Bat Signal

Issue 230 – “The Mad Hatter of Gotham City”

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Greetings everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And we have a pretty goofy and fun little story to talk about today, folks. This’ll be the second time during this project that we’ve discussed the Mad Hatter, and boy oh boy is he confusing. See, there was an original Mad Hatter, who was a much darker character and who was obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Then, after one appearance, that character vanished, and was replaced with this Mad Hatter, who was obsessed with hat-related crimes. Both claimed to be Jervis Tech, but were eventually revealed to be two different characters. Which is such a baffling backstory to two characters who really aren’t that interesting. But, hey, we get to talk about hats a lot today!

The issue begins with our new Mad Hatter hanging out in his evil lair, admiring his vast collection of stolen hats. Despite the fact that this is the first appearance of this iteration of the Mad Hatter, we’re told that he’s been doing quite well in his hat-thefts, and has already become a public nuisance. He and his goons have been robbing all sorts of people and museums for their rare and unique hats, and the Hatter decides to show off his collection to his hired goons, which get increasingly racist. He has a hat worn by George Washington, a hat from a famed cowboy that has a hidden gun in it, a hat with a boomerang in it, some sort of drum hat that he claims American Indian’s used, and a hat that people from the “Yappa Island” would wear that filled up with rocks to test their strength. All totally legit. But, one of the goons realizes that the Hatter has a particular spot of honor that appears to be empty, and when he asks the Hatter what it’s waiting for, he gets this as a response.

 

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Yep, the Mad Hatter is planning on stealing Batman’s cowl. And how does he plan to accomplish this? Well, apparently Batman and Robin have a very active social life, and it’s all widely reported. So, the Hatter has complied an itinerary for Batman, and is planning on ambushing him. And the first appointment is when Batman and Robin are scheduled to attend a luncheon at a local restaurant called the Green Derby. The Hatter and his men then hide atop the roof of the restaurant, and as soon as Batman and Robin get close enough they drop a lasso down and snare Batman. They drag him up to the roof and get ready to steal the cowl from his head, until Robin is able to get up and defend his partner. During the struggle Batman gets free from the lasso, and chases the villains off, but they manage to escape before Batman can capture them, free to steal another hat another day.

But the Hatter won’t give up. He goes back home and looks at Batman’s social calendar to find the next way to strike. And, luckily, in a couple days Batman has an appointment with a famous sculptor in order to get a statue of him made. So, the Hatter goes to the sculptor’s office, ties him up, and creates a disguise to impersonate him when Batman and Robin arrive to model. And, working quickly, the Hatter tells Batman that he needs to examine his cowl to get it right. So, Batman goes into a waiting room, removes his cowl, and gives it to Robin to hand to the “sculptor.” And, as soon as Robin does so, the Hatter takes his mallet and gets ready to brain Robin so he can flee with his prize. But, Batman was worrying that this was a trap, and has made make-shift mask out of the real sculptor’s hat and with his face safely hidden, he runs out and saves his partner. But, before Batman can nab the Hatter he’s able to drop a statue on them and scramble up another and out the window to freedom.

 

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So now Batman is on high-alert for hat thievery, but he still has a shockingly stacked social calendar, so he continues on with his obligations. And, next up, he and Robin are supposed to meet at a “nearby atomic energy experimental building.” Inside a doctor shows Batman some new experiments that they’re doing with cobalt, when something odd happens. Batman’s cowl begins to glow. The doctor is concerned, taking this as a sign that it’s reacted to something in the lab and is now radioactive. So, to make sure everything is okay, the doctor offers to take Batman’s cowl and run some tests on it. Batman obviously sees this as a red flag, but after Robin pulls on the man’s beard to confirm that he’s not wearing a disguise. So, Batman gives the men his cowl while wearing a radiation hood to keep his identity a secret.

Which is when the Hatter strikes. Turns out when he was pretending to be the sculptor he sprayed Batman’s cowl with a chemical that reacts to cobalt, and came up with this whole idea. And, he’s disguised himself in a radiation suit, taking the cowl from the doctor. He and his men then flee from the lab and bring the cowl back to the hideout to decontaminate it and add it to the collection. But, Batman has a plan up his sleeve. He borrows a high-powered Geiger counter from the lab, and flies around with the Batplane, using the counter, until he finally comes across the car of the Mad Hatter, and they follow him back to the hideout. Batman and Robin then race in to confront the Hatter, who uses that gun-hat from earlier to threaten them. Luckily, Batman is able to use a turban as a whip, and disarms the Hatter. They then arrest him, and we’re left with a weird gag involving Bruce Wayne’s hat.

 

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This issue is pretty damn fun. I’m still not a huge fan of the Mad Hatter in general, but if I have to be honest, I kind of enjoy this one more than the other. Yeah, the idea of a psychopath who thinks he’s actually in Alice and Wonderful is pretty interesting, but for whatever reason I find the idea of a goofy weirdo who is just obsessed with stealing hats from people kind of endearing. It’s just so late Golden Age, early Silver Age. It’s a hoot. I mean, the Hatter doesn’t even really care about Batman’s identity. He just wanted to steal Batman’s hat! And, to do so, he obsessed over Batman’s hilariously thorough and public social engagements. I just love this era of the comics so much, especially compared to the dark, brooding, aloof Batman that we so often see in modern days. This is a Batman that you could run into at lunch, and who would happily chat with you, before stopping a ridiculous gimmick-based supervillain. And I really appreciate that.

 

“The Mad Hatter of Gotham City” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1956.

 

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[Citation Needed]

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