Sunday, August 30, 2009

Added To The Collection - Detective Comics #s 317, 318, and 320

Before my Signet paperback kick, I bought three issues of Detective Comics off eBay.

I reviewed #317, the second and final appearance of the Flying Bat-Cave, on the blog last week. #318 features the second appearance of Cat-Man (there's a hyphen for ya Pat!) in Detective Comics. All I need is #311 and I'll be set to do a Cat-Man week. The purchase of #320 was based solely on the cover and I think you can see why.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"The Case of The Deadly Gems"

Issue: Batman #131

Cover Date: April 1960

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Synopsis: One night in Gotham City finds Batman and Robin recieving important information in the office of Commissioner Gordon. Ted Greaves, a criminal who Batman and Robin captured several years ago, was recently released from prison and has now sent a letter threatening the lives of the owners of the Gotham Gem Company. As the Dynamic Duo arrive at the Company, they witness both a person pushed off of a giant advertising gem and the masked man responsible. The masked man loosens the advertising gem to crush Batman and Robin, but they dodge out of the way just in time. After investigating the roof and discovering a piece of cloth from the assailant's cape, they find they three partners of the firm (John Wilcox, Henry Stubbs, and Ed Carder) around the dead man's body. The dead man turns out to be Clayber, the trio's new partner, and his murderer appears to be the aforementioned Greaves. The letter sent by Greaves explains a plan to murder all of the partners of the Gem Company from youngest to oldest, in ways that match their birthstones. This makes Wilcox the next on Greaves' list and the Dynamic Duo return with him to his home to provide protection.

As Wilcox tries to keep calm by taking a walk on his grounds, he is startled by a loud roar. The roar turns out to belong to a Bengal Tiger, released from its cage by Greaves. After distracting the tiger with his cape, Batman follows Robin's suit and the pair trap the tiger with their bat-ropes. Robin wonders what the connection is between Wilcox's birthstone and the tiger, and Batman obligingly explains that Wilcox's birthstone, the moonstone, is the sacred stone of India. Batman and Robin head next to Stubbs' home, which, being a yacht on land, fits with his aquamarine birthstone. When Greaves arrives, he finds the Dynamic Duo waiting for him in the crow's nest. Needing to make an escape, Greaves throws a green lantern, once again in line with the aquamarine birthstone, on the yacht to start a fire. Batman and Robin let Greaves go and are able to suppress the fire. Afterwards, Batman deduces that Greaves can't be the murderer, since he is color-blind and Stubbs' attacker was able to specifically pick out the green lantern. Robin continues this line of reasoning, coming to the conclusion that it must be one of the remaining partners. The pair's next move is to check on Carder, as the identity of the masked man can't be Wilcox or Stubbs.

When Batman and Robin arrive at Carder's home, they find that Wilcox is also there and that they have been playing cards for the past several hours. Perplexed by this latest development, Robin's comment about nothing fitting anymore makes everything clear to Batman. Later, the Dynamic Duo and the three partners meet at the Gem Company, where Batman reveals that all three of the partners are guilty. Carder shouts to the others to grab the Dynamic Duo, a plan which proves flawed as Batman grabs Carder as he rushes at him and throws him at the other two partners. (I am not joking folks, Batman picks this guy up over his head and throws him at the other two). Batman arranged for the police to be at the Company before calling the partners, and after they are called into the room, the partners are quick to surrender and confess. It turns out that the trio had been smuggling gems into the country for years and Clayber discovered what was going on. He blackmailed the partners for a share of their profits, and when he got greedy, they decided to kill him. Batman then explains that he realized the trio was rotating the costume after noticing that the pants fit differently each time the masked man appeared, while each appearance retained the ripped cape.

Thoughts: When you read a Batman story and see a giant diamond about to crush the Dynamic Duo, you know it was written by Bill Finger. And like most of Bill Finger's other Batman stories, this is a good one. During a period when aliens and magical powers were taking over the Batman titles, Finger gives us a good old fashioned mystery story. In stories like this one, it's typical for one of the people involved to turn out to be the true culprit. Finger takes this tried and true formula and twists it, revealing all three of the business partners to be behind the crime. The birthstone gimmick he employs for the staged attacks is also effective, providing the opportunity for some unique situations. If anything, the attack on Wilcox shows how high of an opinion Gotham's citizens have of Batman, because Wilcox's partner is confident that Batman can stop a Bengal tiger before it can attack Wilcox. Batman's detective skills get the spotlight here, as it is his attention to detail that leads to the break in the case. And like I said, Batman picks Carder up over his head and casually throws him into his two partners. I like to think Bill Finger wrote that scene, realized how awesome it was, and threw in a great mystery as an afterthought to get to it.

Even into the sixties, Dick Sprang's art is as great as ever. He showed in past stories that he was skilled at drawing animals and he continues that trend with the tiger in this story. His use of close-ups add dynamism to important dialogue moments. He also employs a neat technique to name the partners and show their ages, by placing their heads within a trio of lenses. When Carder is yelling for his partners to help him rush Batman, you can tell Batman is preparing to counter him. There's even a panel reminiscent of the classic nightime panel from "The 10,000 Secrets of Batman." The only negative thing that could be said about it is that you can't really tell the costume is fitting differently, but really, that isn't too important considering how you can believe the deduction of the world's greatest detective.

