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.

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