Because I’m super original, I’m devoting the whole month of October to horror… What can I say, I can’t get enough of gothic comics, especially when they involve Batman battling some restless spirit or a freaky ancient curse!
One of my favorite eras for this type of stuff is the early 1970s, when there was a massive wave of ghost stories starring the Caped Crusader. By ‘ghost stories’, I don’t necessarily mean just stories that featured ghosts, but stories that sprung from the kind of eerie yarns you imagine could be told around a campfire… Many of these built up to somber punchlines worthy of Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival. Some were spooky, some were poetic, and some were ultimately revealed to be mystery tales with a perfectly logical explanation (for the standards of Batman comics, that is). In any case, due to the era’s visual house style and flair for purple narration, they tended to be atmospheric as hell (by which I mean something in the wavelength of a charmingly bizarre B-movie like Roger Corman’s The Undead, not the hyper-stylized mindfuck of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon).
This time around, I’m not going to discuss each comic in detail, since they rely mostly on the aforementioned mood and plot twists. Suffice it to say that these stories were crafted by some of best Batman writers and artists ever and that you could do a lot worse than to track them down…
‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’ (Detective Comics #395)
Mostly known as the first Batman issue done by the amazing team of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, this comic doesn’t involve ghosts per se, but there’s still a stark gothic vibe as the Dark Knight is attacked by giant wolves, monstrous hallucinations, deadly falcons, and the possibility of immortality!
‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ (Detective Comics #404)
During his brief stint as a film producer, Bruce Wayne travels to Spain to oversee “The Hammer of Hell” – an anti-war movie project based on the life (and apparently haunted by the ghost) of WWI pilot Baron Hans von Hammer, better known as Enemy Ace.
‘The Demon of Gothos Mansion!’ (Batman #227)
While looking for Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, Daphne (in a very rare appearance), the Dark Knight stumbles upon a coven dedicated to raising the spirit of the demon Ballk. Hijinks ensue.
‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ (The Brave and the Bold #92)
Another one from Bruce’s time as producer. He is now in London, working on a movie about a strangler from the turn of the century. The main actress is kidnapped by the titular killer, as everyone involved in the film seems to travel back in time. Batman then tries to solve the mystery by teaming up with a trio of British amateur detectives (in a blatant attempt by writer Bob Haney to do a backdoor pilot) and there is a neat sequence where he gets trapped under a Nazi bomb. To be fair, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and it relies on a few outrageous coincidences, but I couldn’t resist including this cover!
‘Legacy of Hate!’ (Detective Comics #412)
Bruce and a set of far-removed relatives face a ghostly knight while spending a night in Waynemoor Castle, in Northern England, the ancient seat of the original Wayne family. As is typical of Frank Robbins’ scripts, the twists keep coming until the end.
‘Asylum of the Futurians!’ (Batman #229)
In this weird comic from the prolific mind of Robert Kanigher, Batman may not face anything remotely resembling what you see in that cover, but he sure does have one trippy adventure. At one point, he is crowned leader of a cult of fanatics who believe they have psychic powers and are destined to take over the world!
‘Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow!’ (Detective Comics #413)
This one comes with a timeless social message about bashing hippies.
‘Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse!’ (Detective Comics #414)
This one would be worth it for Denny O’Neil’s opening poem alone, but the rest is quite good as well, including a nice art job by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano.
‘Wail of the Ghost-Bride!’ (Batman #236)
Despite all of his supernatural encounters – and the fact that he is a friend of Superman! – Batman continues to refuse to believe in the occult, so he is baffled when the ghost of a long dead bride keeps pointing him in the direction of a macabre murder mystery.
‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ (The Brave and the Bold #104)
Not much of an actual horror tale, I know, but this team-up between the Caped Crusader and the spirit of the dead acrobat Boston Brand (aka Deadman) is nevertheless a compellingly tragic ghost story.
‘Death-Knell for a Traitor!’ (Batman #248)
A neat, Twilight Zone-ish tale about a Navy Intelligence officer tormented by an act of treason he committed in World War II.
‘Ghost Mountain Midnight!’ (Detective Comics #440)
Once again, Batman finds himself in a small town, confronting and seeking to disprove local superstitions, now in a story written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Sal Amendola. This time around, though, there are no hippies.
‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ (The Brave and the Bold #116)
Not only does this comic feature a team-up between Batman and the Spectre against a secret band of assassins who worship Kali, but Bob Haney and Jim Aparo also throw in a couple of nods to Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen. Irresistible.