This story has been reprinted in the Batman In The Sixties TPB.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Secrets of The Flying Bat-Cave!"

Issue: Detective Comics #317

Cover Date: July 1963

Writer: Unknown

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: This story finds Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson once again descending the staircase to the Bat-Cave to change into their costumed alter egos. It is not in order to go out on patrol, however, but rather to prepare to leave for a police convention in Center City. Batman and Robin are attending to help publicize the event, and when Dick laments that they won't be able to show the police the equipment they have beyond what they carry on them, Bruce gets the idea to bring the Bat-Cave to the convention. Soon after, an improved model of the Flying Bat-Cave takes to the skies and begins making its way to Center City. The trip is given pause for a moment, when the Flying Bat-Cave's observational devices show two members of the Condor Gang leaving the Suburban Bank. The Flying Bat-Cave's electromagnet disarms the gang members and the Dynamic Duo subdue them with ease. After taking them to police headquarters, Batman and Robin continue their journey to the police convention, where Batman addresses the assembled officers and leads them on a tour of the Flying Bat-Cave.

That night, a car speeding through the streets ejects a piece of jewelry from its trunk after skidding. A young man comes across it and, after following the car to where it had stopped, attempts to arrest the men who are attempting to lock the trunk. Luckily, Batman and Robin come upon the scene in a compact Batmobile and send the men driving away. The Dynamic Duo pursue the car, but are stopped by a giant advertising sign toppled by a grenade. Returning to the young man, he tells them his name is Joe Arno, a one time hobo who is now a rookie on the police force. He suspects the piece of jewelry he found was stolen by the Condor Gang and that they're using Center City as their headquarters. One identification by the police in another city later, and Joe's suspicion is considered to be accurate. Elsewhere, the Condor Gang holds an emergency meeting where they make plans to get Batman and Robin out of their business once and for all.

The next day, while the Condor Gang makes a statement in the newspapers telling Batman and the police convention to clear out, the Dynamic Duo arrive at the Center City police headquarters to find that Joe did not show up for duty. Thinking he went to do some investigating on their own, Batman and Robin return to where they met him and decide to check out a boarded up store nearby. Inside they come across signs of a struggle, along with a bullet and two hobo signs drawn on a wall. After deciphering the signs on the wall, Batman, Robin, and a group of police officers drop from the Flying Bat-Cave onto the Condor Gang's hideout. They're able to rescue Joe, but two of the Gang disappear through a secret passage. The next day, special ceremonies are being held for a police fund when the Flying Bat-Cave apparently explodes over the crowd. A pair of handcuffs filled with an explosive were swapped with Joe's by the Condor Gang, who rush out to steal the fund. Suddenly, the Flying Bat-Cave appears, trapping most of the gang members in a giant metal hand while Joe captures the final gang member using a whirly-bat. Batman was able to discover the swapped handcuffs as they were lighter than normal handcuffs, sending a balloon of the Flying Bat-Cave in the real thing's place. The story ends with Joe being promoted to detective, later saying that the hero of the case was the Flying Bat-Cave.

Thoughts: The writer of this story unknown, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say it was written by Bill Finger. The giant advertising sign that blocks the Dynamic Duo's path is in line with Finger's tendency to include giant props in his stories. As for the story itself, I enjoyed it much more than the Flying Bat-Cave's first outing. The action scenes were more exciting, from the storming of the Condor Gang hideout by the Dynamic Duo and the police to the apprehending of the rest of the gang members with a giant metal hand and a whirly-bat (have I mentioned how awesome the whirly-bats are?). I also like the story of Joe Arno, going from a hobo to a rookie cop to a police detective. Speaking of Joe's hobo past, the fact that Batman and Robin have a guide to hobo signs in the Flying Bat-Cave proves that they leave no stone unturned when it comes to crime fighting. As for the Flying Bat-Cave, we get a much better look at it, including a galley, sleeping quarters, and mini-garage. The improvements must have been nation wide, considering how Batman is able to contact a random police station via television camera and screen. The Flying Bat-Cave is also equipped with steam valves to create camouflage, along with the balloon for faking out criminals. The use of the electromagnet is a nice touch, as it calls back to its use in the first appearance of the Flying Bat-Cave. Many of Batman's foes were normal gangsters, apart from Batman's Rogues Gallery, so it's nice to see a gang with a gimmick, like this one where many of the members wear condor masks.

Sheldon Moldoff provides some great art for this issue, starting with the cover. It was actually the cover that grabbed me to buy the issue in the first place, with the Dynamic Duo descending on a pair of helpless criminals on bat-wings. The scene on the cover is replicated in the issue, with the inclusion of parachute wearing police officers. Moldoff does a nice job of following up the first design of the Flying Bat-Cave, making only minor changes to it. The biggest change is actually in the coloring, with the originally blue Flying Bat-Cave now purple. Moldoff was also the perfect artist for the condor masks, considering his past run on Hawkman during the Golden Age. He also adds a touch seen in a character design for a pair of characters I'll touch on next week, with the condor masks having a "C" on the bottom feathers. The action scenes in the issue are given a suitable level of dynamism, from Batman and Robin sliding down the electromagnet's cable to the fight at the hideout. And, while I'm not an expert, I'm willing to bet that Moldoff knows his hobo signs.

