Monday, May 13, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 22: July/ August 1963

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

Detective Comics #317

"The Secrets of the Flying Bat-Cave"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Challenge of the Alien Robots"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

When Batman and Robin are invited to speak at Center City's Police Convention, they agree it's a perfect time to show off the Flying Bat-Cave, a heretofore unknown gizmo that contains within its incredibly elastic walls all the equipment and weapons the Dynamic Duo need to track criminals and also take a coffee break. On the way, they have to bust a gang of hoods belonging to the Condor, a syndicate that's growing by leaps and bounds in Gotham. The boys finally get to the convention and give the attending officers a look inside the Flying Bat-Cave. The police are obviously impressed.

That night, as off-duty rookie cop, Jack Arno, is walking home from work, a car speeds down the street and sideswipes a hydrant; the trunk pops open and a diamond necklace (literally) flies out. Arno recognizes the bauble as part of the Condor haul and approaches the hoods as they are parking their car, with arrest on his mind. Arno is cold-cocked but rescued by Batman and Robin, who are (what else?) patrolling their usual beat. The thugs get away, but Arno introduces himself to the Dark Knight and recounts his own history from birth ("You see, Batman, I had a rough time when I was a kid. I was a hobo* before I joined the police..."). Once the Bat wakes up, he tells Arno that was one stirring story and that he'll make a good detective someday. Maybe not the world's greatest detective, but a pretty pretty pretty good one.

Meanwhile, the Condor is pissed about Batman's continued interference and decides he'll use the cop convention for some self-promotion; he contacts the newspapers and issues a warning to Bats and the cops to cancel the rest of the gathering. Batman and Robin head to the precinct to compare notes with Arno but discover the rookie hasn't shown up for work. Later that day, while investigating a lead, Batman discovers an abandoned warehouse with an ominous message on its wall from Arno: two hobo* signs etched on the wall and a bullet. Heading back to the Flying Bat-Cave, Bats brings up the incredibly elaborate "Hobo* Code" chart and deciphers Arno's message: goons have kidnapped him and are holding him at a "well-guarded house" at a "turpentine camp" and he's out of bullets.

The boys fly out to the turpentine camp and rescue their new friend, but the Condor Clan escape into a secret passageway. Unbeknownst to Arno or Batman, the Condor has switched Arno's police cuffs with a pair set to explode when he's flying in the Bat-Cave with B&R. As the Cave is approaching the football stadium where the con is being held, Condor activates the switch and the hovering Bat-Cave explodes. The Condor and his henchmen take the field but... wait... what's that? It's the Bat-Cave flying into the arena. A giant hand extends from the craft and scoops up all the baddies. Later, Bats explains to Condor that he noticed the cuffs were too light to be police-issued and examined them. Luckily, they didn't explode in his face. From there, it was only a matter of inflating the Flying Bat-Cave balloon double and sitting back to watch the action. Batman and Robin exchange a knowing smile, while Condor is hauled away to prison.

I love how the "Hobo* Code" includes 16 signs and one of them is for "turpentine camp" (#8 is "triangle chicken" and #15 is "chili pepper with a cat's head"). My guess is that hobos* have a fabulous sense of humor and came up with a code no one could possibly crack (well, except for the world's greatest detective). But possibly even better is that Arno had the time to grab a bullet and etch two obscure hobo codes on a wall while being abducted. I'd have just written "They got me..." before they took me away. The Flying Bat-Cave is one of those optical illusions that looks small on the outside but is actually a 2.5 acre lot on the inside. You gotta love the panel of the boys' workshop, complete with saw, file, and what looks like a barber's chair in the same room as a Batmobile made for preschoolers. 

(* Hobo-a politically insensitive phrase describing a pre-2000s homeless man. He said it, not me!)

The Martian Manhunter must match wits with the diabolical Jasper Dowd, who takes advantage of a gift from outer space to wreak havoc throughout the city. Can J'onn J'onzz overcome "The Challenge of the Alien Robots"? What do you think? As awful as the last installment... and the one before it... and the one before it... Good only for a couple laughs. Biggest would be when Dowd explains to pretty policewoman Diane Meade that the crashed capsule bearing his robot marauders included "complete operating instructions!" No wait, what about when Diane is tracking Dowd as he gets in a boat and she lets us know she's going to go rent a boat to follow him? She's not only pretty, she's fast! Joe Certa continues to make Sheldon Moldoff's work look fantastic!-Peter

Jack-The Flying Bat-Cave is like the TARDIS! It looks to be about the size of a large helicopter, but when Batman gives a tour of the interior, it has multiple rooms and seems much larger. I'm glad they built a replica Batmobile and a replica giant penny so everyone could see those. One thing that puzzled me was how Batman and Robin get back up to the FB-C after they slide down ropes to reach the ground. Do they have to climb back up the ropes? I was even more puzzled when they glided down without ropes! Maybe they have a remote control gizmo that allows them to land the FB-C safely.

