Monday, November 6, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 9: May/June 1961


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

Batman #140

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

"The Charmed Life of Batman!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"The Eighth Wonder of Space"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

The Joker manages to escape from Gotham Penitentiary but runs into a construction zone, where it looks like he is killed in an explosion. That night, "The Ghost of the Joker!" appears on the roof of a building in Gotham City, telling Batman that he will haunt the Caped Crusader with his supernatural crimes! The ghost next appears at a movie theater that is playing Return of the Phantom, where he helps prevent the Dynamic Duo from foiling a robbery of the box office receipts.

The next day, the Joker's Ghost robs an amusement park called Ghost Town USA; after that, he robs a racetrack where the winning horse was named Poltergeist. Soon, the Joker's Ghost appears at a yacht race, where he rides a ship called The Flying Dutchman and robs the winning purse. Eventually, Batman discovers that the Joker is hiding out in a shack at a closed plant, where Batman and Robin discover that the fiend is very much alive and using phosphorescent paint to make him look like a ghost.

It's always good to see the Joker, but where is the rest of Batman's Rogue's Gallery? We're a year and a half into the 1960s, and where's the Penguin? Two-Face? The Riddler? Catwoman?

Batman and Robin appear on a TV show where the third guest is a man known as the Alchemist, who says that he has invented a potion to guarantee a charmed life. Batman agrees to try it. Four professional assassins watch the TV show and decide that they'll take turns trying to kill Batman to see if he is really charmed. The first assassin makes a fake phone call to Commissioner Gordon to say that the Joker was spotted at Planetarium Park, but when Batman shows up, the assassin uses dynamite to send a giant model of the planet Mars rolling downhill toward the Caped Crusader. Only the sudden fall of a large tree in the path of the rolling planet prevents our hero from being squashed.

The next day, Batman is inspecting a skyscraper under construction when another assassin uses a crane to knock him off the side of the building. Batman appears doomed until a girder suddenly buckles and causes a water tank to spill a huge amount of water that carries him to safety. Batman agrees with the Alchemist that the potion must have given him a charmed life, but, at a secluded meeting place, the Alchemist reveals himself to be Superman, who has been working with the Cheerful Knight to foil the assassins.

The third assassin is lurking nearby and sees that Superman is involved. When this scoundrel tries to kill Batman in an alley, he neutralizes Superman with a hunk of Kryptonite and drives an ambulance straight toward the Dynamic Duo. Batman manages to pulls down a fire escape ladder just in the nick of time to block the vehicle from crushing him. In the end, Superman tells Batman that the not-so-Dark Knight's quick thinking has always ensured "The Charmed Life of Batman!"

There's a lot going on in this story, and I did not expect to see Superman pop up! The way he manages to keep Batman from harm without being seen reminds me of the antics of J'onn J'onzz, who is always whirring about or blowing a big gust of hot air without being seen in order to make unexpected things happen. The GCD credits this to Moldoff, but it has a Sprang feel to the art, in my not terribly educated opinion.

While flying in the Bat-Plane, Batman and Robin are accidentally beamed onto an alien planet by aliens testing a new space-warp ray. While waiting for the machine to be fixed, Batman and Robin discover that they've turned into green-skinned aliens with antennae! Returning to Earth, they convince Commissioner Gordon and Batwoman that they are the real deal before heading to the yacht club to do battle with the Yellow Sweater Gang. Despite not being themselves and being a bit off, the Dynamic Duo use the power of a magnetic force that emanates from their antennae to capture two gang members.

Back at Stately Wayne Manor, they struggle with how to keep their identities secret, what with their green skin and antennae, not to mention how Bruce will keep a date with Kathy Kane tomorrow night. After conquering that hurdle, it's back to dealing with the Yellow Sweater Gang, who are up to no good. Trailing gang members to their hideout, Batman and Robin are immobilized in inner tubes and realize that they're changing back to human form. Only some quick thinking prevents Batman's secret identity from being revealed, and all is well when the gang is captured. Bruce and Dick look like themselves again and Bruce has a bouquet of roses to give to Kathy to apologize for his caddish behavior.

