Monday, January 8, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 13: January/ February 1962


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

Dillin (?) and Moldoff
Detective Comics #299

"Prey of the Alien Hunters"
Story Uncredited
Art by Jim Mooney

"Bodyguard for a Spy"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

"Aquaman's Secret Teacher"
Story Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy

While on patrol one night, Batman and Robin are zapped by a sparkly red ray and transported to a "weird, unknown world," where they encounter violent alien beings who attempt to hunt them down. None of the alien hunters are able to nab our heroes and, as they catch their breath, a strange orb in the sky explains that they are to be stalked by extraterrestrial hunters. If the Caped Crusaders can elude capture, they will be granted their freedom.

More attacks follow and the Dynamic Duo are even menaced by giant, dinosaur-like creatures. Luckily, the boys stumble upon a band of friendly natives, led by green-skinned Alta, who reveal their plan to overthrow the barbaric emperor Kaale; would the Earthlings like to help? Did you have to ask?

After some fierce battles, Batman and Robin conquer the three alien hunters and bring them to the emperor in his palace. When Kaale congratulates Batman and Robin on their feats, the Dark Knight gives him a quick right uppercut and Alta and his boys arrive to stage their coup. Batman and Robin smile and shake the hands of their new alien friends, never once wondering why they could breathe on the strange, distant planet.

Not one of the better weird fantasy tales of Batman, "Prey of the Alien Hunters" feels like a patchwork of lots of other stories (chief among them, of course, being "The Most Dangerous Game") and Mooney's art isn't as strong as it was last time out; his alien designs look patterned after those of Moldoff. The script wanders all over the place, like a really bad acid trip. Still, superheroes, dinosaurs, and aliens must have been the trifecta for an eight-year-old kid in 1961.

Detective John Jones is assigned as bodyguard for visiting Princess Cassandra, but a jealous Diane Meade knows a phony when she sees one. Sure enough, Diane overhears the princess discussing the sale of secret government documents with some ruffians in a darkened alcove. When the princess gets into a car with the hoods, Diane gives chase and the Martian Manhunter must follow before Diane does something really dumb. Too late! Diane is captured and brought before the ringleader and the princess in a shack in the woods. Cassandra suddenly pulls a gun and blurts out that she's working with Detective Jones on the espionage ring and she'll blow the hell out of anyone who moves.

The mob boss guffaws and (inexplicably) reveals that he had the princess's gun emptied on the way to the cabin. Cue J'Onn J'Onzz, who breaks through the thin wall and makes quick work of the out-of-shape criminals. The Martian Manhunter gets a kiss on the cheek from a grateful Cassandra and an exasperated sigh from an embarrassed Diane Meade. It's been a long time since we saw MM take credit for any of his actions; usually he's using his super-breath to blow a car off the road and attributing it to a brave beat cop or some such poppycock. Not here; J'Onn makes his grand entrance and wallops the baddies, sending one through the roof and on to what is surely a life-ending head injury. The variant in M.O. doesn't make "Bodyguard for a Spy" any more readable; I just thought it was worth noting.

Captain Bean is a braggart, but he's a sweet old guy who loves telling the seashore scalawags all about the many times he helped Aquaman and Aquakid save the world. Then, one day, in the middle of a whale of a tale, the Aquaduo walk out of the water and onto Capt. Bean's beach. The kids insist Bean go see his old friends, but the salty sea dog is a bit hesitant. When the kids bombard Aquaman with questions about past team-ups with their local hero, the Sea Sleuth pauses. Luckily, the awkward moment is saved when a ship is enveloped in a sudden typhoon.

Captain Bean remarks that the ship would probably survive if it were a submarine, and Aquadude exclaims that that is a fabulous idea. He has jellyfish close up all openings on the ship and then a pod of whales arrives to drag what must be a terrified sea crew and ship under the water. The typhoon passes in record time and the ship is brought back to the surface, all hands... well, let's suppose they're just fine.