The Martian Manhunter story is a dud. Pretty patrolwoman Diane Meade gets in trouble, J'onn J'onzz transforms into something. Problem solved. I guess this story answers the question from last time about whether fire is still a concern.

Batman #157

"The Villain of the Year"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Hunt for Batman's Secret Identity"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

At Commissioner Gordon's office, crime reporter Hal Lake tips Batman and Robin off to a big job planned by the Barker Gang today and tells them to watch out for the Jackal, who steals from other criminals. Lake suddenly gets a bad headache and has to leave to meet a deadline.

At the Gotham Auto Show, the gang tries to steal a solid gold convertible, but the Jackal makes off with the vehicle. The next day, Lake's newspaper column dubs the Jackal, "The Villain of the Year." At gang HQ, the boss offers a reward for a lead to the Jackal and a crook named Marty Kale expresses interest. Batman and Robin put on disguises to prowl the underworld and end up trailing Lake; they discover that he's been disguising himself as Kale to infiltrate the gang. A letter at Lake's office leads the Dynamic Duo to the Busy Bee Honey Farm, where the Jackal has his hideout; on their way there by boat, they happen upon a jewelry theft on the water and witness the Jackal once again make off with another crook's loot.

When Batman and Robin reach the honey farm, they encounter the gang and the Jackal and stop both with little effort. Batman unmasks the Jackal to reveal that he's Hal Lake! Robin finds all of the Jackal's stolen loot, wrapped up and ready to be sent to the police. Batman explains to Lake (and us) that the crime reporter developed a split personality and needs to go to a hospital for treatment.

Dave Wood's script is all over the place. It's obvious that Lake is the Jackal from the first time we meet him, when he gets a sudden headache and has to leave. Lake tells Batman that the Barker Gang has something planned, but when they get to the auto show, the crook is referred to as Reed. When Batman and Robin are rushing to the honey farm, they suddenly appear in Gotham Harbor, where they stop a crime in progress, seemingly not recalling that they're in a rush. It's a bit of a mess.

The Mirror-Man escapes from prison, determined to prove to the world that Batman is Bruce Wayne! "The Hunt for Batman's Secret Identity" begins with the Mirror-Man assigning small-time hood Harry Vance to follow Bruce so that he can't change into his Batman costume. Wayne tricks Vance by intentionally falling into an open manhole and feigning being knocked out; the dopey crook puts the cover over the hole and Bruce is able to slip away and don his Bat-suit.

The  Mirror-Man and his gang appear at a museum to steal a jade mirror that Vicki Vale is photographing for her magazine; the Dynamic Duo foil the attempted theft, but the crooks get away and Vicki overhears the Mirror-Man remark that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Outside the museum, Batman thanks Batwoman, who tried to stop the gang's escape, and Vicki decides that the best way to win the Dark Knight's love is by trying to help him, just as Batwoman did.

The Mirror-Man plans his next crime for the following night: he'll steal a first edition of Through the Looking-Glass at a Gotham Book Society celebration. At Wayne Manor, Bruce asks Alfred to masquerade as Bruce Wayne and attend the gala in order to trick the Mirror-Man. At the gala, the Mirror-Man is puzzled when both Batman and Bruce Wayne show up. But what's this? Alfred, disguised as Bruce, is late in arriving! The Mirror-Man sets in motion a trick by which the museum walls are all replaced by giant mirrors, allowing the gang to escape again.

It turns out that Vicki Vale, in her attempt to help, hired an actor to impersonate Bruce at the event. Outside, Vance tails the actor, while inside, the real Bruce shows up, claiming his car broke down. Vance discovers that the Bruce he was following is an actor and reports back to the Mirror-Man, who thinks this is all the proof he needs. Suddenly, Batman and Robin burst in! They quickly overpower the gang and capture the Mirror-Man. Later, Vicki Vale is among the reporters who arrive at the hideout. The Mirror-Man tells everyone that Batman is Bruce Wayne, so Batman calls Wayne and asks him to come to the hideout, which he does. The Mirror-Man grabs at Wayne's face, thinking he's an impostor in makeup, but it's the real Bruce.

After the crooks are taken away, Batman gives Vicki a big kiss (much to the chagrin of Batwoman). Back at the Batcave, Alfred takes off his Batman disguise and admits that, since Vicki required consolation, he ad-libbed the kiss!

