Bat Signal

Issue 864 – “Beneath the Mask, Part One”

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Hello everyone and welcome to another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context. And let me tell you, most issues that I randomly pull don’t really have any context to worry about. For most of Detective Comics’ history it was just some stand-alone stories that aren’t part of long-running narratives. But every now and then I pull issues that just happen to be a piece of a story, and it can be a littler confusing. And immediately, upon seeing that “Part One” was in the title of the issue, I knew I wasn’t going to be frustrated. Although, oddly enough, it wasn’t really the end of the issue that gave me the most grief. I can usually guess how a story will end in the coming issues. Honestly it was the beginning that threw me through the biggest loops. But let’s get to that.

The issue begins with a nine-panel grid of random faces with some mysterious dialogue trying to set a sense of menace. We see an Arkham inmate, a jester’s staff, the Black Mask, several Batmen, and then a trio of random looking crazy people. And once that’s taken care of we cut to a wonderfully odd splash page where we see Bruce Wayne, Nightwing, Robin, and Catwoman fighting with a guy in a Batman costume who is firing guns at them. Not exactly a scene that one would expect. But we do get some context from the narrator, in between some random Velvet Underground references. Basically, this scene is from the past, when Bruce Wayne and the Bat-Family worked together to stop Hugo Strange, who went crazy after they tricked him into believing Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman. Strange then responded to this by dressing as Batman and trying to gun people down. And once the Bat-Family stopped Strange he was brought to Arkham Asylum, which is where we finally get a hang on what’s going on.

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Yep, it turns out that our humble narrator has been Jeremiah Arkham, the administrator of Arkham Asylum. We see that Arkham took a special interest in Hugo Strange, and specifically tried to help him with his issues. However, this was also not the present. Because the real present of the issue features Jeremiah Arkham as an inmate in his family’s asylum. Now, this is where I got a little confused. I’m familiar with Jeremiah Arkham, but primarily as a somewhat shy and ineffective administrator of the Asylum. But it turns out that somewhere around this issue he took on a different role. Jeremiah Arkham apparently became a new version of the Black Mask. I’m not sure how Roman Sionis felt about this, but it seems like Arkham wasn’t a particularly effective Black Mask, him being put in the Asylum and whatnot.

Although, we also see that there’s certainly some darkness hiding behind Arkham. Because as he sits in the cafeteria, trying to mind his own business, he gets accosted by a fellow inmate. Some creepy old guy that Arkham calls the Mortician begins harassing Arkham, telling him that he and the fellow inmates are going to make Arkham’s life in the Asylum a living hell. And, in response, Arkham lets the Mortician know that if he ever messes with Arkham again, he’ll have some men capture the Mortician’s grandson and torture him for the rest of his life. This works quite well, and Jeremiah is quickly left alone. So there’s clearly something going on with Arkham. And, to make things worse, there’s something crazy happening out on the streets of Gotham.

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So yeah, there’s some guy standing in the middle of the street, holding a woman hostage and demanding to see Batman. And Batman is more than happy to comply. He tackles the guy, demanding to know what’s going on. And it’s not good. The man is a prominent investment banker, and it turns out that the Black Mask, be he Jeremiah Arkham or not, recently kidnapped him and had Hugo Strange implant a bomb into his chest, forcing him to trigger an economic catastrophe in Gotham. And now that Arkham has been arrested as the Black Mask, there’s no one to turn the bomb off. So the man begs Batman to head into the Asylum, and figure out the code to disable the bomb so that the man can try to undo the catastrophe.

Batman then heads to Arkham Asylum, and heads into a cell with Arkham. Everyone that works at the Asylum is very worried about this, figuring that Jeremiah’s psyche is so close to being fractured already that this is too dangerous. But Batman ignores them, and starts trying to psychologically manipulate Arkham into telling him what he wants to know. Which isn’t a great plan when dealing with a professional. Our glimpse into Jeremiah’s head, through the narration boxes, show us that Arkham figures out what Batman is doing, and decides to play him along. Until Batman tells Arkham that he was incompetent, and was never able to cure anyone. This gets Jeremiah pissed, and he tells Batman that he actually has saved three inmates that are hidden in a secret part of the Asylum. And he’ll only tell Batman how to stop the bomb if he goes with Arkham to check on the people, and prove that he was a good psychiatrist. So they head into a secret area of the Asylum, and things get baffling. There does appear to be three people, but they all have Jeremiah’s face, and he ends up stabbing them when they start mocking him. And that’s the end of the issue.

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So yeah, this is a weird issue. But sometimes that’s the luck of the draw. I made the stupid rules for this project, so I don’t get to complain when I get an issue that makes absolutely no sense. Just like this one! I legitimately have no idea what’s going on here. I guess Jeremiah Arkham snapped after years of horrible things happening at Arkham Asylum, and became a new Black Mask. Maybe. Some people in this issue seem unconvinced that Arkham actually was this new Black Mask running around. But whatever the truth, Arkham clearly is an evil asshole in this issue, threatening the Mortician’s grandchild. And then there’s that ending. I have no idea what’s going on there. Did Arkham actually have three secret inmates? Were they all in his head? Were they different personalities of his that he just killed? Were they three random people who he imagined were all him? No idea. And I’ll probably never figure it out. The odds that I pull the next issue are not exactly in my favor. Oh well. It’s not exactly a burning question.

