DC Comics History: Batman (1964 - 1967: the New Look)
By Deejay Dayton
Aug 13, 2017 - 11:13
Writer(s): Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Bob Haney, France Herron, Robert Kanigher
Penciller(s): Bob Brown, Carmine Infantino, Ramona Fradon, Sheldon Moldoff, Win Mortimer, Mike Sekowsky
Inker(s): Mike Esposito, Joe Giella, Sid Greene, Charles Paris
Julius Schwartz came aboard as editor on the Batman titles, and drastic changes began with Detective 327, called the “New Look” Batman. Robin was aged, and both the heroes had their costumes altered, Batman gaining the yellow circle around his chest emblem. Old villains, not seen in decades, made their returns, and a lot of new ones debuted as well. While the period started strong, once the television series began the stories veered towards camp, and what had so recently been gained got quickly lost. The best thing to come out of the television series was Barbara Gordon, the new (and improved) Batgirl.
The story in Detective 327, while not so hugely different than what had come before, did plant itself firmly in the real world, with issues of urban development central to the tale. Batman and Robin penetrate an underground city of thieves in the oldest part of Gotham. Batman is even willing to threaten criminals with a gun in this story, though he does not fire it. And this issue was only the start of the changes.
In Batman 164 Bruce Wayne shows off some of the changes to Dick Grayson. An elevator has replaced the spiral staircase to the Batcave, and the Batmobile has also been replaced, by a convertible sports car version. The exit is no longer through the barn, but now through a concealed cave entrance – the exit that would be used in the tv series.
The Hotline is also introduced in this story, Batman’s direct line to Commissioner Gordon. It gets used as Gordon contacts Batman about some hoods planning to kidnap the Hootenany Hotshots, a folk band. This is really a pretty poor story to introduce the New Look, as the changes are all superficial, and the story itself feels much like the previous ones.
The biggest change takes place in Detective 328. While Batman and Robin are out of town, Alfred hears about the Tri-State Gang’s latest crime, and sets out to find them on his own. He succeeds, but falls into their hands. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin discover him missing, and go after the Tri-State Gang themselves. They also get captured, but Alfred gets free. It’s not the greatest story, and it’s all just a set-up for the big finale, as Alfred gets crushed by a boulder while saving Batman.
Bruce creates a philanthropical organization, the Alfred Foundation, in his memory. This would eventually change names and become the Wayne Foundation. As well, Dick’s never-previously-mentioned Aunt Harriet makes her debut just before the story closes, moving in with the two men. Killing off Alfred and replacing him with Aunt Harriet was an attempt to make the Batman series seem less gay, although it really didn’t succeed.
A new back-up feature began in issue 164, the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. The Mystery Analysts are a group of professional and amateur detectives, who meet to solve quandaries. They had about five stories during this era. Batman and Commissioner Gordon are both members of the group, and we also meet Ralph Vern, a criminology professor, Art Saddows, a journalist, and Kaye Daye, a crime novelist. In this story, private detective Hugh Rankin is trying to join the group. Rankin insists that he has determined what Batman looks like under his mask, and has a prepared dummy.
Batman unmasks and the faces are the same – although certainly not Bruce Wayne’s face. Everyone is impressed, but Batman blackballs Rankin. The remainder of the tale has Batman explaining to Robin how he figured out what Rankin was up to, and then how he decoyed him into creating the wrong face. Most Mystery Analyst stories are better than this first one.
Hugh Rankin returns in Detective 335. Rankin and Batman are working together to catch a thief called the Make-Up Man, which is a terrible name. Rankin is eager to prove himself, so he does not wait for Batman, but enters the villains lair himself, and gets captures.
Make-Up Man then makes up his henchmen as Rankin, hoping to fool and kill Batman.
We meet two new members of Mystery Analysts in Batman 168, which also reveals one of the members as a thief. And not a shy one. The person ends the group a tape bragging about stealing a famous gem, and dares them to solve the case. Danton, the District Attorney is one of the newly seen members, as is another p.i., Martin Tellman.
