Monday, March 4, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 17: September/ October 1962

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

Detective Comics #307

"Alpha, the Experimental Man!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Alias Scarface Scanlon"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Dr. Burgos has finally done it! He's created a synthetic man! But "Alpha, the Experimental Man!" is like clay and must be molded into something much better and useful for mankind, so the government suits ask Batman to teach Alpha coordination and reflex skills. Bats is only too happy to help in this monumental event in scientific history. He and Robin head to the Burgos lab to begin their work.

Alpha begins to get with the picture, but he has questions: why does he not have "emotions" like regular human beings? Batman explains that someday even those traits will come naturally to the walking doll. Batman suggests to Burgos that they take Alpha out for a drive to get some air and take in the Gotham countryside and, while cruising past a construction scene, they catch sight of four "armed escaped convicts" and stop the Batmobile. A kerfuffle ensues and Alpha gets to throw his first right cross. The thugs are rounded up and the day is saved.

Once the action has finished, Batwoman rides up on her cycle and apologizes for being late to the battle. Alpha catches one glimpse of the shapely heroine and feels a twinge deep inside. Tired of waiting for his emotions to show up, Alpha rushes back to Dr. Burgos's lab and zaps himself with the full power of the machine that created him. Suddenly, Alpha's body is granted super-powers! He rushes out into the night and somehow stumbles onto Batman and Robin trading punches with the Green Mask Bandits high atop a Gotham building. Very quickly, Alpha puts an end to the tussle, displaying his newfound strength and almost killing the crooks.

Worried, Batman consults with Burgos, who tells our hero that, when the machine was turned to "Full Power," it degenerated the synthetic man's mind and body. If not found and given proper treatment, Alpha will die! Well, finding him is no problem, because the android just happens to walk up to the scientist's window and overhear part of the conversation. Misunderstanding the intent, Alpha goes on the defense and proclaims mankind his enemy! He immediately heads into Gotham and wreaks havoc, drawing the attention of Batwoman, who follows her admirer out into the country. After a mishap with her cycle, Batwoman is left hanging off a cliff, death imminent.

After a lengthy conversation, Alpha decides he's been wrong about the whole "evil mankind" thing and saves Batwoman, giving up his life in the process. Our heroes and Dr. Burgos grieve in front of Alpha's grave (with a really wordy gravestone) for what could have been. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's amazing to me how many genius scientists call Gotham their home. At least Dr. Burgos (a nod to famed Marvel artist Carl?) doesn't create Alpha to rob newspaper vendors and pet stores but, if I were Batman, I'd tell the government brass (who assign duties and then disappear) I was too busy catching the Joker and Catwoman to train their new toy. I love me some Batwoman cheesecake (even if she is buttoned up to the neck), but that climax was as sappy and maudlin as a Hallmark Movie of the Week. My favorite bit of '60s dialogue is when Bats tells his female counterpart that she's always late... "'just like a woman!'" Ouch! Kathy should store that one in her memory banks for the next time Bats is dangling over a shark tank.

In an effort to smoke out the "Scarface" Scanlon gang, Detective John Jones goes undercover, disguised as Scanlon (it's too long a story to go into but, basically, Scanlon took a header off a high bridge and is presumed dead), and infiltrates the gang. Unfortunately, the real Scanlon pops up and makes matters a bit complicated. With a quick change to the Martian Manhunter, J'onn is able to nab the real Scanlon, hand him over to authorities, and convince the gang that he's the real Scarface. And then, like clockwork, gorgeous patrolwoman Diane Meade stumbles into the forest cabin lair of the Scarface gang and is captured. The Martian Manhunter must save Diane and put the kibosh on the gang. No problem. 

I was waiting for J'onn to scold Diane with a "just like a woman. Always late to the party," but alas, MM has more manners and is a little more educated when it comes to 1960s women's lib than Bats. Though I'm not nuts enough to say "Alias Scarface Scanlon" is a good story, I will say that it was at least entertaining, in a mind-numbing sort of way. It is amazing how little energy Joe Certa put into his penciling; every one of his thugs looks alike.-Peter

Jack-This Batman story has it all! A cameo by Ace, the Bat-Hound, a key role for Batwoman—all it’s missing are the hijinks of Bat-Mite! I’m not sure that showing Alpha a Jerry Lewis flick is the best way to teach him about the ways of people in the outside world. I’m surprised the android didn’t start mugging for the camera! I agree that the J’onn J’onzz story is not bad. I was most intrigued by the two instances where the Martian Manhunter changes from his human alter ego back into his Martian self, right in front of a bunch of crooks. Is this the first time we’ve seen him able to take on the appearance of any human he chooses? That could prove handy!