“Beneath the Mask, Part One” was written by David Hine, penciled by Jeremy Haun, inked by Jeremy Haun and John Lucas, and colored by David Baron, 2010.

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Bat Signal

Issue 267 – “Batman Meets Bat-Mite”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with basically no context. And folks, look who we’re getting to talk about again today. That’s right, everybody’s favorite little imp from another dimension who isn’t Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite. Now, we’ve already discussed Bat-Mite here on the project already, but it just so happens that the issue that my random number generator spat out today is the first appearance of the little twerp. And guess what? They still barely explain who he is, what the extent of his powers are, and if he is in actuality related to Mr. Mxyzptlk at all. At least he’s better than Qwsp. But all that matters is that we have another issue where Batman and Robin are going to be driven to their wits end while dealing with a rambunctious little imp who is going to do everything he can to prank the Dynamic Duo. And you know I’m into that.

The issue starts off with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson rushing down to the Batcave to change into their costumes and begin their nightly patrol. However, when they get down into the cave they find that something is amiss. It’s clear that someone has messed with their equipment, both their criminology gadgets and their utility belts, which obviously is going to startle them. They begin wandering around the Batcave, trying to find if there’s an intruder. And when they finally do come across the person who has messed with their stuff, they’re certainly shocked. Because they run into Bat-Mite, a tiny little man with a giant head who is wearing an ill-fitting Batman costume. Batman and Robin don’t seem overly shocked about the appearance of this little person and are more irritated that he broke in. And things are made even more confusing when Bat-Mite explains that he’s a nigh omnipotent being from another dimension who has gotten obsessed with them to the point that he’s torn a hole in space and time to come to their reality so he can be their pal. And Batman is having none of it.

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Batman doesn’t really have a lot of candor, and basically just refuses Bat-Mite’s offer to help him out. He does give at least a bit of an explanation, saying that people would be confused about the appearance of a magical being. Bat-Mite sullenly agrees with this assessment, and promises not to bother them. Which obviously isn’t going to happen. Because as soon as Bat-Mite agrees to these terms he pretends to return to his reality, but actually just turns invisible and sits atop the Batmobile, ready to go help out on the night’s adventure. And he doesn’t have to wait for long, because as Batman and Robin begin their patrol they make their way to the waterfront and come across a gang getting ready to escape after a heist.

Batman and Robin race after the criminals, eventually crashing into their getaway car. Once that happens the criminals bail out and begin to run across a bridge, and because Batman and Robin have a sense of fair-play, they too hop out of the Batmobile and race after the criminals on foot. Which is when Bat-Mite decides to be a dick. He uses his magical powers to transform the steel of the bridge into rubber, causing the entire bridge to begin wiggling and wavering around, throwing everyone into disarray. Batman quickly realizes what’s going on though, and starts using the attributes of the bridge to bounce towards the criminals and catch them. The criminals are a little confused about what just happened, and Batman has to make up some stone-cold bullshit by saying that the nearby chemical factory made them all hallucinate. The criminals accept that, and after Batman and Robin bring them in to the police they have a talking to with Bat-Mite. They tell him that crime-fighting isn’t for fun, and tell him to leave them alone.

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So yeah, Batman and Robin are incredibly gullible. Because as soon as Bat-Mite “vanishes” he just shows up in the trophy room and awaits Batman and Robin’s next patrol the next day. And the next night the Dynamic Duo get word that a gang are robbing some sort of high-fi convention and race off to help. Bat-Mite accompanies them, and watches Batman and Robin fight a group of criminals who are hiding among giant record players. The criminals quickly give up though, and Bat-Mite grows bored. So he controls a massive album, causing it to scoop the criminals up and fly them away. Batman and Robin realize what’s going on again though, and thinking quick, launch Batman onto the record using a massive tape recorder. Batman stops the criminals, who are baffled about what they just saw. Batman makes up more bullshit and arrests the criminals. And, once again, Batman and Robin scold Bat-Mite, and he promises not to interfere.

Which mean he’s going to do it again. Because Bat-Mite spends the entire next day stealing props from a movie studio, just assuming they’ll come in handy. And they do! Because Bat-Mite overhears Batman and Robin plan a sting on some criminals where they’ll trap them in an empty warehouse. Bat-Mite knows that this sounds boring, so he goes and fills the warehouse with his props, like a Viking ship, a sphinx, and a giant Batman. So that night when the Dynamic Duo and the criminals show up everyone is shocked. The criminals are pretty confused about all of this, but seeing an opening they all pile into the Viking ship, since it’s on wheels, and use it to escape. Bat-Mite is worried that this won’t be good enough, and offers to let Batman and Robin ride the sphinx to victory. But this ends up not working, so Batman has to make an executive decision and starts yelling at Bat-Mite. He tells him that if he allows the criminals to escape he’ll be branded a terrible crime-fighter. So Bat-Mite agrees to help them, and obviously animates the giant Batman into becoming a goddamn kaiju. Batman and Robin hop into Giant Batman’s utility belt and watch as it chases after the criminals and captures them. And with that taken care of Batman and Robin say goodbye to Bat-Mite. For real this time. He agrees to be a better imp, and returns to his dimension. For now.

