Monday, February 5, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 15: May/ June 1962


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

Batman #147

"The Plants of Plunder"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Secret of Mystery Island"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Batman Becomes Bat-Baby"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

After crooks break into a jewelry store's vault by means of a fast-growing plant that emits great heat, Batman tests some strange seeds that he found on the floor near the vault, but they don't sprout. The next day, the bandits use exploding gas pods to cover their tracks after another robbery. Commissioner Gordon introduces Batman to an amnesia victim who was found wandering the streets with more of the strange seeds in his pocket.

Just then, "The Plants of Plunder" strike again as the crooks use them to broach the wall of an estate and steal art objects. More fast-growing giant plants tear up the roadway and block the Batmobile from giving chase. Batman and Robin take a side road and chase the crooks to a trail, where they encounter a giant cactus that shoots deadly needles at them! Needless to say, the crooks get away again. Batman analyzes mud found on the floor of the hospital room occupied by the amnesia victim and it leads the Dynamic Duo to an abandoned farmhouse that serves as the crooks' hideout.

Inside, the crooks are holding the amnesia victim and, when they hear Batman approaching, they shove the poor man and he suffers a blow to the head. The crooks rush outside to use more plants to defeat Batman, but a strange sight emerges from the farmhouse: it's an alien with a ray gun! It seems the amnesia victim was an alien disguised as a human who lost his memory until (you guessed it) he was knocked in the head. He helps the Caped Crusader defeat the bad guys and then explains that he came to Earth to see how his seeds grew here. To his surprise, the plants they yielded grew very fast and a branch knocked him in the head and caused amnesia. He apologizes for the trouble he's caused and hops in his spaceship to return home.

In story after story, one blow to the head causes amnesia and another cures it. Here, this tired plot device is used to explain why an alien from outer space can't remember his identity. The plant angle is silly, but how many times have we seen crooks in early 1960s Batman comics use very complicated methods to commit simple crimes?

On his deathbed, a millionaire gives Catlin, one of his criminal underlings, a key to open a safe, in which he will find a letter explaining where to find his riches. Batman and Robin are hiding nearby and overhear the man's last words. Later, the Dynamic Duo follow Catlin to an island where the millionaire transported various buildings he collected from around the globe. Catlin and two other crooks follow a series of clues to try to find the treasure and Batman and Robin are right behind them. Eventually, the loot is located and the crooks knocked senseless. The final clue includes the word "happiness," which Batman tells Robin is symbolized in China by a bat!

Slightly better than the story before it, "The Secret of Mystery Island!" uses the gimmick of having one clue lead to another until a final clue reveals the desired object. In this case, the crooks have a problem deciphering the clues and only Batman's great brain can figure things out.

Just as Batman and Robin are about to corner Nails Finney and his gang at their hideout, a scientist named Garth shoots Batman with a ray beam and "Batman Becomes Bat-Baby," shrinking to the size of a four year old. Garth sends a photo of the Dark Tot to the Gotham Gazette and the next issue's headline reads, "Gangland Turns Batman into Baby." At Stately Wayne Manor, wee Bruce Wayne has to sit on a stack of telephone books to reach the dinner table, yet he tells Robin that he retains his adult mind and strength.

This whole page is priceless!
Batman fashions a baby Bat-suit, complete with overalls and short pants, and that night, the new Dynamic Duo succeed in capturing bandits as Bat-Baby uses his small size to his advantage. Kathy Kane pays a visit but little Bruce avoids her by putting a cutout in the window that makes it look like adult Bruce is making out with another woman. Bruce stakes out the swing set at a playground and then follows (on roller skates) a crook named Swap Smith until he discovers the hideout of Nails Finney. Later, Robin and Bat-Baby surprise Nails and his gang, including Garth, the scientist. Bat-Baby rides a Wonder Horse down a flight of stairs to knock two crooks off their feet and gets to the machine in order to shoot a beam that lets him regain his natural size. The crooks captured, Batman adds his Bat-Baby costume to the trophy room in the Batcave.

I don't know about you, Peter, but I got a big kick out of the story of Bat-Baby! The first panels, where he is shown in the too-big Batman costume, are funny, as is the fact that Robin has to carry him to the Batmobile. The scene at Wayne Manor is a riot and the Bat-Baby costume is perfect, almost as if Batman is embracing his embarrassing situation and making the most of it. I love the playground stakeout and the way he uses roller skates to follow the hood, and the icing on the cake comes when he rides the horsey down the stairs! These goofy stories make reading through the duller ones worth the trouble.-Jack

You obviously do know me, Jack. I'm only hoping that Bill Finger was sitting in a bar down the street from the DC Bullpen and thought, "I'm sick up to here with funny book stories and these dopey fans who eat up anything we do. I'll show them! If Mad can do it, so can I!" and proceeded to write a parody of the most famous character he ever worked on. If I envision that scene, I can enjoy "The Burping of Bat-Baby." Some of the elements of this goofy, camp crap jump out at me. Why do all the mob goons in Gotham have such lame nicknames? Who's going to follow orders from "Swap" Smith or "Nails" Finney or anyone who answers to "Blinky?" And why are there so many renegade scientists in this town, working on incredible gizmos with nothing more than Rubber Ducky Factory robberies? "Bat-Brat" was the most entertaining of the trio this issue; I've had it up to here with giant teapots and well-meaning alien visitors.

Detective Comics #303

"Murder in Skyland!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

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

Skyland, Gotham's sensational new amusement park which simulates the atmosphere of all nine planets, is the scene of a mysterious death on the eve of its opening. The corpse is identified as owner and operator, Wally Dodd, who is found frozen on the tundra of planet Pluto! When Batman and Robin arrive, the Caped Crusader finds strange marks on Dodd's space suit, determining that the millionaire was the victim of foul play! 

Batman must investigate and root out the culprit amidst a few suspects. Was it--

Skyland's architect John Marlowe, or...
John Hanson, Dodd's technical advisor, or...
Paul, Dodd's nephew, or...
Al Bates, shady nightclub owner and Paul's... er... business associate?

The murderer gets nervous when the Daring Duo seem to be collecting clues; the killer dons a cowl and attacks our heroes, utilizing "electronic monsters from other planets" kept in Skyland's interplanetary zoo. Batman outfoxes the villain (the beasts aren't that beastly after all) and nabs him while he's attempting to escape. When the mask comes off, the boys are shocked to see syndicate muscle, Blinky Cole, who cops to orchestrating several "accidents" to prevent the opening of Skyland (his bosses wanted Dodd to pay protection money) but not to Dodd's murder. Batman believes him.

Which brings him back to his original suspects. The Dark Knight begins listing grievances with his fingers...

One/ Paul Dodd stood to inherit his uncle's money, and
Two/ Through his crack detective work (and the gossip of a night watchman), Bats discovers that Dodd argued with Hanson about technical data (which would push me to murder every time), and
Three/ The same mouthpiece told Bats that Dodd was not happy with Marlowe's buildings.

All three have motives. But which one is the killer? Robin (in one of his moments of clarity) hypothesizes that Dodd must have hidden cameras around Skyland and the footage might help to determine the identity of the assassin. While the heroes are out  searching, another attempt is made on their lives (this time with a Martian Lightning Tank!), but the bright side is that it suddenly occurs to Bats who the guilty party is.

He reassembles the four men in the Skyland business office and points the finger at... Al Bates! Yes, Al Bates! The nightclub owner had loaned Paul Dodd a large sum of money in return for one half of Paul's future inheritance. He waited for the Senior Dodd to finish Skyland and then offed him. Realizing he's looking at a long stint of three to six months in Gotham Jail for Murder One, Bates throws a Plutonian Gas Bomb down and exits stage left, escaping on one of Batman's Whirly-Bats ®. With nothing but Skyland's incredible museum at their disposal and a murderer getting away, Batman and Robin grab Experimental Belts of Uranus and give chase. Having only spent a few minutes reading the Whirly-Bat ® operation instructions and the fact that he's a wee bit out of shape, it's not long before Bates is captured and Skyland becomes the property of Paul Dobb.

So the nephew gets off Scott-free despite semi-sorta instigating his uncle's murder? You have to hand it to mob muscle Bates, who obviously took a few semesters of Tech back in Gotham High. He's able to operate the Martian Tank and the Whirly-Birds without any trouble at all. Perhaps Bats should work on some kind of security measures for his wonderful toys? Skyland would definitely play havoc with Gotham's fly zone, and the amusement park comes with more than a bit of danger if you can actually freeze in one of its attractions. "Murder in Skyland" is one of the weaker entries so far this year. The art is not good and the script is lazy. I curse the generation before mine for being so enamored with robots and aliens.

An odd thing is happening to the Martian Manhunter as he's saving dozens of lives all around town... he recognizes the would-be victims' faces. But all the parties insist they've never met J'Onzz before in their lives. But thanks for saving us!

Turns out the mob has been using a process of elimination to ascertain the true identity of the Martian Manhunter. Detective Jones was on a flight that was going down and rescued the plane's passengers by transforming into J'Onn J'Onzz. On a nearby flight (let's ignore for a moment that the other flight is really close to the doomed airliner) sits syndicate man Dinky Kovacs and his hoods. They witness the miraculous feat and put two and two together. Now, thanks to the flight manifest and "The Great J'Onn J'Onzz Hunt," the mob is sure the MM is... Detective John Jones! These capo skippers are better detectives than Batman! But MM isn't a dummy and figures out a way to lift suspicion off his Earthbound alter ego and throw a bunch of hoods in jail at the same time. What a guy!

Why the mob has to hatch such an elaborate scheme to ascertain the secret identity of the Martian Manhunter is beyond me. Wouldn't it be easier to draw glasses on a pic of Superman? What they'll do with the info once it's gathered is beyond me as well. MM is hardly around anyway. Would they blackmail him? Use the green dope to dig a trench under Fort Knox? I'm not asking much from my four-color entertainment but perhaps a plot that doesn't scream "Mediocre" now and then would be nice.-Peter

Jack-"Murder in Skyland!" is a poor story with weak art. Finger found a way to work in aliens and other planets without having to leave Gotham City. At least Batman does some detecting for a change. As for the Martian Manhunter, what's the underworld's fascination with uncovering his secret identity? That seems to come up frequently. Don't they have banks to rob?

Batman #148

"The Alien Force Twins!"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Jim Mooney

"The Boy Who Was Robin"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Joker's Greatest Triumph"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

During a storm, the Bat-plane is driven off course. When the sky clears at dawn, Batman and Robin land next to the isolated Kshiho mountain range, where they find an advanced city. They are soon set upon by "The Alien Force Twins," two columns of energy that have assumed the shape of the Dynamic Duo. Smoke pellets and a boulder don't stop them!

Near the city, Batman sees two green outer space aliens and realizes that the Force Twins must be electronic watchdogs. Batman and Robin knock out the aliens and enter the city, where they hear other aliens reveal that they are on Earth to steal rare minerals. The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are captured and jailed, but they escape by digging an underground tunnel. Batman's keen observation leads him to realize that the aliens are vulnerable to water, so he splashes a couple and he and Robin make it to the aliens' control panel, where they pull a switch that makes the Force Twins disappear. The aliens blast off back into space, never to return.

Jim Mooney's art is about the only thing worthwhile in this lead story, which features yet another set of aliens who have come to Earth for some nefarious reason. Coleman's drawings of Batman in some of the panels remind me of what we'd see in some of the TV show images in a few years; I wonder if the producers used Mooney's art?

Bruce Wayne's cousin, young Vanderveer Wayne, visits for a week and drives Dick Grayson crazy with his bragging about his skill at fencing and gymnastics. Dick finally has had enough and shows off his own skills, earning a reprimand from Bruce, who fears that such a display will give away their secret identities. The next morning, Alfred carelessly walks through the front room of Wayne Manor carrying Batman and Robin's spare costumes from being laundered when Vanderveer walks in and sees him. Bruce thinks fast and says they're for a masquerade ball, but Vanderveer has an idea.

