Monday, September 4, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 4: July/August 1960


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

Detective Comics #281

"Batman, Robot"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Girl Who Became a Sorceress"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Menace of Marsville"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

With the luck that Batman carries in his utility belt, he nabs the Night Owl Gang as they're stealing the receipts from a popular sports convention. The gang manages to get away, but for one thug who is arrested: No. 2 man, Wedge Dixon. But Night Owl boss Eddie Chill isn't taking the arrest lightly. Chill orders Wedge (who's been paroled by the notoriously lenient Gotham judicial system) to kill Batman so that he can't testify against him in court.

Using his conniving, villainous brain, Wedge makes an anonymous tip to the police, informing them that Eddie Chill is holed up in an abandoned mine shaft on the edge of town. Batman and Robin take the bait and Batman enters the shaft alone. An explosion rocks the mountainside and Robin fears the worst. Every bad guy in Gotham sighs with relief. Batman is dead!

As word spreads through the city's underworld, crooks become bolder. Three thieves break into a rug manufacturing plant (!) to crack the safe, but are stymied by Robin and... Batman! After news of the return of Gotham's favorite son reaches Wedge Dixon, he bails out one of the arrested crooks and grills him, receiving some startling information that makes him more than a bit suspicious. Using his old standby, the anonymous tip, Wedge alerts police to the fact that the Gorman Gang will be stealing some precious jewels kept in a movie lot vault. That night, Wedge hides on the set, witnesses Batman and Robin in action against the Gormans, and becomes convinced that this Batman is a robot!

Knowing a robot can't give testimony, Wedge has his lawyer test Batman with a fluoroscope while he's on the witness stand. Sure enough, the gizmo reveals gears and sprockets in Batman's chest cavity. This guy's a robot! Case dismissed. When Robin leaves the courtroom, he tearfully tells the story behind the demise of the Caped Crusader in the mine shaft. Gotham villainy lets out yet another sigh of relief and goes back to business as usual, while the good folk of Gotham plan a grand funeral for their fallen hero.

Wedge informs Chill he's heard the cops are searching for the gang's loot and they need to move it, pronto. As they lift the heavy bundles from under stones at Gotham Park, Wedge unmasks, revealing the one and true Batman, risen from the dead (sorta). Robin and Bat-Robot arrive and the Titanic Trio make quick work of the out-of-shape mobsters. Later, during a televised news conference, Batman reveals to the world how he survived the nasty mine explosion. It's all down to clean living and a helpful mouse.

"Batman, Robot" might not be the most convoluted funny book script I've ever read, but it's on a Top 20 List somewhere. The lengths to which Batman goes to catch a crook (who'll doubtless be out on bail in a couple days) are astounding. I was, in fact, confused by all the twists and turns and lost my way at several junctures. If I were Batman, I'd use the incredible Bat-Android all the time, but I'd probably work on his emotional range a bit.

While out driving with gal pal/secretary Karen, Roy Raymond comes across a woman with extraordinary powers. She stands in the middle of the road and walks, spirit-like, through Roy's car and then has a flock of Budgies spell out "Hi Roy" in the sky. This girl has got to be on the Impossible--But True" show, pronto! Soon after, "the mysterious Sally" gets her fifteen minutes of fame on the show and makes a startling announcement: Unless the "people of America" pay a tribute to her, she'll rain down hell upon them.

Roy is, to say the least, embarrassed, and feels he must get to the bottom of the girl's threat, so he and Karen venture out to Sally's rural cabin. There, he's introduced to an unnamed "evil sorcerer from 500 years ago," a villain who has captured Sally's mind and is forcing her to perform ungodly acts. With his quick wits and vast knowledge of evil sorcerers, Roy Raymond gets the drop on the baddie and sends him back to the 14th century, sans his all-important wand.

I'm not sure we've yet had an adventure with Roy where he's actually debunked a supernatural presence. In "The Girl Who Became a Sorceress," he doesn't even try, wholly accepting the girl's talents on sight. The wizard's gear does not look like he arrived from Camelot but rather from a Green Lantern strip.

