Despite my youthful indiscretions in reading the famed Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, I had no idea what came after it. Turns out neither did DC at the time, since this issue’s got Len Wein, Rogers, and new inker Dick Giordano doing three new pages around a reprint from 1971.
Batman and Commissioner Gordon go to visit Rupert Thorne in Arkham—Rogers’s Arkham is situated right next to the Gotham Mountains—and Thorne tells Batman about Hugo Strange’s ghost. Gordon says it’s a bunch of hooey, but Batman met a mysterious ghostly figure last episode (not to mention he’s Batman, and he’s met ghosts before, right, he’s friends with aliens and gods).
As Gordon soapboxes about ghosts being stupid, Batman remembers back to the previous issue, which is reprinted. Wein and Marv Wolfman get the writing credit. Giordano’s inking too, but it’s Neal Adams pencils. Lots of great art, but the writing’s so insipid the art doesn’t matter. There’s the curse of bad superhero comics… sometimes the writing can ruin the art as a narrative. Individual panels look great but taken as a whole, super yuck.
Batman has tracked a missing Robin to a newly appeared haunted mansion somewhere in Gotham. Robin’s in college in the story, which means Dick Grayson took a long time to graduate, no doubt too busy superheroing.
The mansion’s haunted and starts scaring Batman, who takes to whining, especially after he walks in on his funeral, and all his friends show up to talk about how much he sucked. Superman calling him “The Caped Conman” is nonsense but more amusing than the rest, especially when a tweenage Robin decides with Bats out of the way, he can run Gotham his way.
The reveal’s terrible. Racist too. Be terrible even if it weren’t. It also doesn’t have anything to do with ghosts. It’s got to do with “Batman: The TV Show” levels of silly death traps, but no ghosts.
The last page, back to the present, has a cliffhanger involving a new villain.
Wein and Wolfman write the story in second person “tension” talk, directly addressing Batman and telling him how and why to be concerned or afraid. It’s a bad device once, terrible twice, but then they do it another forty-five times or whatever. It’s atrocious and succeeded in making me miss Englehart.
It’s certainly not a good sign for the post-Englehart but not yet post-Rogers Detective Comics.