Monday, November 20, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 10: July/ August 1961


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

Detective Comics #293

"Prisoners of the Dark World"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Sensational Sea Scoops"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Nick Cardy

"The Girl-Hero Contest"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

A small ferry glides across the waters of Gotham Bay, heading for the city. On board are eight individuals: the hard-working captain and his equally hard-working bosun; shy and unassuming Nancy Wicks (who contemplates suicide because no man will pay attention to her); ex-pugilist Tiger Wilson (yes, that's his birth name, and he's contemplating suicide as well, since boxing is all he knows); rich and selfish C. C. Cayle (who couldn't give a rat's ass about what other people say about him); mobster Eddie Stark (who's heading to mob-infested Gotham, where prison sentences are the lowest in the nation); and Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (who have eyes on the well-disguised Stark). Eight individuals who will be catapulted into a nightmare they will not soon forget. Well, nine, actually, if you count me.

Maybe Wertham was right?
Out of nowhere, a tumultuous electrical storm envelops the vessel and, when the seas have calmed, the occupants of the boat realize they're not in Gotham anymore. All around them are huge, alien landscapes. The castaways realize this will be more than just a three-hour tour, so they go ashore. When there's a bit of a kerfuffle involving Eddie Stark and his heater, Bruce and Dick jump into their unis and remind the hood who's boss. Vowing he'll never go back to jail, Stark runs off into the jungle. Almost immediately, the remaining seven are set upon by grotesque mockeries of nature, giant pink creatures with no opposable thumbs, eerily reminiscent of just about every alien creature Batman has fought in the last 19 months. The natives can communicate telepathically and very quickly take our heroes and their new friends captive.

They are taken to a great YELLOW city called Ylla (get it?), where they are brought before the Ylln chief, who promises that the "Prisoners of the Dark World" will be held in a cell until he can figure out what to do with them. Suddenly, they hear a great racket, and they all race outside to witness a horrifying sight... the lizard-like, armor-shelled Gruggs are attacking the palace. The Chief explains that these Gruggs live only to destroy Ylla, but at least he's invented a gizmo called a Tele-Dome, which grants the user the power to control minds. With this weapon, Ylla will be safe.

On that note, Eddie Stark rematerializes, grabs the Tele-Dome, and runs off, intent on returning to our dimension (?) and ruling the world (or maybe just robbing a few textile mills). Extracting a promise from the chief that, if he and Robin can nab Stark and retrieve the secret weapon, they'll be set free, Batman heads out after the villainous thug. Meanwhile, Eddie has mastered the alien contraption in just a few minutes (even the foreign language written on the controls) and orders the lizards to capture Batman and tie him to a post while he hoofs it to the dimensional storm. Robin arrives just in time to free his boss and they, yet again, head out after Stark. While heading back to Ylla, Batman stumbles across some huge pods that, when broken open, cause riotous sneezing. Voila... another secret weapon!

The Gruggs prove to be clumsy sneezers and bump into Stark, who drops the Tele-Dome and receives a right hook from the Caped Crusader. With his weapon returned, the Chief grants Batman and the rest of the outsiders passage back to Gotham. All involved in the journey seem to breathe wonderful new air: Mr. Cayle vows to give all his money to charity and live like a pauper; Nancy agrees to marry Tiger, even though he's already a pauper; and the captain smiles and exclaims that he can retire happy now that he's seen some excitement. Only Eddie Stark, who's facing two to three weeks' hard labor in Gotham Jail, returns a somber man.

It was all a matter of filling up panels, but even an eight-year-old (the target audience for "Prisoners of the Dark World") must have wondered how stupid the other passengers on that ferry were not to have noticed that the handsome rich guy and his boy toy disappeared and Batman and Robin seemed to materialize out of thin air! Equally silly is the fact that Eddie can work the Tele-Dome without having been given any instruction by the chief who, by the way, had just finished making the darn thing! Moldoff's alien designs run the gamut from one-eyed green squid things, to pink big-domes with no hands, and then back again. The action scenes are just about the stiffest I've seen; it looks like Moldoff used action figures as models. Makes you appreciate Frank Robbins.

I know it's asking a lot, but I would like to have seen more character development from Bill Finger (?). I'm sure Tiger Wilson refused to take a fall in that fight against Sugar Lump Leonard, and he's on the run from Eddie's boss, who's also looking for his mistress, Nancy Wicks, who's ready to turn state's evidence on her beau. It's all right there between the lines.

