Monday, August 21, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 2: March/April 1960

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

Detective Comics #277

"The Jigsaw Menace from Space"
Story by Dave Wood?
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Plundering Plant"
Story by Jack Miller?
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Menace of Mr. Moth"
Story by Jack Miller?
Art by Joe Certa

While on patrol, Batman and Robin come across a UFO that has crashed on a desolate hillside. Staggering from the wreckage is the ship's captain, who introduces himself as an explorer from another world. Before he slips into a coma, the alien further confesses that he was in possession of a dangerous creature called the Kraal, a being that can divide into three separate entities. Those monsters have escaped and it's up to the Dynamic Duo to corral the pieces.

First up, they find Gold Kraal sucking the electricity out of a railroad track. The train comes to a halt and (wouldn't cha know?) out pops a gang of criminals who were on their way to Gotham State Prison. Ignoring the fact that these hoods are dressed in their mobster threads and wear no handcuffs, Batman uses a water tower to put the kibosh on any escape plans and then uses a spray of liquid rubber to render Gold Kraal powerless. One down, two to go.

While waiting at the hospital for the alien to awaken and provide answers, Batman floats the theory that, if all three pieces come together, the whole Kraal might "nullify Earth's gravitational pull" and everything will head to the heavens. Exiting the hospital, our heroes are amazed to see a layer of ice on the streets of Gotham and are then further stymied by the appearance of Green Kraal who, it becomes apparent, sucks up all the heat around it. The Dark Knight uses his Bat-Solar Mirror to lure the thing into an ice chamber and the Green Kraal is paralyzed. Two down, one to go.

Just then, a patrolman bursts into the building to let the Caped Crusader know that the third and final Kraal has been spotted across town, absorbing water. If Purple Kraal gets to Gotham Harbor, it'll soak up all the water in the world and it will be curtains for mankind. Meanwhile, back at the UFO crash site, we learn our friendly spaceman has risen from his nap and used equipment to bring Gold and Green Kraals to the hillside. The gizmo also acts as a magnet for Purple Kraal and, very soon, the three parts are whole. The alien explains to Batman and Robin that, once the pieces are put together, "The Jigsaw Menace from Space" is harmless! The space explorer blasts off, leaving the Dynamic Duo to ponder the mysteries of space.

Another perfectly loony and enjoyable Bat-adventure, "Jigsaw Menace" is a perfect example of how different the 1960s were from the dark, ponderous, and serious work done in the 1970s and 1980s. Don't get me wrong, I prefer the gloomy Dark Knight tales to the fanciful, no-consequences fare offered up here, but sometimes you're in the mood for a slice of German Chocolate Cake instead of a heavy meal. The DC titles were still dependent on big jolts of outer space invaders and it's a wonder Bill Finger (and whoever else was helping Bill to write Bat-scripts) could come up with something somewhat original. Heck, I know I'm going to find it hard to say something original about said aliens. It's lovely to see Gotham Hospital open its arms to an alien being who may be carrying some form of killer bacteria on his person, but shame on the torch-carrying hick farmers who want to mete out some redneck justice on our tiny friend.

A deep-sea diver discovers a glass jar in the wreckage of an ancient ship off the coast of Greece containing an odd vine. The man brings the jar to Roy Raymond, TV Detective, with an eye to appearing on Roy's show. When the stranger opens a spigot on the jar, the vine escapes and becomes a huge choking menace, destroying part of the building in the process. Impressed, Roy invites the man back on Friday for "the whole country to see."

Unfortunately, one of Roy's employees is not a very good person and he follows the happy man out of the studio. After leaving the man unconscious in an alley, the villain steals the jar and makes for a local bank, dollars signs in his eyes. "The Plundering Plant" gets loose and it's up to Roy to stop it before it destroys the city. At six pages, there's obviously not much room to work up nuances like plot and character but, on the bright side, these little jolts of goofiness don't outstay their welcome. I'm finding Roy Raymond's super-abnormal cases just as much (if not more) fun as the main act. 

