Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Rip Van Batman"

Issue: Batman #119

Cover Date: October 1958

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Curt Swan

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.

This story was reprinted in Batman Annual #5.

No comments: