Monday, March 18, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 18: November/ December 1962


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

Batman #151

"Batman's New Secret Identity!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Mystery Gadget from the Stars!"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman and Robin are involved in a car crash when Batman drives in front of another vehicle that is heading straight for a stalled school bus. The Dynamic Duo are dazed; Batman's cowl falls off and a passing newspaper reporter notices that his secret identity is Bruce Wayne. Back at the Batcave, Batman tells Robin that he'll have to wind up Bruce Wayne's affairs, so he sells all of his holdings and clears out, even saying goodbye to Kathy Kane.

A headline reports that Bruce Wayne has disappeared, so "Batman's New Secret Identity!" becomes Bret Wilson, cab driver. The cabbie happens upon the hijacking of a freight car at the Gotham Freight Terminal, so Batman springs into action and foils the robbery. Bret Wilson drives back to the Gotham Hills Garage, which sits above the new Batcave, where Alfred Edward the butler meets Bret/Batman. Meanwhile, Robin is no longer allowed to be Dick Grayson, so he has assumed the identity of Ted Grey, a resident at the Wickham Boarding School for Boys.

The next day, the boys watch a televised social studies lesson that is suddenly energized by video of a gang holding up the Gotham Foundry Plant! Batman and Batwoman appear and thwart the holdup; Batwoman says they make a great team and she and Batman kiss on camera, causing Dick Ted to shed a tear when he realizes he's been replaced as the Dark Knight's partner. In the days that follow, the papers carry one story after another about the new team defeating crooks. Batman's new identity is exposed when a highway construction crew accidentally blasts the mountainside behind Gotham Hills Garage, exposing the new Batcave.

Crooks hold Bret at gunpoint and tell him to drive to a nice, quiet farm. Another radio report reveals that Ted Grey is really Dick Grayson--and thus Robin--so Dick/Ted celebrates by showing off his athletic skills to the other guys at school. He rushes to the Batcave, where Alfred Edward says he's worried about Batman. Twenty miles south of Gotham, Bret drives at gunpoint to an abandoned farm, where a bald crook pulls off the cabbie's fake mustache to reveal that he's really Bruce Wayne before ripping open Bret/Bruce's shirt to reveal his Batman costume.

Robin and Batwoman arrive and save the day! Fortunately, Batman had turned on a radio transmitter in his Bat-Belt that alerted the Boy Wonder to his location. Batman wonders what they'll all do now...and Bruce and Dick enter Alfred's study, where they find the butler typing out another one of his imaginary stories. This one is not about the second Batman and Robin team, however; since the Joker recently almost discovered Batman's secret identity, Alfred used his imagination to posit what might happen if Batman needed a new alter ego.

It took me five paragraphs to summarize this story, which runs sixteen pages (two chapters), twice the length of a typical story in Batman. Frankly, it's pretty bad. The GCD credits the art to Bob Kane and Charles Paris, but I found an online site where the original art for page 16 is for sale, and it credits it to Moldoff and Paris. As I read the story, I thought it looked like sub-par Moldoff, so I wondered if it really could be by Kane, but I have trouble accepting that he'd suddenly decide to draw a Batman story after years of letting ghost artists do all of the work. The most interesting thing about the story comes at the end, when Alfred mentions a story from several issues back. That's extremely rare in this era of stories that seem to exist in a vacuum.

They moved the giant penny to the new Batcave,
but where's the dinosaur?

While out collecting rare herbs, Ed Manos finds "The Mystery Gadget from the Stars," a red box that emits a beam of light when he picks it up. The light hits a nearby outcropping of rock and water gushes forth. Batman and Robin are summoned to the site of the discovery, where Batman figures out that the ray from the box speeds up natural development by centuries. Batman is concerned because he knows that, in a few centuries, the tiny flaws in the bedrock under Gotham City will cause disastrous earthquakes. He doesn't want the box to speed up that development!

The box falls into the hands of a crook after he sees its ray turn a hunk of coal into a diamond. Batman tracks the crook to an animal preserve, where the ray causes three small, harmless animals to grow to giant size and suddenly become violent. Batman manages to reverse the ray and shrink them back to safe size. He then takes the box back to the Batcave and smashes it with a sledgehammer.

When Batman finds the crooks in the animal preserves, the head crook exclaims, "Great griddle cakes!" I had a similar reaction to this awful story which, if anything, was worse than the one that preceded it. For once, we have an explanation, however silly, for the presence of giant-sized items in Gotham City!-Jack

Peter-Alfred definitely saved the day for Bill Finger, since nothing that preceded the climax made much sense. Batman's secret identity as Bruce Wayne is revealed and he goes out and gets another secret identity? How does that work when the whole world knows who Batman is for as long as he works the streets? These "Alternate Universe by Alfred" stories are genius; the writer can toss out any goofy stuff he wants to and then write it off as Alfred's lunchtime break. In the second story, Batman steps on some big toes when he hypothesizes that aliens are responsible for our rapid evolutionary development. Oh heavens, I wonder what Wertham made of that. Scary to think that all animals will grow to giant size in a few centuries.

Detective Comics #309

"The Mystery of the Mardi Gras Murders"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Man Who Saved Earth"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Dangerous criminal Mike Kelso has escaped Gotham State Pen (I guess waiting to serve out his maximum three months for Murder-One was getting to him) and his cellmate confesses to Batman and Robin that Max bragged that he'd be doing a big deal at the Gotham Mardi Gras. The Dynamic Duo hop in the Batmobile and drive down to the fest. Bats quickly realizes that broadcasting the news that Kelso is among the participants in the carnival would only start a riot, so he goes to the Mardi Gras office and speaks with its promoter, J.J. Ashley.

Ashley introduces Batman to Ed Burton who, with partner Tom Hawes, runs concessions and rides. The two men agree to keep their eyes open and report back to the masked avenger. The duo mingle with the crowd but Bats is soon accosted by ace photographer, Vicki Vale, just returned from a hot assignment overseas. As the two are flirting, a man falls off the carousel... dead. Batman examines the corpse and deduces that it's Mike Kelso and that he was murdered with a poison dart! 

Tom Dawes approaches, introduces himself, and apologizes for having not met up with the superhero as he was on the mend in the doctor's office. Vicki Vale intrudes, telling Batman she had snapped several photos before the crime and her award-winning photography might just have captured something integral to the case. Batman agrees and has a look at Vicki's Polaroids. In one, Kelso is clearly handing a package to a man dressed as a musketeer. "This is our main suspect," exclaims the world's greatest detective.

The boys scour the crowds for any suspicious musketeers and voila! one is seen running from the cops. The Caped Crusaders chase him down to the dinosaur ride, but the Duo are attacked by an Arab riding a T. Rex (granted, the thing is on wheels and hooked up to a rail, but it looks dangerous!). Our heroes duck out of the way just in time but this enables the Arab to blow a dart at the fleeing musketeer, killing him immediately. The murderer escapes and the boys are left with a warm corpse. Unmasked, the dead man is... Ed Burton! The plot thickens (and so does the dialogue).

Investigating Burton's trailer, Batman runs across a puzzling artifact... a map of the United States with X's and mythological beasts written on certain cities (Boston=Unicorn, Chicago=Dragon, etc.). Remembering an exhibit on the carnival grounds, Batman races over to the Wax Museum of Mythological Creatures and heads straight to the Unicorn. Twisting the horn reveals a trap door on the body, where Robin finds the Vanderdine Necklace, stolen in Boston the week before! "Golly!" enthuses the Boy Wonder.

Batman hypothesizes that the carnival is being used as a front for a fencing operation and that the other mythological beasts will give up even more riches stolen across the nation. Following up on a clue, the boys head over to the "Crazy House," where Batman is entrapped in the grip of a giant metal hand and Robin is held tight by a pair of costumed goons. The musketeer emerges from the shadows and pushes the lever operating the giant hand to "Full Force," thus squeezing the Dark Knight even tighter. But Batman is too clever for a common criminal and breaks free, delivering a killer left upper cut to the chin of the musketeer. 

Unmasked, the culprit is revealed to be none other than... J. J. Ashley, who was hiding gorgeous ten-dollar counterfeit plates in the Crazy House in hopes of getting very rich. Once back at the precinct, Ashley confesses to the murders of Kelso and Burton. Batman is crowned king of the Mardi Gras and Batwoman is his queen. When Bats proves just how much he knows about females and suggests that the queen's crown should be shared with Vicki Vale, who broke the case wide open with her candids, he opens a huge can of worms with his female counterpart.

"The Mystery of the Mardi Gras Murders" was a somewhat dreary yarn that seemed to go on forever. I absolutely hated the numerous interludes where Batman had to explain (to us) what the hell was going on. You know when the action stops for a rundown that your plot is too complicated. That hand on the wall visual is pretty lame. It looks like the paw is higher up the wall in the second panel. At least there was a bit of violence to break up the unending string of alien-starring stories. Honest-to-gosh murders in the age of the CCA. Dead horse department: this Moldy-Paris art is about as simplistic and childish as it gets. In a lot of action panels, Batman and Robin seem to be on a loop: waving their hands in the air and running in place.

While investigating the disappearance of cute cop Diane Meade, John Jones stumbles across an invasion of Earth by aliens from the planet Centuria (three miles past Pluto, turn right at the asteroid belt). In an effort to find out just what the Centurians plan, J'onn disguises himself as earthling Horace Reeves (the man Diane was searching for) and lets the invaders fly him to Centuria. Unfortunately, on the way, he discovers Diane has been tossed on board as well. Once on Centuria, the Martian Manhunter discovers his problems are only beginning as he finds himself in the middle of a military coup. How can J'onn juggle a coup and Diane at the same time?

For the first time in history, I actually enjoyed the Martian Manhunter backup more than the headliner. I won't go overboard and say this is among the best stories of the year, but "The Man Who Saved Earth" at least kept a smile on my face. That Diane... (growl)... I wonder if she's ever actually saved anyone. And does she wear a gun? And how many more times will J'onn have to divert attention from his earthbound alter ego?-Peter

Jack-I also preferred the Martian Manhunter story to the Batman story, but it's not the first time that has happened. J'onn's ability to transform himself into anyone certainly increases the story possibilities! I was thinking he was going to become Diane Meade, but that may be too progressive for DC in 1962. Once again, I feel like I see Mike Sekowsky's handiwork in random spots. He was drawing the Justice League, which includes the Martian Manhunter, so it's certainly possible he might have cleaned up a few panels.

As for the Batman story, it's not great but at least it's better than what we got in this month's Batman. I was struck by the comment that the first day's receipts at the Mardi Gras were going to charity. It seems like every dollar earned in Gotham City goes to charity! How did anyone make a living? The highlight of the story was the Vicki Vale reappearance and Batwoman's jealousy at the end. I can't wait to see those two battle it out!

Batman #152

"Formula for Doom"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The False Face Society"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Memorial to an Astronaut"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Bat-Hound tracks down a renegade scientist named Arnold Taney, who confesses to having been hired by a European named Kuzak to create a chemical formula. Batman and Robin trail Kuzak to the Greek island of Hydra, where they discover a second formula after Kuzak escapes. In the Swiss Alps, Kuzak confronts a scientist who had been the assistant to a Nazi scientist named Krueger. The Nazi was working on a formula for an explosive "'with the force of a tiny atomic bomb,'" and mixing the ingredients provided in the formulas will complete the project. Batman and Robin ski to the rescue and Bat-Hound makes a mighty leap and grabs the vial containing the explosive from Kuzak's hand just in time.

It's nice to see a Nazi menace instead of more aliens! It's also good to see Bat-Hound back in action and wearing his mask. He was getting a little bit bored hanging around Stately Wayne Manor, being fed kibble by Alfred. 

A mysterious crook has set up a contest for criminals! Each must wear a costume and commit a crime; they will all meet and vote on the best heist. The winner gets most of the loot, except for a percentage that the organizer will take. First, a man dressed as a deep-sea diver steals a valuable necklace and gets away from Batman by swimming underwater. Next, a man dressed as a knight robs a painting from an art exhibit and gets away on horseback.

Batman disguises himself as Nick Bayles, a "'crook that nobody knows is dead,'" and infiltrates the underworld, quickly learning about the crime contest and "The False Face Society." The next night, a bold crook disguised as Batman tries to steal a rare violin, but the real Batman captures him, unbeknownst to anyone. Batman plans to attend the meeting of the False Face Society in costume, pretending to be a crook masquerading as the Caped Crusader. A night later, Batman and the other crooks are taken to an abandoned lighthouse, where a crook in a mask and top hat conducts a vote and declares Batman the winner!

The bad guys quickly realize that Batman is the real deal and Batman convinces them that the contest was rigged in his favor by the organizer. Robin appears with the cops to round everyone up and the crook who set up the contest is revealed to be the Joker!

The random appearance of the Joker in the story's final panel surprised me, since nothing else about this story seemed consistent with his usual M.O. Still, it's a fun tale with some unusual situations, and I was glad to see Batman go undercover as a crook, even though his disguise just consists of a mustache and some stubble.

Batman's old friend, mineralogist Luke Haley, is on death's door and has always dreamed of being on the first rocket ship to travel to outer space, so Batman makes his dream come true by rigging up a movie prop spaceship and tricking Luke into thinking that he and the Dynamic Duo really fly to Mars! When they supposedly reach the Red Planet, actors dressed as Martians welcome the trio, but three criminals hiding nearby put on the Martian costumes to make off with gold and platinum that had been planted for Luke to find. Just as the crooks disguised as Martians are about to shoot Batman and Robin, Luke rips off his space helmet and throws it at them, spoiling their aim. He collapses and dies without ever knowing it was all fake.

A fitting "Memorial to an Astronaut" indeed! Finger's story manages to work in some Martians without having to send Batman to Mars. The whole thing reminds me of Capricorn One or the wacky conspiracy theories espoused by folks who think the moon landing was staged. Of interest to me is the panel at the bottom of page five where the head crook announces that they'll "'take a tip from the False Face Society we read about in the newspapers.'" This is the second time in one post where a character  refers to another story. The DC Universe is becoming self-referential!-Jack

I thought "Formula for Doom," albeit densely packed with expository dialogue, was pretty good, certainly more interesting than any other Bat-adventure this month. Bat-Hound is right up there with Bat-Mite for annoying gimmicks. Why don't the boys bring the dog on every escapade? Why are only certain cases dog-worthy? I had high hopes for "The False Face Society," but the story was dopey and complicated (just try to make sense of the dialogue in the panel I've reprinted here) and, yet again, an appearance by the Joker is wasted. 

"Memorial to an Astronaut" is enjoyable because it's so dopey. Batman could have probably sponsored an actual trip to Mars with what he must have spent on the faux journey. The every-panel explanations about "Luke doesn't know that Martian soil is actually brown and not red" are annoying, but the whole adventure is worth reading just to get to the climax where Luke dies and is buried on the movie set! That Batman will do anything for a buddy.

Detective Comics #310

"Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

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

Bat-Mite is bored! Usually this means a dangerous adventure is in store for the Dynamic Duo. Sure enough, opportunity presents itself to the mischievous cosmic imp in the form of three wanted criminals: Tate, Graff, and Dorn. To make the impending battle fair, Bat-Mite gives the Terrible Trio superpowers. Gone are three slightly demented crooks and in their place are Strongman (really strong and a caveman skirt to prove it!), Rubberman (he can stretch all over the place just like Elongated Man!), and the Cannonball (rolls himself up into a big ball and flies!). All three really don't like Batman and Robin and prove it by pounding the Caped Crusaders into dust. Round one goes to "Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"

Unfortunately, everyone's favorite Bat-costumed leprechaun gets knocked upside the head and loses his power to turn the trio back into normal thugs. Bat-Mite, Batman, and Robin are tossed into a water tank and left to drown while the Terrible Trio head to Gotham to pull off a string of robberies. Only Batman's incredible detective skills (and Bat-Mite's relative weightlessness) allows our heroes to escape a watery death. Batman and Robin curtail the heists of Rubberman and Strongman while Bat-Mite (who suddenly regains his powers) eradicates the Cannonball's plot to steal a rare Rembrandt just before he detonates a huge cache of explosives. Bat-Mite congratulates himself for a job well done and heads back to his dimension while Batman sighs and predicts we'll see more of the pesky gremlin.

Of that I am sure as well. The Batman stories of the 1960s, for the most part, are juvenile and aimed at a younger audience. I get that. But a lot of the Bats yarns we're reading are filled with magic and imagination. These Bat-Mite adventures push my patience to the limit. There's a pattern to them that's grating (Bat-Mite becomes weary of whatever it is he does when he's not here and cooks up a danger for B&R to navigate) and it feels as though Bill Finger couldn't give a flying *%#@ about this character but knows the boss wants the little shit in the picture now and then. The art is as awful as usual (see the panel reproduced below for some strange anatomy lessons re: the human bicep) and if these guys can't give it their best, why should I?

J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter From Mars, faces the deadliest danger he's ever come up against since emigrating from the Red Planet: the crazed genius/scientist Victor Vance, who's perfected a machine that can both shrink and enlarge an item in its path. The Manhunter tries to sneak up on Vance but the loony crook is too fast for him and reduces J'onn to the size of a Barbie doll. The Martian superhero must now prevent Vance from getting his hands on an experimental "Force-Field" machine that will make him the most powerful man in the galaxy.

The big brain criminals in these things are always either one can short of a six-pack or short-sighted. Why doesn't Vance travel to the police precinct and shrink it down to microscopic size, thereby eliminating the police force? The hero of "The Miniature Manhunter" is not much brighter; police warn him that Vance is super-sizing and shrinking stuff left and right and JJ goes after the cycling psycho without flipping on his invisibility switch. What a dope.-Peter

Jack-Bat-Mite must have been reading DC comics, since it turns out in the end that he was only pretending that being knocked in the head took away his powers. He tries to tell Batman that a second head knock (of course) caused them to come back, but Bats is too smart for him and points out that the timeline makes no sense. The Martian Manhunter story once again demonstrates the fascination at DC for giant things. The entire premise of  the Atom is based on a man shrinking so that everything seems giant sized. Here, the Manhunter never really seems to be in much peril, so the story is an excuse to turn him into a green Atom for ten pages or so. The year 1962 ends with a whimper for Batman; we are slowly approaching the 1964 reboot and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Next Week...
Joe Orlando Joins
the Atlas Bullpen!

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