Monday, February 19, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 16: July/ August 1962


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

Batman #149

"The Maestro of Crime"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Invaders from the Past"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Batman Tunes In On Murder"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

A concert pianist named Payne Cardine has a bad reaction when he gets a poor review in the paper. His "twisted, brilliant mind" concocts a scheme that he soon begins to carry out. Wearing a mask, he crashes a concert and plays a strange tune on the piano. That evening, Commissioner Gordon receives a letter signed by "The Maestro of Crime," who promises to commit crimes and give advance notice, certain that the police will fail to stop him.

Batman and Robin enlist the aid of Professor of Musicology Ambrose Weems, whom they dress up in a sparrow costume to protect his identity. The Maestro succeeds in robbing gems from the Palace of Glass, even though Batman figured out where they had planned to strike and arrived during the robbery. The next clue leads to an Old West Parade, where the Maestro plans to steal gold ore that is on display. Again, the crook makes his getaway, and again, Batman, Robin, and the Sparrow figure out the next crime.

That evening, Batman pops out of a piano as the Maestro and his gang try to rob an expensive necklace at the exclusive Skytop Club. This time the Dynamic Duo are ready for the Maestro's tricks and capture him without much fanfare.

I like the way Jerry Coleman is writing stories with unusual villains. It looks like this was the only appearance of the Maestro of Crime, but I'm more interested in Prof. Weems, who seems happy to wear a sparrow costume throughout the story. In one panel, he is pictured sitting in the front seat of the Batmobile, dressed as a sparrow, between Batman and Robin. This seems to prove that, as of 1962, the Batmobile had a bench seat in front.

Strange things are happening in Gotham City! A medieval archer appears out of nowhere, shoots an arrow at a car, and disappears. A pair of armored knights appear at an exhibit of ancient coins, steal the coins, and make their escape in a railroad yard. Batman and Robin give chase but have to prevent an accident from a runaway train car and lose track of the knights, who disappear. Who are "The Invaders from the Past"? Is it all due to the work of Dr. Alpheus Roberts, a scientist whose experiments must have created breaches in the time-space continuum?

The next visitors from the past are a pair of Mongol warriors who rob a gem shop; this time, Batman and Robin are drawn away by a fire at a chemical plant and the Mongols disappear. A few hours later, two Vikings appear and drag the Dynamic Duo into the past with them! This is great news for criminals Ben Ryder and Slick Ronson, who discuss how the disappearance of Batman and Robin is an amazing coincidence, since the twosome faked all of the invasions from the past! The pair head to the lab of Dr. Roberts, thinking that his experiments will help them travel to the past to steal things, but they are met by Batman and Robin, who faked their disappearance in order to get to the bottom of the crimes.

This one may not feature any aliens, but it does follow the tried and true pattern of the seemingly inexplicable occurrences that turn out to have been masterminded by run of the mill crooks. I've read enough of these by now to have figured out that Batman and Robin faked their own disappearance, so the conclusion was no surprise. The art by Moldoff and Paris is routine at this point and does nothing to elevate the plot.

At a reception at the Jaharian Embassy, Batman meets a Rajah who wears an unusual ring whose rays are rumored to confer occult powers on those whom they strike. Suddenly, a ray of sunlight comes through a window, bounces off the ring, and hits Batman's eyes, causing him to feel dizzy. When he steps outside, Batman hears a fragmentary message from somewhere that mentions a murder that is being planned. He and Robin work out that something is happening at a radio exhibit and they race there; they fight two crooks but are unable to stop them from making off with the tiniest radio receiver in the world.

Another deduction leads them to the new city hall, which resembles a giant top hat; again, Batman and Robin are unable to stop the crooks from escaping. Fortunately, Batman tells Robin that he has worked everything out, and they later attend a ceremony at the Jaharian Embassy, where the Rajah is presented with the key to the city. The Rajah transfers the key to his representative, Ambassador Plethi, who suddenly says he has to go. Batman kayos him and reveals that the key contains the stolen radio transmitter and an explosive, all part of a plan to kill the Rajah in an explosion.

