Batman #306, 1978. Writer Gerry Conway. Artists John Calnan & David Hunt
Batman has always been my favorite. I think it started with getting home from school as fast as I could to catch reruns of the 1960’s tv show. Then the comic books. In the books, it was the classic images of Batman, as much as the stories that captivated me. He stayed in the shadows, holding back, until it was time to spring into action, and then he did spring, in a fearless, awesome, terrifying way.
Of course for many who prefer Batman over some of the other superheroes (Superman), it’s the struggle that he has with the darkness inside of himself that’s as interesting, or more so than the struggle he has with his enemies. In that way we can relate to him, a man that hides behind false personas, neither his true self, afraid to let anyone see him for who he really is. He’s also someone who see the evil in the world, and does what he can to fight it, although he knows he can never do enough, he can never really change things. Our world remains a corrupt and heartbroken place, just as Gotham does, despite the efforts of a few good men and women. And having at his core all that internal struggle of hope and despair, is what enables Batman to work, I think, in the many versions he have of him in the movies, television, cartoons, and of course comic books, from the campy to the overly serious.
Having laid out the basis for my graduate thesis, let’s take a look at Batman #306. First the verdict. It’s ok. That makes it tricky for me to write about. I’m finding it’s easier to write about good comicbooks. There are several that were so bland that I just had nothing to say about them. This one’s not that bad. It has it’s moments, just some of them are are little disjointed or out of sync. The story involves a rich heroin dealer, Hannibal Hardwicke, who you would think would be the bad guy of the story. But he’s not. Hardwicke is under threat from a vigilante called Black Spider. That’s kind of a weird name as his costume is orange and purple. Is he Black Spider because he has a dark heart? Maybe. Is it because Orange Spider or Purple Spider aren’t menacing sounding names? Maybe. Is it because Black Spider is uh, a uh, black man? Yeah, I’m afraid that’s probably the case. Anyway, Black Spider is an ex-junkie who hates drug dealers and wants to kill them all. That I can understand. However, that fact that he delivers the worst misquote of Mark Twain that I’ve ever seen in print, I cannot forgive.
So Black Spider is after drug kingpin Hardwicke. You might think that Batman, kind of a vigilante himself, although he doesn’t approve of out and out murder, could be a bit sympathetic to Black Spider. But no. In fact, Batman is totally working for the man. The police don’t want Hardwicke in their jail because they don’t’ want trouble from Black Spider or some legal mumbo jumbo, so Batman puts Hardwicke up at the swanky Wayne Foundation building. What the flip, right? Batman is pretty cozy with the police in this story. When they don’t want to conduct an illegal search, Batman is happy to do it for them while they watch. “It wasn’t us, judge, violating the fourth amendment. It was that pesky Batman.”
So he protects Hardwicke and fights off Black Spider when he shows up to kill the drug lord. In the end, Batman shows little pity for the ex-junkie, and delivers one of those little Batman speeches in the last panel that I don’t remember as a kid, but that I find very annoying as an adult.
For someone who wrestles with his own darkness, Batman is not very sympathetic to the struggles of others. Those who don’t struggle at all, like Hardwicke the drug lord, he seems to have no problem with, as he doesn’t say a harsh word to him throughout the entire book.
The second story here is one of the “Unsolved Cases of the Batman,” although he clearly solves it in the end. Some guy is blackmailing Bruce Wayne because he knows he’s the Batman somehow. Not only that, this guy is walking through the slums of Gotham poisoning poor people with a virus that comes out of cane.
I’m not sure how these two parts of the story are connected. There’s also a wedding ring with an inscription in it from the Batman. I don’t know; and I read the story twice. Anyway, Batman finds him, beats him up, and then the guy poisons himself with his own virus cane, and dies instantly. Quite the virus.
In both these stories DC appears to be trying to deal with some serious social issues, but doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. It’s almost like drug addiction and the rich’s disregard for the poor are just thrown in there as window dressing. Wayne does at one point promise to redouble his efforts to improve the lot of the poor in Gotham. At the same time he keeps the rich drug lord safe and comfy at the Wayne Foundation. The struggle continues.