Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Man-Bat #1. Of missing Niblicks and sneaky sarsens.

Man-Bat #1, Batman leaps off a castle at our hero, Jim Aparo cover
It's the year of Our Lord, Nineteen Seventy Something.

I'm in Lytham St Annes - and I don't even play golf.

What I do do is read comics. And Lytham comes up with the goods as, while there, I get an issue of The Many Ghosts of Dr Graves guest-starring Stonehenge, and the very first issue of Man-Bat guest-starring Batman. Stonehenge is good. Batman is good. Batman and Stonehenge should have a fight someday to see which is best.

Man-Bat may not be so good. He goes, "Skreek!" a lot, has an annoying wife who always seems to be getting possessed, and never has the sense to ask for help from those who could give it.

What I like about Man-Bat #1. Steve Ditko draws it. He draws it with an elegant simplicity that seems fifteen years past its time but can still get by on charm and our fond memories of his work on Spider-Man. He draws Batman without a face, permanently obscured as it is in shadow. He draws a sorcerer who does things with his fingers, as only a Steve Ditko sorcerer can.

What I don't like about it. Apart from Jim Aparo's not quite right cover, nothing much. It's a perfectly pleasant tale.

But the world of Man-Bat seems too insular, composed purely of himself, his wife and Batman.

Baron Mordo seems to have been imported from an old issue of Dr Strange to pester and bemuse our hero. Renamed as Baron Tyme, he makes Mrs Man-Bat kill people.

Still, after winning a scrap with Batman, our hero goes on to triumph by setting Baron Tyme's lair on fire and leaving him to the not-so-tender mercies of the dark forces he once sought to control.

Man-Bat is triumphant.

But only for a while.

For, Man-Bat is destined to only return for one more issue before his comic folds even faster than his wings.

I'm in Lytham St Annes. I have no way of knowing Man-Bat will meet this fate but, somehow, as I sit on a bench reading it, I instinctively know he will.


Gey Blabby said...

Your recent posts have brought back a lot of memories, Steve; not the comic itself, in this case, but the mention of Lytham St Annes. Back in the mid-70's, when foreign holidays were still a bit of a luxury, myself and my family were part of the many thousands from the West of Scotland who used to invade (for want of a better word) Blackpool and the surrounding areas during the Gasgow and Paisley Fair fortnights in July. I used to spend the hours when I could drag myself away from the Pleasure Beach wandering up and down the backstreets in search of little newsagents that would have old comics stuffed in their racks. You never knew what you might find - whether it was in Blackpool itself, or on day trips to Lytham St Annes or Fleetwood - which made the search even more enjoyable.

As for Man-Bat, the original Robbins/Adams stories were good enough, but he started to get a bit boring after a while. I never felt he was strong enough to be the star of his own comics. The covers that Adams did on the Batman/Man-Bat stories were some of his very best, and while Jim Aparo did some great Batman covers himself, I agree that this isn't one of them.

Steve W. said...

Gey, it does strike me when I visit other people's comic blogs just how often words like "Blackpool" "Morecambe" "Fleetwood" and "Lytham St Annes" turn up. It's weird to think that we were all probably within yards of each other at times without ever knowing it.

We used to stay at what's now called the Lynwood Hotel on Trafalgar Road, although at the time we knew it as Madge's boarding house. I seem to remember there being some kind of indoor market on or near Lytham Road/Rigby Road in Blackpool, which is where I got my very first American comics.

Ade Salmon said...

There was an indoor market that carried U.S. comics on Lytham Rd - got some ManThings there. Also the indoor market near Blackpool bus station got in the monthlies. My personal first exposure to American comics was at a Post Office in South Shore. We had a fancy goods shop nearby and I spent many summer days wandering the streets finding niches of comics new and old. If you asked the Postmaster he'd bring out a great stack of last months comics for you to choose from too .
Comic shops have now't on the old days ...


Gey Blabby said...

We stayed in a hotel somewhere near the South Pier. I don't know if it's the indoor market you're referring to, but there was a big glass building out on the road to Lytham, past the Pleasure Beach, that always seemed to have a lot going on in it. We used to go in there for lunch, and that would give me a chance to search through the racks. I wasn't too fussy in those days as long as they were American, and I rarely came away empty-handed.

Steve W. said...

Ade, I'm glad to see I wasn't imagining Lytham Road indoor market. It's where I got my first X-Men, Flash and Captain America comics. A Few years later, I got a copy of Savage Sword of Conan there. In fact, I think I might've got two there.

Gey, if the glass building you've mentioned is the one I think it is, we used to go there too. There was a miniature golf course behind it that we used to play on.

Kid said...

I remember having this comic when it first came out, but I don't think I have it now. I also remember an indoor market in Blackpool with a stall which sold (and swapped) old comics. I got a Hulk comic there with a fan letter in it exactly the same (but with a different name) as one in an issue of MWOM. I also remember being able to acquire brand-new Kirby FF and Buscema Surfer issues straight from the spinner-racks at cover price. What makes that amazing is that I bought them from newsagents (and a shop on the pier) in the years 1973 and '74, long after they were published. Sold as new, alongside more contemporary comics. Astounding or what? I haven't been back to Blackpool since 1974 - do you think it might still be the same? If only, eh?

Steve W. said...

Kid, I "visited" Blackpool the other night, via the wonders of Google Streetview. There are changes in places but it is remarkable how little most it's altered since I last visited in 1978. Once you get off the promenade and up the side streets and back streets, it's like a journey back in time.

Ade Salmon said...

I hate to burst the bubble but Blackpool is far from the place it was. You can only get comics at Thunderbooks ( latest stuff:( or at WH Smiths. The exchange place is long gone though I remember it well too. Abingdon Street market had a book stall plus latest comicsrack but that's sadly no more. I think the reason you saw old comics still on sale back in the 70s was because of the summer holiday period where stuff was to left weather. Same goes for St Annes where you can't even buy 2000Ad now!


M W Gallaher said...

I showed this cover to Jim Aparo and asked him about it in 1992. He was surprised and a little upset (he didn't remember ever seeing the published comic book) because DC had pasted in another artist's drawing of Batman's head over Jim's original work. So that's what's not quite right about this one; if we could have seen Aparo's unaltered version, I bet it would be up to our expected standards.

Gey Blabby said...

Just had a closer look at Batman on the cover and you're right: No way is that an Aparo face. I wonder what was so wrong with his original that they felt the need to change it.

Anonymous said...

Had to smile at the references of Blackpool by fellow Scots, I think "invading" the poor residents of this town was the right word during the Glasgow fair holiday - I used to come home with a bag of US comics which seemed to be everywhere in the early - mid 70s - I also remember a couple of fairs that had comic stalls one near the old post office where I got a load of really cheap (but in general well read back issues) inc Neal Adams Green Lantern, Silver Surfer number 2 and Hulk 91 the fair - However I picked up this comic in Hamilton (near Glasgow) and still have it , must read it again some time - McScottty

Kid said...

I also remember buying a 6" Mego Superman in Blackpool - and yet another Aurora Frankenstein model. And the Landlady of the boarding house gave me a penknife when I left. Giving a knife to a Scot? She'd probably be prosecuted for arms dealing these days.

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