Saturday, April 18, 2015

About that Tree

After Batman closed up Wayne Manor in the late 1960s and started operating out of the Wayne Foundation Building, Batman artists came up with a distinctive appearance for the latter:

The tree inside the building functioned as an "establishing shot".  In TV and movies, directors often use an establishing shot to tell viewers where the particular scene is taking place.  Anyway, variations on that panel appeared hundreds of times in the Batman comics over the years, starting in the late 1970s.

But here's something I had forgotten: the tree is fake, as mentioned in Batman #306 (December 1978):

I'm not sure how fitting it is to have a fake metal tree stand for life.  Inside that thick metal shaft is the elevator for the building.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Other Batmen

This one will take some time to compile, but I think it will be worth it in the end.  During the Golden and Silver Ages, DC's writers and artists often created "other" Batmen.  Some were fakes and some were inspired by the Caped Crusader, but they all wore the mask.

The first inspired version of Batman to my knowledge lived in the year 3000.  His name was Brane, and the Earth he lived on had been conquered by the inhabitants of the planet Saturn.  He and his young pal Ricky come across a time capsule from the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Inside is film footage of Batman and Robin in action.  This inspires them:

They rout the Saturnians, and liberate their planet.  In the end, we learn that in the future, people contract their names by combining part of their first and last names.  Brane turns out to be the 29th century descendant of:

Brane returned in Batman #67, although in this story he was named Brane Taylor and he was from 3051, so perhaps he was a descendant of the other Brane.  His Robin has suffered a broken leg and he needs the 1951 model to help him out.  Dick agrees:

Brane returns the favor a few years later in Detective #216, when Bruce Wayne suffers a sprained arm and needs a stand-in as Batman.

Another inspired Batman is the superhero of Zur En Arrh, who appeared in Batman #113:
I particularly like his oddball version of Batman's costume.

One of my all-time favorite Batman stories is The Second Batman and Robin Team from Detective #220. Roger Bacon, a medieval scientist has discovered manuscripts documenting three of Batman and Robin's trips to the past (via Professor Nichols).  He reasons that they must be time travelers from the future (correct) and that all people in that future time must dress similarly (oops!).  He sends two young lads from his time into the future to learn the answer to his great question, which we learn here:

Unfortunately, as far as I know this was their only appearance.

Only two issues later, we learned of the Brotherhood of Batmen:
But it turns out to be a con; the idea is to get wealthy men to train to become one of the Brotherhood while also spending great sums to acquire their own Batmobile, Batplane, etc.  Terrific story.

Batman #62 included the story, The Batman of England. An English lord and his nephew decide to imitate our heroes.  However, the Knight and the Squire dress differently (in plate armor) and ride motorcycles, ludicrously carrying lances as well:

In the story, they are definitely a second-rate dynamic duo. Batman and Robin, pursuing some crooks to England, encounter them and they decide to collaborate, with the Squire joining Batman and Robin assisting the Knight.  But the Squire is too impetuous, and the Knight wants to stop in mid-chase for tea.  The story ends with them deciding to give up crime-fighting, although they did reappear in a World's Finest story called the League of Heroes a few years later, which featured superheroes from France, Italy and South America as well.

Another future Batman appeared in Batman #105.  Batman and Robin are surprised and concerned when a weird missile with a bat emblem shows up in the Batcave.  It turns out the missile is capable of transporting them through solid matter, making their jobs a lot easier.  The mystery is explained at the end:

There are, of course, a huge number of stories where Batman was imitated by some crook; for example this issue from the height of Batmania in 1966:

The telltale clue is that the costume Batman is wearing is the old outfit, without the yellow circle around the bat emblem on his chest.  In the story the Batman shown on the cover is a crook whom Batman had arrested before changing his costume.

