Monday, October 30, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 98: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 83
June 1955 
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing 39
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Strange Courage!" (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) ★★

"When Lands the Saucer" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel)

"The Horse That Was" (a: John Forte) ★★

"Welcome, Martians!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 1/2

"The Rainmaker" (a: Doug Wildey) ★★★

Lacking the courage to ask for a promotion or tell co-worker Betty that he loves her, Lennie sighs and settles for second best constantly. While visiting a drug store for headache pills, Lennie discovers that the pharmacist on duty is a friend of his from the service. They get to talking and Lennie's problem with self-confidence is brought up. Lennie had saved Ernie's life and now Ernie wants to pay the favor back by prescribing a new drug that "works on the glands directly… gives a man courage!" As he's leaving the building, it suddenly occurs to Lennie that he had heard Ernie had died of his wounds. Odd!

Lennie takes the drug when he gets back to work and, sure enough, a new man emerges. He storms into his boss's office and demands a promotion and then practically assaults Betty in the hallway. The next day, he goes back to the pharmacy to thank Ernie and is informed that his friend never worked there and the store was closed that day. Very odd!

"The Strange Courage" is another of the kinder and gentler Astonishing stories that 1955 was forced to offer. When Lennie is shoved aside in both the promotion and romance department by gruff co-worker Don, our hero doesn't travel to Africa to consult a witch doctor or chop his competition up with an axe; he uses a mellower form of leveling the playing field. No one gets hurt.

Amateurish Forgione/Abel art is not the only problem with "When Lands the Saucer," a quasi-comedic farce about an alien named Zot who lands on Earth to pave the way for an invasion. Zot falls in love with hillbilly girl Mamie and decides he likes the farmin' life. With an excruciatingly unfunny script and ugly art, this is one best skipped.

Precocious pre-teen Perry believes his rocking horse can take him on voyages "over the clouds and the highest mountains" but his older brother, Gerald, has had enough of the baby talk. Then one day, while Perry is upstairs playing and Gerald is downstairs working on his homework, the house catches fire, and he attempts to rescue his little brother. The smoke is too thick, and he tells Perry he'll have to make it out on his own. To Gerald's amazement, Perry appears behind him in the garden with his rocking horse. The horse's tail is singed! "The Horse That Was" may be saddled with another of Atlas's ludicrous "Was/Wasn't" titles but the story itself is a harmless, charming fantasy revolving around an ageless plot hook: the inanimate object that somehow takes on a life of its own.

In "Welcome, Martians," Mr. Primus is upset that no one will take him seriously in his contention that men from outer space will soon be landing on Earth and they must have a proper greeting. When a local reporter presses the man on his reasoning, Primus admits that he himself is a Martian and he received no fanfare when he landed.

A crippling drought has hit a small town, killing livestock and burning up crops in no time. A man walks into town and promises he can provide the rain necessary for a rejuvenation. He asks for no pay up front and begins work on a machine just outside town. Not long after the completion of the huge gizmo, the heavens open up and it begins to pour. The drought is over.

The town council meets, and all agree the rain is a coincidence and the stranger should not be paid. When the man is told of the decision, he leaves town, and the rain continues. And continues. And continues. After several weeks of non-stop downpours, the flooding threatens to wash away the entire town and the council meets again. They decide to find "The Rainmaker!" and pay him, hoping the act will cease the flooding.

When they find the man, they apologize for their greed and lack of gratitude. They will pay the man whatever he wants if he can help them. The stranger explains that he never wanted any payment other than a simple "thank you" and waves his hands at the sky. The rain stops and he walks away. Easily the best story this issue, "The Rainmaker!" is a satisfying little preachy, very reminiscent of the type EC would publish now and then. Doug Wildey's art further puts me in the mind of EC Comics; it's stark and atmospheric rather than cartoony or gaudy. Wildey's Atlas-era western funny books are in need of a deep dive someday.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds 35
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"The Masters!" (a: Mort Drucker) ★★

"The Magic Touch" (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★

"The Man in the Mirror" (a: Jack Katz) ★★

"Johnny's Flying Saucer" (a: Angelo Torres & Frank Frazetta) ★★★

"There Are Such Things" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★

The orders are to destroy any intelligent humanoid species on Earth and these outer space men take their job seriously. But first, the alien trio must gather evidence to see if there is an intelligent form of humanoid life on Earth. They land in a New England forest and approach a small house they assume is inhabited. A dog bolts out the front door and the aliens are fascinated by the creature, assuming it must be the dominant life form. When a man exits the house and lays a bowl of food in front of the canine, the spacemen board their vehicle and head for home, confident that humanoids are subservient on this planet. "The Masters" is an amusing sci-fi fable with just okay Drucker work. I imagine if these aliens landed in 2022, they'd find the same thing: no intelligent humanoid life.