Finally, J'Onn J'Onzz faces "The Menace of Mr. Moth," a loon who steals only valuable pieces that are bright and shiny. Mr. Moth has one of the most enjoyable (read: silliest) headpieces in all of funnybookdom, but J'Onn fights back his chuckles long enough to foil the plan of the evil genius and land him in a dark cell. Incredibly enough, this was Mr. Moth's only appearance in the DCU and the tenth-tier baddie is not related to the more nattily-clad Killer Moth.-Peter

Jack-Wait, Mr. Moth did not return in episode 32 of "J'Onn J'Onzz: The Animated Series" in the '90s? I'm disappointed. It's funny that the Martian Manhunter, the most powerful hero in this issue, faces the least powerful villain. Roy Raymond uses more cleverness than detective skills to stop the plundering plant, and (thank goodness) the author managed to work in a bank robbery, an event surprisingly absent from this issue's Batman lead story. The Kraal seemed like a menace more suited to Superman or the JLA, but Batman and Robin soldier on as if they have no super-friends and no telephone and defeat it anyway. Why is it that people always seem to lapse into a coma/faint/die right before they're about to impart key information?

Batman #130

"Batman's Deadly Birthday"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye

"The Master of Weapons"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Hand from Nowhere"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

When Commissioner Gordon surprises the Caped Crusader with an announcement that Gotham City is celebrating the anniversary of his first case, no one suspects that it will turn out to be "Batman's Deadly Birthday"! An unexpected water spray dampens the first event, which recalls the time Batman successfully foiled a ruby theft; a villain uses the confusion to mask pilfering a congratulatory scroll and a valuable medallion that was to be auctioned off for charity.

The second event is held at Pleasure Island, where a silver cow stuffed with cash is intended for charity, recalling the time Batman stopped a gang that was forcing dairy owners to pay protection money. Fireworks go off in the sky but the Dynamic Duo they display look silly--another celebration gone awry and another item stolen. Finally, the big event is held that night at Gotham Stadium, where a cake, three stories high, is booby-trapped to catch Batman and Robin in wet plaster lining the top. A gang of crooks holds up the money earmarked for charity, but our heroes outwit them and the bad guy gets trapped in his own wet plaster!

This issue's first story features delightful art by Dick Sprang and Stan Kaye as well as an absurd premise that allows us to see a few of the unusual donations the businesspeople of Gotham prepare for charity. Perhaps my favorite panel shows Batman looking sheepish and exclaiming, "Gosh...I--I've never been so honored before!" The fireworks display, which shows Robin head-butting Batman below the belt and causing him to take a spill, is also a hoot.

On a film set, technical expert Graham falls, hits his head, and is taken to the hospital. That night, "The Master of Weapons" leaves his room via the window and the police are notified, since he may not be in his right mind. A week later, there's a new villain in Gotham City: a masked man who seems to know all about historical weapons, such as the ballista (ancient crossbow) that he and his gang use to break into a museum and rob it of valuable paintings. Batman and Robin give chase, but the Batmobile's tires are blown when the mysterious villain scatters caltrops in the road--pointed metal darts. Studio accountant Bailey thinks Graham must be the villain, since he knows about old weapons, was angling for a raise, and got bonked on the head.

Batman and Robin next encounter the masked man as he uses a catapult to break into a bank; the Caped Crusader takes note when the masked man does not know that the catapult is known as a "wild donkey." The Dynamic Duo suspect Graham is being framed and Ace, the Bat-Hound, follows the crook's scent and leads his masters to the old, abandoned Gotham Prison. The villain sends boulders flying toward them via a catapult to no avail; Batman catches him and unmasks Graham, who was trying to make it look like Bailey was the guilty party so he could "retire with the loot, unsuspected!"

The ancient weapons are cool and there's a neat bit of misdirection here, as Graham tries to mislead Batman into thinking he's not the bad guy. We're quickly being introduced to the whole lineup of Bat-friends and Bat-gizmos; last time out it was Bat-Mite and now it's Ace, the Bat-Hound.

Just another day in Gotham City, as Batman and Robin respond to the scene at the Gotham Zinc Works, where a giant, green hand is ripping the roof off of the factory under the control of two aliens, who grab a supply of zinc and return with the hand, which is part of a Gnarl, to their own dimension. The next day, the aliens reappear with the giant hand to pilfer some copper from a mine; they remark that they will soon have all of the materials they need to build a new dimension-transmitter that will widen the opening to our world!

On day three, the aliens and "The Hand from Nowhere" show up again, unable to be stopped by the Bat-Plane! They steal a load of tin but don't seem to understand when Batman speaks to them in a strange language. Batman and Robin take to the skies again and find a warehouse, where they confirm that the aliens and the giant hand were a hoax perpetrated by none other than Lex Luthor, taking a break from battling the Man of Steel and concocting a great big scam to cover up the theft of a load of valuable platinum. Batman takes over the controls of the giant hand and uses it to grab Luthor's car as the bald baddie tries to drive away.

I'm happy to see "The Hand from Nowhere" once again, since it is one of the earliest Batman stories I can remember reading. We blogged about it way back in 2012 when we started our Bat-journey, since it was reprinted in Batman #218 from January 1970. Luthor's plan and the giant hand make little sense, but that never bothered me.-Jack

The giant cake in "Batman's Deadly Birthday" would make a reappearance seven years later in the TV episode, "A Riddling Controversy." The major difference was that, on the tube, the Riddler was the antagonist rather than the Dantons. The meat in our Batman-sandwich this issue is the most enjoyable of the trio. "Master of Weapons" is a riot, featuring lots of the requisite 1960s Bat-goofiness and a whale of an expository. "Master of Weapons" also gives us our first look at Ace (a/k/a "Bat-Hound"), the Wayne Manor's mutt, introduced way back in Batman #92 (June 1955) and, evidently, sent to the Gotham pound at some point in the 1960s. I love how Bats has decided it's too dangerous to leave Ace undisguised! Can't wait to get to know Ace. As for "The Hand from Nowhere," I'm not sure I buy the explanation behind the giant hand that can do just about anything (include drag a cloud behind it), but at least the story includes a member of the Rogues Gallery. Well, sure, Luther's not a member of the Bat-Villain Society but he's a bad guy we all recognize. 

Detective Comics #278

"The Man Who Became a Giant"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The 5th Dimension Trap"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Defeat of J'Onn J'Onzz"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Certa

Brilliant scientist Steve Condon has done a massive amount of research on growth hormones and that work has caught the eye of even-more-brilliant Professor Simms. Condon is given free reign over Simms's private laboratory and begins mixing lots of toxic potions. After one such session, he's out tootling around town with fiance Laura when he accidentally breaks the steering wheel in half.

Proving once again that a superhero can be wherever he's needed in the city, no matter how small the emergency, Batman comes to the rescue, forcing Steve's auto to a stop. When questioned, Steve allows how he broke the steering wheel off with his bare hands. Chuckling, and muttering under his breath "Not even I could do that," Batman offers to examine the convertible. Steve happily agrees and pulls the driver's door off its hinges. Suddenly, Steve begins growing before the startled eyes of Batman, Robin, and Laura. "Hmmm," ponders the world's greatest detective, "something's up!"

Batman escorts "The Man Who Became a Giant" back to Gotham Hospital for tests and then informs Steve he'll work "'night and day to find an antidote.'" But the next day, Steve's peace of mind is shattered by the arrival of a man who offers a job to the giant as a freak in a circus he owns. Tossing the businessman out on his ass and telling Laura to find a man who can take care of her properly (not, you know, in that way, just in general), Steve busts through the hospital wall and heads out onto the streets of Gotham to find himself.

It's not long before Batman and Robin get wind of Steve's bust-out and they track him by the wreckage he leaves behind, catching up with the giant at a lumber yard. After a brief tussle, The Amazing Colossal Steve escapes into the mountains and hides out in a cave. The Dynamic Duo arrive at the cave and beg Steve to come out and have a chat. When he exits, Steve is astonished to see a giant Batman pleading with him to accompany him back to the hospital. Just then, a pesky bird comes along and pecks at Batman's chest. It's then that Steve realizes he's been duped by a giant air balloon duplicate of Gotham's protector.

After leaving the cave and the Dynamic Duo behind, Steve stumbles upon a small boy, fishing. The boy seems unafraid and this gives the man hope for acceptance from the population at large. He heads to Professor Simms's lab to enlist the egghead's aid in percolating an antidote to gigantism. But, unbeknownst to Steve (and mankind in general), it was the big-brain who was responsible for the massive growth. You see, it's always been Professor Simms's dream to lord it over an army of gigantic bank-robbers, a force so strong no gold would be safe. Simms gasses Steve and the giant falls into a peaceful slumber.

