Batman, report cards and the folly of the triple-cross

Posted: April 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Leaving school that day, I knew I was in trouble.

To be honest, it was my own fault. I’d been blowing off a couple of classes, thanks to a combination of laziness and a growing sense of futility where me and math were concerned. Most of my other grades were fine, and in a couple of cases even better than average, and maybe that’s why I thought I might be getting away with something. But my parents had warned me that another failing grade at the end of six weeks — and the possibility of summer school if I wanted to get out of junior high — would bring down wrath the likes of which I had not yet seen. My folks were good, kind and encouraging people, and I was scared to death.

I turned a five-block walk into an hour-and-a-half long trek as I meandered up and down side streets, trying to form some sort of plan, some way to survive what was sure to be a nuclear winter that mild Spring day. This was harder than it sounds. Only a few years earlier, my neighborhood had been long acres of cotton fields in what was known as El Paso’s Lower Valley. A quick bike ride east would put me in the middle of what agriculture was left around there, but still within sight of a McDonald’s and the gang-controlled territory of Los Kennedy’s projects. It was that kind of neighborhood. But to the west, between my school and home, were just more suburban homes, a few ditches with concrete drainage pipes to hide in, and the parents of everyone I went to school with. I wasn’t the only one bringing home a stinker of a report card, and the psychic humidity of disappointment was thick in the streets.

Walk, walk, walk. Think, think, think. Only one of these things was getting me anywhere and it wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be. Between my frustration at the growing realization that I was in an inescapable trap of my own design and the arm-aching weight of the over-sized bass trombone case I dragged home every day, I was ready to give up. The surrender of the condemned washed over me just as I found myself in front of the neighborhood convenience store.

The C&L (actually a Good Time store at that point, but it used to be a C&L and that’s what everyone called it) was only a block and a half from the school, but my dedication to avoidance had put me on a six-block path to get there. Like someone facing the end of their time on death row, I decided to treat myself to a final morsel, something to savor when the ax fell.

The store gave me more aisles to shuffle up and down, another way to try to hold off the inevitable. I started in the back, where the preheated snacks and bottled sodas were and thought I’d yak. I was way too nervous to eat anything. The glass case at the counter had real metal ninja throwing stars and elaborately decorated pocket knives (it was the early 80s, and it was that kind of neighborhood), but I had less than two dollars on me. I was lucky to even have that much.

Desperate and running out of options, I decided to check the spinner rack, where the shrinking number of battered and only occasionally restocked comics floundered. I had already picked up an issue of Flash (my favorite) a couple of weeks before, and was ready to have another thin hope crushed.

At 13 years old, I was already taller than average, and maybe that’s why I got lucky. At the very top of the spinner rack, hidden by some ragged comics that would never find a home, I saw a big, gold banner peeking out. Taking it down, the comic was heavier than usual and had a cover obviously meant to impress. It definitely made an impression on me.


Detective Comics #526 was published in 1983 and is the 500th anniversary of Batman’s appearance in the title (as that brassy banner at the top trumpets), and at $1.50 it was more than twice the cost of an average comic. But the cover by Don Newton and Dick Giordano — Batman, Robin and Batgirl running toward the reader, surrounded by the white-on-red profiles of almost everyone in their rogue’s gallery — already had me hooked. Flipping through it and seeing more of Newton and Alfredo Alcala’s muscular but naturalistic work put me in the boat. This was something I could savor for a while, an Everlasting Gobstopper of a comic.

It was a good choice. In addition to the dynamic, gritty artwork by Newton and Alcala — all shadows and wonderfully expressive close-ups, punches that have enough force to make the reader’s teeth rattle —the script for “All My Enemies Against Me!” by Gerry Conway is nearly flawless. Conway takes what could have been a mess of a story, something that ties up loose ends, branches off in new directions and juggles a huge cast of diverse characters, and makes producing a solid and relentlessly paced script seem easy. On top of that, the story has at it’s heart Batman being both a crime fighter and a detective; a full embrace of circus-version Jason Todd into the Bat-family; and a classic, albeit doomed, Joker triple-cross. It is, without doubt, one of my favorite comics ever and definitely my favorite Batman story.


Before I knew any of that, though, I had to use the last of my money to buy it. I might have even used change from the take-a-penny dish. I gently placed Detective Comics #526 in a notebook, sandwiched that in between school books, and trudged the rest of the way home. My sister had arrived long before and helpfully stuck her report card to the fridge.

I went to my room and waited. My dad, who worked graveyard as a switchman with the Southern Pacific, was getting ready for the start of his day and Mom was probably already on her way home from the county clinic where she was an OB/GYN nurse. Pointedly, I left the issue of Detective in my book bag — like a salve kept in anticipation of the third-degree reaming I was sure to get, I was saving it.

I didn’t have to wait long, and as predicted, I was bawled out for what seemed like forever. Excuses, threats, disappointment, tears — it was all there, until my parents declared they were tired of looking at me and sent me to my room.

Sent me to Detective Comics #526.

Gerry Conway helped take me out of my self-inflicted misery, and Newton and Alcala put me in the heart of Gotham. Batman told me there was always a solution. Robin and Batgirl showed me that failing doesn’t mean you stop trying. The rogues gallery reminded me that crime — even a small, personal one — doesn’t pay.


I must have read that comic two or three times that night. I’ve read it dozens, maybe of hundreds of times since then.

I read it before I started writing this.

I’ll probably read it again when I’m done.

And Batman, in a celebration gilded in celebratory gold, will save the day one more time. The bad guys will be defeated once again. A young boy will learn a painful lesson, and start on a new path. And trouble will seem far, far away.


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2 Comments on “Batman, report cards and the folly of the triple-cross”

  1. 1 rob! said at 2:34 pm on April 10th, 2013:

    GREAT story Max; exactly the kind of thing my book Hey Kids, Comics! will feature, hopefully as entertainingly!

    I too remember seeing the gold imprint DC used for these anniversary books; it made them seem so…special!

  2. 2 Maxo Romero said at 8:18 am on April 11th, 2013:

    Aw, thanks, Rob! I can’t wait to see the finished book!

    I want to say I have a Superman anniversary book somewhere with the same gold leaf, but for some reason it just wasn’t as striking as it was on this issue of Detective. I wonder if that was the beginning of the foil/holgram/die-cut era?

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