Sunday, September 13, 2009

Added To The Collection - Batman #s 102 and 154 and Detective Comics #s 295 and 297

Picked up another batch of coverless comics this time around, the covers to which I'll post below.

Batman #102 has a story that looks to be a lot of fun entitled "The House of Batman," where Batman gets his own crimefighting base in the city. The first story of Batman #154 features the second Batman and Robin team, one of my favorite fifties era gimmicks. Detective Comics #s 295 and 297 both feature giant creatures and there's a good chance you'll see one of them reviewed as part of something I have planned for October.

(And yes, I realize the irony of posting the covers to coverless comics)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"The Bat-Ape"

Issue: Batman #114

Cover Date: March 1958

Writer: Unknown

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: Every year, Gotham City holds a circus to raise money for charity with the acrobatics of Batman and Robin being the star attraction. This particular year features another popular performance, one featuring an ape named Mogo. His act goes flawlessly at first, when suddenly the usually gentle creature becomes enraged on top of a platform. His trainer, a man named Arthur Harris, is able to calm him down, but the panic the outburst caused allowed a pair of thieves to steal the circus' box office receipts. Because Mogo's outburst served as the perfect distraction for the thieves, Harris is taken into custody on the suspicion that he was in collaboration with the thieves. Harris' assistant, Roder, takes Mogo to his home while the Dynamic Duo investigate the circus for clues. Batman wonders why Mogo didn't become angered until he reached the platform and finds the answer to his question in the form of a shock producing electric wire connected to the metal platform. Harris wouldn't have needed such a wire to cause Mogo to act out, so Batman and Robin drive to Roder's house to find out who could have rigged it.

When the Duo arrive, they find Mogo in a cage much too small for him, which Roder explains was done out of fear that Mogo would flare into a rage again. Batman, furious at the mistreatment of the animal, orders Roder to put him in his original cage and treat him well like Harris told Roder to before he was taken away. Roder not only tells Batman that Harris is the one who rigs the platforms for Mogo, but that he saw Harris talking to a pair of strangers recently. Batman reminds Roder to treat Mogo well as he and Robin drive off, but Mogo has his own ideas, bending the bars of his cage and following the Dynamic Duo back to the Bat-Cave. Batman is still puzzling about the wire when Robin notices Mogo enter the Cave, noting how Batman has befriended the ape. Alfred is assigned to look after Mogo while Batman and Robin research the case, whereupon they find that neither Harris nor Roder has a criminal record. Robin mentions that Harris' lack of needing a wire to control Mogo makes Roder the more likely culprit, when Alfred is suddenly heard calling for help. It seems that Mogo has found himself a cowl to imitate Batman with and he wants a cape too. Batman tells Alfred to give him a cape and brings Mogo along with him and Robin after Alfred makes it clear that he doesn't want to be left with the ape.

Following through on their suspicion of Roder, the Dynamic Trio stake out his house and tail him when he leaves for Gotham City. They follow Roder to a warehouse, where a light on the highest floor turning on tells them where he is. Unable to see what is happening on even the roof of the other warehouse, Batman has Mogo lower him towards the window on a flagpole, where he can now clearly see Roder splitting money with the Vanning Brothers. The trio of crooks spots the Caped Crusader, but Batman tells Mogo to lift him up just in time. After vaulting across to the other roof with Batman and Robin's ropes so that they could swing across, Mogo joins Batman and Robin in pursuit of the thieves. Trapped behind a giant globe due to gunfire, Batman instructs Mogo to push the metal globe towards the thieves, cornering them and giving Batman and Robin the cover they need to jump Roder and the Vanning Brothers. The story ends with Harris planning to show his gratitude for Mogo helping to clear his name by returning to Africa and setting Mogo free.