Some others to be added: There's a three-issue series from the 1970s where Captain Stingaree is convinced that Batman is really triplets, and I also remember a rather silly GA story where there's an ersatz Dynamic Duo with Robin actually having a bald spot.  Any others?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Batman: Bullock's Law

I've talked about my enjoyment of this character before, so when I found this small GN at a local garage sale, I had to pick it up. The name may be a play on the old TV series, Burke's Law. Harvey Bullock finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Members of the Black Mask gang capture him, but their objective is not to kill him, but to provide him with lots of evidence on rival gangs. The only condition is that he help them out by not testifying against a Black Mast underling named Johnny Poodles. Complicating matters is the fact that Bullock is about to be cashiered out of GCPD for health reasons. He reasons that he might as well bring in a bunch of bad guys while he's trying to lose weight. And as for Johnny Poodles, he finds the answer in an old film:
But a bunch of people notice that Bullock seems to be getting lucky with his busts lately, including a very stylized Batman:
I just love that look. So Harvey seems to be on the Black Mask team, but when it comes to the crucial courtroom scene, he double-crosses his informer:
And when Black Mask's underlings try to kill him for reneging on the deal, he has a surprise waiting for them:
And he figures out a way to deal with the doctor who's about to force him into retirement as well.

Overall, a very entertaining story.  I particularly like the way Harvey's passion for old movies is used to reveal the reasoning behind the decisions he makes.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Batmania #1

Biljo White's early fanzine for Batman can be read and (with registration) downloaded here.

It's a terrific opportunity to step into the shoes of the Bat-fans of (almost) fifty years ago.  There is a lot of discussion of the "New Look" Batman, which had recently debuted.  The general impression (which I endorsed a few years back) is that it was an improvement, but not enough of an improvement due to the retention of the existing artist (Carmine Infantino did get assigned the covers, and was also responsible for the interior art on every other Batman story in Detective).  Back then the fans assumed it was Bob Kane doing the lion's share of the work; of course nowadays we know it was actually Sheldon Moldoff.

Hat Tip to reader Diane, who stumbled across this terrific find.  Thanks!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tributes

Tributes are sort of like Easter Eggs, but there is an important difference. Easter Eggs are intended to be somewhat hard to find, where Tributes are more in-your-face. Easter Eggs are more commonly located in the artwork, while Tributes are in the dialogue or narrative passages. The Tributes in Batman comics are legendary and extensive. For example, consider this map of Gotham, from No Man's Land: Starting from the upper left, we have the (Irv) Novick Tunnel, the (Bill) Finger River, (Frank) Miller Harbor, Port (Neal) Adams, (Vin) Sullivan Island, (Charles) Paris Island, (Chuck) Dixon Docks and (Bob) Brown Bridge. In this particular case the tributes are located in the artwork, but they are hardly hidden and indeed have almost certainly been introduced in earlier stories.

As far as I can tell, the beginning of the Tributes came during the famed Steve Englehart run in Detective Comics during 1977. Englehart's work started with #469, but the first tribute I noticed was in the following issue:
Dick Sprang gets the earliest tribute I could find.  Of course, you can make an obvious case for Kathy (Bob) Kane about 20 years before, but I really think that is a quibble, especially when you consider the long intervening time and the way Englehard's tributes kept coming.  In Tec #471:

And Finger Alley was not the only tribute in that particular issue:
Jerry Robinson was one of the earliest "ghosts" for Bob Kane.  His lithe, gymnast-type Batman is actually my favorite visualization of the Caped Crusader.

In Detective #473, Englehart made a tribute to the then-current Batman writer, David V. Reed:

And to a Silver Age Batman writer, John Broome:

Broome wrote the first Batman "New Look" story in Detective #327.  You could argue that's also a tribute to Charles Paris, although since it refers to the actual city in France, it doesn't really fit.

In Detective #474, there was a tribute to longtime Superman editor (and Julius Schwartz's buddy) Mort Weisinger:
His connection with Batman was somewhat tenuous; he did edit World's Finest after the May 1964 purge of Jack Schiff from Batman-related comics and apparently edited Batman during at least part of the Golden Age.