Mooney (?) & Moldoff
Batman #150

"The Secret Behind the Stone Door"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Girl Who Stole Batman's Heart"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Robin, the Super Boy Wonder"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Jim Mooney

The president of Global TV asks Batman to keep an eye on Chetley and Bradley, who produce TV documentaries and who are working on a big story but keeping it a secret. Batman disguises himself as Trevor Cornelius, the English nephew of the network president, and is hired as assistant to the producing duo. He and Robin follow them separately and Batman witnesses Chetley and Bradley enter a hidden valley behind a stone door that is camouflaged in the side of a mountain.

Cornelius reveals his presence to the producers and learns that they've found "'a secret training center for the underworld army of a would-be dictator who intends to take over the United States'"! Chetley and Bradley are filming proof of the nefarious activities that they can turn over to the authorities. Cornelius whips off his disguise and reveals himself as Batman; he is quickly located and captured by the red and black garbed minions of the leader, who calls himself Caesar.

Batman is attacked by a huge, metal bird and Robin suddenly appears to help. Caesar then attacks with a giant metal snake that he calls the Crusher. It doesn't take Batman long to defeat him and, a week later. a documentary airs on TV about the heroic events.

"The Secret Behind the Stone Door" is a good example of Bill Finger throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick. It's one of the lesser tales we've encountered thus far in the '60s Batman titles. Having Batman monitor the newsmen in disguise is silly, but it's even sillier that those newsmen don't just call the cops when they discover Caesar's hidden training camp. No, they'd rather film a documentary first! Seems irresponsible.

After three crooks steal $2,000,000 in cash and gems from an armored car, Batman is put under a spell by an old man who waves magical, ancient fumes under his nose. As a result, the Caped Crusader falls madly in love with the first woman he sees, a visiting French brunette named Elise. Robin takes over crime-fighting duties in Gotham City with his new partner, the Batman robot. while the real Caped Crusader dances the night away with Eloise, ignoring Batwoman's caution that he's ruining his career.

Gangster Jack Pine uses the distracted Batman and his lady love to get a missing clue to the location of the $2,000,000 in stolen loot, but it turns out that Batman was faking the whole thing in order to follow the crooks to the cash. "The Girl Who Stole Batman's Heart" is really Sgt. Helen Smith of the Gotham P.D., and Alfred masqueraded as the old man with the magic spell.

The second story in this issue is marginally better than the first, though Jerry Coleman has to go through some real plot gymnastics and spend a lot of time having Batman explain what happened to make it all work out. When you only have seven and a half pages to tell a complicated story, and page one is a splash page that doesn't advance the plot, it requires a lot of word balloons.

Batman and Robin fly over the Yucatan jungle, searching for gangster Biff Warner. They take to their Whirly-Bats to get a closer look, but a sudden, violent tropical storm causes them to crash and they are separated. Soon, Batman is chased by three natives wielding spears, and he is shocked when "Robin, the Super Boy Wonder" appears on the scene, not knowing Batman and possessing great strength.

Batman escapes and makes his way to a nearby Indian village, where he witnesses Super-Robin under the control of an Indian. The Caped Crusader is discovered and saves Robin from a thrown spear, knocking his head into a rock in the process. That brings the Boy Wonder's memory back, and he saves Batman. They chase the main bad Indian and Batman pulls off his wig to reveal that he's really the missing Biff Warner! Robin's super powers are wearing off; the Dynamic Duo say goodbye to the now-friendly Indians and take Biff Warner back to Gotham City.

The only positive about this story is the Jim Mooney art, which is slightly more enjoyable than the art by Moldoff. Otherwise, it's rather dopey. A pretty weak issue of Batman, and no mention of the landmark number 150.-Jack

Peter-"The Secret Behind the Stone Door" highlights several of the lunacies inherent in the 1960s Bat-stories. Could you imagine Frank Miller writing a yarn about Batman becoming a bodyguard for documentary filmmakers? Or how about a story where a terrorist threat has his henchmen dress in spandex? I'm surprised the Joker, who knows everything that happens in Gotham, didn't take this as the perfect opportunity to pull a Gotham Gumball Factory heist. But the biggest laugh of them all is reserved for the scene where "Cornelius" rips off his mask to reveal... Batman in his cape and cowl! How the heck did he hide those ears? "The Girl Who Stole Batman's Heart" and "Robin, the Super Boy Wonder" are convoluted, foolish nonsense and perfect examples of how low the character had sunk in between the noir period and the Adams/Rogers/Miller rebirth. Once again, the lightning bolt grants extra-special powers to its strike. The last page expositions in both defy logic and push my patience to the breaking point.

Detective Comics #308

"The Flame-Master"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Dick Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff

"The Day John Jones Vanished!"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Hot on the trail of criminal Pete Dale, Batman and Robin find the man hiding out, disguised as a trapeze artist, in a circus in the southwest. Dale gets the jump on the Dynamic Duo and races out of the circus in a chariot (no, seriously!), eventually taking refuge in an old Indian pueblo in the desert. As our heroes arrive, Dale exits the ruins with a smile on his face and bursts into flames, proclaiming himself The Human Torch "The Flame-Master"! 

Dale speeds down the road to a nearby town, where a film crew is shooting a TV western. Batman and Robin arrive in time to see Dale make flame-animals in order to destroy the town. Batman unleashes a torrent of water on the criminal but, to everyone's amazement, Dale simply transforms into "Liquid Man!" and jumps into a nearby stream to escape. The Caped Crusaders give chase in a canoe but Dale lifts himself from the river and, touching the bank, becomes "Earth-Man!" He quickly causes an earthquake, destroying a nearby grain silo and then transforms into "Cyclone-Man!" Destroying the forest around him and making a general mess, he wishes the boys a good day and twirls himself to Gotham (which is a at least a couple thousand miles away!).

Wondering how Dale got his newfound powers, Batman heads back to the Indian pueblo and discovers a secret passageway that leads to a room filled with Indian relics and graffiti. The symbols and the small globes on the floor (one broken open) lead Batman to the conclusion that Paul Dale was granted one month of unlimited elemental powers thanks to a gas captured inside the globes. Batman decides the only way to stop Dale is to (literally) fight fire with fire. 

Meanwhile, in Gotham, Dale (as Flame-Master) has enlisted asbestos-uniformed henchmen and is robbing Gotham's largest bank. As Earth-Man, Dale stomps his foot and the ensuing tremor cracks the building in half. Just then, Batman and Robin arrive in the Batmobile and the Dark Knight exits the vehicle, transforming into Earth-Man II and immediately engaging Dale in a furious, violent, and cataclysmic war that threatens the very Earth itself. In the end, the World's Greatest Detective uses a trick taught to him by the ancient Mayans who left the powerful gas in the pueblo and defeats Paul Dale once and for all!

Wow! Not only an exciting and intelligent script but some dynamic visual thrills as well. This could be the best Batman adventure we've seen since starting this 1960s journey. Of course, I have my nits to pick (how did Dale find the secret room, get gassed, and suddenly know everything about his new powers in the time it took the boys to get to the ruins?), but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't raise the important questions. Shouldn't Dale have monikered himself something along the lines of "Elemental Man!" or "Everything Guy!" or "Earth, Wind and Fire!"? Can you imagine how large his Wanted poster would be? Picture Gordon ringing the Bat-Phone, alerting Bats to the presence of Earth-Man in Gotham, Bats loading all his dirt weapons in the trunk, and arriving in town to find Water-Boy flooding the streets? I'm all in on Dick Sprang over Shelly Moldoff. Just look at that panel reprinted above of Batman delivering the final blow to Dale. You can feel the power!

Detective John Jones is tasked with returning a priceless jewel box to its rightful owner, King Leo of Lavonia. Jones makes the long flight okay but his coach is ambushed by masked men as he's on his way to the palace and the box is stolen. Jones transforms into the Martian Manhunter and quietly knocks a tree down in front of the crooks (MM can't be seen thousands of miles away in the same spot as John Jones or his alter ego will be public knowledge!) but, unfortunately, he's struck by lightning and stuck in the body of J'onn J'onzz!!! 

At that moment, King Leo rides up with his band of merry men and is handed his box by the local constabulary. J'onn hides but overhears the king mention that the box is in good shape but the ring within is missing. King Leo looks around, sees no American detective, and puts two and two together. "Bring Me the Head of John Jones!!!" The Martian Manhunter knows he can't show his face in Lavonia, so he rockets back to Captain Harding's office, where he discovers the news of John Jones's theft has already reached America. Can the Martian Manhunter find the missing ring and restore his Earthbound alter ego's good name and reputation? 

Just as silly (maybe even sillier) than the previous MM sagas, "The Day John Jones Vanished" does have one clever little bit, in which MM flies back to America and gets Harding to plead for his help locating Detective Jones, thus making it natural that both would be in the same faraway place. But the reveal that Diane made the flight to "help" in the search is pretty lame, adding fuel to the notion that the character is only kept around to use in hostage situations and for a little eye candy. Jack Seabrook will be happy to see the ol' "One electrical shock is bad but the second one negates the effects of the first one" trope used yet again in the sappy, crappy climax.-Peter

Jack-I am shaking my head in wonder at your positive review of the Batman story, which I thought was one of the worst I've read. Dick Sprang is among my favorite Bat artists, but this story looks rushed and most of the panels include tiny figures that are hard to make out. The story is absurd, and this is coming from someone who got a kick out of Bat-Baby! I was really disappointed. The J'onn J'onzz story was slightly better, mainly because the characters were drawn big enough to make out. You're right about the electric shocks--they're as dumb as the knocks to the head.

Next Week...
The Return of Bernie Krigstein!

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