Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Detective 219-224

I thought I'd take a quick look at these issues. The first:

Batman and Robin become suspicious when they spot a couple of underworld characters driving vintage automobiles. They deduce that it must have something to do with an ancient auto society meeting taking place in the Gotham City suburb of Millville. Bruce purchases a 1909 Winton as well as another relic that he and Dick make into an old-style Batmobile. But when they travel to Millville, the Winton is stolen. It turns out that 40 years earlier, a crook who had stolen a bunch of platinum had made it into a gas tank for his automobile. While Bruce's purchase was not the car in question, another Winton that shows up at the race does turn out to be the one with the special gas tank. Batman and Robin foil the attempt to steal it.

Comments: An okay story with passable Moldoff art, but nothing special on either side.

Next up:

This is, without a doubt, one of the finest Batman stories of all time; I'd rate it right up there with the Jungle Cat-Queen and Birth of Batplane II. I wrote a long post at Silver Age Comics on this story, so I won't reiterate what I had to say there. Sadly, to my knowledge, this story has never been reprinted anywhere, although it will probably pop up in the Archives in a few years.

Batman and Robin are ambushed by some crooks, who intend to kill them. The ringleader demands that Robin tell him of four deathtraps that he and Batman have escaped from; if the boss can't figure out he method they used to get free in at least one, he promises to set them free. Of course, when Robin stumps him, he reveals that it was all a plot to learn more about how the Caped Crusader has escaped death traps in the past, so that he can design an escape-proof trap:

Comments: A very cool story, especially considering how important the death trap theme became during the Batman TV show. Interestingly, machine gun shooting over water theme became a key part of a much later Batman story:

Detective #222:

A criminal gang comes up with an interesting swindle. They reveal to a wealthy man that Batman is not actually one person, but a rotating group of four men who periodically must replenish their ranks when one of the Batmen is killed or otherwise incapacitated. Of course, the point is to swindle the man out of large sums of money for their Batmobile and Batplane, which never get delivered. Fortunately Batman and Robin learn of the plot and help the wealthy man break up the gang.

Comments: This is one of the best ideas for a story in the Batman canon. The swindle is credible and interesting, and the resolution of the story quite satisfying. I would not put this story in the "classic" category, but it's only a notch below that lofty perch.

The concept of Batman as a celebrity began to be explored in this issue, and there would be many more examples over the next few years. An entrepreneur gets the idea of creating a museum based on the Bat-Cave, but Commissioner Gordon threatens to shut it down. Meanwhile, a crook is trying to buy Wayne Manor because he knows that there's a big cavern underneath it that he can use as a base of operations. Bruce steps in and buys the museum so that he can move all his trophies there, as the crook now plans on tunneling into the Bat-Cave. Eventually Batman and Robin get the evidence to put the crook behind bars, and convince him simultaneously that the former cavern was flooded by the river that runs through it.

Comments: Batman as a celebrity was a natural outgrowth of the 1950s Batman, who operated openly and in the daylight. The story itself is interesting, although perhaps a little too conveniently for plot purposes, Batman and Robin do nothing to dissuade Commissioner Gordon from shutting down the museum.

In Detective #224, the underworld becomes convinced that Batman is secretly a robot, due to some metal protection he was wearing for plane testing. The Dynamic Duo take advantage of this belief to crack a gang, actually creating a robotic Batman controlled by Robin along the way. The crooks seize the opportunity to steal the Batman robot, but in the end Batman conceals himself inside the steel skeleton and defeats their plot.

Comments: Interesting story, of course inspired by the science fiction craze about robots in the 1950s.

Overall: Two terrific stories (#220 and #222), and no real clunkers in this batch. The Silver Age Batman was not his finest hour, but you would not guess that from these early SA tales.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Robin's Solo Stories

It's a little known, but true, bit of trivia that the character who appeared on the most DC covers in the 1940s was not Batman or Superman, but Robin, the Boy Wonder Batman and Superman appeared on virtually the same number of covers because they both popped up on their eponymous mags, their original mags (Detective and Action) and on every cover of World's Finest. But Robin was on every cover of Detective, Batman and World's Finest, plus a slew of Star Spangled covers.

In the first two stories, the pattern was the same; Alfred observed some object in the Batcave's trophy room and upon inquiring about it, learned that it was a memento of one of Robin's solo cases:

Both those stories featured other youngsters in trouble, a common theme in the Robin adventures for obvious reasons. In the first one, Robin goes undercover into a reform school and learns that a building engineer (apparently a janitor) is tutoring the kids in the ways of adult crime. In the second, he helps out a boy movie star who's secretly a chicken despite apparent bravery in his films.

The third story is a very offbeat tale of three boy wonders: Robin, a child violinist, and a brilliant teen-aged scientist. They are given a test to escape a house that will blow up in 30 minutes, but getting out alive is not easy:

But it turns out it was all to settle an argument on what type of child prodigies to train at a new school for geniuses:

Robin also developed his own "Rogues' Gallery" during this run. Perhaps the most notable was The Clock:

The Clock made at least three appearances in the Robin solo stories, and a different version was later retconned as Batman's first foe (in Detective #265).