Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"The Rainbow Batman"

Issue: Detective Comics #241

Cover Date: March 1957

Writer: Edmond Hamilton

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

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.


joe bloke said...

and it don't get much better than that! nice one!

Joe Blow said...

They sure wer fun. Was a bit young then, born 1951 but still with all the crudeness of the artwork, they were a joy for a young kid to read!
Mike in FL

Chris said...

Oh certainly. I didn't read these stories as a kid, but I can definitely see the appeal DC's Silver Age books had for them. So much imagination within the pages. And even today they're still a ton of fun.

Pat said...

I remember reading the reprint version around 1966 and thinking it was a well-designed story that made logical sense despite the apparently bizarre mystery of why Batman was wearing all those oddball costumes.

There was a book published about Batman a few years back where the author went on for about 70 pages about how Batman's pink costume meant that he had to have been gay. Of course, it is a simple printer's error, and in the interior pages it is indeed colored red and not pink.

I like the focus of your blog; although I cover the entire spectrum of Silver Age Comics, Batman has always been my favorite character.

Chris said...

Unfortunately, thanks to "Seduction of The Innocent", there is always going to be the misconception that Batman and Robin were meant to be a homosexual couple. While there are certainly panels and covers that seen through modern eyes appear to be suggestive, it's obvious the original creators never meant for them to be interpreted as such. It's a good thing the author of that 70 page piece didn't actually read "The Rainbow Batman" or he would have seen the panel where one of the thieves inquires about "Batman's queer costumes". Similar to the printer's error, it's doubtful that the fact that queer meant odd during the fifties would be factored in.

Batman is my second favorite superhero. I had been picking up and reading the old Annuals and 80 Page Giants and saw that nobody talks much about the fifties era of Batman's history. I get a kick out of the stories, so I figured why not start a blog focusing on the funnest and most neglected period in Batman's career.

bd said...

Speaking of possibly gay Batman, Will Booker, author of 2001's Batman Unmasked posits the same theory. So it's still out there.

Pat said...

bd, that's the book I was thinking of; aside from the "gay readings" I enjoyed the book.

Chris, the problem you note is called "historicism". Of course historicism can be entertaining; think of the Superman is a Dick series for an example. And I have poked fun at the Gay Batman panels myself because they are rather amusing.

Chris said...

Superdickery was actually the site I had in mind when I made that post; has to be the funniest site on the internet. Speaking of which, their thoughts on the cover: "Robin's obviously in denial. That costume's not red...".

Anonymous said...

What's most impressive about this story is that Batman had the foresight to create all of those colorful costumes and keep them on hand, for just such an occasion. Really, who else but the world's greatest detective would consider such an elaborate contingency plan, especially for such an unlikely event?