Monday, January 22, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 14: March/ April 1962


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

Detective Comics #301

"The Condemned Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Mystery of the Martian Marauders"
Story by Jack Miler (?)
Art by Joe Certa

While putting the kibosh on a heist at a Gotham synthetic gem company, Batman is exposed to deadly Zzzzz-zzzz rays, transforming him into a Scarlet Knight (emitting thousands of degrees of heat) and making it impossible for him to breathe oxygen. Something must be done or the Caped Crusader's fighting days are over, not to mention the impossibility of eating food.

After consulting a Gotham synthetic gem factory worker and his aides, Batman learns that he'll have to breathe deadly methane gas and remain inside an impervious glass bubble for the rest of his life. Holy absence of a restroom, Batman!

Our hero gives the Boy Wonder a very specific set of instructions for building a see-through plastic "bubble" vehicle in order for Batman to continue his crime-fighting while searching for an answer to his problem. 

The vehicle, with octopus-like hands, is given a test run and works fantastically but, miles away in the hideout of evil genius "Brains" Belden and his henchmen, plans are being drawn up to destroy Batman's lifeline.

Belden's thugs attempt to crack the crime fighter's plastic bubble with liquid oxygen but Robin nixes the assault with a well-placed fire hydrant. Turns out the attack was just a way to draw the police attention away from a police caravan miles away, the armored car carrying millions in cash from Gotham Bank to its new facility. Belden and a couple of his hoods are disguised as security guards and steal the truck. They head for the highway over the dam with Batman in hot pursuit. Belden had planned for just such an occasion and puts into effect "Plan B": the release of millions of gallons of water onto the highway.

With no thought for his own safety, Batman hops out of his plastic capsule and, with the tremendous heat of his body, melts the wires controlling the water facility. Disaster postponed! Robin apprehends Belden and his boys. The electricity also counteracts Batman's condition and the hero takes in a well-deserved breath of fresh air. 

Once again, we get a disastrous event in the life of Gotham's favorite son and, once again, it all works out somehow in the end. We also get more amateurish art from Shelly and Paris. The villains in this strip are interchangeable not just because they do the same things and are thwarted in the same fashion but because they all have the same crappy line work. Put a space suit on "Brains" Belden and he's one of Shelly's awful space invaders. 

I love when Bats has to come up with these elaborate gizmos that actually do the job! And then after the adventure is over and he doubts he'll ever have to use a methane-gas plastic bubble vehicle again, does he scrap the parts and put them in the yard behind the Bat-Cave? "The Condemned Batman" follows by only a few months the very memorable "The Villain of 100 Elements," wherein Batman turned different colors.

After a band of Martian hooligans arrives in town and makes a general mess of things, J'onn J'onzz must activate Professor Erdel's Mars teleporter (the device that brought J'onn to Earth in the first place) to return home and get to the bottom of "The Mystery of the Martian Marauders." Turns out, Dr. Erdel has had one of his periodic lapses into amnesia and gone bad, traveling to Mars to commit robberies of his own (bringing a huge crate full of matches in order to keep at bay the Martian Militia). With a little trickery of his own (dressing as a giant Martian butterfly--please don't ask me to elaborate), J'onn nabs Erdel and takes him home. Like clockwork, the mad scientist comes out of his amnesia coma and a happy ending is assured for all.

I kind of lost track of exactly what this adventure was all about somewhere around panel six. The Martian knuckleheads (literally) knock off a grocer and burrow into a hardware store but the motive is only hinted at. Then we learn that between the time the Martians rob the hardware store and J'onn visits Erdel's pad, the nutty egghead has rebuilt his teleporter (ostensibly with hammer, nails, and bananas) and jaunted off to the red planet (which leads to the question--why is J'onn green?). If the dopey Erdel has amnesia, how does he remember how to build his machine? Never mind... you're right. -Peter

Jack-Why wouldn't they at least lock the door that gives access to a room where such dangerous rays are found? Once again, Batman, acting through Robin, displays an astonishing ability to create a new gizmo in record time--this time, it's a custom-made hovercraft for the overheated Caped Crusader. In the end, a big jolt of electricity returns Batman to normal, much like a knock on the head can return someone's memory after another knock took it away.

I thought the J'onn J'onzz story benefited from the extra length, which gave the story more room to develop. It's funny that everyone on Mars dresses just like the Martian Manhunter and all the men are bald. The only way to tell them apart is by body type. Oh, and J'onn's Mom has white hair.

Batman #146

"Batman and Robin's Magical Powers"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Secret of the Leopard Boy"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"The Deadly Curse of Korabo"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Driving through Gotham, Batman and Robin see an advertising figure gone berserk and threatening a man dressed as a magician! Batman knocks down the walking tree that is wearing a sandwich board and, in gratitude, the magician, whose name is Antura, speaks a magic spell that grants magical powers to the Dynamic Duo. Little do any of the participants know that the real magic is supplied by that invisible imp from another dimension, Bat-Mite!

"Batman and Robin's Magical Powers" get their first test when they use the Batmobile to fly to a crime scene, then use two spare tires to fly out over the harbor and apprehend a trio of crooks. The next day, Bruce Wayne reads an article in the paper explaining that Antura gave Batman and Robin magical powers. Fearing that this publicity will lead crooks to target the magician, the Dynamic Duo rush to his apartment, which they find empty. Antura left a clue to his location, though, and Bat-Mite races there magically, beating Batman and Robin.

The crooks enter a room where giant kitchen utensils are on exhibit, and they make a huge frying pan into a flying conveyance for themselves just as the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder arrive, riding on a magical door. Batman realizes that Bat-Mite must be behind all of the action and commands him to appear, which he does. Bat-Mite turns off all of the magic and the crooks are quicky captured. Antura admits that he's glad he doesn't really have magical powers.

Jerry Coleman fills in for Bill Finger on this entertaining story, which features two favorite Batman items: Bat-Mite and giant household objects. In the first scene, Batman and Robin encounter the strangely aggressive tree, but this is never explained. Is it a man in a tree suit? Did Bat-Mite make it act this way? Note that the theater marquee says that the movie of the year is "The Metallic Martian Forest." Peter, have you seen that one?

Batman and Robin have just trailed Smiley Fenton and his gang to the jungle when the Bat-Plane's engine is damaged by gunfire and they are forced to land. They observe the gang tangling with a boy in a leopard skin tunic and wonder what is "The Secret of the Leopard Boy?" It turns out he's the son of a reformed crook named Joe Taylor, whose plane crashed in the jungle a decade before. The four year old boy was the only survivor and he was raised by a leopard. He hid the fortune in diamonds that was on the plane and now Smiley Fenton wants to find them. The gangsters capture Batman, Robin, and Leopard Boy, but an elephant comes to the rescue. The gangsters are defeated and the boy is returned to his mother, trading a leopard skin tunic for a striped shirt.

Why DC chose to create Leopard Boy in this story is anyone's guess. Moldoff is credited as sole artist in the GCD and the art is not his best. The story is predictable and far-fetched.

Climbing adventurer Keith Larsen summons Batman and Robin and, as they drive up in the Batmobile, they observe a giant golden hand reaching out of a cloud and grabbing Larsen's colleague, Mr. Chambers. Larsen blames "The Deadly Curse of Korabo" and explains that his team reached the summit of Mt. Rahachi first, beating a team led by Cliff Amory to find and steal the golden Hand of Korabo, placed atop the mountain by natives to guard them and bearing a curse on the man who removes it.

Amory, Larsen's rival, was found dead at the bottom of the cliff, and Larsen attributed his demise to the curse. Another climber was later killed in a mine disaster, leaving only Larsen, Dunne, and Hampden as survivors of the team. That night, the giant golden hand enters Larsen's bedroom to menace him. Batman suspects a trick and rushes outside, only to see the hand make off with Hampden. Batman and Robin search nearby and locate Dunne; they chase him onto a wooden bridge and the hand smashes it, causing him to fall to his death. Later that day, the Dynamic Duo guard Larsen during a ride on his boat, when the hand emerges from the water and drags the Caped Crusader to his doom!

Later, Larsen goes for a swim and, when he emerges, two giant golden hands come after him! It turns out the entire series of events was a big hoax perpetrated by Batman and the other members of Larsen's team, all of whom faked their deaths. Larsen admits having killed Amory and taken credit for finding the hand first.

I love giant hand stories! Writer Arnold Drake must have had a peek at Batman #130, which also featured a giant hand, although that one was green, not gold. This is such a nutty story that I enjoyed it, especially the last pages where all of the trouble everyone went to to make and use the giant hand is explained. Perhaps some of today's police or detectives could learn a thing or two from the 1960s-era Batman about catching crooks by going to great expense and creating wacky gizmos!-Jack

Peter- Jack, I never saw "The Metallic Martian Forest," but I can say without pause that it was better than this issue's Bat-Mite calamity. Bat-Mite has long outstayed his welcome as far as I'm concerned. The Tarzan rip-off was slightly better. I was hoping Leopard Boy would pull out his spear and threaten to run the Dark Knight through when told he was going back to civilization. That Batman... what a mind for data. "Oh yeah, now I remember! The Skylark was the name of the plane..." Sheesh. Making fun of Moldy's art now is like shooting ducks in a barrel, but Shelly's work here really does scrape the bottom of the... 

Best of the bunch this issue has to be "The Deadly Curse of Korabo" for its elaborate set-ups. Why go for the simple bust when you can complicate things to the nth degree? Even Bats gets into the act by putting Duane into harm's way on the bridge. So what if there's a casualty?

