Bat Signal

Issue 285 – “The Mystery of the Man-Beast”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back to Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order and with very little context. And boy do I have a weird story to tell you about today. I mean, just look at that cover. We’re going to see Batman and Robin fight an unfrozen caveman! Which, shouldn’t be too shocking, because believe it or not, I’ve already covered a different story where Batman and Robin fought an unfrozen caveman. Yeah, that’s a weird thing to run into twice already. But, it’s not just cavemen, because this issue is one of the messiest and weirdest issues I’ve read in a while. We get cavemen, art thieves, murderers, gangsters, and chicken! This issue has it all! Now it’s just a question of if it takes all of that and weaves a decent story.

The issue starts right off with a Professor Lacy and his assistant Mr. Harbin looking at their newest treasure that’s been brought to the Gotham City Museum. A chunk of ice that contains the body of a prehistoric human, which they believe is the missing link. However, while they’re examining the body they realize that the creature is still alive, with a heartbeat, and has been in suspended animation. So, logically, they decide to call the press, Batman, and Commissioner Gordon to the museum to show it off. Kind of a weird guest-list, but whatever. Because as they enter the laboratory where the caveman is kept they find that the refrigeration unit has crapped out, and the ice block is melting. Which is not good, because as soon as it does melt the caveman, or Man-Beast as the issue insists on calling him, leaps from the ice and jumps straight out a window. So the Dynamic Duo leap from the building and chase after the caveman.

 

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But it’s not just going to be Batman and Robin on this trip. Because as word spreads that a caveman is running around Gotham City we see another hero become interested. The Batwoman! Yeah, we haven’t talked about Batwoman here yet, especially the original version. But, I honestly don’t know much about Kathy Kane, other than the basics that this issues tosses to us, that she’s a wealthy heiress who fights crime when she’s bored. And, when she hears about Batman and Robin fighting a caveman, she can’t help herself but come to their aid. She then meets up with Batman and Robin as they watch the caveman climbing a building. Batman and Robin decide to get on little helicopters and fly right up to the caveman, while Batwoman decides to first go get a roasted chicken. The Dynamic Duo make fun of Batwoman, and then proceed to get attacked by the incredibly strong caveman. Luckily though, Batwoman arrives with the chicken, and distracts the caveman with it. Then, as he’s busy eating, they pelt the caveman with sleeping gas, and bring him back to the museum.

Professor Lacy is thrilled to have the caveman back, and he places him inside of a cage, bidding the Dynamic Duo farewell. However, the next day Bruce and Dick are eating when they hear over the radio that the caveman has escaped again, and in the process killed Professor Lacy. So they race back to the museum, and find the the place trashed. But Batman is a little suspicious about the condition of the room, and he worries that something may be happening. So Batman decides to go through Professor Lacy’s files, and they find that Professor Lacy has recently been dealing with a gangster named Drager who has been trying to sell the museum artifacts, which the museum already seems to own. This is obviously a red flag, so Batman and Robin head to Drager’s home, and after breaking in do manage to find a collection of real artifacts, signaling that the museum is filled with fakes. But before they can figure out what’s going on with this museum plot, Drager rushes in and Batman and Robin have to fight him and his men.

 

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So, with Drager taken care of, the Dynamic Duo realize they still have a bigger problem. That damned caveman who is still loose. So they head out into the night, and end up hearing that he’s been sighted at a nearby observatory. So they head off to the observatory, with Batwoman, and Mr. Harbin from the museum. They all get into the observatory, and find the caveman just hanging out inside. The heroes try to fight the caveman, and bring him back to the museum, but it manages to escape from the building and run out into the woods surrounding the observatory. Batman, Robin, and Batwoman chase after the caveman, and end up traipsing around the woods when something odd happens. A mountain lion leaps from the trees, and almost attacks Batwoman. She’s saved at the last moment though, by the caveman, who wants to repay her for that chicken. The caveman and the mountain lion then fight for a bit, before they both fall off a cliff to their deaths.

Story over! Well, not quite. Because as they head back into the observatory Batman suddenly turns on Mr. Harbin, and gets ready to arrest him. Why? Well, because it turns out that the caveman didn’t kill Professor Lacy, Mr. Harbin did. See, what happened was this. Harbin has been stealing artifacts from the museum, replacing them with replicas, and then giving them to Drager. Drager then sells the artifacts, and they split the proceeds. But Professor Lacy happened to find out about this the night that they brought the caveman back, and Harbin killed him for it. He then freed the caveman, and staged the murder on him, hoping that no one would think twice about a crazy caveman killing a scientist. But he didn’t plan on Batman!

 

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This is a very, very strange issue. There’s of course the fact that this is the second, although first chronologically, time that I’ve encountered a story about Batman and Robin fighting an unfrozen caveman. Although, I will say, I think that the other one I handled, “Deep Freeze Menace!” was probably a better story. And, even then I wasn’t crazy about that story. Having Batman, Robin and Batwoman running all around Gotham to stop a caveman only for it to sacrifice itself to save Batwoman is a pretty decent, albeit goofy, story. But where this story really loses me is the whole art-forger murder plot. I have no idea why it was included in this story, other than to get it to a full-length story. Yeah, they make them tie together by having Harbin frame the caveman for the murder, but it really feels tacked on. It really felt to me like it was two separate stories for Detective Comics that they couldn’t get to work, and just kind of smashed them together. Which really makes for an uneven and forgettable story. Which is a shame, since it features a goddamn caveman!

 

“The Mystery of the Man-Beast” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1960.

 

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