Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Batman Meets Bat-Mite"

This review was originally posted on July 27, 2009, but is being reposted on the anniversary of the issue's publication as was originally intended.

Issue: Detective Comics #267

Cover Date: May 1959

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Curt Swan

Synopsis: The Dynamic Duo's first encounter with Bat-Mite begins with Bruce and Dick descending into the Batcave. After donning their costumes, they notice several items are out of place, including Batman's utility belt moving from the closet to the floor and damaged lab equipment. Robin wonders if there could be a stranger in the Batcave, when suddenly a voice apologizes for the damage. The voice remarks that it should make itself visible and in front of Batman and Robin appears, in Robin's words, "An elf dressed in a crazy looking Batman costume!" The "elf" of course tells them that he comes from another dimension where all men are his size and after observing Batman's exploits has decided to don his own costume and help Batman fight crime. Batman isn't thrilled with the idea, informing Bat-Mite that they'd have a hard time explaining a creature from another dimension and that it takes a lot of training to become a crime-fighter. Bat-Mite is disappointed, but he disappears with a "Pop!" all the same. The Dynamic Duo believe he has returned to his home dimension, when in actuality he has turned invisible and hitched a ride atop the Batmobile.

Batman and Robin see Tipper Neely and his gang making a getaway on the waterfront. After cutting their car off, the Dynamic Duo pursue the gang across a bridge. Suddenly, the bridge begins to twist and turn, up and down like a roller coaster. Batman quickly deduces that Bat-Mite's powers are responsible, but doesn't understand why he's using them to complicate matters. Batman and Robin slide down one of the dips that formed in the bridge to get to the gangsters. Batman takes a swing at Neely and finds his punch connect in mid-air. The bridge has turned to rubber, but Batman takes it in stride, bouncing along and knocking out the rest of the gang. One of the gangsters wonders what happened with the bridge, prompting Batman to come up with the explanation of chemicals from a nearby plant causing hallucinations. Back at the Batcave, Batman asks Bat-Mite why he transformed the bridge, with Bat-Mite replying that he wanted to prolong the fight since it was progressing so quickly. Batman tells Bat-Mite that crime-fighting is serious business and asks him to return home. Bat-Mite of course turns invisible and waits for the Dynamic Duo to go back out on patrol.

The next evening, Batman and Robin respond to a robbery at a hi-fi show. The Dynamic Duo quickly corner the criminals, too quickly for the Bat-Mite in attendance. He summons a giant record, which slides underneath the criminals and flies high above Batman and Robin. The crime-fighters act quickly, with Batman holding onto the tape from a giant tape recorder and Robin setting it in motion. Batman uses the momentum to fling himself onto the record and bring it and the criminals down. Afterward, Batman and Robin again confront Bat-Mite at the Batcave and again he disappears before their eyes. They turn their attention towards a tip that the Yellow Gloves Gang will rob the Gotham Auto Company and guess they will use an empty warehouse for their escape route. The invisible Bat-Mite overhears this and fills the empty warehouse with giant props, including a giant Batman statue, sphinx, globe, and viking ship. When the Batman and Robin encounter the gang that night, both groups make use of the props. The criminals push the viking ship towards the Dynamic Duo, prompting Bat-Mite to use the sphinx to help them, but he makes it go too high. Batman forgives Bat-Mite for overdoing his powers and has him use them to animate the Batman statue, dumping the criminals out of the viking ship. When Batman asks Bat-Mite to return to his home dimension after the criminals have been taken into custody, the imp agrees...and promises that it is "Good-bye...for now!"

Thoughts: This is it, the first appearance of everyone's favorite imp, Bat-Mite. As it is his first appearance, it has all the characteristics of a Bat-Mite story: Bat-Mite being Batman's biggest fan, his habit of using his powers to extend Batman's fights for his own amusement, and Batman warning Bat-Mite that he's going to spank him. Yeah, I still don't get that one, but there was a precedent set here. I also find it interesting how Batman is so insistent about them having a hard time explaining Bat-Mite away when there were so many aliens invading at this time, not to mention Superman living the next city over. There are a number of great uses of Bat-Mite magic in this issue, with the roller coaster bridge, floating records, and giant statues. Bill Finger was a big fan of giant props and Bat-Mite's magic gave him a great way to channel that into his stories.

This story has some great Sheldon Moldoff art in it. Interestingly enough, even though he co-created the character, the first depiction of Bat-Mite readers saw back in 1959 was Curt Swan's, via the cover. As far as Moldoff's design for Bat-Mite, not much changed from his original depiction except from the head. Later versions have a smaller head and no lines depicting teeth. The facial expressions on Batman, Robin, and the criminals are well drawn, most memorably Batman's in response to Bat-Mite promising he'll return. There's also nice detail in the Batcave, both in the walls and the equipment within the cave. Moldoff also does a great job handling all the magical happenings as a result of Bat-Mite, from the wobbly bridge to the giant Batman statue.

This story is, of course, a classic. If you haven't read it yet, pick up the recently released Black Casebook TPB and get introduced to Bat-Mite all over again.

Addendum: Thanks to Pat for reminding me that this issue marked the 20th anniversary of Batman in Detective Comics.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #7, Batman In The Fifties TPB, Batman: The Black Casebook TPB, and DC Comics Classics Library: The Batman Annuals Volume 2 HC.


Pat said...

Yeah, it was kind of an oddity that Batman felt he had to explain away all the weird things that happened; IIRC by the 2nd or 3rd appearance Bat-Mite went public, so the excuses didn't last long.

BTW, you should probably note in your post that this was an anniversary issue; the 20th anniversary of Batman in Tec.

Chris said...

D'oh! It's been so long since this was supposed to go up that I forgot about the anniversary aspect. ;)