Bat Signal

Issue 227 – “The 50 Faces of Batman”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to Bat Signal, my ongoing project wherein I’m trying to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order, and with very little context between issues. And we have a very odd issue to discuss today, folks. Which is a shame, because when I saw the cover of this issue I was pretty excited. I mean, look at it. Some weirdo is obsessively making models of Batman’s various disguises in order to reveal what his actual face, and therefore identity, is? That sounds like a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we get in this story. It’s not as ridiculous as some of the older issues where we’d see a cover with Batman and Robin fighting pirates, and then no pirates were to be found in the actual issue, but it’s certainly not the story that that cover promises. Actually, it almost feels like it should be a clip-show of a comic. It’s weird. Let’s get to it.

The issue begins with a man named Barrett Kean, a respected make-up artist and impressionist who is currently failing to impress his agent. The man insists that Kean is the best impressionist in the city, but people just don’t care about impressions anymore. So, he recommends that Kean leave the acting game behind, and instead become a teacher, telling him to open a school for impressions and make-up. Kean thinks that this is a great idea, but when the school actually opens, he finds that they just don’t have enough students. But, Kean has an idea on how to drum up more business. Because it turns out that this actually isn’t the first time that he’s taught someone his secrets. Apparently several years ago he was approached by a younger Batman, who was first starting out, and who asked Kean to teach him his trade. Kean agreed, and after several lessons Batman became an expert of makeup, which he used in his war against crime. Kean figures that Batman owes him one. And he’s right. Batman thinks that this idea great, and agrees to become an adjunct professor at Kean’s makeup school.

 

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However, that night Batman and Robin are out on patrol, talking about what he’s going to teach the new students soon, when they come across a couple of thieves. They chase them into a carousel-themed bar, and capture them, only to earn the ire of their boss, Big Hugo. Hugo is irritated with Batman, and promises $50,000 to anyone who can help him stop Batman. One of Hugo’s men, a photographer named Vorden hears that, and comes up with an idea. He’s going to attend Batman’s makeup lectures, take photos of him, and use the photos to create a composite image of Batman’s real face to discover his secret identity.

So, Vorden enrolls in Kean’s makeup school, and joins a large crowd of people to listen to Batman’s first lecture. And it’s kind of weird. Batman gives them some basics on makeup, telling them about wigs, pads to wear in your cheeks to change your facial structure, and using makeup to change features. And all the while Vorden is taking pictures of Batman, trying to get as many angles as possible. The lecture then becomes rather strange. Batman starts putting on a couple of disguises that he famously wore in some of his old cases, all of which went wrong. The idea is that he tells them what he did wrong, so that they’ll know not to do it. And it begins by telling them about a time that he died his hair white to impersonate the cell-mate of a deadly criminal who the warden thinks is trying to break out of prison. Batman created a flawless impersonation of the man, and learned to imitate him perfectly, but there was one thing that he didn’t think of. That his hair would start to grow.

 

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The criminal realized that Batman was in a disguise, and covered him with coal, before fleeing and hiding in the prison. Batman was able to find the guy, but realized then that dying his hair didn’t make sense, and that wigs were the way to go. Next up he tells a story about how he and Robin once created wax replicas of themselves to stand over a large decorative milk-bottle full of money for charity. I don’t know, Gotham is a weird place. When they see that a couple criminals are eyeing the bottle though, they decide to have a stakeout. They put on some makeup to make themselves look more like the wax dummies, but run into some difficulty when the hot lights make the makeup melt, blurring their eyes. They still catch the crooks, but they learn to be careful of heat.

While Batman is telling these stories though, Robin starts to notice Vorden and his fixation on taking Batman’s picture, which starts to worry him. So, while Batman tells a story about how he once tried to impersonate a lion tamer whose life was being threatened, only to realize that the lion didn’t care about the makeup, and went by scent. During Batman’s next story, which is about him impersonating an elderly police officer so it looks like he participated in a march, Robin notices Vorden sneak off. He follows the man, and hears him call Big Hugo, and realizes what’s going on. Robin tells Batman and Kean, and they come up with a plan. That night Batman puts on a Big Hugo disguise, and bursts into their secret base, using the confusion at seeing a double to his favor to beat everyone up. So, they took care of Big Hugo, but Vorden is still out there, possibly making a composite. Luckily Kean had a plan for that. Kean put on a Batman costume, and then explained to the students that the ears are the hardest part to duplicate, and they’re the key to identification. So, Vorden takes a picture of what he assumes are Batman’s ears, and when he develops the picture he finds that there’s a huge discrepancy. They then arrest Vorden, now that he’s too confused to figure out what Batman actually looks like.

 

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This issue isn’t bad, but it’s certainly odd. I was completely shocked that a famous make-up artist who was fired from his life’s passion didn’t then go on to become some sort of impersonation-themed villain, since  that seems to be the standard form of expression in Gotham. Instead, having the guy open a school and make Batman a professor, which is the second time I’ve talked about Batman being a professor in this project, is a pretty fun idea. But, where things get weird is the lectures themselves. It just seems like a strange idea to have this issue full of very short mini-stories, which then had to sometimes tenuously be linked back to a make-up lesson. Some worked better than others, but I think by and large it made for a sort of dull story. I do like the idea of someone obsessing over Batman’s face, and trying to create a composite to find his true identity, but that gets rather deflated when we barely see the guy, and instead focus on Batman guarding giant milk bottles.

 

“The 50 Faces of Batman” was written by Someone. Probably Bill Finger. But it was penciled by Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charles Paris, 1956.

 

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