Easily the most fun Batman story in months, "The Hunt for Batman's Secret Identity" is enjoyable from start to finish. It starts with a great splash page, illustrating the scene later in the story where Batman and Robin find themselves among a kaleidoscope of mirrored walls. We're off to a good start as Bill Finger sets up a triangle of jealousy featuring Kathy Kane and Vicki Vale, only to top it with the return of a fun villain. Bruce's fake fall into the open manhole is a riot, as are the romance-comic asides where Vicki displays her jealousy of Batwoman and schemes to get her man.

The Book Society party gives Moldoff an excuse to draw characters from Alice in Wonderland, and the mix-up with the three Bruce Waynes is genuinely funny. Batman fittingly captures the Mirror-Man by using a couple of mirrors, but the highlight of the story for me was the end, where a disguised Alfred plants one right on the lips of Vicki Vale and then proudly admits it back at the Batcave! All Bruce can say is "'Hmmm!'"-Jack

World's Greatest Detective
Despite the fact that the Jackal's real identity is pretty obvious right from panel four ("Ooooh, my head!"), I enjoyed "Villain of the Year." It's very reminiscent of the Norman Osborn/Green Goblin saga (which wouldn't unfurl  until the following year) and also Marvel's version of the Jackal (normal guy turned crazy villain). If I'd been on the editor's desk, I would have let the mystery smolder over time to keep the kids guessing, but back in 1963 it was all about wrapping it up in twelve pages.

I wasn't as bowled over by the Mirror-Man story as my esteemed colleague. MM has a bee in his bonnet; it's that no one will believe his claim that Batman is really Bruce Wayne. Wouldn't it make more sense to capture the Dark Knight and unmask him rather than assigning your biggest dummies to follow Wayne around Gotham? The idea that Alfred could somehow fill Batman's shoes (and cowl and mask) will always be a ridiculous gimmick. At least on the '66 show, it looked like Alfred under the costume!

Detective Comics #318

"The Cat-Man Strikes Back"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Jim Mooney, Sheldon Moldoff & Mike Esposito

"J'onn J'onzz' Enemy--Zook"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

While making a rare public appearance at the rodeo, Batman and Batwoman are horrified to witness the return of the previously-alleged-dead Cat-Man! The villain with nine lives grabs the prize money and sets off an explosive, setting the steer free to roam the streets of Gotham. Bats and Robin corral the cattle while Batwoman gives chase on her Bat-Cycle. Cat-Man does some dashing moves in his Cat-Car and jumps a ravine, but Catwoman plunges headfirst into the abyss.

Having lassoed the dogies, Batman and Robin return to Commissioner Gordon's office, where they find a flustered Batwoman. She explains that Cat-Man saved her from her deadly fall and then proposed a partnership, explaining that Batman would never marry her and she's getting too old to wait anymore. Robin remarks to his partner that he hopes Batwoman isn't falling for the notorious criminal and Bats sighs and explains to the pre-teen that women are harder to understand than trigonometry.

The next day, the police are called to the scene of a bizarre and brutal crime: three little kittens in stockings hanging from a tree. Turns out the evil deed is the work of... the Cat-Man, who hung the little felines in the tree to attract the attention of every cop in Gotham, thereby leaving all the jewelry stores unprotected ("Why didn't I think of that?" asks the Joker in his cell in Arkham) and ripe for robbery. Bats and Robin put three and twelve together and hypothesize that Cat-Man is planning heists based on "famous felines in fiction." Therefore, Cat-Man's next job will be knocking over the Gotham Coal Company, because (now, keep up) in the 14th century, coal was transported in a "cat." Brilliant!

I'd like to say that Batman and Robin showed up and stayed for six hours while the Gotham Cat Litter Company across town was being knocked over but, as is usually the case, the "World's Greatest Detective" is right on the money. Cat-Man and his henchmen are interrupted just as they're about to break in and they make a hasty getaway to a waiting boat. Batwoman shows up but pulls a major boner by accidentally dumping a truck full of coal on our heroes. Out on the boat, Cat-Man wonders if he's finally talked sense into the attractive Batwoman. Has she drifted over to the dark side?

Later, at the precinct, while handing in a captured Cat-thug, Batman lays into his female counterpart, blaming her for Cat-Man's escape. In front of Gotham reporters (hmmmm...), Kathy slaps her cowled beau right across the face and tells him to never speak to her again. About ten minutes later, the newspapers are rolling off the presses and the headlines scream about the breakup of the Bat-Couple. The next day, Cat-Man's henchman, Slim, is bailed out by a kind old lady who unmasks in an alley and reveals herself to be... Batwoman! No way! Slim calls the boss and relates the shocking news; Cat-Man orders Slim to blindfold his new accomplice and bring her to the Cat-Cave pronto. Once there, Batwoman explains that she's ready to be loved by a man as virile as the Cat and then dons her new costume as Catwoman (unaware that the moniker is already taken).

