Monday, September 25, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 6: November/December 1960


The Caped Crusader in the 1960s
by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Detective Comics 285

"The Mystery of the Man-Beast"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Good-Luck Prophet"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Menace of the Martian Mandrills!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa

An incredible find has been found! A caveman, trapped in ice in suspended animation, has been recovered and brought back to the Gotham Museum, where it's put in a special, refrigerated room. But, as we know from similar, then-current, real-life cases fictionalized,  Dinosaurus! (1960, director: Irvin Yeaworth) and Reptilicus (1961, director: Sidney W. Pink), cooling units cannot be trusted! Before the very eyes of Batman, Robin, and a few ascotted professors, the "Man-Beast" thaws out and escapes onto the streets of Gotham.

Just then, gorgeous and athletically-endowed Kathy Kane hears a police bulletin about the kerfuffle and dons her Batwoman suit, hoping to lend a manicured hand to her compadres. Man-Beast climbs to the top of the Luxor Hotel and Batman and Robin follow in their Whirly-Bats, while Kathy heads for the hotel's kitchen to buy a roast chicken. Tossing their amazement at the random spectacle of a woman facing a big fight by seeking out sustenance to the side, the boys corner the caveman on the roof, but he evades capture. Kathy arrives with her roast chicken and offers it to Man-Beast, who thanks her with a muffled "R-ruh!" Bats gasses the beast and transports him back to the museum, where the prehistoric brute is locked in a giant cage.

No sooner do the boys make it back to the Batcave than they receive word that the Man-Beast has escaped, killing Professor Lacy in the process. But when Batman inspects the broken lock on the cage, something doesn't sit right with him. He heads to Lacy's private file cabinet and inspects the Professor's journal. Our hero runs across a note that the Prof suspected some of the relics in the museum had been replaced with identical forgeries! They head to a curio shop owned by a shady old man named Drager and, sure enough, find the real museum antiques! Drager enters with his requisite amount of henchmen and a battle royale ensues. But gun-toting hoods are no match for the multi-talented and specially trained Dynamic Duo and the thugs are rounded up quickly.

Just then, Batman and Robin get yet another police bulletin, reporting that the Man-Beast has been spotted at the Gotham Observatory. Racing there, they meet up with Batwoman, and the Terrific Trio enter the building to capture the super-caveman. For some reason, Professor Lacy's assistant, Harbin, is lurking in the shadows, and the caveman exits the building right past him, not laying a hand on the astonished egghead. Once outside, Kathy is threatened by a passing mountain lion, but Man-Beast comes to her rescue and caveman and cat tumble over a cliff to their deaths. 

Batman reveals that, for some time, he's known that Harbin has been selling the museum's antiques and replacing them with worthless lookalikes. Lacy discovered this dastardly deed and threatened to bring the thefts to light. Harbin killed the Prof and pinned it on the Man-Beast. Batman gives the murderer a right upper-cut and hauls his ass to Gotham Prison, where the killer will serve the maximum sentence of three months. Gotham justice served!

Why is it that whenever a prehistoric man is unsuspended from his animation, he's got super-powers? I'm not sure we ate as healthy back in the Cro-Magnon years or spent much time at the gym, and yet here's "Rr-Ragh-Hhh" (my affectionate nickname for the big galoot) climbing skyscrapers and tossing cars at the Caped Crusaders. The dialogue between Bats and his pre-pubescent partner, when Kathy heads for the cafeteria to scout for chicken tenders, is priceless. It seems that, even at the young age of 11, Dick Grayson has no understanding of women. Join the club, young feller.

There are so many threads running through Bill Finger's script and it all seems to be tied together nicely in the end. I just knew Harbin was no good; never trust a professor's assistant who wears an ascot. Ditto antique trader, Drager, who pulls a gun on Batman while wearing what appears to be a tuxedo. Gotham's bad guys might have been dumb but they were sharp-dressed men. Put a bat-a-rang to my head and I'd have to say "The Mystery of the Man-Beast" is my favorite Bats story of 1960.

