Friday, March 6, 2009

"The Bat-Mite Hero"

Issue: Batman #161

Cover Date: February 1964

Writer: ? (Presumably Bill Finger)

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: One day, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are watching a baseball game at Gotham Stadium. During the seventh inning stretch, the pair make their way to the concession stand and overhear a stick up happening in the cashier booth. One costume change later and the Dynamic Duo appear on the scene to apprehend the thieves. Unbeknownst to Batman and Robin, Bat-Mite has also been watching the game and sees the opportunity to start a baseball game of his own. As the thieves run onto the field, Bat-Mite creates a fence around the diamond out of baseball bats, forcing the thieves to run the bases. After Batman cuts them off at third base and knocks them out, he reprimands Bat-Mite for treating crime fighting like a game and tells him to find another hero.

Bat-Mite decides to take Batman's advice and sets out to make his own hero. He dresses the first person he meets in the costume of The Bat-Mite Hero, which is red with a cape and a Bat-Mite head chest emblem. The next day, Bat-Mite and his new hero attempt to show up Batman and Robin when they try to capture the Human Fly Bandits. Things do not go as planned as the Bat-Mite Hero loses his balance on a ledge after a Bat-Mite magic carpet ride. Batman saves Bat-Mite's Hero, the Human Fly Bandits are caught by the police, and Bat-Mite sets off to find a more athletic Hero than his hasty first choice. Bat-Mite finds such a hero in a wrestler named the Blond Bombshell. This Bat-Mite Hero proves to be more successful than the previous one, knocking out three crooks and taking them to the police in their car turned flying horse drawn chariot by Bat-Mite. This proves to do more harm than good as Batman and Robin had planned on following them to their hideout.

Bat-Mite is once again without a Hero, but Batman and Robin find a clue in the clay on one of the crook's shoes. That night, Bat-Mite is walking on the street when he's approached by a man named Frank Collins. Collins has a potential Hero candidate for Bat-Mite, who is a former Olympic champion, college graduate, and is now working as a private detective. Bat-Mite is impressed by Bill Strong's credentials and makes him the third Bat-Mite Hero. The next day finds Batman and Robin pursuing criminals at the Clean-All soap factory. Bat-Mite and his Hero are also present, with the Mite surrounding the criminals with a bubble and the Hero tossing them in a barrel like a basketball (the Hero even remarks that he won a decathlon medal in basketball). The Hero prepares to take the criminals to the police when Batman declares him an imposter. Bat-Mite at first trips up the Dynamic Duo, but after realizing the Hero released the criminals, he allows Batman and Robin to knock them out. Batman explains that the decathlon mention was the tip off, as there is no basketball event in a decathlon, and that Collins masterminded the robbery. Bat-Mite asks for Batman's forgiveness, and he grants it on the condition that Bat-Mite returns to his home dimension. He obliges, leaving with the words, "So long...for awhile...I'll be back!"

Thoughts: Week one of Bat-Mite month comes to a close, and Bat-Mite's final words couldn't be more apt. "The Bat-Mite Hero" was the final appearance of Bat-Mite in the Batman titles during the Silver Age. It was also the third to last Batman story in the Jack Schiff era before the "New Look" Batman made his debut. With the editorial change so close, I wouldn't be surprised if Bat-Mite's last words were intentional written to seve as his farewell, as the "New Look" movement did away with the Batman Family outside of Batman and Robin. It's also a somewhat fitting story for Bat-Mite's last. He spends the entire story trying to create his own hero, but in the end, he's still Batman's #1 fan.

Bat-Mite's first appearance in the story is particularly interesting as he is watching the baseball game before Batman and Robin appear, instead of popping up as soon as they begin crime fighting like he usually does. Bat-Mite's use of his magical powers are also some of the most fun in all his stories. A fence made of baseball bats, a car turned into a horse drawn chariot that can fly, and the guns of criminals being turned into water pistols. The chariot scene is my favorite in the issue, not because of the chariot, but because we see Batman and Robin flying their rarely seen Whirly Bats. Speaking of Batman and Robin, it was nice to see some classic detective work in the clay that fell off of the criminal's shoe. Of course, Robin knows it came from Gotham Canyon just by looking at it, but that's just how detective skills worked in the Silver Age. On one last interesting note, the splash page of "The Bat-Mite Hero" is identical to the issue's cover except for some changes in dialogue. Unfortunately, this story has not been reprinted, but if you can get a reader copy at a good price, I definitely recommend it. It's a fun and fitting final Silver Age story for one of the most famous members of the Jack Schiff era Batman family.


Pat said...

It was unfair of Batman to chastise Bat-Mite in the beginning of this story. In fact, the trick with the bats actually helped Batman (if not Robin, who apparently felt he had to run the bases in order). Of course, Batman may have just been dreading the moment that Bat-Mite went for the "fun" option.

Chris said...

After 5 years of encounters with Bat-Mite, Batman was probably wise to how his visit was going to end. But it's true, the bats were more of an aid than a hindrance.