Steve and Mamie Baker aren't rich, but they're happy. One day, a beggar comes to the door selling trinkets for food money. Steve, being a kind-hearted fool, gives the tramp all his savings for a small China teapot. Mamie sighs and admits she's got the nicest husband in the world. When the couple sit down to use their new teapot, they're astounded to see it spitting out hundred dollar bills. The more they take out, the more the pot keeps spewing.

Soon, the Bakers have moved out of their small house and into an estate, accruing rich new friends and fabulously expensive clothes. Mamie is in heaven but Steve senses the fun has gone out of his marriage, so he smashes the teapot and the money stops flowing. The Bakers move back into their small home and reacquaint themselves with their poor neighbors. Life is good again. Then Mamie takes down her old teapot and the thing is full of hundred dollar bills!

"The Magic Touch" is a quaint little fantasy with a heart of gold and a wonderful twist climax. Why has Mamie suddenly got the magic touch? Why is it only their teapots that hit the jackpot? Who was the beggar at the door? These questions and more are left unanswered and yet the story leaves you with a smile on your face.

Every time Meredith Moore stands in front of his mirror to shave, he sees an alien face looking back at him. Turns out he's looking into "a space dimension adjacent to ours" (whatever that means) at the same time a creature from another star is shaving. "The Man in the Mirror" is harmless fluff with decent Jack Katz graphics. In "Johnny's Flying Saucer," a little boy finds a UFO while raking the leaves on his lawn and the discovery causes a mini-panic amongst the townsfolk. When talk of an invasion works its way through the tense crowd, Johnny admits he wished the UFO to come to Earth so he wouldn't have to do his chores, but now he wishes it gone. The craft disappears. Much like "The Magic Touch," "Johnny's Flying Saucer" doesn't make much sense but it's a very pleasing four pages. The dynamic duo of Torres and Frazetta give the strip a decidedly EC-esque vibe.

Little Johnny lies dying in a hospital bed and the only things that keep him going are his visits from "the angel of the theater," Marcia Barratt, and big league manager, Ted Rawls. The manager must go out of town for the week but promises Johnny he'll be back for the boy's birthday. When the day comes and Rawls doesn't show, Johnny slips into a coma. Marcia calls Colin, one of her actor friends, and asks him to dress up like the skipper and put on a show. The act not only rates an Oscar, but Johnny comes out of his coma and makes a dramatic recovery. Later, Colin enters the room and apologizes for being late; he's ready to put on his baseball uniform! The finale of "There Are Such Things!" must have been done a couple dozen times in the 1950s so, to us Monday morning quarterbacks, it's not much of a surprise. What is a surprise, to me at least, is how poor the art of Tony DiPreta has become in just the last few months. I wonder if, with the coming of the Comics Code, DiPreta's work was "brightened up," as the shadows that made his work so attractive pre-code are all but gone now.-Peter

Marvel Tales 135
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"Mr. Dugan's Dragon" (a: Mort Drucker) 

"Joe's Jalopy!" (a: Dick Ayers) 

"The One They Spared!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2

"Wings on His Feet!" (a: Mac Pakula) 

"Worlds Apart!" (a: John Tartaglione) 

Ken Dugan may be a test pilot who flies faster than the speed of sound, but his son Timmy is more impressed with the dragon he sees in his book about knights from days of yore. When Ken is up in the plane and breaks the sound barrier, he finds that his instruments are acting strangely and he can't contact the tower, so he decides to land.

On the ground, he sees a castle, and a knight on horseback rams the side of his plane with a lance, calling the plane a dragon! Ken takes off again and all is back to normal. When he lands, he realizes that he crossed the time barrier and went back to the days of knights on horseback.

"Mr. Dugan's Dragon" features outstanding art by Mort Drucker, who transforms a mundane tale into something worth a look. Too bad he didn't draw the rest of this issue!

"Joe's Jalopy!" is all that Joe owns outright, so when his wife Bea says the bill collector is at the door, Joe is distraught. He sends the man away empty-handed and is told he'll get no more oil till he pays his overdue bill. Joe gets in his car and heads for work, but the jalopy finds its way back home. Good thing, since Joe receives a call from a radio quiz show and wins a $5000 jackpot!

A hokey story with the usual sub-par art by Dick Ayers, "Joe's Jalopy" is one used car that should be traded in.

In "The One They Spared," Earthmen land their rocket ship on Mars, steal jewels from the room of a sleeping Martian, and are chased through the streets by bat-eared aliens. They are spared when the Martians see that one of them holds a pet pussycat; apparently, the cat is descended from an earlier cat on Mars and the inhabitants of both planets have a soft spot for pets.

At least I think that's what the end means. This is bottom of the barrel stuff!

"Wings on His Feet!" is even worse. It concerns Len, a high school sprinter who sprains his ankle but puts on a magic pair of socks and wins the race. Turns out the socks belong to the god Mercury, who just happened to leave them in the high school locker room. No, it doesn't make any sense to me, either.

Of equally low quality is the final entry, "Worlds Apart!" A future scientist named Skyro travels back in time by means of a time machine to the mid-1950s, where he learns that the emotionless future is no match for the soft curves and wet lips of a blonde he meets at a fair.

