Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And, we’re taking another trip back to the very early days of the Silver Age of comics to discuss an incredibly goofy issue of comics. As usual, it’s good advice to never take the covers of comics from this era at face value, because they often have very little to do with the actual contents of the story, or at least are pointing you in a very different direction. But, occasionally, we get covers that actually end up underselling the weirdness of the story inside, which is what we’ve gotten this week. So, let’s see why Bruce Wayne is forsaking his title of Batman, while also crossing off an extremely obscure villain from our bingo card!
The story begins in Gotham City, when the people of Gotham notice something strange in the sky. At first it seems to be the Bat Signal, a sight you’d think they would be used to. But, for some reason, instead of a bat, the signal is now projecting a star. And, continuing on with that mystery, they watch as a star-shaped helicopter arrives, dropping out Robin and what appears to be a new hero calling himself Starman. He and Robin fight crimes, arrest bad guys, and return to Wayne Manor at the end of the night. Because, despite what the people of Gotham are led to believe, Starman and Batman are one and the same. Bruce Wayne takes off his Starman costume, and he and Dick begin reminiscing about the reason why Bruce has suddenly completely changed everything about himself.
The story then jump back a few days and takes us to the laboratory of a new villain known as Professor Milo. He’s hanging out with some gangsters, talking about his new plan to defeat Batman. Milo teaches his henchmen about the concept of phobias, and tells them that he’s developed a seemingly magical chemical which can immediately give someone a very specific phobia. And, he plans one using it to defeat Batman. How? Well, by impersonating the projectionist at a charity gala that Batman happens to be attending. Batman is supposed to walk out while a spotlight projects a miniature bat signal behind him, but one of Milo’s goons places the “phobia liquid” on the spotlight lens, which apparently makes whatever image is involved the subject of Batman’s phobia. And, in this case, it’s his own emblem, being shown into his face.
Immediately Batman starts to feel strange, and excuses himself from the gala. He then returns to Wayne Manor, and starts to notice some strange and upsetting behavior. He’s become terrified of his own bat paraphernalia. He tries not to let Robin in on it, tearing off his chest logo in private and insisting that they walk into town instead of using the Batmobile, but when they finally do encounter some crime and Batman is too fearful of his own Batarang to use it, Robin realizes that something is up. And, Batman is forced to tell Robin what is actually going on when they run into some of Milo’s goons, and they respond by releasing a live bat they were keeping on them, causing Batman to fall off a building. And, seeing no other alternative, Batman and Robin decide that Bruce is going to have to come up with a whole new persona.
Hence, the reign of Starman. But, the story then hops back to the beginning, after the first successful night on the town as Starman and Robin. And, Robin can’t take it anymore. Which means he’s going to jump Bruce, tie him to a chair, and basically conduct some exposure therapy, forcing Bruce to watch old footage of their heroic antics, making Bruce confront his new fear of bat shaped things. One by one Robin finds footage of Batman using all of his ridiculous bat-shaped gadgets, showing Bruce that they aren’t scary, and are actually just useful tools to beat up the mentally ill. And, while it takes quite a bit out of Bruce, he agrees that its necessary, and they spend the entire night breaking his psyche.
Meanwhile, Professor Milo and his goons have realized that this whole Starman thing is just a minor hitch in their plan for city-wide criminal domination. Milo is confident that Starman is still Batman, and that they can still use the bat-thing to their advantage. So, he plans a crime involving a giant bat-shaped balloon. However, when Starman and Robin show up to fight it, the “new” hero certainly seems unaffected by the bat, making the goons doubt Milo’s work. Starman is able to conquer to the goons, and they tell him of Milo’s location. So, Starman races to the hideout, where Professor Milo tries one last ditch effort to scare the superhero, basically waving some Halloween decorations at him. To which Starman punches him right in the face, then strips down to reveal his Batman costume underneath, just to rub salt in Milo’s wounds by showing him he broke through his psychological warfare.
This story is a genuine delight. When I first saw the cover of this issue, I figured this was going to be some elaborate fake-out. Like, Bruce was stopping being Batman to screw with some weird villain, not even telling Robin what was happening until the dramatic final act reveal. I’ve read plenty of issues like that. What I wasn’t expecting was a villain so thoroughly messing with Batman’s mind that he became afraid to even have a bat on his chest. That genuinely a premise I’ve never encountered, and I loved it. But, not as much as Robin straight up Clockwork Oranging Bruce, tying him to a chair and making him look at videos to drive him insane. It’s just so goofy, it’s impossible not to love, which is exactly what I’m looking for from comics from this era, and boy oh boy does this one deliver.
“The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1957.
Categories: Bat Signal