A friend asks Roy Raymond, TV Detective, to look into Provo the Prophet, a seer who predicts only good fortune for his clients. Roy's buddy has built a small plane and Provo has predicted great success for the venture. Roy smells a rat and, sure enough, discovers the Prophet has a motive worth 250 thousand clams. The art continues to be great but the script for "The Good-Luck Prophet" is a clunker, built around a whole lot of coincidences and far-fetched events. The expository, where we get the full story, is a laugher.

A cargo ship with a trio of Martian Mandrills has crashed in New York and crooks have taken advantage of the "unintelligent creatures" by commanding them to rob banks and other cool stuff. Fortunately, we have a Martian Manhunter who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the Martian creatures. J'Onn J'Onzz saves the city from "The Menace of the Martian Mandrills!" and ponders a time when he will return to Mars. But that's after his work on Earth is finished. I've become used to the fact that the Martian Manhunter series throws out all aspects of reality and grabs at anything whimsical. The idea that a group of thugs could stumble on a spacecraft and figure out its components in a matter of hours just blends in with the kooky stuff we've seen in this strip since beginning this journey.-Peter


"Women are unpredictable, Robin... men can never tell what they'll do next!"

"Beaten by a woman, no less!"

Add to these gems the panel where Batwoman uses a powder puff to take the shine off her nose while the caveman chows down on roast chicken, and you have a classic 1960 Bat-tale. I liked the twist ending of the Roy Raymond story, where Roy explains that the bills are too small to have been in circulation in 1961. As for J'onn J'onzz, we knew that we'd run into some simians sooner or later while reading DC comics of this era--these seem to have one real power, and that's expelling hot air. Fitting for the Martian Manhunter series!

Batman 136

"The Case of the Crazy Crimes"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Town That Hated Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Challenge of the Joker"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

One night, while patrolling the back alleys of Gotham, the Dynamic Duo encounter a robot who warns them about a mysterious Mr. X right before Mr. X appears and blows the robot to smithereens with a ray gun. Mr. X escapes and Batman finds a clue: the S.S. Gotham City, a sightseeing boat docked at Pier 15 for repairs. At the boat, Batman and Robin battle strange sea creatures that multiply when a punch lands! Mr. X again appears out of nowhere and disintegrates the creatures with a shot from his ray gun.

More gorillas!
Batman and Robin hop aboard a pair of riderless horses that gallop by, only to be taken to a castle unfamiliar to the crime fighters. The castle is inhabited by gorillas, all serving a gorilla king; Mr. X stands next to the throne. After a brief sword fight, the whole thing is revealed to be a prank engineered by Bat-Mite, who chuckles and disappears, taking gorillas, castle, and Mr. X with him.

"The Case of the Crazy Crimes" sets up a new story structure for Bill Finger--build one outlandish event upon the next and then, at the end, have it all turn out to be a prank by Bat-Mite. I wonder if we'll see more stories like this? It's not bad, it just doesn't go anywhere.

Batman and Robin chase gangster Bert Collins to a former ghost town, where Mayor Cobb says he hasn't seen any strangers. Batman sees a clue and realizes the mayor is lying, which leads a mob of the townsfolk to go after the Dynamic Duo with fists and clubs. Things are not as they seem, since a giant, outdoor storage vat that should be filled with sulfur is empty. The townsfolk knock the good guys out and lower them into the empty vat, but a quick escape is made by shimmying up a couple of pipes.

Hawaiian readers, please weigh in!

The townsfolk reveal themselves to Collins to be Vordians, aliens from another solar system who are bent on world destruction. They have a powerful Grav-Ray that can't be replaced because ... oh, never mind. Batman tricks the aliens, who fly home in shame, and he and Robin march off with Collins in tow, leaving "The Town That Hated Batman" and heading for the Gotham City Jail.

Whew! That was a close one! Those Vordians sure are dumb. They can travel through endless space, build a dangerous Grav-Ray, masquerade as bumbling earthlings, and yet when Batman picks up Collins and tosses him at them they fall like bowling pins.  Bill Finger sure loved his aliens--even more than gorillas.

