular basis, mostly from an overstuffed, hole-in-the-wall stationery shop run by an older couple on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, N.J. As it happened, I started with Batman #312, featuring a revamped Calendar Man, by Wein, Walt Simonson and Dick Giordano. (A couple years ago, I interviewed Wein about this run. Check it out here.)

As much as I loved Batman (and still do obviously), I was never as committed to JLA. Still, Issues #171 and #172 were the annual JLA-JSA crossover and that Dick Dillin/Dick Giordano cover for Part 1 was a real grabber.

The story itself — a closed-door murder mystery marked by the death of the original Mr. Terrific, by writer Gerry Conway, penciller Dillin and inker McLaughlin — is uneven with the hindsight of almost 40 years. But at the time I dug it, even if I knew that killing off such a minor hero that I’d never heard of before was a bit of a cheat.

Hostess ad starring … THE JOKER!

Nevertheless, what made it work was the way Conway handled the relationships between the characters. The party scene at the beginning of the story really made you want to hang out with these guys, and I was especially taken by how the Green Lanterns grabbed a bottle of champagne and cookies (!) without getting off their spandexed rears. Oh, and I still dig that Earth-Two Hawkman helmet. (Action figure, please!)

With those four comics and a glorious day by the pool, you couldn’t find many better ways to spend a pre-adolescent summer afternoon.

I have a similar, but hazier memory from a year or two earlier, when my Mom took us to Cape May for a vacation. It may have just been a long weekend but I remember spending time at the pool wherever it was we stayed. (Strangely, I remember it being an indoor pool in the summertime.)

I probably had more issues with me, but the two that jump out are The Brave and the Bold #114 and #115. I’m almost certain I had the Aquaman issue with me because it was the summertime and to this day I equate the Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean with playing in the surf or the pool. Still, I couldn’t understand why Aquaman was being such a dick on Jim Aparo’s cover.

The story itself — by Bob Haney and Aparo — isn’t terribly memorable. That’s not to say it’s bad or anything. I just don’t recall most of the details, even though I’ve re-read it within the last couple years.

I probably had the Atom one with me because they were back-to-back issues. But that’s the one that’s stayed with me and it’s probably my favorite B&B story of all time, The Corpse That Wouldn’t Die!, also by Haney and Aparo.

This one is classic, high-concept Haney: Batman is shot and declared brain dead. The Atom shrinks down and jumps around Batman’s brain, activating the Caped Crusader’s corpse and allowing him to save the day. (SPOILER ALERT: Batman comes back to life at the end.)

The whole thing is pretty much a rip-off of Fantastic Voyage but it was so memorable that it was remade not once, but twice — on the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode Journey to the Center of the Bat!, written by Matt Wayne (click here), and in 2014’s Batman/Superman #10, written by Jeff Lemire.

The only thing I remember better from that trip was the pretty girl I developed a mad crush on, only (of course) to never see her again. Such is summer romance. Even the one-sided kind.

Anyway, as I sit writing this, summer has but a few weeks left. The leaves will turn brown and the sky will turn gray, to paraphrase a melancholy song.

But what’s great is I can reach for these six comics at any time and it’s summer by the pool all over again.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. The Six LEN WEIN Batman Comics That Changed Me | 13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture - […] comics once and then put them away. I read them over and over, for months, even years probably. (I…

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