Bat Signal

Issue 282 – “Batman’s Interplanetary Rival”

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I’ve written about some weird stories so far on this Bat Signal project. I’ve seen Batman and Robin deal with an evil Box that was killing people, and evil librarian depositing corpses around Gotham because he created an alternative to the Dewey Decimal System, and Batman and Robin use time-traveling hypnosis in order to go back in time and chill with Cleopatra. Comics are weird. Especially in the Golden and Silver Age, when they just threw anything at the wall to see what stuck. But there’s on era of Batman that I haven’t really hit yet, except maybe Issue 250 where that random guy found alien artifacts, and that’s the period in time where Batman was all about science fiction. It makes sense, people were all about space and science in the early 60s. That’s exactly why Hal Jordan and Barry Allen showed up as the new Green Lantern and Flash with more sci-fi origins. That’s why basically all the original Marvel characters’ origins revolved around Stan Lee’s tragic misunderstanding of how radiation works. But DC wasn’t content to just revitalize new characters, or have their flagship character who actually is an alien deal with space and the being who lived there. Batman got in on the action too. Which is silly and ridiculous, because of all the DC characters I feel like Batman is the one who has the least amount of business dealing with space, but I suppose it’s no crazier than time-travelling hypnosis, so who am I to judge?

So here we are, the first time I’ve read a Detective Comics where Batman interacts with an alien. And it’s weird as hell. The issue starts off as so many from this time period do, with Batman and Robin running around the woods outside Gotham, chasing some criminals. But right as they’re about to catch them, a straight up alien just leaps out of the bushes and uses some ray gun to catch them. Batman and Robin are shockingly cool with their sudden meeting with an alien, other than Robin’s exclamation “G-Golly! That man, he’s an alien!” Which struck me as strange at first, but I suppose Superman is an alien, so I guess they’ve gotten the shock at extraterrestrial life out of their system by now. The alien then introduces himself as Tal-Dar, who is essentially a cop from another planet. He’s been keeping tabs on Earth, and has come to invite Batman to some sort of interplanetary crime-fighting league. Just as soon as Earth master space-travel. And until that time, he’s just going to hang out and teach Batman how to be a better crime-fighter, which Batman thinks is ludicrous, since he’s obviously the best. So they take Tal-Dar into Gotham and he tags along on some missions, while two things quickly become clear. First, the people of Gotham are super cool with having an alien in their midst and barely react to his presence, and second, Tal-Dar is a terrible crime-fighter.

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Tal-Dar keeps using his little ray gun to make up for his massive lack of talent, and the public is eating it up, all while Batman and Robin are getting increasingly fed up with their alien guest’s arrogance. And matters aren’t helped by the fact that he’s flaunting the power of his little gun, giving some criminals the idea to kidnap him and steal it. Which they easily manage, by blinding him with a bright flashbulb trying to take his picture, and just shoving him in the trunk of a car. Batman and Robin chase after the alien and make their way to the gangster’s hideout, easily taking them down and getting the ray gun back. And it’s at this point that Tal-Dar flat out admits that he lied about his reasons for being here, and he actually came to Earth to learn how to be a good crime-fighter from Batman, because everyone on his home planet of Alcor trust him, and he’s obviously worthless. And he came to Earth because Batman is apparently known to be the best crime fighter in the entire galaxy.

And it’s at this point that the plot gets even weirder, because as they’re having a little heart-to-heart on Tal-Dar’s spaceship, he gets a call from his Commissioner Gordon with new that an infamous villain named Zan-Rak has stolen some sort of magical artifact that the people of his planet covet. So he’s got to race back home and help out, and wouldn’t you know, Batman and Robin offer to tag along. So they zip across the galaxy to Alcor, and get debriefed by alien Gordon, learning about the theft of the Star-Stone, which radiates some kind of energy that can heal any health malady, and which the people of Alcor depend on. So Tal-Dar, Batman, and Robin get some jetpacks and go racing off to Zan-Rak’s secret base. And along the way poor little Robin gets trapped in a “Space Spider’s” web.

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Yep. Giant space spiders. Sure, why not? Well they get out of that mess pretty easily, and then basically pull a Trojan Spider and fly atop the thing into Zan-Rak’s base, more or less unnoticed. So they crash into Zan-Rak’s base, and Batman drops a crazy bombshell. He apparently has something called “Radji Disease,” which is a common and super fatal disorder people on Alcor get, and that can only be cured by the Star-Stone. So Batman’s going to be out of the game now, and it’s all up to Robin and Tal-Dar. Well, Batman’s screwed. But they might as well give it a shot. So the three pile up into a giant flower and sail down a little river that runs right into Zan-Rak’s base. Along the way they fight the giant “cave eel” from the cover of the comic, which Batman quickly bests with a lighter. But after that he’s spent, and it’s up to the other two to save the day.

So Batman sits back on the flower and Robin and Tal-Dar go about storming the castle, using Tal-Dar’s strategy. And it goes pretty well. They get into the castle and start beating up the goons, getting closer and closer to the Star-Stone and the final show-down with Zan-Rak. And in the end, Tal-Dar manages to get into the room where the Star-Stone is being held, and he has his climactic battle with Zan-Rak, managing to free the Star-Stone from the device they’ve used to cage it. That is until Zan-Rak pulls a gun and is about to shoot Tal-Dar point blank. At which point Batman comes flying out of nowhere and does a crazy double-knee kick to Zan-Rak’s back, knocking him out. Turns out he was faking his crazy space illness, and it was all an elaborate ruse to show Tal-Dar that the true crime-fighter was inside all along. So Tal-Dar drops them off back on Earth, seemingly nowhere near Gotham City, and everyone lives happily ever after.

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This was a weird one folks. It was my first real forray into the world of “Space Batman,” and I’m not sure if I’m really a fan of that subgenre. There were some silly moments that I really liked, but over all it just fell a little flat for me. The central premise, of a goofy alien showing up and making Batman teach him how to be a hero was pretty funny, and I really loved how blase everyone was about the existence of aliens and their trip to a new life-sustaining planet just to solve a crime. But it just didn’t work for me. Tal-Dar was super boring. I kind of liked him on Earth, when he was a pompous ass accidentally getting press in Gotham, but when it turned out to be an act, and he just became this neurotic little mess second-guessing everything he does he got a lot less interesting. Who knows, maybe as the series goes on and I end up finding more crazy sci-fi stories I’ll learn to love them, but this one really didn’t do much for me.

“Batman’s Interplanetary Rival” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, 1960.

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