"Batman Tunes in on Murder" turns on Batman's sudden and mysterious ability to listen in on a conversation that is occurring somewhere else. This ability is given to him magically, by the Rajah's ring, yet it is never explained away by a mundane criminal trick. We're left believing that the ring really does have magical powers, but Batman seems unconcerned and the story ends with that issue unresolved. Will this power ever return? Doubt it.-Jack

Peter- As I note below in my review of Detective #305, I find Charles Paris's inking to be vastly improving, at least in the respect that it looks like he gives a damn. In spots, the shading is downright atmospheric. Panel of the month, for me at least, would be the Sparrow sitting in the Batmobile with his new chums. I love how Batman seems to think it's imperative that Weems be dressed as silly as possible. Robin shows evidence that, if he's not the World's Greatest Detective, he's certainly the brightest pre-teen in Gotham when he exclaims, "This looks like the beginning of something--but I can't imagine what!" when faced with a 12th Century arrow in "The Invaders from the Past!" The dog of this issue is the finale, "Batman Tunes In On Murder," a murder mystery without... ulp... a murder. It's a boring mishmosh and perhaps an answer to why we're getting so many stories about aliens.

Detective Comics #305

"Targets of the Alien Z-Ray"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"J'onn J'onzz vs. Futureman"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Batman and Robin are chasing two bank robbers into the woods when they happen upon an amazing sight: a gigantic insect-like creature destroying trees in its path. Suddenly, two aliens jump out of the bushes and zap the monster with a strange lamp-like gizmo, but to no avail. The alien beast continues its rampage, taking its ire to a nearby power plant. After busting in and out of the plant's walls, the creature suddenly keels over dead.

Batman and Robin don't even have time to catch their breath when a brave officer of the law approaches and informs the Dynamic Duo that another monster, this one a gorilla with a bird's head, is heading toward Hillman High School. Wasting no time, the Caped Crusaders head to Hillman just in time to see one of the aliens they'd seen in the forest blast the birdorilla with the same laser beam. Once again, the creature seems unbothered by the ray and continues its onslaught. Batman dumps a conveniently-placed truckful of sand on the thing but it simply digs its way out. The world seems destined to end when the thing suddenly gives a sigh and drops dead.

The world's greatest detective opines that maybe the weapon the alien used on the creatures has a delayed reaction. Batman is reveling in his own brilliance, so he doesn't notice the alien tiptoeing up to him and Robin. They are suddenly enveloped in the deadly yellow ray and the space invader disappears into the woods. The heroes know they have only minutes to find their attacker and somehow reverse the process. 

They discover that the two bank robbers have stolen a very important part of the alien spaceship and are holding the contraption hostage. The only way for the visitors to board their ship and take off is if they kill Batman and Robin! But, with the help of their new friends, the Dynamic Duo regain control of the vital cog in the ship's engine and receive good news from the alien leader: they're not going to die. Our heroes slap the cuffs on the bad guys and wish their new friends a safe trip back to their faraway home.

I like Arnold Drake's scripts for the Doom Patrol and his late-1960s work on the X-Men, but here he's doing nothing more than commenting on what's going on in the panels. That is, when he's not overcomplicating things, as in the unnecessarily convoluted and complicated exposition in the last batch of panels. I will say, as much as I give Moldoff and Paris crap about their stick figure/no background art, this is probably some of the duo's better Batman work. Paris, in particular, looks like he might have taken a course in how to ink since the previous issue.

J'onn J'onzz is attacked by a man in a silly red jumpsuit and big yellow helmet who proclaims he's from the future and is here on Earth to arrest J'onzz. After the obligatory skirmish dies down and the Martian Manhunter has disarmed the fashionable bounty hunter, the two have a chinwag and J'onn discovers it's all been a case of mistaken identity.

The "Futureman" (as J'onn so pithily monikers the easily defeated super-cop) is here to track down another Martian, this one by the name of B'enn B'urnzz. With the help of J'onn, Futureman is able to track down B'urnzz (well, okay, it helps that the green dope was spotted driving down the street at the time) and puts the renegade Martian out of commission. I've resigned myself to accepting these Martian Manhunter yarns for what they are and just try to get through them. There are way too many coincidences for my well-defined funny book strip taste and the art is as simplistic as... well, DC art of the 1960s, I guess. I think I'd even take Frank Robbins over some of this unimaginative tripe.-Peter

Jack- Sigh...more aliens. Their process for killing the beasts and nearly killing Batman and Robin is awfully complicated, isn't it? I was most surprised by Batman's exclamations of "Great Scott!" and "Jumping Jupiter!" What's next--"Great Caesar's Ghost?"