The Joker sits and fumes in his lair, watching Batman discuss the four elements--air, earth, fire, and water, and how modern, scientific policing methods have helped in the fight against crime. The next day, "The Challenge of the Joker" arrives on a sheet of paper at Commissioner Gordon's office. The Joker's first crime involves air, as he uses a gigantic vacuum cleaner to rob all of the airmail from an airplane. He also sucks Batman and Robin into the machine before reversing the air flow and sending them skyward.

Crime number two concerns earth, as the Joker causes an earthquake under an amusement park but is foiled from robbing the park's vault. Fire inspires the third crime, as the Joker flies overhead on a Joker-faced sky-sled and shoots fireballs at the Dynamic Duo, intending to keep them occupied while he commits crime number four. They manage to escape sooner than he expects, however, and they head to Gotham Bay, where he plans to execute his water crime by stealing a necklace from singer Jenny Linden. Not so fast! says Batman, who ends the Joker's crime wave by trapping the Clown Prince in a giant bottle that was on stage.

It's wonderful to see the Joker, even as drawn by Moldoff and Paris as a fairly non-threatening entity. Still, it's interesting to see that most (all?) of the villains in 1960 Bat-comics had one thing on their mind--robbery! There was very little killing, terror, or just plain havoc for the heck of it. They were good, old-fashioned capitalist villains, living in the Eisenhower era! I wonder if 1961 will show anything new.-Jack

It took a whopping twelve months for us to get to our first DC gorilla! This, in a decade dominated by DC gorillas. I didn't think much of "Crazy Crimes" (nor do I have a fondness for Bat-Mite, like my 60s-crazed partner, Jack), but I loved the splash (right) where Batman almost seems annoyed by his young partner's whining. "The Town That Hated Batman" is just uninspired, answering its own mystery by relying on the "these guys are aliens!" ploy we're subjected to at least twice a month. I wonder when the alien guest stars will start to dry up. The art on this one is just pedestrian, but that may be due to my being spoiled by Ruben Moreira's art. The backgrounds and detail in Moldoff's panels are non-existent. Imagine what Moreira might have done with a Batman story.

No surprise, the highlight of the issue is "The Challenge of the Joker," our first look in the 1960s at DC's greatest villain. As interested as I am in watching the exit of space aliens, I'm doubly interested in watching the progression of the Joker from the cheerful clown, who has no problem stealing the Riddler's gimmick of leaving clues for the boys, to the psychotic madman he became in the 1970s. Will that transformation begin in the 60s? 

Detective Comics 286

"The Doomed Batwoman"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris (?)

"The Legend That Came to Life"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Ruben Moreira

"His Majesty, John Jones"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Certa

Batman and Robin are called to action at the never-more-popular Gotham Museum. Another villain is searching for a prized antiquity that's gone missing. This time it's the super-powered Star-Man and he's looking for a belt deemed less than interesting by museum curators and sold to Carter's Curio Shop. After showing the Dynamic Duo a few feats of strength, Star-Man exits the museum and heads for Carter's.

Alas, the purple-caped villain discovers that the belt was bought by a stunningly good-looking and athletically built mystery woman just the day before. Batman and Robin arrive shortly thereafter and are witness to still more stunning acts of super-power before Star-Man gets away yet again.

Meanwhile, we learn that (holy coincidence, Batman!) Kathy Kane is the scrumptious babe who purchased the belt in Carter's and she's dressing for a date with Bruce Wayne. This belt would make such a good complementary piece to her wardrobe. She slaps the green belt on and feels a strange tingling vibration rip through her innards (no, it's not the three pick-me-ups she had at lunch). There's something odd about this belt!

That night, Kathy is dancing with Bruce when she is struck with a feeling of weakness and asks her date to drive her home. The next day, Kathy is to appear with Batman and Robin at a charity circus and she dons her Batwoman costume, throwing the belt on just for the heck of it. Kathy is suddenly reeling with energy and power. While searching for a really good western on TV, Star-Man comes across a telecast of the charity function and immediately recognizes the green belt Batwoman is wearing. He heads to the circus.