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Let me be real with you folks. I love me some Bat-Mite. He’s a delightfully insane character, even by Silver Age standards, and I’m always onboard to see him pop into an issue of Detective Comics. And today’s issue, his introduction to the DC Universe, really hammers in an interesting point. Batman is so goddamn lucky that Bat-Mite is a fan of his. I know that Mr. Mxyzptlk is often portrayed as something of a trickster, just bothering Superman, but he’s basically omnipotent, and could cause some serious issues for Superman. And Superman is essentially a god. Batman’s just a dude. If Bat-Mite was more malevolent he could utterly dominate Gotham City. But instead Bat-Mite is the universes biggest Batman fan, and instead focuses all of his power and attention on loving Batman, and trying to give him better adventures. Which is problematic in its own right, but at least somewhat less deadly for Batman. Bat-Mite is just the ultimate fan, basically pitching story ideas to Batman on Twitter. And Batman just has to grit his teeth and accept it, knowing that if he angers Bat-Mite, he could get turned into a duck or some nonsense. The issue itself is just kind of fine. It’s a tad repetitive, and just does the same gimmick three times. But the heart of the issue is Bat-Mite, and he’s in fine form here, showing that the character has potential for decades to come.

“Batman Meets Bat-Mite” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1959.

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Apparently Improv was not one of the skills Batman has mastered
Bat Signal

Issue 467 – “Pick-Up on Gotham 2-4-6”

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Hello everyone and welcome back to Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context. And folks, we have a fun one this week. For some reason the random number generator gods have really been giving me a lot of issues that revolve around a very particular genre of Batman comics that I didn’t really think existed. Issues where Batman has to deal with people pretending to be Batman. And I love it. It’s a very strange little subgenre of Detective Comics that have created some of my favorite entries of the series. So sit back and enjoy some truly bizarre comics.

The issue starts off with Batman returning to his home after a hard night patrolling the city and fighting crime. He walks up to his room, ready to relax and sleep after a rough evening. But that’s going to be made a little difficult when he finds that there’s a mysterious stranger waiting in his room. And, to make matters worse, the man seems to know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. The identity of the visitor is kept secret for most of the issue, so for now we just have to deal with the fact that Bruce is going to be talking to some random dude who was waiting in his room. But Bruce seems at ease with the man, so it’s nothing too bad. The two settle into Bruce’s room, order up some breakfast, and Bruce is requested to regain the stranger with the events of his night as Batman.

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It all starts with Batman trailing a criminal named Benny the Rat, who is making a drop off to a local criminal named Danton. I’m not quite sure what it is that he’s dropping off, but it’s really just a McGuffin to keep things moving. Batman begins following around Danton, trying to keep a tail on him. And this runs into issues when Danton heads down into a subway. Batman realizes that he’s pretty conspicuous in his costume, so he changes into another one. That of Matches Malone. Now, we haven’t talked about Matches Malone before yet, but he’s great. It’s an alter-ego that Bruce Wayne created to go undercover in the criminal underworld. So Matches slips into the subway, and sits next to Danton, sizing him up. But something unexpected happens when the train passes through a dark tunnel. When the lights come back on Danton has put on a Batman costume.

The people on the subway are shocked to see “Batman” aboard the train, and just kind of move out of his way as he marches over to the compartment that the conductor is in. “Batman” gets into the compartment, and demands that the conductor slam on the breaks in between two stations so that he can disembark. This is obviously suspicious for the real Batman, who just tries to wait and figure out what’s going on. The conductor agrees to stop the train, and while the rest of the passengers are concerned with the fake Batman leaving, Bruce slips into his own costume and chases after the criminal. Batman chases after Denton, convinced that he’s heading to a place to drop off whatever he got from Benny the Rat. They both have to avoid the third rail, so they don’t get electrocuted, and Batman tries to intimidate Danton by throwing a Batarang around him. But Danton remains resilient, and begins fighting Batman with everything he has. Which of course leads to ruin.

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Whoops! Well, Danton’s dead. But it was his fault, so I guess that makes it better. And once that revelation is made we cut back to Bruce and his mysterious breakfast guest, chatting in Bruce’s room. However, Bruce remained intrigued by the whole evening when he found that Danton didn’t have the goods that Benny the Rat gave to him. So he must have dropped them off to someone on the train. The mysterious guest seems to know who, and we even get a weird panel where the comic asks us if we’ve figured out who Danton gave the good to and if we’ve figured out who the mysterious breakfast guest is. Apparently this issue involved participation.

After the little question panel though we cut back to Batman’s story, as he finds that Danton is missing the goods. Batman realizes that clearly someone on the train has them, so he races after it. But Batman knows that there’s no way for him to get the train to stop, so he just has to just aboard it while it’s racing towards him. And as soon as he gets aboard the train, stunning the people who witnessed two Batmen leave the train and only one came back. And once that’s done he runs up to the conductor, and drags him out of his little compartment. Because obviously this was Danton’s accomplice. The guy tries to fight back, but c’mon, Batman whoops him pretty handily, solving the puzzle. We’re then back to Bruce’s room, where we finally learn the identity of his guest. It’s Carter Hall, the Hawkman! Apparently Hawkman has a backup story in this issue of Detective Comics that has something to do with this story, but let me tell you, I have no interest in reading or discussing whatever the hell Hawkman is up to. So let’s just call this one a day.

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This issue is a whole lot of fun. Even though it does take a weird little turn where the comic basically turns to the reader and asks “have you solved the puzzle?” That’s super cheesy, although I’m kind of stunned I haven’t seen that used more often. But ignoring that, this issue is just a whole lot of fun. It’s another worthy addition to the weird world of comics about Batman dealing with villains dressing as Batman. Which, honestly, is probably a pretty decent strategy in Gotham. Batman can’t be everywhere at once, so if you’re gutsy enough to pretend to be Batman you probably could pull bullshit like this all the time. Plus, I’m thrilled that we’ve finally gotten out first introduction to Matches Malone, one of my absolute favorite weird aspects of Bruce Wayne’s war on crime. I can always do with more Matches Malone. And as ridiculous as the solution ended up being, I did like the weird gall that this issue had by introducing a mysterious companion to Bruce Wayne in the beginning and then not letting us know who he is until the very end. Although I can’t imagine what would make me be interested in seeing how Hawkman plays into things, but this story sure didn’t have it.

“Pick-Up on Gotham 2-4-6” was written by Bob Rozakis, penciled by John Calnan, Inked by Vince Coletta, and lettered by Ben Oda, 1977.

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Bat Signal

Issue 298 – “The Challenge of Clay-Face”

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Hey there everybody, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics with no rhyme or reason. And we have a really fun issue in store for today. As you can see from the cover, we have another Clayface story. And yet, a very different kind of Clayface story. Previously I’ve discussed the original Bat-Villain known as Clayface. This version was a disgruntled actor named Basil Karlo who was adept at makeup and costuming, and starting killing people related to his movies by dressing up as a monster from one of his movies. But that’s not who we have today. No, today we have the more well-known Clayface, the one from the Animated Series. The one who actually could shape-shift. And folks, that leads to some completely insane stuff. So let’s do this thing.

The issue starts off with Batman and Robin meeting with a wealthy philanthropist at his mansion. He’s apparently donating a large amount of cash to “Police Benefit Fund” in the middle of the night, and is giving it to Batman and Robin to pass along to the fund. There’s something incredibly shady about this transaction, but whatever, the real menace begins when a man comes lurching out of the shadows. But not just any man, this one seems to be made completely of clay. He runs at the philanthropist, ready to steal the money from him, when Batman gets between them and starts fighting. So the thief transforms himself into a giant snake to strike Batman. This gives the Dynamic Duo a moment of pause, but then Robin jumps into action and lassos the snake, hoping to take it down that way. Unfortunately the man then transforms into a buzz-saw to cut the rope, and then into a giant eagle so he can grab the case with the money in it, and fly away, leaving Batman, Robin, and the philanthropist incredibly confused.

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So that was a weird night. Even for Batman and Robin. And what exactly is going on? Well, we find out right away, because we immediately cut to the hideout of a man named Matt Hagen, who is the thief. We’re then given a flashback to show that Hagen was a deep-sea diver who made his living scavenging off of shipwrecks. And one day he came across a secret grotto with a mysterious pool of “protoplasm” in it. He investigated, and ended up falling in. And when he came out he found that he was now made of living clay, and could change his shape at will. So he obviously decided to use that ability to start robbing people, and the philanthropist was the first attempt. And since that was such a rousing success, he decides that he’s going to need to do this a lot more.

Meanwhile, Batman and Robin have gone to the Batcave to discuss this being that the newspapers are now calling Clayface. They figure that he’ll strike again that night, and get ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. And later that night Clayface heads into an art museum, taking the form of a lion. He begins scaring off patrons, and when it’s just him and the owner of the gallery he grabs a priceless painting and gets ready to flee. But unfortunately for Clayface the Dynamic Duo shows up at that exact moment, and push him into a closet. However, Clayface then squeezes himself out of the keyhole, and gets ready to attack his tormentors again. However, when Clayface prepares to transform into an eagle again and take flight, he realizes that something’s wrong with his powers. They seems to be rapidly fading. So he instead just uses his strength to throw a sculpture at Batman and Robin, and then flee in the chaos. The Dynamic Duo give chase, and end up coming across the gallery owner, saying that Clayface dropped the painting and fled. However, when they get back to the gallery they find the real owner tied up, and realize that Clayface tricked them again. So they return to the Batcave, and Batman manages to deduce exactly what’s going on.

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So yeah, Batman has managed to figure out that Clayface’s powers are fading, and he’s going to have to go renew them. Which is exactly what he’s doing. Hagen returns to the grotto and jumps back in the protoplasm pool and regains his powers. He now knows that his powers can fade, and decides to start experimenting with the length, while also planning a new series of heists. So Clayface gets himself some goons and they begin running around Gotham, committing as many crimes as they can before his powers cut out again. Including running into museum in Chinatown and stealing some sort of jade artifact. They manage to escape, but one of the thugs does leave behind some mud from his shoe. Which gives Batman and Robin a pretty good clue to track down Clayface and his gang.

