JULY 1976

"The Riddle of the Man Who Walked Backwards!"
(17 pages)

Cover pencils & inks - Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua)
Cover colouring - Tatjana Wood

Script - David Vern (as David V. Reed)
Pencils - Ernie Chan (as Ernie Chua)
Inks - Tex Blaisdell
Colours - unknown
Lettering - unknown
Editor - Julius Schwartz

David Levine (1924 - 1989) had originally been introduced to comic book writing (under the pen name of David Vern) by friend and DC editor Julius Schwartz in the early 1950s. Returning to the medium in the early 1970s and to Batman in 1975, Vern's run on the Darknight Detective is characterized by his strong inclination to more or less ignore the character's established rogues gallery (although he did write the well known "Where were you on the Night Batman was killed?" story arc) and instead prefered to plunge Batman into a series of bizzare and mysterious cases and adventures (Kingman, 2011). Often far fetched, they were however put forward with a strong tongue in cheek tone to the readers and as such clearly came across as being designed to be entertaining yarns not to be taken too seriously.

For Batman #277 (cover dated July 1976) Vern came up with an intriguingly odd title - "The Riddle of the Man who walked backwards" - as well as a location which provided a stark contrast to the usual Batman backdrop.

Trying to relax at his Florida beachfront home in the company of a dashing female, Bruce Wayne finds his vacationing severly disturbed by what locals are calling a "sea monster".

His idea of calming the strained nerves of his guest by taking a moonlight walk at the very beach where the monster was allegedly seen backfires completely as she runs in terror back to the house as a ghastly apparition lumbers out of the sea onto the beach. Keeping the sea monster at bay with a dry piece of wood he sets fire to, Bruce Wayne eventually succeeds in driving it back to the dark waters of the sea...
Reaching his house again, Bruce Wayne learns from Alfred that the experience has sent his female guest rushing for the next plane back to Gotham - and in the vein typical for Vern's self-caricature - proclaims: "My vacation ruined... by a sea monster! That does it!" Accordingly, Bruce Wayne decides to get to the bottom of this whole sea monster story, and informing Alfred that "I'll take care of it my way!" can, of course, only mean that this part of the Sunshine State is about to become a Batman patrol zone.  
From here on the mystery subsequently grows even thicker, with Bruce Wayne even arrested for the suspected murder of a local fisherman and finding himself in a cell at the local sheriff's office - breaking out of which is no problem as Wayne still carries the Batman's boots and therefore has access to the necessary tools stowed away in a heel compartment. As Batman, he then investigates the scene where the fisherman was found dead
  Ultimately Batman discovers that the "monster" is in fact nothing but a man in a suit and the entire monster scare a smoke screen intended to keep people away from the beach, making sure that a gang of dope smugglers are able to operate from a disused local oil rig without being disturbed. They killed the fisherman who had discovered the whole operation and their hoax, but are now being dropped off by the Batman at the local sheriff's office. The next morning, a sleepy Bruce Wayne is released from his cell and heads back to his home turf - where, understandably, a slightly irritated Commissioner Gordon questions the probability of Wayne and Batman turning up in Florida at the same time.

And as for Bruce Wayne's female guest... well, he does have a reputation to live up to, after all.

The story told by David Vern in Batman #277 is - in spite of its initially outlandish "sea monster" theme - a highly average 1970s Batman story, both in a positive and a negative sense. In a very strange way, it is both flat and dramatic at the same time. Its story is rather superficial and yet also interestingly inviting, and although most plot devices (including the sea monster which gives the whole issue a sensational touch, not the least thanks to its cover) eventually turn out to be rather flat and predictable, the "Riddle of the Man who walked backwards" provides enjoyable Batman entertainment in a single issue which is most certainly worth its admission fee of 30¢ - although that will have risen by now as the story has not been reprinted in a collected edition and may well never be, making purchase of an original copy from 1976 a prerequisite for reading this tale of the Darknight Detective.
The fact that Batman #277 comes across as being worth remembering - if only as an example of what the average and regular fare of Batman stories were like in the 1970s - is, to no small amount, due to the artwork. And here again, things are not as easy to pinpoint down: penciller Ernie Chua would become known far better under his americanized name of Ernie Chan.  
Ernesto "Ernie" Chua was born on July 27th 1940 in the Philippines and had taken up drawing and inking comics when he was twenty. He emigrated to the United States in 1970 when both Marvel and DC were looking to the Philippine talent pool in order to recruit artists for the growing number of titles both publishers were putting out.

