Monday, October 9, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 7: January/ February 1961


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

Detective Comics #287

"The Raven and the Wasp"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Wizard King"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Ruben Moreira

"J'Onn J'Onzz's Kid Brother"
Story by Dave Wood (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Batman and Robin are summoned by Commissioner Gordon when five convicts escape from Gotham State Prison. The boys very easily round up three of the prisoners but the two most dangerous, Joe Parker and Willie Blaine, remain at large. The next day, while patrolling, the Dynamic Duo stumble across what Batman deems "another bizarre character with a fantastic weapon."

Dubbing himself "The Raven," the costumed clown steals a motor piston from a Gotham freight yard and eludes capture by wielding a ray-gun that "slices steel like butter!" The boys head back to Gordon's office to deliver their report and an officer barges in to deliver the news that a costumed villain has been spotted at Gotham Tool Works. Without hesitation, Batman and Robin head for the building, expecting to find The Raven.

They are both shocked to be faced with yet another bizarre, masked character with a fantastic weapon, this one owning the title, The Wasp, who is at the plant to steal a gear. Batman notices that this bad guy has the same goggles that The Raven was wearing, so he assumes Gotham's latest tenth-tier criminals must be working together. But... not so fast, Caped Crusader! After a brief tussle with the Wasp, our heroes are horrified by the sudden entrance of the Raven. Rather than aim his cosmo-ray at the Duo, he takes a shot at his competition and steals the gear from the Wasp's hands. Batman takes advantage of the confusion by delivering a stunning right cross to the chin of the Wasp and then unmasking him, revealing the unconscious kisser of Willie Blaine. Using the deductive powers inherent only in the brain of the world's greatest detective, Batman swears the Raven is Joe Parker!

The boys take Blaine back to the clink and stop by the Bat-Pad for Bat-Hound. Batman will disguise himself as the Wasp and retrace Blaine's footsteps in order to find Parker, but what they find is something else entirely. For the 40th time in thirteen months, it seems that Gotham has been invaded by outer spacemen... a huge spaceship sits in the woods! Batman approaches and a creepy yellow bat-eared alien named Jhorl exits the craft, speaking to the Wasp as if it's Blaine. He impatiently relates how all of the bizarre events relate to one another: the alien, searching for a fallen meteor that has special powers and has been mistakenly mined as ore and split into three pieces, broke the five felons out of prison to do his shopping for him. Got that?

Jhorl soon learns that one of his rivals, an alien named Kzan, has arrived on Earth searching for the same three pieces of meteor. Jhorl reveals to Bat-Wasp that the three pieces joined together form a weapon that can control the minds of any population on any planet in the galaxy. This is some heavy-duty stuff. Batman, as usual, is smarter than his adversaries and uses a "hypnotic machine" to send Jhorl and Kzan packing, never to return. Remarking that the machine is something that man was never meant to own, Batman dumps it in the river where, doubtless, some fish-garbed gangster is hiding out, biding his time until...

"The Raven and the Wasp" is a campy fun but Bill Finger (or whoever) overcomplicates things at the climax and it all becomes confusing. I'm not sure why Jhorl finds it necessary to trust five untrustworthy individuals with the job of stealing the most important computer parts in the solar system. The guy can make his spaceship disappear; he can't lift a few car parts? Obviously other planets in our solar system are paying close attention to Gotham City; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we learn later that some Plutonian travel advisor is offering half-price vacations and not checking passports. My favorite exclamation from the run-down and exhausted Batman is his sigh on the cover: "Great Scott! Another bizarre character with a fantastic weapon!" Runner-up would be when Bats tells Robin to check out the special goggles on the Raven and in the next panel it looks like the dope is wearing Marty Feldman eyes.