Thoughts: Compared to the first Bat-Hound story, the debut of Bat-Ape is a much simpler story. There's no mystery that develops as the story goes on; you can pretty much tell that Roder is going to be behind the suspicion being placed on Harris. Not that it's a bad story, as it's the little moments throughout that shine. When you go into a story titled "The Bat-Ape," you expect it to be pretty goofy, but this story actually has a pretty serious moment. When Batman sees Mogo being mistreated, he goes into authoratative Batman mode and commands Roder to put Mogo into his normal cage and treat him well. It's a great moment that shows how serious Batman is, even in the lighthearted fifties. Alfred watching after Mogo provides some great comic relief, starting with Alfred's first line: "Is this blooming monkey going to live with us?" When Alfred threatens to resign, Batman just smiles, clearly enjoying his butler's handling of superheroics being pushed to the limit. And, of course, this story stars an ape in a Batman costume. He proves to be a great asset to Batman and Robin, able to perform feats of strength that the Dynamic Duo would otherwise not be able to perform, which includes pushing a giant globe (making me think this was a Bill Finger story).

While not as iconic as, say, the cover to Batman #156, this cover is one of the more well known covers from the era. Not many have read this story due to it never being reprinted, but everybody knows about Mogo The Bat-Ape due to this cover. Sheldon Moldoff's great handling of drawing animals continues with Mogo in this story. The real strength in his execution lies in the facial expressions he gives Mogo, allowing him to convey friendliness, anger, confusion, and "hello, easily flustered butler." One of the neatest details of the artwork is in the coloring. While colored brown on the cover, Mogo's hair is colored grey in the story. The coloring is very close to that of Batman's costume, creating the effect of Mogo being in full Batman costume despite only wearing the cape and cowl.

This was the only appearance of Mogo, but considering how it is planned at the end of the story that he'll be set free in his native Africa, one story is all Mogo needs.

This story has not been reprinted.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Ace, The Bat-Hound!"

Issue: Batman #92

Cover Date: June 1955

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: One night while on patrol, Batman and Robin come across a dog struggling to stay afloat in a river. When they go in to retrieve him, they find the poor animal is stunned and decide to take him home and attempt to find his owner. Upon returning to the Bat-Cave, the dog begins to recover and Bruce Wayne makes preparations to advertise in the newspaper that the dog has been found. When the Dynamic Duo leave for police headquarters the next day, they find that the dog is following after them. Without time to turn back, Batman allows the dog to join them in the Batmobile, but now the problem arises of someone connecting this dog with the one found by Bruce Wayne due to its distinctive head markings. While Batman is inside police headquarters, Robin finds a solution by giving the dog a makeshift mask and a bat-symbol on his collar.

Batman returns to the Batmobile with news that a convict named Bowers escaped from prison and was seen entering the Stevens Warehouse. The Stevens Warehouse is a storage area for circus props, and Bowers takes advantage of this when he pushes a giant figure over on top of the Dynamic Duo has they enter. While Batman and Robin dodge the prop, the dog grabs ahold of Bowers sleeve and keeps him in place, giving Batman and Robin time to catch him. It is during his struggle with the dog that Bowers dubs him a Bat-Hound, a name further supported by the security guard on the scene. The rest of Bat-Hound's name falls into place when a neighbor of the dog's owner calls Bruce Wayne and tells him that the dog, Ace, belongs to John Wilker. But when Bruce and Dick arrive at Wilker's cottage, they find it a mess with signs of a struggle having taken place. It becomes even more clear that Wilker was kidnapped when a visit by Bruce to the printing firm where Wilker works yields that hasn't been to work in two days. The Dynamic Duo planned to use Ace to find Wilker, but their search is delayed by the appearance of the Bat-Signal. Once in Commissioner Gordon's office, the pair receives information on two cases: a theft at a paper company and a child who wandered off and was now missing.

Robin takes Ace with him to talk to the boy's mother, where Ace easily finds the boy hiding in a drainpipe after picking up his scent. Meanwhile, Batman's investigation of the paper theft has revealed that the paper that was stolen was of the kind used to make bonds. Bat-Hound's growling when he catches the scent of the burglars confirms for Batman that Wilker's kidnappers are behind the paper theft and abducted him so that he could counterfeit bonds for them. The trio drive to the next logical place for theft, the inking company, but are stopped in their tracks when one of the burglars pulls a gun on Wilker. Batman and Robin are captured by the burglars, with Bat-Hound left stunned on the floor of the inking company. While the burglars are beginning their counterfitting, the Dynamic Duo make a makeshift Bat-Signal with a knocked over lamp and Batman's bat-symbol from his chest. Ace is able to find the burglar's hideout, and, after biting through the Dynamic Duo's bonds, the trio apprehends the burglars. Wilker knew that the Bat-Hound was his dog as soon as he saw him in the inking company, a fact that becomes known to a reporter at the scene after Wilker removes Ace's mask. Batman was prepared for this and pulls out a photo of Bruce Wayne handing over Ace to Batman (really Alfred), explaining that he borrowed Ace to find Wilker. The story ends Batman and Robin waving goodbye to Walker and Ace, with Robin offering Ace the Bat-Hound position if he ever wants to be one again.