Missed it by that much!
Aquaguy praises Captain Bean's brilliant solution to the problem and tells him he wishes he were around for all the hero's problems. Aquateam heads back into the water and Captain Bean goes back to lying to his pre-teen audience. "Aquaman's Secret Teacher" is goofy, sweet fun; easily the best strip this issue. I love these deadly sea storms that rise up and pass in mere minutes while an audience stands right on the beach and suffers no ill effects.-Peter

Jack-Not a great issue of Detective. Among the influences I thought of while reading the Batman story, in addition to "The Most Dangerous Game," were King Kong, DC's "The War That Time Forgot" series, and "Arena." The story is full of business but never seemed interesting. I was initially glad to see the return of Patrolwoman Diane Meade in the Martian Manhunter strip, but that quickly devolved into exasperation at her idiocy. At one point, J'Onn causes a big oak tree to fall right in front of her to stop her pursuit. Wasn't that a bit risky? A few inches one way or the other and she'd have been squashed. I agree that the Aquaman story was the best of the issue, only because Nick Cardy drew it. The real highlight is probably the cover, showing once again that Dick Dillin's pencils are much smoother than Shelly Moldoff's.

Batman #145

"Hunt for Mr. 50"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Tiniest Villain in the World"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Son of the Joker"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

Gems wrapped in rice paper lead the Dynamic Duo to fly the Bat-Plane to the newest state, Hawaii, to crack a diamond-smuggling racket. The "Hunt for Mr. 50" is on when they learn that the mysterious figure behind the crimes goes by that nickname. A stop at the Honolulu Police Department leads Batman and Robin to Chinatown, where they catch a crook who tells them that he collects gems from a sailor and mails them to Hilo.

Batman and Robin follow the trial to the island of Hawaii, where they hop into their Whirly-Bats to follow the man who picks up the gems at the post office. Batman catches the rascal but must rescue Robin when the volcano known as Mauna Loa suddenly erupts and the Boy Wonder's Whirly-Bat flies dangerously close to the opening. Next, it's on to Oahu by Bat-Plane, where Batman is caught, tied up, and left to die in a cane field that has been set afire. Robin comes to the rescue and the Duo catch the elusive Mr. 50, who was hiding stolen gems in sacks of sugar to ship them around the world.

Hawaii become a state in August 1959, but it took until January 1962 for it to be featured in a story in Batman. The tale is more travelogue than anything else, with Batman and Robin trailing one low-level crook after another through the Hawaiian islands.

Joe Burr is a fugitive who kidnaps a scientist who has invented a shrinking machine. Joe tests out the machine on the scientist and, when the inventor is a few inches high, Joe turns the machine on himself and becomes "The Tiniest Villain in the World." In order to have himself smuggled out of the country, Joe heads to the Gotham Toy Company, figuring that he can hide in a shipment of toys bound for an overseas destination.

Did this toy really exist? Apparently so!
Joe did not count on the appearance of Batman, who has Robin shrink him down to Joe's size so that he can locate and capture the tiny crook! Being so small in a toy shop brings a new set of challenges, however, and the Dark Knight must avoid giant darts and a hungry pussycat before he can successfully imprison Joe in an improvised cage made from a model dinosaur skeleton. Fortunately, Robin is on hand to return everyone to normal size, and it's off to prison with Joe.

The Incredible Shrinking Batman would have saved himself a lot of trouble if he'd told the toy shop owner not to let any shipments leave the premises until Joe either turned up starving or was killed by the cat. As it is, the story is fun, and it allows Moldoff and Paris to draw lots of seemingly giant toys--for once, the giant-sized objects that seem to populate Gotham City are normal sized and only seem large in proportion to the shrunken humans.

From the typewriter of Alfred the butler comes "The Son of the Joker," another imaginary tale set in a future where Dick Grayson is Batman and Bruce Wayne Jr. is Robin! The New Dynamic Duo are judging a charity water skiing obstacle race when an impossibly young looking Joker on water skis makes off with the money! Announcing that he is the Joker's son, the white-faced and green-haired criminal escapes using skin-diving gear after Batman knocks him off his skis.

