Bat Signal

Issue 393 – “The Combo Caper!”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every issue of Detective Comics that’s ever been published, in random order, and with basically no context. And, it looks like we’re getting yet another comic that’s cover features a melodramatic vignette of Batman and Robin breaking up, forever. I don’t know why the folks at DC seemed to think that a particularly profitable well to keep going back to was to feature covers that made it look like the Dynamic Duo were finally calling it quits, but I guess it worked because we’ve seen a whole slew of them in the years I’ve been doing this project. Especially because none of them actually feature stories where Batman and Robin quit being a partnership. This one kind of gets close, but you’d never guess that the actual story inside was largely a weird after-school special type story about the dangers of profiling.

The issue begins with Batman and Robin driving home to Wayne Manor after a long night of crime-fighting. Dick Grayson has just recently graduated from high school, and is getting ready to leave for college, which will put his tenure as Robin on hold for a bit, and he and Bruce are going to their summer mansion for a while before that. But, as they drive home, ready to prepare for their trip, they notice that one of the mansions of their neighbors has a suspicious flashlight in one of the windows. Especially because they know that these particular neighbors are already up at the beach town where they’re soon to be headed. So, the Dynamic Duo slip up into the mansion, and find someone wearing a mask, breaking into a safe. Batman and Robin burst into the room, but the robber is able to bring some drapes down on them, temporarily confusing everyone. Robin manages to land a solid punch to the thief’s face, but is then knocked out by the crook bashing him in the head. The crook then flees, stealing the Batmobile, while Batman and Robin are left to lick their wounds, and look over the strange crime-scene.

 

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The thief left behind the tab of a can of soda, which had a combination written on it. But, it also has a second combination, making Batman assume they had another target. But, they’re unable to follow up on any leads, and after they get a call about the Batmobile being found abandoned, they just turn in for the night, ready for their big trip. And, the next morning Bruce, Dick, and Alfred pile into Bruce’s car and begin heading to their summer mansion. However, along the way Bruce announces that they’re making a pitstop. Because he and some other rich people in Gotham have founded a new organization where they occasionally will hang out with at-risk teens, hoping to show them a better life, and it’s time to pick up Bruce’s kid, Skeet Callum. Which, is a problem, because Dick knows from experience that Skeet Callum sucks. And that feeling doesn’t change when they find Skeet acting suspiciously, sporting a bruise on his face, and drinking soda with the same type of tab that the combination had.

But, they still take Skeet to their beach-front vacation home, and everyone starts to get settled, while Alfred does a quick count of the silver in case Skeet steals any. And, while Dick is trying to play nice with Skeet, they run into Deena Winslow, daughter to the family of the house that was being robbed. Skeet starts hitting on Deena, and they see that she too is sporting a black eye. She brushes it off, and invites them all to a party being thrown at her parent’s mansion that night. So, that night we see Bruce, Dick, Alfred, and Skeet head over to the Winslow’s, where the teens go have a beach go-go party, and the adults talk with each other. Bruce is bored by a visiting rich man named Aristide Naxos, and Dick awkwardly watches while Skeet continues to hit on Deena, until she insults him enough that he storms off. Meanwhile, Mrs. Winslow is getting real drunk and flirty with Bruce, so he excuses himself to go find her a sweater to wear now that the temperature has dropped. And, while wandering the Winslow’s mansion he comes across another safe and another soda tab.

 

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Bruce confirms that the combination on this tab is the same as the one on the previous tab, and realizes that someone is specifically trying to rip off the Winslow’s. But, before he can investigate further he’s caught by Deena, who teases him. He has to brush it off, and ends up telling the Winslow’s that they’ve been robbed. At which point he begins to assume that it was Skeet, and confronts the boy, making a whole scene, at which point Skeet storms off again. Bruce then starts feeling guilty, realizing that Skeet wasn’t a criminal, but he may have pushed him toward that life, while Robin tries to find the kid. And, he finally does spot him, unconscious on the beach. Dick wakes Skeet up, and finds that he saw Deena burying something in the sand, and when he approached her she bashed him over the head with a surfboard. Robin notices the yacht of Naxos off the shore, and decides that Deena must have stolen the contents of the safe, and brought it to the man.

So, Bruce and Dick have a meeting, and decide they need to sneak aboard the yacht. And they do this by having Dick paddle a surfboard out into the waters near the yacht, and do surf-stunts to distract the crew of the ship while Batman swims beneath him and slips aboard. And, shockingly, this works. Batman gets onto the ship and begins investigating, having to knock out one of Axios’ crew in the process. But, it pays off when he finds Deena handing Axios a soda can full of jewels. Batman tries to stop Axios, who then pulls a gun on him. But, murder wasn’t what Deena signed up for, and she manages to knock the gun out of Axios’ hand, letting Batman take him down. Deena explains that she can’t stand her materialistic parents, and met Axios at a party. He’s a conman who robs rich people, and they concocted plan for her to steal from her parents, just to spite them. Batman then gives her a stern talking-to, and returns home in time to see Dick giving Skeet a lecture about staying away from a life of crime.

 

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I’ve got to admit, when I saw that this issue was written by Frank Robbins, I kind of got my hopes up. I’ve tackled quite a few issues of Batman that have been written by Robbins, and he usually leads to some pretty insane stories, especially when he also draws them. He kind of ran the show during this era, and wrote some of my favorite silly issues we’ve talked about. So, I’m a little disappointing that this ended up being such a weirdly tame and soapy issue. The mystery aspect of the story, (which of these teens with black-eyes broke into the safe?), is fine I guess, but the thing that just kind of doesn’t work about this issue is the fact that it really just feels like a series of lectures about the importance of not being a criminal. It also doesn’t help that a majority of the issue revolves around Bruce and Dick, wearing yachting clothes, silently judging people around them. It has its moments, but this wasn’t really the type of Batman story that sticks with me.

 

“The Combo Caper!” was written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Joe Giella, and edited by Julius Schwartz, 1969.

 

 

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