Monday, June 10, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 24: November/ December 1963


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

Batman #159

"The Great Clayface-Joker Feud"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne Jr."
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Kathy Kane's niece, Betty (a/k/a Batgirl), is visiting her aunt (a/k/a Batwoman) and she and Robin swoon over the prospect of working together again. Suddenly, a radio news bulletin alerts Batman that Clayface has escaped from prison! The next night, Clayface, in the form of a giant eagle, tries to rob the gate receipts from the Architect's Exposition (surely a source of huge profits). Batman and Robin try to stop him, but the villain manages to escape after revealing that his powers no longer last 24 hours and now start to wear out after five hours.

Batman and Robin surmise that Clayface managed to hide some of the magic pool liquid that facilitates his transformation and then used it to create a synthetic equivalent that had less staying power. In an underworld hangout, hoodlums agree that Clayface is the top criminal in the country, but the Joker bursts in and calls Clayface a "'blundering third-rater.'" The next night, Batwoman is being crowned "Queen of Space" as the greatest space rocket is christened after her, when the Joker appears and steals the crown from her head. Batgirl confronts the Joker and is nearly knocked off a high spot to her doom when Robin rushes to her aid. The Joker transforms into a winged sphinx and flies away; it turns out he was Clayface impersonating the Joker!

The next day, Commissioner Gordon tells Batman that he received a tip that Clayface plans to steal a gold idol from the Gotham Museum. The Dynamic Duo rush there and find not Clayface but the Joker! After some silliness with various Joker costumes, the Clown Prince escapes out a window with the idol. Clayface reads about the Joker's antics and sees a TV news report stating that a rajah will give Batman the King of Diamonds, a fabulous gem. The next night, the Joker shows up to steal the jewel but Clayface also appears and knocks out Batman and the Joker before carrying them off in the guise of a gorilla.

Clayface takes Batman and the Joker to his hideout and ties them up, whereupon the Joker suggests that they team up. Clayface unties the Joker before unmasking Batman, but the top half of Bruce Wayne's face is obscured by clay. The Joker knocks out Clayface and we learn that he's really Batman, disguised as the Joker, and Batman is really the Batman robot. The Joker has been in jail since the night he tried to steal the idol, having been captured  by Batwoman and Batgirl, who were flying by the museum on Whirlybats. Clayface is put behind bars, but vows to cause more mayhem when he gets out.

Forget about the complicated plot and "The Great Clayface-Joker Feud"! What I liked best about this double-length (16-page) story were the goofy romance-comic panels between Robin and Batgirl and between Batman and Batwoman! When Betty and Robin see each other, they both sigh at the prospect of working together again.

Robin saves Batgirl and she swoons; Batwoman tries the same move on Batman and he gives the reader a look that says, "Oh, brother!"

In the last panel, Robin and Batgirl look ready to make out, but when Batwoman offers to soothe Batman, all he can say is "'Gulp!'" This stuff is hilarious!

Having finished the dusting and sweeping, Alfred sits down to type out another imaginary tale of Batman and Robin's future: "The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne Jr." Bruce Wayne/Batman marries Kathy Kane/Batwoman and, a year later, Kathy gives birth to Bruce Jr. As the lad grows, Uncle Dick trains him in gymnastics and Dad plays some baseball with sonny. Junior shows promise as a future crimefighter when he helps Batman and Robin solve the mysterious disappearance of the Green Owl Gang; he remarks that they must be magicians, so Batman, Robin, and Batwoman follow them and discover that it really is all done with mirrors.

One day, Bruce Jr. is trying to impress some other guys and blurts out that his Dad is Batman. Fortunately, Batman is within earshot, and convinces the boys that the mere thought is ludicrous; he also teaches them a lesson about how every boy's father is important. Eventually, Bruce Jr. would grow up to be the new Robin to Dick's new Batman!

