Monday, July 8, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 26: March/April 1964


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

Detective Comics #325

"The Strange Lives of the Cat-Man"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Despite evidence to the contrary, the Cat-Man is alive and well and prowling the alleys of Gotham. Batman and Robin are flabbergasted. Remember, they witnessed the villain's final visit to the litter box when his boat exploded only a few months before. What could explain his immortality?

After yet another battle with the Dynamic Duo (while stealing a rare "black lion" from millionaire John Talbot's estate), the Cat-Man falls off a high cliff to the rocks below but magically misses the rocks and glides effortlessly into the water. All parties are astonished.

Back at his Cat-Lair, Cat-Man recalls a trip to a curio shop, where he stumbled upon a bolt of cloth created by natives of a "small Pacific island" and listened in awe as the shop owner recited a legend concerning said material: the cloth will protect the wearer. Suddenly, Cat-Man knows he has at least six more lives to use before his luck runs out. Where best to use up such golden fleece than at the local refinery plant, where he intends to make off with the workers' payroll? Why, there must be at least two grand in that haul, right?

As is his wont, the Feline Felon leaves a clue to the Caped Crusaders as to what he'll be up to, and the World's Greatest Detective takes at least sixty seconds to work out the lame tease. The boys trap Cat-Man atop a high tower, but the villain simply jumps onto a batch of electrical lines and hightails it to freedom. One more life gone, five to go.

Back at police headquarters, Batman and Robin bump into Kathy Kane, who is "anxious" for an update. Something in what Bats tells her sparks an idea and she heads back to her cave, where she examines the costume Cat-Man made her when he considered her an ally (issue #318). When she unfurls the cape, it reveals a message that somehow no one (including Cat-Man himself!) ever saw: The cloth that protects the idol shall nine lives on the wearer bestow. Batwoman suddenly understands that, once she dons the cape and cowl, she is also virtually invincible!

Meanwhile, the Dynamic Dopes attempt to apprehend the Cat-Man, only to be knocked unconscious and tied up. Cackling, the Cat-Man lights a ring of oil around the pair and then exits stage left, ostensibly to read their obituaries later in the Gotham Gazette. To the surprise of Batman and Robin, Batwoman arrives and waltzes through the burning ring of fire to rescue them. She then leaves to track her prey, who is about to plunder the India jewels section of the World Trades Fair.

When Batwoman arrives to quash Cat-Man's plans, the menace explains that he'll simply jump from the building and escape, since he has four more lives left. "Not so fast," the sexy heroine warns, "the bolt of cloth used for our costumes allows for nine lives altogether ("Now keep up with me, all you eight-year-olds," she says and winks at the audience) and I used up two more on the way over here in order to exhaust your inventory." Batman and Robin arrive just in time to deliver the knockout punch and haul the Cat-Man's tail to prison. The heroes enjoy a laugh at the caged cat's expense.

"The Strange Lives of the Cat-Man" is a fun read and it has some intricate details that go beyond the usual Batman script. There's the origin of the material made for Cat-Man's uni, which also provides a "satisfactory" explanation for all those near-death escapes. There's the spotlight on Batwoman as main hero, the girl who gets the job done this time without much help from our stars. And, oddly enough, Cat-Man uses no henchmen to help him. 

I love when Catwoman displays the powers of her Cat-costume by walking through a raging fire to aid her allies and then Batman tells her that, as soon as they're safe, he's going to have a talk with her, like he's her dad. She tells him the talk will have to wait, since she's a busy girl. The stuffed elephant in the India room was, without doubt, an inspiration for the classic "chest-burster" scene in the finale of the first two-parter of the '66 show, starring Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. Off topic, but there was never a better two-parter in that series. 

This was the last appearance of Cat-Man until the early '90s, when he was rebooted by Alan Grant for Shadow of the Bat #7. At that time, Cat-Man became a member of the super-villain group, the Misfits. I'll miss this clown, as he was much more entertaining than aliens, mobsters, or hokey one-shot villains.-Peter

Jack-I like Cat-Man, too, and noticed with delight that he, like Batman, wears his Cat-Man mask under other masks when he impersonates people. Also, like Batman, his little cat ears don't push the mask out of shape. I'm always happy to see Batwoman; in fact, she's probably my favorite thing about the series right now.

Batman #162

"The Batman Creature!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Robin's New Secret Identity!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Two madmen with fantastic strength rob the Gotham City Bank! Batman and Robin arrive at the scene and notice that the men seem like hybrids of men and animals--in this case, a lion and a gorilla. The man-beasts escape and make their way to a camouflaged locale on the edge of Gotham, where Eric Barroc, "maker of the trained beast-humans," has figured out how to shine a ray on animals and turn them into human form, yet still with their animal urges and strength.

Eric transforms a bull and a jaguar into human form and they rob the dignitaries at an exclusive reception. Batman and Robin again appear, and this time, Batman follows the jaguar man back to the remote box canyon where Barroc has animals in cages, waiting to be transformed. In order to escape capture, Barroc trains his ray on Batman, who transforms into "The Batman Creature!" Gorilla-Batman heads downtown, where Robin (driving the Batmobile by himself!) and Batwoman try to figure out what to do, while Bat-Kong starts climbing the Gotham State Building.

Robin and Batwoman manage to get through to the altered Batman, who climbs down, calms down, and helps them overpower a couple of beast-humans who have robbed Trans-Ocean Lines. Batman, Robin, and Batwoman head back to the box canyon, where they overpower some rampaging beasts, knock out Barroc, and shine the ray on Batman, turning him back into his old self.

King Kong is my favorite movie, so how could I resist a story where Batman turns into a sort of gorilla and climbs a tall building? I'm most impressed with Robin behind the wheel of the Batmobile. Is he old enough to drive?