The third and final act this issue, "The Menace of Marsville," finds the Martian Manhunter using his powers to transform a city park into a Martian city for charity. Unfortunately, as is the wont of 1960 comic strips, a local mob boss takes a shine to J'Onn's robot Martian monsters and maps out a plan to use them in some grand heists. The underworld was a bigger force in the comics than the Rogues Gallery in the early 1960s (witness the amount of thug gangs we've been reading about in the Batman titles), so I'm not sure why J'Onn couldn't see the mobster coming from a mile away. After all, he's smoking a cigar. Also, interesting that inside the bubble J'Onn has recreated the "Martian atmosphere" but visitors don't have to wear oxygen masks. The Batman and Roy Raymond stories are keeping me in stitches and amazed at the twists and turns, but the Martian Manhunter is boring the hell out of me.-Peter

Was Chill a common surname in Gotham City? Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered by Joe Chill--I wonder if Eddie is a relative. "Batman, Robot" may be the first time murder is the goal rather than robbery in a 1960 Bat-story. Robot Batman reminds me of Superman and I like how he speaks haltingly with a dash between each word.

I'm so impressed with Ruben Moreira that I looked up his bio and learned that he started drawing comics at age 20 in 1942. The Roy Raymond story is notable because the magic is not a hoax and because Karen shows some jealousy when Roy compliments sorceress Sally! The J'Onn J'Onzz story was a bit more fun than usual and it was nice to see the crook use J'Onn's tricks against him.

Batman #133

"Crimes of the Kite-Man"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Dick Sprang & Charles Paris

"The Voyage of the S.S. Batman"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"Batwoman's Publicity Agent"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

The first of the "Crimes of the Kite-Man" involves the theft of a precious ruby from the turban of a rajah who is visiting Gotham City. The Kite-Man swoops down, held aloft by a red kite that is filled with compressed air. Robin lassos the villain and is lifted up into the skies above Gotham; his grip loosens and he falls safely into a rooftop water tank.

Kite-Man next appears when he uses a colossal kite to spring Big Bill Collins from prison. Batman and Robin hear about it on the radio and Batman gives chase by means of a kite of his own that is given flight after being pulled along behind a boat by the Boy Wonder. The Kite-Man captures the Caped Crusader and locks him in a room in his secret lair, but Batman fashions a big Bat-Kite from pieces of peeling wallpaper and string from one of his unraveled woolen socks.

Robin sees the improvised Bat-Signal and quickly frees Batman. Batman then captures Kite-Man by using his kites against him: a flash-bulb kite blinds him, a net kite nearly captures him. Kite-Man attempts to escape on a Glider-Kite but Batman gives chase with a Dragon-Kite and catches the villain. He and Robin add a kite to the souvenirs in the Batcave.

Kite-Man is silly but I'm always happy to see Dick Sprang's pencils on a Batman story. He seems to bring a little more fun and absurdity to the proceedings than Moldoff.

"The Voyage of the S.S. Batman" begins as the Caped Crusader pilots a ship that will stop at many ports, collect admission fees from the public, and give the money to charity. At the first stop, visitors are treated to a replica of the Batcave, where Batman shows off mementoes and explains the crimes connected with them. A crook attempts to distract Batman and Robin away from the ship with a giant flashlight that beams a phony Bat-signal, but a talking dummy Batman scares off the rapscallion before he can find what he's looking for.

The crook tries again to gain entrance to the replica Batcave by having someone pretend to be drowning; Batman again thwarts the bad guys, but the boss gets away and the minions aren't talking. The crooks sneak aboard the ship in an empty crate but think they hear footsteps and run for it. Finally, Batman auctions off a belt-buckle gun once owned by a counterfeiter and the crooks make the highest bid. Back at their hideout, they find the other half of a map that will lead them to hidden counterfeit plates, but their triumph is short-lived when the Dynamic Duo crash their party.