At the beginning of the story, Batman mentions that maybe they will be using the Flying Bat-Cave more often. Unfortnately, this did not come to pass as the Flying Bat-Cave made only two appearances as far I know. Maybe one day a writer will look back into the past and bring the Flying Bat-Cave back to the skies.

This story has not been reprinted.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Added To The Collection - The Best of the Original Batman

Following last week's acquisition of the Batman vs. The Joker Signet paperback is the first in the series. While the other two reprint collections in the series (the second release having been an original prose novel) each have a villain theme, this one is just a collection of early fifties Batman stories. The only exception is the first story in the collection, "The Legend of The Batman" from Batman #1. The other stories are: "The Web of Doom!" from Batman #90, "Fan-Mail of Danger!" from Batman #92, "The Crazy Crime Clown!" from Batman #74, "The Crime Predictor" from Batman #77, "The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!" from Batman #82, and "The Testing of Batman!" from Batman #83. I'm particularly looking forward to reading "Fan-Mail of Danger!" after seeing the goof panel reprinted in the introduction to Batman In The Fifties. The book itself is in great condition, especially the cover apart from the bent corner. With this one on the shelf, that makes two down and a Penguin to go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"The Flying Bat-Cave!"

Issue: Detective Comics #186

Cover Date: August 1952

Writer: David Vern Reed

Penciller: Lew Sayre Schwartz

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: The story begins on an exciting note, with Robin surrounded by gun wielding gangsters. They're fully prepared to bump him off, when their boss "Diamond" arrives on the scene and tells them he can use Robin alive. Later that night, Bruce Wayne is wondering why Robin has not yet returned when the Bat-Signal suddenly lights up the sky. Arriving quickly after at police headquarters, Batman receives a note telling him to go to Regan's Baths if he wants to see Robin alive again. At Regan's Baths, Batman is given one of Robin's gloves as proof that he's been captured. Then, under the cover of hazy steam, he signs an agreement that he and Robin won't set foot in Gotham City for a week to secure Robin's freedom. Several hours later, Robin arrives at the Bat-Cave unharmed, while news of the agreement reaches the home of "Big-Time" Gateson. After Diamond assures him that when Batman puts his name on an agreement, he sticks to it, "Big-Time" tells him he'll be going ahead with the biggest crime Gotham City has ever seen. Back at the Bat-Cave, the Dynamic Duo have twenty-four hours to leave town. As they tick by, Robin makes note of Batman placing a large amount of calls, the latest one being for fifty tanks of helium. As for the criminal underworld, a celebration is in full swing, with Diamond alluding to Batman's absence doing more good for him than anyone else.

The next day, "Big-Time" puts his plan into action by having several members of his gang pose as window dummies to rob armored cars transferring money from one bank to its new location. The plan seems to go off without a hitch, when suddenly, the Flying Bat-Cave appears in the sky. Batman and Robin drop a giant electromagnet from the Flying Bat-Cave, taking away the crminals' guns and allowing the police to capture them. "Big-Time" and half of his gang manage to escape, with "Big-Time" coming up with a new plan that the Dynamic Duo won't be able to stop. The plan in question has "Big-Time" and his gang breaking into the basement of a fur storage warehouse through an underground conduit. While patroling the city, Batman notices the electricity and water off at the section where the gang are and suspects something fishy is going on. Descending into Gotham Harbor via a bat-osphere, Batman is able to detect sounds in one of the conduits using sonar and Robin radios the police to cover the manholes in the area. Trapped, the gang attempt to escape through a drain tunnel leading to the river, but are stopped by Batman and Robin. "Big-Time" was able to spot Batman in time and escape back through the tunnel, leaving him with four days left to pull a job with Batman off the ground.

The next day shows why Diamond hatched his scheme, as he is on trial for a larceny charge. Batman is the only witness against Diamond, and with him unable to set foot in Gotham City, Diamond is confidant he'll leave the courtroom a free man. Unfortunately for Diamond, Batman remembered the trial date and made pre-arrangements with the D.A. to take the witness stand via a television broadcasted to from the Flying Bat-Cave. Diamond is able to get a note to his gang to build a diathermy machine next to the courthouse, jamming the signal, but it's quickly restored by the Dynamic Duo dropping the Giant Penny they brought with them in front of the machine. A few days later, Batman and Robin have less than two hours left in the air when they spot "Big-Time" and his gang on top of the post office. What they think are bags of loot turn out to be a ruse when an anti-aircraft gun is revealed. The Dynamic Duo come under fire and escape from the Flying Bat-Cave via parachutes, descending to the roof of the post office. The gang is defeated, with "Big-Time" exclaiming that Batman has broken his word. Batman informs him that the post office belongs to the federal government, not Gotham City, thus the agreement remains unbroken.

Thoughts: This is an interesting story in that my basic thoughts are a flip-flop of those I had for "The Voyage of The First Batmarine": the premise is implausible, but the execution is done quite well. I can overlook a lot of plots in Silver Age comics, but this one I just can't look past. Super-heroes have values that make them heroic sure, but really, having a hero's ability to fight crime due to an agreement with a criminal makes no sense. I see what they're going for with the angle that Batman is a man of his word, but I really don't think the public would turn against Batman for going back on an agreement with a criminal to round up the crooks that kidnapped his sidekick. I'm going to take a page out of David's comment on my "Voyage" post and say that Batman went along with the agreement because he had the idea for the Flying Bat-Cave in his head and wanted to build it and show it off. Speaking of the Flying Bat-Cave, honestly, I think it's just plain cool. A compacted version of the crime lab, along with a few pieces from the trophy room, in the sky? Awesome. My favorite piece of the Flying Bat-Cave has to be the radar-observascope, which is basically a giant magnifying glass that they use to scan the city.

