Bat Signal

Issue 256 – “The Captive Planet”



Hello everyone and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order and with essentially no context. And we have a super goofy little story to discuss to day. Because we’re heading back to the weird and wild world of 50’s sci-fi Batman stories. We haven’t really hit that many of them so far during the project, but they’re always a fascinating experience. Back in the 50’s DC realized people were way more interested in sci-fi than fantasy, and started rebranding. They brought back several Golden Age characters and changed their origins around to involve science in some manner, and started to stick as much sci-fi as they could into the more established characters. Sci-fi worked well for Superman, being an alien, but they made for much weirder stories in Batman. Because if there’s one character you wouldn’t expect to be running around space, fighting aliens, it’s probably the rich guy with no powers wearing a bat mask.

The story starts off by showing that a mysterious space-ship has shown up at an abandoned fairgrounds outside Gotham City. A voice is loudly emanating from it, promising people a fun ride to  a far off solar system. So, of course, the people of Gotham begin milling around it, trying to figure out what it is. Everyone assumes it’s some sort of gimmick, and several people roll the dice and get aboard. Of course two of them are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, but besides them there’s a jaded big game hunter, a bored millionaire, a newlywed couple, and an ex-con named Pete Cole who has a grudge against Batman. This motley crew pile aboard the space-sip, and are shocked to find that it’s not a gimmick, and it’s actually heading into space. And at such a rapid pace that it knocks everyone conscious. Bruce and Dick wake up first, and decide to change into their Batman and Robin costumes, which seems like a weird call since the process of deduction kind of reveals their identities, but whatever. They then gather with the rest of the passengers as the ship lands on a far-off planet. And, almost immediately, things get weird.



Yeah, the crew find themselves on an alien world, with some humanoid beings speaking English to them. This is obviously a little confusing, so the leader of the native people, the Torans, starts to explain. They’ve apparently been watching and listening to Earth for centuries, and have finally decided to meet some Earthlings  because they’re in trouble. Apparently a year ago a comet passed over Tora, and released some sort of gas that killed off a majority of the population. And, when there was just a small amount of human left, disaster struck again. Because while the Torans were struggling to survive a group of war-like aliens led by a man called Cafis arrives and instantly takes over. Just a small band of Torans were able to escape from the invaders, and they decided to send a ship to Earth to get someone to help them.

Surprisingly everyone aboard the ship has no problem engaging in an alien civil war, and they gladly volunteer to help the Torans. Which is good, because the invading aliens show up almost immediately, and attack them. Batman and Robin lead the charge against the aliens, and manage to hop on some horse-like creatures to chase after them. Unfortunately Robin is almost immediately bested by a mean flower, and they have to turn back. Although this does give them time to hole up and fight off the next wave of invaders. Which is helped by the fact that the Torans do have a cache of hunting rifles, which they’ve apparently never though to use. They manage to shoot a bunch of invading aliens, and scare them off, only to have the invaders arrive in some sort of tank that sprays them with cobwebs. But Batman and Robin were able to avoid that, and save the rest of the freedom fighters before heading off to Toran’s capital city. And once inside the city Batman and Robin find their way into a prison, where they find some invaders locked up. Which is when they learn what’s going on.



So these invaders were actually convicts who just happened to find the nearly abandoned Tora. And now they’re getting ready for a full-scale invasion to take over the planet and make it some sort of crime-planet. Batman obviously isn’t going to let this happen, but at this point he realizes that Pete Cole has followed them here. We’ve seen that Cole has a grudge against Batman, and pretty shortly we see him call for the guards. They quickly overpower Batman and Robin, and Cole tells them that he too is a convict, and wants to join their civilization. The aliens agree, and put some mind-controlling crowns on Batman and Robin, ready to turn them into un-thinking slaves like most of the other Torans.

However, this proves to be a scam, because while they send Batman and Robin off to help work in Emperor Tafis’ castle they quickly run off from the group and smash the computer that’s operating the mind-control devices. Yeah, Cole didn’t betray them, he helped them come up with a plan to trick the aliens by hiding lead under their mind-control helmets…which seems less than ideal. But whatever, Batman and Robin have freed the Torans and now a full-scale war breaks out. Batman, Robin, the Torans, and the other Earthlings begin fighting with the invaders, until Batman finally is able to best Tafis in combat while flying around on some sort of gliders. Tora is then back in control of the Torans, and the Earthlings return to Earth with the promise that the Torans will contact them once Earth knows peace. So, never.



I’ve read a couple of these sci-fi stories now, and there’s one thing I’ve noticed. They’ve all been a little lackluster. And I’m not quite sure why. I absolutely love when Detective Comics gets weird. I adore reading stories where Batman and Robin travel through time by using “Chronal Hypnosis,” or hanging out with Bat-Mite, but when they go deal with aliens I just get a little bored for some reason. And I think part of it might be the fact that they try to jam these huge stories inside the usual fourteen pages. A whole lot happens in this story, what with Batman and Robin going to an alien planet and being indoctrinated into a civil war, but it all just kind of rushes past. There was no purpose for those other human characters, other than Cole, because there wasn’t room to give them any sort of storylines. This could have been, like, ten issues of Detective Comics, telling an exciting epic story about Batman and Robin freeing an alien world. Instead it’s all crammed into fourteen pages, and it just ends up coming across like an outline more than a story. Which is a shame, but, it happens sometimes.


“The Captive Planet” was written by Bill Finer, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1958.



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