"The Eighth Wonder of Space" is completely nuts! The alien versions of Batman and Robin look hilarious, and the fact that Batman's biggest concern is how he'll deal with a date with Kathy cracked me up. I'm not sure what Kathy is dressed up as for the masquerade ball--she wears a tiara, a metal brassiere, and a corset! Best of all is her ire at Bruce for supposedly making fun of the alien Batman during his time of need. The Yellow Sweater Gang (a sad name, indeed, for a bunch of criminals) immediately immobilizes Batman and Robin by ramming inner tubes over them, thus pinning their arms to their sides! Now, why didn't the Joker ever think of that? This is a darn fun issue of Batman!-Jack

Peter-"The Ghost of the Joker" is loads of fun but I'm missing the Joker's point; why bother faking your own death and carrying on an elaborate ghost con? There's never any motive given nor any last panel "Aha! This is why the Joker painted himself with phosphorescent paint!" I guess we're just supposed to chalk it up to the guy being a looney tune.

"The Charmed Life of Batman" is an odd one; the script makes the Dark Knight look like a weak weenie, having to call Superman in because he's afraid someone is out to kill him. This is the guy who takes down the Joker, Penguin, and Riddler every fortnight. Now he's cowering before a tenth-tier baddie? I don't think so. The finale, "The Eighth Wonder of Space," is dismissible science fiction junk elevated to entertaining only by the awkward alien design (Bats looks like he's been on a six-month bender and the slightest punch to the gut will open him up) and the fact that a group of thugs would call themselves "The Yellow Sweater Gang." Do they want to get caught?!

Detective Comics #291

"The Creature from the Bat-Cave"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Second Martian Manhunter"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

"Roy Raymond's Betrayal!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

A loud rumble from the bowels of the Bat-Cave draws the attention of Batman and Robin. When the Dynamic Duo arrive at the epicenter of the hubbub, they discover a spaceship encased in the limestone. A door opens and out pops a giant, one-eyed, "Creature from the Bat-Cave!" Trying to apprehend the monster, the boys are briefly concussed and come to only to find the alien has found an exit.

While delivering their report to Commissioner Gordon, the boys are relieved to hear the creature has been sighted near a restaurant on Highway 14. Speeding to the site, they witness the giant destroy the restaurant and madly dig a deep hole. What could it be seeking? Spying one of those idle bulldozers that just happen to dot the landscape of Gotham, the Dark Knight hops aboard and attempts to run his new enemy over. Just in time, our hero spots the single eye glowing before a laser beam bursts from the orb and slices the dozer cleanly in half. 

On a hunch, the boys head back to the Cave and Batman examines the spacecraft more carefully. He dons headgear within the pod and a voice explains that the creature, known as a Rukk, is the pawn of a distant civilization living on the fifth planet from the sun. This race of beings play a strange treasure hunt game, shooting small pyramids out into space, which then bore into a planet's surface. There are four of these trinkets buried in the Gotham area and the creature will not rest until it's acquired every one of them. The voice guides Batman to a weapon that can destroy the Rukk if need be and a disk that will guide him to the pyramids. 

Our hero takes this info to big-brained scientist, Professor Heims (the only scientist in Gotham who isn't using his knowledge to rob banks), for guidance, but the egghead only wishes Bats good luck. Unfortunately, Heims's lab janitor isn't so good-hearted and, after he overhears the whole story, he heads to the home of gang boss Big Ed Bailey, who sees the creature as a way to unearth the Bat-cave, thus ending Batman's career and igniting a new Golden Age of Crime in Gotham! But Big Ed isn't very smart and he falls prey to the unlimited detective skills of Batman and Robin. Before being carted off to jail, Big Ed names the janitor as his source of intel and hypothesizes that the rat may be following the creature right this second.

The creature, meanwhile, has acquired the first three pyramids and is heading for the fourth, which resides beneath Gotham General Hospital. Bats gets there first, digs the pyramid out and, realizing it's best to just give the creature what it wants, lobs it to the Rukk and waves goodbye. Across town, the first janitor of crime follows the monster to a rural spot outside a barn, where the Rukk's spacecraft awaits. Batman and Robin have towed the ship there to avoid any awkward situations. The Rukk blasts off and Batman explains to Robin that the ship arrived on earth eons ago and now the creature is heading back to a planet that no longer exists. They both sigh and ponder the frailty of existence.

