Bat Signal

Issue 280 – “The Menace of the Atomic Man”



Hello everyone and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every issue of Detective Comics that has ever been published, in random order, and with basically no context. And, as you can probably tell from looking at that cover, we’re in for some classic sci-fi goofiness this week. Sadly, we aren’t dealing with aliens or anything too weird as I was hoping when I first laid eyes on the cover, but we still get a very solid example of the Batman story template that was used so often in this time period, with a very goofy and vaguely-defined villain. Which, has kind of become the bedrock of these Bat Signal posts, so at least some things are still right in the world.

The issue begins inside the factor of a man named Henry Hayes who apparently is a professional float builder. He and his men are getting ready to fulfill an order for a whole parade celebrating Gotham City, and have their warehouse absolutely packed with various random floats. And, as they’re admiring their work, a man in a ridiculous outfit comes barreling in with some henchmen. He’s got a green outfit with a vaguely drawn atom on his chest, and a helmet featuring elaborate goggles. The man, who introduces himself as Atomic Man, quickly establishes that he’s a threat by releasing a wave of light from his goggles that turn the gun of the security guard into paper. Everyone is pretty shocked by this, and immediately bow down to Atomic Man’s demands, opening up their safe. But, as the goons finish rifling through the safe, Atomic Man heads back into the room with all of the floats, and begins using his powers to turn all of them to rocks, ruining Hayes’ big gig.




And, as the Atomic Man is ruining some people’s lives, we see that Batman and Robin are finishing up their nightly chemistry lessons and getting ready to go on patrol. They begin driving and end up seeing a firework shaped like the Bat Signal emanating from Hayes’ factory. One of the men in the factory had set it off while the Atomic Man was goofing off, and it ends up summoning the Dynamic Duo who come bursting into the factory to do battle with the Atomic Man’s goons. Which is a very poor plan, because this leaves the Atomic Man the perfect opportunity to turn the chain holding a massive light fixture hanging above Robin’s head into water. The fixture begins dropping on the Boy Wonder, and Batman has to stop attacking to push a float into Robin and get him out of the way, leaving the Atomic Man and his men to flee. They try chasing after him, but find that he’s turned the Batmobile to glass, leaving them stranded.

Batman and Robin then return to the Batcave to puzzle over the Atomic Man’s identity. They’re very put off by the fact that the guy needlessly ruined all of Hayes’ floats and decide that it must be personal. But, there was no real way to identity the Atomic Man. Except for the fact that his insane helmet exposed his ears. So, Batman goes to a file cabinet apparently full of pictures of criminal ears, and ends up quickly identifying the Atomic Man as Paul Strobe, an electrical engineer that was sent to jail for embezzlement after his partners turned him in. And, it just so happened that Hayes was one of those partners. So, it turns out that Strobe escaped prison, and created this Atomic Man helmet to wreck havoc and get revenge on his partners. And, the next partner is a man named Barker who ended up getting into shipping. So, Batman and Robin race off to a new ocean-liner he just built, and sure enough find the Atomic Man robbing it.




The Atomic Man ends up using his rays to turn the safe aboard the ship into glass so they can assess if they should rob it. And, while they begin breaking into the glass safe Batman begins sneaking in, and immediately exposes himself with a creaky board. The Atomic Man then spins around and uses his vaguely defined helmet to shower Batman with a bunch of sticky plastic balls. And, while Batman’s dealing with that the villains escape, and hop into a speed boat to flee. Batman tries chasing after them, but the Atomic Man then uses his goggles to change the composition of the ship, making it lighter than air. The ship begins rapidly flying into the air, and Robin leaps into action. He’d been waiting outside the boat for some reason, with a little personal helicopter. He begins flying up to save Batman, and as he gets to the same altitude Batman leaps off of the boat and is saved by Robin.

So, the Dynamic Duo aren’t doing too well. And, they only have one last witness that sent the Atomic Man to prison. And, this last guy owns an art gallery, so they race off to the gallery. And, sure enough, the Atomic Man and his goons are there. They begin fighting, and as Batman fights with the goons the Atomic Man takes the chance to use his goggles to turn Batman’s mask into glass, meaning that he and all of his goons have now seen Batman’s true identity. They then try to escape, creating a massive spiky ball of marble to roll towards them. But they’re still able to sweep around the ball and capture Atomic Man. However, The Atomic Man seems to be getting the last laugh, telling them that they’re going to tell everyone who Batman really is. But, he didn’t expect the fact that Batman’s a crazy person. Because it turns out that he was worried about this exact thing happening, and has been wearing a bunch of makeup to disguise his identity, under his mask. You can’t out think the Batman!





Like I said up top, this issue is pretty much following the standard template for a majority of these Golden Age to Early Silver Age Batman stories. We get a dumb new villain with a strange gimmick who pulls off three crimes, and Batman and Robin fail at the first two crimes, and then pull it off during the third one. And, I’ll be honest, it isn’t exactly the most memorable version of this particular format. And, I think it mainly falls on the feet of the Atomic Man. His whole weird helmet doesn’t work that well. His powers don’t really track, and it’s mildly hilarious that the whole key to him being caught revolved around the fact that his dumb helmet exposed his weird ears. Other than that, it’s just kind of standard. It has some good moments and some dumb moments. Just sort of a standard unit of Batman comic. But, they can’t all be winners.


“The Menace of the Atomic Man” was written by Someone (probably Bill Finger), penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, 1960.




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