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Friday, 14 July 2017

Batman Family 11 - Batgirl and Robin get married?, Man-Bat begins, and Alfred vs Commissioner Gordon

With Batman Family 11 (May/June 1977) the book changes to have all-new material. Robin and Batgirl continue their series, sometimes as a team, sometimes individually. Man-Bat begins an ongoing strip. This issue also contains a third story, a one shot that winds up pitting Alfred against Commissioner Gordon.

Rozakis, Swan and Colletta open the book with a story that is almost guaranteed to be a let-down, considering the cover image. The story begins as MAZE operatives try to kill Robin during a Hudson University basketball game, where he is doing whatever it is called when someone throws the ball into the air at the start of the game. He takes down the would-be killers, and explains to the police how MAZE have been after him and Batgirl.

We then see a mysterious man, the one who has hired MAZE to kill the pair of heroes. He is pissed that Robin survived, but MAZE insists that they will fulfil the contract.

So next it's Batgirl's turn to avoid being killed, this time by a driver who tries to run her down on her motorcycle. As with Robin, she not only survives but captures the operatives.

The story then seems to take a preposterous leap. Robin and Batgirl show up, in MAZE's hands, hypnotized into getting married. The rest of MAZE is there, ready to kill them when the minister completes the ceremony. Why they wait for this is unclear, but it allows the two heroes (who are not really hypnotized) to escape down a trap door at the right moment, and then return to battle the crowd of killers.

They really seem to be enjoying this, playing off marriage concepts, throwing rice and having Robin carry Batgirl across a "threshold."

The final page sees the two heroes address the reader and explain things. The mystery man was really Robin, and they hired MAZE to kill them only to round them all up and take them all down at once, at the fake wedding.

I had misremembered MAZE as making quite a few appearances in this title, but this is their second, and last.

Rozakis also scripts the Man-Bat story, which has superb art by Marshall Rogers and Tex Blaisdell. Man-Bat had not been seen since the end of his brief series in Detective Comics a little over a year earlier.

The story begins as Kirk Langstrom, in his Man-Bat identity, stops a purse snatcher. He had been hoping for a reward, but doesn't get one. Returning home, we discover that his wife, Francine, is now pregnant. Kirk is trying to make a living off of being Man-Bat, but is only picking up little bits of cash as rewards.

He sees a news bulletin about a robbery by a guy named Snafu. We don't get to see much of Snafu, but Rogers really makes it count when we do. Kirk is all pissed off, because he thought his new senses were warning him about the purse snatcher, not this guy.

This series introduces the really sketchy notion that Kirk can use his sonar to pick up on criminal impulses, and get to the scenes before the crimes are committed.

It does work out that way later in the story, when he confronts and defeats Snafu.

As the story ends we see that a mystery man has been observing Man-Bat's career, and is planning to pit him against the Sunset Gang in the next issue.

Rozakis closes out the issue with a story that sees Commissioner Gordon join Alfred in preparing a surprise party for Bruce Wayne at Wayne Manor. At this time the Manor was not his home, Bruce was living in the penthouse atop the Wayne Foundation Building. Carl Potts and Frank McLaughlin do the art on this tale.

It seems inviting Gordon along was a really dumb move, and right away Alfred starts worrying about the Commissioner finding evidence that Bruce is Batman. He tries to keep Gordon away from certain places, but cannot stop him trying the unmarked line on the phone, the direct line to Gordon's office. Alfred decides the best course of action is to pretend to be a thief and lure Gordon away.

It doesn't work very well. What was Alfred thinking? He winds up getting tackled, and barely makes it out of the Manor without being unmasked.

Still, all his efforts only made things worse Gordon spots that Alfred is wearing the same shoes as the burglar.

The surprise party is attended by Bruce, Dick Grayson, his girlfriend Lori Elton, Kathy Kane, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen (which is kind of strange), but the major guest to note is Vicki Vale. Vicki had not been seen since 1966, and this issue reveals that she has gotten married. It didn't turn out well. The next time we see Vickie, in 1981, she is single again. 

Anyway, the story closes on Gordon giving a really broad hint that Alfred's actions have confirmed his suspicions that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Nothing is ever made of this, though, and in later stories he will have no idea of Batman's identity.

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