Monday, April 15, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 20: March/ April 1963

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

Detective Comics #313

"The Mystery of the $1,000,000 Treasure Hunt"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Wizard Who Conquered J'onn J'onzz"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Certa

Commissioner Gordon receives a tip from an anonymous source that a heist is about to go down at the Store-All Warehouse and, rather than bother his cops, calls Batman and Robin to investigate. The boys arrive to witness Boss Barker and one of his thugs inside the warehouse, monkeying with a grandfather clock. The Dynamic Duo drop into the scene just as the clock shoots out restraining arms, trapping Barker's goon. At that moment, two members of a rival gang burst through the doors, tommy-guns a' blazin'. What gives?

After disarming and nabbing the criminals, Batman interrogates one of the hoods and learns that all the criminals in Gotham are on a high-stakes treasure hunt worth one million clams. Seems gangster Eli Maddan, lost at sea a month before, left a will with instructions for the hunt. Every goon in Gotham got one. Now they're all searching for clues to the prize. Maddan didn't want it to be too easy, though, so he tricked up each location with dangerous traps. 

Intrigued, Batman takes the copy of the will and he and Robin try to solve the puzzle. This leads them to such dangerous traps as a giant milk bottle and a huge record album that transforms into a flying cage. This cage ensnares the Dark Knight and transports him to a nearby silo, where he meets up with... Eli Maddan! Yes, reports of the man's death were exaggerated. Turns out the entire treasure hunt was designed to nab the Caped Crusader. Maddan is being paid one million to kill Gotham's favorite hero. He pushes a button and the cage containing Batman explodes. Next month in Detective Comics... J'onn J'onzz takes over the lead spot.

Just fooling! Batman is too smart for the gangster; picking up on an earlier clue and suspecting a trap, Batman sent Mecha-Batman in his place. The real Bats is in disguise in the silo and puts the cuffs on Maddan, who wishes he were dead. "The Mystery of the $1,000,000 Treasure Hunt" is one of those overly-complicated adventures that never satisfies in the end. It seems way too familiar. There are a couple of good chuckles to be had, though, if you pay attention. Despite Fred Wertham outing Batman and Robin as homosexuals in his groundbreaking study, I'm Gonna Run Comics Into the Ground, the professor must have frowned at writer Bill's obvious middle Finger panel of Bruce and Dick waking in the same room. Now, to be fair, they're in separate beds, but the point is that Wayne Manor has 66 bedrooms and they're sharing what appears to be one of the smallest. Gotham's gigantism fetish rears its ugly head once again with the big bottle factory. Who needs a whole factory devoted to making twelve-foot-tall glass bottles?

The Martian Manhunter tries to figure out why super-mob-boss Argus Weede is so interested in the Wand of Wodessa, an archaic, charming relic that has no power whatsoever. Or so J'onn J'onzz believes, until he sees Weede wield the wand and wreak havoc across the land. "The Wizard Who Conquered J'onn J'onzz" continues the ever-downward spiral of quality in the Martian Manhunter back-up. MM's villains are disposable, a new mob boss every issue it seems, and the routine is... routine. The only saving grace is that Zook must have been out of town this time out. Why do these early 1960s gangsters dress like business men? -Peter

Jack-What must it have been like to live in Gotham City at this time, surrounded by so many giant objects? No one seems the least bit surprised by oversized milk bottles or enormous record players that never stop. The puns fly fast and furious in this story. which I thought was pretty good. In the 1980s, this would have merited a multi-issue arc! As for J'onn J'onzz, it was good to see a villain with some power, though I did not see any explanation for his magical abilities. The art was better than usual.

Kane & Paris
Batman #154

"Danger Strikes Four"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Amazing Odyssey of Batman and Robin"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Strange Experiment of Doctor Dorn"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Dick happens upon Alfred as the butler is writing another imaginary story about Batman II and Robin II. The young ward reads the incomplete story, which tells of a giant robot named Magog that is hijacked by a renegade scientist who demands $1,000,000 or else the robot will go rampaging through Gotham City the next day. A quick look at the crime files tells Bruce Wayne that the scientist is a rare book nut, so a fake ad is placed in the paper to draw him out. The plan works and the scientist's hideout is discovered, but the robot is accidentally launched and is heading to wreak havoc on Gotham when the story is suspended because Alfred has run out of ideas.

Bruce bursts in to tell Dick about a real emergency, so they don their costumes and rush to the state pen, where a crook reveals that his gang is set to send a buzz bomb toward Gotham unless the crook is freed by 4 PM. Using a trick from Alfred's story, they locate the hideout and find the bomb, but it (like the robot in the story) is accidentally launched! To the Batplane! Robin makes a daring leap in mid-air and sends the bomb safely out to sea; he goes home and tells Alfred how to end his story with similar heroics.

Usually, the imaginary stories by Alfred are presented with a straight face until some wacky thing happens and it's revealed that what we're reading is not really happening. In "Danger Strikes Four," there's no secret, and the story is used to parallel real events. A detail from the story helps with the real crime, and the solution to the real crime is used to end the story. It all works out neatly but it's kind of dull. The robot is named Magog, which is a name from the Bible and the Koran; thanks, Wikipedia!

I also want to note that it seems the real Bob Kane penciled the cover, which is not something we see often (ever?). I was skeptical, but all of my research seems to suggest that he really drew it.

Batman and Robin were sailing the Bat-Boat to judge the yachting regatta in Bay City, but in the morning mists by the shore, two fisherman discover the battered hulk with no sign of the Dynamic Duo! The ship's log is recovered and Commissioner Gordon reads it over the airwaves that evening to explain the tragic story of "The Amazing Odyssey of Batman and Robin" and how it led to their deaths! Six hours out of port, they encountered a submerged volcano and a tidal wave that swept them into uncharted waters. They managed to avoid being drawn in by a giant Cyclops made entirely of lodestone by ancient people and made their way to an uncharted island.

After being caught by natives, they met the Great Kardo, a former circus magician who had turned to crime. He explained how he discovered a plant whose juice causes temporary amnesia, so he planned to use it in a robbery in Gotham City. Kardo escaped by seaplane and the Bat-Boat again set sail, until a giant squid attacked--and the logbook ends. Kardo goes ahead with his robbery, but--surprise!--he is stopped by Batman and Robin, who only pretended to be dead in order to draw him into the open.

Holy complicated plan! First of all, Kardo goes to a lot of trouble collecting amnesia juice from plants on an uncharted island only to use it to make cops in Gotham City woozy so he can rob the $100,000 in prize money that would otherwise be given to the winner of a TV contest. Second, Batman and Robin cook up a crazy plan that includes faking their own deaths, just so they can capture Kardo in the act! Most surprising to me was the fact that all of the things they encountered were real! Why not just fake the logbook and head home and relax?

A big, green, hairy monster is rampaging through Gotham City! Bullets have no effect, nor does fire. Batman deduces that the monster must have been in Dr. Dorn's mountaintop laboratory and he's right--Batman and Robin  drive to the lab and the monster promptly knocks them both out with socks to the jaw. They later awaken to find it gone and trail it to a chemical supply house, where the Dynamic Duo witness the creature stealing two bottles of rare chemicals.

Still later, they find a groggy Dr. Dorn in his lab. He gives them an antidote to destroy "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Dorn," but when Batman later has the opportunity to fling some chemicals as the monster starts to dismantle a bridge, he hesitates. Later, Batman and Robin watch through Dr. Dorn's window and witness the doctor unwillingly transform into the creature. They follow him on his next rampage and, once he returns to the lab, Batman uses a gaseous antidote to cure the poor doc once and for all.

Does something smell in here? Sorry, it's just this story, which is not just poorly illustrated and boring, but also utterly lacking in surprise or suspense. A five-year-old reader would not be challenged to figure out the monster's identity early on. I need an antidote for issues like this one.-Jack

Once again, in "Danger Strikes Four," Al neglects his Batsuit mending and puts fingers to Smith Corona for the benefit of all mankind. If Al has to have a tea and fantasy break, couldn't he come up with more imaginative plots than this drivel? I do like that Finger brought back Hal Durgin, if only for a bit of continuity. "The Amazing Odyssey..." is a tad better; lots of smiles crossed my face as I imagined an undersea volcano eruption and an "uncharted" island between Gotham and Bay City (wherever that is) that no one notices. Also, I love the Lovecraftian diary entry from Bats while Robin risks his life: "...Robin fights the tentacles of the gigantic octopus up top while I put these important words on paper. Wait, it's coming through the door... it's reaching for me... aaaaargh..." Did the lodestone statue have anything to do with any of the other events that transpired in this white-knuckler? Of the three stories this issue, I enjoyed "Dr. Dorn" the most, despite its truly hideous art. Better Dr. Jekyll than Trorg, Invader from the X-5 System, I always says. This story really accentuates Batman's wild stabs at what's going on (and 100% of the time he's on the money); he sees a piece of lint laying on the road and hypothesizes it's from Dr. Dorn's belly-button. World's Greatest Detective.

Detective Comics #314

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

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

Commissioner Gordon notifies Batman and Robin that faded screen star Roger Carlyle has made threatening threats toward his former bosses at Monarch Pictures. Carlyle's career had descended into the crapper and the strain had made his brain short-circuit. Now, he blames the trio of millionaires for his problems.

First up, dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, Carlyle drops a ten-ton chandelier on the head of Henry Austin and then avoids capture by the Dynamic Duo. As Batman and Robin speed from the scene of the crime, the Dark Knight informs Robin that the masked man dressed as the Phantom could have been anyone. It's well-known to the subscribers of Variety (of which Bruce Wayne is an avid reader) that the three Monarch bosses have been warring amongst themselves for control of the studio. Carlyle might just be a scapegoat!

The duo motor to the palatial estate of exec Will Bates to check on his status; there they find fellow studio boss, Harmon, in a state of anxiety. He's just received a typewritten death threat from Roger Carlyle and wanted to see if Bates was still standing on two legs. After getting no response to the door's huge knockers, Batman, Robin, and Harmon enter to find the mansion empty. On the kitchen table is a death threat to Bates, signed by Carlyle. But where is Bates? Just then, Batman remembers an old Rona Barrett column in Variety, where the gossip queen excitedly bragged about her trip to Bates's private island. Bats and Robin inflate the Bat-Boat and head out to the island.

En route to the island, Batman and Robin catch a glimpse of Bates's yacht just before a mechanical white whale emerges from the sea and violently rams the vehicle. Bates sinks below the waves as the Dynamic Duo watch helplessly. An evil cackle emits from a hatch atop the whale and the boys spy a masked villain exiting the blowhole; surely, this must be Roger Carlyle, reenacting his most famous role as Ahab in Moby Dick (in this universe, Gregory Peck was off making a Grade-Z oater at the time). Batman hops aboard the craft but Carlyle escapes. 

The Caped Crusaders head to Monarch Studios, where Harmon is waiting for them. When they arrive, they're told by guards that their boss has been kidnapped by Carlyle and has been stuffed onto an old locomotive at the studio's western set. The heroes arrive just as the train is heading for the cliff and Bats rescues Harmon in the nick of time. Bats picks up a Fedora and examines it closely, remembering an old column in The Hollywood Reporter about the hat sizes of movie producers, and loudly proclaims that Carlyle could never have worn a hat such as this, stuffed with paper. Robin, doing his best to keep up, proudly states that the murderer couldn't possibly be Carlyle! The World's Greatest Detective then throws his index finger skyward and reminds his pre-teen chum that Bates's body was never found!

Um yeah...
The Duo head back to Bates's castle, where they discover master thespian Roger Carlyle handcuffed to a radiator in the basement. Carlyle explains that Bates was never on the yacht (he set the wheel to steer the craft without a skipper!!!) and that he's the monster behind the murders of Harmon and Austin. Bats tells the stressed movie star that he and Robin were able to save Harmon and that Carlyle should go home and get some rest. Shortly thereafter, the masked killer enters through the window of Harmon's study, where the producer is enjoying a book and a cognac. "This time, I'll make sure of your death!" cackles the madman, just before Harmon rises from his La-Z-Boy and decks him. He then removes his face to reveal Batman (ears and all) underneath. The killer is unmasked and Roger Carlyle stands before them. "Holy double-twist, Batman!" exclaims the bewildered Boy Wonder. Batman then explains all the intricate details that went into Carlyle's plan but, by then, Robin is napping. Needless to say, Roger Carlyle will be performing To Kill a Mockingbird only for his cellmates in the future.

Um, but...
At times, Bill Finger can load his scripts with endless, unneeded intricacies, as in the fabulously enjoyable "Murder in Movieland." There's way too much plot and at least five more twists than the average eight-year-old can hold in his tiny brain; it was certainly harder to follow than the average funny book story. The two-page Agatha Christie-esque expository at the climax had me reaching for a bottle of Excedrin. But, despite those drawbacks, this was one pleasurable funny book story in both story and art (hard to believe this is the same team we cringe at most months), a harkening back to the 1940s-style murder mysteries that the Dark Knight became famous for. I love how Carlyle has access to all these movie props and, even better, that any studio would build a mechanical whale that could actually hold its own as a motorboat and a battering ram. How about the backlot western set that includes fully-fueled locomotive plus deadly cliff drop? Sign me up for more of these retro-adventures.

In "J'onn J'onzz vs. John Jones," the Martian Manhunter faces his deadliest challenge in over thirty days when an escaped con from Saturn overpowers Jones and takes on his Earthbound identity. Only pretty patrolwoman Diane Meade and sidekick, Zook, can save J'onn from "himself." Lame story, lame art, lather, rinse, repeat. Just once I'd like to finish one of these awful Martian Manhunter stories with something other than an eye-roll. What the hell does Captain Harding do besides sit behind his desk and act angry? Why is Diane Meade always in the wrong spot at the right time? Why does a guy from Saturn know about oil companies and their underground pipes? Nothing in this twelve-page abomination points to creativity.-Peter

Jack-I'm right there with you regarding the Martian Manhunter story, which features unusually stilted art, the usual gang of lame supporting characters, and the Zook, which seems to have landed in a superhero comic rather than a funny animal comic by mistake. I'm not with you on the Batman story, which I found mediocre despite what initially seemed like a good premise. It's hard to believe a story with Batman and the Phantom of the Opera could be such a drag.

Next Week...
Everett Continues to Dazzle!

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