The original Batman pays a visit to the original Joker, who is now more interested in tending to his garden than robbing banks. The former Clown Prince of Crime calls the Joker's son an impostor and claims he wants to live out his remaining years in peace. Soon, the Joker's son challenges Batman II to a game of wits and grabs a priceless necklace that is being used in a new film about Ancient Rome. Batman II and Robin II track the son to the home of the original Joker and, before you know it, the new crime fighters have been tied to the wall. Just as the Joker is about to unmask Batman II, in comes Batman I and, after some fisticuffs, the crime-fighting trio have defeated the Joker, his fake son, and their gang. In the end, the Joker remarks: "'That fool! He's not worthy of my famous name! BAH!'" and we see that the Joker's son is just a run of the mill criminal in a Joker mask.

Whew! There's a lot to unpack in this story. Has anyone else noticed that the most entertaining stories in the 1961-62-era Batman comics have to do with Batman II, Robin II, Batgirl, or Batwoman? What does that say about the original Dynamic Duo? I guess they're too busy keeping Earth safe from aliens to do much of interest.

The Joker's son is first seen on water-skis, wearing swimming trunks; his skin is the same color as that of every other character (no Black people in DC comics in 1962), but his face is chalk-white and his hair is green. I recall the Joker's origin story and I always assumed his entire body turned white when he fell into that vat of chemicals, so would his son inherit the condition? The question is solved (somewhat) when the Joker tells Batman that the guy pretending to be his son is an imposter. We finally learn the truth in the third-to-last panel, when Robin II tackles the Joker's son and his mask pops off! He looks like every other criminal drawn by Moldoff. The story is a blast, by the way--easiest the best in this issue. We first covered this story in 2012!-Jack

Peter-Sure seems like a whole lot of wasted tension in "Hunt for Mr. 50." After all the suspense regarding the secret identity of this master criminal, we discover that it's... no, not the Riddler, the Joker, or even the Polka-Dot Man, but a common plantation foreman named Narkin! Holy letdown, Batman. "Tiniest Villain" shows Bill Finger once again combining several checklist items for the average eight-year-old funny book fan: gigantism (or shrinkage, in this case), dinosaurs, and toys. All that's missing is the reveal that Joe Burr is actually an alien from Planet 6 in Solar System Z. Joe Burr certainly seems short-sighted; he's got what could potentially be one of the greatest weapons known to mankind and he wants to be shrunk down to doll size and smuggled out of Gotham? At least pull a candy store heist before you tuck your tail and head out of town.

I sure hope Bruce isn't paying Alfred to sit in front of his typewriter all day instead of dusting the Bat-cave or washing Robin's tights. "The Son of the Joker" is goofy fun; the highlight has to be the panels of old Joker tending his garden and complaining about back pain. Gotta love it!

Detective Comics #300

"The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The J'Onn J'Onzz Museum"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

"The Mystery of the Undersea Safari"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Nick Cardy

While (yet again) out on patrol, the Dynamic Duo witness a villainous trio drop through the skylight of the Spot Service Carpet Cleaning Company and approach for a closer look. They too drop through the roof and face two of the hoods cracking a safe. They engage in battle but are interrupted by a voice from behind. "Call me Mr. Polka-Dot!" says the snazzily-dressed rapscallion as he rips one of the dots from his suit and hurls it at the bewildered duo. The dot becomes a buzzsaw in mid-air and only some fast acrobatics prevent DC from renaming their cash cows "The Fantastic Four." Polka and his men flee.

The next night, Batman and Robin are watching TV when an announcer reports that emissary Ran Jafir has arrived in Gotham with his pet leopard, Dagar. "Great Scott!" chortles the Caped Crusader, "That's the next target for the Polka-Dot Man!" The boys head down to the embassy where, sure enough, a heist is in full swing. Polka nabs the ruby from Jafir's turban and hurls a Sun-dot at the heroes, while the baddies escape in a giant bubble. 

Using his vast detective skills, Batman deduces that Polka-Man is centering his heists around the theme of circles or dots. So Robin stakes out the Red Mill ice skating rink (with a trademark of a big red circle) and Batman hangs out at "The Bull's-Eye." Knowing that ice skating rinks are a huge money-maker in Gotham, Polka hits the Red Mill and hits it hard. Robin throws on a pair of skates but he's stymied by a dot that transforms into a plethora of bullying fists. The Polka-Dot Gang escape yet again. 

