Apologies for the lack of posts for the past couple of weeks. I've been extremely busy and getting ready to travel for Thanksgiving. I'll be back to blogging next week with stories of cities without guns and winged bat-people. Until then, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.
The current issue of Previews hit stores today, and while it may not be in stores until April 2009 and I already posted about it last Monday, the DC Comics Classics Library: Batman - The Annuals HC has been solicited. Three classic annuals filled with classic fifties Batman stories in a nice hardcover collection. Whether you order one now or one in April, pick one up because the stronger the sales, the more likely we'll see a volume two and other fifties Batman collections.
DC COMICS CLASSICS LIBRARY: BATMAN — THE ANNUALS HC Written by Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton and others Art by Lew Sayre Schwartz, Dick Sprang and others Composite cover by Curt Swan and others Some of the greatest Batman tales ever are collected in this new hardcover! Reprinting the classic BATMAN ANNUALs #1-3 from 1961 and 1962, this can’t-miss collection reveals the secrets of the Batcave, the Bat-Signal and more! Advance-solicited; on sale April 22 • 256 pg, FC, $39.99 US
Synopsis: Batman and Robin are driving on a country road when they hear a cry for help coming from some bushes. Driving in their direction, Batman and Robin are surprised to discover that it was an alien calling for their assistance. A group of another species of alien attack the alien that had called out to the Dynamic Duo and Batman and Robin defend him. One of the aliens uses a space gun to paralyze Batman, Robin, and the alien they were protecting, and reveals that the alien is really Kraak, a notorious space pirate. Batman and Robin are taken along with Kraak to the aliens' prison planet, Ergon, and thrown in a cell. Robin tells the alien jailer that he and Batman are innocent, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.
Batman and Robin get into a scuffle with Kraak before they are taken away for questioning. Batman and Robin later return to the cell, crestfallen that their statements of innocence were not believed. Kraak tells them that the only way they could escape is through the Forest of Peril, which is so perilous that it is not guarded. After Batman reveals he has the means to escape, Kraak offers a share of his loot in exchange for an alliance and Batman and Robin agree. After escaping from their cell via acid from Batman's utility belt, the trio make their way through the Forest of Peril. They encounter the police's robot trackers and alien creatures including a swamp amoeba and a ram-beast, but survive to make it to a space cruiser. After landing on Kraak's asteroid hideout, Batman and Robin are ambushed by some of Kraak's men. In true villain fashion, Kraak never intended to help the Dynamic Duo. They hold Kraak and his men off until the Ergon police arrive, as Batman and Robin had earned their trust and been purposefully allowed them to escape so that they could lead the police to Kraak's hideout.
Thoughts: This is another one of those fifties tales that must've made a kid's imagination go wild. You've got Batman fighting crime in outer space...all sorts of crazy aliens and creatures...it's purely a story that is meant to entertain. While it does take place on a far off world, we still see Batman using his intellect to solve problems he encounters. Kraak tells him of two space plants, melons filled with honey and pods filled with pepper. Batman uses this knowledge to his advantage, using the honey from the melons to attract bugs that stop the robot trackers and pocketing some pepper pods to fend off Kraak's henchmen later on. This is a nice touch that reminds the reader that while Batman may be out of his element, he's as resourceful as ever. While Batman uses his brains, he also uses his brawn, resulting in my favorite line from the issue: "You may be strong Kraak, but you don't know a thing about judo!". Another of my favorite aspects about the story is the cover; the expression on the alien's face cracks me up for some reason. "The Interplanetary Batman" is a quick read, but is also a lot of fun and represents what the fifties era Batman was all about.
This story has been reprinted in Eighty Page Giant #12 and the Batman in The Fifties TPB.
This week, Heritage Auction Galleries are going to auctioning off a number of Batman items by Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff on eBay. Most of them are cover recreations and commissions, but there are also three original art pages by Sheldon Moldoff that are going to be up for auction.
Splash Page from Batman #144, 1961
Pg. 2, Batman #154, 1963
Pg. 12, Detective Comics #352, 1966
You can check out the rest of the Sheldon Moldoff items here and the Dick Sprang items here.