Later that day, at a giant Don Quixote exhibit sponsored by the Read-A-Good-Book Committee, Bruce and Dick are shocked to see Batman and Robin appear and fight a fire that has broken out. Robin whips off his mask and reveals himself as Vanderveer, telling Dick that he's the real Robin and that's why he's so good at gymnastics! When Van returns to the apartment of his paid accomplice, ex-Vaudeville acrobat "Jumpy" Regan, the crook tells Van that they should wear their costumes to rob the Stuart Ice Cream plant! Van rebels and gets a sock in the jaw.

Van follows Jumpy to the ice cream factory, where there are (of course) giant ice cream sundaes and syrup dispensers. The real Batman and Robin show up and a short battle ensues, where "The Boy Who Was Robin" works with the real Boy Wonder and Batman to defeat the fake Batman.

I've noticed a trend lately in the Batman titles. The stories either have to do with space aliens and don't include many (or any) scenes with Bruce, Dick, Batgirl, Batwoman, and the like, or else they are more focused on the extended Batman family and their shenanigans. I must say that I'm finding the stories with the extended family (even Bat-Mite) more enjoyable than the ones with aliens. Bruce's snooty young cousin Vandermeer annoys Dick Grayson and then pretends to be Robin, and it's fun.

A clue sent by the Joker leads Batman to intercept the Clown Prince of Crime in the middle of a robbery by helicopter, but when the craft crash-lands, "The Joker's Greatest Triumph" is achieved when he unmasks Batman! The next day, a newspaper headline states that the Joker won't reveal Batman's secret identity unless he is captured, suggesting that Batman should leave him alone or else. Batman will have none of it and redoubles his efforts to catch the Joker.

Another clue leads Batman to encounter the Joker as the crook tries to steal the head of a giant stone figure in order to get the jewels hidden inside. The Joker gets away, which leads the press to speculate that Batman let him go on purpose. Finally, the third encounter between Batman and the Joker comes at a circus, where Batman unmasks the Joker, who is pretending to be a clown. In the end, the Joker is forced to admit that he doesn't know Batman's secret identity after all, because a bright light was too blinding for him to make out Batman's unmasked face.

What a cheat! I was really looking forward to this story when I saw this issue's cover, but it's just the same series of obvious clues left by the Joker and near-misses by Batman until the final capture. The panel where the Joker should see Bruce Wayne's face is very clear, so the concluding explanation about the blinding light seems like a cop-out. Moldoff swipes from Kane and/or Robinson for some of the Joker's expressions.-Jack

Peter-The Joker finale is the cop-out of the century. I figured the prince of crime would end up with amnesia but, no, we get an even stupider reveal! Aliens. Why did it have to be aliens? That leaves the middle story, "The Boy Who Was Robin," which didn't exactly achieve near-classic status but was at least exciting and clever. And it contained no aliens, let's not forget. I had to laugh at the climax where the rich little kid goes without even a spanking for setting off the events of the adventure. In fact, Dick praises the brat for his athleticism. Rich spoiled kids.

Detective Comics #304

"The Return of Clay-Face"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Crime College"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Bruce Wayne and his mentally-challenged ward, Dick Grayson, are in the Bat-Cave desperately trying to figure out why the New Coke formula was so bad when Alfred barges in to deliver the news... Matt Hagen, a/k/a Clay-Face, has escaped from Gotham Prison (and only days before he would be paroled!). Bruce opines that all of Gotham will be in big trouble if Hagen makes it to his secret stash of clay-juice.

At that very moment, Hagen is bathing in the waters that grant him molecular instability, deep inside a hidden grotto. Hagen has major plans this time out: he needs to get together a huge amount of cash and wants vengeance on the Dynamic Duo. Later, his first heist is the payroll in a shipyard office. An alarm is activated and, luckily and coincidentally, Batman and Robin are patrolling the very same street and answer the call. Batman tosses a lasso around Clay-Face but the evil sack of mud transforms himself into a top and Batman barely gets away with his life. Clay-Face escapes.

