Bat Signal

Issue 271 – “Batman’s Armored Rival”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat signal, my never-ending mission to read every single issue of Detective Comics that’s ever been published, in random order, and without any context. We’re taking a trip back to one of Batman’s weirdest time periods this week, the late 1950’s! You know, the time period where superhero comics were struggling to survive, so they just kept through everything at the wall to see what stuck? Maybe one month Batman would fight one of the handful of classic villains that stuck around in the era, maybe the next month he’d fight an alien monster, and maybe one month he’d be dueling with a new superhero wearing a cumbersome suit of armor. But, will this be a team-up with an exciting new superhero or an elaborate scam? Judging by the fact that none of you have heard of the Crimson Knight, I’m guessing it’s option number two!

The story begins with Batman and Robin just hanging out in Commissioner Gordon’s office, being told that he’s selected them to guard a train coming to town that holding several unidentified historical documents for some sort of patriotic roadshow. I’m not sure why they couldn’t just say “Declaration of Independence” or whatever, but it doesn’t matter because the conversation is ruined when a voice comes over a speaker informing them that a bank is being robbed just down the street. Batman and Robin race out of the office, and down to the bank, only to find the robbers attempting a getaway. The Batmobile follows the robbers, only to get trapped by a random parade. But, much to the shock of the Dynamic Duo, the robbers just race into the parade, grab a hold of a giant balloon of some sort of astronaut, and use it to fly away, as if it was all part of their plan. They chase after the balloon, only to get separated on the other side of a slow-moving train. Because this plan is more elaborate that the school bus heist in the Dark Knight.

 

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The criminal land their giant balloon, and get ready to flee in a helicopter, when something unexpected happens. A man wearing a bright-red suit of armor, driving a ridiculous convertible, while holding a lance begins racing towards them. He hucks a metal net onto the rotors of their helicopter, causing it to crash into the ground, and then uses stun-gas released from his lance to incapacitate them. Batman and Robin finally make it around the train just in time to see the Crimson Knight subduing the crooks, and after a quick introduction the new crimefighter runs away as fast as possible, making Batman a little suspicious. The bust also earns the fury of a local gangster, Dick Lyons, who was running that bank robbery. But, he has another scheme up his sleeve that he’s ready to pull off.

But, the next day that Crimson Knight drives up to the Gotham City Police Department, and throws a note at one of the beat cops. Inside is a red knight from a chess set and a letter asking Batman and Robin to meet him at a hospital that night. Batman and Robin are a little put off by that, but they show up all the same, and indeed notice a suspicious car waiting outside that seems to be a getaway car. They enter the hospital and find that there’s a demonstration going on where a scientist is experimenting with some sort of rejuvenation pills. And, after they appear to work on a monkey, some masked crooks burst in and take the pills. Batman tries to stop them, but they threaten to just destroy the pills, ruining the doctor’s life’s work, and Batman just kind of lets them get away. Which doesn’t work out for them, because when they reach their secret getaway ambulance, it turns out that the Crimson Knight was inside, waiting for them. Which really starts to rub Batman the wrong way.

 

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The Crimson Knight then begins stopping a slew of crimes, gaining quite a bit of popularity in Gotham City. And, all of these crimes seem to be plotted by Dick Lyons, which seems to be infuriating his gang. Meanwhile, Batman has become obsessed with finding the identity of the Crimson Knight, and has apparently been feeding data on thousands of men into a computer hoping to narrow it down to one person, based on all the things they know about the Knight. And, while that’s going on, word comes out that the Crimson Knight is now also going to be guarding that train full of historical documents, alongside Batman and Robin, at the same time that Lyons and his men decide that they’ve come up with a way to rob the train.

Batman, Robin, and the Crimson Knight then find themselves aboard the train, travelling through Gotham City, when Lyons’ men attack. They leap through the window of the train, and begin attacking the heroes, pretty unsuccessfully. The heroes manage to subdue the criminals pretty easily, and they decide to stop the train so that Batman and Robin can take the criminals to justice. And, as soon as the Dynamic Duo are off the train, the Crimson Knight begins robbing the train of all the documents, revealing that this was all a very elaborate con. Which is exactly what Batman thought! Because he and Robin didn’t actually leave, and come racing back onto the train to stop the Knight. The Crimson Knight starts brandishing his electrified sword at them, but Robin just triggers the fire system on the train, pouring water on the Knight and causing him to shock himself into submission. Which is when Batman gets to unmask the Knight, and reveal him to actually be Lyons himself, having been taking down his own crimes to gain the clout to accomplish this heist.

 

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I feel like I’ve read a lot of stories that basically boil down to “criminal is pretending to be a hero in order to swindle Batman,” and they’re usually all a pretty good time. This one is no exception. From the insane opening heist involving parade balloons, to the de-aging monkey pills, to the train heist being foiled by Robin daintily breaking open the fire extinguishing system, this whole issue was goofy as hell in all the ways I love these older Batman stories. Plus, we get the added bonus of just seeing Batman absolutely pissed off and suspicious of this Crimson Knight the entire time. I also really like seeing Robin be absolutely convinced that Batman is doing all of this just because he’s jealous, which is really hilarious. The thought of Batman angrily programming an ancient computer to prove that some guy they met isn’t as awesome as he is is pretty wonderful, especially because he turn out to be right.

 

“Batman’s Armored Rival” was written by Dave Wood, penciled and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1959.

 

 

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