Despite the premise being shaky, the execution works. A giant magnet, while being a giant magnet, makes sense to bring along ahead of time as guns are the criminal element's weapon of choice. Batman and Robin able to fight crime in Gotham Harbor? Sure; after all, he didn't set foot in the city. The calls at the beginning set up for the television in the courtroom and the post office explanation is also valid. While the premise takes a heftier than average dose of suspension of disbelief, this is another good story with another fun addition to Batman's bat-garage.

Lew Sayre Schwartz's art is servicable. It's not bad or anything, but it falls behind Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff for me. I do like his design of the Flying Bat-Cave, almost like a giant, widened helicopter. Like his fellow Batman ghost artists at this time, Schwartz's Batman has a very distinct look that makes his work easy to identify. I will say that there was one scene where Schwartz's art didn't sync with the story and that was in the courtroom. The facial expressions and body language of the D.A. in some places made it look like he was anxious that Batman was able to provide his testimony despite being on Batman's side. Without the word balloons, this would change the perception of what is going on in the scene quite a bit. Like I said, Schwartz isn't a bad artist, but his work doesn't engage me like that of his contemporaries.

This story has been reprinted in Batman #203 and the Secrets of The Bat-Cave TPB.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Added To The Collection - Batman vs. The Joker

This is probably the most interesting addition to my fifties Batman collection to date. At the height of Batmania in 1966, Signet Books began publishing pocket book collections of Batman comics. The first was a general Batman collection, the second was actually a novelization, the fourth was a collection of Penguin and Catwoman stories, and the third, pictured above, was obviously a Joker collection. As the size is reduced, each page usually has two panels, with the stories complete except for covers. This collection reprints five fifties and sixties Joker stories: "The Challenge of The Joker" from Batman #136, "The Joker's Winning Team!" from Batman #86, "Joker's Millions!" from Detective Comics #180, "The Joker's Journal!" from Detective Comics #193, and "Batman-Clown of Crime!" from Batman #85. Of these five, two have been reprinted elsewhere and the other three haven only been reprinted in this collection. As for the actual copy I picked up, the outside covers are a bit worn and dirty, but the reproductions inside are clear as a bell. Perfectly readable and, in the case of the blog, reviewable.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"The Voyage of The First Batmarine!"

Issue: Batman #86

Cover Date: September 1954

Writer: Edmond Hamilton

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Synopsis: A barge making its way across the Gotham River suddenly begins to sink, becoming a serious threat due to a cargo of nitro-glycerine. Batman and Robin are quickly summoned by the Bat-Signal and go to the harbor with Commissioner Gordon. After Gordon explains the situation at hand, Batman and Robin volunteer to retrieve the nitro, as no other diver will take the risk. The Dynamic Duo are outfitted with diving suits, submerged near the wreck in the middle of the river, and begin placing the cans of nitro in rope slings to be brought up. The pair work for almost an hour, but succeed in retrieving all of the nitro. Unfortunately, Batman and Robin have stayed underwater so long that they will die of the bends if they come up now, and must spend two days gradually reducing the pressure around them before they can return safely to the surface. Fortunately for the Dynamic Duo, a nearby salvage company is able to supply them with a pocket submarine to spend those days in, complete with a bat emblem painted on the front.

While Batman outlines the plan of gradually reducing the pressure within the Batmarine until they're safe to surface, Robin worries that "Slant" Stacy and his gang of Platinum Bandits will take advantage of them being out of action. Robin's worries prove to be justified, as the Bandits are preparing to rob a plutonium shipment from the Art Jewelery Company. Batman is already one step ahead of them and directs Robin to pilot the Batmarine to a lake near the Company. Once there, they are faced with dealing with the gang without leaving the Batmarine. They solve this dilemma by launching a salvage net out of a torpedo tube at the crooks. A couple of the Bandits are caught, but the remaining members quickly regroup and take a boat out onto the lake to drop nitro on the Batmarine. The Dynamic Duo cut the engine, having figured out its sond is how they were being tracked, and the criminals soon leave. Guessing that the Bandits' next target is at the Natural History Museum, Batman and Robin don diving suits and travel a series of pipes into an aquarium in the museum. After using an octopus' ink to hide their presence, Batman opens the main valve and begins flooding the room, driving the Platinum Bandits away once again.

All throughout the story, Stacy has mentioned a full-proof plan to ensure that Batman wouldn't be able to interfere with the Bandits' operation and after two defeats, he now puts it into action. The plan begins with the hijacking of a post office helicopter, which takes the gang to the Gotham Skyscraper. Their target is the Platinum Corporation's safe, which is at the top of the skyscraper. They cut the cables to the elevators and a section of the stairs, preventing the police from reaching them, as well as Batman since he can't leave the water. The Batmarine's periscope sees the Bat-Signal flashing a police code message about the situation. Despite the threat of the bends, Batman is seen leaving the Batmarine. he makes his way to the skyscraper and climbs its walls to the roof. Upon reaching the roof, Batman frees the helicopter pilot, who takes off to get the police. When the police arrive to a mostly defeated gang, they witness Batman collapse, supposedly to the bends. When an officer attempts to revive the Caped Crusader, "Batman" is revealed to be a radio-contolled robot that Batman had been working on while confined to the Batmarine. A few days later, Batman and Robin return to the surface safely, with Robin declaring that he never wants to go underwater ever again.

