Bat Signal

Issue 314 – “Murder in Movieland”

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Howdy everybody and welcome back to Bat Signal, my continuing effort to read random comics from Batman’s 77 year history. And I’ve got a fun one for us today. I was a little concerned that my random number generator wasn’t going to be kind this week and give me something bleak from the 80’s or something, but instead the gods of Batman have graced us and given us a goofy, fun, and complex little mystery from the Silver Age. And let me tell you folks, it’s a wild ride. I mean, look at the cover. I know that comics from the Golden and Silver Ages can be a little misleading, and often feature an image that ends up having absolutely nothing to do with the story inside. But that’s not what we’re getting this week. We legitimately have Batman and Robin fight a mysterious villain in a mechanized Moby Dick. And it’s great. So without further ado let’s dive on in and figure out who the murderer of Movieland is. And buckle up, because it’s complicated.

The issue begins with Batman and Robin being called to the office of Commissioner Gordon who has a case fro the Dynamic Duo. A studio head at Monarch Pictures, Henry Austin, has received a letter claiming to be from renowned actor Roger Carlyle that claims he’s going to kill Austin. And it’s not just going to be a normal murder, it’s going to be themed after one of his famous film roles. Roger Carlyle has recently been involved in a traumatic car accident that, according to rumor, has seriously messed with his mental faculties, which is causing Monarch Pictures to drop him. And, as we’ve learned in Gotham, if people get fired they typically respond by becoming crazy supervillains, so Carlyle appears to have promised to kill Austin and the other two heads of the studio, Bates and Harmon. And since Batman has a thing against murder, he and Robin are on the case. And their first stop is to check on Austin in his mansion. Unfortunately it turns out Austin had just gotten a call from Mr. Harmon to meet him at the studio. So Batman and Robin head to the studio, and end up coming across the set of a Phantom of the Opera  adaptation that Carlyle had appeared in, where he’s killed Austin by dropping a chandelier on him.

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Batman has Robin go check on Austin while he chases after Carlyle, who is wearing some crazy get-up with a mask and a cape. Batman chases Carlyle through the studio, running across several different sets, including a rocket ship and a Viking longboat. And while on the longboat Carlyle is able to cut the sail and drop in on Batman, providing him a distraction that he uses to escape. Robin is able to find Batman and help him, informing him that Austin is in fact dead, and that they’ve failed. So the two head out to figure out what their next step is. And Batman has decided to complicate matters by suggesting that Carlyle isn’t the actual killer, and that it may be Mr. Harmon, since it was a call from him that lured Austin to the studio. And because they figure Harmon may be the killer, they decide to find the other studio head, Bates.

Batman and Robin head out to find Bates at his mansion, and are surprised to find Harmon walking up to the premises. Harmon tells them that he got a letter from Carlyle promising to kill him, and he came to see if Bates got one too. Batman checks the letters, and notices that the signatures from Carlyle are exactly the same, which he finds as a little odd, but they ignore it for now and go into Bates’ mansion. It turns out Bates isn’t there, and Harmon tells them that he has another home on a nearby island, and sometimes sails his boat out there. So Batman and Robin tell Harmon to go to the studio and wait for them while they head to the docks, get out an inflatable Bat-Boat, and sail out to the island, where they see Bates’ boat. Unfortunately they also see the killer approaching the boat in a goddamn mechanical Moby Dick submarine. They then see the Moby Dick destroy Bate’s boat, seemingly killing him. So Batman does what anyone would do in the situation and starts straight up harpooning the damn thing.

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Batman begin fighting the giant whale as the killer heads down into the belly of the beast, sealing the way behind him. But that’s not going to stop Batman, who gets atop the thing and just starts stabbing the hell out of it with the harpoon until he shorts out some circuit and unlocks the latch. However, when they get inside the ship, they find that it had a secondary hatch that the killer escaped through while Batman was busy stabbing it. So the cut their loses and go to the studio to meet Harmon. And when they get there they find that the killer has beaten them, and has kidnapped Harmon and stuck him on a working locomotive that’s set go off a cliff.

So Batman and Robin race after the train in the Batmobile, passing the killer who is getting away on a horse, and work on saving Harmon. Which they do at the last second. They save Harmon and tell him to go home and hide since the killer thinks he’s succeeded. Oh, and they also find the hat from the killer, which provides some interesting clues. It’s Carlyle’s size, but had a lot of padding in it, which Batman decides is evidence enough that Carlyle isn’t actually the killer. Plus there was that signature thing that bothered Batman. So they think for a while, and realize that they never found Bates’ body. This is proof enough for Batman, and they head to Bate’s mansion again to search it. And wouldn’t you know, they find Carlyle tied up in a locked room. They free the actor, find that there’s nothing in the room other than a needle and thread, and tell him that Harmon survived and that he should head out to stay safe.

A little later though we’re in Harmon’s mansion, where he’s waiting by an open window, which doesn’t seem that smart. Especially when the killer shows up in the window, ready to finish off the last victim. But the killer isn’t that lucky, because it turns out that wasn’t Harmon, it was Batman in a Harmon costume, and he beats the hell out of the killer. Robin then pops out from his hiding place, and they pull the mask off of the killer, revealing to actually be Carlyle. Apparently this was all an elaborate trick where he faked a mental disorder, killed Bates and Austin, had a fake hat to drop for Batman to find, then locked himself in that room using the thread and needle to slip the key out of the room, and then fake his own kidnapping. Elaborate! But no crime is too elaborate for Batman. He’s the World’s Greatest Detective!

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I really enjoyed myself with this issue. It’s been a pretty crappy week in the real world, so I was very happy to have a momentary distraction by dipping into some crazy Silver Age nonsense and enjoy a good mystery. I know I talk about this all the damn time on here, but I just prefer it when Detective Comics has some, you know, detection in it. And this has been one of the better mysteries that I’ve encountered on the series. It was a complicated murder mystery with several suspects, a litany of clues, and a pretty good twist. All tucked in 13 pages, which is pretty damned efficient. I will say that it’s a little weird that Batman had Clayface as a villain, and didn’t use him for this story, but who knows, maybe something had happened to the guy and he wasn’t in shape to be a murderer in this story at the time. But regardless of that minor quibble it was a great story with great detection and great character work, and it was just a good time all around.

“Murder in Movieland” was written by Jack Miller and penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, 1963

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