Bat Signal

Issue 163 – “The Man Who Feared Metal

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order, and with basically no context. And we’re travelling to the tail end of the Golden Age today to discuss a very slight Batman story. There’s a shocking amount of plot crammed into these 13 pages, but none of it’s overly compelling. Although, surprisingly, we do get to actually see a comic story that resembles the strange vignette shown on the cover of this issue, which as we know is a rarity among comics from this era. So, let’s dive into this story that kind of feels like what would happen if the World Is Not Enough was a Batman story from 1950.

The story begins, as so many comics from this era do, with Batman and Robin in the middle of a chase. This time they’re tracking down a hood named Slippery Jim, a master of disguise, and two of his cronies. But, as the Dynamic Duo chase after the criminals they pass in front of the Baxter Experimental Laboratory, right as it explodes. The explosion knocks Robin unconscious, causing Batman to deal with him while Jim’s goons drag their boss from the wreckage, also in bad shape. They bring Slippery Jim to a special private hospital, where they’re able to save his life. Temporarily. It turns out that Slippery Jim has a sliver of magnetic metal near his brain, and they tell him and the goons that if Jim gets in contact with metal the sliver could potentially move and kill him. So, Slippery Jim is going to have to live a life as far away from metal as possible. He then has his men build him a metal-less hideout, while they also devise him a special helmet that will negate the magnetism in his head.

 

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Jim plans on resuming his life as a maser of disguise, and sets up a problematic “maharajah” costume so he can prowl around the docks, looking for things to steal. Unfortunately, his strange prowling is quickly reported to the police, which catches up on Batman and Robin’s police scanner, so they head down to the docks in the hunt for Jim. They do notice Jim, and the wires hanging out of his turban, and realize that he seems to have some sort of electronic device on his head, and use a radar device in the Batmobile to track him, following Jim all around the docks, foiling his plan.

Slippery Jim, furious, returns to his hideout and plan a new heist. The helmet clearly isn’t going to work, so he’s just going to have to deal with it and only plan scams that don’t involve metal. Which, seems difficult. Luckily for them, they come up with an idea, and find an old museum that has a collection of rare paintings of Mother Goose fairy tales, which they figure they can steal easily. But, Batman and Robin received a notice of the alarm being tripped in the museum, and they show up to fight the villains. They knock out the goons, but Slippery Jim manages to escape, only to find himself in a dreadful position. Everywhere he turns, there’s metal. He ends up having to walk back to his hideout, taking an incredibly circuitous route in order to avoid metal so he does abruptly die. And, he blames Batman for it all. So, he plans Batman’s doom by setting up a perfect heist to draw their attention.

 

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Yeah, Bruce and Dick read about a special exposition of plastic, and decide that it’ll be the obvious place to trap him. And, it turns out, they’re right! Because as they wander around the plastic exhibit, out of costume, they come across what appears to be an old man, but with very youthful hands. They figure this is Jim, in disguise, and race off to put their costumes on and follow him. But, not surprisingly, this was a trap. Because when they follow Jim they have a tarp dropped over their heads and are brought back to Slippery Jim’s weird, metal-less base where they’re brought before the criminal himself.

And, Slippery Jim has a plan. He has his men tie up Robin, and drag him out of the room, while placing a strange neckband around Batman’s neck. He explains that it has a bomb in it that will detonate if he comes in contact with metal. He’s had his men hide Robin in a location across town, and has given Batman three hours to shamble through the city, avoiding metal like he had to. Batman then starts heading into the town, realizing how incredibly hard it is to avoid metal at all costs. But, eventually he finds the location of Robin, only to find that he’s in an iron cage. However, much to Robin’s horror, Batman keeps walking toward the cage, and the neckband ends up exploding. But, it was a trap, the the explosion only released knock-out gas that hits the criminals. Batman and Robin then beat them up and Slippery Jim ends up escaping into a crowd, only to grab someone’s hat to form a disguise. But, the hat had a metal spring in it, and it’s enough to finally kill Jim. Batman then explains how he got out of his explosive collar and…I’ll just let Batman explain it. It’s tenuous.

 

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This issue, like a lot of stories from this tail-end of the Golden Age, doesn’t really have a whole lot going for it. It has a dull villain, a lot of Batman and Robin just aimlessly wandering around the town doing a terrible job at detective work, and even takes a sojourn to the vast wildernesses outside Gotham City. Although, the idea of Batman villain with a shard of magnetic metal in his head that’s slowly killing him is certainly interesting. Honestly, the last bit of the comic, with Batman wandering around Gotham with an explosive collar around his neck had potential too. It would have made for a pretty interesting story, if it didn’t have to spend so much of its pages dealing with exposition and an apparent requirement to have three different set pieces, rather than just telling an interesting story. Its a fine issue of comics I suppose, it’s just a tad dull.

“The Man Who Feared Metal” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Jim Mooney, and inked by Charles Paris, 1950.

 

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