Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Michael Golden, and the issues are Batman #295 and “Bull’s-Eye for Murder” in Batman Family #16, both of which were published by DC and are cover dated January and March 1978, respectively. Enjoy!
These two comics aren’t the first comics Michael Golden ever drew, but they were drawn only a few months into his career, so they’re close enough. He got his federally-mandated Batman comics out of the way early!
“The Adventure of the Houdini Whodunit!” is kind of a lame murder mystery, but it does feature the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, who are always nice to see, so it has that going for it. This first page really has nothing to do with the mystery, but it does give Golden a chance to show off his action skills, which are always crucial to have. Golden lays the page out a little unusually, but it still works because, mainly, of where he places the characters. So in Panel 1, the bad guys get “bigger” as we move to the right, subtly leading us that way until we get to Panel 2, where Batman jumps down at them. Panel 3 is wedged under Panel 2, and notice that Golden places the bad guys in the background, firing their guns to the left as Batman takes out one of them. This leads us to the left and slightly downward, which then takes us to Panel 4. Gerry Conway, who wrote this, helpfully provides directional dialogue in Panel 4, as Batman tells the reader to go down, and Golden angles our hero that way and to the right so that we flow easily to Panel 5. It’s cleverly done. Meanwhile, Golden is inking himself here, and he already knows how to use spot blacks really well. The blacks on the bad guys’ masks are well done, making their faces hollowed-out gaps, turning them into monsters, almost, while Batman’s blacks are tempered by the brighter blue so he’s not quite as terrifying as they are … until, of course, he turns the tables on them. Colorist Jerry Serpe likes purple just a bit too much on this page, but it does add to the gloominess of the Gotham night, so I guess that’s something.
Here’s another well done action scene, as Batman chases a dude through the streets before getting thwarted by flash powder. That guy’s just lucky this isn’t post-DKR Bats, or our hero would have crippled him for pulling a stunt like that. Golden is keeping the dude’s identity secret (it’s a murder mystery, after all), so he manages to put panel borders right where the dude’s face would be in a few places, while turning him away from the reader in others. How this is supposed to hide his identity from Batman isn’t explained, but it does (well, sort of – but that would give too much away!). Golden, meanwhile, is still doing very nice work with the blacks – that chrome in Panel 1 is wonderful – and the flow of the figures. Neither Batman nor the dude is drawn stiffly – they move like two men running would move, and although I think the World’s Greatest Detective might have found a way to continue the chase after getting blinded, I do like the way Golden draws Impotently Ragey Batman in Panel 7. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that Golden drew this in 1977, so check out those pants on the dude! Man, the Seventies were awesome.
Golden also shows that he can do moody quite well, as he gives us the Magic Palace, using a Zip-A-Tone background so that Serpe’s blues stand out a bit and lightening the holding lines on the building to make it fade into the night a bit more. He’s still using blacks very well, as the roofs of the Palace stand out starkly, especially against the conveniently-placed moon, while the silhouette trees break up the large exterior wall nicely. In the foreground, we also get the lack of holding lines on the fence, which adds to the dreaminess of the scene.
An interesting note about Golden was how idiosyncratic his work was even this early in his career, most notably in his faces. While Batman’s face is thin, he tends to broaden the rest, softening the ladies’ faces (as is common) but still rounding off even the face of the younger man, Martin. He places the eyes of many characters quite far apart, and uses the shadows created by their noses to define the noses, using very few lines otherwise. It’s a very unusual way to create faces, but Golden makes it work. Meanwhile, I have no idea what Lisa Morrow is wearing in Panel 1. Seriously, everything below her chin is kind of freaking me out. What the hell is that?
Batman gets bonked on the back of the head (because he’s an idiot) and wakes up in a water trap while Kaye Daye (man, the Mystery Analysts of Gotham need their own damned ongoing!) is tied up in a chair next to him. There’s some nice stuff on this page – Panel 1 is a good vantage point, showing us the entire tank, Daye tied up next to it, and the mystery murderer standing the shadows (with more awesome ’70s clothes on). Golden turns Panel 2 into three separate sections broken up by caption boxes, which forces us to look at each section individually, moving from Bats barely keeping his head above water to his hands tied behind his back. In Panel 3, despite being “far away,” we get a nice evil glare from Daye as the bad guy says he’ll dispose of her later. Golden does a nice job with Batman holding his breath in Panel 4 – it’s a bit exaggerated, but that’s a bit necessary in a visual medium like comics, as we need to see the strain on Batman’s face. Golden remembers to raise the water level as the bad guy keeps talking, so by the time the page ends, Batman is completely underwater. It’s a clever touch. Of course, the bad guy needs someone like Seth Green around, am I right? Sheesh – “I’d love to stay and watch your demise, but unfortunately, there’s no time!” Really, dude? No wonder Batman catches you. Oh, and Batman gets out of the water trap by pushing so hard against the glass that it shatters. I’d really like to see that work in real life.