At just that moment, Batman has arrived at the Professor's lab to see if the scientist had been visited by the giant. Noticing a gigantic handprint on the front door, Batman motions to Robin that they should bust a door, pronto! Unfortunately, Simms's hoods are faster than the martial arts-trained detective and his 12-year-old piece of moving furniture. The Duo are tied up but quickly free themselves and awaken the sleeping giant. With the help of Steve Condon, Batman and Robin defeat the evil Professor Simms and quash his plot for world domination. An antidote is found and Steve and Laura are reunited in love.

Pretty dopey stuff, but I find this inane material so much easier to swallow than the serious, preachy, inane crap we had to deal with in the 1980s Bat-titles. "The Man who Became a Giant" was written to be disposable rather than studied decades later by two (admittedly brilliant) bloggers, dissecting each page, panel by panel. There are a lot of bits here to make you chuckle, not the least of which is the owner of a little convenience store Steve robs for food. This guy could be the Commish, moonlighting to pad out the ten grand a year Gotham pays him to keep Batman updated on crime. Then there's the master plan of Professor Simms, who obviously was reading all the DC titles being published at the time and decided bank-robbing was the way to go when you've concocted a life-changing serum. On a side note, I'm very curious as to when the Rogues will return. The writers (and probably editor Jack Schiff) seem to have been obsessed with science fiction as a foundation for their villains in early 1960.

Professor Jayson visits his old friend, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, in hopes Roy can help him control a gadget the scientist has created. Turns out the gizmo opens up a portal into the 5th Dimension (A-quaaaaaaaa-rius!) and allows alien beings to visit our world. Friendly enough, they invite Roy and his gorgeous secretary, Karen, to visit their world. Once there, however, Roy discovers that the beings want to open a permanent rift in order to rob banks and stuff (which, you have to admit, is a novel approach to an invasion), but the boob tube sensation is too smart for them and he and Karen escape and close the doorway forever. More great art from Moreira in "The 5th Dimension Trap," but I thought Roy's job was to debunk these inventions; seems like every gadget so far has worked so well it's gotten the TV host into some kind of trouble.

J'Onn J'Onzz must ward off an invasion of Venusians hungry for Earth's uranium. But never fear, the aliens are actually disguised policemen partnering with the Martian Manhunter in order to smoke out the Rocky Carlin Gang, the notorious mobsters who robbed a warehouse of its Torberite supply! The Martian Manhunter continues to be the weakest of the three 'tec series every month and "The Defeat of J'Onn J'Onzz" is no exception.-Peter

Jack-I was impressed with the special plastic suit in which Steve was outfitted; it was made to stretch as he grew, thus avoiding any embarrassing moments. Oddly enough, the criminals who also grew to giant size wore the usual Gotham City baddie outfit of suit, tie, and fedora, but there was no mention of elastic fabric. Batman tries to fool Steve with a giant Batman balloon, just one more invention that the Caped Crusader whips up in the Batcave in record time to address an emergency! There is a short scene with a little boy meeting giant Steve by a lake that recalls the famous scene by the lake in Frankenstein, except this time there is no tragic outcome.

The parallel world concept used in the Roy Raymond story would be central to the return of DC's Golden Age heroes a couple of years hence, so it's interesting to see that it was already being considered. The J'Onn J'Onzz story features fake aliens with suspiciously great powers, similar to the tale featuring Luthor's giant hand in last month's Batman.

Batman #131

"The Dog That Betrayed Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Case of the Deadly Gems"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris

"The Second Batman and Robin Team"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

Tragedy strikes when Ace, the Bat-Hound, is wounded by a bank robber's bullet! He develops amnesia, snarls at Batman and Robin, and runs off, soon reaching an isolated cabin, where he is taken in by a hermit who doesn't recognize the famous pooch. Bandits try to rob the old man, but "The Dog That Betrayed Batman" chases them off and runs away when the Dynamic Duo locate the cabin and approach their beloved doggie.