Mayhem ensues when Roy Raymond, TV Detective (who never actually appears on TV anymore), is called to "an ancient Asian palace" where he's asked to locate a missing prince. An "audition" is held at the palace for anyone claiming to be the prince and Roy is the judge. Poor Karen has become nothing more than set decoration, uttering a random "This could be trouble, Roy!" or "I'm going to need my make-up bag!" just to remind us she's there. She's still very good-looking for a comic book character, thanks to Ruben Moreira, who continues to contribute solid work. The splash is a keeper. Not only do we get great art with "The Wizard King," but we also get a decent script this time 'round, a rarity in the 'tec back-ups. The hoaxes that Roy uncovers while judging his contest are a hoot (including a "camouflaged plane," the engine of which has been shut off to avoid noise) and elicited smiles from this old, grizzled vet.

While he's working on the robot-brain computer that may enable him to return to Mars, J'Onn J'Onzz sighs and reminisces about life back home, including memories of his kid brother. Coincidentally, as he flips the switch to test the machine, his little brother, T'Omm, materializes! Yes, it is the T'Omm J'Onzz! J'Onn is, at first, dismayed by his sibling's appearance but, later, when T'Omm helps him nab hardened felon Biff Conklin, his outlook changes a bit. Still, they both know that T'Omm has to return to Mars eventually... and so he does. Last issue, the Martian Manhunter reminded us that he is needed badly on Earth thanks to the skyrocketing crime rate, but in "JJ's Kid Brother," he's tuning up the ol' Brain-Scan-Whatchamajig and packing a suitcase to head on home. Make up your mind, Martian! If my name were Biff Conklin, I'd be mad at the world too.-Peter

a/k/a T'Omm J'Onzz
Jack-A below average issue of Detective opens with a weak Batman story. The Raven's costume is sillier than most and the Wasp's costume isn't much better. At least we get a visit from Bat-Hound. The Electric Gun reminds me of my iPhone--it can do amazing things but needs daily charging. Ruben Moreira puts his all into the art on another mediocre Roy Raymond script; it's too bad he's not doing something more interesting. Roy has to use his fists to get out of a jam this time! Finally, the paradox of why no one realizes J'Onn J'Onzz is John Jones gets weirder--a crook refers to him as "J'Onzz," so his Martian moniker must be well known. Everyone is sure the Martian and the detective are one and the same until T'Omm fools them by showing up in the distance while his brother is in his Earthman guise. What the writer left out was the return of T'Omm a few years later in Earthman guise as a hit singer from Britain.

Batman #137

"Robin's New Boss"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Bandit With 1,000 Brands"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"Teacher from the Stars"
Story by Bill Finger 
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

There's a new crime fighter in town and his name is Mr. Marvel! Wearing a purple hood, purple tights, and a purple cape, and displaying a big letter M on his chest, the hero tells reporters that he's a scientist who's been working for years on inventions to fight crime. He doesn't use his fists, he plans to give any reward to charity, and he drives a flying car! Robin is so impressed that he packs a bag and leaves Batman to team up with Mr. Marvel--after all, says Robin, "'I've got my own career--my future--to think about!'"

The next day, Batman is distracted by thoughts of the Boy Wonder and makes a blunder while stopping a heist. What the Caped Crusader doesn't know is that Mr. Marvel convinced Robin to join him by threatening Batman's life! Soon, Mr. Marvel and Robin are the hot new crime fighting team in Gotham and Robin expresses delight at their success, until one day the Boy Wonder surprises his new partner by socking him in the jaw and removing the belt that holds the gadgets that were a threat to Batman's life.

Batman has been watching and quickly rejoins Robin. They make short work of a gang of crooks and then unmask "Robin's New Boss," who turns out to be an alien from outer space who wagered that he could break up the crime fighting duo. Having lost his bet that he could keep the new partnership going for ten days, the alien hangs his head in shame, beams back up to his ship, and takes off into space.

The plot is intriguing and the art is better than average, so I enjoyed "Robin's New Boss" right up until the revelation that the whole thing was due to an outer space visitor making a bet and Batman's life was never in danger. I'm not sure why Robin had to keep this a secret from his partner, though. Couldn't he have told Batman what was going on and then left to join Mr. Marvel?