(I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Travis Pelkie’s favorite letterer, Ben Oda, worked on this book. I love the way the chapter headings are lettered. I miss hand-lettering sometimes.)
About a month after Batman #295 came out, Batman Family #16 came out, with a back-up story by Bob Rozakis and Golden (the main story was by Rozakis and Don Heck, but that’s not important right now!), and I figured I’d take a look at that, too, as it’s pretty much the same kind of art but just gives me an excuse to post more cool Golden work. It features Man-Bat teaming up with Jason Bard, so you know it’s a corker!
Bard and Man-Bat are trying to find the “shotgun sniper,” and in the grand tradition of comics, they each think the other one is the sniper (well, Bard thinks Kirk Langstrom is the bad guy, but he doesn’t know that Langstrom and Man-Bat are one and the same!!!!). So they fight for a bit, and Golden gives us this tremendous layout. Bard swings his cane at the bottom of Panel 1 (according to the introduction, his “only weapons in the war on crime are a cane and a razor-sharp intelligence”), but misses Man-Bat as he rises, taking our eyes with him. The wedge-shaped panels become moments in time, leading us around clockwise, which means we’re moving downward and to the left, bringing Man-Bat back to where he started so he can attack Bard. Golden leads us to the left side of the page so we flow naturally to Panel 5, where Man-Bat gets whacked with the cane and pushed to the right in Panel 6. It’s really well done, as we can easily read the page and it allows Golden to show how much space Man-Bat can utilize in a short period of time thanks to his wings. Panel 7 is nicely done, too, as Golden figures out a way to create the three figures that Man-Bat sees just by using lines – obviously, today an artist would use a computer for this panel, and while that might look better (or maybe not), Golden still does a nice job with making the fuzziness Man-Bat feels more explicit.
The shotgun sniper is actually after Francine Langston, Kirk’s wife, and Man-Bat happens to get in the way of the blast, getting wounded in the process (I don’t own the issue before this, but it’s implied that Francine already knows who the sniper is and that she’s a target, so why she’s leaning out the window with the blinds up is beyond me). This is another good layout – Panel 2 gives us the sniper’s point of view, so we can see Francine clearly and Man-Bat falling toward the window, but Kirk is dark enough that we can believe the sniper might not see him and still pull the trigger. Golden shows that he knows what he’s doing with facial expressions in Panel 4, as he opens Man-Bat’s mouth, slits his eyes, and lifts his nose, showing that he’s in pain, while he opens Francine’s mouth in horror as she sees her husband get shot. Golden is already fairly precise, as he makes sure to line the blinds meticulously, and the inking on Francine’s hair in Panel 5 is nicely done. Jerry Serpe is coloring this story as well, as he uses that pale blue in Panel 3 to make the sniper stand out at the critical moment, which is a nice choice. I always appreciate “unrealistic” coloring, and this is a good example of it.
The sniper gets caught in a diner, and both Man-Bat and Bard try to stop him. Notice again how easily Golden moves us around the page, as Man-Bat dives to the right in Panel 2, his wings leading us to the sniper reloading, while in Panels 4/5, Golden actually links the menus to ease the transition between the two panels and the two separate points of view. In Panel 6, the sniper is on the left, leading us to Man-Bat on the right, and in Panel 7, Golden has Bard move against the flow, cleverly, stopping the action cold as he delivers the knock-out kick to the sniper. It’s a well done page (although if Bard is reduced somehow to carrying a cane, perhaps he shouldn’t lead with his feet?). Throughout this post, I hope you’ve noticed Golden’s clean lines that go well with the spot blacks – he doesn’t hatch excessively, and that helps his figure work immensely. That and the fluid figure work make him a very good superhero artist even this early in his career.
I’ll have to decide if I’m going to jump right to what I think is the best comic Golden ever drew (not that it’s his best art, just that the comic is excellent) or if I’m going to make a pit stop on the way. We shall see what’s what, shan’t we? Come back tomorrow and see what I decide to do! In the meantime, there’s still plenty of time to check out the archives!
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