The middle story this time is complicated; when page three featured recaps of old cases, I was concerned that the entire story would be recaps, but not so. These eight-pagers are interesting in that page one is a splash with an exciting scene from the story, leaving only seven (or six-and-a-half, if the last page has a half-page house ad) pages to tell the story. Bill Finger packs a ton of plot into each tale, forcing the reader to pay close attention to follow the goings-on. More contemporary comics sometimes don't have this much plot in 24 pages!

How is Batwoman able to execute an impossible somersault in midair and leap up to knock out some crooks? Why, with the help of that imp from another dimension, Bat-Mite, of course! The diminutive alien visitor reveals himself to a reporter, announcing that he's decided to become Batwoman's new partner. After promising to behave himself, a deal is struck, and soon the not so dynamic duo are capturing crooks at an astounding rate.

When Batwoman kisses Bat-Mite on the cheek, however, he falls head over heels in love and decides to become "Batwoman's Publicity Agent," ensuring that she will be seen as the most sensational crime-fighter of all time. With the aid of Ace, the Bat-hound, Bat-Mite helps Batwoman track some crooks to their hardware store hideout; Batman and Robin also appear and, in order to prolong the battle, Bat-Mite makes all of the humans small so that the hardware around them is huge. The tiny crooks try to escape but are blocked by Bat-hound, who is giant-sized in comparison; the battle done, Bat-Mite returns everyone to normal size and vamooses back to his own dimension before the Bat-trio can give him a stern talking to.

We're not even through the year 1960 and already I'm growing fond of Bat-Mite, Batwoman, Ace, the Bat-hound, and all other things Bat that Bill Finger provides us with. Kid readers must really have liked the imp because he seems to be a frequent guest star.-Jack

Peter-Batwoman, yes. Bat-Mite, not so much. I don't mind the crazy scenarios, outer-space men, and gigantic doohickeys that populate every story in the 1960 Batman titles, but the Mite is a mite too much for me. My favorite story this issue would have to be the opener, which looks like a primer for the folks who produced the TV show. How did Kite-Man not make the '66 roll call for rogues?

Detective Comics #282

"Batman's Interplanetary Rival"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Mirages That Went Mad" 
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Girl with the Martian Powers"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Tal-Dar, chief of the Interplanetary Space Police (or ISP, to those in the know) has come to Earth to help Batman improve his detective skills. Though Robin finds the alien cocky as hell, Batman shrugs and looks at the bright side; maybe this goofball can actually teach the Caped Crusader some new tricks. Suddenly, Batman's radio squawks out an alert that a local metals plant is being robbed by the obligatory underworld heavies.

Tal-Dar does his best to aid the Dynamic Duo but he actually gets in the way and the hoods escape the plant. Fortunately, the ding-dong spaceman carries exotic weapons on his person and entraps the gangsters in a "force-bubble." At a press conference, Tal-Dar takes all the credit for the bust and Robin's face gets all scrunchy and mean like when Alfred burns his toast. Gang boss Joe Hackett (smoking his obligatory cigar) takes note of the alien and his super-duper bubble-gun and his boys kidnap the critter right in broad daylight on a Gotham street.

Batman comes to his rescue, dispatches Hackett's gang, and listens attentively as Tal-Dar makes a confession: he's not really the galaxy's best cop, he's just a frail, meek BEM with a gun. Time to head home, he wishes Batman and Robin the best and prepares for flight. Suddenly, Tal-Dar's communication vibramometer emits a shocking statement: "The Star-Stone has been stolen from Tal-Dar's home planet of Alcor and the ISP chief must return immediately to rescue it from the talons of intergalactic thief, Zan-Rak, who is holding the life-giving gem for the ransom of one billion grendals!" Tal-Dar asks Batman if he'll accompany him to Alcor to retrieve the valuable asset. Batman agrees. Robin has no choice, really.

The trio land at Zan-Rak's base but Batman admits he's not feeling well; Tal-Dar must face Zan-Rak alone (well, with the Boy Wonder at his side... so, yeah, alone)! The Cosmic Couple use their wits and all their training to defeat Tal-Dar and Batman makes an appearance at the conclusion to admit he really wasn't sick at all; he just wanted to build up his alien buddy's confidence. The trio chuckle and wish each other well as they go their separate ways.

GCD posits that "Batman's Interplanetary Rival" might be a Bill Finger script and I'm the last person to ask about the differences between a Moldoff script and one written by Finger. I'll just say there are a lot of similarities (not just the mob boss with the ever-present stogie or the thug who dresses in a checkered suit--let's call him "Checkers" from here on out) if there are two or more different writers. Both have wild imaginations and no fear of using up enough ideas for two or three stories in one adventure. Amazing that some of these writers were pumping out five or six scripts a month (more, if you remember our old friend Big Bob Kanigher) for different heroes. I'm not ready to be committed to a mental institution, but it does make me reconsider taking a look at some of the other DC comics of the 1960s. No, I won't do Superman. Sorry, Jack.

Roy Raymond and his all-purpose girl Friday, Karen, are out for a leisurely drive, looking for inspiration for that night's show, when they become victims of an all-too-real mirage! Turns out "The Mirages That Went Mad!" are the invention of a slightly eccentric scientist named Wembly (yes, the guy the stadium was named after), a genius who has created a gizmo he's affectionately labeled the "Tele-Brain Machine." Wembly demonstrates further the power of the machine by conjuring up huge fireballs falling from space. The illusion causes widespread panic and Wembly finally acknowledges that his new toy may be dangerous in the wrong hands (picture a guy smoking a cigar) when the Tele-Brain won't turn off. He destroys the machine and sulks. 

Later that day, Roy and Karen turn on the TV to discover the fireballs are falling again. A little TV detective work and Roy ends up giving a powerful left hook to the man responsible: Wembly's assistant, who switched out machines before his boss could destroy the real one (got that?). Roy smiles as Wembley smashes the concoction to bits until Karen reminds him that they now have no topic for tonight's show. They hit the road again. I'm beating a dead horse, but Ruben Moreira makes reading Roy Raymond the absolute pleasure of each issue of 'tec even though each script seems like a carbon copy of the previous one. Just look at the detail in Ruben's characters and compare them to Moldoff and Paris's. I'm not trying to piss on the latter, just pointing out the difference. Of course, Moreira only had six or seven pages an issue to worry about and Moldoff was pumping out hundreds of pages a day. Point taken.

J'Onn J'Onzz must help gorgeous cop Diane Meade cope with her new super-powers, a gift from a falling meteorite containing "Rodium fumes." Turns out that Diane's powers are actually a result of the Martian Manhunter's super breath. See, Diane has nabbed Cleat Groves, a wanted mobster, who swears his friends will get her for her act of bravery, and J'Onn wants Groves's buddies to believe the female cop is not one to bother. But, being a 1960s woman with a mind of her own, Diane disregards J'Onn's warnings not to take on the mob without his assistance and breaks into their lair. Luckily, J'Onn arrives in time to give Diane that extra oomph. I enjoyed "The Girl with the Martian Powers" more than any of the last batch of Martian Manhunters; it's light and breezy but it also has a wonderful moral message: women can't survive without Martian men. Oomph.-Peter

Jack-Hang on--an alien detective arrives to teach Batman new crime-fighting techniques and all Robin can say is that he seems a little conceited? "Batman's Interplanetary Rival" is a fun story with a welcome change of direction halfway through. I love how Moldoff and Paris draw the aliens! In "The Mirages That Went Mad," is this the first time we've seen Roy Raymond use his fists? Those inventors in 1960 sure came up with some amazing gadgets! As for "The Girl with the Martian Powers," I get the strong sense that J'Onn is hitting on her. His whole plan is suspect and seems to assume that she's a dimwit.

Next Week...
Could this be Roy Raymond's
final broadcast?

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