Monday, September 11, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 5: September/October 1960


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

Batman 134

"The Rainbow Creature"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

"Batman's Secret Enemy"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

"The Deadly Dummy"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman and Robin are in a South American republic! They helped defeat a rebel named Diaz, who is now hiding in the hills with what's left of his army. The president has barely had time to thank the American crime fighters when he learns of a new menace--"The Rainbow Creature"! The large, four-colored beast walks right through a house, giving off extreme heat and shedding its red stripe. It uses its blue stripe to shatter a missile fired at it; soon, the rebel, Diaz, appears on horseback, dressed like a conquistador, and announces that he created the beast and the government must surrender! The peasants think this is a good idea.

Batman and Robin try sending a speeding handcar along train tracks to ram the beast, but its yellow stripe turns the vehicle to mist and disappears. Finally, the green stripe is used against Batman and Robin when they attack head-on; they are made as thin as leaves, blowing in the breeze. Back to normal after a short while, Batman notices that Diaz's men also fear the creature. The Caped Crusader announces that Diaz cannot control the beast and the villagers attack the rebel army. In order to prevent carnage, Batman tricks Diaz and his men into thinking the beast is back by means of a small prism in a local toy shop. In the end, Batman gets the beast to use each of its four stripes, at which point it cracks apart and crumbles to dust.

Rainbows certainly had a different significance in 1960 than they do today. This is a clever story that takes the Dynamic Duo out of Gotham City and into a place where they don't encounter any robbers in three-piece suits. The rainbow beast itself is intriguing and well-drawn by Sheldon Moldoff.

"Batman's Secret Enemy" sends a letter to Bruce and Dick to say that he knows that they are Batman and Robin! The Duo use their investigative skills to pinpoint a gem smuggler known as "Gentleman" Jim Jansen, yet when they capture him and expose his smuggling scheme, he says nothing about their identities, so he must be the wrong guy. Another letter arrives and Bruce and Dick mistakenly suspect an attendee at a society party of being the author.

That night, they apprehend "Catfoot" Regan at the International Clock Fair; later, they nab his boss, "Beetles" Branagan, who is flying over Gotham in a dirigible shaped like a peanut, keeping track of the movements of police cars by means of a gizmo in the blimp. The next letter leads our heroes to their friend Tod Allen, but his secretary tells them that he died in a plane crash. They open his last letter and confirm that he was the one, yet he writes that he would never tell what he knows. Bruce remarks that it was good that the letters led to the capture of some criminals, accomplishments that can stand as a memorial to Tod.

The Grand Comics Database credits almost all of the Batman stories in 1960 to Sheldon Moldoff, yet some seem to have stronger art than others, especially when it comes to drawing the unmasked faces of Bruce and Dick. This time, the art is below average, so does that mean a different penciller? A different inker? Will we ever know at this late date? One other thing I've noticed is the debt this whole series owes to Dick Tracy, especially in regard to the colorful crooks.

Tired of being laughed at and called "Danny the Dummy," a small man who has a ventriloquist act where the full-sized human is actually a mannequin turns to crime and becomes "The Deadly Dummy." He causes a distraction and robs an express office, but Batman and Robin arrive and knock out his comrades. Danny tosses a fake stick of dynamite at Batman and escapes while the Dynamic Duo dodge the dummy explosive.

Danny next attempts to rob the Gotham Department Store, but when Batman and Robin again interrupt the proceedings, he shoots a dummy display rocket at them and gets away. One of his hoods is captured, so the cops let him out of jail, pretending that someone made his bail, and Batman and Robin trail him to Danny's hideout, which is located in a dummy TV western town. Danny tries to get away in a covered wagon but is thrown clear in an accident and captured, sitting like a dummy on the lap of a statue of Batman.

This is the closest thing we've seen yet to a unique Bat-villain like the Joker or the Penguin. Danny the Dummy is drawn to look like a wooden ventriloquist's dummy and his origin story is simple but effective--he's tired of being laughed at! I think derision has been the genesis of many a super-villain.-Jack

Peter-I'm not the first nor will I be the last to point out what a stark contrast there is between the Batman of the 1960s and the Dark Knight of the 1970s. In the 1960s, we have no revolving rogue's gallery, very little detective work, and barely a panel here and there of Alfred or the Commish. The 1970s Batman rarely faced a supernatural or alien force; as in Christopher Nolan's universe, our hero battled human beings with mental problems and nifty gadgets. In the 1960s, it seems 90% of all foes were space-related or creatures born of science. And yet, I'm enjoying the vacation from real life.