A highly entertaining and intricately-plotted fantasy, "The Creature from the Bat-Cave" is highly reminiscent of Predator... well, you know, minus the spinal cords and beheadings. There are a lot of outer space travelers guest-starring in the B&R adventures, and all of Gotham seems somewhat unconcerned about these visits. Since, outside of a couple of Joker yarns, we've barely seen the Rogues, I have to assume it was at some point in the mid-60s when the Gotham judicial system became somewhat lax. Professor Heims sure hits the nail with the hammer when he hypothesizes a whole lot of hypos he shouldn't know a dang thing about! Good on Batman for taking the laid back approach to the monster and its treasure hunt. Keep the death toll to a minimum and get the thing back into space.

John Jones can only watch in disbelief as the Martian Manhunter saves a building from a flaming meteorite! Wait... you say... how can that be? John Jones is the Martian Manhunter! I have to admit I was just as surprised as John, but the truth came out after only a dozen or so panels; "The Second Martian Manhunter" is millionaire playboy Dirk Giles, who's trying to impress his girlfriend, Hazel (were there ever gorgeous blondes named Hazel in real life?) by performing super-deeds. Turns out the meteorite is only a big piece of tinfoil dropped from a camouflaged plane (happens all the time in the DC Universe), but the stunt kicks off a dangerous series of events co-starring sadistic mob boss, Buggsy Baines. It's only through clever mind tricks that J'onn survives the day. Another limp script and mediocre art; can someone please tell me there's a light at the end of the tunnel?

Roy Raymond, TV Detective (whose show was long ago cancelled but can now be seen in reruns), runs afoul of yet another mob boss when he becomes involved in a nutty professor's inventions. The penultimate chapter in the TV Detective saga, "Roy Raymond's Betrayal" continues the downward trend of a series I once looked forward to reading more than the opening act. Sad.-Peter

Jack-The highlight for me of "The Creature from the Bat-Cave" was the moment when Batman and Robin tried to use the giant penny in the Batcave's trophy room to "kayo" the monster. It's about time that darn penny came in handy! The ending of the story is sad--the creature takes off in its spaceship, unaware that its planet no longer exists and that it will end up in a ship with no fuel, lost in space.

The J'onn J'onzz story was a bit better than usual, but J'onn should have used the existence of another Martian Manhunter to cement his secret identity as John Jones. It was pretty funny that the playboy thought dressing like the Manhunter would be a good way to woo his gal pal; at least J'onn was able to use the situation to convince crooks that he's not allergic to fire. I'm sorry to read that the Roy Raymond series is coming to an end, since it consistently features the best art in Batman or Detective. What will replace it?

Batman Annual #1

"How to Be the Batman!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #190, December 1952)

"The Strange Costumes of Batman!"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #165, November 1950)

"Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #164, October 1950)

"The Origin of the Bat-Cave!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #205, March 1954)

"Batman's Electronic Crime-File!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #229, March 1956)

"Thrilling Escapes of Batman and Robin!"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #221, July 1955)

"The Amazing Inventions of Batman"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #109, August 1957)

I remember, as a Marvel zombie-kid back in the early 70s, that the only times I'd spring for anything bearing the DC logo would be titles from the mystery line and just about anything bearing the 80-page or 100-page Giant banner. These Golden Age reprints were (and are) the equivalent of a Beatles' Greatest Hits. For the most part, the powers-that-be knew how to pick the best stories for the reprints. Here, for instance, in the very first Annual, we get a pretty good idea of what 1950s Batman was all about. Sharp art and... no robots! My favorite story of the issue would have to be "The Strange Costumes of Batman," wherein we learn two very important things: 1/ Bats always knew which suit he should put on before hitting the street to fight crime and he was always right about his choice!; and 2/ the most secretest of all Batman suits is the one Robin uses when his boss is incapacitated and doesn't want the thugs to know they're really fighting a kid. We know this suit is top secret because the chest emblem is a Robin! This issue makes me think a deep dive into the 1930s-1950s Batman is a natural.

Jack-This is a fun collection! There are seven stories in all, pulled from six issues of Detective and one issue of Batman, and the dates range from 1950 to 1957. Though all stories are signed by Bob Kane, the art is by a variety of artists; pencillers include Lew Schwartz, Dick Sprang, and Sheldon Moldoff, while inkers are Stan Kaye and Charles Paris. The story from 1950 has an art style that seems more like that of the Golden Age than the later stories, and I prefer the art in the earlier stories to that in the later ones. Schwartz, especially, draws in a way that reminds me of the interior illustrations in pulp magazines. One surprising thing is the lack of stories featuring the Rogue's Gallery; the closest we come is the King of Crime in "Thrilling Escapes of Batman and Robin!" from 1955. I'm beginning to wonder if the crazy villains were more a feature of the TV show than the comics.

