"Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!"
(19 pages)

Cover pencils - Jim Aparo
Cover inks -
Jim Aparo
Cover colouring - Anthony Tollin

Story - Gerry Conway
Art - Don Newton
Inks - Dan Adkins
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Ben Oda
Editor - Dick Giordano

Second feature - Batgirl, "The Attack of the Annihilator!" (8 pages)
Letters page - "Batcave" (1 page)



As much as the Batman - at the very core of his existence - is a creature of the night (made obvious by the choice of his name and the "totem animal" which inspires his appearance), he is also the product of a very specific location: Gotham City.

In some ways, the strength of this defining pattern also makes it attractive for writers to come up with the occasional story which takes the Darknight Detective down a different path. Usually they involve changing the location or the nocturnal background - or both (a third attempt, which regularly falls flat on its nose, is to change the individual behind the mask and cowl). During the early 1980s, writers would try to work some changes into those two parameters every now and then.

One of the more successful examples comes from Detective Comics #508 (cover dated November 1981, on sale in August 1981) in which Gerry Conway sticks to the nocturnal backdrop but sends the Batman all the way to Egypt in order to solve a mystery which begins in Gotham City...



When Bruce Wayne fails to reach Selina Kyle on the phone, his instinct tells him that something is wrong. Arriving at her apartment ten minutes later in the guise of Batman he is proven right as everything is in a mess and clearly points to Selina (a.k.a. Catwoman) having been kidnapped.

Back in the Batcave, an analysis of the available facts shows that the incident must have taken place at least 48 hours ago. However, far more significant - and mysterious - is the presence of tomb dust in Selina's appartment, which points to the rather sensational conclusion that she was kidnapped by... an Egyptian mummy!

Confronted with these baffling findings, Bruce Wayne is rather absent minded whilst watching a political rally in Gotham Park, staged by Arthur Reeves who bases his campaign for mayor on an anti-Batman agenda.

In search for hints and clues, Bruce pays a visit to the Gotham Metropolitan Museum. Naturally, he does not truly believe that a "living mummy" could have been responsible for Selina's disappearance, and he is hoping to receive some helpful information from Dr Griffin, the curator of the Museum, as the presence of tomb dust no doubt has some significance.

However, contrary to Griffin's commonly known habit of working late hours, he is not in. As Bruce is taken to Griffin's office by Donaldson, his assistant, the two men find the room ransacked very much the same way as Selina's apartment. Quickly, Bruce discovers and opens a secret door in one of the walls of the office. This leads to another room which, to the utter surprise of both men, resembles an Ancient Egyptian tomb. Amongst the hieroglyphs hangs a photograph of Selina Kyle, which according to Donaldson resembles the death mask of Queen Kara, discovered by Griffin during an expedition to Egypt a year ago. Ever since, Donaldson tells Bruce Wayne, the curator had become increasingly obsessed with the image.
  Kara's burial stone, hidden in the room, adds further mystery as Donaldson's readings of the hieroglyphic text reveals that Kara was refered to as "Queen of the Sphinx", eternally loved by pharaoh Khafre who ordered the building of that monument.

To Bruce Wayne, it all adds up to the conclusion that Griffin must see Selina as Kara reincarnate and that he most certainly took her to Egypt - to where Bruce Wayne himself now travels on the double, seeking out the Cairo police for information upon his arrival. An inspection of visa application forms confirms that both Griffin and Selina have indeed entered the country, but wanting a free hand in this, Wayne tells the police that unfortunately the two individuals are not the friends he is actually looking for.

Heading for the pyramids, Bruce Wayne waits for nightfall when he can take on the guise of Batman, but finds no trace of Griffin nor Selina. Suddenly, he is attacked right at the feet of the Sphinx by a group of jackals who have appeared from out of the pitch black desert.
Pondering the improbability of these animals being so close to Gizeh, Batman climbs the Sphinx in order to evade his attackers.

When he discovers an opening in the face of the statue, the Batman plunges himself without hesitation into this hidden entrance, and after a short slide finds himself within the Sphinx and, to his great astonishment, discovers an ancient burial chamber inside the statue - and Selina lying on one of the slabs.

Just as Batman finds that she has obviously been drugged, Griffin appears on the scene dressed, as the darknight detective puts it, "as a movie-epic pharaoh". However, the Gotham Metropolitan Museum's curator is in an entirely different mood and mindset as he speaks of himself as the reborn Khafre, Lord of the Nile, and attacks Batman with what appears to be a flame-throwing sceptre.

Gotham's caped crusader realizes that Griffin is out of his mind, but at the same time fears for the safety of Selina as the flames from the sceptre might set fire to the dry mummies stored inside the chamber and trap them all in a blazing inferno. Batman thus plays it low-key as Griffin threateningly suggests that the dark knight become Khafre's guardian slave.

