Bat Signal

Issue 167 – “Bodyguards to Cleopatra”

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Fool me once Batman! Last week I happened to get an issue that’s cover had Batman and Robin punching pirates, and did I get pirates in that issue? No! And now look what we get, Batman and Robin punching ancient Egyptians for the amusement of Cleopatra. And if I didn’t get to see Batman and Robin punch pirates, am I really going to get to see them beat up some Egyptians. Yes! That actually happens in this issue! I got burned last week by a misleading cover, but this week if anything it’s underselling how goofy the story actually is. I’ll never understand the people who are obsessed with grim and gritty Batman and talk about how awesome it is when he’s mean and borderline psychotic, when there’s an amazingly goofy Batman right here to love. I’ll take time-travelling Cleopatra-befriending Batman every time people.

So how does a story with Batman and Robin punching some Egyptians start? Well with Bruce Wayne and his trusty ward Dick Grayson unveiling a newly discovered frieze of course. And wouldn’t you know it, when they unveil it to the public, without looking at it first apparently, everyone is shocked to find that there appears to be a Bat Signal coming out of one of the pyramids in the frieze. Everyone is a little weirded out by that, especially Vicki Vale, who is apparently trying to bust Bruce and Dick as being Batman and Robin, and seems to think that this ancient Egyptian artifact proves the point. So Bruce and Dick do the only logical thing, and go see their neighborhood hypnotist to send the back in time to when that frieze was made so they can get to the bottom of things. You know, like hypnotists do? But for reasons I don’t exactly understand, it totally works and Bruce and Dick are transported back to ancient Egypt, where they’re immediately enslaved and forced to build pyramids.  But they quickly decide that being slaves is no fun, and after a bizarrely thorough explanation for how pyramids were built they change into their crime-fighting costumes, and get sleuthing.

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They start swimming around the Nile, looking for clues, and end up coming across Cleopatra’s barge while accidentally averting an assassination attempt on her. So their praised by a doppelganger of Commissioner Gordon, who is Cleopatra’s head of the guards, and brought before the queen herself. She thanks the two crime-fighters, and Batman explains that they’re visitors from a far off land, and have hideous plague scars all over their faces, and that’s why they can’t take off their masks. Smooth. But it works and Cleopatra ends up making them deputies in her royal police. And Egyptian Commissioner Gordon immediately gives them a case, because apparently someone keeps trying to kill Cleopatra, and he need their help. He’s narrowed it down to three different people, and after giving them his lucky scarab artifact Batman and Robin go off to investigate them!

The two start wandering the desert, and end up coming across the Great Sphinx, where they think they figure out the mystery of that Bat Signal, but it turns out to just be a bat’s shadow reflected by the moon, because that’s how that works. And the next day they’re hanging out with Cleopatra, and looking into her royal scribe, who is one of the suspect, when a box shows up for the queen. And lucky for us this box is way more interesting that The Box from a couple articles ago, and it contains a poisonous snake, ready to strike her. But Batman knew not to trust boxes, and was able to avoid it, while also coming across a note written on the same papyrus that the scribe uses. So he’s arrested, but Batman straight up compares their hieroglyphics like he’s doing a handwriting analysis and clears the guy immediately. So we’re no close to finding the killer.

But things start falling into place when Batman and Robin accompany Cleopatra and her entourage through the jungle, along with the other two shady guys that they suspect. And when a leopard comes charging out of the jungle straight for Cleopatra, Batman is able to subdue it, and ends up getting a proposal from Cleopatra to become her king. But instead of taking her up on that generous offer, Batman just awkwardly leaves and figures out that the leopard was another assassination attempt, and is able to find a fingerprint on the cage the thing we being held in. So now it’s time for more CSI: Giza as Batman comes up with a convoluted plan to get the last two suspect to hold warm candles in order to get good fingerprints from them so he can compare. But things get messed up, and the candle plot doesn’t work, so they only have one more option.

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The Dynamic Duo then steal Cleopatra’s chariot, and race out to the pyramid they helped build. And wouldn’t you know it, the assassin follows them, assuming he’s following Cleopatra. But when the assassin gets to the pyramid, he recognizes Batman’s shoe prints, and just seals them in the pyramid rather than deal with them. Batman and Robin start to panic, especially when they realize that their weird hypnosis/time travel is starting to wear off. So using some more pseudo-science Batman is able to amplify the shadow of the lucky scarab Egyptian Commissioner Gordon gave him, thus creating the mysterious Bat Signal they saw on the frieze while also warning him that they need help and that they caught the assassin. But that doesn’t really pay off, because they immediately wake up from their hypnosis, decide that it wasn’t actually a Bat Signal but was actually the scarab, and just decide to never talk about this again.

What a goofy-ass story. Now, as usual for these older Detective Comics issues we had some back ups, and they were all pretty terrible. We had that same weird detectives working for a TV show who were trying to find the secret to immortality, some adventures of Robotman, who I think is the same character from the Doom Patrol, and a character named Pow Wow Smith, Indian Law-Man! Which the less said about the better. But who cares about that stuff because we straight up saw Batman and Robin solve crimes in ancient Egypt through the help of time-traveling hypnosis! What the hell?! There was so much to love about this issue, least of all the fact that they actually did some goddamn detective work. It was great to see Batman use handwriting analysis and fingerprinting in ancient Egypt, all while blowing the mind of Egyptian Commissioner Gordon. Plus we got to see Batman catch a leopard and woo Cleopatra, which is pretty great. Yeah, the time travelling hypnosis was weird, and barely explained at all, but who cares, we got to see Batman and Robin building a pyramid! And I especially love that they did all of it just to prove Vicki Vale wrong, that they’re aren’t Batman and Robin, and then never even follow up with her! That whole thing was so bonkers, because how on Earth does it make sense that Bruce Wayne owns an ancient Egyptian frieze that has a Bat Signal, so that logically means he is Batman? But the best part is that she’s right! It doesn’t even make sense, but she’s right! He totally is Batman, and he totally went back in time to create a Bat Signal. I said this at the top, but I’m going to say it again, who needs angry gritty Batman when you have time-travelling Egyptian crime-solving Batman? There’s really no contest there. At least for me.

“Bodyguards of Cleopatra” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang, 1951.

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