Bat Signal

Issue 224 – “The Batman Machine”

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Ah, another week, another bonkers 50’s Detective Comics story. I just adore how completely strange and off the wall the stories from the transitional period between the Golden Age and the Silver Age were. It’s also hilarious that the basic premise of this comic is kind of what just finished up happening in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman run. It’s not the exact same plot, which was Bruce Wayne seemingly dying and Commissioner Gordon replacing him as Batman through the use of a robotic mech suit, but there were enough similarities to make me giggle throughout. Plus the idea of Batman creating a mechanical doppelganger to more or less troll some penny-ante crooks is pretty great. So let’s see Batman create a functional mechanical man, while everyone does everything in their power to refuse calling it a robot.

The story starts off in a really weird place, with some random crooks getting ready to take a captive and oddly passive Batman’s mask off, leading to them being shocked at the result. But before learning what it is they saw, we cut back a couple days, making most of the issue a flashback for no reason. We see that Batman and Robin are getting ready to test some new Batplane. They zip around the Gotham countryside, before flying past an “explosives factory.” And wouldn’t you know it, some crooks are robbing the factory blind. So Batman and Robin put down their plane, and spring into action. They chase the crooks away from the factory, and Batman even ends up jumping on their getaway car, clinging on for dear life. But one of the crooks is able to bash Batman’s arm with a wrench, getting him to fall off the car. But much to the crooks surprise, when he struck Batman’s arm, he heard a metallic clang, and ripped some of Batman’s costume, revealing a metal arm beneath. Which is a little weird. But the crooks keep speeding away, while Batman and Robin hop back in their plane and give chase. That is until the crooks blow up a random train track, and Batman and Robin have no choice but to stop the chase and make sure innocent trains don’t get derailed.

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So while Batman and Robin deal with commuter issues, the crooks are driving off, happy that they managed to steal some explosives, but a little put off by the whole metal arm thing. They start trading tall tales, basically coming to the conclusion that the real Batman must have died, and been replaced with an unkillable robot version. This is also the only time that anyway says the word robot in the comic, and insist on the clunkier “machine” throughout. But what started as a strange idea starts to gain some credence when one of the crooks mentions that they recently saw Batman bound and gagged and tossed in the back of an armored car, which was then pushed into the river. And no one saw him escape. So logically, that must mean Batman died, and was replaced by a robot. No question about it. And these random dudes just uncovered the vast conspiracy!

Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are hanging out in the Batcave, getting undressed and revealing that they were both wearing some sort of crazy metal suits of armor because it would help with the altitude achieved in the plane. So that explains the arm I guess. They chat about how weird that explosives theft was, while Robin remembers that there’s been a whole string of explosive thefts lately, which should really be raising a red flag. So they drive off to meet with Commissioner Gordon to talk about the theft, and also dish some gossip. Turns out those crooks have been telling their story like crazy, and now even Commissioner Gordon has heard that Batman is probably a robot being controlled by Robin, because the real Batman died. Batman explains that that’s ridiculous, and even tells Gordon about how he survived that armored car, basically by the back creating a diving bell and giving him enough oxygen to untie himself. And by the end of the conversation Gordon says that he believes him, but when Batman leaves he basically says “that’s exactly what a robot Batman would say!” So Batman and Robin head back to the Batcave, again, and decide to use this ridiculous rumor to their advantage. And they do so by creating their own goddamn remote-controlled robotic Batman replica.

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So that was easy. And now that they have a creepy Batmautomaton, the next stage of their prank is at hand. I mean plan. This is a serious plan. They head out into the streets of Gotham, having Robin control the awkward Batman robot while the real Batman hides in the shadows. And since they’re doing it in broad daylight, everyone can see, and it just solidifies the rumor that Batman’s a crazy robot. Which comes to a head when the goons corner Robin and the robot in a construction field, and knock him out, stealing the robot. They toss it, and the remote, into a trunk and speed off, content in the knowledge that they now have their own fancy robot.

But it’s a trick! Because Batman and Robin stashed some sort of tracking device in the robot, so are able to track it to the explosive thief’s hideout. That is until they actually get inside the building, and the signal is lost, leaving the Dynamic Duo screwed with no way to track it. Good work guys. But the next night the signal comes back when they take their new robot out for a test drive. They take it to a place where a new bridge is being constructed, and use it to break into a warehouse where all the bridge explosives are kept. And the real Batman uses that chance to run into the warehouse and wrestle the robot. And at this point, I assumed that Batman was going to destroy the robot, and take it’s place with the crooks. And while that’s technically what happens, they get there in such a ridiculous way.

After the warehouse fight, one of the Batmen leaves and heads back to the secret base, which is on a boat. Because it turns out their insane plan is to pack a ship full of explosives, have it sail down the Gotham River, and explode when it reaches the financial district, leaving all of the bank vaults…open? Sure, why not. But as they’re explaining this plan…to the robot…they’re stunned when it starts speaking, telling them it’s going to bring them to justice. They freak out, realizing that this has all been an elaborate trap, and freak out even more when the Batman robot starts brandishing explosives, threatening to blow them all up. And it’s at this point that the real Batman pops out of the back of the robot. Because he was wearing it like a suit! Instead of just impersonating it! I guess I can’t mock him, he gets results. And after that shocking reveal the crooks apparently just give up, and Batman arrests them, before bringing his crazy robot back to the Batcave to live in the hall of trophies.

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What a silly, stupid issue. When I first started this series I was kind of surprised to find that there were so many issues that featured random nameless thugs as the principal antagonists. It doesn’t always work, but there’s something charming and a little funny about the issues that don’t feature any supervillains. Because I can’t help but wonder what other kinds of ridiculous crime where being committed in the hours that Batman and Robin created a fully-functioning robot for the specific purpose of messing with some crooks. I just kind of love that. It’s not as good as Bruce Wayne spending who knows how much money to buy two vintage cars to participate in a crazy antique car-race, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s also wonderful that the criminals of Gotham are such a gossipy bunch, and quickly spread the rumor that Batman is some sort of crazy robot controlled by Robin, to the point that even Commissioner Gordon has heard it. But I guess if you’re a crook in a town where a crazy guy dresses like a bat and beats you up, it’s going to be a frequent topic of conversation at your crime brunches.

“The Batman Machine” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang, 1955.

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