They bring the clay sample back to the Batcave, and find that it could have only come from one excavation site in town. And that site happens to be right next to the home of a local thug named Joe Shank. So Batman and Robin stake-out Shank, and end up following him to the Natural History Museum where he meets up with another goon and Clayface. So the Dynamic Duo run out at Clayface and the goons. However, Clayface turns into a bull and charges at the crimefighters, knocking them down. Robin seems to actually be stunned, and Batman chases off after the goons. However, Robin was just faking it, and he sees Clayface run off back to his secret base. So Robin decides to get in a little helicopter and follow after Clayface, finding his way back to Clayface’s house. Robin starts climbing down Hagen’s chimney, but ends up slipping and falling. Hagen freaks out about Robin’s appearance, and transforms into a horrible monster, ready to kill Robin. But Batman runs into the room at the last second, and works to save Robin. Clayface prepares to turn into another monster, but he realizes it’s now been 48 hours since his last dip in the pool, and his powers have deactivated. Which is exactly what Batman was anticipating. He manages to tie up Clayface, and wait for him to turn back into Hagen so they can arrest him. However, Hagen promises to never tell them the secret of his powers, and is sent to prison where he can plot his return to crime and power some day.

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This issue is a whole lot of fun. I’ve always enjoyed Clayface as a villain, primarily due to his appearances in the Animated Series from the 90s. He’s got some very interesting powers, and certainly becomes an outlier to Batman’s typical rogue’s gallery, what with actually having what are essentially magical powers. And I will say that I enjoy this version of Clayface much more than the disgruntled actor one that I’ve already discussed. I know that the character gets even more convoluted eventually, adding in even more character to use the name, and then combining multiple of them, but as far as this issue goes it’s pretty cut and dry. Matt Hagen is just a lousy dude who gets powers and decides to abuse them. Just like countless other random villains that have appeared in Detective Comics before and after him. But this one gets bonus points for having a character with some incredibly inventive powers, and who takes full advantage of them here. This isn’t just a Clayface who mimics people, he becomes animals and objects, and even can fly. It’s a super wacky issue, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

“The Challenge of Clay-Face” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris, 1961.

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Bat Signal

Issue 222 – “The Great Batman Swindle!”

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Hello there, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my weekly quest to read every issue of Detective Comics by randomly selecting them. And I’m just going to say right up top, we’re in for a treat this week. It’s kind of a rule here on Bat Signal that you shouldn’t always trust the covers of these comics, because they often have some false advertising and don’t live up to the insane promises they make. But every now and then we run into issues that have covers that don’t even begin to accurately explain how delightfully insane the issue is actually going to be. And that’s what we have today. Because as amazing as that cover is, with a group of Batmen hanging out, one of whom is in a suit, as they appear to be selling the rights to be Batman, and the fact that it’s called “The Great Batman Swindle,” things get so much crazier, and so much more fun. So buckle up everyone, things are about to get wacky.

The issue starts off with a “wealthy yachtsman” named Ned Judson arriving at a creepy and decrepit castle outside of Gotham City for a mysterious appointment. Judson doesn’t really seem to know why he’s been invited to this castle in the middle of the night, but he goes on in anyway. And when he enters he finds something amazing. A man in a red suit wearing a Batman cowl. The man explains that he was the original Batman, but has retired due to injuries. But that doesn’t mean his quest is over, because it turns out that he’s had a group of different Batmen working for him for years, and after careful consideration he and the group have decided to invite Judson to join their ranks. Judson is a huge Batman fan, and because two of the previous Batmen have recently died they have an opening, and they’d love for him to fill it. So, obviously, Judson agrees, and gets made an official Batman. Which is when they start filling him in on the details of his new job.

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Yeah, that’s a lot to take in. They claim that there’s a hierarchy of Batmen, and only he leader, Batman One, gets to have a Robin and answer the Bat Signal. All the rest, including Judson, have to just answer walkie-talkies to get their assignments. But Judson doesn’t care, he just wants to be part of their organization, and heads home, ready to begin training. Which is when we figure out what’s going on. These men are all criminals, and they’ve concocted a scheme to bilk Judson out of his riches. But they really need to sell this, so the next day Judson returns, ready to be trained, and they actually give him some lessons. They give him some acrobatic training and teach him some basics on criminology, which seems to be going above and beyond for the scam, but whatever, I’m not the criminal mastermind here.

And after the training they give Judson his first assignment as Batman. The call his walkie-talkie and tell him that there’s someone breaking into a jewelry store downtown. So Judson gets his costume on and races downtown. Meanwhile, the real Batman and Robin are bored, and decide to go patrol Gotham, starting with that jewelry store. They arrive on the rooftops near the building, and find Judson in his Batman costume fighting the burglar. They’re obviously a little confused, and hold back to examine what’s going on. And they quickly realize that the burglar is rolling with punches and generally pretending to get beat up. Which raises some red flags. And that continues when a second Batman arrives and talks with Judson. Clearly something is up, so the real Batman and Robin tail Judson back to the creepy castle and sneak into a window to investigate. They of course find the fake Batmen, and overhear them talking to Judson, which is when they learn the real scam.