As for the J'onn J'onzz story, I thought it was better than usual, partly because the Martian Manhunter isn't skulking around, hiding his powers. When I saw B'enn B'urnzz, I had to wonder if all Martian males dress exactly alike and are bald. If J'onzz can masquerade as a human, why not B'urnzz? It would have been a lot easier to avoid capture. I may start signing my name as J'acckk.

Batman Annual #3

"The Mad Hatter of Gotham City"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #230, April 1956)

"The Human Firefly!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #184, June 1952)

"The Mental Giant of Gotham City!"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #217, March 1955)

"The Joker's Aces!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from World's Finest #59, August 1952)

"The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City!"
Story by David Vern
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #75, March 1953)

"The New Crimes of Two-Face!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #68, January 1952)

"The Mysterious Mirror-Man!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #213, November 1954)

Jack-This is easily the best annual I've read to date and perhaps the single best issue of a Batman comic from the 1960s that I've read! It's interesting that the two stories penciled by Moldoff--"The Mad Hatter of Gotham City" and "The Mysterious Mirror-Man!"--were the least entertaining. On the other hand, I loved the rest of the stories! Dick Sprang's art is a highlight in "The Human Firefly!" and "The Mental Giant of Gotham City," which features a lowly janitor whose brain and head suddenly expand.

I also really enjoyed Lew Sayre Schwartz's art on "The Joker's Aces," "The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City," and "The New Crimes of Two-Face!" In the Joker story, we are treated to a panel of a nearly naked Bruce Wayne, who lies sunbathing on a table. The gorilla story is pre-code and features a crook who is executed in the gas chamber before his brain is transplanted into a gorilla's body. Later, a scientist nearly switches brains between the gorilla/gangster and the Caped Crusader! It's kind of like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein crossed with King Kong and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Finally, Schwartz's art is a highlight of the Two-Face story, where an actor playing the crook suffers the same injury and goes crazy in the same way.

If the annuals keep being as fun as this one, they'll leave the regular issues in the dust.

The man recognized the world over as the "Greatest Living Detective" knows that the Mad Hatter is impersonating sculptor Brumer because the Real McCoy has a calloused right thumb, but he doesn't recognize the Hatter (with his wild orange hair and mustache) when the baddie dons a Zorro mask? Though he's clearly a bit unhinged already (who wouldn't be a bit doololly when your chief vice is a nice hat), the Hatter would become quite a bit more psychotic decades later (also more diminutive). My favorite moment of "The Mad Hatter of Gotham City" would have to be when Bats suspects the Hatter is disguised as an atomic scientist and Robin grabs the guy's beard. Oops!  Of all the Rogues, I think this character's design was the most improved when it comes to the '66 TV show.

The rest of the stories are just as delightful and all contain moments that shall linger with me for... minutes: The Mental Giant scolding Robin for the Bat-Cave's "poor wiring"... Bruce and Dick sun-bathing and Hop Dooley, cross-dresser, surely gave Dr. Wertham the cherry he needed for his seduction sundae... the giant gorilla busting through the jewelry store walls... the breakdown of Batman's Frog-man suit (complete with little pointy ears just in case no one recognizes him)... best of all, no aliens!

Detective Comics #306

"The Wizard of 1,000 Menaces"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Last Days of Jonn J'onzz"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Because of his rich ancestral history, playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne is invited to take part in the Gotham City Historical Society Pageant. He and Dick attend the opening festivities, in which a contemporary Gotham resident impersonates their famous ancestor in a recreation of an historical event. While D.A. Barnes dresses as "Bengal" Barnes and recreates the infamous taming of the tiger (in which "Bengal" tossed crockery full of water at a raging tiger and somehow tamed it), a mysterious needle is shot into the animal and it grows to ginormous proportions, menacing the crowd. Dick and Bruce duck into a tool shed and emerge as Batman and Robin!

With the help of a conveniently-placed crane (these construction vehicles are everywhere in Gotham!) our heroes lasso the tiger and save the day. Still, they're puzzled as to the origin of the offending needle. The next day is Bruce's turn to pay tribute to his great-great-great-whatever (none of these proud descendants seem to know exactly how they're related to these famous figures) by jumping off Gotham's highest bridge dressed as a bat. Yep, his great-great-great was the first Batman! As Bruce prepares to leap from the apex of the bridge into the harbor, a boat appears in the water and fires a burst from its lightning-cannon, shattering Bruce's wings and rendering him helpless!

