Bat Signal

Issue 347 – “The Strange Death of Batman!”

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Oh man everybody. Do I have a crazy-ass story for you this week. I mean, just like that issue about The Box I’m being told that I shouldn’t tell anyone about the crazy twist to this issue, but I guess I’m going to have to incur the wrath of Robin and reveal everything. That’s kind of how this thing works. But trust me, as crazy as you imagine a Silver Age Batman story that claims to be about the death of Batman is, and Robin swearing brutal revenge, it’s not as weird as you’re picturing. It’s honestly kind of fascinating, and unlike any issue I’ve discussed on the site before. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I have a lot to talk about on this one, so let’s just get on with it, and talk about how Batman died, and what Robin did to get his brutal revenge.

The issue starts off with yet another warning that I shouldn’t reveal the ending of this issue to my friends, or else they’ll hate me and hurt me. And once that’s accomplished we cut to the bustling streets of Gotham, where a man is carrying a briefcase full of diamonds in broad daylight, just asking to be robbed in some overly elaborate way. Which is exactly what happens when some crazy new villain comes plummeting from the top of a skyscraper directly toward the man. But his robbery plan wasn’t all based around suicide, it turns out that the man can bounce like a rubber ball, and when he strikes the ground next to the man with the diamonds he briefly flattens  and then springs up, grabbing the man, and bouncing up to the rooftops to steal the briefcase from him. And once that’s accomplished the man, called the Bouncer, bounces off to keep committing crimes and incurring the wrath of Batman and Robin.

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So the Dynamic Duo is on the case, and they begin hunting after the Bouncer, narrowly missing him each and every night as his crime spree begins getting out of hand. And one night when they finally corner the man, they do their best to take him down…and prove unable. They try to beat the Bouncer up on some docks, and every time they punch him he just bounces away and is able to bounce back at them and beat them up. And after beating them up a bit, he bounces away and they go back to the Batcave to lick their wounds and assess what’s going on. Batman and Robin talk physics for a while, trying to wrap their mind around the Bouncer and his weird abilities while we get a peak at his actual origin. Turns out the Bouncer was a metallurgist who created an alloy out of rubber, steel, and chrome, called it Elastalloy, and made a suit out of it to commit crimes with.

Batman and Robin then stalk around the city, trying to find Bouncer again, and end up finding him breaking into a museum. The spring into action and run in, set up some gadgets, and begin fighting with the Bouncer. Things go roughly the same as they did last time, until Batman fires an electrified net at the Bouncer to stop him. It works briefly, but Bouncer gets out and escapes yet again. But it wasn’t a complete wash, because Batman was able to record Bouncer of a “Spectrographic” camera that can analyze what his suit it made of. So the duo head back to the Batcave, find that they can destroy the elasticity of his suit with extreme cold, and devise a plan to stop the villain.

They find him committing a crime and surround him, trying to intimidate him. Bouncer is unnerved at first by Robin moving behind him, and holds a gun on him, until Batman explains that Robin will not do anything shady, and should be allowed to be behind him. Bouncer is cool with that, since he has a plan where he’ll throw his Elastalloy gun at the wall and have it fire a bullet into Batman, and lets Robin stand behind him. Which turns out to be a bad call, because Batman has devised some sort of gadget that can freeze the Bouncer if he’s in between Batman and Robin. So they do that, break the Bouncer’s gun, and arrest him.

Wait, what? Batman didn’t die! False advertising! Oh, it’s not over, well, let’s see where this goes…

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Yep! The issue just shattered the fourth-wall and has brought us to the office of Gardner Fox, author of the issue we’ve been reading. Fox sits back, proud of the issue that he just wrote, and gets ready to relax after a job well done. And he does that by going to a different room, lays down on a couch, and begins thinking about “what if?” stories. He explains to us that sometiems after he’s written a story he thinks about alternate realities where things would have gone differently. And this time he thinks about what would happen if the Bouncer had realized what was happening with the freezing device.

So we’re brought back into the issue, at the moment of Batman and Robin’s climactic showdown, but this time the Bouncer starts to notice that his temperature is dropping, apparently because he has some weird medical condition where he can hear his heartbeat slowing. Bouncer realizes what’s going on, and throws his gun earlier than planned, before its elasticity was damaged, and shoots Batman in the back, killing him. Bouncer then bounces away, taunting Robin that the next time they cross paths, he’ll kill him too.

Robin is obviously crushed, as are the people of Gotham. There was a newspaper photographer at the battle, and he took a photo of Batman’s corpse, showing the world that the Caped Crusader has fallen. And after an impromptu wake with the Justice League, Robin decides that he’s going to devote his life to defeating the Bouncer, and getting vengeance for Bruce. So Robin heads back to the Batcave and devises a new gadget that will cause “elastic fatigue” in the Elastalloy, negating it’s ability. He straps the device to the Batmobile and drives after the Bouncer, ruining his suit. The Bouncer doesn’t know what’s going on, and still attacks Robin, only to have his suit shatter when Robin punches the hell out of him. So, even in this reality, Bouncer has been taken down. He’s arrested and Robin returns to the Batcave, depressed. But apparenlty even in an issue where we get a possible death of Bruce Wayne, we get a happy ending. Because as Robin is hanging out in the Bat Cave, depressed, he suddenly hears Bruce’s voice. He searches the Bat Cave and ends up finding Bruce. Well, Earth-Two Bruce. Turns out this version of Bruce was watching him, saw that Earth-One Batman had died, and has decided to come live in this reality to be with Robin. Oh, and he brought Earth-Two Alfred, since Earth-One Alfred had died recently! So everything’s fixed! Even though it was a hypothetical story that didn’t have to end happily!

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Guys, this issue was a hoot. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled an issue with that cover,  I guess I just assumed it would be some fake-out. And I suppose that is what we got, but I was not anticipating the way they did the fake-out. It was pretty confusing when the issue just seemed to end half-way through with them defeating the ludicrous Bouncer, but I was not expecting us to check in on Gardner Fox and have him explain what’s going on. That’s just insane. I’ve been reading an old Marvel series, the Sensational She-Hulk lately, whose whole gimmick is that She-Hulk knows she’s in a comic and can interact with the writers and artists, and this was really fun and similar. Sadly Batman didn’t get to yell at Gardner Fox, but any time we suddenly get to meet the creative team is going to be fun. Plus, we totally just got a “What If?” issue. They even called it “What If?” Marvel just straight up stole that concept! Which is kind of par for the course, and in true Marvel fashion they stole something from DC and made it better, so I give it a pass. Although I still have no idea why they needed to end the “What If?” version  with the insane Wayne’s World super happy ending. I’m not familiar enough with DC’s multiverse history, so I have to assume this wasn’t an early use of Earth-Two, but it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. This issue was so damn weird, but I kind of loved it. Especially after things went way off the deep-end.

“The Strange Death of Batman!” was written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Carmine Infantino, 1966.

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