Bat Signal

258 – “Prisoners of the Giant Robots”

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Greetings everyone, and welcome back to 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. And as you can see from the cover on display above, it’s time for some robot ‘rassling! It’s always a crap-shoot to believe that what’s on the cover of these older Batman issues will actually have anything to do with the contents of the comic itself, but I’m pleased to tell you that we indeed are going to get to see a lot of Dynamic Duo vs robot action this week folks. We haven’t had a weird, sci-fi tinged Batman story in a while, and even though this issue doesn’t feature aliens or magic powers, it still is enough to satisfy that itch, at least a bit.

The story begins with a bang, while some workers at an electrics company are surprising while pulling a late night to find that the building itself seems to be coming down around them. Two giant purple robots come crashing through a wall, clearly with a plan in mind. They march right past the terrified workers, and rip the door to a massive safe out of the wall, quickly grabbing all of the electronic equipment kept inside before marching out of the hole in the wall and vanishing into the night. Which, is a pretty par for the course night in Gotham City, I suppose. And, as you’d expect, this story reaches Wayne Manor where Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson realize that they’re going to have to put a stop to these damned robots. So, the next night they suit up as Batman and Robin and begin patrolling the city, looking for any sign of robotic theft. And, after hearing a strange whooshing sound, they follow it to a nearby television studio, where they find the robots raiding a costume department.

 

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And, as soon as Batman and Robin make themselves know, the robots immediately start trying to smash them, causing the Dynamic Duo to spring into an acrobatics show, using a trampoline to launch themselves up onto the roof of a nearby building. Which is when we learn that these robots are being controlled remotely, through voice-command, by some mad scientist called Bartok. He commands the robots to kill Batman and Robin, but the Dynamic Duo quickly realize that the robots appear to be taking orders, and decide that they need to block out their vision, figuring that that’s how the controllers are watching what’s happening. So, they grab one of the banners strung up in the studio, and wrap it around the eyes of one of the robots, causing the thing to stumble into the path of some electrical wires, causing it to malfunction. And, sensing danger, the two robots suddenly blast off into that air, with the distinctive whoosh, and fly off into the night, leaving Batman and Robin high and dry.

But, as they scour the crime-scene, they do manage to come across some peculiar clay that was left behind by the robot’s feet. They also use a radar device in the Batmobile to find that the robots appear to have flown 125 miles northeast, into the Eagle Mountain Range. So, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave and begin doing analysis of the clay, finding that it matches a very specific area in the Eagle mountains, which means that’s probably where the robots are hiding. So, they drive out to that spot, and are immediately surrounded by giant robots. They capture the Dynamic Duo, and begin bringing them into a massive cavern that has been turned into a base of operations for the criminals who control the robots, complete with awkward little buildings. And, inside Batman and Robin meet Bartok, a mad scientist who Batman seems aware of, but who only mad this single appearance.

 

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Bartok shows Batman and Robin around his little base of operations, telling them all of his insane plans. Because he isn’t just planning on using giant robots to steal things. No, he’s found a way to miniaturize his robots so that they’re roughly the size of humans, and has begun assembling them on a massive scale. And, not only that, thanks to the costume department they robbed, they are now able to disguise them as human beings to carry out all sorts of crimes. And, with his demonstration complete, Bartok orders the robots to bring Batman and Robin to a little prison cell he’s devised where they can sit until he thinks of something nefarious to do to them.

Batman and Robin then immediately start thinking of ways to escape, and quickly realize that the key to their cells is just hanging on a random hook, next to two robots. They figure that a batarang would be able to snag the key, they just need to distract the robots. And, Batman has an idea. We then cut forward in time to find Batman awkwardly strutting out of a hallway, towards the robots. They begin to panic, and attack Batman, who is able to swiftly dispatch both robots. And, in the confusion, Robin is able to obtain the key and unlocks his cell. Batman then runs out into the main cavern, where he’s quickly attacked by Bartok’s larger robots, who rip Batman in half. So, obviously there’s a trick. And, it’s insane. Because as Bartok struggles to understand the sudden death of Batman, the real Batman comes barreling towards him, knocking him away from his controls. See, apparently Batman keeps a life-like robot of himself inside the Batmobile, and he was able to order it into the cavern as a distraction. So, the Batman robot has been destroyed, but the real Batman has succeeded, and Bartok is defeated. However, before he can be arrested, he does activate a self-destruct function, destroying the robots so no one else can use them.

 

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This issue is weird, but I found myself really amused by it. Any Batman comic from the 1950’s is a little odd, since the entire medium was on shaky ground and desperately trying to find something that would hook people, but this issue was kind of weirder in a different way. Batman dealing with a bunch of thieving robots who are controlled by a mysterious mad scientist is actually a plot that I think could have worked in basically any era of the character, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that we actually got even a modicum of detective work this time with all the clay samples and whatnot. But, what made this issue weird, and what kept me from enjoying it fully, was the fact that it just seemed a little slap-dash at times. I mean, the issue seems to posit that we’re supposed to be well-aware of this Bartok guy, since Batman just makes casual reference to his illustrious criminal career, but I checked and this is the only time the guy ever appeared. But, that doesn’t hold a candle to the fact that we got some sort of machina ex machina by having a random robot Batman we’ve never seen before show up and save the day. It just felt a little lazy. But, overall, it’s a fun little issue, and we got to see Batman and Robin beat up robots, which is always a joy.

 

“Prisoners of the Giant Robots” was written by someone, probably Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1958.

 

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