A new villain who calls himself The Brand and looks like Vigilante challenges Batman to decipher clues to crimes that he will leave in the form of brands (like on the side of a cow). The first clue leads the Dynamic Duo to a Chinese junk, where The Brand steals a valuable jade figure and gets away. The next clue leads Batman to a giant chessboard that is being used for a televised chess match; The Brand throws a switch and giant chess pieces begin to attack the not so Dark Knight. Batman escapes but The Brand makes his getaway on a motorcycle, just like Vigilante.

Finally, Batman figures out from clues left at the scene of the last crime that The Brand is digging a tunnel into a subway in order to steal $100,000 from the Gotham Bank's vault. When Batman catches the villain, he admits that all of the brand clues were meant to distract Batman while The Brand dug his tunnel to steal the cash.

"The Bandit with 1,000 Brands" features a villain who looks like an old DC hero and is thus pretty cool visually, with his cowboy hat, bandana covering the bottom half of his face, and motorbike. Too bad his plan was all in service of yet another robbery and went nowhere.

One fine day, yet another spaceship descends and lands in the middle of Gotham City. From it emerges the "Teacher from the Stars" and three of his antennaed pupils. They are on a field trip and ask Batman to show them around town. The children get into mischief but Blish, their teacher, keeps saving the day. Eventually, a spanking is in order. Blish realizes that he journeyed to the wrong planet by mistake and they head home, leaving Batman and Robin a class picture as a memento.

Aliens, aliens, and more aliens. The last story in this issue is silly and even more childish than usual. I do like Blish's look, though, and wonder if his name was a nod to the SF author.-Jack

Peter-Holy cow! It was an alien? Never woulda guessed. Gone are the days when I'm surprised by what's underneath the mask. It's always an alien. In the 1950s, it was Alfred teaching Master Bruce or Master Dick a lesson. At some point, the outer space connection has to end, right? "The Bandit With 1,000 Brands" was the only appearance of The Brand, a villain who was guilty of larceny before he even committed his first heist. Lifting the Riddler's M.O. seems pretty lazy but at least he wasn't an alien. As for "Teacher from the Stars"... I've been having a blast with these lighter superhero adventures but this one is way too cutesy pie for even the new, less demanding me. The yearly circulation figures are in and it's good news: Batman, the title, racked up an impressive 502,000 copies sold monthly in 1960! Wow! I guess all the aliens are paying off.

Detective Comics #288

"The Menace of the Multiple Creature"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Girl with the Deadly Gaze"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Case of the Honest Swindler"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa

While vacationing at a "secluded island resort," Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne observe a dangerous electrical storm heading their way and head into their cabin for shelter. Unbeknownst to the pair, a bolt of lightning strikes a nearby creek contaminated by chemical waste. Ignoring all rules of evolution, a creature forms and begins shuffling toward the Wayne cottage.

Seeing the monster, our heroes suit up and head after the thing, eventually catching up to it in a clearing and using a handy steam shovel to ram it. Amazingly enough, the violence does no damage to the monster; in fact, it uses the attack as an excuse to show off, morphing into a completely different creature. Sensing real danger, Batman orders Robin to head into the island's town and warn its mayor of the impending visit. Batman then goes after the shapeshifter himself. The monster slowly climbs a hill to the estate of a retired movie star, now paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

Batman bursts into the star's mansion just as the creature (now taking the form of a giant lobster) enters the courtyard. The dashing actor tells Batman he has nothing to live for, with his handicap effectively ending his career, and he welcomes the monster's gaping jaws. The Caped Crusader rejects the man's steaming plate of "woe is me" and threatens to save him anyway but is dazed by a strong right cross from the Lobster-Monster. Suddenly, the actor regains his mojo and attacks the monster with a bow and arrow. The "Multiple Creature" transforms into a giant devil ray-bird thingie and flies away. Though the shapeshifter remains unharmed, it has unwittingly given Errol Flynn the movie star his self-respect back. 