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So it’s kind of a Batman pyramid scheme. Judson is still incredibly down with this plan though, and eagerly agrees to pay them $20,000 for a Batmobile. He then leaves, and the real Batman and Robin overhear the criminals laughing at Judson, saying that they’re going to continue charging him for Bat equipment until he gets wise. But Batman doesn’t think he can tell Judson the truth, worried that the embarrassment will destroy the man. Instead he comes up with a ridiculous plan. That night he real Batman arrives at Judson’s house, claiming to be Batman One. He tells Judson that he’s getting ready to retire, and he wants Judson to take over as the primary Batman. Which will of course require some secret training. So Judson comes with Batman and Robin to the real Bat Cave, and starts getting Batman lessons from the master, quickly becoming a legitimate crime-fighter.

They even take Judson to the Gotham Playhouse to stop a criminal who is robbing it. Judson springs into action and is able to defeat the burglar. He then returns to the castle to show off to the Batmen, who are more than a little confused about what’s going on. But they figure that if Judson is actually stopping some crime on his own he’ll become more convinced and keep falling for the scam, so they let it ride. Meanwhile, the real Batman continues to train Judson, and even sends him out with Robin to stop the robbery of a candy factory. And once that’s finished the real Batman tells Judson that things are ready, and that he’s proven himself. So at the next meeting of the Batmen Judson tells the fake Batman One that he’s ready to announce what’s been going on and take over. This causes the Batmen to freak out, and break their characters, since it seems like Judson actually met the real Batman. Which is confirmed when Batman and Robin drop from the ceiling. They tell Judson what’s going on, and he helps them fight the Batmen. When it’s over Judson is a little embarrassed, but Batman promises that Judson will get credit for taking down this little criminal group, so people won’t mock him. Plus, now Batman knows he has a substitute out there, since Judson did such a great job.

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This issue is a whole lot of fun. It’s kind of surprising the amount of stories that I’ve come across that have been about criminals pretending to be Batman, but I guess it makes sense since it doesn’t seem like it’s that hard to make a Batman costume. And honestly, this is kind of a solid plan. It’s kind of ridiculous that the criminals actually trained Judson a bit to be Batman, but other than that I feel like this could potentially work. I’m sure that there are people in Gotham who are obsessed with Batman, and since the man is so mysterious you could probably convince them that you’re scam is legitimate, and that they too could be a Batman. But I think what I love most about this story is that when the real Batman learns about this swindle, he decides that it makes more sense to not tell Judson, and legitimately train him to actually be a Batman. I don’t know Bruce, that seems like you and Robin were just having a slow week and wanted to kill some time. He could have just swung in that first night he found the Batmen and defeated them, instead of playing this long-con. But that’s not how Batman rolls, I suppose.

“the Great Batman Swindle!” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Charles Paris, 1955.

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Bat Signal

Issue 574 – “My Beginning… and My Probable End”

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Hello there everyone and welcome back for another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics with little to no context. And I’m going to be really honest with you all right at the top. We’re in for a weird bummer today folks. I was kind of worried when I first pulled this issue and saw the cover, because I assumed that this was a part of the infamous “A Death in the Family” story, what with Batman holding a seemingly dead Robin. Luckily we don’t have to deal with that today, nor in fact will we ever because some research proved that that story happened in Batman and not Detective Comics. But that doesn’t mean that we’re completely off the hook. Because this issue is plenty weird on it’s own. I actually did a little research about this book, since it seems like such an anomaly, but I’ll get to that at the end. Needless to say I haven’t really talked about an issue like this one yet, so this is going to be a fun little experiment. So let’s get on with it and discuss this weird Batman origin story that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the far more famous Batman origin story that was published the exact same year.

The issue starts off with some narration about the park of Gotham City that used to be known as Park Row, and inevitably came to be called Crime Alley after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. We see it go from one of the classier parts of the city to one of the worst, just in a matter of years. And once that exposition is done we see a couple thugs stand outside the Thomas Wayne Memorial Clinic where Dr. Leslie Thompkins practices medicine. The two men plan to head inside and rob Leslie, but their plan is ruined when Batman himself comes running up to the building, holding a prone and battered Robin. The thugs run away and Batman kicks his way into the Clinic, terrifying Leslie in the process. But as soon as she sees who it is, and the condition that Robin is in, Leslie snaps into crisis mode and starts getting to work. She also drops all pretense and starts calling Batman by his name, trying to get the full story.

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Bruce is obviously rather shook up about this whole incident. And Leslie doesn’t even try to sugar-coat it, flat out telling Bruce that it’s all his fault, and tells him that the only thing he can do is leave the room and start praying. So Bruce leaves, takes a seat in the waiting room, and starts flashing back to his parent’s murder. It’s fairly boilerplate, and really doesn’t do anything new with the story we’ve all seen a thousand times. We see Thomas and Martha bring a happy Bruce out of a movie theater, only to get stopped by Joe Chill, and shot. The only thing that seems out of the ordinary is that we see Joe Chill drop his gun, which then bounces into a bush, all of which Bruce noticed. Oh, and there’s also the fact that after the police were done with the crime scene and the bodies of the Wayne’s were carted away we see that Bruce stayed with Leslie, instead of being  brought home by Alfred like normal.