Later, in the Batmobile, Robin suggests that Batman go hang out in one of his clubs (no, not one of those clubs!) and work off some of his tension. Great idea! So, as billionaire Bruce Wayne, our hero arrives at the Pharaoh Club, a hangout exclusive to rich, elitist snobs who don't really do anything in their spare time besides smoke pipes and read their mail. Bruce is right at home.

At the club, Bruce is introduced to the friend of Professor Colton, a Brit named John Royce, who seems to be a friendly old chap but who may be hiding a dirty (muddy) secret. One of the other members, Phipps, tells Bruce he's expecting delivery of a Rembrandt at his estate later that night. John Royce looks on with interest. That night, Bruce shows up at the Phipps mansion to see what the big hullabaloo is all about and is roundly rebuffed at the door by Phipps, who explains that he has a terrible toothache. Knowing that Phipps wears false teeth, Bruce heads into the woods and strips down to his Bat-uniform. He then heads back to the door to confront the imposter. Frazzled, Phipps transforms back into Clay-Face and then into a giant grasshopper before hopping away with the Rembrandt!

Batman enters the mansion and finds the real Phipps tied up. He releases the man and then, with Robin, heads to Royce's cottage. There they find Royce tied and gagged. Once Bats has removed the gag, Royce displays outrage at his treatment and demands that Batman get on the radio and broadcast an alarm! Being the world's greatest detective has its perks and Batman immediately recognizes that Brits don't use the word "radio" (they say "the wireless"). There is no Royce; this guy is Clay-Face! Realizing the only "Pharaoh" they haven't checked on is Professor Colton, they head to the egghead's swanky digs and find the Prof. chained to a radiator.

Colton explains how Hagen brought the last of his super-rejuvo formula to him and ordered the academic to mess with the ingredients until they produced a longer-lasting protoplasm. Batman wisely grabs the last of the clay-juice in order to concoct a "suspended animation" potion to spray on Clay-Face. The boys head back to Royce's place and confront him with their suspicions that he's not who he says he is. Sure enough, Royce transforms into a giant bat and his nemesis sprays him with Suspendo, immediately freezing him. When the freeze wears off, Hagen is in a Gotham cell once more. But Batman knows there will be trouble if Clay-Face ever escapes again!

"The Return of Clay-Face" is a very satisfying adventure with an extremely cool villain, one I'd like to see drawn by a professional comic book artist. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the art here is awful; quite the opposite, it's much better than usual. The GCD lists Moldoff and Paris as artists but the work doesn't appear to be as generic as, say, the story in Detective #303. Maybe because the team was given something other than aliens or robots to work with. Bill Finger definitely seems to be enjoying himself, writing with gusto and including quite a few clever twists. The continuing carousel of "Guess who the Clay Guy is impersonating now" is a lot of fun as well. I'd love to see a "rules" sheet for Clay-Face. In one scene, he changes into a shark, but why would his gills work? And why does his coloring change? Fascinating.

Professor Proxon, high-end criminal and academic, rules over "The Crime College," hardened hesiters and mob goons who have one thing in common: they love money. But Proxon is becoming exasperated with J'Onn J'Onzz, as the Martian Manhunter keeps foiling his criminal plots. And the students aren't passing with the grades they're getting, either. In the (very predictable) ending, J'Onn masquerades as felon Fred Framer and infiltrates the college before shutting it down altogether. A really dumb adventure... no, wait, that's what I typed about the last episode, didn't I? It's like Groundhog Day around here. I have to say the only panel in this disposable tripe that made me smile is when Proxon meets Framer at the college and remarks that he'd be happy to sign him up at the crime college. Meanwhile, Framer (MM) replies out loud in what should have been a thought balloon. Yep, I'm reaching for things to mention here.-Peter

Jack-Clay-Face is a great villain, and he's a welcome break from stories about aliens, Bat-Babies, and the Joker. The end of this one leaves the door open for more, and I hope he comes back soon. The Martian Manhunter story was fairly routine, with more nonsense about trying to keep his weakness regarding fire from the underworld. The tank with the giant circular saw must have cost a lot, but I guess it's worth it to steal a cool million.

Next Week...
Gentleman Gene
Throws Us a Rope!

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