Bat Signal

Issue 301 – “The Condemned Batman”

 

Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with essentially no context. And we’ve got a real goofy one on our hands this week, folks. It’s the special brand of Silver Age Batman story that just feels a tad phoned in. Weird premise, odd villain and shaky exposition. But, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I’ve kind of grown accustomed to, sit back and relax, and let’s chat about the time Batman became so hot he had to live in a plastic bubble.

The story begins kind of in the middle of things, with Batman and Robin chasing down a pair of goons who are attempting to rob some sort of laboratory that makes artificial gemstones. The men seem to be stealing fake gems, which is an interesting call, and are trying to flee, with Batman and Robin hot on their heels. Which gives them the idea to huck some of the gems down on the ground, causing the Dynamic Duo to slip and fall, and giving them a bit of a head-start. Batman catches up quickly though, but doesn’t notice that one of the men seemingly vanished. And, as Batman reaches a small alcove the guy leaps out of the shadows and pushes him through a door, into one of the laboratories. And, Batman finds himself sprawling out on a large platform covered in gemstones that’s being bombarded with strange, vaguely defined rays of energy. Which means that Batman is now being bombarded with those rays as well. And this process has an almost immediate effect on him, causing him to glow with a red light, and put off an insane amount of heat, to the point that it ends up causing enough pressure in the room to cause one of the walls to fall apart. 

 

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Robin tries to come help Batman, but he’s putting off too much heat to even get close to. Thankfully they’re found by a scientist who works at the laboratory, and he informs them that he has no idea what’s going on, but says that they need to stick Batman in an experimental plastic capsule in order to not cook everyone around him alive. So, they stick Batman in the little capsule, and start doing some tests on him, finding that one of the side-effects of this transformation is that he now breathes methane. Which, seems like he’s going to be trapped in his little plastic prison forever. But, Batman has different plans. He has Robin work and create a little ship for him, that can keep him breathing methane, while flying around with compressed air rockets, and fighting crime with robotic tentacle arms. Which, weirdly seems to work okay, letting Batman adjust to this strange new life.

But, all of this ends up catching the attention of a local mobster named Brains Beldon, who has come up with a plan to steal quite a bit of money, using Batman’s current situation. Because the next day Batman and Robin have agreed to oversee a transfer of $20 million. And, while they’re keeping an eye on the trucks carrying the money we see Brains call Commissioner Gordon, claiming to be a doctor who has cracked a cure for Batman’s condition, but tells him that they need him to come to the hospital as quickly as possible. So, Gordon gives Batman a call, and he and Robin decides to race to the hospital, leaving the cash transfer in the hands of the bumbling police of Gotham City. And, as Batman’s little rocket thing approaches the hospital he’s suddenly attacked by Beldon’s men, who shoot a big net at Batman, causing him to sink down so they can crack his little egg open.

 

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The criminals begin spraying Batman’s little dome down with liquid oxygen, causing it to crack open and free him. Which Robin can’t abide. And, since he was driving behind in the Batmobile he comes racing up behind the goons, driving into a fire hydrant so that it starts spraying water at the criminals, keeping them incapacitated. Batman then radios Commissioner Gordon and informs him of the strange criminals, causing Gordon to order all available cops to come arrest them, including most of the cops who were guarding the cash transfer. Which is when Belden and his men arrive, pretending to be backup officers, offering to drive the truck full of money the rest of the way. 

But, when the police come to arrest the criminals with the liquid oxygen, we see that Batman has realized they’ve fallen into a trap. He assumes that this was all a distraction from a larger job, and they realize it had to have been the cash transfer. So, he flies off to the transfer route, and finds Beldon and his men fleeing in the truck carrying the money. Batman begins chasing the truck, which eventually drives up to a large dam outside Gotham City. Beldon and his men then race inside, and begin opening the dam, causing it to flood the city below as another distraction. Batman can’t do anything to stop them, but comes up with one idea. He lands his little ship and gets out of it, using his insane heat to melt the power cables charging the dam, which would cause the floodgates to automatically shut. And, in the process, he’s hit by a downed power cable, which electrifies him. Beldon and his men then head out of the building, ready to fight Batman, because they know that he can’t breathe without methane. But, it turns out that the electrical charge of that cable has somehow cured his condition, and Batman’s able to put a stop of Beldon, and say goodbye to his little Dr. Robotnik craft.

 

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So yeah, this is a weird one. I feel like there are two dominant types of Batman stories from this era. Ones where Batman encounters some weird gimmicky villain who will only appear in one issue, and ones where something insane happens to Batman and he just turns into some science experiment for an issue. And, I definitely like the Batman science experiment ones less. Some of them work, but some of them feel a little slap-dash. Like this one. I mean, I’m not expecting pure scientific reasoning in sixty year old issues of Detective Comics, but I have no idea what’s going on with this issue. Batman gets hit by electricity and becoming some sort of living sun, only able to breathe methane, until he’s hit by different electricity, like he’s Fred Flintstone getting knocked on the head and reverting back to his old state. It’s not the best issue I’ve ever read, but it’s also not the worst. It’s just sort of fine. A standard unit of Batman comic. 

 

 

“The Condemned Batman” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan, 1962.

 

 

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