Other than the lead story by Mort Drucker, Marvel Tales 135 deserved to be recycled!-Jack

Mystery Tales 30
Cover by Carl Burgos and Sol Brodsky (?)

"The Boy Who Could Fly!" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★1/2

"The Warning!" (a: Don Heck) 

"The Lady Vanished" (a: John Forte)

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #8) ★1/2

"Too Late!" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2

"From Out of Nowhere" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 

Homer Troy admires a hawk as it soars above his family's farm. Wishing he could fly like a bird, he flaps his wings and takes off! A week later, Thaddeus Bigg, famed circus showman, drives by Homer's farm and sees the boy take flight. Bigg quickly gets Homer's parents to sign a contract, and it's off to the circus.

Once word gets out about the flying boy, members of the public are skeptical and insist that Homer is a fraud. The big day comes for his debut, and suddenly he can't fly anymore! A psychiatrist explains that Homer has lost his faith, and with it, his ability to soar. Homer returns home, happy to spend his days catching fish.

The combination of Ayers pencils and Bache inks makes for five pages that are nice to look at, in a humorous, cartoony sort of way, but the story ends with a thud instead of a twist. There's not much mystery to "The Boy Who Could Fly!" and there's certainly no terror.

A meteor heading for a big city suddenly veers off course and crashes in a park, injuring no one. Professor Ralph Field, an astronomer, examines the rock and sees germs, meaning that there is life wherever the meteor came from. He realizes that meteors never hit humans and posits that they are warnings from another planet to stay out of space. No one believes him, but when the first rocket ship into space is hit by a meteor and crashes, everyone realizes he was right.

Is the central assumption of "The Warning!" true? Has no one ever been injured by a falling meteor? Oddly enough, the Internet (which doesn't lie) tells us that the only person ever hit by a meteorite suffered that (non-fatal) accident on November 30, 1954. Did the uncredited writer of this story see that news clipping and come up with this? It certainly is odd timing.

Viola Adams never missed a day of work at the office in 23 years, so her nasty co-workers decide to make her cry for no reason. When they ask what she'd do if she received a Valentine's Day card from a man, Viola responds that she'd be in seventh heaven. They send her a card and she disappears. Where is she? Sitting on a cloud in seventh heaven!

Is Viola dead? Did the cruelty of her colleagues drive her to suicide? Who knows? She just ends up on that cloud in the last panel. Apparently, all that lonely women wanted in 1956 was a smidgen of attention from a man--even an imaginary one. That's enough to lift them out of their humdrum existence! I'm noticing a trend in Atlas stories--endings that make little sense and land with a thud.

Delivery man Lem Hawkins can't leave a package at the Ajax Prospecting Company. On its door is a sign that the firm has moved to Mars. Lem's boss insists that he deliver the package, so Lem takes a rocket ship to Mars, only to discover that the firm has moved to Venus.

Last of all is the preachy "From Out of Nowhere," in which a mysterious information booth suddenly appears in the middle of a busy department store. The unseen man in the booth dispenses good advice that makes people rethink their plans. At a gathering of top scientists, one man suggests that some outside agency steps in whenever mankind is near the breaking point. The other scientists laugh at him, but suddenly the information booth appears in their midst. End of story! Is God the man in the booth? Your guess is as good as mine.-Jack

Strange Tales 36
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Man Who Turned Off the Sun!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★★

"The Girl Who Wouldn't Speak!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★★★

"The Discovery!" (a: Bob Powell) 1/2

"The Bell That Wouldn't Stop" (a: Bill Benulis)

"The Secret Weapon" (a: John Forte)

Henry is a scientist who invents a "nuclear vapor" designed to create a haze over American cities, all the better to avoid those Commie missiles. As the sun disappears and America panics, Henry smiles, knowing he's a success. Then he gets home, and his overbearing wife tells him he's a loser who will never amount to anything. "The Man Who Turned Off the Sun" includes some very questionable science (just how far does this "shield" extend?) but makes for a breezy read and a half-hearted chuckle when Mrs. Henry berates her smaller spouse.

Novelist Emory Hastings makes light of the faithful fans who become involved in the characters he brings to life. Then Emory creates Elizabeth, a beautiful woman he falls in love with despite the fact that her existence lies solely in his ink. Or does it? "The Girl Who Wouldn't Speak!" is not exactly groundbreaking when it comes to its plot hook, but it is involving and contains some fabulous Maneely work. Mere months before, Hastings would have been portrayed as an evil man, but post-code he's just a guy who sees the light in the end. No violence, no victims.

In "The Discovery," baseball scout Mike Sloan stumbles upon the greatest arm he's ever seen in hillbilly Ernie Watkins. It's only a matter of time before Ernie is pitching in the World Series and he's an ace. There's just one part of baseball his team neglected to teach him about… running after he hits an inside-the-park home run. Your guess is as good as mine as to why a humorous sports story with no fantastic elements (and scratchy, unattractive art by Bob Powell) was placed in a magazine called Strange Tales. This would have fit more comfortably in Riot or Snafu.

