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.

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