Thoughts: When I first got into fifties era Batman stories several years ago, I went about the internet tracking down all of the information on the era I could find. My searches eventually led me to Two Morrows publishing, where I found out that the nineteenth issue of their fantastic magazine Alter Ego was a spotlight of the life and work of Dick Sprang. Having already seen and appreciated his work, this was a no-brainer to order. The issue was full of great reminisces, interviews, and artwork. One of the pieces of art included was the splash page to this story in black and white, from the Batman From The 30's To The 70's collection. And it completely blew me away. The Batmarine in the background, the poses of the Dynamic Duo, the underwater world...spectacular. The color version looks great as well, but I think the piece really stands out in black and white. To this day, it's my favorite piece of fifties Batman artwork.

The premise of the story is a good one: Batman and Robin are trapped underwater while the criminal element still runs amok on the surface. How will they be able to continue to protect Gotham City? While the premise is good, several elements of the story stick out. The major one being the work arounds of the bends. Now I am not an expert on the bends, but my impression is that rising fast, no matter if you remain in water, will set off the symptoms. As such, the surfacing of the Batmarine to launch the net should have affected Batman and Robin. Even though they remained in water, the Duo's journey to the museum aquarium should have affected them as well. I liked the two ongoing mysteries, of Stacy's plan and what Batman was building, but Batman's ability to build a robot is unnecessarily suspect. If the Batmarine was presented as an already prepped bat-vehicle, I wouldn't bat an eye at Batman being able to build a robot. But the Batmarine was a normal submarine with a bat symbol painted on the front, not stocked with Batman's normal assortment of gadgets. Of course, comics have to be approached with a suspension of disbelief. Comics during the fifties were written with an eight year old audience in mind, not with the intention of being scrutinized years later. As such, I can still enjoy the story while these inconsistencies jump out at me while reading.

Considering my comments about the splash page, you can probably tell how I feel about the art. As usual, it's great work from Sprang, especially in the underwater scenes. The diving suits and Batmarine are well drawn, along with the various sea creatures. Sprang could have just drawn the underwater landscapes, but instead he puts at least one fish in almost all of the underwater panels, further adding to the undersea feel. Stacy's character design is great, with his head literally slanted at an angle. I had half a thought that he might be an homage to the villains in Dick Tracy's rogues gallery. Sprang's art also provides a bit of hilarity at the end, in the facial expression of the police officer who discovers the Batman robot.

In the Alter Ego I mentioned, there was an anecdote from Sprang noting that he would have liked to see the Batmarine worked into more stories. I agree, as it's a Bat-Vehicle that had a lot of potential for more voyages during the fifties.

This story was later retitled "The Underseas Batman!" and has been reprinted in Batman Annual #2, Batman From The 30's To The 70's HC, and DC Comics Classics Library: Batman - The Annuals Volume 1 HC.

House Ad For Batman #86

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"The 10,000 Secrets of Batman!"

Issue: Detective Comics #229

Cover Date: March 1956

Writer: Unknown

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: This case from Batman's crime-file opens with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson watching a television program entitled "Man-To-Man." At its end, host Waller mentions that next week's show will take place in none other than the Bat-Cave. Bruce mentions that he could not turn such an offer down as Batman, since the sight of his crime fighting equipment would do quite a bit to make criminals think twice about committing a crime. The next week, Batman takes the television crew to the Bat-Cave in a sealed truck to prevent its location from being discovered. The broadcast begins in the Dynamic Duo's trophy room and later moves to the section housing all of their crime-files. Suddenly, a cable from one of the crew's cameras accidently triggers an old trophy, in the form of the Mechanical Mobster. Batman and Robin quickly shut the robot off, providing the show with an exciting conclusion. While Batman is taking the television crew back to their studio, Robin takes down fake granite put up to disguise the real rock of the Bat-Cave. While doing so, he makes a grim discovery that he reveals to Batman upon his return: the microfilm file containing a copy of their entire crime-file is missing! Quickly deducing that the robot being turned on was a diversion, the pair drive off to the television studio to confront the four member crew.

Batman and Robin catch three of the four crew members before they're about to leave and search the premises. When the Duo come up empty handed, they learn that their technician Varnor went home complaining of a headache. Batman and Robin arrive at Varnor's home to find him dazed, having been knocked out and impersonated. After consulting their crime-file for criminals matching Varnor's description, Batman and Robin determine that Mart Mathers is their most likely suspect. Batman goes off to confront Mathers, while Robin informs Commissioner Gordon of the situation. Batman finds Mathers, but is unable to prove he had anything to do with the robbery, though the $10,000 he finds makes it pretty obvious he did. Batman has a plan though, and imitating one of Mather's criminal friends, is able to convince him to seek more money for the job. Batman is able to stowaway in Mather's car and finds the criminal's hideout to be an abandoned organ factory. The gang is run by a man named Creeden, who lets Mathers into his group while gloating about possesing Batman's secrets. Using a pipe organ as a distraction, Batman grabs the box containing the microfilm rolls, but is forced to hide in a boiler to escape gunfire.

