Monday, November 16, 2009

My Favorite Comics: Batman #280

From time to time, when I feel like posting here but am stuck for something to write about, I'll be digging through the boxes of comics in my living room closet and pulling out one of my favorite comics, either an individual issue or maybe an entire series or storyline, rereading it and telling you all about it and just why I like it. Now, I will freely admit that in many cases, especially with many comics from the 70s and 80s, the reasons that the comic may be one of my favorites will have less to do with the merits of the story itself than with how old I was when I first read it or the circumstances under which I first aquired it. Such is the case with the comic I'll be discussing today.
My upcoming trip to Cleveland for Genghis Con has got to thinking of an earlier journey to that area, my first, in 1976.  My family lived in Linesville, Pennsylvania, a comatose little town in the Northwestern corner of the state near the border with Ohio.  When it came time for my father to trade in his 1968 Chrysler Newport for a brand new Chrysler Newport, he, for reasons that were never made clear to me, went to a dealership in Euclid.  Perhaps that's where he'd purchased the first Newport.  I honestly don't know, and, sadly, can't ask him, since he died in 1979.  Anyway, one day Dad packed the entire family; himself, mom, my brother and three sisters and me, into the old Newport to drive to Euclid to buy a new car.  Before getting underway in earnest, we stopped at the drugstore in Linesville, where we kids were allowed to pick out a comic book to read during the trip.  The ones that I remember are my older sisters choice of Isis #2, based on the live action Saturday morning kid's show then airing on CBS, and my own purchase of Batman #280, featuring a story entitled "The Only Crime In Town" written by David V. Reed and drawn by Ernie Chua and Frank Giacoia. It's the memory of that family outing, plus the fact that this was the first Batman comic I ever actually owned, that make this issue one of my favorites.
That's not to say that the story itself isn't good.  It is, in fact, a very clever little mystery tale concerning a plot to steal a collection of rare gold coins. 
The story begins at 12:55 a.m. as the Caped Crusader comes across a gang of criminals breaking into a safe.  He swings in to foil the robbery and is surprised when, precisely at 1:00 a.m., the perps simply surrender.  Later, Commissioner Gordon reveals that during the previous week, not one major crime had occurred between the hours of one and two a.m.,  with one exception, and the man who pulled that job was murdered "mobster style" the next day.  Apparently, the Batman deduces, there is a "crime curfew" in effect, but is baffled as to why or who would have the muscle to be able to enforce such a restriction. 
The next morning, the Gotham papers are full of news of the curfew, and that night, a coin dealer who's in town for a numismatics convention is robbed in his suite at the Gotham Plaza hotel during the curfew hour.  The next night, Batman is tipped off to another crime that's slated to pulled during the curfew.  The victim is another coin dealer.  Batman captures the crooks, ties them up in a closet with the loot, and tells the press that they got away.  You see, he figures that the purpose of pulling the jobs during curfew was to get publicity, so he lets it appear that the second crime succeeded so that he can find out why. Batman has also noted that among the list provided by the victim of what was supposedly stolen are extremely rare coins from the "Leopold Saxony Collection," yet those coins are not among the the loot Batman recovered, and several coins from that same collection were also "stolen" in the first robbery.
The next day, Bruce Wayne consults with lovely blonde numismatics expert Nola Roberts, and learns the history of the collection, as well as the fact that the remaining coins are owned by a collector who lives in Gotham. That night, the owner of the remaining coins, rightly assuming that he's the next target of the robbers, hires an armored car to transport them to safekeeping. The robbers, however, plan to hijack the truck, take the drivers place and take delivery of the coins themselves, but are stopped by the Batman.  As the stunned victim looks on, Batman reveals the identity of the robbers and the secret behind the "crime curfew". 
This story was also one of my first exposures to the "dark avenger of the night" Batman that had been re-introduced in the comics a few years earlier  by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, though Reed's version of the Caped Crusader was not as grim as that of other writers. Still, it was a far cry from the campy humor of the 60s Batman live action show and the harmless goof in a Batman suit who hung out with the Super Friends in their early Saturday morning adventures

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