Ernie Chan in 2009

  His first pencil work was published in DC's Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion #4 (March/April 1972) in the form of a 32-page story ("The Grey Lady of Coburn Manor") and credited as "Ernesto Chua". This was followed by work for a number of DC's range of horror anthology titles, such as Ghosts, House of Mystery and The Unexpected. The quality of Chua's work both as a penciller and an inker quickly had him working for both DC and Marvel in a variety of genres, including superhero as well as the newly introduced and highly popular sword & sorcery and fantasy titles, eventually establishing him as one of the finest and most respected artists on titles such as Conan the Barbarian, Savage Sword of Conan and Kull the Destroyer.

His early work was mostly credited as "Ernie Chua" (as in the case of Batman #277, the cover of which he adorned with an Asian calligraphy style vignette), although his more familiar name of Ernie Chan (which he officially adopted when becoming a US citizen in 1976) first appears as early as December 1972 (Ghosts #10).

Drawing and inking a whole range of characters for Marvel (Dr. Strange, Dracula, Daredevil, Doc Savage, Thor, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Powerman and Iron Fist, King Kull, John Carter of Mars, and of course Conan) and DC (Claw, Sandman, Swamp Thing, Jonah Hex and others), he also provided artwork for the Darknight Detective, with Batman #262 (April 1975) marking his debut as Chan pencilled a story by Denny O'Neil which revived brought back the Scarecrow. Throughout 1975 and 1976, Ernie Chan applied his talent to a number of the Caped Crusader's adventures:
Batman #262 (April 1975, pencils)
Batman #263 (May 1975, pencils)
Batman #264 (June 1975, pencils)

Detective Comics #448 (June 1975, pencils)
Detective Comics #449 (July 1975, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #267 (September 1975, pencils)
Detective Comics #451 (September 1975, pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #452 (October 1975, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #269 (November 1975, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #453 (November 1975, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #270 (October 1975, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #454 (December 1975, interior inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #272 (February 1976, inks)
Detective Comics #456 (February 1976, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #273 (March 1976, interior inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #274 (April 1976, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils & inks)

Detective Comics #458 (April 1976, interior inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #275 (May 1976, interior pencils plus plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #459 (May 1976, cover pencils & inks)
Batman #276 (June 1976, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #460 (June 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #277 (July 1977, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #461 (July 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #278 (August 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #462 (August 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #279 (September 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #463 (September 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #280 (October 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #464 (October 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #281 (November 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Detective Comics #465 (November 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils & inks)
Batman #282 (December 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils)
Detective Comics #466 (December 1976, interior pencils plus cover pencils)
Batman #283 (January 1977, interior pencils & inks plus cover pencils)

With some 17 issues of Batman and 16 issues of Detective Comics under his belt, Ernie Chan had a substantial part in shaping the visuals of Batman during the mid-1970s, and to this day his covers and interior artwork have remained fresh and dynamic and represent some of the best Bronze Age Batman - often seen on foreign language reprints, too, as his rendition of Batman often had that "classic" popular culture icon feel to it. Provided with a good script Ernie Chan could really drive home a Batman story, but even when the plot wasn't too strong (such as, one might argue, in the case of Batman #277) he would always keep it afloat with his reliably produced quality artwork.


Chan - like most of his fellow Philippine artists who broke into the US comic book industry in the early to mid 1970s - was always spot on the money with his work, providing a constant level of quality. Both his pencil work as well as his inking were characterized by a steady yet very dynamic line with an unfaltering quality - Chan knew what he was doing, and he had the talent to do it well each and every time he turned to a blank art board. His style was never flashy or extravagant but rather had a - albeit very refined - down to earth quality which fitted the Darknight Detective perfectly. The perspective and composition he put into each and every panel breathed life into the pages he was producing, and his artwork was always solid and exciting at the same time - just as his covers more often than not were absolute eye-catchers in the best of movie poster tradition.

[Left] Original pencils by Ernie Chan for page 9 of Batman #277 (scanned from the original in my personal collection)
and [Right] the same page as it appeared in print (colourist unknown)

From early 1977 on Chan worked mostly for Marvel, including an amazingly extended run on Savage Sword of Conan from 1978 up to 1994. During the 1990's Chan gradually shifted his work focus more on computer designs and television as well as movie animation projects. He officially retired in 2002 but remained active with pencilling and inking - concentrating on topics he himself liked - and selling his artwork online as well as at comic conventions, which he attended fairly frequently in between travels to China until he passed away on May 16th 2012 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Ernie Chan is probably best remembered for his work on fantasy and sword & sorcery titles, and above all for his run on Marvel's Conan, but for those who read and enjoyed the Batman titles of the mid 1970s (and still read and enjoy them today), Ernie Chan will be, more than anything else, one of the truly great Batman artists of the Bronze Age.

When the plot was maybe not that good all around, Ernie Chan would be there to see to it that the job got done - even when the Batman himself was on vacation in Florida.


