Bat Signal

Issue 308 – “The Flame Master”

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What’s this? A Bat Signal post on Saturday? Yep! I’ve decided to change things around here on the site, since I realized that more often than not I end up seeing new movies on Saturday, and then have to double-post on Sunday. So Bat Signal will now be a Saturday thing, and Sunday’s will be saved for movie reviews, Marvel Madness, Page Turners, and other stuff like that. But that’s enough house-keeping, let’s get into this crazy-ass issue of Detective Comics! And folks, it’s a weird one. It’s kind of hard to judge, but I would say that this may be the strangest issue I’ve come across. And I’ve seen Batman and Robin fight Space Ants. I mean, just look at that cover. We have Batman and some crook beating each other up, while on fire, and some random guy is just kind of non-nonchalantly talking to Robin about how crazy this is. So let’s get to it, and dive on into this insane issue!

Things start off like so many issues from this time-period do, with Batman and Robin driving around in some sort of rural setting outside Gotham City. They’re going to apprehend some criminal named Pete Dale who is hiding out as a trapeze artist. So the Dynamic Duo run into the circus he’s working at, and they begin having a high-speed chase where Batman and Robin are in the Batmobile, and Dale is using a chariot. And somehow, against logic, Dale is able to allude them, and end up hiding in an “Old Indian Puelbo” while a rainstorm kicks up. Because Batman and Robin were unable to drive in a rainstorm? Whatever, when the weather gets better they get to the Pueblo only to find Dale strolling outside, and catching on fire. But the weird thing is that he doesn’t seem to mind it, and even starts referring to himself as Flame Master. And before Batman and Robin can inquire just what the hell is going on, Dale launches himself away from the Pueblo like a meteor, and heads to a nearby film-set that’s making a Western movie. So Batman and Robin run down to the fake Western town, only to find that Dale can not only create fire, but control it to the point that he creates flaming animals to defend himself with.

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Okay, that’s pretty awesome. But what’s not awesome is what happens when Robin decides to quench the flames by spraying Dale with water from a prop fire-engine. Because apparently Dale isn’t just a Flame Master, he’s actually a master of the four elements, and when the water hits him he becomes a ridiculous looking water spirit, which takes the form of a bunch of bubbles. Basically, Dale can turn into each of the four elements, if they touch him. He doesn’t really have any control over the transformations, but once he’s in a new form he gets really powerful. So Bubble Boy hops in a nearby stream, and escapes Batman and Robin. But they’re giving up that easily, and hop in a canoe to give chase. Unfortunately the water form doesn’t last long, and Dale takes on his next form, earth, shortly after. He becomes a weird rock golem, and is able to cause earthquakes to keep the superheroes away from him, even knocking over a silo to try and crush them. And the air caused by the falling silo gives Dale his final power, wind, and he’s able to turn himself into a living tornado. And with this power at his disposal, Dale flies away from Batman and Robin to go cause havoc in Gotham City.

So yeah, things aren’t going that great for Batman and Robin. They’re losing pretty handily against this ridiculous elemental, and have no real way to stop him. So while Dale is busy rounding up some thugs in Gotham to help him with a crime-spree, while scaring away pedestrians who have somehow already learned about his powers, Batman and Robin decide to do some sleuthing. So they go to the Pueblo that Dale got his powers in, and start looking around. They find the chamber that Dale was in, and notice some hieroglyphics symbolizing the four elements. Which Batman obviously can recognize. And not only that, they find some artifacts belonging to a Medicine Man. There’s a glass orb, a shattered glass orb, and a necklace with an amber-encased ant. Batman looks at these things, and figures out exactly what’s going on, and how to stop it.

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And while Batman and Robin are messing around with priceless artifacts, Dale is in Gotham really leaning into being a supervillain. Because where else but Gotham City would you proudly walk up to a police station, and write a long message about your impending bank robbery on the wall, with your fire powers, in cursive? It’s a hell of a city. Anyway, Dale and his goons show up at a bank the next day, and he uses his earth powers to create an earthquake to crack the bank open. But right as Dale and his men start walking into the broken bank, the Batmobile comes tearing up, and Batman gets out, in a rocky form. That’s right, Batman’s decided to fight fire with fire, and has become some weird elemental chameleon as well! To the two run at each other and begin fighting like crazy.

Obviously the two are going to change forms a whole lot during the fight, and different elements just keep hitting them and transforming them. First they’re in their earth forms, then that impact gives them the cyclone bodies, where they have a crazy tornado fight. But tornado fights are too cool, so they happen upon a broken fire hydrant, and become ridiculous little bubble people. Sadly that doesn’t last long though, because Robin springs into action and tosses a torch at Batman, letting him become a Flame Master as well. So the two men each become fire monsters, and start beating each other up, replicating the cover. However, this was all part of the plan, and as the two men are fighting, Robin pulls out some little contraption that pours sand over them. And instead of just extinguishing the flames, it somehow encases them in glass, which causes the flames to smother. This confusingly doesn’t cause Batman and Dale to suffocate, so they’re able to break out of their glass cage, and find that their powers are gone. Apparently that ant encased in amber gave Batman a clue that these weird Indian powers can be nullified by being encased in something. Sure, whatever. Batman punches the hell out of Dale, arrests him, and starts making speeches about the power of justice being better than the power of the elements, and the issue rolls to a stop.

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Okay listen. This isn’t a very good issue. It’s really similar to a lot of the ones from this era that I’ve read, especially that terrible “Batman’s Super-Enemy” one I got early on. It’s basically just Batman and Robin chasing around some random thug who has accidentally gotten super powers, and then besting him with some deus ex machina trick at the end. But despite that, I had a hell of a time with this issue. It’s really stupid, but it was a fun kind of stupid. Seeing Batman and Robin fight some idiot trapeze artist who accidentally gets magical powers from some sort of Indian witchcraft was a lot of fun. The different elemental forms were pretty cool, and I love that Batman just decides to take a gamble and make himself a super-powered monster based solely on a hunch that he knows how to fix it. But of course he’s right, he’s the goddamn Batman. There’s not really much detective work, and that ending with the glass cage doesn’t really make much sense at all, but hey, it was a stupid and fun little Batman story, and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

“The Flame Master” doesn’t seem to have an author listen, but it was penciled by Dick Sprang, 1962.

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