Bat Signal

Issue 232 – “The Outlaw Who Played Batman”

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Hello everyone and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context of what’s going on. We’re heading back into the Silver Age today for some wonderfully goofy Batman action. And we’re getting a fun story that’s oddly a pretty common one in the world of superheroes. Said superhero being involved in the production of a movie based on themselves. I don’t know why this is a trope of superheroes, but it’s one I absolutely adore. Who doesn’t want to see Batman sullenly watching an actor try to be as awesome as him? Plus, as the cover spoils, the man that they chose is flat out planning on being a criminal, while dressed as Batman. How can you say no that that premise? You can’t. Let’s do this thing.

The issue starts off exactly as you would expect it to. With Batman and Robin fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex on a “remote, long-lost volcanic island.” This is quickly explained to be footage from a previously made movie about Batman and Robin, and we’re actually treated to something more insane than the dinosaur opening. Apparently a movie studio called Excelsior Studios creates an annual film about the adventures of Batman, and they get the full cooperation of the real Batman. And to make things better, this year Batman has offered to help pick which actor can most accurately portray him in the film. And this obviously takes the form of Batman showing up to the studio to help train the army of mostly nude actors in the art of Batmaning.

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So after an afternoon of rigorous training and auditioning Batman picks the lucky winner, a man named Bart Davis, who gets the honor of playing Batman in this year’s movie. And the dude is stoked. And not just because this is his big break, but because he has some ulterior motives. We learn that Bart Davis is actually a criminal, and has a pretty great idea on how to commit some crimes in Gotham City with minimal work on his part. And this is made even easier when the next day arrives and Batman and Robin drop off a genuine Batman costume for Bart to wear, complete with a utility belt and models of the Batmobile.  Seems awfully generous of the Dark Knight, wouldn’t you say?

But before we see what Bart Davis’ plan is, we have some more stuff to establish in the story. Such as the fact that people in Gotham, including Commissioner Gordon, are a little peeved at how much time Batman is spending working on this stupid movie when there are actual crimes being committed. Even though we also just saw Batman singlehandedly stop a fur smuggling operation by bunching the truck stealing the fur’s gas tank so hard it ruptured. We also have to check in on the screenwriters of the movie, who are wandering around the back-lot of the studio, looking for sets to use for the movie, when they learn that they have to somehow work a gorilla into the script because the producer’s brother-in-law has a nice gorilla costume that they want to use. Oh, and the screenwriters also bandy about the idea that they should make Batman a millionaire playboy like Bruce Wayne, which they find hilarious.

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While all of this is going on though we cut over to Bart Davis to check out his plan. Which is actually pretty solid. He’s basically going to go around, dressed as Batman and using the Batmobile, and finding other criminals doing their thing. The criminals will then see Davis dressed as Batman, freak out, and run away, leaving their loot behind for Davis and his goons to steal. Pretty solid. That is until the producer of the Batman movie gets a call from the head of studio security with some dire news. Turns out that this security chief was been diving into Bart Davis’ life, and has found that he’s actually a wanted criminal who has a history of impersonating Batman. Something you think you may have checked for, but what do I know? Anyway, Robin happened to be on the lot that day, so he runs home to tell Batman that Bart Davis is actually a criminal and impersonating him. Which doesn’t shock Batman at all. Turns out he somehow knew about this, and put a tracking device and mic in Bart Davis’ fake utility belt, which he and Robin are now going to use to defeat Davis.

So Batman and Robin head out into the night and find Davis and his gang at the location of their latest crime, Gotham’s Old Whaling Museum. Sure, like all cities have. Anyway, Batman and Robin run into the museum and begin tussling with Davis’ men when they have to make a choice between catching Davis and keeping them from taking the loot. They decide to focus on the loot, and Davis manages to escape into the night. Luckily though Batman has apparently been listening in on Davis for quite some time, and has realized that Davis is using one of the sets on the lot as a hideout. So Batman runs to the lot, and ends up storming right into the lot where Davis is hiding, just in time for Davis and his goons to jump him. They hold Batman down, and get ready to pull off his mask just as the lights turn off. Batman manages to sneak away from the men, who turn the lights back on and try to find Batman’s identity. But that plan falls apart when Batman jumps them, now wearing that weird gorilla costume from earlier, and handily beats them. And with Davis conquered the police arrive to cart him off, and Batman smooths things over with the film studio by promising to play himself in the movie.

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This issue is pretty damn fun. There’s not a whole lot of detection involved in this story, and basically just has Batman fumbling around like a fool for most of the story before he randomly explains that he’s actually been secretly competent the whole time, which isn’t really that great, but everything else makes up for that. I just can’t get over how great the idea of Gotham City producing an annual movie about Batman is, and the fact that they get Batman to pick which actor plays him is fantastic. Plus, Davis’ plan in this issue is pretty solid. Pretending to be Batman to stop crime, and then continue the crime once the criminals have left is so weird, and seems to work exceedingly well. Batman’s got a lot on his plate, it should be easy to pretend to be him and pick up the slack. I’m a huge sucker for comic books stories that involve superheroes being involved in movie productions of themselves, and this was a pretty great addition to that weird little subgenre. Plus, it’s inspired me to put up a fun new Marvel Madness post. So check back tomorrow to see more superhero movie shenanigans!

“The Outlaw Who Played Batman” was written by someone mysterious. Bill Finger maybe? It was penciled by Dick Sprang and inked by Charles Paris in 1956 though.

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