When he's Robin, everything is rosy, but when Dick Grayson is just Dick, he's not satisfied. Afraid of revealing his secret identity by being too successful at a school basketball game, the Boy Wonder goes home, suits up, and helps Batman try to catch some crooks who are escaping by helium balloon after a robbery. Robin saves the day and, back at Wayne Manor, decides to put on a disguise (basically, a red wig) before heading to the rec center to join a pickup game of B-Ball.

"Danny" excels but falls and sustains a knock to the head that causes amnesia. That evening, there's no sign of Dick at Wayne Manor and, when Batman rescues a woman from a building fire, "Danny" races to help and brings a child out of the inferno to safety. Back at the Batcave, Batman puts two and two together and realizes that "Danny" is Dick. Meanwhile, Dick notices that he's wearing a wig, assumes he was in trouble before losing his memory, and decides to turn himself in at police HQ. On his way, he encounters a robbery just as Batman makes the scene. Batman calls Danny "Robin," his memory returns, and all is well.

It's astonishing that Dick Grayson would seriously think that if he did too well playing basketball at school then someone might suspect him of being Robin, the Boy Wonder, as if only a heroic teen could score more than one basket per game. The other thing I've noticed in these stories is that there are an awful lot of holdups in Gotham City. You'd think that, with the Dynamic Duo constantly on patrol, crooks would relocate, but that doesn't seem to be the case.-Jack

Two perfect examples of why, when Julius Schwartz took over editorial duties on the Batman titles in May 1964, a "new look" was essential to save the Batman character from slipping into obscurity. Sure, the character had been around for twenty-five years, but sales were beginning to slip and the scripts were, for the most part, inane and incomprehensible. How can you work up any suspense in a strip where aliens can swoop down and make everything alright? In "Bat Creature," the Dark Knight becomes some kind of dog-thing and climbs to the top of what appears to be the Empire State Building, where he's quickly fired upon by the Air Force. His size varies from panel to panel. He changes from evil to good in the wink of an eye. It probably wouldn't be so bad if we didn't get this kind of plot every other issue. "Robin's New Secret Identity!" is even worse. The whiny kid ain't getting enough attention, so he fabricates a "Danny." If he's pissed about no one fawning over him on the basketball court, how does he handle the non-attention when he's the World's Greatest Detective's Second Banana? But is Batman really the sleuth we think he is if he can't sniff out his little buddy when he's standing right next to him in bad make-up? Oh, and about those 1960s basketball uniforms... Nothing like shooting a jump shot in your Sunday best.

Detective Comics #326

"Captives of the Alien Zoo!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Flying high over Africa, Batman and Robin become distressed when the Bat-Plane is struck by lightning and they lose control. Crash landing, they find themselves in the midst of a pride of lions. They manage to wrangle the beasts but are surprised when they are caught in a solar energy fencing beam, which encircles them in a helpless position. Emerging from the jungle are Khor and Ramz, two aliens from an outer space/extra-dimensional world, here on Earth to capture animals for their other-worldly circus. Batman dumbfoundingly exclaims "Look Robin! They're aliens! And they look just like the ones we fought a couple months ago!"

The Dynamic Duo are hurried onto a spaceship and carted off to another planet, where they become "Captives of the Alien Zoo!" The duo are trained to perform simple circus tricks but, while observing their fellow prisoners, Batman deduces that a few of the aliens are training the simple-minded creatures to perform acts resembling a Gotham candy store heist. 

"These aliens are thieves, Robin! We have to put a stop to this chicanery!" proclaims the World's Greatest Detective. Batman finally uses the acid he must have forgotten was in his utility belt to dissolve the cage bars and the boys escape into the night.

While trying to figure out where you escape to when you're trapped on another planet, Batman and Robin stumble onto a harrowing sight: one of the locals being chased by a giant bull-like creature. Sensing that interplanetary steer are all alike, Bats uses his cape to blind the rampaging monster and save the rotund alien's life. Out of gratitude, the BEM grants Batman and Robin their freedom. Before the Caped Crusaders board their transportation home, Bats tells his savior all about the heist ring back at the zoo, and the three enjoy a good laugh. Our heroes head back to Africa to clean up the wreckage of another Bat-vehicle.

Or do they head straight back to Gotham and leave the twisted metal to rot in the African jungle? That's the story I want to read: how the boys commandeer a scrap-cleaning expedition. It would have to be better than the bottom-of-the-barrel crap we just endured. Quite a celebration for the 300th appearance of the Dark Knight in 'tec (no notice of such anywhere to be found). Dave Wood's script and Shelly's pencils are both excesses of laziness. So much is never explained: why don't the boys require oxygen on this far-off planet? They simply step off the ship and breathe the clean, deep-space air. Why does Bats persevere through days and nights of malnutrition and exposure to the elements before deciding to use his Bat-Acid? What's the plan when they escape? 

I'm not privy to the DC correspondence from 1964, but I have to believe the company was receiving LOCs from fans who were tired of the same old alien plot and crappy doodles. That's why the shake-up occurred. Can John Broome and Gardner Fox resurrect that sense of mystery and darkness the character once oozed? Can Carmine Infantino change the look of a strip that had become content with aliens who were nothing more than circles with beaks? Time will tell if Julie can turn the ship around just before it hits the iceberg or if we're swapping one form of Bat-Guano for another. It was the 1960s, after all.-Peter

Jack-The alien zoo story was pretty weak, but even this is better than most of what we're reading in the Atlas comics of 1956. DC comics always had a bottom line level of quality, even when they were at their most infantile. I'm looking forward to the New Look Batman, even though I see that Moldoff continues as one of the artists, at least at the start.

Next Week...
At Long Last...
The Coming of Ditko!

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