Synopsis: On a plane taking off from Gotham City Airport carrying historical artifacts, a hand pops out of a hidden panel on a lifesize globe. Gas pallets are tossed, knocking out a pair of guards, and the Vulture emerges from the globe. He begins stealing the plane's cargo, but is interrupted when another guard passes by the cargo hold's door. Attaching parachutes to himself and his loot, the Vulture makes his escape from the plane while the robbery is reported. Back in Gotham City, the Bat Signal shines in the sky and the Dynamic Duo respond. After hearing the police report, they deduce that the Terrible Trio has struck again and split up: Batman takes off in the Bat-Plane while Robin drives the Batmobile. While flying the direction where the Vulture was last seen, Batman recalls a previous encounter he and Robin had with the Terrible Trio. The Trio had used a drill machine to get into Gotham Bank's underground vault. While pursuing the Trio through an underground tunnel and would have been taken out by a bomb if they hadn't ducked into a pair of drainage pipes.
Batman comes across the Vulture and the Fox (who came to the location via his drill machine) running towards the bag of loot. Batman flys faster and faster around a giant glass bottle on top of a nearby building until it shatters. Thinking it's the army, the Vulture and the Fox leave the loot behind and escape in their drill machine. Batman and Robin track the machine in the Batmobile using their "Sonic Range Finder", stopping at the shoreline. They dive into the ocean equipped with aqua lungs and find the drill machine going into an eel machine built by the Shark. When Batman and Robin approach the eel machine, the Shark sends out an electric shock that paralyzes the Dynamic Duo. Only by pulling their aqua lung inflation switches were they able to come up to the surface and save themselves from a watery doom. Back at Gordon's office, Batman looks for a pattern in the Trio's crimes and after recalling the Shark's crime being the first, deduces that the next robbery to be committed will be by a machine of the Shark's design. Batman studies the list of incoming ships and after determining the Trio's next target, comes up with a surprise for them.
At the Trio's lighthouse hideout, the Fox and Vulture note that they have the cargo plans, but not the means to claim the cargo for themselves. The Shark reassures them that he has a plan and retires to complete his next machine. The next day, the Shark's new machine is revealed to be one in the shape of a pilot fish that attaches to the ships hull via a sucker and creates an airtight airlock. They burn a hole in the hull and bring the cargo of Egyptian artifacts through the airlock into their ship. Upon returning to their lair, they find that the sarcophaguses they stole contain not mummies, but Batman and Robin wrapped head to toe in bandages. Batman and Robin knock out the Shark and deal with several of the Trio's traps. They stand off with the Fox and the Vulture at the top of the lighthouse, where the Vulture is about to attack them with his robot vultures. Batman hits the lighthouse control board with a batarang, plunging it into darkness, and Batman and Robin take down the remaining members of the Trio.
Thoughts: Before reading this story, my only experience with the Terrible Trio had been their universally panned episode from Batman The Animated Series. Their animated incarnations were a trio of arrogant, wealthy, unlikeable frat boys who stole because they were bored. The original comic book version of the Trio is leaps and bounds ahead of them. They're a trio of criminals each adept at a certain means of committing a crime, which is a pretty clever reason to team up. The Frat Trio broke into the homes of the rich with a grappling hook, while the original Trio had giant drilling, eel, and pilot fish machines to rob banks and steal precious historical artifacts. The comic book Trio also has a swingin' lighthouse hideout. On the top level is the Vulture's "nest", the next level is a kitchen, the third is the Fox's "den", and the bottom level is the Shark's "cave" which also has an entrance to the ocean. The best part about the diagram of the Trio's lair in the story is that the Vulture's "nest" shows him playing with a model airplane.
The Batman stories during the fifties were aimed fully at kids and this story fits the bill perfectly. You've got giant machines, Bat gadgets, Batman and Robin disguised as mummies, hideout traps...it's the kind of story a kid would have an absolute blast reading. Looking at it through more critical eyes, a few questions leap out at you. Why did the Vulture and the Fox think the army was after them? Did they think they were really that terrible? How did Batman know the exact ship the Trio were going to hit? And after the Trio's raid, there's a giant gaping hole in the ship. Gordon was on the ship and we see him at the end of the story, so everyone must have survived, but how? Overall, this is one of those fifties stories that is a lot of fun if you have your suspension of disbelief firmly in place.
This story has been reprinted in Batman #176, an 80 Page Giant issue.