In his premiere adventure in the pages of Detective Comics, Aquaman becomes a newspaper reporter when his friend, ace journalist Ken Wall, is shot down by an "attack plane" piloted by the Phantom Sea Raider. Determined to get the news out until Ken comes out of his weeks-long coma, the sea hero reports on any goings-on and, with the help of Aqualad and his ocean friends, puts the seaweed cuffs on the Phantom. Like the Martian Manhunter, the Aquaman strip lacks anything resembling danger or intrigue. He's got octopi delivering copies of the Maritime News! At least the Nick Cardy art for "The Sensational Sea Scoops" is good, certainly better than that of Moldoff and Paris, so it's easy on the eyes even while being too easy on the brain. The Aquaman and Aqualad strip will only last seven issues and then it will be shuffled over to World's Finest.

"What is this fresh hell?" queries J'Onn J'Onzz, as he must bear witness to two young hellcats, Detectives Sally Winters and Diane Meade, vie for Sexiest Cop on the Beat the Gold Medal for Bravery, an award selected by JJ's alter ego, John Jones. The friendly rivalry soon turns deadly when Sally traps Diane and some orphans in a burning building and then becomes a target for the blaze herself. Luckily, J'Onn remembers that the local mattress factory is nearby, and he builds the softest stairway ever created. Everyone is saved and, in a rare moment of levity, Diane and Sally tie for the Most Selfish Big-Busted Cop Medal for Bravery Award. "The Girl-Hero Contest" is more twaddle from a DC Comics stuck in a rut, with the CCA preventing any real danger to intrude on the pre-teen proceedings. The highlight is Sally blocking an elevator, so Diane won't take any credit for saving some kids from a horrible death, only to find that Diane has taken the fire escape up! Deliriously funny and a too-short break from the inanity of the script.-Peter

Jack-I liked the script for "Prisoners of the Dark World" and wished that it had better art. The opening, where each cast member is introduced and the ship runs into trouble, seemed like the setup for an Agatha Christie novel, until everyone suddenly popped into another dimension! There's enough story here to fill an entire issue. Art is not the problem with the Aquaman story, and I'm happy to see work by Nick Cardy, an artist I really like. The problem here is the script, and I can only take so many exclamations like "'Great Goldfish!'" Those are some intrepid policewomen in the J'Onn J'Onzz story; maybe the editor should change the last series in each issue of Detective to focus on them rather than the ever-spinning and hiding Martian Manhunter.

Batman #141

"The Crimes of the Clockmaster"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Race of Death"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Batwoman's Junior Partner"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

While tidying up the crime files in the Batcave, the Dynamic Duo are summoned to Police Headquarters by the Bat-Signal. They find a Crime Clock with a note explaining that, every 24 hours, the clock will reveal a clue to a crime about to be committed by the Clockmaster! Several hours later, the Crime Clock chimes, and a model of a building emerges. Batman catches on right away, and they drive to Davy Jones' Locker, a night club atop an edifice. Two crooks are robbing the swells, but when Batman and Robin make the scene, the bad guys leap out of a window and onto a giant golf club that swings them over to a waiting helicopter. Batman and Robin catch up to them and subdue them before they can leave. In his lair, the Clockmaster tells a hood that things will go better with his next crime.

The next night, when the Crime Clock chimes, it reveals a skull and a block with the Letters T and P on it. Batman quickly deduces that "skull" + "PT" = "sculpt," so it's off to the National Sculpting Exhibit, where Batman and Robin catch two more robbers who are trying to escape by boat. In his lair, the Clockmaster is nonplussed. One more day passes and, that night, the Crime Clock reveals an oven. Robin figures that the clue points to the Gotham Baking Co., and Batman replies, "'I guess so,'" which is hardly a ringing endorsement. The Clockmaster is actually at the Gems in the News exhibit, waiting for sleeping gas to be released so he can pilfer the valuable gems. On his own, Robin apprehends two baddies at the Gotham Baking Co., while Batman surprises the Clockmaster by turning up at the gem show and ruining his evil plan.

What happened? Batman figured out that the clue could have two meanings--he read the stove to mean "Hot Rocks" and rushed to the gem show. The Clockmaster denies intending to give himself away, but, back in the Batcave, the Boy Wonder queries whether the crook "'unconsciously gave himself away,'" to which the Caped Crusader replies, "'Who can tell? A twisted criminal mind like his is capable of anything!'"

I got a big kick out of "The Crimes of the Clockmaster," which features a villain who is more than just another thug out to rob a bank. He resembles the Kingpin, who would later bedevil Spider-Man; the Clockmaster has a head like an egg, completely bald, and wears no uniform, but he does have a tie with a clock in it. The giant, swinging golf club that the first set of crooks use in their attempt to escape is part of an ad and makes me wonder just how many oversized objects littered the streets and buildings of Gotham City in the early '60s. This is a rare Batman story by Jerry Coleman, who usually wrote for Superman.