Detective Comics #302

"The Bronze Menace"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"The Crime King of Mount Olympus"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Batman and Robin arrive at the Gotham Auto Wreckers on a tip that missing mobster Lefty Borgas has made the dump his new hideout. To their surprise, they are attacked by Lefty's henchmen. The boys make quick work of the stodgy thugs but, when questioned, Lefty's goons admit that they have no idea where their boss is. Hmmmm. Lefty is not the first Gotham criminal to disappear into thin air!

After depositing the criminals at the office of Commissioner Gordon, the Caped Crusaders get an alert that art thieves have struck at Gotham Museum. When they get there, they meet up with Batwoman and are introduced to egomaniacal artist, Vulcan, who works strictly in bronzes and who has been the target of several thefts. He demands that the police and the heroes stop this rampage at once, since the publicity is killing his career. Easier said than done!

The next night, acting on a hunch, Batwoman steals into the palace of eccentric international art collector, Jahmad Arval, and witnesses a thief making off with a big bundle. Batwoman attempts to stop the robbery, but the thief has too many assistants and she's overpowered. Just as it looks as though our favorite female flying rat might be in big trouble, the Batmobile turns the corner (Gotham is, after all, a very small city) and the boys hop out, freeing Kathy and chasing away the bad guys. One of the thugs runs back into Arval's pad and Batman follows. When he captures the well-dressed criminal, he discovers it's the missing Lefty Borgas! What is to be made of this reappearance?

Batman remembers that he and Dick are supposed to attend an art exhibition of Vulcan sculptures and they hoof it over in their civvies. It's then that the magical detective brain of Batman puts two and two together and comes up with... Vulcan! Bruce Wayne inspects the bronze statues displayed and realizes that they look just like the missing criminals. Turns out Vulcan has stolen a gizmo from scientist Henry Winns: a suspended animation machine that Vulcan has been using to freeze top criminals, paint them bronze, sell them to museums, and then sit back and cash in when the robbers are reanimated within the buildings. The stolen goods are then divvied up between crazy artist and dangerous criminal. With the help of Batwoman, Batman and Robin gain access to the machine and freeze Vulcan and his thugs. The terrific trio sigh and look forward to their next team-up!

None of this claptrap makes much sense. Why would Gotham's Most Wanted Criminals agree to such an iffy proposition? If anything, I'd send one of my cronies in instead. I'm not one for going the Goldfinger route. I've heard that's dangerous. I'm confused by the final panels where Batwoman zaps Vulcan and boys with the Suspendo-Rama and they turn into bronze statues. I thought Vulcan explained that he had to paint his subjects after freezing them. The whole thing is pretty dumb (a suspended animation machine and Batman knew nothing of it?) and the art is, as usual, mediocre, but it's entertaining in a mind-numbing fashion.

J'onn J'onzz must fight his most powerful adversary ever: a lunatic who thinks he's Zeus and rides a golden chariot through the city while pulling heists. J'onn attempts to put the robed crazy behind bars but, before he can, Policewoman Diane Meade manages to get herself kidnapped again. Zeus keeps her behind flaming torches and explains to the Martian Manhunter that he will release the gorgeous cop only after J'onn does several "Herculean tasks" for him. J'onn does the man's bidding and then gets the drop on him, releasing Policewoman Diane Meade and slapping the cuffs on the loon.

Another goofy fantasy seemingly written without an outline or any idea how to end it, "The Crime King of Mount Olympus" is a great example of why these early 1960s DC strips are so popular with fans who care not a whit about plot or logic. We're never even told who this guy is; has he escaped from a mental institution? He certainly speaks like he's tipping over the edge. Building a vast fortress on an "uninhabited island" costs a lot of money, as do mechanical three-headed dogs and winged horses. Where did he get the dough? Why go to all this elaboration when a bazooka and a bank will do? Despite all this, I have to agree with Jack that jettisoning one of the back-ups and lengthening the remainder gives the script more room to breathe. I'm just waiting for a good script now.-Peter

Jack-Yet another giant item makes an appearance in Gotham City! Who is the architect who designs these things, and who builds them? I was glad to see another story with Batwoman, but she didn't add much this time around. I couldn't understand why she was conducting a parallel investigation rather than collaborating with the Dynamic Duo. The story is dull and plodding and Moldoff did not put much effort into the art.

As you note, the J'onn J'onzz story features another villain with an overly elaborate scheme. What I'd like to know is what police force would send a policewoman up alone in a helicopter after a gang of crooks, especially when they're riding flying horses? Zeus is clearly nuts. Once again, some of the panels have a Sekowsky look to them. I wonder if the king of heavy black lines wandered by Joe Certa's drawing board.

Next Week...
Help us Welcome the First
New Atlas Title of the Post-Code Era!


John said...

Guys, this is one of my favorite periods of the Batman title. Plus, it wouldn't be long until the superhero and spy craze exploded all over pop culture. A great time for comics and TV!

Jack Seabrook said...

I'm looking forward to the Infantino reboot and the TV show explosion!