The latest addition to my comic collection is a VG+ copy of World's Finest Comics #180. While it isn't from the fifties, the Batman story reprinted within is: "The Batmen of All Nations" from Detective Comics #215. This is a Batman story I've always wanted to read, now even more so with the Batmen of All Nations' appearance during Grant Morrison's Batman run. I didn't think I'd be able to read it for a long time as it's quite pricey and until last week, had never been reprinted as far as I knew. I was surprised to find while surfing Comic Book DB that it had in fact been reprinted in an issue of World's Finest Comics, which I quickly ordered off eBay. I already have this week's reviews planned, but you can definitely expect a review of the story next week. Now if they'd only reprint "The Bat-Ape"...
Several times in the blog I've used the term "fifties era" or "fifties period", but I haven't exactly defined what I mean by that. When I refer to the "fifties era", I am referring to the Batman comics published from cover date January 1950 to May 1964. Now some are probably wondering why the timeframe doesn't end with December 1959. The reason is that the science fiction tone and expanded Batman family prevalent during the later half of the 1950s continued into the 1960s until cover date June 1964 when the "New Look" Batman was introduced.
The "New Look" Batman was new Batman editor Julius Schwartz's effort to revitalize and modernize the Batman comics for the 1960s. In the space of one issue, Batwoman, Bat-Mite, and the rest of the Batman family introduced in the late 1950s were gone from the books. The stories shifted from science fiction to those that emphasized Batman's detective skills. The art of the stories was also modernized, with Carmine Infantino on Detective Comics and veteran Batman artist Sheldon Moldoff's pencils on Batman slicked up by Joe Giella. You can see clearly see the shift by comparing the covers of the Batman comics cover dated May 1964 with the covers of the Batman comics cover dated June 1964.
I tend to think of it as Batman having two Silver Ages. There's the Silver Age Batman from the late fifties to early sixties with the science fiction tone and expanded Batman family and then there's the Silver Age Batman from the late sixties with the "New Look" revamp and the stories that reflect the camp tone of the 1960s television show. So if I blog about a Batman story from the sixties, it will be one from the first Silver Age Batman had and not from his second, "New Look" Silver Age.
Synopsis: One evening on the way to an opera, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson see a woman getting grabbed and disappearing into the dense fog filling the night. The laughter that follows tells Bruce and Dick that The Joker has struck and they run after him. Using the cover of the fog to change into Batman and Robin, the Dynamic Duo come upon the woman, who has fainted and is missing her jewels. The fact that the woman's jewels is curious in that it's common knowledge that due to financial hardship, her jewels are fake. The Joker continues to rob worthless objects, stealing wooden coins painted gold from a bank and cutting out a Mona Lisa from a billboard. Batman and Robin are bewildered by the nature of The Joker's crimes and become even more so when The Joker is arrested at police headquarters trying to deposit his worthless items as if he were at a bank! At Joker's trial, a psychologist's report convinces the judge to sentence The Joker to an insane asylum, which gives Batman an idea as to why The Joker has been committing such crazy crimes.
As it turns out, a bank clerk who can't remember where he hid the $1,000,000 he embezzled is at the same asylum The Joker as been sentenced to. The reason for The Joker's crimes now made clear, Batman goes undercover as a mind reader to expose The Joker's plan. At the insane asylum he meets a number of delusional individuals, including men who think they're Isaac Newton, Christopher Columbus, and even Batman. Though "Minos" is able to flip a man who believes himself to be a prize wrestler over his head, The Joker is not convinced of his mind reading abilities. The Joker's view is changed when "Minos" is able to read the bank clerk's mind and discover the hiding place of the embezzled money (in actuality, the location where Robin is lying in wait to capture The Joker). The Joker whispers to "Minos" that he plans on breaking out the night and he is welcome to join him, causing Batman to think he has The Joker trapped. The tables are turned on Batman however, when The Joker knocks him out, puts him in a straight jacket, locks him in a padded room that's filling with water (via a hose), and reveals to him that he knew something was fishy because the clerk had revealed the location of the hidden money in his sleep the night before. He even has the Batman costume that was hidden under Bruce's mind reader disguise.
As The Joker makes his escape down the asylum wall, he hears someone mentioning to Batman that he can still catch The Joker if he hurries. Confused, The Joker returns to the room and finds none other than Bruce Wayne (Bruce having discarded his mind reader outfit in the water). The Joker thinks he's actually crazy until he sees the ventilator and realizes Bruce called down it to fool him. He then makes the next logical conclusion and shouts in triumph that he has discovered Batman's identity, when Batman looks in through the room's window! He leaps at Bruce, who pointed out he must be the fake Batman, as The Joker starts to lose his head. Robin swings through the window and knocks out The Joker, who after the two Batmen is happy to be taken into custody. Batman then jumps at Robin having not called for him and Bruce tells him to watch out. Later in in the office of the director of the insane asylum, it's revealed that Joker's removal of Batman's utility belt sent a distress signal to Robin and Bruce's yell down the ventilator attracted the inmate who believed he was Batman. The story ends with the Batman inmate cured due to a collison with The Joker (he has no memory of Batman's identity) and The Joker revealing the location of the embezzled money to prove to himself that he was sane after seeing two Batmen.
Thoughts: The first item of note is the characterization of The Joker. In his earliest appearances, you would expect for there to be a few bodies by the end of a Joker story. As time passed however (and by the mid 1950's, due to the Comics Code Authority) The Joker drifted further and further away from his murderous plans and instead committed to ones with a commical gimmick. In this story we see him steal worthless objects to be deemed insane so that he can discover the location of some hidden money. While a thought out plan, it's much less sinister than his earliest capers that usually involved poisoning people with Joker toxin. For example, when a policeman catches Joker stealing the wooden coins, The Joker stops him with quick drying plastic. If The Joker from the forties had been caught, the policeman wouldn't have lived long enough to recount his story.
There are a number of good parts in the story. When trying to deduce the motive behind The Joker's crimes, we see that part of the trophy collection within the Batcave is made up of trophies of past Joker crimes that Batman and Robin can study for a connection. Bruce's disguise as "Minos The Mind Reader" is a nice instance of Batman's detective skills coming into play. And of course, the mind games Bruce plays with The Joker concerning whose identity is whose which get even better when the fake Batman joins in. While there are a lot of fun moments, there are also several flaws in the story, all of which concern Batman in his disguise. One has to wonder why The Joker wouldn't question how a mind reader can flip a man with the stature of a wrestler with his feet. That should have been the moment that raises the red flag that "Minos" wasn't who he said he was. Instead, Bruce's phony location of the hidden money is what causes The Joker to become suspicious. This would be a logical connection to make, except for the fact that since Bruce is posing as a new member to the asylum, The Joker should just brush him off as another delusional inmate. Finally, if The Joker removed the Batman costume from under Bruce's mind reader disguise, wouldn't he also remove the makeup and turban?
As always, Dick Sprang provides some excellent artwork. His Joker is rather distinct, with the cheeks pushed out so far that when The Joker smiles they form a triangle with his chin. He draws a great Joker grin too, along with his other facial expressions ranging from surprise to confusion to full on crazy. In my opinion, the best and most hilarious moment in the story is not even in the story itself, it's the opening splash page. The scene is a beach. In the background we see Batman and Robin with looks of surprise on their faces. In front of them, a crying child weeps to the Dynamic Duo, "Baw! The Joker stole my mud-pies Batman!". In the foreground we see The Joker, sitting in the sand, crazy grin on his face, making mud-pies and exclaiming, "Mud-pies! Hundreds of mud-pies! And they're all mine! Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!". Sprang executes it perfectly and it's absolutely hilarious. On a final art note, it's interesting that a story in the issue other than The Joker story was chosen as the subject for the cover.
This story has been reprinted in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (1988) TPB and HC and the Stacked Deck HC.
Synopsis: Dick Grayson is casually walking down a sidewalk when he hears someone yell that a group of thieves are getting away. Dick contemplates changing into Robin, but has no time to when the thieves' getaway car speeds towards a young girl crossing the street. Dick rushes to the young girl and gets the both of them out of the way, but bangs his left elbow on a lamp post in the process. A doctor arrives on the scene and informs Dick that his arm isn't broken, but he will have to lay off it for a week. Later at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Dick watch a news report about the robbery that includes a piece about Dick's heroic act. Dick tells Bruce that he saw the thieves' faces and would be able to identify them, however a search of their crime files turns up nothing. As the stolen item was a camera, Bruce deduces that the thieves must be planning a larger crime at an event that will attract media attention. He and Dick plan to attend such events with Dick keeping a watchful eye out for the thieves.
