Thursday, April 7, 2011


Issue: Batman #139

Cover Date: April 1961

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: The introduction of Bat-Girl begins with Batman, Robin, and Batwoman fighting the Cobra Gang at an exhibit of new scientific equipment. It seems that the Dynamic Trio has thwarted the elements of crime once again, when the remaining member of the gang traps them in an electronic-ring. The criminal begins to tighten the ring, but is felled by a sudden kick from Bat-Girl. After turning off the device, she leaves through the window she came from, leaving Robin to wonder who she is. The answer is made clear to Batwoman when she later returns to her Bat-Cave, where her niece Betty stands in the costume. The story then flashes back, showing Betty arriving for a visit and later watching Batwoman capture thieves robbing a school supplies manufactrer on the news. When Betty found gold stars in Kathy's brush, she deduced the truth, made her own costume, and followed Kathy. Kathy is of course worried about her niece getting injured and asks Batman for advice. He suggests that Kathy tell her that she can be Bat-Girl after a lot of training, to stall Betty until she has to leave.

Kathy puts this plan into action, having her practice on a trapeze and read books on criminal law. Days pass, with Kathy going out on patrol at night and Betty left to study. One night, she throws a book in frustration and knocks particles loose from one of the Cobra Gang's shoes. Studying them under a microscope, she identifies them as traces of cellulose acetate and sets out to find the Gang's hideout to prove herself to her aunt. She finds the Gang in an abandoned rayon factory and attempts to distract them with a self-inflating balloon so she can lasso them. Her plan backfires when the surprised boss' cigar pops the balloon in her face and the Cobra Gang takes her as a hostage to get their fellows released. At first distraught at the situation due to recklessness, she collects herself and looks for a way to fix things. Cutting some sheets of carbon paper into bat shapes, she sends them out an exhaust vent, which alerts a shoe shiner to call the police. The Dynamic Trio soon arrive and begin subduing the Cobra Gang, but are stopped when the holds a gun to Bat-Girl's head. Bat-Girl fakes fainting and knocks the gun out of his hand, resuming the fight. After the Gang is turned over to the police, Bat-Girl apologizes for her foolishness and Batwoman, accepting that she saw the recklessness in her actions, tells her that she proved herself to be a good crimefighter. Excited, she poses that maybe her and Robin can work on a case together sometime. Asking the Boy Wonder if that's a date, the story ends with Batman and Batwoman chuckling at Robin's embarrassment.

Thoughts: In comparison to Batwoman's first story, Bat-Girl's debut introduces the character right. When she first appears, she saves the Dynamic Trio from a criminal's trap without sexist comments about her being a girl. In the flashback, we see Betty noticing that Kathy disappears every night, showing her to be inquisitive before she finds the stars. While the acrobatic and crime training during Kathy's attempt to stall refine and improve the skills Betty could use as a crime fighter, she learned about the cellulose acetate in school, showing a natural intelligence. When the Cobra Gang captures her, she laments how rash her actions were, but then finds a way to get in touch with the rest of the Bat Family rather than stepping backward into being a damsel in distress. This is even more apparent when, with a gun to her head, she fakes a very damsel in distress action and disarms the criminal. Bat-Girl is shown to posses all the ability of a super-heroine without the sexism that Batwoman was saddled with.

While Batwoman wanting Betty not to be Bat-Girl may appear hypocritical after Batman had wanted her to stop fighting crime, it should be remembered that Betty is Kathy's niece. Her worry about her getting hurt is genuine, not covered up sexism like in the previous story. And given how much more forward thinking this story is, I would like to think that Batwoman went to Batman for advice because he has had experience raising a youth who is a crimefighter. Speaking of Batwoman, her characterization is much better, fighting alongside Batman and Robin as an equal rather than being viewed as a nuisance. However, her fighting criminals in a school supplies factory is a little suspect and her being unable to figure out Bat-Girl's identity don't reflect well on her. Knocking chairs and boxes of gold stars, as well as flipping criminals over her head, does reflect better than the purse based crimefighting tools of her first appearance. And while Betty has a utility-purse, the self-inflating balloon and Bat-Lasso are also improvements. While Robin still says things like "an inexperienced girl is bound to get hurt pursuing crooks" and "not bad - for a girl," these statements don't come off as sexist as they did when directed at an adult, but as the reaction of a boy to a girl his age.