At that moment, the Caped Crusaders storm the hideout and are shocked by the transformation before their very eyes. When Cat-Man's goons head for the Dynamic Duo, the new Catwoman suddenly shows her true colors, allying herself with Gotham's heroes. But Cat-Man was ready for such duplicity and quickly ensnares all three of his enemies. In an ode to "The Black Cat," the deranged villain walls up Batman and Robin. Bats is able to send out a rescue signal to Ace, the Bat-Hound, who arrives in the nick of time. Bats heads out after Cat-Man, who's kidnapped Kathy and jumped on a boat. Bats rescues his sweetheart, but Cat-Man perishes in a fiery explosion. Or does he?

I'm not sure why but this Cat-Man character always seems to bring out the best in the writers, at least in terms of clever, exciting scripts. The art's pretty good as well. The much-ballyhooed team-up on the cover lasts for exactly four panels before the jig is up.

How many speaking engagements and ribbon-cutting ceremonies do the Dynamic Duo attend a week? How do they stop crime if they're always hobnobbing with Alice McGillicuddy and her sewing sisters?

That walled-in scene is hilarious. When Ace is called by Bats, the Hound takes the time to slip into his mask before exiting the Bat-Cave and then manages to enter the doom tomb via a well-placed manhole! But the rescue was only possible because Cat-Man and his brainless heathens had tied up the boys with rope and then left a burning candle behind the wall. These bad guys are pretty dumb!

In "J'onn Jonzz's Enemy--Zook," the Martian Manhunter finds that there's something up with his outer-space, kewpie-doll buddy. Zook seems to be aiding a nattily-dressed bunch of crooks in their heists, continually getting in Manhunter's way. Turns out the hoods stumbled upon a dazed, amnesiac Zook in the woods and convinced him they're Feds, investigating aliens at a carnival... or something like that. Anyway, it all winds up in a happy ending, not only for Zook but also for me and Jack. Zook, because MM forgives him and us, because we've decided enough is enough. The Martian Manhunter series is crap, as are most of the backups, and until the second feature becomes Batman-related (say, Robin or Batgirl solo stories), we'll ignore it altogether.-Peter

Jack-What a great Batman story! Jim Mooney's pencils are much more fun to look at than Moldoff's. I'm really getting to look forward to appearances by Batwoman (and Batgirl!), and even Bat-Hound makes a welcome appearance. The GCD links to a post where a researcher noticed that portions of this story are lifted wholesale from a story in Batman #42 featuring the original Catwoman; I read the earlier story online and it reminded me how great Batman comics of the '40s were. I think that when we finish the '70s that should be our next project.

As to the J'onn J'onzz story--sayonara, Martian Manhunter!

Batman Annual #5

"The Power That Doomed Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #268, June 1959)

"The Merman Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #118, September 1958)

"Rip Van Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #119, October 1958)

"The Zebra Batman"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #275, January 1960)

"The Grown-Up Boy Wonder"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from Batman #107, April 1957)

"The Bewitched Batman" 
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye
(Reprinted from World's Finest Comics #109, May 1960)

"The Phantom Batman"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Batman #110, September 1957)

"The Giant Batman"
Story by Edmond Hamilton
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #243, May 1957)

The cover calls this 80-page collection "The Strange Lives of Batman and Robin," so we get eight stories where some mysterious force causes a big change in one or the other and they have to deal with the consequences until they return to normal at the story's end. In "The Merman Batman," the Caped Crusader has to wear a glass helmet filled with water when he can no longer breathe air. In "Rip Van Batman," he appears to sleep so long that he grows a white beard and witnesses Robin take over his role. And so on. Most of the stories follow a pattern, and the fact that five are penciled by Moldoff doesn't add much excitement. I liked the last three best; with pencils by Curt Swan and Dick Sprang; at least they looked more dynamic.

Peter-This was the weakest of the annuals we've covered so far. Might it be due to the dates of each story? All fell in a three-year span from '57-'60. If I were a 1963 Batman fanboy, I'd feel ripped off that we didn't get some of those cool early '50s strips. Chances are, the kid who paid two bits for this 80-page Giant had already read these eight stories. I'm not sure what's worse--the 1960s where Batman fights robots and aliens twice-monthly, or the late '50s, where he's struck by lightning and his cellular composition is thrown in a tizzy every issue.

Next Week...
Who is...
The Man From the Saucer?

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