But once Bruce is done reminiscing about the worst night of his life, he’s brought back to reality by Leslie. She comes in and tells Bruce that she’s done everything she could, and now it’s just up to Jason’s will and strength. Bruce explains that Jason will be fine, since he’s a fighter, but that just gets them in a fight. Leslie admonishes Bruce for letting this child be put in situations where he could get killed by a lunatic obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Bruce argues that this is a better life for Jason than he had before he was Robin, but Leslie isn’t buying it. She starts telling Bruce about how worried she was for him when his parents were killed, and how she kept an eye on him after the murder. We’re then shown another flashback to the night of the murder where a little Bruce escapes Leslie’s house and returns to the crime-scene, taking Joe Chill’s gun. I’m not quite sure what’s going on with that, but it’s okay because we’re about to be given another weird plot element.

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Yeah, according to this issue Leslie Thompkins became Bruce Wayne’s foster-mother, and I guess raised him with Alfred. Leslie then complains that she failed Bruce, since she tried her best to be a loving influence on him and he still ended up Batman. She remembers how angry and quick-tempered he was when he was a child, and Bruce decides to tell her stories about when he went to college. Apparently by that time in his life he already knew that he was going to try and have two different personas in life, so he started making Bruce Wayne a vapid nitwit when he went to college, blowing off classes and just generally being the biggest pain in the ass on campus.

But at night he was hitting the books, studying to become the genius that he is as Batman. And things even got so far that he started taking theater classes just to become an expert one make-up to create elaborate disguises so he could still attend classes and learn things, just not as  Bruce Wayne. And I guess it paid off, because all of those experiences help craft him into the crime-fighter that he is today. Leslie tells him that his life sounds pretty sad, which gets them into another fight where Bruce calls her life sad. The two continue to squabble like this for a while until they’re stopped by the sudden awakening of Jason. Bruce rushes to his side, ready to tell Jason that he can quit being Robin if he wants. But instead Jason just says that they have work to do and they run off into the morning, ignoring the fact that he almost just died.

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This issue is really weird. Like, really weird. So weird that I decided to do some research on it, which I usually don’t do. And what I found out ended up making this issue make less sense. This issue came out the same year as Frank Miller’s Batman Year One did over in the Batman title. That story is one of the most well-known and well-regarded origin stories that Batman has ever had, and became the agreed upon story for years to come. And yet this story came out at the tail end of it, and seems to be existing in it’s own continuity. Hell, I looked up the idea that Leslie Thompkins raised Bruce Wayne, and that’s apparently only in this story. Nowhere else took that idea, and it’s been lost to the sands of time. As it stands I guess this is a fine retelling of the Batman origin, nothing too special about it, but when you look at it from the angle of continuity, it’s just strange. It’s like this issue was in an Elseworld’s or something, since no one ever used the concepts it was introducing. I suppose the fact that we saw Bruce Wayne steal Joe Chill’s gun comes up in a later story, but overall this issue seems to take place in a weird continuity bubble, which makes for a strange and disorientating read.

“My beginning and My Probable End” was written by Mike W Barr, penciled by Alan Davis, inked by Paul Neary, colored by Adrienne Roy, and lettered by Richard Starkings, 1987.

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Bat Signal

Issue 147 – “Tiger Shark!”

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Hi there everyone and welcome back to Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read random issues of Detective Comics with no context. And you know what, there are some weeks when I kind of feel like I don’t want to read some weird issue of Batman. Just not in the mood to look back on the weirder adventures of the Caped Crusader. But then I fired up the random number generator and look at the issue that the gods have fated me to read, and I see something so ridiculous that my interest gets piqued. I mean, look at that cover. Batman and Robin are going to do battle on the open-seas with some weird Venture Bros. rejects. They’re using some sort of little boat-shoes and there’s a man in a tiger-print wet-suit. That’s some top-notch goofiness right there, folks. By now I’ve learned that you can’t always trust the covers of these comics, because they often just feature little tableau that the artist thought was cool, and that have next to nothing to do with the actual plot of the issue. But it turns out that this time there was no need to worry, because this issue sure does feature Batman fighting a gang of underwater thieves. And it’s a hell of a good time. Let’s do this thing!

The issue starts off with the news spreading around Gotham City that Batman and Robin have died at sea, buried under 1,500 feet of ocean. So that’s a hell of a start. We jump around Gotham at that point, seeing Commissioner Gordon sadly turn off the Bat Signal, a group of criminals celebrating the death of the hated heroes, and a group of masked criminals congratulating themselves in their underwater base for having killed Batman and Robin. But what the hell is going on? Why, we’re about the find out, because basically the rest of this story is a flashback , all starting with Batman and Robin hanging out in the Batcave trophy room, trying to figure out which trophy they want to donate to some organization called the Voyager Club. But their inventory session is cut short when they get an alert that Gordon has turned on the Bat Signal, and they rush off to find out what’s going on. Turns out there a group of thieves working in Gotham led by a mysterious man called Tiger Shark, and they’ve been committing all sorts of water related crimes. Gordon tells them where Tiger Shark has been spotted, and Batman and Robin rush off to stop them. They find the criminals escaping the land, using their little inflatable shoes to reach their getaway submarine, when something unexpected happens.