Meanwhile, in town, Robin discovers that the mayor, police chief, secretary, treasurer, and barkeep are all tied up at a "political dinner" and the man left in charge is clerk Mr. Stamm, a "meek man who never did anything important in his entire life" (not my words!). Robin talks the wallflower into taking charge and doing whatever he can to stave off destruction. Exiting the building, the Boy Wonder observes a robbery taking place and the heisters escaping in a blimp. Shortly thereafter, the dirigible is attacked by the giant bird monster and the blimp crashes into a radio telescope, spilling its contents onto the giant structure. Batman arrives to aid in Robin's capture of the thieves and then the Duo turn their attention back to the monster at hand.

Back in town, Mr. Stamm is having a hard time forming a people's army out of a population who know Stamm only as the geek with the really big glasses and a huge DC comics collection. Batman arrives in time to lend his support and the mob collectively admits that if Bats likes the guy, he's gotta be okay. The Caped Crusader rigs a harpoon connected to a nearby dynamo and tosses it at the monster; Robin throws the switch and the Multi Creature is reduced to a pool of chemicals. 

There's a moral delivered in the end that even a shapeshifting killer monster can leave behind traces of good. As our epilogue reminds us, three individuals see their lives changed: the movie actor, who takes his new outlook on life to an extreme by opening a school for rising thespians, and Mr. Stamm, who sells his funny books and takes Ms. Todd, the stenographer, out to dinner with the proceeds. The third, the mastermind of the botched robbery, is changed, but he's not very happy about it.

The script for "The Menace of the Multiple Creature" gives Sheldon Moldoff a good excuse to invent some pretty effective giant creatures to throw Batman's way. I assume it's all influenced by the popularity of Toho's monster movies and the Lee/Kirby strips over in Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. I find it odd that Batman chose not to trace the chemicals back to the plant that dumped them; this sort of catastrophe is bound to happen again. If "The Menace of the Multiple Creatures" had been written a decade later by Don McGregor or Doug Moench, you know damn well some Dow Chemicals heads would (literally) roll.

The secretary of millionairess Janie Vance contacts Roy Raymond when she's afraid something bad has happened to her employer. Janie was vacationing on her private island in the Pacific when all contact was cut off. Roy and Karen travel to the island where they find an odd sight: statues of stone men line the beach. Could it be the work of Medusa? Only Roy has the smarts to solve this mythologically bizarre case. There's a heck of a lot of dopey exposition at the climax of "The Girl with the Deadly Gaze" and it's filled with the kind of dialogue that could sink a strip real quick, but the theme allows Ruben Moreira to draw some fabulous noir-ish art that all but extinguishes my criticisms.

J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, watches in amazement as one of his best friends, Larry Loder, claims he has a magical gizmo that can seek out treasure. Having been involved in a bankrupt firm, Larry is only doing what he can to get his shareholders their lost funds back. The Martian Manhunter knows Loder is one of the most honest men on Earth and must be under the influence of a strong con artist. To that end, J'Onn does his best to get to the bottom of the magical treasure seeker without hurting Larry's feelings. In the end "The Case of the Honest Swindler" comes down to the obligatory mobster using incredibly expensive props to make some extra dough. This Martian Manhunter series is the pits, truly awful stuff. All the characters look alike, but that's appropriate since the same plots keep happening over and over again. 

One of our favorite annual occurrences, the mailing certificate that lists circulation numbers, appears in this issue, notifying us that the title was selling in the neighborhood of 314,000 copies a month in 1960. Since this was the first time circs were a requirement, we have nothing to tell us what the numbers were in 1959, but the 'tec total is dwarfed by the amount of copies Batman was selling. It's all in the title.-Peter

Jack-That works out to over $375,000/year just for sales of Detective Comics! Not bad! That would be over $3.7 million bucks today. I'm waiting for the Martian Manhunter story where a trio of hat-wearing hoods decide to take over the DC Comics business, netting them untold riches. The Multiple Creature in the Batman story reminded me of the Heap, Swamp Thing, or Man-Thing--all creatures that rose from the ooze after some electrical current (or whatever) gave it a jolt. As for the Roy Raymond story, why don't these baddies who can generate incredibly lifelike statues and create flying, mechanical dinos ever get recruited by the good guys? They'd certainly have a lot to contribute to the fight against crime.

Next Week...
The very welcome return of
Angelo Torres to Atlas Horror!

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