Batman #277 was cover dated half way through the United States' bicentennial year and carries a specially themed banner at the top of its cover.
The meaning of the numeral "11" could be found within the interior pages of Batman #277 as readers were told that "DC salutes the Bicentennial with a great free offer".

This was revealed to be a Superman belt buckle, and in order to receive one free readers were told to look out for the special Bicentennial banners on both the July and August covers of a total of 33 different issues (and Batman #277 thus being cover #11 in this special promotion).

Readers were also told - to no doubt the absolute shock and horror of today's collectors - to cut off the banner plus title masthead of at least 25 different covers marked in that way and send in the clippings in order to get their free belt buckle. There seems to be no indication available as to how many readers mutilated their July and August 1976 copies of DC titles in such a way, but then clearly this was a different age in terms of seeing comic books as collectibles or not.

In terms of bamboozling the gullible, however, the times back in 1976 were no different from today, as this ad illustrates.

But DC didn't just have belt buckles up their sleeve (or perhaps, more appropriately, on their belts) for the Bicentennial. As an in-house ad pointed out there was also a Superman salutes the Bicentennial (including George Washington and a few other presidents thrown in for good measure) along with a Collector's Edition Justice League of America. Readers were told - in order to "avoid the crush at the newsstand" - to send in their orders by mail, just as they were told that "we can put DC comics right in your mail box".


The actual identity of "David V. Reed" had been fussed about quite a bit by Bob Rozakis (Kingman, 2011) who was in charge of the Batman letters page - which was, in an unexpected flight of sobriety, called exactly that: Letters to the Batman - and readers were still speculating on this (in this issue, one reader felt sure that none other than Julie Schwartz was hiding behind that nom de plume).

David Vern by now received almost unrestricted acclaim for his writing, but this had not always been the case. Initially some readers objected to his style which had the Batman regularly greeting his adversaries with quips of dry humour (something evidently associated more with Marvel's Spider-Man than DC's Gotham vigilante). So either readers had adjusted to this rather unusual way of phrasing the Darknight Detective's adventures, or those who didn't like it had simply dropped off or stopped writing letters.

In any case, his run on Batman was widely used for foreign language reprint publications (although as mentioned Ernie Chan's artwork certainly had a lot to do with that too). "The Riddle of the Man who walked backwards" was published for German language readers in 1978 by Ehapa in Batman 8. Superband (titled "Das Rätsel vom Mann, der rückwärts ging" and missing 2 of the original pages), and in October 1979 for both the Swedish and Norwegian markets by Semic in Läderlappen #11 ("Gåtan med mannen som gick baklänges") and Lynvingen #11 ("Mannen som gikk baklengs!", shortened by 1 page) respectively. That same year, it was also published in the Netherlands by Williams Classics in Batman #114 ("Het raadsel van de man die achteruit liep"). If nothing else this is a clear indication of the accessibility of the Batman material produced in the mid-1970s by DC, and Batman #277 is - in spite of all of its possible shortcomings - a splendid example of the period.


Speaking of which: one of the major problems the US had with its youth back in 1976 seemingly was the nefarious habit of party crashing - at least that's what the public service page published by DC in Batman #277 (pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Vince Colletta) would have us believe.

But thankfully Superman was there, sent out into the streets by the National Center for Juvenile Justice, to go and put those reckless kids straight: "Don't crash the party".

In 1976 Batman was on sale monthly and sold 178,000 copies on average each month [1], up from 154,000 in 1975 [2] and reversing a continuous downward trend (which would, however dip again to an average of 150,850 sold copies per month in 1977 [3]). In comparison: Batman's Detective Comics had average monthly sales in 1976 of 148,000 copies [4], whilst this was 273,000 copies for Superman [5] and 209,000 copies for Action Comics [6]. In 1976, DC Comics also introduced 21 new titles - and was only two years away from its infamous "implosion" when over 65 titles (equaling over 30% of the total publication output) were slashed overnight in a move to regroup a publishing business which had started to fall apart across the board. But if the late 1970s would prove to be a dark and thundery storm for the comic book publishing industry, then 1976 was a sunny spell - including Batman #277.



KINGMAN Jim (2011) "The Mystery of Men with Unsung Legacies!", in Back Issue #50 (Batman in the Bronze Age Theme Issue), TwoMorrows Publishing


[1] According to the statement of ownership published in Batman #287 (May 1977)

[2] According to the statement of ownership published in Batman #275 (May 1976)

[3] According to the statement of ownership published in Batman #299 (May 1978)

[4] According to the statement of ownership published in Detective Comics #469 (May 1977)


[6] According to the statement of ownership published in Action Comics #471 (May 1977)



BATMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics, Inc. TM and © DC Comics, Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.
The illustrations presented here are copyright material. Their reproduction for the review purposes of this website is considered fair use as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


first published on the web 23 September 2014