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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Batman's Girlfriends, 1970s Edition

As the Silver Age ended, Batman/Bruce Wayne found himself once again with a shortage of female companions. In Detective #411, a new woman was added to the cast:
Talia would prove an enduring love interest, and her father an endless nemesis for Batman. In that first story, she saves Batman's life by shooting Dr Daark. In Batman #232, both Robin and Talia are apparently kidnapped, but it turns out to be a test:
In Detective #444, Batman apparently kills Talia:
But it turns out to be a convoluted plot by Ras al Ghul to isolate Batman and force him to marry Talia. The saga of Batman and Talia has taken many twists and turns over the years, and I believe in current continuity they have had a son named Damian, although of course that may change on any given week.

In Batman #470, Bruce met Silver St. Cloud, a platinum-blonde convention planner:
They hit it off almost immediately, but the relationship grew strained because Silver was too smart to be fooled by Batman's mask; she quickly recognized her boyfriend under the cowl: But she cannot live with the uncertainty that he might be killed:
And so she walks out of his life essentially forever (she has returned a few times, but never as a serious love interest). That was it for the most part. In the next part of our series, the 1980s, Bruce Wayne found himself with a much more complicated love life.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brave and Bold #84

As you can see here, when DC advertised this issue in their other mags, they highlighted the impossible nature of this story. "How can this be possible? Batman and Sgt. Rock together!" The answer is that anything's possible in a Bob Haney story. Batman probably teamed up with Abe Lincoln in a non-time travel story by Haney at some point.

Our tale begins with the curator of a museum informing Bruce that a World War II artifact is being claimed by someone with a German accent. As Bruce and his friend inspect the piece, a German confronts them with a luger, pistol-whipping the curator:
The story then flashes back to war-time England. Bruce was in London tracking down saboteurs as Batman and using his Bruce Wayne identity and business interests as a cover. A former classmate of his is killed in a bombing raid shortly after meeting Bruce, and just before dying passes on the information that there's something odd about the wine at a particular chateau in France. So:
Okay, time out here. A little later we learn that it's a couple of days before D-Day, which took place on June 6, 1944. This comic is dated July 1969. So Bruce was an adult in London, 25 years earlier?

Let's be generous to Haney and say that he's 23 when he meets Churchill. That would make him 48 in 1969. Even as a teenager at the time, I knew that was ridiculous. And don't get me wrong; I don't have any problem with Golden Age stories that show Batman fighting Nazis. But surely we can all accept that if he were to fight them today it would either have to be modern Nazis or some sort of time travel story? It wasn't much more credible in 1969 than it is today.

Anyway, back to the story. Bruce catches a lift with Easy Company, which is assigned to blow up a bridge just prior to the invasion. En route they run into a Luftwaffe fighter, but Bruce acts quickly:
Bruce and Rock separate, with the former heading to the Chateau under the guise of being a wine merchant, where he encounters Von Stauffen:
He manages to get a look at the bottle and discovers it's empty of wine; instead there's nerve gas. Von Stauffen, concerned by reports that Americans are in the area, kicks Bruce out and announces that Operation Barbarian must go into action at once. Wagons full of hay (concealing the wine bottles of nerve gas) are pulled towards the front by horses. Bruce tries to convince Rock to blow the bridge now, but he refuses:
Rock sees that the wagons were indeed carrying the gas plus some German artillery. Still, he has to deck Bruce just to set an example for his men. About that time, artillery pieces start dropping from the sky; the invasion has begun and both Rock and Bruce have accomplished their mission.

Flash forward to 1969 again. Can you guess who saves Bruce from Von Stauffen?
Once you get past the obvious problem with Bruce being an adult in World War II, the story itself is not bad, and the artwork by Neal Adams is, as always, superb. Incidentally, the whole bit with something being in the wine bottles appears to have been lifted from the 1946 film Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. In that movie, the stuff in the bottles turns out to have been uranium.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Detective #1

Picked up the new first issue today, which I suppose in a way is a validation of DC's relaunch, as I haven't picked up an issue of Tec in about 8 years. And much as I hate to say it, it doesn't look like I'll be picking up another real soon. As you can see, the cover promises plenty of gore, and at least appears to be a rip-off of an homage to the famous Beatles Yesterday and Today cover. Inside we quickly learn that this Joker is much more like the Heath Ledger version than he is the Crime Clown of the Silver and (most of) the Golden Age.
The blood doesn't start flying until the fourth page, but once it does, we see gallons of it. The Joker kills some man who appears to be wearing a mask made of human flesh; I'm already getting a Silence of the Lambs vibe from this.

The Batman swoops in, too late to save the man but in time to save a little girl who was also in the room. The cops break in as well and seem to be every bit as interested in ventilating Batman as they are capturing the Joker. It appears there's some sort of conflict on this point between Commissioner Gordon and the mayor.

Gordon's already using the Bat-Signal, which seems ridiculously low-tech in this era of disposable cellphones and holographic concealment of the Bat-Cave. We learn that the girl's name is Olivia Carr, and the victim of the Joker's frenzy was her uncle.

She overheard the Joker mention his hiding place, and Batman is off, but arrives after the cops have already burst in on a dummy. A bomb inside kills all the police and stuns Batman, but he recovers in time to catch the Joker on a subway train. The Joker is imprisoned at Arkham. End of story?

Not quite. The Joker has a visitor. It's the father of the man he killed, who is apparently called the Dollmaker. They appear to be in some plot together, and he cuts off the Joker's face.

To be continued....

Sorry, folks but that's quite enough for me.