Griffin binds Batman in Egyptian mummy fashion and explains that he found his destiny the day he translated that burial stone which informed him of this hidden chamber in the Sphinx, and that he realized his true nature once he stood inside this secret tomb. As Khafre, he has set free the fumes from an exotic plant which will send both him and Selina to an eternal sleep - never, as he puts it, to be reborn again.

As Griffin sets about to lie down himself on a slab next to the one carrying Selina, Batman acts and slices open the mummy bindings - which he kept from being too tight by expanding his muscles when Griffin tied him up - from the inside with a miniature cutting device concealed in his hand. Batman grabs Selina and heads for an exit.
  With some delay, Griffin follows them and plans on using the jackals - who were under a spell from his mystic medallion - once again, but this time to prevent Batman and Selina from escaping.

The darknight detective, however, has waited for Khafre to show himself at the hidden entrance through which Batman originally entered the Sphinx, and plunges down on him. As both tumble down the statue, Griffin loses hold of his medallion and, without having it in his hand, is now himself under attack of the jackals on the ground. Batman can do nothing but turn away and make off to safety with Selina.

The next day, the local police are somewhat dumbfounded by the facts of a hidden tomb in the Sphinx, which are presented to them by Bruce Wayne. And whilst the disapperance of Dr Griffin - of whom nothing seems to be left but his clothes - is a major headache to them, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have other priorities as they both agree that they need to settle their relationship.




Detective Comics #508 is a no-fuss comic book with a prime example of a "good old Batman story" infused with one or two unorthodox flavourings. First off, this adventure of the Darknight Detective begins and ends within the pages of this one issue, and as such it is really well paced and balanced out, with plot interest running high right from the first page. The evildoer is shrouded in the classic air of mystery surrounding Ancient Egypt - which always makes for an intriguing story backdrop - and even has Batman leave his native playing field by travelling from Gotham to Egypt to free Selina Kyle in an action-packed storyline.

Gerry Conway has tight control over the events and characters, not the least because he sticks to the O'Neil & Adams paradigm whereby even the most mysterious events and characters need to be rooted in the real world and thus explainable without having to resort to sci-fi or supernatural mumbo jumbo. The reborn pharaoh thus turns out to simply be a mad egyptologist, even though just how he controlled the jackals with his medallion remains unexplained. However, as with most fun Batman stories, some questions simply shouldn't be asked, and Detective Comics #508 raises few of those in any case.

The artwork by Don Newton is spot on and can only be labelled simply beautiful once the locale switches to Egypt. Newton's renderings of the pyramids and, above all, the Sphinx stand out especially and contribute significantly to the overall entertainment value this comic book has to offer.


Don Newton
(self portrait)

  Donald "Don" L. Newton was born November 12th 1934 in St. Charles, Virgina, and passed away on August 19th 1984 in Phoenix, Arizona, after suffering a massive heart attack four days earlier.

Newton became a professional comic book artist in 1974 and started his career providing background artwork for Marvel's Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #1 (September 1974) and full pencils for a number of titles from the Charlton Comics horror line.

In 1975, still at Charlton, he was assigned to The Phantom, a run for which many fans remember him best, whilst still supplying art to Marvel (where he received his first credit in Giant-Size Defenders #3, January 1975).

In early 1977 Don Newton started to work for DC, an his first artwork for this company - a 12-page Aquaman story - was published for July 1977 in DC Special #28.

Newton's first contact with the Batman Universe came about in Batman Family #13 (September 1977), although "The Man Who Melted Manhattan!" did not feature the Darknight Detective himself.

Detective Comics #480 (November 1978) saw Don Newton's first actual Batman story, entitled "The Perfect Fighting Machine" and written by Denny O'Neil. His pencils were inked by Dave Hunt and he was credited as a "guest penciller" -  who would return immediately with the next issue of Detective Comics (#481).
Alongside his pencil work for titles such as World's Finest (Shazam/Captain Marvel) and Adventure Comics (Aquaman), Don Newton drew the Darknight Detective for Detective Comics #483-509 (July 1979 - December 1981).

As of February 1982 he alternated the artwork with Gene Colan and provided the pencils for Detective Comics #511, #513-516, #519-520, #524 and #526. His last work for Detective Comics was published in issue #539 for the June 1984 cover date run.

Don Newton's artwork was, in most cases, just perfect, as he was in absolute command of any action scenes and a master at creating an atmosphere of impending suspense - above all if set in a night scene. This became especially evident when DC divided up the artwork chores between him and Gene Colan as of early 1982 - whilst "The Dean" was of course known for his moody and atmospheric artwork, Don Newton had no problem at all in facing up to the challenge.

In addition, Newton drew the Darknight Detective in Brave and the Bold #153 (August 1979) and took on many issues of Batman, starting with issue #305 for November 1978. After Batman #331, #332, #337, #338, #346, #357 and #358 he became the resident artist for that title from issue #360 (June 1983) through to #379 (January 1985 cover date run), missing only Batman #373.


Splash page from Detective Comics #519 by Don Newton

Just how important Newton had been for DC and how much his work had been appreciated could be seen in editor Dick Giordano's obituary which DC published in the "MEANWHILE..." column following Newton's passing.

"Don Newton died on August 19, 1984, four days after suffering a massive heart attack. Although his work was known by everyone in the business, along with most others, I never got to know Don Newton very well. He lived and worked in his home in Arizona and hated big cities, so he didn't like coming to New York very much, although we invited him several times. I met him just twice, The first time was at the 1982 San Diego comic convention... the second time in 1983 at the same place (...)

Don Newton, the artist, is another story, though. I consider myself fortunate and privileged to have been in a position to be able to work with this extremely talented and professional artist in the four years that I've been back at DC Comics. His penciled pages were, in and of themselves, works of art. They were complete when they left his drawing table. One did not have to visualize the finished inked page... everything you (and the inker) needed to know was there. Don lived far enough away from where most of the action is not to want to take chances with the skill level of the people who finished up his work, so he intimidated all with the wizardry of his skill, rendering all elements in his drawing completely. I also suspect he felt that since he couldn't see the finished page until it was printed, he needed to have his artistic needs satisfied before the page left his hands. When Don's work arrived at the office, it was an event. We crowded around to have a look and to marvel at the talent. He never disappointed.

As an inker (in my spare time), I lusted after inking his pencils and consider myself fortunate to have been able to ink a handful of his Batman stories and covers. (He became identified with the Batman character, though his real love was the big red cheese from Shazam!) He always enjoyed drawing Captain Marvel. Shazam was the first regular series he drew for us (...)


Panel detail from Batman #353 (November 1982)


Don was a true professional. He made his deadlines, was completely absorbed in his work, never complained or made excuses, and didn't spend a lot of time on the phone either to the office or to his fellow professionals. When he had to, he phoned. Otherwise, he preferred to spend his time drawing. To my mind (...) he showed us how to do it right.

All Don ever wanted was to be a cartoonist. He did it well. I wish he could have done it longer. Good-bye, Don. We'll all miss you.

Dick Giordano

Don Newton's career in comics was tragically cut short, but the legacy of his fine contribution to the comic book medium lives on not only through his body of work but also at a dedicated website (The Art of Don Newton). In 2011, DC published a hardcover collection of Don Newton's Batman artwork in Tales Of The Batman: Don Newton (Vol. 1), featuring Detective Comics #480 and #483-492, Batman #305-306, and Brave and the Bold #153 and #165.

All in all, "The Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!" would most certainly merit a reprint in a second collected edition volume of Don Newton's work. In fact, Detective Comics #508 might even be considered a good comic book to introduce newcomers to the late Bronze Age Batman (from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s) if it weren't for the fact that Egypt is a rather exotic backdrop for a Batman story and the mechanics of the Gotham setting are thus not in play for this issue.

RECOMMENDED READING - entertaining and well paced story, excellent artwork



Gerry Conway may have taken some inspiration from the 1960's Batman TV series. One of the original villains created for the show was William Omaha McElroy, eminent professor of Egyptology at Yale University, who - after suffering a concussion - believes he is actually the reincarnation of the Pharaoh-King Tut and that Gotham City is the ancient Egyptian city Thebes, which he claims as his own. But then Gerry Conway had a masterful hand during his early-1980's run on Batman at revisiting previous stories and characters - and improving them substantially. Thus, whilst King Tut from the TV show is just plain silly, Conway's Dr Griffin combines the mad scientist mould with the mystery of Ancient Egypt and produces a cliffhanger adventure in an exotic setting.

"The Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!" also saw publication in foreign language versions.

  In late 1982, German publisher Ehapa (who had the exclusive distribution rights for DC from 1966 up until 1989, with the exception of Green Lantern and Horror) not only reprinted the story in Batman Extra #5 as "Das Geheimnis der unheimlichen Sphinx" but also made use of the wonderful Jim Aparo cover.

Aparo's highly atmospheric and very moody pencils and inks also appeared in France (albeit minus the jackal in the foreground) as publisher Sagédition produced a French version of "The Secret of the Sphinx Sinister!" (somewhat oddly titled "Le mannequin") for their Batman - Collection Le Justicier #5 in December 1982.


from the letters page of Detective Comics #513


"Secret of the Sphinx Sinister was a classic! The art in this comic is beyond praise" (Jorge L Gonzalez, Miami FL)

"If you were going to salute those Lon Chaney Jr. mummy films of the 1940s I don't think Jim Aparo could have produced a cover with more Universal appeal than that sparkler on Detective #508" (Jeffrey Lowndes, Scranton PA)

"The sharp colouring by Adrienne Roy together with the Newton-Adkins art really did justice to Conway's exciting story" (Domenic Romano, Agincourt, Ontario)


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first posted 1 August 2015