"The Rainbow Creature" (odd title since the thing is only referred to as a beast throughout the tale) blissfully foregoes any attempt at an origin, instead alluding to the birth with a throwaway line ("It came from the hills--near the fiery volcano--"). I assume this was because dog-tired and deadline-facing Bill Finger was running out of fresh ideas for the 126th science-fictional Batman foe of 1960. The better for it. I keep anticipating the reveal of Alfred as one of these "soft" villains like "Batman's Secret Enemy." It seems like a natural for one of those "I'll keep 'em on their toes" tales. The story ends on a macabre note as Bruce and Dick cheerfully note that Tod's death was good for business.

I would bet money that "Danny the Dummy" was the inspiration for the Wagner/Grant/Breyfogle villain, the Ventriloquist, a character we covered a few months ago. Of course, Danny is more of a humorous Charlie McCarthy-esque figure, whereas the Ventriloquist is a homicidal maniac. It appears the majority of these rogues will be one-and-done.

Detective Comics 283

"The Phantom of Gotham City"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Captives on the Moon"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Amazing One-Man Crew"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa

Answering an alarm at the Gotham Coliseum ("where the mining association opens its gold exposition tomorrow"), Batman and Robin encounter a pair of crooks attempting to break into the building's vault. But, as it turns out, the dastardly duo are actually on lookout while a third man exits through the vault's walls! Introducing himself as the Phantom, the man uses telekinetic powers to drop a huge cup on the Caped Crusader and then escape.

The next night, as they are patrolling, the Dynamic Duo are tipped off by a pre-teen informant that the Phantom has just entered the Gotham Milk Plant. The heroes witness the thieves exit the building but are once again stymied by the Phantom's powers when he levitates an entire swimming pool's supply of water and dumps it on the boys. Through some clever diving (up) maneuvers, Batman and Robin save themselves and head out to track Gotham's newest villain.

They meet up with the Phantom and his thugs at a railroad crossing, where Robin (utilizing his One Dangerous Error Per Issue card) gets himself stuck in the tracks. But rather than ridding himself (and us) of the pest, the Phantom levitates the train to ride overhead and land safely on the tracks down the line. The boys are, to say the least, astonished. Batman heads back to the Milk Plant to utilize the company's groundbreaking infra-red technology (who knew so many crooks would want to rob a dairy?) and picks up some clues as to the identity of the Phantom and also what his next heist will be.

Sure enough, the boys encounter the Phantom at the Argus Aircraft Company and the mysterious baddie is trapped in a wind tunnel. The burst of air unmasks the man and the boys are again astonished to find that the Phantom is actually an alien! The Phantom escapes yet again but, thanks to Bat-computer intel, the heroes are able to track the creature to a rural home on the outskirts of Gotham. There, they discover the alien was being tricked by the devious Professor Wede, a scientist who seems to be on the verge of inventing every gizmo under the sun. 

Wede is using the alien, a/k/a Pol, to steal cash and valuables to fund his experiments (I think) under the guise of inventing a teleportation machine to send Pol back to his own dimension. Batman and Robin are captured and Wede threatens death, but Pol won't play along. Wede insists that if the alien won't cooperate, he'll destroy the machine he's created to send him back to his own world. When Pol insists he'd rather be trapped than a murderer, Wede throws a microscope (!) at the machine and hoofs it. Batman catches the sadistic scientist and reveals he's read Wede's diary, wherein the dope actually admits his original Dimensio-Fabrulater will send Pol back. The alien bids his new friends adieu and misses out on thirty days' maximum detention in Gotham Prison.

There's a lot to like and a lot to laugh at contained within "The Phantom of Gotham City." Half the time Batman exclaims to his junior partner, "I thought so!" or "I expected as much," I want to cry "Bullshit! You're just trying to impress the kid!" How could you suspect this was an alien creature rather than some super-powered baddie? And what turmoil Gothamites must live through when aliens and extra-dimensional creatures fall from the sky and walk through the walls almost daily. I'm still trying to figure out why Wede insisted Pol needed a disguise. Shelly gets no points for alien design; Pol has to be a second cousin to last issue's Tal-Dar. Still, it's hard to complain about a story so packed with energy and naivete. I keep waiting for Dick to remind Bruce that both their parents were murdered years ago and that they should stop smiling so much.