Doesn't look a bit like Bruce Wayne!
Batman deduces that Ace's head injury has caused him to associate men in masks with criminals, thus explaining his aversion to the Caped Crusader. Ace returns to Gotham City, where he saves a blind man from being hit by a car. Crooks capture Ace and trick Batman and Robin into entering a warehouse, where they are tied to chairs. The criminals unmask Batman but don't recognize him since he changed his appearance with makeup before donning the cape and cowl. Soon, Ace saves the day and the trio are happily reunited.

Bill Finger missed a chance to have Ace saunter in front of a bank window, see his own masked reflection, attack the window, and crash into the bank just in time to foil a robbery by masked villains. I think I'll hop in my time machine and pitch that plot to the editor in 1960!

Note how the pants fit...
"The Case of the Deadly Gems" begins with a dead body on the pavement and a threatening letter from ex-con Ted Greaves, who killed Clayber, the newest partner in the Gotham Gem Company, and who writes that he will kill the other three partners in ways having to do with their birthstones! Batman and Robin save John Wilcox from a Bengal tiger before preventing the death of Henry Stubbs when his yacht is set on fire. Batman realizes that the three partners in the gem company framed Greaves, killed Clayber, and are faking their own near-death experiences; the Caped Crusader noticed that the masked man's pants fit differently each time he appeared and figured out the truth. The three killers are apprehended and come quietly.

There's a reason that Batman is known as the world's greatest detective! He barely glimpses the masked man high atop the Gotham Gem Company tower the first time he sees him, hardly catches a look at him the second time as he lets out the tiger, and grapples with him in the shadows on the yacht the third time, yet Batman notices that his pants fit differently! We mere mortals would be going after poor Ted Greaves, who's probably just trying to put his life together after being in stir.

Alfred the butler sits down at his typewriter to record for posterity the story of Batman's retirement and the debut of a grown-up Dick Grayson and Batman II. Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane (Batwoman) married years ago and sired Bruce Wayne Jr., who lobbies successfully to become Robin II. Out on patrol together for the first time, "The Second Batman and Robin Team" fail to stop robbers from looting a TV auction show when Robin II lashes his rope to a prop tower that collapses.

The next day, Dick leaves a clue for Bruce Jr. regarding the whereabouts of gangster Ted Tate; Robin II heads off alone and, when Alfred tells his parents, they suit up once again as the original Batman and Batwoman and race to the old mica quarry, where "three generations of crime-fighters [combine] forces to combat the enemies of law and order." Suddenly, Bruce Wayne interrupts Alfred at his typewriter and it turns out that this was an imaginary story dreamed up by the butler, who speculates that more such tales may follow!

How in the world is this not the lead story in this issue? The cover is dynamite and would make me plunk down my dime in a hurry to find out what it's all about. Perhaps the funniest caption in a story filled with great moments comes when elderly Bruce tells elderly Kathy that "You just can't come along, and that's final"--Alfred writes that "Naturally no man ever wins an argument with a woman--" Priceless! I can see that all the hubbub in the late 1980s about a new Robin was nothing new to long-time Batman readers.-Jack

Peter-The world's greatest detective and his Boy Blunder wander around a forest for "several days" and don't even stumble on the old man's cabin? "The Dog That Betrayed Batman" gave me mucho Bride of Frankenstein vibes. "Shmoke...goood!" (And, of course, the blind guy shows up later!) The Dark Knight's explanation of why Bat-Hound is not attacking him and Robin had me crinkling my brow and scratching what little hair I have left. Really? Is that why? If it were Denny O'Neil or Marv Wolfman writing this stuff, I'd be crucifying them, but I'll go along with the fun. I swear.

But just one more silly question... in "The Case of the Deadly Gems," how did "Greaves" push the giant gem over on the Dynamic Dimwits and not fall himself? And when Bats revealed the identit(ies) of the shadowy villain, all I could think was "Whatever happened to Greaves?" Most Funnest Story of the Month Award goes to "The Second Batman and Robin Team," which predicts all those goofy "Earth-2, Earth-8, etc." alternate dimension stories that DC gummed the works up with in the 1980s. Hilarious that Batman and Robin have giant IIs across their chests.

Next Week...
Can even Batman and Robin
defeat the Atomic Man?

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