When Robin regains consciousness, he's hit with a brainstorm of epic proportions: he hoofs it to the embassy where he convinces Ran Jafir to loan him his leopard to track the Polka-gang to its lair. The cat indeed picks up the scent but he and Robin are gassed as they approach the building. Robin awakens in a cage and is ordered by Polka to write a letter luring Batman into a trap. If Robin refuses, Dagar will die! The kid agrees but (using detective skills taught to him by his boss) also jabs a secret braille message to Batman on the same page while penning the missive.

The world's greatest detective receives the coded warning not to walk into a trap and, instead, arrives at the warehouse where Robin and Dagar are being held. Bats kayos the Polka-hoods but their boss is out on the town, casing another heist. Back in the Bat-cave, while studying a map of Pokemon's previous heists, Batman guesses the next target is the Drummond Map Company (Mr. Polka thought he'd be a wise guy by mapping out his robberies in the form of a stick figure). The Duo race over to the building where a violent battle rages on for four panels before Batman apprehends the latest addition to his Rogues' Gallery and the Dynamic Duo head back out to the street for yet another patrol.

The general outline of these adventures (at least the ones involving human adversaries) seems to be: pull a job, escape; pull a job, escape; pull a job, escape; pull a job, get captured in some sort of clever fashion. I think we need a little variety now and then. Having said that, "The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man" is yet another pleasurable experience, with several goofy elements to keep the smiles coming. The Bat-villains of the 1970s and 1980s had long before realized that there were probably more ill-gotten gains to be had from a savings and loan or an armored car than from a pillow factory or an inflating-needle manufacturer. Seriously, why are Polka's goons not questioning the boss's targets? 

Who knew that you could domesticate leopards and, with a simple whisper in their ear, turn the big cat over to a superhero for tracking purposes? Genius. For once, this is a 1960s lower-tier villain who actually makes a return visit years later. In fact, this guy's most famous appearance might be in the James Gunn-directed Suicide Squad of a couple of years ago. The art is back to the barely-there team of Moldoff/Paris, who probably giggled at the chance to draw panel after panel of circles.

Though the intentions of Aloysius Bean, Martian Manhunter fan extraordinaire, are admirable, his opening of "The J'Onn J'Onzz Museum" leads to one of MM's most dangerous adventures. At the gala opening of the museum, Bean shows "home movies" of MM busting up several heists and the fact that J'Onn avoids fire in every clip is not lost on a couple of well-dressed thugs. A few nights later, Detective Jones gets the assignment: stop the Torch Raiders, criminals wearing flame-throwing helmets! 

Knowing full well that he can't come near the flames, J'Onn wisely grabs Bean's full-figure animatronic replica of the Martian Manhunter and manipulates the dummy from afar. J'Onn puts the kibosh on the Torch Raiders and bids a fond farewell to his lifeless twin. I was frankly surprised that A. Bean was able to edit together enough footage of MM actually displaying his powers rather than hiding in a bush somewhere and manipulating  the clouds. I'm still not sure why criminals who dress so nattily have to rob banks in the first place.

Aquaman and Aqualad attempt to save a treasure-seeking professor who may have been lost under the sea. Unfortunately, the Aquateam discover they've been manipulated by sea pirates. Fortunately, Aquaguy has the entire sea population at his beck and call. "The Mystery of the Undersea Safari" is another enjoyable installment; I'm beginning to dig the "Sleuth of the Sea." Nick Cardy's art is top-notch (resembling Russ Heath's work here and there), that's a given, but the script (which may or may not have been written by Jack Miller, a genre-hopping strip writer responsible for a whole lot of DC scripts) is clever and has a really good twist in its climax. Unfortunately, the Aquaboys were about to be jettisoned from the pages of 'tec since they had their own title by that time, so "Undersea Safari" would be the swan-song for this feature. Double unfortunately, this would mean, rather than create yet another six-page back-up, the powers-that-be decided that, as of issue #301, it would be great to double the Martian Manhunter's page count. Joy to the world.