Roy Raymond and his right arm, the lovely secretary, Karen, are invited along on the first flight to the moon. When they get there, their companion, Army Major Rohrbach, is kidnapped by aliens from another planet. Roy is told he has to make a trip back to earth and obtain enough radium to fill the battery the creatures carry or the major will be exposed to moon air. Roy and Karen hop back into the spaceship and head for Earth, obtain the radium, and rocket back to the moon. It's there that Roy reveals that the entire event was a ruse; thieves trying to obtain the valuable radium had concocted the entire outer space trip. Officers, take these morons away. 

One of the most inane stories I've read in a long time, "Captives on the Moon" supposes that Roy Raymond is almost as dumb as DC Comics readers. Wouldn't a man as brilliant as Roy question why the trip to the moon was made in about an hour? I'd also wonder why the army okayed two untrained civilians to be the first on the moon. You gotta hand it to the gang, though: pretty elaborate con. The Moreira art is just as fabulous as always so, just this once, I suggest you watch this one with the "sound" off.

J'Onn J'Onzz must aid a hapless sea captain who has shot an albatross (a very bad thing to do when you're on the high seas) and is experiencing a rash of bad luck. The latest, a floating island that threatens to destroy his ship, is only averted by the Martian Manhunter. When the captain's crew quits on him, J'Onn signs on as a part-time mariner. In the end, J'Onn discovers the real reason behind the captain's misfortunes: a rival captain who missed out on a big shipping contract.

Forget what I said about "Captives on the Moon" being the most far-fetched and inane script we've read in a long time. "The Amazing One-Man Crew" tops them all. The lengths the vindictive captain goes to in order to make the happy-go-lucky captain lose his contract are epic. This guy builds a floating island. Drops fake meteorites from a plane. Affixes giant rotor blades to a submarine in order to create a deadly whirlpool. I mean, this contract must be worth tens of millions of dollars, right?-Peter

Jack-I've been thinking about your observation that the chief of police should make the connection between J'Onn J'Onzz the alien and John Jones the detective. What if no one knows that the Martian Manhunter's Martian name is J'Onn J'Onzz? Maybe he just introduces himself as a visiting Martian and leaves it at that. Or maybe he likes calling himself the Martian Manhunter. That's the best explanation I can come up with. I agree with you about the Roy Raymond story and it's too bad the scripts aren't better. When the Phantom in the Batman story was revealed to be an alien, I thought to myself, "Of course he's an alien!" It had to be that or mass hypnosis. Pol turns out to be a hero and I hope we see more of him, though I doubt we will.

Moldoff & Dillin (?)
Batman 135

"Crimes of the Wheel"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

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

"The Menace of the Sky Creature"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman and Robin raid a gambling den and nab Frank "Wheels" Foster, sending him to the big house. One day, a tire blows on a truck in the prison yard, causing it to crash through a gate. In the ensuing confusion. "Wheels" makes his escape and decides to organize a gang and use wheels for crimes, in tribute to the blown tire on the truck.

His first crime occurs at the Transportation Exposition, where "Wheels" grabs a diamond necklace and manages to avoid capture by Batman when he ignites a pinwheel. The Dynamic Duo give chase but are knocked out by careening tires in the road; "Wheels" ties them up and straps them to a giant roulette wheel at his hideout. Big steel balls plunge toward our heroes and threaten to crush them! Wheels heads out to commit another crime and the good guys manage to avoid certain death. They track "Wheels" to a boardwalk by a beach club and Batman bravely ascends to the sky on a Ferris Wheel to catch "Wheels" before he can get away by means of a wheel-shaped balloon.

"Crimes of the Wheel" is an instant classic, introducing a new villain but oddly failing to give him a name! He's referred to as "Foster" throughout the story, even though he wears a costume and a mask. What's the point of a mask when everyone knows who you are? The deadly, giant roulette wheel is a prop that would have fit well on the TV show!

Alfred writes another imaginary story of future events, this time calling it "The Return of the Second Batman and Robin Team." Batman has married Batwoman and they have both retired; Robin has taken over as the new Batman and Bruce Wayne Jr. is the new, redheaded Robin. Bruce Sr. is worn out from attending so many events dedicating things to him, so he and Kathy take a vacation at a remote mountain cabin with no newspapers, radios, or TV. Back at home, Batman II and Robin II attend various ceremonies in place of Batman I.

