Monday, December 22, 2008

"The Winged Bat-People"

Issue: Batman #116

Cover Date: June 1958

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: The planes of Gotham's weather bureau are unable to analyze the eye of a hurrican due to too much turbulence, but luckily, the city has a crime fighter with a plane tough enough to get the job done. When Batman activates the Bat-Plane's reserve jets to battle the fierce winds, he and Robin are surprisingly transported to another dimension. They barely have time to realize what has happened when they are captured by Romanesque soldiers, the leader of which mentioning that they were warned of an attack by "the Bat-People". Batman and Robin are taken before the soldiers' Queen for sentencing, where we find out that the Queen's minister Arko had warned of the Bat-People attack. While the Queen sees Batman and Robin as proof that rumors of Arko being a traitor were false, his thought balloon reveals that his report was a false one. Before Batman and Robin can be taken to the dungeons, the castle is attacked by the aforementioned Bat-People.

The Bat-People are taken down by Batman's batarang, his left hook, and the Bat-Plane's engine. Batman gains the Queen's trust and proposes they, along with Robin and Arko, journey to the Bat-People's territory. Arko declines, saying he has state business, so the soldier who had captured the Dynamic Duo goes in his place. While flying over the chasm that seperates the two territories in the Bat-Plane, they are attacked by a flaming net courtesy of the Bat-People, confirming that Arko was a traitor. They return to find that Arko has taken over the palace, but he and his allies are no match for Batman and Robin. Upon capture, Arko reveals that the Bat-People are on their way to launch a full scale attack. Batman is unafraid of the attack, having deduced that the chasm seperating the two territories contained a coal vein; a coal vein that is now producing updrafts of hot air due to the flaming net. Batman and Robin set the vein aflame using the jets from their Bat-Plane, producing an explosion that propels them back to their dimension.

Thoughts: One of the notable aspects of Batman in the fifties is the amount of story output. While Detective Comics always contained one Batman story, the number of stories in the Batman title changed throughout it's publication. There were usually four stories during the forties, three during the fifties, and two during the early sixties. By the time Batmania hit in '66, Batman was down to the single, full length story of a standard comic book. While the fifties tales were only 8 to 12 pages, it's amazing how much story was packed into each, especially compared to the current trend of decompression. While some stories could have used a few more pages, most of them were able to tell a solid, interesting story in the space given. And with 36 Batman stories being published each year by 1954 (not counting World's Finest), who can complain about a clunker here and there?

"The Winged Bat-People" is undoubtably a late fifties story, with its use of strange creatures and alternate dimensions. With what we know now of the DC universe, I like to think of this dimension as one of the infinite earths prior to the Crisis, where Batman is instead a race of Bat-People. There were several touches to this story that made me chuckle, one of them being that the Bat-Plane was able to break the sound barrier "at a speed ten times greater than was ever thought possible" and travel to alternate dimensions. I actually wish this concept had become the Professor Carter Nichols of the late fifties, with Batman and Robin using the Bat-Plane to travel to other alternate dimensions. The ending of the story is patricularly great, with Dick mentioning to Bruce that the Queen likely thinks they're dead. When Bruce says it is for the best and Dick inquires why, Bruce responds that if she still thought Batman was alive, the Queen would pine for him and never marry the soldier who was infatuated with her. There you have it: Bruce Wayne isn't the mask, Batman is. (And to Bill Finger's credit, the Queen-Soldier romance wasn't random; there are two panels in the story that do imply it).

There are fun moments and good action in this story, but as always, there are also a few questions. Can four normal soldiers haul the Bat-Plane across a desert? Where is the catapult on the Bat-Plane that allows Batman to leap over the castle walls during the coup? How bad a ruler is the Queen if her palace minister can stage a coup in an afternoon? And if said minister can stage a coup in an afternoon, why would he tell his enemies to launch a full-scale attack on the castle? And how does the palace minister communicate with these winged creatures anyhow? While it does raise a lot of questions and is an example of a fifties story suffering a bit from the low page count, it is still worth seeking out for a zany Batman yarn.

This story has been reprinted in Eighty Page Giant #12.


Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast said...

This cover always makes me think about the Wizard of Oz and the flying monkeys!

CMN said...

Does anyone know (or willing to guess) when the Batman Chronicles series reaches the 50's?

Pat said...

Good post, but you're off a bit on your timeline for when the number of stories in each issue of Batman changed. After the Alfred (short story) series was dropped, effective with #33 (Feb-Mar 1946) the number of Batman stories was set at 3, where it remained for a very long time. In fact, I think the first issue with fewer than 3 Batman features was #153 (Feb 1963, which was a book-length story). The first two-story issue was #156, and while there were a few book-lengthers after the New Look started, it wasn't until about #200 (March 1968) that they became more common than two-story books.

Chris said...

Thanks for the timeline information Pat. I had a vague idea of when the story counts changed, but wasn't sure of the specifics.

As for the Chronicles question, Volume 7 comes out on March 18th and contains material up to late 1942. At the rate they're coming out, it will be awhile until they reach the 1950s. Even though they're more expensive and being phased out, I wish DC would put out a 1950s Archive series.

CMN said...

If you start a petition (for the 50's archives of Batman & Detective), I'll be glad to sign it. Even when I was reading Batman in the early 60's, my favorite stories were reprints from the 50's. I just didn't know it at the time.