SPOTLIGHT ON
#644

(MAY 1992)

"Wired" (Part 1 of 3, 22 pages)

Cover pencils & inks - Michael Golden
Story - Chuck Dixon
Breakdowns - Tom Lyle
Finishes - Scott Hanna
Colours - Adrienne Roy
Lettering - John Costanza
Editor - Denny O'Neill

 

 

SYNOPSIS
! SPOILER ALERT !

Professional thief and killer Elmo Galvan attempts to evade the long arm of the law by fleeing from United States territory, but finds his plans foiled by the Batman. Standing trial, Galvan is found guilty, handed the death sentence, and put on the electric chair. It is not, however, the end of Elmo Galvan, as he miraculously survives the execution attempt and is then set free following a court decree ordering his release.

For many years Galvan seems to have dropped off the face of the earth - until he returns with a vengeance, embarking on a vendetta and planning to kill the five men who watched his execution. After two of them - Blackgate Prison's former warden and Galvan's defense attorney - are electrocuted by a lethal electrical weapon, Gotham's Finest and Batman are starting to take a hard look at these killings and begin investigation.

 
 
In other developments, and on a somewhat lighter note, Commissioner Gordon is feeling butterflies and is thinking about proposing to Gotham PD Detective Sarah Essen.
 
  However, neither the police nor the Darknight Detective are expecting a third party to surface: a new vigilante calling himself the Electrocutioner is looking to make a name for himself by apprehending and bringing down Galvan.

Batman is made aware of this additional complication when he tracks Galvan down to the sewers, and the situation escalates into a fight when the two vigilantes face off over completely differing views on what is supposed to happen to Galvan.

Living up to his name, the Electrocutioner knocks the Batman unconscious with his shock gloves before the Darknight Detective can actually apprehend Galvan.

Close by, and upon hearing Batman's radio connection short out, a worried Robin charges into the sewers after his mentor...

to be continued...

 
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Detective Comics #644 kicked off a six-issue run for the entire creative team of Chuck Dixon as writer, Tom Lyle as penciller, and Scott Hanna as inker, with one of the highlights being the introduction of Stephanie Brown (aka The Spoiler), who would go on to become a long-running and popular supporting character in the Batman titles, eventually becoming a new Batgirl.

 
Dixon, Lyle, Hanna and veteran colourist Adrienne Roy - the regular colourist for Detective Comics from issue #481 up to #684, missing only five issues during a run of 174 issues which lasted for more than 13 years - started out on their run together with a high tension (pun intended) three-issue story arc pitting the Batman against (what was actually the third incarnation of) the Electrocutioner.

Whilst having the Darknight Detective face off with a vigilante who does not follow "Batman's code" was not a new idea (one earlier example can be found in Detective Comics #474), it is developed and executed well, and allows for plenty of opportunities to reiterate what makes Bruce Wayne's alter ego "the good guy - the Electrocutioner's claim to be a vigilante provides a direct justification for the Batman by contrasting the motives and actions of the two characters. Of course the Darknight Detective operates outside a strict rule of law and the state's monopoly on force, but because he does so only for the sake of or at least in the interest of the general public and without any motive of personal benefit (other than, possibly, his own psychological needs), his actions become acceptable.

Detective Comics #644 went on sale 9 April 1992 and is an example of a transition period not just for the Batman titles but comic books in general, leaving the plots and stories of the classic Bronze Age period behind for good and also turning toward new visual styles, as Tom Lyle's pencils clearly show.

Most of the artwork in Detective Comics #644 has a definite "1990s feel" to it, but when it comes to scenes depicting the Batman, Lyle still harks back at vintage and iconic Bronze Age vignettes and postures which still contain some direct links to the Neal Adams style of 1970s and 1980s Batman artwork.

 
 
Lyle's Batman thus conveys what almost feels like a highly dynamic homage to the Bronze Age Batman visuals, which although infused with a more modern approach has a satisfyingly classic feel. Chuck Dixon touches on several classic Batman themes and tropes in his writing throughout this issue, and Tom Lyle's pencilling is the perfect vehicule for this.
 

Printed page and original artwork by Tom Lyle and Scott Hanna for the splashpage of Detective Comics #644, signed by Tom Lyle
(scanned from the original)

 


Tom Lyle in 1992

  Tom Lyle (1953-2019) started his career in the mid 1980s penciling a number of titles for Eclipse Comics. By late 1988 he was working for DC Comics, where (together with writer Roger Stern and inker Bob Smith) he introduced a new Starman to the DC Universe. It was on this title that Lyle was first paired up with inker Scott Hanna, with whom he would work together on several more occasions over the years.