Creeden closes the boiler, trapping Batman inside. He also reveals that he has the microfilm rolls on him and that the box originally containing them is just that, a box. Thinking Batman has no chance of getting out, the crooks leave to implement their heist. Unable to contact Robin with his belt radio, Batman uses his ingenuity to snap the boiler's outside safety valve through concentrated heat by burning the microfilm box. Slipping his silken cord through the hole he created, Batman is able to open the boiler and call for Robin. Upon reaching the Bat-Cave, Batman tells Robin their only lead: the criminals' operation requires the use of a rubber boat. After running through crime-file their crime file for locations that can be reached by water, the Dynamic Duo are able to narrow it down to an underground resovoir underneath a jewel firm. due to the small size of the entrance requiring a foldable rubber boat. Batman and Robin turn out to have deduced correctly and sneak up to the crooks' raft through the use of skin diving suits. As gunshots will cause the rubber boat to sink, Batman and Robin quickly subdue the gang and return their microfilm file to the Bat-Cave.

Thoughts: This story has pretty much everything you could want from a Silver Age Batman story. You have action with the robot in the beginning, mystery with the identity of who stole the microfilm file, danger in Batman being trapped in the boiler, Batman using brains over brawn to get out of the situation in the boiler, and gadgets in the Dynamic Duo's crime-file (which is a state-of-the-art for the time card sorting machine). It's one of the most perfect examples of what a Batman story is all about, which is fitting considering it was reprinted in Batman Annual #1, which is an excellent introduction to this era's Batman. Part of what makes the story so great is the set up. Today's Batman would never permit a camera crew into the Bat-Cave, but the Batman of 1956 would; this a story that could only happen in the Silver Age. The scenes where Batman and Robin use the crime-file are nice ways of spotlighting their detective skills, as the have to quickly come with factors that can narrow down their possibilites more and more. I really appreciate how, in an opportunity where the writer could have made Batman and Robin's identities part of the crime-file, he doesn't and instead specifies the crime-file as a collection of top secret law enforcement information. My only issue with the story is Batman's ability to replicate the voice of a criminal who happens to be a friend of Mathers; the line in the story almost reads as if it is the writer speaking directly to the reader. Other than that quibble, the story is pitch perfect, and it's a pity the writer is unknown.

While re-reading this story, I was struck by exactly how brilliant of a storyteller Dick Sprang was. The second panel of the third page shows Robin running towards the robot and the reader, while the page's sixth panel shows the Batmobile driving away from the reader. The fifth panel of the fourth page is a great close up of Batman and Robin's determined faces, while still showing Varnor clutching his head in the background between their heads. Thr fourth panel of page five is a fantastic nighttime panel, complete with a dynamic image of Batman exiting the Batmobile. The fifth panel of the same page is slanted, taken aback just as Commissioner Gordon is within it. The abandoned organ factory is as large and haunting as it should be. Dick Sprang's trademark circular panels are prominent throughout the entire story. Everything about the artwork, even the cards being sorted, is dynamic. I haven't read his entire body of work, but I can't think of a story with artwork more brilliant than what Dick Sprang contributed to this one.

While nothing is ever truly perfect, this story is about as close to perfection as a Silver Age Batman story can get.

This story was later retitled "Batman's Electronic Crime-File!" and has been reprinted in Batman Annual #1, Giant Batman Annual #1 Replica Edition (1999), and DC Comics Classics Library: Batman - The Annuals Vol. 1 HC.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Batman, The Magician!"

Issue: Detective Comics #207

Cover Date: May 1954

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: The story opens with a group of four criminals rushing into an apartment calling for their boss. They had heard that a rival gang, the Moriarity Gang, had paid a visit to their leader and may have possibly taken care of him for good. They find their boss alive, but teetering on the edge of life and death, as a chemist accompanying the Moriarity Gang has filled a pair of manacles placed upon the boss' wrists with a high explosive. The slightest movement could set off the explosive, making conventional methods of removing the manacles useless. The mob boss thinks all is lost when he catches sight of a billboard for Merko The Great, realizing that the magician's escape artist skills would be best for removing the manacles. The boss' men tell him they'll grab Merko at his show that night, a show that features among its audience Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.

After the first act of his performance, Merko finds himself falling through his own trapdoor courtesy of the criminals. Bruce becomes suspicious when Merko doesn't appear to take his bow and, after a quick costume change, Batman and Robin appear backstage. It becomes apparent while talking to the stage hands that if Merko was kidnapped, it would be through the trapdoor, but when the Dynamic Duo follow it outside, there is no trace of the magician. This presents a problem as the performance is for charity, and if the show does not go on, the money will have to be refunded. The story then cuts to the criminal gang, who have brought Merko to their boss' new vibration proof room. Merko has no intention of freeing the crook, but figures he can stall as the crime boss needs him to unlock the handcuffs. Back at the theater, Bruce disguises himself as Merko, with Dick Grayson planted in the audience to be picked out as an assistant. The pair finish out the night with such tricks as pulling rabbits out of a hat and making a rope stand straight in the air without touching it.