With a daring and perfect gainer, Bruce slices through the water like a beaver's teeth through wood, immediately changes into his bat-suit (the real Bat-suit), and emerges with an empty sack of clothes, in order to fool the crowd. Bats heads for the offending boat but the thugs aboard hop on to skis just as the craft explodes. The Caped Crusader overhears the goons talking about a "professor" as they make their escape. It's at this point we learn that the "professor" is the brilliant scientist, Professor Hugo, who's a bit upset about being snubbed by the Gotham Historical Society. As he explains to no one in particular, his ancestor was a great warrior and deserved some acclaim. He'll make the whole world pay for the slight!

He pops on his recently invented "Brain-Stimulator," designed to increase his "thinking capacities" a thousand-fold. His forehead expands in keeping with his larger brain, and some might say the transformation has cost Professor Hugo his sanity! Back out of flashback-land, we find ourselves at the third day of the pageant (two disasters should never be an excuse to cancel such an important event) and Batman and Robin are monitoring the proceedings very closely. Suddenly, the Dynamic Duo are lifted bodily into the sky by invisible arms and whooshed to a secluded island... the home of Professor Hugo!

Our heroes are locked in cages and the insane genius informs them that the traps will slowly move towards each other and when they meet, the cages will drop into the water below, drowning the pair and effectively ending this blog. In the best 1966 tradition, Prof. Hugo says he'd like to stick around and watch but he has to attend to something more important. Incredibly, that task (just wait!) is to intercept a U.S. satellite with his Magnotronic Beam and transform the gizmo into a second moon, thus alerting the entire world to the birth of a new genius.

Said genius must not have made it through high school science cuz even a dolt would know that creating a second moon can cause disruption with the existing moon. Luckily, with the aid of a ballpoint pen, Batman frees himself and the Boy Wonder and diverts the deadly beam from its target. Professor Hugo goes straight to jail and Batman and Robin sigh with relief, having saved the world again.

"The Wizard of 1,000 Menaces" is goofy fun and I'm questioning whether I liked it because it contained no aliens or because of its sheer inanity. By far, my favorite scene would have to be Bruce's attempt to recreate his ancestor's leap from a high cliff into a river, wearing a low-budget bat uniform. How did the Gotham Society think it was a good idea to let its number one resident jump off a bridge into the harbor? Granted, we're told Bruce will be wearing "a padded suit to cushion his impact on hitting the water..." but what if said playboy billionaire should land on his head or trip while leaping and hit a girder? I gotta say, simply as an innocent bystander, I don't approve of the lengths the Society will go to to celebrate its history. Runner-up on the giggle-meter is D.A. Barnes tossing water jugs at a tiger. Tame or no, you won't find me doing something that stupid. 

While engaging in a series of battles with giant robotic animals, the Martian Manhunter seems to be losing his energy. Turns out a meteorite has landed nearby and the fire contained within its blazing outer husk is kryptonite to J'onn J'onzz. The crime boss (dressed as a cross between a circus barker and a magician, I think) takes advantage of the Martian's downtime but, thankfully, the meteorite finally burns out and J'onn regains his power. He puts the kibosh on the evil crime genius and his robot zoo and then has a laugh with gorgeous Diane.

Jack notes below how Joe Certa's art looks rushed, but I'd say the real rush here was in the script department. Once again, we're introduced to an evil genius who's taken his engineering skills and built incredible weapons, but why bother crafting such intricate phonies? The bear and gorilla both have fur! The buzzards can fly!  These bogus beasties must have cost millions. In fact, maybe our unnamed evil genius has to rob banks just to keep the Sears account up to date.-Peter

Jack-At first, I thought the Batman story was dopey, but as it went along, I warmed up to it. We haven't seen Ace the Bat Dog in a while, and certainly not unmasked! This is the first I've heard of Lancelot Wayne. It's funny that DC would run a story about a big-headed scientist in Detective in the same month that a story with another big-headed genius ran in the Annual. The end is kind of absurd--I wonder if Bill Finger was starting to figure he might as well try anything?

The J'onn J'onzz story was similar and a bit all over the place in that I didn't like it at first but by the end I kind of enjoyed it. Certa's art looks more rushed than usual and haven't we had enough giant monsters/animals/aliens/teapots by now?

Next Week...
Intelligent Hamsters...
The Mind Boggles!

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