It’s a pretty good mystery. There is a phony gem, and Batman winds up having to travel to Asia to determine the history of the gemstone. The phony gem turns out to be the real one, perfectly concealed. Professor Vern had figured out how to use the gem to put people into trances. But Batman figures all of this out, and Vern gets arrested.
I've skipped some of their lesser tales, but Batman 181 contains the best Mystery Analysts story, possibly because it’s really more of a Batman story than anything else. Kaye Daye shows up for a meeting of the Analysts, announcing that her latest book was not written by her. Just after she explains this, her brooch relays a death threat. Batman is very suspicious about all of this.
He figures out that the Kaye Daye who came to the meeting could not have been the real one, and must have been in on the scam, in order to be wearing the correct brooch. He pieces together some subtle but clear clues, and finds the real Kaye Daye, as well as her impersonator.
Patricia Powell makes her debut in Batman 165. The daughter of one of the top detectives in Gotham, Patricia Powell graduates from the police academy with the highest grades, and Batman is quite impressed. Patricia reveals to Batman that she has a crush on Bruce Wayne, even though he has never seen her. She relates a couple of instances in which they met, although she was always masked at the time.
That’s not so bad, makes for some potentially humourous romantic stories. But Patricia Powell also tends to fall into trances when reminded of Bruce Wayne, and anything can spark this off, even the initials BW. She sort of helps Batman on a case, but her trances severely limit her effectiveness.
Patricia Powell returns in issue 166, attending a party at Bruce Wayne’s house, where she and Bruce are about to be formally introduced. Just before that can happen, the waiters reveal themselves as thieves, and rob all the party guests. Batman and Robin go into action, along with Patricia Powell, who manages to avoid falling into a trance.
They do succeed at finding and catching the thieves. The final panel of the story has Patricia about to return Bruce’s stolen wallet to him. The narrative informs us that this will be followed up, but it never was. So we can easily assume that once Patricia got to meet Bruce, her obsession faded, the reality not living up to her fantasy. The character never returned.
Created in conjunction with the tv series, Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, debuted in Detective 359. The story loosely matches an unaired pilot for the Batgirl character, which also has Killer Moth as the villain, kidnapping millionaires. Barbara Gordon is introduced as a librarian, and daughter of Commissioner Gordon. The Batgirl outfit she creates is intended simply for a costume party. On her way there, she witnesses an attempt by Killer Moth`s men to kidnap Bruce Wayne, and dives into action, saving the man who needed no saving.
Killer Moth had not been seen since the 50s, and looks to have done well for himself in these intervening years, as he how has a stylish candle-throne, and men who dress is outfits that match his.
In this story, and continuing in a few more of her earliest tales, there is a montage panel showing Batgirl getting into her costume by slipping around her hat and skirt. This sequence can also be seen in the unaired pilot, but was dropped from the show. The hat-to-mask transition, which looks great on paper, did not come off very well on camera. Also, Batgirl`s costume, far darker than that of Batman in this story, was also black in the pilot, and changed to sparkly deep purple for the series. Batgirl keeps an eye out for Killer Moth, and attempts to rescue Bruce Wayne a second time, but stumbles into a set-up by Batman and Robin, who are hoping to take him down.
Robin`s uplifting words to Batgirl in this scene are clearly Dick trying to flirt with Barbara, as later continuity would make clear. The three heroes work together to capture Killer Moth, with Batgirl being the one to find him in his lair, searching for the scent of the perfume she had sprayed him with. A definite step up from the earlier female sidekicks.