A couple of sidenotes: this here is the 300th issue of Detective Comics and yet you wouldn't know it unless you paid attention to the little number in the top right hand corner of the cover. No celebration. No "Super-sized Anniversary" banner. Just another issue of America's longest-running funny book title. What a difference a few years will make. Also, we get our yearly circulation figures this month. 'tec weighs in at a healthy 325, 000 sold each month (up from 314,000 the year before) while Batman moves a whopping 485,000 on average (down slightly from 502,000). Both titles combined would not measure up to the holy-crap 820,000 copies Superman was selling at the time.-Peter

Jack-I guess that's why everyone Superman knew got his or her own comic eventually! I was disappointed in the story of "The Bizarre Polka-Dot Man" and surprised that he ever made another appearance. This is not the first time that a character has one name in the story's title and on the cover and another in the story. The best thing about this one was the scene where polka-dots turn into disembodied flying fists that pummel the Boy Wonder. The Martian Manhunter story is yet another example of people figuring out either who he is or what his weakness is and him using a dummy or something like it to confound the crooks. The Aquaman story has more good art and a quick setup and resolution--it's hard to do much in six pages.

Batman Annual #2

"The Underseas Batman"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #86, September 1954)

"The Lord of Batmanor!"
Story by Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #198, August 1953)

"Batman--Indian Chief!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from Batman #86, September 1954)

"The Jungle Batman!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #72, September 1952)

"When Batman Was Robin"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #226, December 1955)

"Batman the Magician!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #207, May 1954)

"Batman--the Superman of Planet X!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #113, February 1958)

Just what is an annual? Webster's defines annual as "an event that occurs yearly." Well, clearly DC had a different outlook after Batman Annual #1 sold like hotcakes only six months before. Eighty pages of long-out-of-print Batman adventures for a quarter! Bat-loving kids would eat that up every month if they could. So DC issued Batman Annuals every six months through 1964 and then the 80-page giants were absorbed into the regular numbering the following year. But try telling your English teacher that annual means "every six months."

If I were a dorky little kid (instead of a dorky old geezer) in 1961, I'd also be confused about the science of "the bends." In "The Underseas Batman," Batman is clearly told he has to stay put for two days and yet the boys have no problems when they infiltrate the "basement" of the aquarium. The thing that jumps out at you when you read most of these 1950s adventures is the detailed artwork. No blank Shelly Moldoff backgrounds or half-finished character features. Dick Sprang's work truly is "art." All seven stories are readable but my "Best Reprint of the Issue" award would have to go to "The Jungle Batman," which has enough twists and turns to fill two or three Bat-adventures.

Jack-These annuals are great! The story and art quality are high throughout. The earliest story is "The Jungle Batman," from 1952, while the latest is "Batman--The Superman of Planet X!" from 1958. What struck me, apart from the art, were the names: Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett both contributed scripts and they were two accomplished science fiction writers. I saw a bit of a Chester Gould influence in the way Sprang drew "Slant" Stacy's slanted face in "The Underseas Batman," but I guess Gould was always an influence on Batman and his Rogue's Gallery. In "The Jungle Batman," when the Dynamic Duo must leap off a sinking ship, Batman orders Robin to join him in removing all nonessential clothing, so both gents strip down to their underwear and leave their masks on! Robin sports some pretty chic leopard skin skivvies.

The other notable story is "When Batman Was Robin," in which we see a teenaged Bruce Wayne left at home by his parents while they take a vacation. Of course, we all know that they were murdered when Bruce was a child, so this is some serious revisionist history! In addition, Bruce dons his first costume here, but it's as Robin, not Batman! The influence of the space race is seen in the last story, from 1958, which points the way toward all of the outer space/alien tales we've been reading from the early '60s.

From Batman #145

Next Week...
John Severin to the Rescue!


bobby J. said...

Looking forward to seeing you guys reach the Neal Adams era, which I grew up with.

bobby j.

Jack Seabrook said...

Check out our Batman in the 70s blog for lots of discussion of the Adams issues!