In the small town of San Luisa, the church bell begins ringing on its own. All the people gather around the church when suddenly a huge earthquake strikes, destroying just about everything outside the town square. Who was responsible for ringing "The Bell That Wouldn't Stop?" A disposable Ripley's Believe It or Not rip-off. Not even the usually reliable Bill Benulis shows up for this one.

Four scientists come to the drought-stricken town of Wabash and are immediately greeted by insolence and bad manners. Their leader, Dillon, is told to pack his bags and be out of Wabash by sundown. Eventually, the town's mayor calls the President (of the United States!) and is told that "The Secret Weapon" that will solve all their problems is right there in Wabash. The natives head over to the lab to confront the scientists and are told that Dillon will be packing his bags unless he's given an apology. You see, Dillon is really a robot and he's the government's "secret weapon!" Meandering and silly with a truly unexpected twist. Unexpected, that is, because it's so ridiculous.-Peter

Uncanny Tales 32

Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Fat Man!" (a: Jay Scott Pike) ★1/2

"Those Who... Change!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2

"Illusion" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

"The Poor Relation" (a: Sy Moskowitz) 

"Mr. Jones" (a: Paul Reinman) 

Duggan is "The Fat Man!" and his misery about his weight leads him to be miserable to others. When he hears that a druggist from whom he's trying to collect a debt has been tinkering with a weight loss formula, Duggan steals it and drinks some, only to find that he's losing weight at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, he looks just as hefty as ever! The druggist has no cure for the experimental formula, so Duggan floats off into the sky, light as a feather.

No surprise at the end, no explanation of what happened, and essentially no reaction by the druggist, who just throws out his apparatus. Like so many Atlas stories, this one plods along for five pages and then just ends.

Earthmen on a mission to Venus see that their equipment is mysteriously duplicating itself. They discover that it's all the work of a Venusian named Ury, who duplicates what he sees because he thinks flattery is a sign of friendship. In the end, he reveals that Venusians have visited Earth before and some of them became famous: Napolean, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare...

"Those Who... Change!" and the story that follows it are credited in the GCD to writer Paul S. Newman, not to be confused with the future Butch Cassidy. Based on the quality of the scripts, he should've remained anonymous, like the writers of the rest of the Atlas stories.

A psychiatrist watches a Thought-Image Viewer to observe the dreams of his patient. He sees commuters rushing to and fro, followed by large groups of people rounded up and forced to do hard labor in concentration camps. He sees an atomic bomb demolish a city. He turns off the machine, determined to rid his patient of his ridiculous belief in fantasy creatures that have only four limbs, and we see that the doctor has four arms and one eye!

The pictures on the TV in "Illusion" are interesting in that they wordlessly convey the progression of WWII and its horrors. Bill Everett does a good job of depicting both the realistic visions and the one-eyed aliens. In a way, this is a horror story, but of a different sort.

Aunt Sophie is "The Poor Relation." Her nephew Wilbur and his wife are about to consign her to the Poor House when they discover a newspaper that she receives in the mail that says she just won $500K in the Irish Sweepstakes. They begin to treat her with kindness and let her run up a big tab at the department store, only to be devastated when she reveals that she sent away for a newspaper with a fake headline!

At least there's a surprise ending in this story, even if it's a dopey one. The art by Sy Moskowitz is wooden.

The best is saved for last in this issue with "Mr. Jones," illustrated by Paul Reinman. Jones is a visitor from another planet who can't convince anyone that he's not just a crackpot from Earth. In the end, both he and his spaceship disintegrate. The scientists on his home planet have been monitoring his progress and remark with surprise that they were wrong: it takes seven hours for things to disintegrate in Earth's atmosphere and they had thought it would be immediate!

I got a kick out of this twist ending, since poor Mr. Jones had no idea of his fate and the scientists on his home planet knew he was doomed. Reinman did a lot of good work over the decades, and this is a well-drawn tale.-Jack

Next Week...
Just Another Day in the life of
1961 Batman and Robin!

Monday, October 23, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 8: March/April 1961


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

Batman #138

"Batman's Master"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

"The Simple Crimes of Simple Simon"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Secret of the Sea Beast"
Story by Bill Finger 
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

A renegade scientist named Dorian has an answer for Batman when the Caped Crusader bursts through the door of his secret lab: a rocket-ram fired at point blank range to the gut knocks Batman out! Before the scientist can remove the cowl to discover the hero's secret identity, however, the real Batman and Robin charge in and apprehend the villain, revealing that the first Batman was really the Batman-Robot.

That night, a masked man calling himself Kadar enters the hideout of the Tiger Gang and announces that he is "Batman's Master" and that he can anticipate Batman's every move. This proves to be true when the not-so-Dark Knight meets up with the Tiger Gang and Kadar at the Gotham Planetarium. The next night, heroes again meet villains at the Gotham Oil Refinery, where Batman is unable to resist Kadar's command to seize Robin and leap into a vat of water.