Batgirl returns in Detective 363. The story begins with Batgirl fighting some crooks in the Gotham Library, and Batman and Robin showing up to help. One of the crooks manages to escape. Batman brings Batgirl to the Batcave, and does an elaborate charade with her, unmasking, but with make-up on to make it look like he is trying to look like Bruce Wayne. Batgirl doesn’t completely follow all the levels to this, but picks up on enough to realize the bad guy planted a bug on her, and Batman is setting a trap. The library is being used to send messages between the thieves and the planners, and Barbara had picked up on this in her profession. Although it’s only Batman and Robin who nab the bad guys at the end, Barbara’s smiling presence, and the fact that they do not know her identity, still makes this a triumph for her.
There were two issues during this time that ran full length tales bringing together Batman and the Elongated Man. The first of these, from issue 331, I will discuss when I deal with the Elongated Man. The second of the tales is more of a Batman story, appearing in Detective 342. The story begins with Batman noticing the military precision with which a new gang is committing their robberies. Batman actively seeks out Ralph’s help in this story. It’s a good thing he does, because Ralph knows all about General Von Dort, a Nazi war criminal believed dead, who has a monocle that emits a hypnotic ray, and a desire to build a death ray.
Batman and Elongated Man head around the world tracking Von Dort, but when they finally catch up to him, he uses his monocle on Elongated Man, making him fight Batman and Robin. They defeat Ralph, who gets control of his mind again, and they all take down Von Dort. I really love the final scene, as they all sit down to dinner, and Batman thinks about how wonderful Sue Dibny is.
A good cover and a fun puzzler in Batman 177. “Numbers” Garvey is a very superstitious hood, with a love of the numbers that gave him his nickname. He stumbles into a cavern as this story opens, and two clay figures take on the shapes of Batman, becoming his willing slaves. He had been thinking about Batman at the time, which is why they adopted that form. The little Batman becomes weak, and can only be re-energized by a diamond pressed to his head, which Garvey does, before returning the stolen gems to its hiding place.
The two Batmen work well for Garvey, but he gets suspicious of them. So when the big Batman needs to be energized by a ruby, Garvey uses a fake. When the big Batman acts as if the gem is real, he has his gang knock them out. They turn out to be the Atom and the Elongated Man. Batman and Robin are off to the side for much of this tale, though with two people in Batman costumes one hardly notices. But they were working with Batman to seek out Garvey’s hiding places for his stolen jewels. Batman and Robin burst in at the end, rescuing their friends and catching Garvey.
Brave and the Bold would eventually become a Batman team-up book. In this entry, I am going to look at a few of Batman’s appearances in that book, but by and large, as I go on, I will be discussing the Brave and the Bold stories under the entries of the heroes he teams up with. Issue 59 marks the first time the hero gets to pair up in these pages, working with Green Lantern against a new foe, the Time Commander. The story must be taking place a few months earlier. Alfred is mentioned as being on vacation, as opposed to being dead. That means this must take place between the first New Look Batman issue of Detective Comics, and the first New Look Batman issue of Batman, in which Alfred died. Or it's an error. But there are no errors, if one works at it!
Bored, Bruce Wayne goes to attend a talk by John Starr, a wanted felon, who makes a damn good case that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. John Starr then shows up at Wayne Manor. He reveals that he knows Bruce is really Batman, and that he has a time altering hourglass, with which he can travel or send things into the past or the future. He enlists Batman's help in clearing his name, and Batman agrees, even though the guy basically just showed him how he was able to alter the evidence used to convict him! The story jumps over to deal with Green Lantern, who gets a message from Batman, asking for his aid. Batman has abruptly been paralyzed, and needs a charge from the Green Lantern ring to regain his mobility. Green Lantern obliges. Then we discover this was really the Time Commander, who had knocked out Bruce Wayne. Once again, you have to wonder why John Starr revealed everything to Batman when he was just planning on knocking him out anyway?
Anyway, the heroes eventually figure out what is going on, and try to attack the Time Commander, but have little success, and the villain sends Batman into the future and Green Lantern into the past. Green Lantern is able to use his ring to communicate with Batman, and together they set a trap for the Time Commander. The guy has been making really dumb choices throughout this story, so even though he could have outwitted the heroes, it's not surprising that they get the better of him.