Unfortunately, John Crandall, a crook who has been in jail for many years, is finally freed and seeks revenge on Batman I. He tries to blow up a rocket ship at an event Batman II attends, but B-2 foils the plot. He next tries to destroy a ship being dedicated to B-1, but again is foiled. Crandall is angry that his real nemesis isn't around. Meanwhile, up in the mountain cabin, Bruce and Kathy feed a  hungry tramp and replace his worn-out shoes, which he stuffed with newspaper. After he leaves, they read the newspaper and learn of Crandall's crimes.

Bruce races back to Gotham and dons his Batsuit just in time to save Batman II and Robin II from certain death when Crandall straps them to a rocket! Everyone has a good laugh and, when Bruce reads Alfred's tale, he wonders if it will someday come true.

Back in the old days, DC writers liked to pen imaginary tales, stories that would often allow them to have covers drawn depicting impossible scenes such as Superman marrying Lois Lane. This is the second in what will presumably be a series portraying the future team of Batman II and Robin II; the stories thus far follow a pattern whereby the replacement Dynamic Duo can't quite take care of business and the original Batman and sometimes Batwoman have to ride to the rescue. It's all in good fun but could get repetitive after a while.

When Batman and Robin respond to a call about a gem shop robbery, they suddenly face "The Menace of the Sky Creature," a strange being that has unusual powers, such as sending colored cloud-rings to encircle the Dynamic Duo and a police car while the crooks make their getaway. The next evening, the Sky Creature is encountered during a robbery of a bank shaped like a giant pig; Batman is nearly killed when the Sky Creature sears a hole hundreds of feet deep and the Caped Crusader almost falls to his doom!

Evening number three arrives and Batman and Robin track the gang and the Sky Creature to Mullins Warehouse, which is shaped like a big jack o-lantern. Two crooks pretending to be scarecrows get the jump on our heroes and one takes the time to explain the Sky Creature's origin. The crooks broke into an antique shop and found an ancient lantern; when lit and pointed at the sky, the Creature appears and stays for fifteen minutes. Batman and Robin are tied up and left in a barn but manage to escape; Robin smashes the lantern and the Sky Creature disappears for good, allowing the crooks to be apprehended.

Gotham City's crooks are so unimaginative! These guys come upon a magic lamp that summons a Sky Creature with magic powers, so what do they do? They rob a jewelry store and a bank! These are probably the same activities they would have been doing without the Sky Creature. I particularly like the way it's drawn--it resembles a cross between an alien and a scarecrow.-Jack

Anyone who blames William Dozier for destroying the "Dark Knight Detective" in 1966 has never read the camp classic, "Crimes of the Wheel." Frank Foster's proclamation ("A wheel was responsible for freeing me, so it must be an omen of my future! I'll organize a gang and use wheels for crimes!") had me spitting whiskey on my computer screen and wishing it had been a carful of nuns or a mattress salesman that had been Frank's salvation instead! Clearly, Frank spent all of his time out of the pen designing that huge roulette wheel rather than an original costume. How many workmen did the villain hire to build that fabulous toy? Did he hire union men? In classic fashion, the Wheel apologizes for not staying to watch what would be the ultimate accomplishment (the killing of the Dynamic Duo) because he has another small-time heist to pull off.

These imaginary tales Alfred somehow finds time to type out on his Smith-Corona (such as "The Return of the Second Batman and Robin") do nothing for me. Why should Bruce and Kathy retire if they have to keep coming out of vacay to save the young brats? I've never cared for those Elseworlds-Earth II stories; I much prefer the more realistic tales such as, ahem, "The Menace of the Sky Creature." I love the little background/throwaway details like "the gang" pulling a heist on a children's bank (shaped like a "piggy"); I can just see the dopes racing out with sacks of pennies. This time out we get a full-blown origin of the creature, delivered by a grizzled, open-shirt, no-tie gangster with a bad hat. I prefer mystery.

Detective Comics 284

"The Negative Batman"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Roy Raymond's Deadly Powers"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"The Courtship of J'Onn J'Onzz"
Story by Dave Wood (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Gotham City, proud home to more villains than anywhere else in the galaxy, welcomes its latest, the brilliant scientist turned thief, Hal Durgin, who has invented an "Atomic Camera" that can absorb the people, places, and things it photographs. That includes the First Bank of Gotham, where Batman and Robin first learn of their new foe. The bank disappears and eventually reappears. When questioned, the occupants of the building explain that they blacked out and gunmen appeared. They then blacked out again and the gunmen disappeared. A true mystery for the world's greatest detective!