Thoughts: One of my favorite aspects of the fifties era is the extended Batman Family, a Family that began here with Ace. Comparisons to Krypto aside, I actually think the addition of a Bat-Hound to the Batman Family made a whole lot of sense. Back in the fifties, he was of course brought in to boost sales with the popularity of canine heroes at the time, but his inclusion also makes sense from a story point of view. Ace's tracking abilites and his strong canine jaws are both great assets to the caped crimefighters, as illustrated in the issue. The tracking especially, considering the detective aspect to Batman's character. One nice touch Finger has in the story with Ace is his owner recognizing him despite having been clad in his Bat-Hound attire, not being deceived as easily as everyone else is. As for the story itself, the pacing is excellent, with each scene progressing naturally into the next. From the finding of Ace to his joining the Dynamic Duo to the other crimes to the final confrontation with the burglars, it all flows nicely. Batman had to protect his identity a lot during the fifties, and his cover in this instance is one of the better ones. Like most of Bill Finger's stories, this one features a giant prop in the form of the clown statue. This use of a giant prop is a memorable one, when combined with Bowers' thought balloon of, "Must lay low till they're under some big, heavy prop!"

The cover to this issue is one of my favorite Win Mortimer covers. He was able to fit Batman and Robin, the Bat-Cave, the Batmobile, the Bat-Signal, and Ace on the cover without it feeling cluttered. Brilliantly composed and overall a brilliant piece. As for the interiors, Sheldon Moldoff provides some great artwork, much in the vein of his work from "Batman, The Magician." When you introduce a dog companion for your superhero, you need an artist who can draw animals, and Moldoff is an artist who can do just that. His panel of Ace growling when he catches the scent of the burglars in the paper company is a particular highlight. While the clown faces in the background of the warehouse are simple, the one in the foreground has a great amount of detail to it that catches the eye. I do have to note that there is an art mistake in this issue. In order to make the makeshift Bat-Signal, Robin had to tear Batman's bat symbol off his costume. In the panel where Ace appears at the hideout, however, Batman has his bat symbol back on his chest and retains it for the rest of the scene. Apart from this minor glitch, great art in a great story.

This story has been reprinted in the Batman From The 30s To The 70s HC, Batman Family #5, and the Batman In The Fifties TPB.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Added To The Collection - Batman #218 and 259 and Batman Family #4

Continuing the single issue catch up, I recently picked up two Batman Giants and an issue of Batman Family.

Batman #218 - Subtitled "The Strangest Cases From Batman's Crime-File," five of the six stories reprinted in this issue are from the fifties era. Spanning from 1953 to 1960, the stories are: "Batman and Robin's Greatest Mystery" (from Detective Comics #234), "The Hand From Nowhere" (from Batman #130), "The Man Who Couldn't Be Tried Twice" (from Batman #118), "The Body in The Bat-Cave" (from Batman #121), and "The League Against Batman" (from Detective Comics #197).

Batman #259 - Apart from a brand new Batman story featuring the original caped crusader, The Shadow, this issue reprints three fifties era Batman stories: "The Great Batman Swindle" (from Detective Comics #222), "The Strange Costumes of Batman" (from Detective Comics #165), and "The Failure of Bruce Wayne" (from Batman #120). Interesting to note is that the Shadow story was dedicated to Bill Finger, who had passed away in January of 1974, with this issue hitting the stands in August of that year.

Batman Family #4 - I bought this one because it reprints "Batman Meets Fatman" (from Batman #113). 'Nuff said.

Friday, September 4, 2009