The Thought balloon: Spotlight on Detective Comics #616, June 1990#616
(LATE JUNE 1990)

"Stone Killer"
(Standalone, 22 pages)

Cover pencils & inks - Norm Breyfogle
Story - Alan Grant
Art - Norm Breyfogle
Inks - Steve Mitchell
Colours -
Adrienne Roy
Lettering - Todd Klein
Editor - Dennis O'Neil

Letters page - Detective Comments (2 pages)





to Detective Comics #615

The events depicted in Detective Comics #616 start to unfold in Detective Comics #615 (cover dated Early June 1990) when the Penguin attacks Gotham with huge flocks of killer birds (yes, think Alfred Hitchcock).

An inbound passenger flight discovers that Gotham Airport tower has been left non-operational by the birds' attack and tries to abort its landing procedure, but the physical stress on the aircraft is too much and the jet is torn apart, crashing on the outskirts of Gotham.

Whilst nobody on board the plane has survived, a mysterious shrouded figure crawls out of the crater caused by the impact of parts of the airliner.


Detective Comics #615
(Early June 1990)

And while the story involving the Penguin will be continued in Batman #449, readers of Detective Comics are promised an "ancient evil" in the next issue...



As the Penguin’s birds attack the city, a young couple seeks refuge in nearby St Michael's Square, which the flock of feathered aggressors seem reluctant to enter.  Relieved to be out of harm’s way, they do however notice a mysterious cloaked figure, almost like a spectre,  standing in front of a monolith placed at the center of the Square. The strange apparition approaches the couple, strikes the woman unconscious, and then proceeds to strangle her boyfriend.

"There was a feeling about him. Like an aura of darkness."

After paying a visit to Gotham General Hospital and listening to the young woman’s account of what happened, Batman and Commissioner Gordon are left to wonder about the bizarre circumstances of what happened in St Michael's Square, where the police found the victim’s body draped across the monolith, which had also been marked with a caduceus (the sign symbolizing the staff of the Greek god Hermes), painted with the victim’s blood.

For Batman, there is no doubt that the crime scene has a ritualistic significance, but he has no further leads to work with at the moment, and so resigns himself to patrolling the city throughout the night while Gordon puts the GCPD on alert.

Meanwhile, a mugging takes place in a rundown part of Gotham, but when the two criminals intend to add their loot to their stash in a dilapidated building they find themselves face to face with an eerie and menacing figure. The almost ghostlike apparition turns on one of the muggers, while his partner in crime flees the building, only to run straight into the Batman. Racing to the room in which the encounter took place, the Darknight Detective finds no sign of the assailant, only the dead body of the mugger - and the same bloody symbol on one of the walls.
  Batman ponders the possible meaning of the symbol left at the two crime scenes and wonders if there might be any connection to a nearby prehistoric site. But his thoughts are interrupted when he overhears a news report from an open window regarding a recent string of crimes perpetrated by an unknown "red-hooded" gunman – which gives him a horrible gut feeling that the Joker may have survived a previous helicopter crash and not be dead at all. Back at the Batmobile, Batman calls Alfred with instructions.

"There’s no mistake. Something awful was here."

At the recently unearthed prehistoric site he was thinking of earlier, Batman encounters Harv Lichas, the head archaeologist of the excavation, who informs the Darknight Detective that he has picked up what he believes to be some very bad energy. At the Batman’s request Lichas shows him around the site and explains the history of this so-called “serpent mound” and its significant placement on a "dragon line" which runs through Gotham – in fact straight through the two ritual murder crime scenes.

Following the line, Batman concludes the next incident might take place at Gotham’s Veterans Hospital and speeds there in the Batmobile, joined by Lichas.

Back at Wayne Manor, Alfred follows Bruce’s instructions as he wakes Tim, packs a suitcase and then drives away with him. Tim tries to get an explanation from Alfred but the faithful butler can offer none, as Bruce simply - and urgently – requested that they both leave Wayne manor immediately.

Upon arrival at the Vet’s hospital Batman and Lichas realize they are too late – a memorial statue outside the building already has a murdered doctor slumped on it, with the same ceremonial sign smeared on the plaque. According to the map drawn up by lichas, the “dragon line” now leads past the city limits and passes very closely to Wayne Manor. Finding that precise building empty, the mysterious hooded figure kills a deer on the grounds of the Wayne Estate – clearly growing stronger with every life taken.