The next night, on a hunch, the Dynamic Duo stake out the harbor, where the Golden Queen is docked. Sure enough, Durgin and his henchmen show up and, during a violent tussle, Batman is photographed by the Atomic Camera just before the Durgin Mob escape. With utter horror, Robin gazes upon his new partner, "The Negative Batman"! Any sort of light only weakens this Really Dark Knight, so the boys have to avoid pesky headlights and streetlights, taking to the alleyways for transportation. Batman visits the hospital, where the doctors affirm the worst: Gotham's favorite son has mere days to live!

Knowing his only chance to survive is to be soaked up into the Atomic Camera, Batman tricks Durgin into taking a picture of a faux diamond-encrusted Taj Mahal statue he's hiding in and our hero is restored to full-Batman status. Durgin and his motley crew are hauled away for what surely will be a lengthy term in Gotham Prison.

"The Negative Batman" is way too confusing for my brain, which I switch to eight-year-old mode when I read these things. Are there any legit let's-make-that-breakthrough-for-the-love-of-science professors left in the Gotham region, or have all of them mothballed their beakers and microscopes in the name of greed and power? Hilariously, Durgin looks nothing like a mob boss but, rather, what he is: a loony egghead (except, perhaps, when he's wearing his crime hat). 

Explain to me the robbery at the bank. In all other heists, Durgin transports his targets back to his lair. Did he do the same with the entire bank building? And where will he transport a huge ship like the Golden Queen? And what is aboard the Queen that makes her worth the trouble? Still, as I seem to say after every one of these Bat-adventures, there's a hell of a lot of imagination going on here and perhaps Bill Finger (or whoever scripted "The Negative Batman") abided by that old rule, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance..."

Roy Raymond and his fabulously gorgeous blonde secretary, Karen, visit the "tiny far eastern kingdom" of Wanaque to deliver a gift to the new king. Once there, Roy is propositioned by a peasant who claims he can lead Roy to the famous Idols of Irvana for a nominal fee. Roy, smelling an exclusive for his TV show, quickly agrees and is led away to the landmarks. But, once there, things go horribly wrong when one of the temples melts before Roy's eyes. Our favorite TV detective has been cursed, the peasant explains, with the "evil eye." Anything Roy focuses on will be destroyed unless he wears special lenses. But we know better and, shortly thereafter, so does Roy, who learns he's been the victim of an elaborate con. That's two issues in a row where genius Roy has been made to look like a dope by two-bit criminals with seemingly bottomless pockets of cash. In fact, when you think about it, if these bad guys just put all that money they spend on fake meteorites, wax temples, and giant roulette wheels into Gotham City Bank, they'd be millionaires. Our heroes indeed have clay feet that smell, or something like that. I'm still waiting for Karen to do something other than look great. "Roy Raymond's Deadly Powers" will never be mistaken for great comics, but it sure looks good.

Diane Meade is fed up with doing her nails, fixing her hair, slapping on sexy lingerie, and subscribing to Cosmopolitan in order to gain the attention of detective John Jones. When a fortune teller points out to Diane that to catch a mouse you need to bait the trap, the gorgeous policewoman invites Jones out for a lovely boat ride. That begins a long series of disasters, including a shark attack, a fall from a high girder, and capture by the infamous Sonny Summers gang. At every juncture John/J'Onn is there to save the redhead from death. "The Courtship of J'onn J'onzz" is almost as silly as last issue's juvenile classic, "The Amazing One-Man Crew." Who out there thought the fortune teller was Jones in disguise? Just wait until Diane finds out her sweetie is really the Martian Manhunter and then remembers back to this adventure when John spent precious seconds pondering whether he should reveal his secret identity or let the girl get eaten by a Great White. When John and Diane are married, the Martian will look back at this time as well and wonder what could have been... Which reminds me... time for a respite from the phrase "I could handle it easily--but it would mean revealing my Martian identity!"-Peter

Jack-The negative Batman is a really cool effect, isn't it? It made me dig around and locate World's Finest #188, from November 1969, with a similar effect on the cover, illustrating the story of "The Negative Superman," a story that was reprinted from World's Finest #126, with a cover date of June 1962. I guess the editors at DC dug the idea enough that they came back to it less than two years after using it with Batman! I thought the Roy Raymond entry was above average for the series and I enjoyed seeing Roy and Karen in the Middle East. I agree that the John Jones story is ludicrous and they even pulled out the old chestnut of the book in a pocket stopping a bullet, which always reminds me of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Bat-Mite meets Mr. Mxyzptlk!

Next Week...
Jack and Peter begin their years-long journey
to sift the good from the bad in the
post-code Atlas/Marvel era!

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