In carrying out their search, the public is puzzled as each event sees Batman wear a differently colored Batman costume. During a parade, Batman wears a red costume. While saving a block from the threat of an explosives truck aflame, he wears a light blue costume. Batman steals the thunder of a movie star and a set of valuable jems when he appears at those events wearing gold and orange costumes respectively, causing the public to think that is Batman's reason for his colorful costumes. It appears the thieves have caught on to Batman's plan when Batman has to save a launched ship and when Batman is shot while attending a sharpshooting contest. That last one was really Batman's fault as he was wearing a costume with a bullseye on it (don't worry, he was wearing a steel vest underneath).
After the last event, the story cuts to the thieves being pursued by the Dynamic Duo where we find out that they will really be striking at a money show to snatch up $1,000,000. The next day at the money show, Batman arrives wearing a costume that is truly a rainbow costume. As soon as one of the thieves walks in, Robin identifies him and Batman gives him a red left hook. Batman finds a gas mask on his person and realizes that the stolen camera is booby trapped with gas. Sure enough, the stolen camera is found with tear gas inside it and Batman and Robin take down the other two thieves. Back at the Batcave, the reason for Batman's colorful costumes is revealed: to prevent the connection between Dick unable to use his left arm and Robin unable to use his left arm, Batman wore brilliantly colored costumes to focus all attention on himself and allow Robin to freely search the crowd for the gang of thieves.
Thoughts: Ah..."The Rainbow Batman". There is quite possibly no other Batman story that has caused so much laughter from so many people based on the cover alone. Due to Batman's costume being colored a lightish red instead of the darker red everyone is accustomed to, it is automatically assumed that Batman is wearing pink. A closer inspection of the cover shows that Batman clearly states that he is wearing a red costume. So please, although it may look like Batman is wearing pink on the cover, remind yourself the next time you see it that Batman is wearing the color red. I'm just kidding, that cover is one of, if not the, funniest Batman images ever published and should cause you to chuckle everytime you see it.
In all seriousness (well, as serious as you can get when talking about Batman's fifties adventures), this is a fifties Batman story with a bizarre gimmick that actually makes sense by the end. If Batman is seen in public without Robin or Robin doesn't leap to action like he normally does, the conclusion could be drawn that he and Dick Grayson are one in the same. Batman appearing during the day, at public events, in colorful costumes would certainly draw attention to himself and prevent suspicion around Robin when he doesn't display his usual acrobatics. Along with having a hilarious cover, the story itself has a number of hilarious moments involving Batman's costumes. The patchwork rainbow costume at the end of the story is hilarious in itself, but the panel where Batman punches the thief in the face makes it gold. Speaking of gold, Batman's gold costume causes him to be yelled at by a movie star because the attendees at her arrival in Gotham are more interested in his costume than her. The best moment in the story by far is Batman wearing a costume with a bullseye on it to a sharpshooting contest. To borrow a phrase associated with DC's rival, "nuff said".
As far as the art is concerned, there is an element that stands out in a positive way and one that stands out in a negative one. Starting with the positive first, the opening splash page to the story is a great one. The splash page shows a large, perplexed looking Robin in the center with smaller images of Batman in his various costumes around him performing actions such as swinging on a bat rope and upcutting a criminal. This is an effective splash page in that it sets up the mystery element of the story and shows the reader the various costumes that Batman will be seen wearing throughout. There is one major mistake in the art though. Obviously, Robin can't be seen in public with a sling, so he is usually drawn with his left arm at his side. However, Robin is seen driving the Batmobile in several panels using both hands, where the turning of the steering wheel is sure to cause stress on the arm he was told not to use for at least a week. Other than that, the art is quite solid.
In the end, "The Rainbow Batman" is more than a story with a cover featuring Batman in a hilarious costume, it's a story with twelve pages of Batman in hilarious costumes.
This story has been reprinted in Batman #182, an 80 Page Giant issue.
The name of the blog comes from a promotional button released by DC in 2000. For the past couple months I tried to get my hands on one, but never could as when it did turn up on eBay, it was part of a larger set that cost more than I was willing to spend. Finally I saw someone selling a set of 28 of the buttons for $9. One buy it now and a few days of shipping later and I am now the owner of 28 "I Believe In Bat-Mite" buttons. Now I obviously don't need 28 buttons, so my hope is that as readership of the blog grows, I can send out some of my extra buttons to other fifties Batman fans. If you'd like to become a "Bat-Mite Believer", send your snail mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org.