Later, Batman and Robin burst into the Tiger Gang's hideout and, with Kadar's help, vanquish the bad guys. Batman reveals that Kadar is really the Batman-Robot, whose programming got knocked out of whack by Dorian's rocket-ram. A quick twist of the screwdriver to the robot's mechanical brain and all is well.

I had a funny feeling that Kadar was the Batman-Robot all along. What I don't understand is why the leader of the Tiger Gang wears a tiger's head all the time. He has human hands and sports a suit and tie, but then there's that tiger head. I'm not sure it strikes fear in anyone's heart.

"The Simple Crimes of Simple Simon" are committed by a hick who is not as dumb as he looks. Batman and Robin encounter him at a fair (of course), where he creates a distraction in order to steal the gate receipts before escaping on a flying carousel horse. Simon uses a giant, inflatable whale as part of his scheme to steal a treasure map from a ship's cabin; finally, he rolls a giant snowball downhill into a hotel so that he can steal $10,000 in prize money. His attempted getaway on an ice-boat is foiled by the Dynamic Duo.

Bring back the aliens! Simple Simon is bottom of the barrel entertainment. More interesting are the banners that appear at the top and bottom of several pages for the first time in this issue, reading "The BEST Comics are STILL 10 cents." Dell had raised the price of its comics to 15 cents and DC was competing. Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories were selling an average of a million copies per issue in 1960, about double the sales of Batman, so that nickel price increase translated into big bucks.

A huge sea beast is terrorizing Gotham Bay and socialites Hal Torson and Lester Guinn are missing and thought dead after their yachts capsize! Unable to stop the creature with spear guns, the Dynamic Duo switch gears at the request of Commissioner Gordon and go after escaped convict Chips Hassel. They discover him at an abandoned glass works, where Batman overhears Chips saying something about being seen falling into the water. Batman acts on a hunch, disguises himself as Chips, and is knocked off Pier 14 by the sea beast. Underwater, he discovers that "The Secret of the Sea Beast" is that it's really a submarine. It turns out that the missing socialites faked their own deaths so that their stock swindles would not be uncovered. Robin helps Batman vanquish the baddies and Batman pilots the sea beast and its contents toward Gotham Island Prison.

Certainly the best of the three stories in a weak issue, the tale of the sea beast has as a highlight the panel where Batman's waterproof makeup begins to melt as soon as he climbs aboard the mechanical beast. He flips the light switch on the wall so no one can see his real face and, before you know it, reappears as Batman! Whew! That was a close one!-Jack

Peter-Robots... robots... and more robots. Soon, they'll replace apes and aliens as DC's go-to villain. The Tiger and Simple Simon are two hilarious, one-shot bad guys who, sadly, never made much of a mark in Gotham. The former probably suffocated from his cumbersome mask while the latter ran out of rhymes. Ah, the Golden Age of DC, where you get away with creating a character whose M.O. was stupidity. Sadly, the Sea Beast ends up being yet another giant prop paid for with the ill-gotten gains of a Gotham swindler. After spending all their dough on a sea beast ship and its huge warehouse dock, I'd say the bad guys better hope they can get a swell public defender. Look on the bright side, they'll be out in three months, anyway.

Detective #289

"The Bat-Mite Bandits"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Deadly Designs from Space"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Ruben Moreira

"J'onn J'onnz--Witch Doctor"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

When Batman and Robin inadvertently hurt the feelings of Bat-Mite, the precocious imp aids three rotten scoundrel thieves in a heist of a stone-encrusted Spanish scabbard. The mirthful midget brings several stone statues to life to prevent the Dynamic Duo from preventing the theft. What gives? As Batman says (to paraphrase), "The little guy is a pain in the ass, but usually he's on our side!" Robin shrugs.

"No cowboy never had
a steed like this!"
What our heroes don't know is that the gullible little elf has been manipulated by yet another Gotham bad guy, the wascally Willie Wile, who convinces Bat-Mite that he's a movie producer and that the best way to impress Batman and Robin is to dramatize robberies that the Duo can star in. That way, Batman's fame will reach epic proportions. The costumed giblet is delighted and gleefully agrees to use his powers in any way he can to escalate his idol's renown.

The next day, Bat-Mite sends a faux message into the Bat-cave's radio system, pleading with the Boys to hurry to Ace Sports Equipment to bust up another robbery. When they arrive, B&R must contend with giant baseball mitts and bowling pins while "The Bat-Mite Bandits" crack the store's safe (who knew that sports was a big money ticket in stuffy Gotham?) and escape on a ginormous football. Robin scratches his head and puts forth a theory that Bat-Mite may have decided to become a crook. World's Greatest Detective's Partner. But Bat-Mite finally gets wise to Wile's plan and aids Batman and Robin in their capture of the crooks. As the tiny terror disappears into thin air, Batman can be heard to echo his readers, "Good riddance!"