After a number of assignments for Marvel Comics, Lyle was back at DC in 1990 where he worked on the five issue Robin miniseries featuring Tim Drake’s first solo story.  The miniseries reunited Lyle with Chuck Dixon and Bob Smith, became a huge hit, and gained Lyle a great deal of attention and acclaim.

 
In 1992, Tom Lyle teamed up with Dixon and Hanna again for Detective Comics #644 and the subsequent five issues (Lyle had previously already pencilled the Darknight Detective in “Shadow Box,” a three part follow-up to the Robin miniseries, in Batman #467-469).  From there, Lyle moved over to Marvel Comics, immediately establishing himself on the Spider-Man titles where, for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #27, he once again worked with Scott Hanna. Over time, however, things got difficult, inspite of having worked for both DC and Marvel.

"Unfortunately in the early 2000s Lyle began having trouble finding work in comics. (...) Here was an artist who for over a decade did good work on some of the most popular characters at both DC and Marvel, and then suddenly he finds himself not receiving any assignments.  (...)  It’s a genuine shame that freelancers who time and again were there for publishers do not find that loyalty rewarded. Fortunately for Lyle he was able to successfully transition into another career.  He began teaching sequential illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005, a position he remained at for the next decade and a half." (Herman, 2019)

Tragically, Lyle suffered a brain aneurysm in September 2019 and dies in November 2019, joining a sad long list of comic book creators who passed on way too soon.

 


Detective Comics #645
(June 1992)

  The story is continued in Detective Comics #645 (June 1992) and concluded in Detective Comics #646 (July 1992).

 

FACTS & TRIVIA

The Electrocutioner is a name used by three individuals in the DC Universe: The first appeared in Batman #331 (January 1981), created by Marv Wolfman, Michael Fleisher and Irv Novick. The second, an unidentified self-appointed executioner of criminals who slipped through the hands of the law, first appeared in Detective Comics #622 (February 1991), created by Marv Wolfman and Jim Aparo. Finally, the third Electrocutioner makes his debut in this issue of Detective Comics.

Detective Sarah Essen, whom Gordon is considering proposing to in this issue, first appeared in Batman #405 (March 1987). Created by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, she was part of the "Batman: Year One" storyline as Lt Gordon's partner.

 


Detective Comics #646
(July 1992)

 
Revived both as a GCPD investigator and love interest for Gordon under editor, Sarah Essen returned in Batman #458 (January 1991). Following a serious relationship, Gordon does actually propose to her in Detective Comics #646, and the two get married in Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #2 (1992).

The storyline from Detective Comics #644-646 has not been reprinted so far, neither in a trade collection nor for a foreign language market. The three covers, however, are featured in Legends of the Dark Knight: Michael Golden, a reprint volume published in 2019 and serving as an example of DC's utterly strange reprint policy.

Detective Comics #644 was also devoid of the usual letters pages (still called "Detective Comments") and therefore also Denny O'Neill's regular "From the Den" column. It did however feature a whole slew of advertising pages which provide something of a time capsule view of what went on in 1992.

Video gaming consoles were starting to become more of a household item (Super Nintendo to name but one), but "analogue adventures" were still popular (such as Estes rockets), and even the old "flea market" ads (which were all over the place in 1970s comic books) were still around. You could even find surprises, such as an AdCouncil's offer for free copy of the US Constitution. Comic conventions were big and frequent, and comic character trading cards were starting to pop up. And finally, subscription advertisements were still around.

 

 
Of somewhat anecdotal historical note is the half-page ad for Impact Comics, an imprint of DC Comics aimed at younger audience and featuring revamped versions of superheroes licensed from Archie Comics including the Fly, the Comet, the Shield, the Jaguar, the Web, and the Black Hood (some of which would make a short comeback in the early 2000's). The ad reveals that the logo displayed the initial I as an exclamation mark (i.e.!mpact), but the imprint was short lived - started in 1991, it ended in 1993.
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

HERMAN Ben (2019) "Tom Lyle: 1953 to 2019", In My Not So Humble Opinion (29 November 2019)

 

 

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 and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


(c) 2020

 

uploaded to the web 6 December 2020