After the performance ends, Batman and Robin head out to begin their search for Merko. While on patrol, the come across a group of the boss' goons robbing an armored car using a wrecking ball from a construction site. Batman and Robin go in swinging, but are distracted from the crooks by the armored car bursting into flames. They're able to rescue the driver, but the gang escaped in the meantime. The next night, the Duo continue their act, including the suspended animation trick, staying submerged underwater, and making an elephant disappear. While the act is going on, the boss is shown a newspaper with a front page on Merko's acts. Surprised, he quickly deduces that Batman has taken the magician's place and sends his men to take out the Caped Crusader. Their attempt fails thanks to a stampeding elephant and their getaway allows Batman and Robin to hitch a ride to their hideout. The Dynamic Duo easily dispatch the goons and make their way to the boss' room, where Batman reveals that there was no explosive in the handcuffs at all. Batman points out that the vibrations from the phone on the boss' desk would have caused the explosive to detonate long ago, leading Merko to comment that even Houdini himself would be impressed by Batman's "magic of deduction."

Thoughts: Before I talk about what's inside the issue, I want to talk about the cover surrounding it. Win Mortimer did a number of Batman covers throughout the Golden Age and every one of them was a gem. This issue's is no exception. While it is Bruce performing the magic tricks and not Batman, the cover captures the issue thematically. Batman's pose is great and the assistant and Robin complete the magical aspect to the piece.

On the whole, the story is a great one. The potentially explosive handcuffs add a suspense element, leaving the reader asking himself if they're going to explode, and later, how long Merko will be able to stall. The main fight scene is a great one, with a swinging wrecking ball and a rescue situation giving it a heavy dose of excitement. The highlights of the story are the magic tricks performed by Bruce, the secrets of which are revealed to the reader after they're performed. What kid (and adult for that matter) hasn't seen a magic trick and wondered how the magician does it? Well, with this issue, you can find out how five of them are done. The only nitpick I have on the story is that in the scene where the boss becomes aware of the continued Merko appearances, he makes reference to Batman and Robin noticing the criminals kidnapping Merko. The only problem is, the alley is deserted by the time Batman and Robin reach it, so it's a bit of a leap in logic for the boss to make. But I guess when you live in Gotham City and a magician you know you kidnapped is being impersonated, who else could be behind it but Batman?

Artwise, the story has some of the best Sheldon Moldoff work I've seen in a Batman story. Every page looked well polished, as if Moldoff spent more time than usual on the pages. Like the cover, the splash page depicts Batman in the magician garb, but unlike later issues, it's not an exact reproduction of the cover. The magician Batman, complete with turban, has his wand pointed at a top hat from which playing cards, rabbits, gangsters, Batman and Robin, and an elephant emerge. Fantastic splash page and my profile picture of choice at the moment. Moldoff's facial expressions in the issue were spot on, especially the panicked look that appeared on the boss' face. Moldoff's brilliant art complements Finger's solid script perfectly, resulting in a must read Batman story.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #2 and the DC Comics Classics Library: Batman - The Annuals Vol. 1 HC.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Added To The Collection - A Great Lot of Coverless Batman Comics

One of the funnest aspects to comics collecting is that of the hunt, and eBay is tailor made for the experience. The watching, the bidding, and, of course, getting proxy outbid at the last second. Every so often you end up winning a real gem and this is one of those times.

I'm more of a reader than a collector, so I tend to go after books in the lower (and cheaper) grades. I like to have complete books, but if I can get a coverless book in great condition, that's good enough for me. I came across a lot of ten coverless issues from the fifties and early sixties periods, with an opening bid of $9.99. Four of the issues were complete and specified:

Batman #135 ("The Menace of the Sky Creature")
Batman #156 ("Robin Dies At Dawn")
Detective Comics #283 ("The Phantom of Gotham City")
Detective Comics #284 ("The Negative Batman")

The auction also mentioned four issues of Batman and two issues of Detective Comics, no specifics, each missing the first and last couple of pages. I couldn't make out the issues from the image as they began on the third page, but overall, it looked like a deal to me. I ended up being the only one to bid and won it at starting price. When the issues arrived and I began figuring out what the mystery comics were, they turned out to be better than the ones I knew about:

Batman #103 (The first Silver Age issue of Batman)
Batman #114 ("The Bat-Ape")
Batman #124 ("The Mystery Seeds From Space")
Batman #126 ("The Menace of the Firefly")
Detective Comics #231 ("Batman, Junior")
Detective Comics #251 ("The Alien Batman")

The Batman issues have two stories complete out of the three, but that's fine with me. This was the far and away the best $10 I ever spent on comic books.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Batman: The Brave and The Bold Episode 19 - "Legends of the Dark Mite!"

Written By: Paul Dini
Directed By: Ben Jones
Original Airdate: May 29, 2009

Synopsis: As with the other episodes of "Brave and The Bold," this one begins with a teaser seperate from the main story. Catman is seen in a jungle auctioning off a rare tiger in front of hunters, poachers, and a criminal chef. The bidding gets up to four million dollars when Batman swings down from a tree, knocking Catman to the ground. He quickly dispatches the assembled crooks and then finds himself having to deal with the tiger, released by Catman. With a whistle, Batman summons Ace The Bat-Hound from the jungle. Ace fends off the tiger, sending the once ferocious animal retreating to its cage, before barking Catman up a tree. Catman tells Batman to call him off, which Batman does, before giving Ace a bat shaped dog treat.