Knowing that Wayne Manor is empty Batman need not concern himself with that location and speeds by it, hoping to catch up with the ghostly killer as the next inhabited point on the “dragon line” is the archeaologist’s house. Lichas calls ahead to his wife from the Batmobile to warn her, but the mysterious murderer is already at the house where he removes an object from the solid stone mantle of the fireplace – a rod that looks just like the symbol drawn with the blood of his victims.

"I am C’th, my years span the ages.
Blood will make me strong again. Blood… and my rod."

Arriving on the scene, the Batman prevents the eerie spectre from taking Mrs Lichas’s life, catching the serial killer of guard. However, his opponent is strong and emits a dark aura which strikes fear even into the heart of the Batman – a feeling which only grows worse as the Darknight Detective pulls back the hood of his adversary, revealing an inhuman reptilian sorcerer.

Punching the Batman across the room with a blast from his rod, C’th turns to the Lichas couple, intending to sela the rituals with a sacrifice of both a male and female life. Sensing that the rod is the killer’s source of power, Batman removes his utility belt, whips it around the magic rod and then rips it from the creature’s hand and tosses it through the window.
  The ancient sorcerer dives after his power rod but can’t prevent it from being smashed to pieces as it strikes a rocky outcrop of the cliff – and as it does, the malevolent  C’th turns limp and powerless and tumbles into the ocean below, swallowed by the waves.

But while this highly mysterious and threatening ordeal may be over, the Batman’s instincts tell him that worse is yet to come – knowing in his heart that the Joker is still alive…



Stand-alone and done-in-one stories were starting to become real rarities towards the late 1980s and very early 1990s, and in this respect Detective Comics #616 is almost something akin to a single story transition issue, spliced in between a three part Penguin story spilling over from Batman into Detective Comics for its second installment. In essence, readers are being prepped for the return of the Joker, currently presumed dead after a helicopter crash in Batman #429 (January 1989), but as this was still very much in the pre-decompression era (i.e. before trade paperbacks dictated a six-issues target length for stories), Detective Comics #616 actually has a full tale to tell.

Not everything in this storyline makes total sense, and some plot props pop up very conveniently just when needed, but overall the story works: there's a real villain (albeit a somewhat supernatural one, which never really fits the "as close to real as it gets" world of Batman that well), there's plenty of Darknight Detective action, and there's a pinch of philosophy thrown in. As such, it is a rather typical Alan Grant script, given that C'th is described as a fallen reptilian god of Ancient Babylon, crawling back to something he believes to be his and for whom the destruction of human life is a meaningless trifle.


Alan Grant in the 1990s

  Scotsman Alan Grant (*1949) started out in the UK comics industry in the late 1960s before moving to the US in 1987 with fellow writer/editor John Wagner to work for DC Comics, where he would become the writer (at first with Wagner, and then solo) of a critically acclaimed and lengthy run on Detective Comics and Batman as of the late 1980s.

At a point in time when the Batman titles were becoming more continuity heavy, Grant "unabashedly embraced the visceral appeal of [the Batman]" (Baytor,2017), who was often portrayed as "furious, insulting criminal scumbags and the system that spawned them while burning with indignation" (Baytor, 2017). Grant's villains were, as a rule, dangerous and delusional and would often seek nothing less than the destruction and downfall of society as we know it.

In this respect, his writing was at times hit or miss, but it meshed extremely well with the larger-than-life artistic style of Norm Breyfogle.

Norman Keith Breyfogle (1960 - 2018) is probably best known for precisely this work - his pencils on Batman in Batman and Detective Comics from 1987 to 1995. Often credited with no less than revitalizing the Dark Knight in the 1980s, Breyfogle discovered his passion and his talent for art at an early age, and in 1977, aged 17, he submitted a design for Robin's new costume (which was published in Batman Family #13).
  Breyfogle attended Northern Michigan University, studying painting and illustration, and first got into comic books in 1984/85 when he was discovered through DC's New Talent Showcase initiative.

His rendition of Batman was in many ways a break from the traditional style, which up until the mid-1980s still displayed a huge Neal Adams influence.


Norm Breyfogle in 2010

Breyfogle took the iconic postures and designs of this Bronze Age take on Batman but added his own and very distinct fluid designs and dynamic storytelling techniques. At times his rendition of the Darkknight Detective would almost take on a touch of the famous early German impressionistic silent movies of the 1920s, with surroundings, objects and even the Batman taking on shapes which were utterly non-realistic. In the hands of many it would have looked odd and cheesy, but flowing from the pencil of Norm Breyfogle, it created an atmosphere which was utterly compelling; as the distortions echoed the strange forms which shadows can sometimes take on, the stories and characters were plunged deeply into a mysterious and sombre place - the nightly abode of the Batman. Breyfogle's stlye was in rather stark contrast to the ultra realistic rendition put forward by the Tim Burton movies as of 1989, while at the same time being a harbinger in many ways of Bruce Timm's Batman The Animated Series (1992-1995).

