Hello everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing mission to read every single issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with basically no context. And, as you cant tell from the cover above, things are about to get downright wacky around here. We have a story from the early 1960’s, when DC was trying to figure out what in the hell people wanted from their comics, and were throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. Sometimes we got Batman and Robin fighting their classic villains, sometimes they encountered aliens, sometimes they traveled through time, and apparently other times they got caught up in genie shenanigans. And, weirdly enough, the story actually does end up involving a lot of genies, not just a crazy cover. So, buckle up and let’s get going!
The issue begins with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson hanging out in Wayne Manor, playing chess, when they notice the Bat Signal get lit up in the sky. They change into their work clothes and head out to track down the source of disturbance. They get told that something has been stolen from the Gotham Museum, and they drive on over, only to find that the only thing stolen was a fairly unimportant antique lamp. They chat with one of the museum workers, and learn that this lamp was recently uncovered in the tomb of a man named Larko, who legends say was a powerful sorcerer. There’s a tale that he had a magic powder which could turn anyone he put it on into a genie, which he would place in his lamp, and control. Batman finds this all very silly, and is really only interested in finding the person who stole the lamp. Luckily, the museum had some sort of camera system set up, and they got a snap-shot of the thieves, who just so happen to be known henchmen for a globe-trotting criminal known as Aristo that Batman and Robin have been trying to catch. So, with that lead, they end up seeking out a bit more information, and in the process end up learning that another item of Larko’s was stolen, a vial supposedly containing the magic dust mentioned earlier.
This whole heist is a little strange, but Batman’s convinced that Aristo must be behind it. So, they start looking through flight records, and find that a plane arriving in Gotham from the country where Larko’s tomb was found is about to land, and they race off to the airport. And, sure enough, Larko is getting off the plane, checking through customs, when Batman and Robin bum-rush him, hoping to end the case quickly. But, Larko ends up running away, trying to get into an awaiting car driven by his goons. And, to try and throw the Dark Knight off his trail, he ends up chucking the vial of dust at Batman, which shatters on a pole right as Batman passes it. And, to the shock of everyone involved, Batman vanishes without a trace.
Aristo and his men head to their hideout in the vast wilderness outside of Gotham City, and slowly piece together that they’ve inadvertently turned Batman into their genie. They decide to test this theory, and rub the lamp, summoning a massive version of Batman, wearing a little turban, who offers to accomplish a wish for them, in an hours time. And, luckily, Aristo already has a plan in mind. He has fashioned a massive bucket, twice the size of himself, and has told Genie Batman to go to the Gotham Mint and fill the bucket up. Batman flies away, ready to complete the mission, which ends up catching the attention of the police. And, thankfully, Robin just so happened to be inside the police station at the time, with Bat Girl. Now, this is not the Bat Girl I know anything about, this is the Elizabeth Kane version, and I know absolutely nothing about her, or the earlier version of Batwoman. But, needless to say, she’s a colleague of Robin, and the two agree to team up and screw with Genie Batman. Which, initially takes the form of Robin flying around in a tiny helicopter to pester Batman while Bat Girl does some sabotage.
Robin just kind of flits around the giant Batman, quickly realizing that he doesn’t recognize his ward and partner, and needs to find a better way to distract Batman long enough for Bat Girl to do her part of the plan. And, Robin accomplishes this by stealing Batman’s turban, and throwing it into a cave. It takes Batman a while to get the turban out, and he then heads off to the Mint, stealing everything inside. Which, unfortunately turns out to only be mint leaves, which Bat Girl put there. Aristo is pretty furious about this, but he has another scheme in mind, that hopefully will be simple enough not to be screwed up. He and his goons are going to rob a diamond shop while Batman just kind of plays guard, pushing the cops away.
Robin and Bat Girl arrive at the scene of the crime, and Bat Girl ends up setting a smoke bomb off near the villain’s getaway car. Batman scares Bat Girl off, and the villains begin fleeing with their ill-gotten booty. But, it turns out that Robin used the distraction of the smoke-bomb to slip into the car, so while the villains are driving back to their hideout he’s able to climb around the moving car, and grab Batman’s magic lamp. Unfortunately, he does this while they were driving over a bridge, and Robin ends up falling off the bridge, holding the lamp. He crashes into the water, and by the time the criminals get down to the river they find the lamp floating alone. They assume Robin has died, and summon Batman one last time, hoping to learn all of his secrets. But, it turns out that this is no longer a genie Batman, it’s the real one. Robin apparently summoned Batman as the was drowning, using Batman’s last wish to save himself, and free Batman from the confines of the magic. So, the Dynamic Duo fight Aristo and his men, arresting them, and ending this very strange case.
Over the years that I’ve been doing this Bat Signal project, I’ve gained a certain affection for these strange, early Silver Age Batman stories. The entire comics industry was in flux, and they were trying all sorts of strange things. Batman was put through the ringer, frantically changing every month in the hopes that they would latch onto something. Obviously, in the ensuing decades, he went down a different path. Batman became a serious, gritty, and somewhat realistic character, dealing with all sorts of darkness and drama, and that seems to be what people seem to prefer from him. But, imagine a world where stuff like this caught on. This is literally a story where a bunch of thieves locate a legitimate magic lamp, and turn Batman into their evil genie to pull off a crime spree. It’s insane, and I kind of love it. Batman comics are getting back into a kind of weird place nowadays, perhaps signaling some inevitable end to the era of the grim and gritty Batman, but I doubt we’re ever going to get back to the place we were in when Batman could wear a little turban and steal mint leaves for a bunch of evil criminals. Which, is kind of a shame, if I’m being honest.
“The Bizarre Batman-Genie” was written by Dave Wood, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1963.
Categories: Bat Signal