After the opening, the main story begins with Batman foiling a robbery at the bank. The two criminals give up as soon as they see Batman, when a voice tells them they're doing it wrong. The criminals are then animated to come at Batman with bags of money, then are joined by more criminals out of thin air with machine guns, and then all of the criminals become ninjas. Batman defeats all of these attackers before asking the voice narrating the whole time to show himself. Batman is teleported to another part of the city and the narrator reveals himself to be Batman's number one fan...Bat-Mite. After explaining more about himself and trying to change Batman's costmue, Bat-Mite tries to decide on a villain for him to fight and Batman tricks the Mite into choosing Calendar Man. Bat-Mite sees through Batman asking Calendar Man to take a fall and transforms him into Calendar King, who can summon armies of holiday themed characters.

Bat-Mite thinks Calendar King is going a bit too far with mutant Easter Bunnies and freezes everything to convene a Batman panel at a convention in the 5th Dimension over the validity of the mutant bunnies. One fan speaks up about how his Batman is a dark crime detective and this is not his Batman. The panel (composed of crew members from the show) agrees upon a reply for Bat-Mite to read, which says thus:
"Batman's rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it's certainly no less valid and true to the character's roots as the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy."
After that, and agreement from the audience that the mutant bunnies are pretty scary, the fight continues, culminating in Batman decking Calendar King back into Calendar Man. Bat-Mite is about to decide what fun to have next when Batman convinces him to save his abilities for real crimes, with the help of an autographed batarang.

Batman returns to the Batcave and tells Ace about the pest he had to deal with. The appearance of a second Ace causes Batman to realize he's been talking to a transformed Bat-Mite, who transports Batman away to an alien planet intending to force him to be his plaything. Batman refuses to do so and sits on an otherworldly toadstool instead of fighting the various alien menaces Bat-Mite has thought up. Batman then eases Bat-Mite into the idea of a role reversal, with Bat-Mite acting as Batman and Batman narrating what happens to him. After defeating Gorilla Grodd, Bat-Mite finds himself in a scene paying tribute to the Looney Tunes classic "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery," with both well known and obscure villains chasing after him. Overwhelmed, he asks for Batman's help, who takes out the villains after playfully chiding Bat-Mite a little. Bat-Mite apologizes to Batman and returns him to his cave, who checks to make sure Ace is the real Ace before he relaxes.

Thoughts: I'm a fan of the Dark Knight as much as the next guy, but I'm also a fan of the lighter Caped Crusader as this blog attests. After the steady stream of darker media, it's nice to have a Batman cartoon that's just plain fun. One of the reasons I'm such a big fan of "Brave and The Bold" is because of how much it embraces its characters' Silver Age roots. Instead of playing them as parody, they're played straight with fun fully their intention. There are references peppered throughout the show, such as the use of the 1950's Batmobile in a flashback or Professor Carter Nichols when time travel's needed, but this episode is one for the fans from beginning to end.

Before I get to the easter eggs, let me give some thoughts on the episode itself. In a nutshell, this is the best episode of the show yet. Now I may be a little bias, but seriously, this episode has it all: Bat-Mite, lots of villains, fan easter eggs, and that fantastic convention scene. I was looking forward to this episode as it was featuring Bat-Mite, but then you have Catman and Ace The Bat-Hound in the teaser? Sold twice over. I had my doubts about Paul Reubens voicing Bat-Mite leading up to the episode's airing, but he was a great choice for the role. He put the perfect amount of fanboyism into the character and was able to shift Bat-Mite's emotions when needed. And speaking of Bat-Mite: easily the best modern interpretation of the character, considering the minor updates. It seems odd to hear Bat-Mite say "awesome sauce," but it works. Even Bat-Mite looking to make Batman his plaything fits, taking his wanting to see his hero in action to the extreme true, but it still fits. At his core, Bat-Mite in "Brave and The Bold" is Batman's biggest fan as he's always been. The convention in the 5th Dimension was a highlight simply for
PaulDini's breaking of the fourth wall to give a message to those decrying "Brave and The Bold" for its lightheartdness. And to top everything off, the "Great Piggy Bank Robbery" homage at the end is simply brilliant.

I'm not going to give away all of the easter eggs, but there are a lot for fifties Batman fans:

-During the scene where Bat-Mite changes Batman's costume half a dozen times, it changes to both Bat-Hombre's from Batman #56 and that of the Zebra Batman from Detective Comics #275.
-The 5th Dimensional Comic-Book, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Horror...& Tiddlywinks Convention in the episode is the 267th, a reference to Bat-Mite's first appearance in Detective Comics #267.
-The Rainbow Creature from Batman #134 can be seen on the alien world, and I wouldn't be surprised if the other aliens are from Batman comics.
-Bat-Mite turns into a Bat-Ape momentarily when going up against Gorilla Grodd.
-A couple of villains that appear during the Looney Tunes tribute: Polka-Dot Man, Killer Moth, Mr. Zero (that's right folks, they don't call him Mr. Freeze, they call him Mr. Zero), and, of course, Zebra-Man.

If you only watch one episode of "Batman: The Brave and The Bold," though you should watch the whole series, make it this one. From beginning to end, it's a fun tribute to the Silver Age and to Batman in general. And don't forget to keep your eye out for easter eggs! That's all for now folks.