Title: “The Spook’s Master Stroke!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Issue: #252, October 1973
Locations: Gotham City Police Headquarters, Gordons Office, Gotham’s New maximum security prison, Gotham Social Club, Potter’s Field Burial Ground for he unclaimed, Gotham Rooftops, Subway, Abandoned structure (The Spook’s secret lair)
For the ominous season of Samhain, DC resurrected the spirit of a villain created only months prior–The Spook–appearing in Detective Comics # 434 in April 1973.
Lots of fans often mistake the Spook for “Spectre”, a DC superhero with similar character traits. In fact, they’re both caped in green cloaks and their names are both synonyms for the word “Ghost”.
Anyway, I found The Spook to be an outstanding villain, shrewd and devious.
Let’s talk about the story now…
In the opening of this issue, Batman and Gordon review the profile of Val Kaliban (AKA The Spook). Gordon’s amzed over his cunning wits and baffled over the strange mysteries involved in the case, but Batman’s on top of things. The Spook’s a master escape artist, brilliant architect, and is even schooled in the field of hypnotism. Back in 1963, He was an architectural Draftsman and imprisioned for the murder of his Boss, an engineer involved in Gotham city development.
Batman theorizes that Kaliban’s Boss had caught him purloining blue prints for the new Gotham prison, which set him up in the “Escape Insurance” business for the underworld. His record states he was executed by the electric chair, yet ten lears later he returns to Gotham. He sells the secrets of absconding to Gotham’s criminals until Batman captures him in Detective comics #434.
His reputation as a skilled escape artist gave reason for him to acquire the nickname “The Spook”. Despite his crafty illusion skills, he holds no supernatural prowess, yet everyone believes him to be a ghost.
Suddenly, like a ghost, The Spook vanishes from Gotham’s new State Prison, and Gordon is notified via telephone while Batman is still present. Soon, Batman vows to psycho-analyze the Spook in order to find his weakness, and he also assures Gordon that they’re dealing with a man and not a supernatural being.
Meanwhile, The Spook wastes no time pandering his Escape Insurance to the ruffians of Gotham City, who were lounging at the downtown “Social Club.”
Batman’s initial plan is to start at the spook’s grave at Potter’s Field Burial Ground for the unclaimed.
Spade in hand, Batman disinters Kaliban’s coffin, finding a cloaked prop of the Spook. Then out of some ghostly oblivion, the Spook manifests, whacking Batman upside the head with the Spade. He buries him in a dirgeless interment, and frolics away in glee at disposing of Batman.
But wait, lurking in the deadly shadows of the spooky cemetery, the familiar silhouette of Alfred arrives to exhume Batman. It ends up being Jason Bard (Gotham Police officer), aided by a mini-lung device, and masquerading as Batman. Apparently the real Batman strategized this ruse in order to stalk a more laxed Spook and discover his actual lair.
Through a series of secret tunnels, Batman tracks him back to a dilapadated structure, the Spook’s refuge. Vicious guard dogs attack Batman. He disposes of them by clobbering them in the snout, their most sensitive area according to him.
In the huge structure, Batman discovers it to be a type of prison designed by the criminal architect. It even has an electric chair, which Batman unwittingly sits in to gain a perspective on how Kaliban escaped his execution. The Spook traps him in the chair and puts him under electric duress. He tells Batman he was able to escape the chair by hypnotizing an inmate, who looked similar to his shaved-head look, to take his place. Thinking he’s dead after the shock, The Spook unstraps him and Batman clouts him into submission. He reveals he survived the jolt of the chair by wearing a ceramic skull-cap.
Back at headquarters, Batman shows Gordon and another officer a set of blue prints he found. They’re designs for an inescapable prison, the product of Kaliban’s mammoth Ego.
Final Thoughts: I found this to be a clever story and I view The Spook as underrated villain. Very cunning with his knavery. A worthy opponent to the caped crusader, and surprisingly there’s not much info of him online. The crew did a sensational job of making a horror related story for october, without it being too contrived with halloween tropes.
Of note, there is another story in this issue, a Robin adventure, but due to the frailty of my copy, I skipped it.
Lastly, this issue was released the month following the legendary Joker revival issue #251, noted for being the reinnasaince of the character’s evil roots and the purging of his goofiness . In 2013, I reviewed that issue on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpfLzmoyqGQ