Bat Signal

Issue 238 – “The Doors That Hid Disaster”




Howdy everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my Sisyphean goal to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order and with basically no context. And I don’t think that that last part is really going to matter that much. But, I’m not positive. Normally we have to worry about the lack of context when it comes to issues that are a part of a larger story. Which this one isn’t. However, it does feature a whole lot of references to past adventures of Batman and Robin, none of which I think are real. But, who know, maybe they are. None of it really matters a whole lot, it’s just a weird element to a pretty mediocre story. So, with that ringing endorsement, let’s get this show on the road.

The story begins with a mysterious criminal wearing a checkered suit visiting a famous doctor in Gotham City. he’s been having some mysterious pain lately, and wanted a check-in to see what’s wrong. And, the prognosis isn’t good. His body is riddled with radiation, and every sign points to the fact that he’s going to be dying in just a few weeks. This obviously bothers the man, who leaves the doctor’s appointment and heads back to his hideout, where he’s revealed to be a gangster called Checkmate. He tells his goons that he’s about to die, and explains to the reader how he came to be covered in radiation. It turns out that a few weeks ago he was fleeing from Batman and Robin after a robbery and ended up hiding out in a strange silo. And, unfortunately, that silo was housing some radioactive elements, giving him his fatal dose of radiation. Checkmate then decides that Batman knew that the silo was radioactive, and purposefully let him stay in the silo to die. So, with his final weeks, he’s going to plan an elaborate plot to kill Batman. And, to do so, he’s going to channel the mind of Arcade. That’s right, it’s time for some death-traps.




A few weeks later Batman and Robin are hanging out, going on their rounds, when they get a call from Commissioner Gordon telling them about a group of masked men lurking around a strange giant car at an auto-show. So, the Dynamic Duo head out to investigate, and arrive just on time to see the men push the giant car next to an abandoned amphitheater that once housed a Batman exhibit. They figure that the crooks are getting ready to rob the amphitheater, and slip inside to stop them. Unfortunately, when they get inside they find that Checkmate has been quite busy. The amphitheater has been transformed into a massive death-trap, and our heroes find themselves in a large room with a few strangely shaped doors. And, to clarify things, a voice goes over an intercom, telling them that they’re now trapped by the former goons of Checkmate, and that they have to survive a series of traps, or else be killed. And, they need to get rid of their gadgets first.

They comply, and are herded into their first room. The door is shaped like a bowling pin, and it leads them into a gigantic bowling alley with pins larger than them and a giant ball rolling towards them. It turns out that Batman and Robin fought a villain called the Bowler in the past, and this is a replication of a trap that he put the Duo in. When it happened the first time Batman and Robin survived by hiding inside the giant pin-setter, but when they try to pull it off again they find the area electrified, forcing them to find a new way out. Which they do by using one of the giant pins as a wedge, sending the ball flying into a wall and crashing through it. They then spring through the hole, and find themselves in a second trap, which is a giant fish-bowl. They fought someone called the Harbor Pirate in a similar situation, and find themselves trapped underwater while an automated machine gun fires above the surface.




In the past Batman and Robin survived this encounter by taking the scuba diver’s oxygen. Unfortunately, this too is trapped. It isn’t oxygen this time, but poison gas. Batman notices some fish dying and put it together, causing him to find a new idea. He and Robin put their gloves above the water, filling them with air, and then huff them until the machine gun runs out of ammo. And once that’s taken care of they head into their next room, which is a large barrel-shaped room, complete with two motorcycles. The bottom of the barrel is about the light on fire, just as it did when they fought a guy called Wheelo. Last time they used centrifugal force to drive around the sides of the barrel to safety, but this time there’s a ring of oil on the walls, keeping them from pulling it off. Luckily Batman comes up with a plan to cause the bike to backfire, lighting the oil on fire so that it burns up, letting them pass the test and get to the final room.

It’s a recreation of a movie set that they fought a dude called Robot Master in. There’s an Egyptian set, a lot of sand, a small trailer, and a gigantic robotic bat that’s about to attack them. In the past they used a gigantic fan to blow sand onto the robot, causing it to fall apart, and oddly enough, this works again. The robot is destroyed, and they plan to get into the trailer to wait out the goons. Which is exactly what they expected. They come out of their hidden shelter, ready to kill Batman and Robin, only to be surprised. The Dynamic Duo actually were hidden inside the piles of sand, having figured that the trailer was a trap. They beat up the goons, and end up finding out that the trailer was full of the same radioactive stuff that killed Checkmate. They then speed off into the night, not caring that a man died!




You know, there’s a lot to this issue that I should love. We have a weird chess-themed villain plotting an elaborate death-trap where Batman and Robin have to come up with new ways out of old schemes. That seems super up my alley. But, in execution the issue really fell flat for me. And I think that the major factor in this is the fact that they jammed too many traps in. They shoved four different schemes into one death-trap, all of which they had to explain away as traps that had already been established, and I think that was at least one too many. These old issues tend to have their villains pull three set-pieces, and in 14 or so pages it often feels a little rushed. But by shoving in a fourth scheme it all just get a little too complicated to actually work. It’s all exposition, and it bogs this issue down like crazy. Batman and Robin getting out of a death-trap should be a lot of fun, but boy did it miss the mark.


Although I did become fascinated with the idea of an abandoned amphitheater full of Batman memorabilia. Gotham City is the weirdest place in the world, and I love it.


“The Doors that Hid Disaster” was written by Dave Wood, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1956.






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