Bat Signal

Issue 317 – “The Secrets of the Flying Bat-Cave”

317

 

 

Hi there everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. We’re taking a trip to the early Silver Age this week, folks, and it’s pretty damn wacky. It can sometimes be hard to think about the fact that at the same time issues like this were appearing at DC, Marvel was changing the industry with it’s first few years of comics. Meanwhile Batman was still in this incredibly strange head-space, putting out incredible gimmicky issues like this, full of mobile Batcaves, hobo hieroglyphics, and dudes wearing condor masks. It’s a weird one today, let’s get to it.

The issue begins with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson excitedly heading down into the Batcave in order to get ready for a little vacation. They’re heading to Center City in order to attend a police convention. They’re set to be keynote speakers, showing police officers from all around the country how to be vigilantes, I guess. Dick is incredibly excited, telling Bruce that he’s ready to show everyone all their tips, he just wishes that they could show everyone all the cool stuff in the Batcave. And, it just so happens that Bruce has come up with a weird plan for just that eventuality. Because Bruce and built a mobile Batcave, one inside some sort of massive helicopter so that they can fly the Batcave out of Gotham, and all the way to Center City. So, Bruce and Dick put on their costumes, and start flying off to Center City. However, before they can get out of Gotham City, they come across some criminals, and make a slight detour to beat the hell out of them.

 

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These men are part of the Condor Gang, a massive syndicate with branches all around the country. No one has been able to find out who runs the Condor Gang, or even where their headquarters is. But, Batman doesn’t have time to worry about this right now, so he and Robin hop back into the Flying Batcave and make their way to Center City, landing the mobile Batcave in front of a massive crowd at the cop convention. The Dynamic Duo then let all the cops walk through the Flying Batcave, which is somehow simultaneously impressive and kind of lame. They brought all their crime-fighting gear, a miniature trophy room that seems to primarily be the big Joker card and the giant penny, an extremely modest pair of bunk-beds, and a garage where they’re keeping a very small Batmobile that appears to be a children’s toy. But, everyone’s extremely impressed, so I guess that’s good.

But, that night in Center City a young rookie cop named Joseph Arno is walking around, minding his own business, when a car hits a curb too hard, causing the trunk to pop open and a small piece of jewelry to fall out. Arno picks it up, and recognizes it as one of the pieces that the Condor Gang recently stole, so he follows the car to interrogate the drivers. And this results in the gangsters preparing to kill Arno. Before they can do this though, Batman and Robin show up in their tiny car, causing the gangsters to flee. Batman and Robin give chase, but are quickly lost when the gangster blow up a giant chicken statue that blocks their escape route. They return to Arno though, and get to know the rookie. He tells them that he used to be a hobo, that he thinks the Condor Gang may be headquartered in Center City, and that Batman is his hero. Batman takes a shine to Arno, which means that when he gets word that Arno vanished during his beat, he makes it his mission to find him. Batman and Robin track Arno down to an abandoned storefront that may be a front for the Condor Gang. And, inside they find a helpful hint, some hobo signs!

 

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Yep, Batman and Robin have found some small drawings that have meaning in the mysterious world of the hobo, and since Arno told them he used to be a hobo they put two and two together and decide it’s a secret message about his whereabouts. So, the Dynamic Duo return to their Flying Batcave to consult their dictionary of hobo signs and find that it points them to a well-guarded house near a turpentine camp. What’s a turpentine camp? No idea! But Batman and Robin apparently know, and are able to fly their Batcave there, diving out in gliding suits so they can float down to the base secretly. And, once inside they find a bunch of Condor Gang-members standing around with Arno handcuffed in front of them. But, when they spot the Dynamic Duo the Condor Gang-member flee into a secret-passageway, which triggers a booby-trap sealing their way behind them.

Batman’s happy to have saved Arno, but irritated that they still haven’t busted the Condor Gang, and is really unnerved when Arno explains that their plan was to kill him and mail Batman the handcuffs as some sort of taunt. But, it turns out to be more than that. We check in on the Condor Gang and learn that the cuffs were actually fake ones filled with an explosive that they planned to blow Batman up with. But, since the Caped Crusader still has the cuffs, they decide to still kill him. So, the next day at the police convention while the Flying Batcave looms above everyone, the Condor Gang detonates the bomb, blowing the Batcave to pieces. They then come flooding into the convention, ready to rob all the police. Which is when Batman and Robin show up in the real Batcave, ready to stop them. Together with Arno they stop the Condor Gang and explain that Batman was able to tell the handcuffs were fake because they weren’t regulation weight, so the attached them to a balloon shaped like the Flying Batcave they had for just such a purpose. Sure, whatever Batman.

 

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This issue is very silly. But, in the way that I’ve really come to appreciate from these older Detective Comics stories. Batman’s whole gimmick has kind of always been that he’s the most competent and prepared human being on the planet, but these older stories really took it to the extreme, having Batman have a plan for every possible eventuality, including having a mobile Batcave that contained everything he and Robin could ever possibly need, including some of their trophies. That’s just a ridiculous idea, and seeing the Dynamic Duo use that mobile Batcave to do site-visits in different cities is a solid premise. In practice the story ended up having a bunch of bland villains trying to carry out a criminal plot that didn’t really want much of a mystery while Batman and Robin fumbled around trying to stop them with the help of a former hobo, which wasn’t ideal. It’s a fine issue, and has some of that goofy Batman charm I appreciate, but it wasn’t exactly anything special.

 

“The Secrets of the Flying Bat-Cave” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1963.

 

 

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