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Damn straight the Batmobile has some sort of buoyant system that lets it drive on water! Why wouldn’t it? Anyway, Batman chases the goons across the water, and runs into the Tiger Shark’s submarine. Batman hops out of the Batmobile and tries to beat up the goons, but Tiger Shark starts to submerge the submarine and he has to bail off and get back to the Batmobile, or else get caught in the suction and dragged down to his death. So they didn’t manage to catch Tiger Shark, but now they’re mad and aren’t going to let anything stand in their way. Well, anything except the Voyager Club. The Dynamic Duo take a break from tracking down Tiger Shark and instead head over to the Club, which appears to just be people who do extreme activities and try to one up each other. There’s a guy who has brought a boulder back from Mount Everest and a guy who brought a bottle on a space-flight and has it vacuum-sealed. There’s also a famed oceanographer named Gaige who Batman asks for help. But not before declaring that he’s going to bring Tiger Shark’s mask for the collection.

After the meeting Batman and Robin ask Dr. Gaige if he would be willing to come back to the Batcave with them and help them create some technology to defeat Tiger Shark. Gaige is willing, and after a quick blindfolding he gets into the Batmobile and is rushed off to the Batcave. The Duo and Gaige then spend a couple days crafting a Bat-themed submarine, which they obviously decide to call the Sub-Batmarine. What? Well, I guess they’re experts at crime-fighting, not branding. Once the Sub-Batmarine is completed the two then head out to find Tiger Shark and his gang. And when they hear about a ship full of diamonds arriving at Gotham, they figure that they may know Tiger Shark’s next target. The Duo then head to the ship, and stow away waiting for Tiger Shark to make his move. Which he does by swimming up to the hull of the ship and cutting their way in with acetylene torches. Once they cut themselves in Batman and Robin race down to fight them, also in respirators. This of course leads to Batman and Robin getting in an underwater fight with the Tiger Shark gang, who happen to be wielding their torches like weapons. Robin manages to knock one of the thugs out before taking his torch and engaging in some fencing. But things take a turn when Batman is seemingly hurt, and the rest of the goons escape. But Batman has a trick up his sleeve.

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Yeah, Batman pretended to get knocked out so that Tiger Shark and the rest of the gang would leave, letting Batman slip a little radio/tracking device into the dude’s shoe. So now they can listen in on Tiger Shark’s plans and track them down when the time comes. But they’re going to need to wait a bit for that, so Batman and Robin head back to town and go ask Dr. Gaige to borrow some more of his gear. They get set up with a salvage ship and a bathysphere and head out to the location of Tiger Shark’s underwater base that they’ve established with the tracking device. And once they get above the lair the Dynamic Duo hops into the bathysphere and lower down in the depth. Which is when they find Tiger Shark’s base, a sunken pirate ship that they’ve made air-tight. So Batman and Robin start bringing their bathysphere closer to the base, which is when they get caught by some sort of lobster-shaped sentry that cuts the link of the bathysphere. Batman and Robin are thus cut-off from their supply of oxygen and their method of escape. The two are presumed dead, and news spread around the city, bringing us to the beginning.

But Batman and Robin obviously aren’t actually dead. They aren’t in good shape, but they aren’t dead. They’re running out of oxygen, but Batman’s able to use the claws of the bathysphere to slowly drag themselves toward the anchor of the salvage ship. They then painstakingly climb the chain, finally getting themselves out of the water and into safety. And once they’re free Batman decides it’s finally time to take down Tiger Shark. He and Robin continue to listen in on Tiger Shark’s plans, since they still haven’t found the radio, and they get into the Sub-Batmarine and chase off after Tiger Shark’s men. They find them robbing a barge, but Tiger Shark doesn’t seem that concerned, knowing that the Sub-Batmarine isn’t fast enough to catch them. Hmm, I wonder why that is. But unfortunately for Tiger Shark, Batman made some modifications to the Sub-Batmarine, including a massive net-gun that captures all of Tiger Shark’s gang. The Dynamic Duo then drag them to the surface, and have a Scooby Doo moment of unmasking Tiger Shark, proving him to be Dr. Gaige. Shocker. But at least Batman makes good on his promise to bring the mask of Tiger Shark to the Voyager Club.

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I had a whole lot of fun with this issue. I’ve really come to appreciate and love these older Batman stories with flavor-of-the-week villains who don’t really make that much of an impression, but still fulfill the basic formula of a Batman story. I mean, technically Tiger Shark could have returned. We have a weird villain who happens to be a scientist who has an all-encompassing obsession with something specific and who commits crimes based on that obsession. That’s the basic definition of most of Batman’s villains. A mad scientist who loves the ocean and who has created a criminal organization to commit sea-crime is a pretty solid pitch for a Batman villain. I don’t know for sure that Tiger Shark never returned, but I have to assume that he was a one-hit-wonder, but he’s still a lot of fun. This whole issue was a lot of fun. It’s fairly obvious who Tiger Shark is, basically as soon as they meet Dr. Gaige, but the issue was still enjoyable despite it’s lackluster mystery. Plus I’m always down for an issue of Detective Comics that ends with Batman and Robin pulling the mask off a bad guy who would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling vigilantes.

“Tiger Shark!” was written by…someone. Bill Finger? Penciled by Dick Sprang and inked by Charles Paris, 1949.

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