Printed page and original artwork by Norm Breyfogle for page 12 of Detective Comics #616, signed in panel 5 (scanned from the original)

Another trait of Breyfogle's artwork was his rendition of dynamic sequences of movement within the same panel, leading to multiple renditions of e.g. the Batman within the boundaries of what is commonly defined as a "snapshot frame". While not his own invention (Steve Ditko had done it here and there in early Spider-Man issues in the 1960s, and Gene Colan experimented with panels a lot), it became a signature element of Breyfogle's highly unique style, which came to embody Batman for an entire generation of readers.

"Broadly speaking there are two different ways to approach drawing Batman. You can choose to go ultra realistic, and portray a man in a suit, or you can go mythic, and portray Batman as a creature of mood and shadow. This follows through into the writing, too. Batman can be a pulp hero, or a troubled avenger. He can be heroic or dark. (...) Breyfogle and Grant managed to find a way to combine all of these things (...) into one definitive take on the character." (Stringer, 2014)


During his time on Batman, Breyfogle co-created a number of highly memorable villains, such as the Ventriloquist and the Ratcatcher (with writers Alan Grant and John Wagner).

Together with Grant, he also created a number of characters which still appear regularly today, both in comics and TV shows, such as Anarky, Jeremiah Arkham, Victor Zsasz, and Amygdala.

During his six-year run on the Batman character, Breyfogle also drew a few one-shots, two of them being Batman: Holy Terror (the first DC comic book to feature the Elseworlds logo) and Batman: Birth of the Demon, which he hand painted.

Breyfogle remained active in the comics book industry, working for DC, Archie and independent publishers, before suffering a stroke in December 2014 which caused paralysis on his left body side. Given that he was left-handed, he was no longer able to draw professionally, in spite of some recovery. Norm Breyfogle died of heart failure on September 24th, 2018.

His seminal work on Batman has been reprinted in two hardcover collected editions published by DC in 2015 (Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1) and 2018 (Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 2). His artwork and storytelling have stood the test of time, they deserve to be seen and read again, and they are truly classic material.

"Years from now, long after we are all gone ourselves, people will read Norm’s work, and have the same emotion we do now to his art. Norms legacy will continue because of the emotion he evoked. So see Norm? No one cares what you may have learned in some stuffy art class. They care that you knocked them out page after page." (Kelley Jones on Norm Breyfogle, recalling a phone conversation in which they touched upon the technical aspects of art and its emotional impacts, in: Jones, 2018)


Batman #16 (May 1991)
(Editoria Abril, Brazil)



Detective Comics #616 went on sale 10th May 1990 and saw multiple renditions for markets outside the US, Canada and the UK. The story was published:

  • in May 1991 by Editoria Abril from Brazil in Batman #16 as "Assassino de Pedra"

  • in September 1991 by SatellitFörlaget from Sweden in Batman #8 as "Sjungande Sten" (16 pages only, with original pages 2-5, 10 and 22 left out)

  • in September 1991 by Semic from Norway in Batman #8 as "Steinmorderen" (16 pages only also, identical editing to the Swedish edition)

  • in 1992 by Norbert Hethke Verlag from Germany in Batman Sonderband #29 as "Stein-Killer"

  • in February 1993 by Grupo Editorila Vid from Mexico in Batman #134 as "El Asesino de la Roca"

Detective Comics #616 is collected in Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle, vol. 2 (2018).

As for C'th - the loss of his power rod did not prove enough to keep him down: he was brought back by Alan Grant himself in Demon (Volume 3) #11 (May 1991), resurrected by Klarion the Witchboy. His return proved to be a short one, however, as he was once again destroyed - and has stayed that way ever since.

BAYTER I. M. (2017) "Alan Grant's in-yer-face Batman", in Gotham Calling, published online 21 September 2017

JONES Kelley (2018) "Kelley Jones Remembers and Honors Batman Artist Norm Breyfogle", published online at Bounding into Comics, 27 September 2018

STRINGER Jay (2014) "My Batman: Grant and Breyfogle", BookRiot, 15 October 2014



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(c) 2019


uploaded to the web 22 September 2019