BTW, I should mention that while I have certainly heard the Englehart-Rogers run praised for many years, I never really appreciated it until I read through the entire 1970s Batman catalog.  It is one thing to read The Deadshot Richochet or The Laughing Fish as individual stories, but when reading them in context, this whole run really pops out as significant and highly influential.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Silly Panel Saturday

A 500-mile race in its 30th hour?  What, the racers average less than 16 MPH?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Batman's Weird Transformations: Detective

This is another post that will take time to assemble, and any help my readers can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Batman has now been a character for some 72 years. During that time, he has gone through many phases, as different writers and editors have molded the character into something they felt would entertain their readers. Many times Batman has undergone weird transformations, especially during the period when Jack Schiff's name appeared as editor from about 1959. The purpose of this post is to identify and discuss all of Batman's transformations.

For starters, I will do the Detective issues, then follow with posts on the transformations taking place in World's Finest, and finally in Batman's own title. The first transformation I am aware of takes place in Detective #127:
Issue: Detective #127
Transformation: Batman and Robin are transformed into Pigmies (sic) by a mad scientist.
Affects: Both Batman and Robin
Status: Fake. The scientist created a giant room to make people think they had been shrunk, so they would pay him a fee to become normal-sized again.
Rating: Not rated; fake. Batman's next transformation takes place about a year later:
Issue: Detective #138
Transformation: Batman becomes invisible
Affects: Batman and the Joker
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman becomes invisible by drinking a serum to battle the Joker who has stolen an invisibility serum from a scientist and is using it to commit crimes.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. The concept of Batman changing to battle a crook who had undergone a similar transformation would become a staple of the Silver Age.

The concept of shrinking Batman and Robin apparently proved popular with readers and was dusted off for a return engagement:
Issue: Detective #148
Transformation: Batman and Robin shrunk.
Affects: Batman and Robin and several other characters
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman, Robin and several other characters are reduced greatly in size via a ray by Professor Zero who demands a ransom to restore them to their original size.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. While the story is entertaining, it has two major flaws. First, it is told via a flashback by Batman and Robin, revealing to the reader beforehand that they were returned to their normal size and had defeated Professor Zero. And second, the plot is a recycling of Detective #127.

One of the more obvious differences between Batman and the animals he's named after is that bats have wings. So a few issues later:
Issue: Detective #153.
Transformation: Batman gains wings.
Affects: Batman only
Status: Not a true transformation on two counts. First, the wings in question were mechanical, strapped onto Batman's back. And second, the bulk of the story turned out to be a dream sequence after Batman was knocked unconscious. In fact, Batman never used the wings, which turned out to be flimsy and not ready for primetime.
Rating: Not rated. The concept is cool, and I've always loved that splash page. The only negative is that it didn't actually happen.

The concept of role-reversal is always entertaining:
Issue: Detective #218
Transformation: Batman becomes ten years younger, while Robin becomes ten years older.
Affects: Batman and Robin
Status: True transformation. As indicated by the cover, the change is mental as well as physical, caused by two different canisters of gas which Batman and Robin recover at the end of the story so they can change back.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. I love this story and the transformation makes it cool.

Small Batman, how about an economy-sized Batman?
Issue: Detective #243.
Transformation: Batman becomes a giant.
Affects: Batman only
Status: Genuine transformation. A scientist creates maximizer and minimizer rays. Batman is accidentally hit with the former and grows to 30 feet tall, while a crook makes off with the latter.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. A classic story with art by Dick Sprang.

A couple of years later, Batman briefly gained super-strength:
Issue: Detective #268
Transformation: Batman glows and exhibits super-strength
Affects: Batman only
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman was test-piloting a new jet when he flew through the tail of a comet. Gases in the comet made him glow and caused him to have super-strength. However, doctors warned him that when he stopped glowing, he would die. Fortunately he located a scientist who was able to save him.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. Giving Batman super-powers is not an original idea as we shall see when we analyze his adventures in World's Finest.

At this point, the transformations come more frequently:
Issue: Detective #275
Transformation: Batman resembles a zebra and repels anything that comes near him.
Affects: Batman and the Zebra Man, a crook
Status: Genuine transformation. The Zebra Man invents a machine that grants him magnetic powers; with the aid of a belt, he can either attract things to him, or repel them. Batman is accidentally given the same powers by the machine, but he lacks the belt and can only repel things.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. Something of a dull story, but the ending is pretty good

Issue: Detective #284
Transformation: Batman takes on the appearance of a photographic negative and becomes sensitive to light.
Affects: Batman only
Status: True transformation. A crook has invented a camera that can capture anything photographed by it inside the machine. Batman is only partially affected, giving him the negative appearance.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. I like the look of the negative Batman, but the story is nothing special.