I've settled into this 1960s fantasy nonsense and I'm getting a big kick out of it, to a point. Bat-Mite is right at the edge of that point. The character isn't amusing or entertaining in the slightest and you can see Bill Finger (?) straining to come up with plots to use the imp even more than usual. It's hilarious how many hoods and henchmen populate Gotham City and it's strange the writers never seem to use the same crime bosses twice. 

Roy Raymond, TV Detective, and his super-patient girl, Karen, are amazed by their latest find, a scientist who's built some extraordinary gizmos, including a vehicle that can bore holes into mountains. Unfortunately for Roy and Karen, they've been duped by radium thieves (you see, the machine can only be stopped by pouring a huge amount of pure radium into the contraption's engine and Roy volunteers to retrieve the deadly, cancer-causing metal from a nearby radium street vendor) into abetting a crime; fortunately, Roy is really smart and he contacts the cops while shopping for radioactive material.

Just wait 'til Roy finally makes it back to his network studio and discovers that his show was cancelled three months previous due to bad ratings; the guy is never where he's supposed to be! By the 15th bogus scientist, you'd think Karen would be carrying a frying pan to bash her sometime-boyfriend over the head and give him some sense. Never mind Roy getting to the bottom of the criminal activities, I want to see the edited panels where the bad guys shop for all their expensive props! "The Deadly Designs from Space" is pretty dumb stuff.

For reasons known only to Jack Miller (?), Captain Harding is monitoring the whereabouts of mob boss Cleat Moss in the jungles of Asia and sends his ace detective, John Jones, to the exotic locale to bring the hood back (ignoring the fact that this might be illegal extradition). Jones finds Moss in a village with his hoods, strong-arming natives for their ivory. The village chief explains excitedly to Cleat that if the American scalawags try to steal their treasure, he'll use his magic voodoo powers to bring the crooks down. 

Hoping to help the chief but realizing if he intercedes as J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter, Capt. Harding will figure out his secret identity, J'onn wisely chooses a brilliant disguise, masquerading as Marsmann, from the Land Beyond Beyond, and puts a stop to the mossy Cleat's shenanigans. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance...  Is J'onn's disguise the best aspect of "JJ--Witch Doctor" or is it the sheer stupidity of Moss and his men not to recognize their city's greatest Justice Leaguer?-Peter

Jack-J'onn J'onzz sure does a lot of drilling and tunneling, doesn't he? It seems like spinning really fast and burrowing into the soil is one of his main skills. For me, the best panel in every story is the one where he transforms from human into Martian. As for Roy Raymond, it's a shame that Moreira's great artwork is wasted on this series. What's the point of calling him a TV detective if he's never on TV? In the Batman story, we again see a good guy pretending to be a bad guy. This is like the recent story where Robin pretended to leave Batman to team up with a rival. There's always that tell-all flashback that explains why what we're seeing isn't really what we're seeing. At least there were some cool props and giant-sized objects!

Batman #139

"The Blue Bowman"
Story by Bill Finger 
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

"The Island of 1,000 Traps"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Story by Bill Finger 
Art by Sheldon Moldoff 

Commissioner Gordon receives an anonymous tip that The Signalman will be at the Gotham Coal Refinery tonight, so he tells Batman and Robin and they head to the site. Instead of their old nemesis, however, they meet The Blue Bowman, which is what The Signalman now calls himself. Dressed like a blue Green Arrow, he uses a boxing glove arrow and a boomerang arrow to get the best of the Dynamic Duo and only quick acrobatic work by Batman prevents Robin from falling beneath the wheels of a speeding train!

Helpfully, the Blue Bowman leaves a vinyl record behind and Batman takes it to Police HQ where he, Robin, and Gordon listen to the Blue Bowman narrate the tale of why he switched villainous identities. It seems that, while he was in prison, the former Signalman met another crook who had fought Green Arrow as Bull's Eye. The Bowman decided that trick arrows would be just the thing to beat the Caped Crusader, and so the Blue Bowman was born. Acting on a clue, Batman and Robin rush to the Gotham Candle Company, where battle with the Bowman ends in the Dynamic Duo being encased in giant Halloween candles. The Bowman gets away and they extricate themselves.

The third encounter with the Blue Bowman occurs at the Gotham Archery Company, but this time the Dynamic Duo are properly prepared with trick Batarangs that allow them to make short work of their new enemy. He is last seen riding in the middle of the Batmobile's front seat, with two crooks sharing the back seat, as Batman drives them all to State Prison.

"The Blue Bowman" is a hoot and is easily one of my favorite Batman stories so far in the '60s. I love that the Signalman was stewing in prison when he cooked up a new identity with which to battle Batman! It's too bad he never got out and fought the Green Arrow. Wikipedia tells me that the Signalman later became a recurring villain and even the Blue Bowman came back eventually. Having a "super" villain whose main concern seems to be going after Batman is refreshing after so many stories with crooks trying to rob this or that establishment. Is it a coincidence that, on the page after the story ends, there's a full-page ad for the new issue of the Justice League of America, in which Green Arrow joins the team? I think not!

Marvel's martial arts hero makes an early appearance.
Acting on a tip, Batman and Robin approach an island said to be the hideout of George Milo, "the nation's top criminal," an electronic genius who turned to crime. Little do they know that it's "The Island of 1,000 Traps"! An artificial shark, an electric field, a tank with a large, iron fist, and a giant squid are all no match for the Dynamic Duo! They even manage to get into Milo's castle and avoid being shot by a sniper. When they finally reach Milo, he gives up, begging them: "'Don't hit me!'"

"Nation's top criminal," my foot. I'd like to read the sequel, in which the Gotham Police Department get slaughtered as they try to dismantle the other 995 traps on the island.

Batman, Robin, and Bat-Woman are fighting the Cobra Gang when its leader, King Cobra, gets the upper hand. Suddenly, "Bat-Girl!" bursts through an open window and saves the day, leaving the same way she came in. At home, Kathy Kane's visiting niece, Betty, reveals that she figured out her aunt's secret identity, made herself a nifty costume, followed her aunt, and debuted as Bat-Girl! Batman advises Kathy to stall her niece by insisting on a long period of rigorous training, but Bat-Girl gets fed up, dons her costume, and sets out alone to find the Cobra Gang's hideout.

Find it she does and the plucky teen takes them on alone, but they easily overpower her and lock her up. Some quick thinking on Betty's part alerts the Terrific Trio, who come to the rescue. Betty helps out and in the end, Kathy suggests that they might fight together as a team someday. Betty turns to Robin and suggests that they team up, asking "'Is that a date?'" to which the Boy Wonder can only reply, "'Ulp!'"

Two very enjoyable stories in one issue are two more than we often get, so I'm satisfied with Batman #139. "Bat-Girl" is filled with wonderful moments:

*in the initial fight scene, Bat-Woman's little purse swings behind her as she flips one of the Cobra Gang over her head
*unlike her aunt, Bat-Girl wears a skirt and not pants, the better to display her legs
*Betty watches TV footage of Bat-Woman tacking thugs and notices that cartons of gold stars fell on her; when she uses Kathy's hairbrush and some gold stars fall out, she deduces that her aunt must be Bat-Woman
*Bat-Girl surprises the Cobra Gang with a self-inflating balloon from her crime compact; the balloon bursts when it comes in contact with King Cobra's cigar
*Bat-Girl tricks King Cobra by pretending to grow faint
*when Bat-Girl asks Robin how she's doing, he replies, "'Not bad--for a girl!'"

An instant classic!-Jack

Peter-The Sig.... er, Blue Bowman is a lot of fun. I love how he hits on the fabulous idea of stealing the M.O. of a Green Arrow villain becuz Batman would not be prepared for his weapons! Blue Bowman will disappear for 15 years and then Len Wein will revive the character in Detective Comics #466 , reborn yet again as The Signalman. Neither of these resident Bat-Fanatics cared much for that out-of-the-blue resurrection. "The Island of 1,000 Traps" is standard fare, while "Bat-Girl" is a hoot. In Gotham, you're either an evil genius or a genius just itching to fight crime. Little Betty Kane (just entering her teens, I assume) is smart enough to whip up all kinds of crime-fighting gizmos, but her downfall is an errant cigar! Bat-faithful will already be aware that Betty Kane is not the Bat-Girl we all grew up with, but an early prototype for Babs Gordon, the Batgirl. The real deal won't show up for another six years but, in the meantime, we'll get a few more guest appearances from this one.

Detective Comics #290

"Robin's Robot"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris (?)

"The Curse of King Neptune"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira

"Lights, Camera--and Doom"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

The latest small-time/big-time mob crime boss, "Gadgets" Blore, is terrorizing Gotham with his high-end tech gizmos. Batman and Robin track Gadgets (thanks to the extraordinary amount of electricity the goon must use) to the Great Tractor Factory, where the robbers are melting the company's vault to get to a one hundred grand payroll. During a whale of a fistfight, Batman and Robin are zapped by Gadgets' "Electronic Cannon" and become opposing charges of energy (just roll with it). Batman glows red and Robin glows green. If either comes close to each other, bolts of electricity destroy anything in the area. Gadgets and his goons escape.

Well, obviously the Dynamic Duo can't fight crime together, so Batman quickly invents a "Robin's Robot," in order to... well, I don't know exactly... to let Gotham know everything is just hunky dory with the crime-fighting team, I guess. The partners once again track Gadgets, this time to an abandoned airfield, where the bad guys are hoping to ransack a cargo plane full of uranium. Robin stands off to the side, working a control panel that transmits orders to the Robin Robot. The robot climbs Gadgets' radio transmitter tower and destroys the beacon luring the cargo plane, but there's a snafu on the flesh-and-blood Robin's end and the robot takes a header off the tower.

While Robin is recovering from a bad shock received from his control box, Batman is fighting Gadgets and his goons by throwing his cape over them and creating a sort of tent (no, seriously!). When he sees the robot has been short-circuited, Bats leaves the contretemps and the hoods exit stage left... again.

The next day, Gadgets is at Gotham State Penitentiary, attempting to break out three inmates (at a cost of 50k each) with an ultra-sonic gun, when the Dynamic Duo swing in. Gadgets, having been clued in on the "Robin's Robot" gimmick, has a man waiting in the outlying area to capture the Boy Wonder. With the control box in hand, Gadgets orders the Robin Robot to turn on his human partner and Batman is kayoed. With Boy Wonder and robot in tow, Gadgets heads back to his Gizmo Factory to dissect Batman's wonder robot.

At that point, Batman bursts in and unmasks robot Robin, revealing the real Robin underneath, then takes time out to explain the entire affair to an astonished Gadgets (who calmly waits through the lengthy exposition rather than attempt to escape). You see, when Robin was zapped by the control box, it eliminated the power charge running through his body. Batman thought it was a great idea to disguise the Boy Wonder as his robot in order to track Gadgets back to his lair (I guess the brilliant crime king never used an extraordinary amount of electricity in his Gadgets-Cave), so that he could throw a rope around both gang and gizmos in one shot. In fact, the oratory lasts long enough for Bats to lose his charge. Happy ending for all... except the vile villains, who will be carted off to the Gotham pen, never to be seen again.

An extraordinarily detailed and complicated plot (and, some would say, synopsis) and some of the points are hardly mentioned at all. We're just supposed to play along with Red/Sometimes Orange Batman and Green Robin, but I never understood what was coursing through their bodies and why the different colors. Perhaps it might have been easier if Bats had become a giant "plus" and Robin a "negative" (I've always thought of the Boy Blunder in that way, anyway). Also, wouldn't it have been a right ol' pain for Gadgets to haul around heavy equipment to each heist? If he's such a genius, why not hand-held devices? Whatever he's paying his goons, it ain't enough. 

But, as dumb as this story is, it's also a lot of fun. I'm amazed that, with all the fighting that must be done day-to-day, the World's Greatest Detective has the time to build a fully-functional Robin robot in a matter of hours. If I were Bats, I would keep that robot around at least until the 1980s so he could swap out the smart-ass pre-teens he'll be saddled with.

Sometime TV sensation Roy Raymond is called aboard his friend Bill's boat to investigate a curse. Evidently, every time Bill takes his boat out to sea, King Neptune attacks the ship! Roy dons scuba gear and dives down below, where he is attacked by the king of the sea, who orders a school of fish and an octopus to chase our hero off. But a flash of brilliance bursts into the head of our genius of a game show host, and Roy unravels the mystery behind "The Curse of King Neptune."

As with most of these Roy Raymond mini-sagas, the script is inane and the art is gorgeous. This script, however, could go down in the Hall of Dumb for its sheer hilarity. Once more, we discover that there are gangworld thugs behind the supernatural goings-on but wait--there's more. Racket boss Dirk Cranshaw (who will probably share a cell with Gadgets Blore in Forgotten DC Thugs jail) cooked up the whole scheme to get at Bill's boat, which hides millions in stolen loot in its hull. So, rather than simply kidnapping or killing Bill, Cranshaw spends "plenty" (probably 90% of the stolen loot!) on mechanized fish, an octopus, and a midget sub disguised as Neptune!!! That right there demands three exclamation points.

Policewoman Diane Meade is placed undercover as a stuntwoman on the set of The Lady Commando, a big Hollywood production that's been the victim of some strange and dangerous mishaps. Those events continue as Diane attempts to leap from helicopters, dash through a mine field, and leap into an auto full of armed Nazis. In the end, it turns out the director of The Lady Commando has been bribed by a rival studio producer, who's aiming to launch a similar movie and wants it to hit the theaters first. Murder and espionage seem pretty tame when you consider what movie producers were capable of in the dark ages of Hollywood. More really lame dialogue and limp graphics. Why would Diane's boss consider her competent to step into the shoes of a stuntwoman? And does Diane ever learn John Jones's alter ego and then bash the guy in the head with a frying pan for hesitating before each intervention? Yeah, it's a funny book, but these nagging questions make my brain hurt.-Peter

Jack-April 1961 was a pretty good month for Batman comics. "Robin's Robot" reaches new levels of goofiness, especially due to the fact that Batman and Robin are both glowing and electrically-charged, but their biggest concern is building a robot and catching Gadgets. Personally, I'd be heading for the ER at Gotham General Hospital. The Roy Raymond series continues to disappoint, and I don't believe for one second that the giant Neptune was really a scuba diver with a mini-sub! The reappearance of plucky Diane gives the J'onn J'onzz story more entertainment value than usual--in fact, I found her more likable than the spinning, tunneling, fire-averse hero!

Next Week...
Jack Katz introduces us
to The Man in the Mirror!