Batman and Robin are in the middle of their death-defying, double-looped motorcycle jump when Star-Man appears and moves their landing ramp. Only quick-trigger reflexes on the Caped Crusader's part save the Duo from dismemberment. Star-Man discovers that, as Batwoman comes closer to him, he loses his super-strength. As he's escaping (yet again), he realizes his powers are returning and swears he'll rip that belt right off Batwoman's slim but athletic midsection at a later date. At this point, Kathy begins weakening again and Batman hypothesizes that her belt neutralized Star-Man's strength but that the extra strength she soaked up will eventually kill her (or something like that).

Trying to piece together as much info as he can, Batman visits Malcolm Frazier, the explorer who discovered the belt, and is told the belt is actually composed of three parts. According to Frazier, the third part resides with a "buckle manufacturer" and ancient legend has it that when the three parts are put together, the bearer receives immortality. No wonder Star-Man wants this belt so badly! The boys race to the buckle manufacturing plant but are once again overpowered by their new nemesis, who ties them to a buckle stamper while he takes the star from his helmet and pieces it together with the ancient buckle. On cue, Batwoman arrives and neutralizes Star-Man's powers. Unfortunately, it's vice versa and Kathy is frozen in mid-stride. Fortunately, the boys manage to slip their bindings and save the day. Star-Man is taken to the state pen and Batman vows the three pieces of the belt will be destroyed.

"The Doomed Batwoman" is nicely illustrated fluff that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. If you're an archaeologist (or whatever Malcolm Frazier would call himself) and you've heard this belt comes with awesome powers, why would you dismantle it and spread it across Gotham? I mean, you at least wear the darn thing a few times and rob some banks, right? This Star-Man should not be confused with the classic hero Star-Man who dates back to the 1940s and who appears with the Justice League (Society) now and then. Why would Kathy Kane shop for wardrobe accoutrements at a curio store? Wouldn't this belt come at a very high price? I'll give Bill Finger (or whoever wrote "The Doomed Batwoman") extra credit for actually thinking about a costume design for once. Yeah, he's called Star-Man and there's a big star scotch-taped to his forehead, but that's there so it won't drop out of his pocket while he's fighting. These Gotham one-and-done villains seem to be getting smarter.

Neither of the backups is strong this time out. I'm used to the Martian Manhunter being lightweight, but the scripts for Roy Raymond have become increasingly substandard. In "The Legend That Came to Life," Roy unwittingly unleashes a giant monster on a small jungle village but uses his cunning intelligence to make things right. My complaints about the strip do not extend to the striking visuals by Ruben Moreira, who continues to be the best artist working in any of these titles. His panels are detailed and beg the eye to linger for just a few seconds more. J'Onn J'Onnz is mistaken for royalty in "His Majesty, John Jones," which leads to all kinds of hilarious hijinx and quick costume changes. Reading these inane adventures makes me wonder how the character was rebooted and considered a serious character in decades to come.-Peter

Jack-I'm becoming fascinated with Batwoman, a character who is appearing more and more as we read into the 1960s. As best I can piece it together, she dates Bruce Wayne but doesn't know he's Batman, while he is aware of her secret identity. Does she know that he knows? I agree that "The Doomed Batwoman" is a crazy story, one where the rescue at the end hinges on Batman's ability to catch a falling shard of glass with his feet. Pretty long odds if you ask me. The Roy Raymond story is a stinker and, while I usually like Moreira's art, I don't think he draws the giant very well. He's better at depicting people standing around smoking and chatting--just the opposite of the Batman artists. The J'Onn J'Onnz story has a ridiculous premise but the Martian Manhunter does get to face a fun set of perils.

Next Week...
Get ready for...
Atlas Era Frazetta!


Grant said...

Along with rattlesnakes, it seems like mountain lions are a kind of "go-to" dangerous animal in American adventure stories, though it's strange to hear about one fighting with a caveman. Or is it meant to be a counterpart of a saber-toothed cat, which the caveman would've known? Is there a line about that in the story?

Jack Seabrook said...

The caption says that the mountain lion is a descendant of the saber-toothed tiger that the caveman fought in days of yore. I think "descendant" is used metaphorically here.

Grant said...

Thank you.

Todd Mason said...

Batgril's mask, I note at this late date, seems inutile.

Jack Seabrook said...

Those points sure reach high above her head! It's like Batman's cape in some of the '80s comics--way too long for him not to trip over.