Issue: Detective #290
Transformation: Batman and Robin are given different electrical charges and turn different colors.
Affects: Both Batman and Robin.
Status: True transformation. Batman and Robin are separately hit by rays that give them a positive and negative charge, respectively.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. I like the contrast between the two.

Issue: Detective #292
Transformation: Batman becomes a giant again.
Affects: Batman only.
Status: Genuine transformation, this time caused by gas from the upper atmosphere.
Rating: Two stars, as this is something of a recycling of the much better story from Detective #243. One redeeming factor: The story features a cameo by Superman, helping Batman out by appearing at a dinner as Bruce Wayne, to keep Kathy Kane from being suspicious about Bruce's absence while Batman is a giant.

Issue: Detective #294
Transformation: Batman becomes an element man.
Affects: Batman and another man. Status: True transformation. A scientist is trying to draw the power from another element man, when the machine explodes, giving Batman elemental powers.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. As usual with these types of stories, there is some educational discussion about the different properties of the different elements.

Issue: Detective #301
Transformation: Batman becomes extremely hot and can only breathe methane gas.
Affects: Batman only
Status: True transformation. Batman is affected by high voltage equipment at a synthetic gem lab.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. It's a silly story, but the way Batman continues to fight crime in a flying plastic bubble is entertaining.

Issue: Detective #302
Transformation: Batman and Robin are turned into bronze statues.
Affects: Batman and Robin and several other men
Status: Genuine transformation. A famed sculptor has actually invented a device that turns men into bronze. He uses it to help mobsters hide temporarily while the heat is on, then turns them back into men.
Rating: One giant Batman. By this point, Batman has already been turned into various elements, and the transformation is very brief as Batwoman saves them.

Issue: Detective #308
Transformation: Batman gains the powers of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Affects: Batman and criminal Peter Dale
Status: Genuine transformation, caused by ancient Indian artifacts.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. This is the final Dick Sprang story in Detective, and it's also one of the few transformations that Batman undergoes voluntarily, in order to catch a crook.

Issue: Detective #312
Transformation: Batman gains Clayface's power to alter his body at will.
Affects: Batman and Clayface (Matt Hagen)
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman and Hagen fall into the clay pool that gives the latter his Clayface powers and battle it out as shapeshifters.
Rating: Four giant Batmans. Terrific entertainment. Clayface was one of the few villains in the Schiff era to have any staying power.

Issue: Detective #316
Transformation: Batman creates an energy duplicate of himself
Affects: Batman and Dr. X
Status: Not a true transformation, as Batman himself remains normal and observes the action as his energy duplicate battles Dr Double X.
Rating: Not rated; not a true transformation.

Issue: Detective #320
Transformation: Green skin color
Affects: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson
Status: Genuine transformation. Bruce and Dick are turned green by an alien ray. They wear mummy bandages to prevent people from seeing their green skin.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. Because Bruce and Dick see doctors in their normal identities, the transformation becomes a secret identity story as well.

Issue: Detective #322
Transformation: Batman becomes a genie
Affects: Batman only
Status: Hard as it may seem to believe, this is a genuine transformation. He's sprinkled with a special magical dust, which makes him become a genie in a magic lamp, compelled to grant three wishes to the crooks controlling the lantern.
Rating: One giant Batman. This must be the most ridiculous transformation ever.

That's it for the Schiff era; effective with Detective #327, Julius Schwartz took over editing of the Batman titles. However, that is not the final transformation in Detective; to the best of my knowledge this is:
Issue: Detective #356
Transformation: Robin turns into a coffin
Affects: Robin only (Batman barely misses being transformed)
Status: Genuine transformation. The Outsider had a machine that did the actual transformation.
Rating: One giant Batman. I bought this issue during the height of Batmania and hated the idea of Robin somehow magically being transformed into a coffin.