Detective Comics #292

"The Colossus of Gotham City"
Story by Arnold Drake (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Man Who Unearthed Doom!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Ex-Convicts Club"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

While attempting to nab Gotham's 223rd most-wanted arch-criminal, "Rockets" Rogan (so named because he favors the use of bazookas in his heists), Batman is accidentally exposed to a "space gas" that elevates his height to 50 feet 100 feet really tall. Batman finds working with his partner, Robin, difficult (insert smart-ass line here), so he teams the Boy Wonder with Kathy Kane, a/k/a Batwoman, until he can figure out how to use this really tall body of his.

Luckily, the Dark Knight is able to carve himself out a temporary Bat-cave in a mountain outside of Gotham, and Robin engineers lunch for his boss at Gotham Stadium, where a really big burger and a tanker full of milk are the order of the day. Thankfully, Batman is able to mask the fact that Bruce Wayne isn't available for charity work (he enlists the aid of Superman and a makeup kit), and also puts the kibosh on an attempted giant unmasking (fearful that "some thug might pull a stunt like this," our hero disguises his face just before being gassed into a stupor!), before his stature is resumed as a modest six-foot-plus Gotham avenger.

The aliens and mob bosses are one thing, but "The Colossus of Gotham City" stretches the boundaries of eye-rolling. The stretchability of Batman's tights is astounding. Of course, we never do find out the height he eventually reaches, as it seems to change from panel to panel, depending on what he's holding, be it Robin, a freight train, or even a small plane. The other mystery is what Batman is gassed with, since when the event occurs, the resident kooky scientist comments that the vapors from the "upper atmosphere" still haven't been properly examined because, of course, you'd want potentially life-threatening space gas to be sitting in a beaker perched on the edge of a wacky professor's desk in an unrestricted area, and then the topic is dismissed. Bats simply returns to normal size with no evidence of stretched threads. I have it on good authority that when Julius Schwartz stormed into that meeting of DC bigwigs to argue his point that Batman should be more realistic and "darker," this was the issue Julie presented as proof that things had gotten out of hand. Don't quote me on that, though.

In "The Man Who Unearthed Doom," TV Detective Roy Raymond watches in awe and skepticism as long-dead wizard Nemhet rises from his tomb during an archaeological dig in Egypt. It doesn't take Roy long to unmask the sorcerer as a phony who's stumbled on a fortune in gems in the tomb and refuses to share his booty. The usual expensive props (including an amazing bead curtain that covers an entire mountainside!) are revealed, and Roy is the hero of the day. The very last Roy Raymond adventure is a return to clever cons and fun reveals, with the usual top-notch Moreira visuals. Incredibly enough, Roy had been a regular back-up feature in 'tec since 1949, with Ruben Moreira handling art chores the entire way. Despite the downturn in the script department, Roy Raymond remained a solid back-up, and he will be missed.

Detective John Jones (a/k/a the Manhunter from Mars) attends the first meeting of "The Ex-Convicts Club," a service provided to retired criminals who need a helping hand to return to society after serving hard time (two or three months in a DC Universe Jail). What could go wrong? Within days, two of the members of the club, The Trickster and The Human Squirrel, are both suspects in big-time heists. The evidence is damning, but John smells a rat (or a squirrel); how can he prove there are fake super-villains in town? If I ever derive enjoyment from a Martian Manhunter strip, it's usually due to the dopey villains (the Squirrel!) or the latest mob boss (this time out...Biff Benson!), and this one ticks both those boxes. It's still not a series I'd seek out to read, but at least John didn't dig a forty foot trench or use his blow power this time out. Just good old-fashioned fisticuffs.-Peter

Jack-As if the giant penny wasn't enough, now we get the Amazing Colossal Batman! This is one of the sillier Batman tales we've endured thus far. I thought Moreira's art looked rushed on the last Roy Raymond strip, as if they told him the jig was up and he had till midnight to finish the six pages. The J'onn J'onzz story was better than usual. Next month: Aquaman begins as a backup strip! That should be interesting.

Next Week...
Jack tells us how he feels about
Atlas Comics in
"The Man Who Couldn't Stand It!"

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