Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"

Issue: Detective Comics #310

Cover Date: December 1962

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are enjoying a moment of relaxation, noting that sooner or later Batman and Robin will be needed. Meanwhile, Bat-Mite has returned to the crime fighting pair's dimension and is eager to see his hero perform more fantastic stunts. He transforms an old mining town into a variety of objects (including a statue, pirate ship, castle, and fountain), seeing it as a perfect setting for more fun. The next day, Bat-Mite diverts a trio of crooks into going to his circus, where he gives each of them a super-power. The Dynamic Duo first contends with a crook who can stretch, dodging his extended reach by jumping from the ship they boarded to the statue. The second criminal, a human cannonball, rolls toward the statue, but Batman and Robin evade him by sliding down the statue's arm. The third thug, a strongman, prepares to swing a lamp post at the pair, but Bat-Mite transforms it into a flower. While Batman is beginning to figure out that this is another Bat-Mite adventure, the imp hits his head on the pirate ship's plank when he jumps up in excitement.

After having been invisible for the fight so far, Bat-Mite suddenly becomes visible. Before he can try to figure out why, he attempts to remove Batman and Robin from the rubberman's grasp, but finds that he cannot use his powers. He explains to the Dynamic Duo that the part of the brain that allows him to project his powers has been affected, before he is grabbed by the strongman. Batman diverts the water from the fountain into the rubberman's face, allowing the trio to make a run for the Batmobile. They begin to drive off, but the strongman uses the rubberman's body to propel the human cannonball into the Batmobile, knocking its occupants out. The three super criminals leave the Dynamic Duo and Bat-Mite to drown in the dungeon of the castle, but Batman is able to throw Bat-Mite up once they leave to turn off the water. Later, while driving in a spare Batmobile, the crime-fighters receive word that the strongman is breaking into the Gotham Aircraft Company.

When they reach the Company, the trio head for where the payroll safe is located, followed by the strongman. Batman fights the criminal one on one and appears to slam his head into a wall. The strongman delivers what he thinks is the finishing blow, but Batman dodges it and the strongman's fist bounces off the wall and collides with his own face. Batman explains that the wall was in fact a slab of foam rubber used to make seat cushions and he only pretended to be dazed. They then drive to a National History Museum, where an alarm signals the rubberman trying to steal a necklace of black pearls. The rubberman at first has the upper hand, dodging the Dynamic Duo and stopping Bat-Mite with his foot. Quickly, Batman once again outsmarts his opponent, punching his head up into a doorway. For the final criminal, his m.o. provided by the Batcave's crime files leads them to the S.S. Atlanta where a Rembrant is being delivered. While first stopped by oil slick, the human cannonball prepares for another strike, rolling down a gangplank straight for a bunch of explosives. Suddenly, a trampoline appears for the criminal to bounce off of and he returns to normal, signaling Bat-Mite having his powers once again. After dropping the criminals off at prison, Bat-Mite explain's that running into the rubberman's foot returned his powers. The Dynamic Duo point out that this means he had them the entire time they fought the human cannonball, causing Bat-Mite to make a hasty exit.

Thoughts: Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the publication of Detective Comics #267, the first appearance of Bat-Mite, so what better way to celebrate than reviewing a Bat-Mite story? Before I go into this fun little story, I do have a few criticisms, one major and one minor. My major problem is actually with the first panel of the story after the title splash page. In it, Bruce wishes that they had more days of luxury and Dick agrees with him. Now, I am not saying that the pair should never have downtime, but they should always be shown as dedicated to fighting crime. In the Golden Age, the origin stories of both heroes showed them vowing their dedication due to both losing their parents to crime. After those stories and before this one, Batman had confronted his parents' killer and the man who ordered the job done. While continuity was not considered nearly as important as it is today, the number of call backs to Batman's origin should have set how important his dedication to crime fighting is, and by extension Robin's. My other, and much more minor, problem is that Batman says "whoa" after Bat-Mite reveals how long he's had his powers back. Robin saying "whoa" sure, but Batman saying it is odd.

Other than those points, this is another fun Bat-Mite tale. The imp creating an entire castle, a pirate ship, and a statue are clear signs that this is a Bill Finger story. Bat-Mite giving criminals super-powers takes the common story of the Dynamic Duo against normal crooks and makes it more interesting. As Bat-Mite spends most of the story powerless, most of the focus is on Batman and Robin cleaning up his mess, allowing Bat-Mite to tag along and observe his hero in action like he wanted. Bat-Mite still has a few highlights, such as Batman throwing him like a football out of the dungeon and hiding that he got his powers back so that Batman would have to fight the last criminal. Batman outsmarting the super-crooks and making them essentially defeat themselves was the right way to go, rather than a scenario like having them best the Dynamic Duo and Bat-Mite getting his powers back on the last page. Winning fights with his supervillains, and super-criminals such as these, through brain with a little brawn as opposed to merely brawn is how Batman should operate.

Sheldon Moldoff's adds the charm that a Bat-Mite story needs. The expressions he draws on the imps face are part of what makes the character as entertaining as he is. This story also features one of my favorite Bat-Mite panels, where Batman is holding up Bat-Mite by his cape after the trio have been thrown in the dungeon, with the Dynamic Duo's faces on either side and Batman pointing his finger at the imp. There's an art detail that might have been described in the script or a choice by Moldoff. When Batman rescues Bat-Mite from the strongman, he tucks him under his arm like a football, an interesting choice as Batman describes throwing Bat-Mite "like a football." The most interesting art detail is that the rubberman's costume was colored purple and his hair colored red, making him resemble DC's Elongated Man. Elongated Man debuted in Flash #112 from 1960, adding a bizarre little coincidence to another fun visit from Batman's biggest fan.

This story has not been reprinted.