In this issue's letters column, Kenneth S. Sanders of Los Angeles complains that characters like Bat-Girl and Batwoman are taking too much interest away from the main characters. The editor replies that the majority of readers disagree, but he also reassures Kenneth that there will still be stories about outer space villains. As Robin would say, "sigh."-Jack

Peter-I liked both these stories. The first has a way-too-complicated expository at the climax, one of those "Okay, so here's what really happened..." panels that can force a reader to think. Who wants to think? I can't stand the Alfred imaginary tales, but "The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne, Jr." wasn't bad at all. I wonder if the average 8-year-old reader realized that Batman had to have sex to father a kid. I'm surprised the CCA didn't step in. 

Detective Comics #321

"The Terrible Trio!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Lock up your daughters! "The Terrible Trio!" are back in town. Yes, the Fox (land heists), the Shark (by sea), and the Vulture (by air) have escaped Gotham Pen and have three money-making schemes in mind. First, the Vulture has a flock of pigeons illegally smuggled into Gotham Airport, where an inside man opens the cage and lets them fly free. Batman and Robin, at the airport following up a clue, hop on their Whirly-Bats and give chase to the filthy fowl. 

Their flight leads them right into the hideout of the Vulture, where the boys witness the criminal untie diamonds from around the birds' talons. They also overhear the loony villain tell his feathered friends that it's the Shark's turn the following day to pull off his end of the heists, with the Fox carrying out a "human cargo" operation as the grand finale. Alas, the Dynamic Duo make a little too much noise while sneaking up on the Vulture and he sics a pair of eagles on the heroes. The Vulture gets away in a missile and the boys are left wondering why they constantly let the bad guys escape in the first act.

The next day, Batman and Robin head out to sea on the Bat-Boat to smoke out the Shark. They spy a cargo ship dumping copious amounts of fish over the side and porpoises grabbing at the snacks. Just then, the Shark Sub emerges from the deeps and the Trio hop onto the surface, accepting the fish bounty spit at them by their trained porpoises. Once again, the Caped Crusaders muck up the Trio's plans and once again the bad guys escape. Back on the Bat-Boat, Batman and Robin examine the fish they've captured and discover that each one has a counterfeit bill plate inside its guts (yecccch!). 

Back at the Bat-Cave, it's brainstorming time as the boys try to out-fox the Fox and his "human cargo" operation. Robin shows that, every now and then, his seventh-grade education pays off when he opines that perhaps the Fox intends to provide a getaway service to escaped criminals. "Holy cow," exclaims the World's Greatest Detective in a roundabout compliment, "That's the most obvious solution!" Later that night, Batwoman answers a call for help from the police; hardened criminal Archie Craig has jumped the wall at Gotham Pen. Craig heads to middle man, Mouthy, for a way out of Gotham, and Mouthy sends him down into a deserted subway station. Batwoman catches a glimpse of Craig heading down the stairs and follows him, arriving in the bowels of the station just in time to watch the con hop into a giant mole machine with the Fox. The gizmo gears up and digs its way into the Earth.

The vehicle pops up on the surface at a secluded hideout, where the remaining two-thirds of the Trio await. Shortly after their arrival, Robin shows up and Batman removes his Archie Craig disguise; the two engage in battle with the three nature freaks. Yet again, Gotham's favorite heroes are defeated; this time they are loaded into missiles and blasted off into space. Through their utility belts (which for some reason were not perceived to be a threat!), the boys communicate and Batman explains that the manual controls for the missiles have been shut off. It's surely curtains for our heroes. Not so fast, screeches Batwoman, as she throws a net over the Trio and turns the manual controls lever to "On." Bats and Robin are saved and Kathy giggles and confesses that it's a good thing she didn't know that Archie Craig was really Batman or she wouldn't have bothered following. "Huh, yeah right! Since when did you not want part of the limelight?" chortles the Dark Knight.

Another inane but perfectly enjoyable adventure from Dave Wood. I thought it was interesting that we never saw The Terrible Trio unmasked, not even for a moment. These guys are all very serious about their work. But then you could tell that from their elaborate plans. Shoving steel plates down fish gullets has got to take a bit of time and that mole machine must have cost a pretty penny. I love how the Fox is trusting of "Archie Craig," even if the guy never gave him any dough (Mouthy says "Sure, sure!" when "Archie" says he's good for it). They're thieves but trusting thieves. The Trio first appeared in Detective #253 (March 1958) and would see a few different variations on their roster (and costuming) throughout the following decades.-Peter

Jack-I was surprised when Robin said that the Whirly-Bats were in the Batmobile's trunk. They sure don't make cars like they used to! I don't think one of the Whirly-Bat blades would fit in my trunk. I was happy to see Batwoman again; more and more, she and Bat-Girl light up otherwise dull stories. And thank goodness that the Terrible Trio included a handy "manual missile control" switch that was clearly labeled! That was a close one.

Batman #160

"The Mystery of Madcap Island"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Alien Boss of Gotham City"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Gangster Ed Kiley has loot stolen by the Green Hood Gang! Following a clue, Batman and Robin travel to Madcap Island, "'where eccentric rich people have those crazy summer homes,'" according to Robin. The island is a Moldoff explosion of giant wackiness. The rich folks seem to build their houses to represent their businesses, and it's not just houses--Benson, of Benson Binoculars, drives up in a car shaped like a giant pair of binoculars.

Jason Reid, dishware manufacturer, had a different idea, though, and built his big house in the shape of Batman's head and torso. The Dynamic Duo manage to escape being knocked off of a cliff by the spray from a giant water pistol. Hearing a shot from Bart's Soda Shop, they discover that Bart (dressed like a soda jerk) ducked when Kiley fired at him after Bart discovered Kiley hiding, possibly in search of a giant milkshake.

Batman and Robin find Kiley, dead and lying on the cuckoo of a giant cuckoo clock and chase a masked man whom they assume is his killer. The man escapes but, when Batman finds Kiley's gun, he gets a bright idea. That night, Bart visits Reid, Kiley's boss, and admits that he shot and killed Kiley. Batman and Robin burst in and capture Bart; Reid escapes and Batman chases him on top of the big Batman house. Reid tries to escape in a big flying cup and saucer, but Batman bounces on some patio furniture and leaps up to catch Reid.

What this all has to do with the Green Hood Gang is anyone's guess. "The Mystery of Madcap Island" is Bill Finger's gift to Sheldon Moldoff, allowing him to go wild and draw any big, zany item he can think of. The early '60s were such a fun time--the super-wealthy actually all lived together during the summer on an island, where they built big houses shaped like soda shops, flew around in cups and saucers, and drove binocular mobiles. Nowadays they just buy social media companies and spend their time sending out angry messages.

When Batman and Robin encounter a gang robbing a bank truck, they are surprised to discover that the leader is "The Alien Boss of Gotham City," a green-skinned, bald fellow named Lido whose spaceship crash-landed and who decided to take over a local gang. It turns out that the alien isn't an alien at all, but rather a human gang boss who found the abandoned spaceship and decided to pretend to be an alien. Batman concludes that the alien abandoned the ship before it ever crashed.

The alien's striped sleeves resemble those of Amazo, from Justice League comics, and Dave Wood allows readers  to have their alien cake and eat it, too, by writing most of the story as if the alien is real and then revealing that he's just another crook in the end. One question: why bother? Wasn't it a lot of work to come up with the alien costume, not to mention all of the alien gadgets? And if the mob boss could invent this stuff and convince everyone he was from Planet Claire, why was he so easy to capture?-Jack

Peter-"Madcap Island" is dopey fun, from its outlandish architecture to its amazing lawn furniture (with springs that can launch a man sixty feet in the air!). How is it that eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne doesn't own a pad on Madcap Island? "Alien Boss" is the pits in both script and art departments. It's hard to believe the Moldoff/Paris team that did a semi-decent job on the first story are the same guys who doodled out the stick figures for the second. It's bad enough we get so many alien stories; now we get faux-alien stories. 

I love reading the letters pages; the readers are always so perceptive. "Why don't you have a story where the Penguin steals a spaceship and flies to Mars where he plans to destroy Earth with a laser beam?" writes little Jackie Seabrook from the Garden State, and editor Jack Schiff answers along the lines of "Well, Jackie, we have just such an adventure lined up in the March issue of Brave and the Bold!" Makes you wonder if the 8-year-olds were really writing those LOCs.

Detective Comics #322

"The Bizarre Batman Genie"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman and Robin are summoned to the Gotham Museum, where they are told the building was broken into but, bizarrely, barely pilfered. The only artifact stolen was the "relatively worthless" Larko Lamp. Batman explains to all those listening (including the museum's curator, who already knows the legend) that, in ancient times, a sorcerer named Larko invented a lamp that made anyone his slave when sprinkled with some sort of fairy dust. The powder trapped its victim within the lamp, a slave to its owner.

Shortly thereafter, Gordon is given a tip that some of the dust was stolen from an excavation site and is, as we speak, on its way to Gotham in the clutches of evil genius, Aristo! The Caped Crusaders head Aristo off at the airport, but the semi-magician gets the drop on the boys and tosses the magic powder at Batman. Bats disappears and Robin is left to ponder his own future in crimefighting.

At the requisite villain barn outside of Gotham, Aristo maps out his plan to his two pea-brained assistants. He now holds Batman captive within the lamp and the Dark Knight must follow Aristo's orders three times without fail. First up, Aristo orders the Giant-Sized Batman to "plunder the Gotham Mint." "The Bizarre Batman Genie" heads down to the Mint, unable to disobey. He pulls the roof off and empties the building of its contents. Once the Genie is back in the lamp, Aristo has a look at his booty (well, I mean, he has a look at the ill-gotten gains). But Robin was two steps ahead of Aristo and had Bat-Girl go down to the local produce market and buy forty tons of mint so that the Genie-Batman would be thrown off his game. Aristo is not pleased.

Wish number two forces Bat-Genie to become bodyguard to the Aristo gang as they rob the Diamond Exchange. As the getaway truck speeds out of Gotham, Robin hops in the back (under the veil of Bat-Girl's Estee Lauder hairspray smoke bomb!) and attempts to take control of the truck. He manages to grab the lamp just as the truck moves over a bridge. The swaying motion causes Robin to lose his grip and he and the lamp tumble into the river. Aristo and his gang find the lamp and attempt to summon Bat-Genie. Batman--the man, the legend, the regular-sized superhero--steps out of the bushes and decks Aristo, with Robin dispatching the moronic henchmen. When Aristo begs to know why Batman didn't come out of the lamp, Robin laughs and tells the criminal that the third wish was already utilized.... by Robin himself, when he summoned the genie to save him from drowning. The Dynamic Duo have a laugh on Aristo's behalf and take the goons away.

Most of these 1960s fantasy Batman adventures are a load of fun, but some, like "The Bizarre Batman Genie," are just too outlandish and ridiculous for my tastes. The cast just seems to absorb every fantastical event that comes their way with a sigh and a rolling up of the sleeves. Wouldn't it have been easier for Robin to just empty the Mint rather than take the time to locate tons of mint plants? And how did he have time to set up the ruse? Poor Bat-Girl is relegated to standing around and only participating when one of her fancy cosmetics can come in handy. Chanel No. 5 fire extinguisher. Dior laughing gas. L'Occitane facial masks. This hobby might get expensive! 

I often wonder if, decades later, Nightwing and a so-much-darker version of our happy-go-lucky Bat-Guy sat around chugging Guinness and reliving past cases. 

Batman: Hard to forget the time you died at dawn, little buddy.
Robin: How about the time Bane broke your back?
Batman: No, no, no, what about the time the Joker dumped that guy in the shark tank?
Robin: Yeah, but none of that compares to the time you turned into a giant genie and tore the roof off the Gotham Mint!
Batman (raises his stein): To the good times!-Peter

Jack-To the good times, indeed! This is silly but fun. As I read it, I was struck by how quickly things happen in the stories of this era. Page one is always a splash page previewing a big event that will occur later in the story. By page six, Batman has turned into a genie and Bat-Girl has shown up. And by page 13, which is only half a page, it's all wrapped up. DC writers were efficient plotters.

Next Week...
Bernie Krigstein Brings to Mind
EC Comics in "The Hypnotist!"

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