It's time for Gotham City's Seth Baylor Cross-Country Race, commemorating the man who delivered a message long ago to save Gotham Fort from the Indians! Batman and Robin enter the race because they learned of a murder plot. The first part of the race is on horseback and, when a rattlesnake threatens one rider's horse, the Dynamic Duo intervene to save the rider from being carried over a cliff. Next comes a treacherous climb up a rocky cliff, and this time the Duo barely avoid being crushed in a rock slide.

How will "The Race of Death" end? An archery exhibition nearly goes awry, but for quick thinking by Batman, and it's followed by a canoe race down a raging river. Two men are dumped into the rapids when their vessel capsizes, and Batman and Robin must work together to save one man from going over the falls. His partner manages to swim to safety. Batman notices that his footprints have unusual depth and deduces that he's guilty of attempted murder. He put weights in his shoes so that he'd sink to the bottom, where he had a rope ready to pull himself to safety. Whew!

I'm afraid this one is a dud. The motive for the attempted murder is explained quickly in a panel on the final page, where the intended victim tells the unsuccessful murderer that he forced the near-victim to falsify his books, in order to swindle his own corporation. He wanted to get rid of his accountant to eliminate a witness. The story is an excuse to depict various near-death experiences, but none is very exciting, and all are avoided with relative ease.

Batman and Robin discover the Moth trying to rob the payroll from the Gotham Chemical Plant and get unexpected aid from Batwoman and Bat-Girl, who happened to be in the neighborhood. Bat-Girl subdues the Moth with a judo flip and gives a blushing Boy Wonder a peck on the cheek. Bat-Girl's reappearance captures the attention of the news media, and kids form Robin and Bat-Girl fan clubs. Days later, the Moth breaks out of prison, and Batman, Robin, and Batwoman agree that she must be protected from the vengeance of the Moth.

Bat-Girl misinterprets this protective instinct for jealousy on Robin's part. Batman figures out that the Moth must be hiding out at the Gotham Science Exposition and, to keep Bat-Girl out of harm's way, Robin squires her to a dance being held by their new fan clubs. Batman and Batwoman confront the Moth at the exposition and are overcome by knockout gas and tied to a satellite that is loaded with explosives--when a timer goes off, they'll be blown right out of this world!

Of course, it's up to Robin and Bat-Girl to save the day, which they do. The Moth is captured and, this time, both members of the Dynamic Duo receive kisses from Bat-Girl and Batwoman! As Batwoman says, "'Perhaps Bat-Girl's direct approach is the best way for a gal to get her guy!"

Assuming this is Earth-Two Batman, Batwoman's approach worked, because they later got married. This story is exactly what I want from our journey with Batman through the '60s! A crazy, costumed villain who traps Batman in a device certain to cause his death! Goofy hijinks with Batwoman and Bat-Girl! A blushing Boy Wonder! It's a lot of fun and I hope Bat-Girl returns before Bat-Mite.-Jack

I liked the trick ending of "The Crimes of the Clockmaster" but didn't necessarily understand the guy's plan. This Clock-Villain should not be mistaken for the Clock-King, who went on to much fame but not much fortune in the '66 series. In "The Race of Death," the Commish almost seems to be breaking the fourth wall when he explains to us why Batman and Robin have entered the competition. Mitchell Long is the spitting image of Eddie Stark from "Prisoners of the Dark World." Lyons's last minute exclamation that Warner forced him to cook the company's books is a howler. I would definitely enter a dangerous, life-threatening competition with the guy who'd profit from my death. The best is saved for last. "Batwoman's Junior Partner" is nine pages of dopey romance and sloppy action scenes, but it certainly tickled my funny bone. I love the Moth's simplistic yet stylish outfit. Hard to believe the same Batman who's blushing in that final panel will sleep with Talia in the next decade.

Detective Comics #294

"The Villain of 100 Elements"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"The Fantastic Fish That Defeated Aquaman"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Nick Cardy

"The Martian Weakling"
Story by Arnold Drake (?)
Art by Joe Certa

While working on a contraption that can "alter the molecular structure of elements," Professor Higgins discovers there's been a leak in the machine and his assistant, John Dolan, has been zapped with elemental, structure-altering wavelengths. Dolan has become an Elemental Man! Quickly (as in one-panel quick), the egghead creates a belt that enables Dolan to control the ever-changing particles of the assistant's dangerous new body. Since the gizmo was never created to expose humans to its energy, the exposure has caused Dolan's brain to turn criminal, so he clocks his boss on the head with a beaker and heads out into the world to find some henchmen.