As usual, Sheldon Moldoff brings his cartoony charm to the story's pages. Before I comment on the story, I should say a few words about Batwoman and Bat-Girl's costumes. While Batwoman's costume does not say "creature of the night" like Batman's does, but I do like how it is distinct from his. While the color scheme for Batwoman's costume might strike one as oddly different, the colors of Bat-Girl's costume match Robin's. This matches her up with her counterpart in the Dynamic Duo, while still staying unique. As far as the designs of the Cobra Gang, they begin as entertaining wearing scaly hoods and capes along with traditional comic book criminal suits. Then, the boss shows up in a full cobra hood costume and you know Moldoff had a blast drawing Gotham criminals that offered more creativity than the norm. In this story, there was a distinct piece of art that stuck out as a mistake and one that caught me by surprise. The mistake occurred in the scene with the balloon, where in one panel the balloon flies to the left of the panel as Bat-Girl enters from the window on the right side of the panel. In the next panel, Bat-Girl is suddenly on the left side and getting dazed by the balloon popping, rather than her approaching from the right side. However, the panel where the Cobra Boss holds a gun to Bat-Girl's head caught me by surprise, as I didn't expect for a Silver Age comic at this time to allow something so mature.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #7, the Batman From The 30s to The 70s HC, and the DC Comics Classics Library: The Batman Annuals Volume 2 HC.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Batwoman!"

Issue: Detective Comics #233

Cover Date: July 1956

Writer: Edmond Hamilton

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: The debut of Batwoman begins with Batman and Robin heading towards a new air terminal after the Bat Signal shines in the sky. Unbeknownst to them, the criminals are already being subdued by the Batwoman. She is handcuffing the crooks by the time the Dynamic Duo arrive, running off afterward with the pair in pursuit. They try to catch up to her in the Batmobile, but her Bat-Cycle loses them in a narrow alley. The next night at a world premiere, the Batwoman prevents a diamond thief's robbery, once again racing away. The rest of the jewel gang attempt to get the drop on the Dynamic Duo while they search for Batwoman, but once again she is there to save them. Later, Robin laments that she is making the Caped Crusader look bad, but Batman does not care about that, worried instead about the risks the Batwoman is taking.

At that moment, Batwoman is returning to her own Bat-Cave, located in an old mine tunnel in the suburbs. After changing out of her costume, Batwoman is revealed to be an heiress named Kathy Kane. Reflecting back, we find out that she was a skilled circus trapeze and motorcycle stunt performer who wanted to use her skills to fight crime like Batman. After inheriting her uncle's fortune, she builds a mansion, outfits a Bat-Cave with equipment underneath it, and adopts the super-heroine identity of Batwoman. Back in the present, Bruce Wayne attends a party at Kathy Kane's mansion, where Batwoman comes up in the conversation. Bruce and Kathy appear to hit it off, but abruptly say goodbye to each other when the Bat-Signal appears in the sky. They reunite as Batman and Batwoman at the "Tomorrow Club," where dodging fake Martian idols leads them to respect each others acrobatic skill. Batwoman is able to throw a net on the criminal, but not before he knocks out Batman when the Caped Crusader jumps between Batwoman and the giant robot hand the crook was operating.

Batwoman has the opportunity to discover Batman's identity, but does not as he got knocked unconscious saving her from getting hit. Batman comes to as Robin arrives; the Caped Crusader proceeds to interrogate the criminal, who refuses to talk. Despite his silence, Batman deduces that he must have been a distraction so that his boss Hugo Vorn could commit a crime elsewhere. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees an advertising blimp heading towards the mint. The Dynamic Duo and Batwoman arrive as the mob lands, immediately leaping into action. Using her shoulder-bag strap as a makeshift Bat-Bolo, Batwoman ties up Vorn as he makes for the blimp, which Batman apparently sees as giving her the right to turn the mob over to the police. In reality, Batman left her to it so he could use circus terms she spoke earlier to discover her identity. Back at the Bat-Cave, an analysis of the Dynamic Duo's files not only uncovers her identity as Kathy Kane, but where her Bat-Cave is located. The pair confront her when she returns and Batman convinces her to give up her career as Batwoman. The story ends with Batwoman's portrait from her Bat-Cave hung in Batman's trophy room, with Robin wondering if one day they'll fight crime with her as a Dynamic Trio.

Thoughts: This story is an important one for the era, as it is the first appearance of Batwoman, but it is also deeply flawed. Theses flaws come from the fact that the Comics Code Authority at the time had guidelines that were inherently sexist when it came to female characters. As Michael Uslan cites in his introduction to Batman In The Fifties, "The inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged. Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance, and should be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of feminine qualities." As a result of this stance, Batwoman does not come across as a full character. The story begins with one of the crooks saying, "Ha ha, what can she do?," before the other crook is knocked out by Batwoman spinning a giant globe. This showing of Batwoman as a capable super-heroine in the face of sexism is short lived, as she subdues the other criminal using a powder puff from a shoulder bag and then chains the two together with charm bracelets disguised as handcuffs. These gadgets continue, as she stops the diamond thief by reflecting light in his face using a compact-mirror and a perfume flask containing tear gas stops the rest of the jewel gang later. While I can understand wanting to differentiate Batwoman's equipment from Batman's, this was not the way to do it.

The making light of Batwoman because she is a woman is not limited to the criminal, but extends to the Dynamic Duo too: Robin says "A girl saving you? It's ridiculous!" and Batman himself says "This is no place for a girl." While Kathy being inspired by Batman to use her acrobatic skills to fight crime is fine, his picture on her desk in the next panel introduces a romantic angle that is unnecessary. At the party, Kathy asking "how any woman could ever equal the great Batman," Bruce suddenly voicing admiration for Batwoman's courage, and the two lamenting if only they could tell the other of their costumed identities, furthers the wrong ideas of the story. Its attempt to show Batman wanting to end Kathy's career as Batwoman because he fears for her safety, not because she has made him look bad as Robin sees it, just comes across as more sexism. This is furthered as his reason for Kathy to give up crime fighting, if he uncovered her identity eventually a criminal would, is an unlikely one. It is shown to be an even poorer reason in the next panel, as Kathy is revealed to have assembled cameras and instruments to take photos, x-rays, and height and weight records that would allow her to uncover Batman's identity, showing how intelligent she is. That Batman hangs her portrait in the Bat-Cave at the end just adds insult to injury. While the story shows that Kathy Kane had the intelligence and acrobatic skills which would make her a fine super-heroine, the sexism of the time that pervades it prevented the character from achieving that status.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #4, the Batman From The 30s to The 70s HC, the Batman In The Fifties TPB, and the DC Comics Classics Library: The Batman Annuals Volume 2 HC.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"

Issue: Detective Comics #310

Cover Date: December 1962

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are enjoying a moment of relaxation, noting that sooner or later Batman and Robin will be needed. Meanwhile, Bat-Mite has returned to the crime fighting pair's dimension and is eager to see his hero perform more fantastic stunts. He transforms an old mining town into a variety of objects (including a statue, pirate ship, castle, and fountain), seeing it as a perfect setting for more fun. The next day, Bat-Mite diverts a trio of crooks into going to his circus, where he gives each of them a super-power. The Dynamic Duo first contends with a crook who can stretch, dodging his extended reach by jumping from the ship they boarded to the statue. The second criminal, a human cannonball, rolls toward the statue, but Batman and Robin evade him by sliding down the statue's arm. The third thug, a strongman, prepares to swing a lamp post at the pair, but Bat-Mite transforms it into a flower. While Batman is beginning to figure out that this is another Bat-Mite adventure, the imp hits his head on the pirate ship's plank when he jumps up in excitement.

After having been invisible for the fight so far, Bat-Mite suddenly becomes visible. Before he can try to figure out why, he attempts to remove Batman and Robin from the rubberman's grasp, but finds that he cannot use his powers. He explains to the Dynamic Duo that the part of the brain that allows him to project his powers has been affected, before he is grabbed by the strongman. Batman diverts the water from the fountain into the rubberman's face, allowing the trio to make a run for the Batmobile. They begin to drive off, but the strongman uses the rubberman's body to propel the human cannonball into the Batmobile, knocking its occupants out. The three super criminals leave the Dynamic Duo and Bat-Mite to drown in the dungeon of the castle, but Batman is able to throw Bat-Mite up once they leave to turn off the water. Later, while driving in a spare Batmobile, the crime-fighters receive word that the strongman is breaking into the Gotham Aircraft Company.

When they reach the Company, the trio head for where the payroll safe is located, followed by the strongman. Batman fights the criminal one on one and appears to slam his head into a wall. The strongman delivers what he thinks is the finishing blow, but Batman dodges it and the strongman's fist bounces off the wall and collides with his own face. Batman explains that the wall was in fact a slab of foam rubber used to make seat cushions and he only pretended to be dazed. They then drive to a National History Museum, where an alarm signals the rubberman trying to steal a necklace of black pearls. The rubberman at first has the upper hand, dodging the Dynamic Duo and stopping Bat-Mite with his foot. Quickly, Batman once again outsmarts his opponent, punching his head up into a doorway. For the final criminal, his m.o. provided by the Batcave's crime files leads them to the S.S. Atlanta where a Rembrant is being delivered. While first stopped by oil slick, the human cannonball prepares for another strike, rolling down a gangplank straight for a bunch of explosives. Suddenly, a trampoline appears for the criminal to bounce off of and he returns to normal, signaling Bat-Mite having his powers once again. After dropping the criminals off at prison, Bat-Mite explain's that running into the rubberman's foot returned his powers. The Dynamic Duo point out that this means he had them the entire time they fought the human cannonball, causing Bat-Mite to make a hasty exit.

Thoughts: Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the publication of Detective Comics #267, the first appearance of Bat-Mite, so what better way to celebrate than reviewing a Bat-Mite story? Before I go into this fun little story, I do have a few criticisms, one major and one minor. My major problem is actually with the first panel of the story after the title splash page. In it, Bruce wishes that they had more days of luxury and Dick agrees with him. Now, I am not saying that the pair should never have downtime, but they should always be shown as dedicated to fighting crime. In the Golden Age, the origin stories of both heroes showed them vowing their dedication due to both losing their parents to crime. After those stories and before this one, Batman had confronted his parents' killer and the man who ordered the job done. While continuity was not considered nearly as important as it is today, the number of call backs to Batman's origin should have set how important his dedication to crime fighting is, and by extension Robin's. My other, and much more minor, problem is that Batman says "whoa" after Bat-Mite reveals how long he's had his powers back. Robin saying "whoa" sure, but Batman saying it is odd.

Other than those points, this is another fun Bat-Mite tale. The imp creating an entire castle, a pirate ship, and a statue are clear signs that this is a Bill Finger story. Bat-Mite giving criminals super-powers takes the common story of the Dynamic Duo against normal crooks and makes it more interesting. As Bat-Mite spends most of the story powerless, most of the focus is on Batman and Robin cleaning up his mess, allowing Bat-Mite to tag along and observe his hero in action like he wanted. Bat-Mite still has a few highlights, such as Batman throwing him like a football out of the dungeon and hiding that he got his powers back so that Batman would have to fight the last criminal. Batman outsmarting the super-crooks and making them essentially defeat themselves was the right way to go, rather than a scenario like having them best the Dynamic Duo and Bat-Mite getting his powers back on the last page. Winning fights with his supervillains, and super-criminals such as these, through brain with a little brawn as opposed to merely brawn is how Batman should operate.

Sheldon Moldoff's adds the charm that a Bat-Mite story needs. The expressions he draws on the imps face are part of what makes the character as entertaining as he is. This story also features one of my favorite Bat-Mite panels, where Batman is holding up Bat-Mite by his cape after the trio have been thrown in the dungeon, with the Dynamic Duo's faces on either side and Batman pointing his finger at the imp. There's an art detail that might have been described in the script or a choice by Moldoff. When Batman rescues Bat-Mite from the strongman, he tucks him under his arm like a football, an interesting choice as Batman describes throwing Bat-Mite "like a football." The most interesting art detail is that the rubberman's costume was colored purple and his hair colored red, making him resemble DC's Elongated Man. Elongated Man debuted in Flash #112 from 1960, adding a bizarre little coincidence to another fun visit from Batman's biggest fan.

This story has not been reprinted.

"Batman Meets Bat-Mite"

This review was originally posted on July 27, 2009, but is being reposted on the anniversary of the issue's publication as was originally intended.

Issue: Detective Comics #267

Cover Date: May 1959

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Curt Swan

Synopsis: The Dynamic Duo's first encounter with Bat-Mite begins with Bruce and Dick descending into the Batcave. After donning their costumes, they notice several items are out of place, including Batman's utility belt moving from the closet to the floor and damaged lab equipment. Robin wonders if there could be a stranger in the Batcave, when suddenly a voice apologizes for the damage. The voice remarks that it should make itself visible and in front of Batman and Robin appears, in Robin's words, "An elf dressed in a crazy looking Batman costume!" The "elf" of course tells them that he comes from another dimension where all men are his size and after observing Batman's exploits has decided to don his own costume and help Batman fight crime. Batman isn't thrilled with the idea, informing Bat-Mite that they'd have a hard time explaining a creature from another dimension and that it takes a lot of training to become a crime-fighter. Bat-Mite is disappointed, but he disappears with a "Pop!" all the same. The Dynamic Duo believe he has returned to his home dimension, when in actuality he has turned invisible and hitched a ride atop the Batmobile.

Batman and Robin see Tipper Neely and his gang making a getaway on the waterfront. After cutting their car off, the Dynamic Duo pursue the gang across a bridge. Suddenly, the bridge begins to twist and turn, up and down like a roller coaster. Batman quickly deduces that Bat-Mite's powers are responsible, but doesn't understand why he's using them to complicate matters. Batman and Robin slide down one of the dips that formed in the bridge to get to the gangsters. Batman takes a swing at Neely and finds his punch connect in mid-air. The bridge has turned to rubber, but Batman takes it in stride, bouncing along and knocking out the rest of the gang. One of the gangsters wonders what happened with the bridge, prompting Batman to come up with the explanation of chemicals from a nearby plant causing hallucinations. Back at the Batcave, Batman asks Bat-Mite why he transformed the bridge, with Bat-Mite replying that he wanted to prolong the fight since it was progressing so quickly. Batman tells Bat-Mite that crime-fighting is serious business and asks him to return home. Bat-Mite of course turns invisible and waits for the Dynamic Duo to go back out on patrol.

The next evening, Batman and Robin respond to a robbery at a hi-fi show. The Dynamic Duo quickly corner the criminals, too quickly for the Bat-Mite in attendance. He summons a giant record, which slides underneath the criminals and flies high above Batman and Robin. The crime-fighters act quickly, with Batman holding onto the tape from a giant tape recorder and Robin setting it in motion. Batman uses the momentum to fling himself onto the record and bring it and the criminals down. Afterward, Batman and Robin again confront Bat-Mite at the Batcave and again he disappears before their eyes. They turn their attention towards a tip that the Yellow Gloves Gang will rob the Gotham Auto Company and guess they will use an empty warehouse for their escape route. The invisible Bat-Mite overhears this and fills the empty warehouse with giant props, including a giant Batman statue, sphinx, globe, and viking ship. When the Batman and Robin encounter the gang that night, both groups make use of the props. The criminals push the viking ship towards the Dynamic Duo, prompting Bat-Mite to use the sphinx to help them, but he makes it go too high. Batman forgives Bat-Mite for overdoing his powers and has him use them to animate the Batman statue, dumping the criminals out of the viking ship. When Batman asks Bat-Mite to return to his home dimension after the criminals have been taken into custody, the imp agrees...and promises that it is "Good-bye...for now!"

Thoughts: This is it, the first appearance of everyone's favorite imp, Bat-Mite. As it is his first appearance, it has all the characteristics of a Bat-Mite story: Bat-Mite being Batman's biggest fan, his habit of using his powers to extend Batman's fights for his own amusement, and Batman warning Bat-Mite that he's going to spank him. Yeah, I still don't get that one, but there was a precedent set here. I also find it interesting how Batman is so insistent about them having a hard time explaining Bat-Mite away when there were so many aliens invading at this time, not to mention Superman living the next city over. There are a number of great uses of Bat-Mite magic in this issue, with the roller coaster bridge, floating records, and giant statues. Bill Finger was a big fan of giant props and Bat-Mite's magic gave him a great way to channel that into his stories.

This story has some great Sheldon Moldoff art in it. Interestingly enough, even though he co-created the character, the first depiction of Bat-Mite readers saw back in 1959 was Curt Swan's, via the cover. As far as Moldoff's design for Bat-Mite, not much changed from his original depiction except from the head. Later versions have a smaller head and no lines depicting teeth. The facial expressions on Batman, Robin, and the criminals are well drawn, most memorably Batman's in response to Bat-Mite promising he'll return. There's also nice detail in the Batcave, both in the walls and the equipment within the cave. Moldoff also does a great job handling all the magical happenings as a result of Bat-Mite, from the wobbly bridge to the giant Batman statue.

This story is, of course, a classic. If you haven't read it yet, pick up the recently released Black Casebook TPB and get introduced to Bat-Mite all over again.

Addendum: Thanks to Pat for reminding me that this issue marked the 20th anniversary of Batman in Detective Comics.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #7, Batman In The Fifties TPB, Batman: The Black Casebook TPB, and DC Comics Classics Library: The Batman Annuals Volume 2 HC.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Batman: The Brave and The Bold Episode 45 - "Emperor Joker!"

Written by: Steven Melching
Directed by: Ben Jones
Original Airdate: October 9, 2010

Synopsis: The episode begins with a teaser entitled "The Rainbow Batman" (in color) under the banner of Batman's Greatest Cases. Batman is seen putting on a red (pink) Batman costume and, when questioned by Robin, tells him that he must wear a different colored costume every night. The show then cuts to the gold depository where Firefly is breaking into a vault, only to find the Dynamic Duo already inside. When he fires a red beam from his belt at the pair, Batman is able to deflect due to his costume being the same color. Not ready to come quietly, Firefly activates all of the colors on his belt and creates a rainbow creature. The creature has different colored beams each with their own power, using one of them to turn Robin into a two-dimensional state. Batman presses a button on his belt, transforming his suit into a rainbow one. Now impervious to the creature's beams, he punches it into little more than light and knocks out Firefly soon after.

The main story begins with the Ten-Eyed Man about to rob a jewelery store, when Batman speaks from above him. The fight barely begins when Bat-Mite pops into reality, advising Batman about the Ten-Eyed Man using Who's Who #23. Batman reminds him about his promise to stay in his own reality and then picks his fight back up, leaving Bat-Mite to continue reading the Who's Who entry. Bat-Mite eventually helps his hero by creating a cactus, which Batman throws at the Ten-Eyed Man, who catches it with predictably painful results. After Bat-Mite expresses wanting to see Batman in a fight worthy of the Caped Crusader, he takes Batman to his shrine of all of Batman's greatest battles with his arch-enemy The Joker. When Batman says he won't be battling the Clown Prince of Crime since he's in Arkham, Bat-Mite uses his powers to allow The Joker to escape.

Batman brings Bat-Mite along to stop Joker from robbing Gotham's Comedy Museum, albeit on the condition that the imp not use his powers. Bat-Mite agrees and gets the fight he was wanting, as Batman not only has to face off against The Joker, but Harley Quinn and four of The Joker's goons (with appearances that resemble silent film comedians). During the course of the fight, Bat-Mite becomes smitten with Harley Quinn, perhaps because they both feel that Batman and The Joker bring out the best in each other. Eventually, an exploding hand allows The Joker and his henchmen to gang up on Batman. While keeping his promise to Batman, Bat-Mite finds a loophole to help his hero by giving his powers to the Caped Crusader. Unfortunately, the transfer misses Batman and hits The Joker instead. While The Joker uses his newfound powers to subdue Batman with a giant boxing glove and force lightning from a joy buzzer, Bat-Mite is left to deal with a Joker-Mite created just for him.

After an impromptu musical number of The Joker celebrating the power he has gained, he sets off the equivalent of a "Mouse Trap" that appears to kill Batman. While The Joker at first mourns the death of his adversary, he brings Batman back to life so that he can kill him again and again, utilizing a giant beaker of acid, flamethrowers, sharks, and other scenarios. As for Bat-Mite, he has been reduced to a court jester thanks to Harley Quinn intervening on his behalf. Batman appears to beg for The Joker to stop killing him and take away his sanity instead, an idea that The Joker delights in and plans to go into Batman's head to do it himself. When he does, Batman outsmarts him by placing him in a world where Batman does not exist and therefore The Joker has nobody to match wits with and ceases to be who he is. Meanwhile, Bat-Mite and Harley Quinn team-up to take down Joker-Mite and the rest of Joker's gang. The episode ends with Bat-Mite returning the world to normal, The Joker left drooling from his encounter with Batman's mind, and Bat-Mite having his own arch-nemesis in the form of Joker-Mite.

Thoughts: Before I talk about the main story, I have to touch on the teaser segment. You can tell how aware the crew behind the show are when they turn the infamous "Rainbow Batman" cover into a cartoon. While it does not follow the plot of the story behind the cover, they created a new, more fantastical story that fits into the Silver Age mold. They even bring in other fifties era stories, as Firefly and his light belt debuted in Detective Comics #184 and the Rainbow Creature appeared in Batman #134. Even before the real story has begun, the episode has woven three stories together into a fun wink at the fans who know about them.

Of course, the main attraction is Bat-Mite in his second appearance in the series and it is another great one. As Bat-Mite is Batman's biggest fan, Melching takes that concept and applies it through the lens of the 21st century comic book fan. Not only does Bat-Mite read the Ten-Eyed Man's Who's Who entry, but he bags the comic and puts it into a longbox. He comments about how much he loves Batman's show, which refers to both that Batman: The Brave and The Bold is a cartoon and that Bat-Mite's observing Batman is like watching television for the imp. In his shrine to the Batman/Joker fights, he has replicas for the fifties story "The Joker's Utility Belt," as well as the more modern stories "The Laughing Fish" and "A Death in the Family." For the latter, Bat-Mite even asks Batman how he thinks Bat-Mite voted, calling back to the fan vote over whether Jason Todd would live or die. This playing up of the fanboy aspect of Bat-Mite is not a cruel jab, but rather gives comic fans an opportunity to laugh along with the show. But Bat-Mite's fanboyism is not the only interesting aspect of the character in the episode. I have to imagine that Bat-Mite's crush on Harley Quinn is a call back to Bat-Mite's crush on Batwoman in "Batwoman's Publicity Agent" from Batman #133. Bat-Mite's attempt at transferring his powers to Batman keeps the Bat-Mite story element of the imp's attempts at help causing Batman more trouble, while showing he respects his hero's wishes (even though Bat-Mite transferring his powers to Batman is a use of his powers). The Joker-Mite is a fitting concept that one would expect to see out of a Silver Age comic and Bat-Mite's defeat of him without his powers mirrors Batman taking down supervillains without being superpowered.

In contrast to the fun Bat-Mite elements are the darker Joker elements. In the series, the more harmless Silver Age Joker incarnation has been played up more than the homicidal clown. This episode, however, brings out the more murderous side of the character. While Batman is not shown dying, the episode leaves little to the imagination. When Batman is smashed by a giant hammer and crushed by a pair of walls on camera, and when he is beheaded by a guillotine off camera, there is no blood, but the sound effects emphasize what is happening. When Batman is drowned in the acid beaker, his skeleton floats toward Joker and a distraught Bat-Mite. While cartoony (down to a transparent angel Batman floating upward after his first death), the montage of Batman deaths shows how sadistic The Joker is and is pretty macabre for what is seen as a children's cartoon. Not that I am complaining mind you, as it is what Joker would do if he had potentially unlimited power (and did in the original comic storyline, albeit with Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers). Keeping with The Joker's character, touches of humor are added to the deaths. In the initial "Mouse Trap" death, Batman gets out of the spike filled coffin that will supposedly kill him, only for the trap to continue and the hammer to crush him. When Batman is about to be dropped in the beaker of acid, he starts to give an encouraging speech to Bat-Mite when The Joker cuts the rope before he can finish. The experience also shows that Batman's mind is so well disciplined that not only could he focus enough to come up with a plan, not only could his mind create a world that would show how The Joker's existence would have no meaning if Batman was gone, but that he could come out of dying multiple times still in possession of his sanity. By mixing the amusingly self-aware element of Bat-Mite with the morbid element of The Joker, the episode strikes a balance that allows Bat-Mite to shine and Batman's mental prowess to be examined.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Batman Meets Fatman"

Issue: Batman #113

Cover Date: February 1958

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Synopsis: The story starts with Fatman, a circus clown who lampoons Batman, performing his act. It starts with Fatman falling down after swinging on a bat-line, throwing a huge batarang that comes back and hits him in the stomach, and pulling odds and ends out of an oversize utility belt. He ends his act by praising Batman for the great crime fighter that he is. Speaking of Batman, the Caped Crusader and Robin are busy fighting the Red Mask gang, who had just committed a bank robbery. Unfortunately, the gang escapes on a motor boat, leaving Batman and Robin to contact the harbor police and leave for the charity show at the circus. After the Dynamic Duo perform several athletic feats, they offer to give Fatman a ride in the Batmobile, during which they get a message from the police to go back to the wharf. Batman is able to deduce from a comment by one of the gang that they stashed their loot in a now missing boat.

After finding out the boat has been rented to publicize a movie, the Dynamic Duo set out with Fatman along for the case. While the clown stays in the car, Batman and Robin fight the Red Mask gang on the boat in the middle of a street. While they 're kept busy, the leader of the gang cuts a rope, sending a wrapped up sail crashing into the Dynamic Duo. Batman and Robin are then taken back to the gang's hideout, an abandoned stable, and locked in a horse stall. Fortunately, Fatman followed them in the Batmobile and sets out to rescue them. After falling over and tying himself up in his silken cord, Fatman appears to swing a hammer too heavy for him when he hurls it at the lock on Batman and Robin's stall. While the Dynamic Duo deals with the gang, Fatman has the privilege of stopping the boss with his stomach. After the criminals are taken to the police, Batman praises Fatman for outsmarting the gang using his comedy act. The story ends with Fatman being cheered at the circus once again.

Thoughts: I sought out this story solely for the curiosity factor of there being a character named Fatman in the Batman mythos, and that's all it is: a curiosity. The idea of a clown who has an act centered around Batman is an amusing one and it's tailor made for the big props that Bill Finger loved to write into his stories. Having Fatman use his act to get the drop on the criminals was a nice touch to bring things full circle, but I question Fatman being so put out about being kept out of the fight at the boat when he held Batman's work in such high regard. Of course, under Silver Age logic, hero worship serves as a valid explanation. While I enjoy the goofy and sometimes downright insane aspects of the Silver Age, Fatman saying "only a dummy would run into my tummy" is simply a groaner. Apart from Fatman, the story is a rather by the numbers fifties Batman story with the normal criminal gang. Worse yet, the gang, not one of the supervillains, gets the drop on the Dynamic Duo and locks them in a horse stable. I admit that Batman and Robin getting locked in a horse stable is rather funny, but still, the Dynamic Duo are a bit too easily taken down by regular criminals at times. The major art note of interest is the resemblance of Fatman's cowl to that of this blog's namesake, albeit with the other ear bent. Even more interesting to note is that Fatman debuted before Bat-Mite, as Detective Comics #267 has a cover date of May 1959. On the whole, this story is hardly essential reading and only worth checking out for the sheer novelty of Fatman.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Family #4.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Added To The Collection - Batman From The 30s To The 70s HC

This is a book that I've wanted to have in my comic collection for a long time. Not just because it reprints fifties era Batman stories, but because it's a nice collection to have as a Batman fan in general. I've been looking for a good deal on eBay for awhile and finally got one, as I won the auction for $15. It's in great shape for both its age and the price I won it for. The dust jacket is complete, with some wear, but no major tears. The pages are yellowed at the edges, but are pretty white inside the book. None of the pages are missing and they are still bound rather tightly to the spine. Here is a list of the fifties era Batman stories that it collects:

"The Man Behind The Red Hood!" from Detective Comics #168
"The Origin of The Bat-Cave!" from Batman #205
"Superman's and Batman's Greatest Foes!" from World's Finest Comics #88
"The Man Who Wrote The Joker's Jokes!" from Batman #67
"The New Crimes of Two-Face!" from Batman #68
"The Crime Predictor!" from Batman #77
"Two-Face Strikes Again!" from Batman #81
"The Voyage of the First Batmarine!" from Batman #86
"Batman - Indian Chief!" from Batman #86
"Ace, The Bat-Hound!" from Batman #92
"The Batwoman!" from Detective Comics #233
"The Challenge of Batwoman!" from Batman #105
"Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk!" from World's Finest Comics #113
"The Second Batman and Robin Team!" from Batman #131
"Bat-Girl!" from Batman #139
"Bat-Mite Meets Bat-Girl!" from Batman #144
"Prisoners of Three Worlds" from Batman #153

As I am well into my fifties Batman collection by this point, there are only two stories I don't already have in issues or reprints. That's fine by me, as it is a great book to own in and of itself.