Update: Re-reading this, one thing strikes me.  When I am describing one of the Golden Age or Silver Age 8-page stories, I would have to spend more paragraphs describing the plot than I did for this tale.  I would be very surprised if the word count per page here is more than 1/2 that of a typical Silver Age book.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Detective #31-32: The Monk

Rather than do my typical analysis of the storyline of this, one of the most famous Batman stories of all time, I thought I'd focus instead on what goes wrong.

What goes right? First and foremost, the cover to Detective #31, which clearly belongs on any Bat-fan's top ten list:

What's new? The Batarang (here spelled Baterang) makes its first appearance, as does Batman's initial mode of aerial transportation: the Bat-Gyro. The story also features the first (two) death-traps for Batman.

What goes wrong? Lots; the story has more potholes than a New York street in late winter. The story starts out with Batman trailing Bruce Wayne's fiancee, Julie Madison as she (zombie-like) stalks a man:

What is she doing? Why is the man frightened of a young, attractive woman? Why is Batman following her? These stories are not really answered by the plot. Batman saves the man and then reacts in surprise when he realizes it's Julie, so apparently he was not trailing her, or at least not aware that it was his girlfriend. Julie comes out of her trance, and Batman takes her home, cautioning her to tell Bruce everything. She does so, and Bruce suggests that she see her doctor who tells her to take a cruise to Paris:

Okay, so the doctor is under the Monk's control as well? And despite obvious suspicions about his queeer behavior, Bruce sends Julie off on a luxury liner. He follows in the Bat-Gyro. briefly terrorizing the city:

That's one of the few times he smiles in the pre-Robin era; when he's panicked the citizenry. When he reaches the liner, he puts the Bat-gyro on autopilot and slips down to the ship, where he sees Julie. But before they can talk, the Monk makes his first appearance:

Batman manages to avoid being hypnotized by throwing the Baterang at the Monk, breaking the spell. But he then retreats back to the Bat-Gyro. Say what?

When the ship docks in Paris, Batman apparently misses Julie in the crowd of disembarking passengers, and thus must spend several nights trying to find her. When he does, he learns that she has a guard:

Are we to assume that she was able to sleep peacefully in a room with a giant ape? Batman ducks the monster, but falls into a net, which is then lowered by the Monk towards a snake pit. But his Baterang hits the lever to stop the downward motion of the net. It continues up and breaks a lightbulb, and Batman uses the broken glass to cut open the netting. Variations on that theme would prove to be a durable method of escaping death traps for Batman in the future.

The Monk escapes, but Batman rescues Julie and flies with her to Hungary, as the first part of the story ends.

In Detective #32, Batman is following a stagecoach. He overcomes the driver and throws a gas pellet into the passenger compartment. But the Monk isn't there; instead he finds a woman. Rather than apologize profusely for the mistake, he takes her back to his hotel and locks her in a room with Julie. Second blunder of the evening:

As you can probably guess, Dala is a vampire and has bitten Julie. Dala makes an offer:

But as they fly towards the Monk's castle, the Bat-Gyro is caught in a net. This time Batman is unable to overcome the vampire's hypnotic powers. The Monk summons Julie to join them; apparently she was within walking distance (never mind that Batman and Dala had to fly there).

The Monk informs Batman that Julie is destined to become a werewolf. Then he turns into a wolf himself and summons a pack, intending to have them kill Batman. Batman uses his gas pellets to kayo the wolves, but is unable to escape from the pit because his rope is too light to carry to a nearby post. Again and again he throws unsuccessfully, stopping every now and then to knock out the wolves with another pellet. Finally, after he runs out of gas, he hits on the bright idea of combining the Baterang with the rope and escapes the pit.

As it is dawn, the vampires are asleep and he does not hesitate:

He shoots the two vampires and flies back home with Julie.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Batman and the Terrorists

With terrorism being atop the news again this week, I thought I'd take a look at Batman's encounter with Islamic radicals in Detective #590 (September 1988).

The story starts out in a Vietnam veterans club in Gotham City, where a couple of uninvited guests start shooting:

Batman learns from Commissioner Gordon that the killers got their guns from Abu Hassan. He tracks the gunmen to the London Embassy of the fictional country of Syraq. He fights with Hassan:

At first Batman responds with a sneer, refusing to take morality lessons from a murderer, but then he hesitates:

And that hesitation almost costs him his life, as one of Hassan's goons sneaks up behind with a garrotte. Batman foils the master plot (a project to blow up Parliament), but afterwards he muses:

There's a pretty easy response to that; our country did not bomb women and children intentionally. And the idea that women and children would be better off under the kind of radical Islamic regime that the terrorists would like to impose is unlikely at best.

But more important, it is inappropriate for Batman in particular to have this kind of morally relative reflection. He must see the world through a black and white prism, because otherwise he would become paralyzed. Can he battle crooks and hoods if he's busy wondering about how their deprived childhoods led them to a life of crime?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Favorite Covers

Chess as a metaphor; it doesn't get much better than this one by Dick Sprang.

I purchased this issue at the NY con in 1971; IIRC it ran me $7. The art by Sprang itself is nothing special, but the effect of the Batman logo cascading down the page lends real drama. It's almost as if the reader is the crook being chased by the Dynamic Duo with the Batman, Batman, Batman resounding from behind.

The stark image of the cowl looming behind the sobbing young man makes this a classic.

Although I am not as enamored of this story as most Batman fans, I do think the cover is superb; easily one of the best in the early Silver Age.

I don't know whose decision it was to reprint this page as a photographic negative, but the effect is absolutely electrifying, especially that last panel.

This issue effectively announced the return of Batman as a creature of the night.