Batman and Robin arrive at the Professor's lab and receive the skinny on the new, tenth-tier, one-time-only Gotham villain before heading out into the wild to track him down. Meanwhile, Dolan has indeed found the right guys (ad in the paper? hung out in front of Gotham jail? who knows?) to create an unbeatable criminal force. Rather than, say, take over the U.N. and force nations to bow before his unstoppable might, the Elemental Man decides to take baby steps and rob a local beauty contest. EM transforms the (very small) swimming pool into a gaseous (but not fatal) distraction while the henchmen nab the loot. That's when the Dynamic Duo arrive!

Unfortunately, EM turns into iron and clobbers Batman, escaping (ostensibly without the cash) in the process. Batman sighs and tells Robin this might just be the "most dangerous, most bizarre villain we've ever fought," forgetting all the outer space creatures who've landed in Gotham lately. With the help of Professor Higgins, the boys lay a trap for EM, with the big brain creating out of thin air a new machine that will sap EM of his power. Alas, the plan does not go as hoped, when the tin can explodes and zaps Batman with a "mild dose" of the same rays that created the Elemental Man! Bats immediately turns copper. Knowing that the Dark Knight's brain could go criminal at any moment, Commissioner Gordon has no choice but to snap the cuffs on our red hero and take him off to Gotham Jail.

But no cell can hold a man who can transform into mercury and, before you know it, Bats is out on the street searching for EM. But there's a twist... our hero is looking to join Elemental in a life of crime. Why compete against each other, when two bodies of rock-hard iron are better than one? The two meet up in an art gallery, where EM is getting ready to fill his van with Warhols and Eisners, and Bats offers up his services. After all, he's the protector of Gotham, so he knows where all the good stuff is hidden. EM agrees, just moments before Robin arrives to take down his old boss. The kid goes down with one well-placed right hook, and Bats and EM escape to the roof. While Bats gives EM a hand onto the roof, Professor Higgins throws a switch on his rebuilt Power Drain Espresso Machine and the particle-changing powers are lifted from both Dolan and the Caped Crusader. Dolan returns to his life as an assistant and Professor Higgins ponders what city-destroying invention he should create next.

"The Villain of 100 Elements" is sheer energetic lunacy; almost the equivalent of six cups of coffee downed one after the other. I love how Prof. Higgins is working on a very dangerous experiment in his home, right in the heart of Gotham. The egghead keeps creating new appliances that just miss the mark on what they're supposed to do (well, except for Dolan's utility belt, which the nutty professor creates in just under three minutes from pieces pulled off of old inventions); by the climax, I'm shouting at Batman not to trust the latest Drain Machine Higgins is offering up. Bats is lucky his and Dolan's brains weren't switched ("Hey!" says Bill Finger, "Let's save that idea for the next issue!"). 

Aquaman and Aqualad are startled to see their old enemy, Harry Black, commanding an army of alien sea creatures. Black uses the beasts to pirate cargo ships, but Aquaman is too smart for him and, in the end, puts the kibosh on Black's faux fish. Was I the only one who knew that "The Fantastic Fish That Defeated Aquaman" were really robots? I mean, anyone looking at them (except for those who were in the strip) could tell these things were giant tin cans. The Aquaboys note that they've tackled Harry before, but the GCD insists that this is his intro (and, doubtless, outro as well).

The Martian Manhunter chases a trio of crooks into a cave during a raging storm. A loud clap of thunder and the quartet are traveling into another dimension. When they land, they discover that the trio have super powers, and J'Onn J'Onzz can barely stand on his own two feet. Suddenly, from out of the jungle, comes a roaring, rhino monster. Can "The Martian Weakling" recover his powers in time to rescue the thieves and himself from a fate worse than death? What do you think? The art seems to be getting steadily worse, but it's not like Ruben Moreira could save inane scripts like this. These poor DC characters run the risk of teleporting into other worlds/dimensions every time they step outdoors.-Peter

Jack-I liked the last bit of "The Villain of 100 Elements," where the stooges are so enraptured by the events unfolding before their eyes that they "'forgot to scram'" and are easily caught! The Aquaman story is over in the blink of an eye, but I'm not sure how many more exclamations of "Suffering sardines!" and "Jumping jellyfish!" I can take. At least we get some decent panels in the J'onn J'onzz story, depicting the trip back and forth between dimensions.

Next Week...
Our 100th Issue!

No comments: