The Collected Editions blog is reporting that fall 2009 will see the release of a trade paperback entitled Batman: The Black Casebook. As this will be coming out after the Batman: R.I.P. HC, it's likely that this will be a collection of the Golden Age and Silver Age stories that were brought back into continuity during Grant Morrison's initial Batman run. It'll be nice to have all those stories in one volume and new collections of fifties stories are always a good thing. The only downside of this news is that it'll probably be a year until the trade ships, which is curious because one would think that DC would release it around the same time as the "R.I.P." collection. Once I get the last part of "R.I.P." I plan on doing a review of Morrison's first run on Batman, noting the fifties stories that Morrison referenced throughout.
Synopsis: The story opens with Batman and Robin on the trail of a criminal, Al Hackett. Narrowing down his potential hiding places to two locations, Batman and Robin split up. While investigating his lodge, Batman is exposed to an aroma emanating from an exotic plant in Hackett's greenhouse. Batman stumbles from the greenhouse and rolls down a slope, landing beside a pond. Time passes and Batman awakes feeling groggy and stiff. Thinking he'll feel better if he splashes some water on his face, Batman leans over the pond and sees a wrinkled and bearded face looking back at him, coming to the conclsion that he's been asleep for many years.
Batman makes his way to Gotham city and finds it to be quite different from the Gotham he remembers, with more skyscrapers and flying cars. After a pair of kids laugh at Batman for being an "old timer in a Batman suit", they point out to him the real Batman, who Bruce realizes is an older Dick Grayson who has a ward of his own fighting as Robin the Boy Wonder. After seeing Dick and his ward defeat a group of criminals, Batman runs up to him glad to see a familiar face, but Dick also dismisses him as an old timer in a Batman costume. Batman attempts to prove he's the original by meeting Dick at Wayne Manor, but finds it and the Bat Cave in ruins. He then tries to talk to Commissioner Gordon, but discovers that he's been retired and living in Hawaii for ten years. Batman walks past a statue erected in his honor, lamenting that everything from the life he knew is gone.
While passing by a planetarium, Batman overhears criminals talking about stealing jewels that were found on the moon. Seeing that Dick and the future Robin have been tied up, Batman attempts to get the jump on the criminals, but is too stiff in his old age to perform his usual acrobatics. Batman is tied up, but using a flashlight from his utility belt and a moon scorpion, he is able to scare away the criminals. He then breaks a microscope lens in his utility belt to free himself, Dick, and the future Robin from their bonds. After this display, Dick is convinced that the old Batman is indeed the real Batman and the trio team up to take down the crooks. After the criminals are rounded up, Batman feels faint and finds himself being shaken awake by Robin. It turns out that the plant's aroma did have an effect on Batman, but instead of causing him to sleep for decades, they made him hallucinate that he was Rip Van Batman.
Thoughts: Imaginary stories were all the rage in the Silver Age and this story follows in a similar vein. It's interesting to see what the future might have been without Bruce. In this case, Dick has taken on the mantle of Batman and presumably taken in a ward in the same state Dick was when Bruce took him in. It's never stated how far into the future the story takes place, but when you have flying cars and jewels and scorpions on the moon, time isn't an issue. Ah, the fifties.
My favorite scene in the story is probably when Batman first saw the future Dick Grayson in action as Batman. His comments of "Give him the old right hook!" and "It makes me feel wonderful to see Dick carrying on the old tradition!" really drive home the father/son relationship between Bruce and Dick and conveys how proud Bruce is of him. That makes the subsequent scenes all the sadder: Dick not believing Bruce is who he says he is, Batman seeing the state the manor and cave are in, Batman discovering Commissioner Gordon retired...this is not the usually sunny Batman the fifties is known for.
Sheldon Moldoff provides some fine fifities Batman art in this story. I know a lot of people aren't huge fans of Mr. Moldoff's art, but I quite like it. His art, along with Dick Sprang's, are as much the fifties Batman as the aliens and Bat-Hounds are. Regardless of your preference for his art, you have to give him and his frequent inkers Stan Kaye and Charles Paris credit for the amount of art they produced. It seems you can't run into a Batman comic after a certain point in the fifties and not see his art in at least one story, some times all three in the Batman title. His bearded Batman is an amusing image throughout the story and has to make you crack a smile at least once.
Overall, this is a fun imaginary story worth checking out for some nice father/son moments, a more serious fifties Batman, and Batman sporting a beard.
Each month when the new issue of Previews comes out, I'll be posting any solicitations relevant to the 1950s Batman. This issue's item is not directly related, but does feature an appearance by one of the most notable characters to debut during that period, this blog's namesake Bat-Mite. He'll be appearing in Super Friends, which is part of the Johnny DC line and aimed at young children. I never thought I'd be picking up an issue, but I'll buy anything that features Bat-Mite hi-jinks. Mr. Mxyzptlk will also be making an appearance, so we might see a call-back to their encounters in World's Finest.
Super Friends #11
Written by Sholly Fisch
Art by Chynna Clugston
Cover by J. Bone
Batman's got a fan club! But it's a mischievous fan club of one known as Bat-Mite, and he just can't stand the other Super Friends saving the day alongside Batman. Will the caped crusader be forced to fly solo from now on? Not if Mr. Mxyzptlk can help it!
Synopsis: While attending a party, Bruce Wayne sees a group of criminals leaving a nearby mansion. Volunteering to be part of a magician's disappearing act, Bruce escapes from the party (and his boring date) via the cabinet's false back. After changing into Batman, Bruce contacts Dick and tells him to change into Robin and bring the Batmobile to his location. Batman and Robin pursue the criminals, only to plumet to the river below after a bridge they're driving on is destroyed by dynamite planted by the crooks. Robin makes it through without a scratch, but the Batmobile is totalled and Batman's left leg is injured, confining him to crutches.
Batman isn't fazed by the news of the Batmobile, as he has been planning to build a new, more advanced Batmobile. While the underworld laughs at Batman's injury, Robin begins building the new Batmobile from Batman's plans while Batman directs him from a chair (he is injured after all). One night after an unsuccessful attempt at solo crimefighting, Robin returns to find the Batmobile finished and ready to roll. Batman and Robin get right to work, driving to the crime scene from earlier that night and obtaining a map left behind.
Using the miniature crime lab in the back of the Batmobile, Robin locates the gang's hideout and sneaks into it when he and Batman arrive. Batman is able to see what Robin sees via a televison camera on his chest. Robin gets surrounded and Batman bursts through the wall to rescue him, allowing the criminals a head start. They try to evade Batman and Robin through the same bridge trap, but the "rocket tubes" on the new Batmobile allow the Dynamic Duo to evade the gap in the bridge. Batman and Robin continue their pursuit and take an alternate route to get ahead of the criminal gang. They create a smokescreen and underneath it knock out the gang and bring them in. The story ends with the revelation that Batman had been able to walk for a few days now, but kept playing invaild to see if the Batmobile would be able fill in for him if needed.
Thoughts: As this story is from the beginning of the fifties, it does not feature the aliens and strange happenings that would become trademark of the fifties era Batman. A huge leap in logic needs to be taken however when it comes to the first bridge sequence. From the height they fell and their lack of superpowers, Batman and Robin probably shouldn't have survived the fall, with Robin hitting the water and Batman hitting dry land in the Batmobile. Suspending disbelief, the story is a lot of fun and a good introduction to the 1950's Batmobile.
The revelation that Batman has been secretly back to full health is all the funnier when combined with the title page at the beginning of the story. One panel shows the criminals laughing at newstories of the Caped Crusader's bum leg, while the opposite panel sees Batman reading the newspaper and chuckling to himself while Robin works on the Batmobile. One thinks that Batman must have been kicking back and chuckling to himself, secretly able to lend a hand, while Robin worked at building the Batmobile.
The best sequence of the story is probably the one where Robin attempts to apprehend the criminals on his own. First there's the panel where Robin is beaten back by a bag of flour one of the crooks had brought along in anticipation of Robin making an appearance. Then there's the scene where Robin attempts to pursue the criminals in a pitiful Jalopy with a flag declaring "My Kingdom For A Horse!", all the while getting laughed at by the people on the sidewalk. You have to feel sorry for the Boy Wonder, caught off guard by a bag of flour and forced to endure everyone's laughter due to his temporary transportation. We see a number of the new Batmobile's features in the story, from the miniature crime lab to the miniature video camera and televison to the miniature Bat Signal. Compact was the name of the crime fighting game in 1950, with the Batmobile being converted into pretty much a miniature Bat Cave on wheels.
Dick Sprang provides some classic Golden Age artwork, from the grinning faces of gloating gangsters to the design of the new Batmobile itself, investigation to action scenes, his art is solid. An interesting Easter Egg is that in the panel where Dick gets the call from Batman, he's reading an issue of Action Comics. The only minor quibble I have with the art are the one panel side views of Bruce and Dick. While distinctly Sprang, they just don't look quite right.
This story has been reprinted in the Batman In The Fifties TPB and in DC 100 Page Super Spectacular DC-14.
One of my hopes for this blog is to not only give more exposure to a fun and dismissed period of Batman's history, but to interest others in checking out these stories. In this post, I'm going to give a rundown of three formats where fifties Batman stories can be found.
Unfortunately, while most of Batman's Golden Age stories have been reprinted in Archive and Chronicle format and his "New Look" Silver Age tales are being reprinted in Showcase format, DC has not engaged in an ongoing reprint program for fifties Batman stories. However, as part of their Batman In The... series, DC has printed a trade collecting sixteen stories spanning the entire fifties period. This is a perfect collection for those interested in checking out what the fifties era of Batman was like. The volume contains the first appearances of Ace The Bat-Hound, Batwoman, and Bat-Mite, the story "The Man Behind The Red Hood" (which provided the basis for Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke"), and "Batman...The Superman of Planet X!" (which features Zur En Arrh and the Bat Radia, both of which factor into Grant Morrison's current run on Batman), among other stories featuring classic foes and aliens. Fans of the Joker who want to see what the Clown Prince of Crime was like in the fifties can find a number of fifties Joker stories in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told collection from 1988. This trade is not to be confused with the more recent volume which has 192 pages as opposed to the 288 in the 1988 collection. The Batman In The Fifties trade retails for $19.99 and should be available. The 1988 Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told collection is out of print, but a number of them are usually available on eBay.
Annuals and 80 Page Giants
During the 1960s, DC began releasing Annuals for several of their titles collecting 80 pages worth of previously published material. Seven annuals for the Batman title were published, each one with a certain theme. DC also launched an Eighty Page Giant title which ran for 15 issues, of which issues 5, 12, and 15 contained reprinted Batman stories. After their Annuals and Eighty Page Giant series, DC began publishing "80 Page Giant" reprint issues within several of their titles, which would eventually shrink to 64 pages. The Annual and "80 Page Giant" issues of Batman contain mostly reprints of stories from the fifties, with a few from the forties here and there. These are great ways to pick up a bunch of fifties era stories, along with newspaper strip reprints, fan letters from the sixties, and that unbeatable old comics smell. If you're fine with a lower grade reader copy, the annuals and "80 Page Giants" can be picked up on eBay in the GD-VG range for $12 to $25, depending on how old the Giant is. More information on DC's "80 Page Giants" can be found at http://www.dcindexes.com/giants/80page.php.
Of course there is always the option to pick up the original issues. As they're from the 1950s, the issues are a bit expensive, but if condition is no object issues from the latter fifties can be picked up in GD condition at a reasonable price. If you're going to go the original issue route, you may want to pick up issues of Batman, as those contained three Batman stories (toward the end of the fifties era, two) as opposed to one story in an issue of Detective Comics (along with other stories, most notably Martian Manhunter).
Welcome to the I Believe In Bat-Mite blog! This blog will feature reviews of stories from the fifties era of Batman comics, which is notorious among Batman fans for its more lighthearted and science fiction bent as opposed to the dark tone associated with the character. Sure, Batman smiles a lot and the Joker is more likely to whip out his own utility belt than a crowbar, but I get a real kick out of the tales from this era. A lot of the stories are just plain comic book fun and the art from this period has a vibe that just pops. I plan on reviewing two stories a week, posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Next week, the fifties fun begins.