Brave and the Bold 64 cover bills the tale as Batman vs Eclipso, but the battle between the two characters is really the secondary plot line. Far more important is Batman's relationship with a wealthy girl, Marcia Monroe. Their relationship became hot after Batman publicly spanked her, and they have been on each others minds ever since. But Marcia left town, and has returned as the Queen Bee, an operative of the international villain cartel Cyclops.
Bruce Gordon, the man who is possessed by Eclipso, is working with his fiancee Mona Bennett and her scientist father to figure out a way to remove and trap Eclipso when Queen Bee sends her Cyclops agents to retrieve him. Eclipso plays second fiddle to Queen Bee and Cyclops, a position he would not have been in in his own series in House of Secrets. Thanks to Cyclops, Marcia now knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, and even though they are on opposing sides, she is clearly still in love with him, risking her life in order to save him when he tries to infiltrate Cyclops.
There is a brief battle on the outside of a building, along the lines of the cover, but Batman and Eclipso spend very little time together in this story. Batman is dealing with Queen Bee, while Bruce Gordon and his allies are chasing Eclipso. Bruce manages to merge with Eclipso using a blast of light to weaken the villain, and temporarily blind everyone, so they do not see Eclipso enter him. Marcia never appears again, ceding the Queen Bee name to Zazzala, who always wore the title better than her.
Brave and the Bold 67 begins Batman as a regularly appearing character in the book, and teams him with the Flash. Sadly, I don't find the tale itself particularly grabbing. Batman starts off the story failing completely to catch the Speed Boys, who wear running shoes with their suits, and move incredibly fast after committing their crimes. The Speed Boys wear bags over their heads even when no one else can see them. They are extremely shy, I guess, but must have a hard time breathing.
Batman calls in the Flash for help with the Speed Boys, but it just so happens that the Flash is suddenly having a hard time with his speed, as it is basically killing him. Luckily, the same radiation that powers the Speed Boys shoes has the property of healing the Flash. Meh.
Brave and Bold 68 came out when the Batman tv show was at the peak of popularity. There is even an ad for the movie in this issue. The story is meant to capture the mood of the series. It's truly awful. The Joker, Penguin and Riddler are all working together against Batman, though they begin by each operating separately. They expose Batman to a gas that transforms him into a Bat-Hulk, though the gas does wear off from time to time. Much of the story is meant to evoke laughs by seeing Batman as this hulking, simple minded brute. It fails to do so singularly. In his rational, non Bat-Hulk periods, Batman is aware of his actions, and goes to find Metamorpho, thinking that hero might help him find a cure. Exactly why he thinks this, when Metamorpho is not able to find a cure for his own condition, is far from clear.
It doesn't really matter. Metamorpho can't do anything to help him. Bat-Hulk winds up teaming up with the three villains, and Metamorpho now has to battle them all. The couple of pages where Metamorpho faces off against the Bat-Hulk do, at least, have some interesting art. Metamorpho is always reliable for strong visuals. A bolt of lightning winds up curing Batman, and with Metamorpho they round up Joker, Penguin and the Riddler.
Speaking of villains, the Joker would, as usual, have the most appearances during this era. The Riddler and Scarecrow were revived after many years, and quite a few new enemies were introduced as well. Most were second stringers, but Blockbuster and Poison Ivy would eventually become significant foes. Still, the most important enemy during this period was the Outsider.
The “New Look” Joker first appeared in Detective 332, and did look a bit different, but was still the same themed robber he had been since the late 40s. In this story, he causes the people at the scenes of his crimes to laugh uncontrollably, and render them incapable of stopping him. This is attributed to him spraying the dust of “loco weed” in the air.
I always thought that was a nickname for marijuana, but according to wiki it’s something else completely. Too bad. There is a nice bit with a swinging cell door the Joker uses to trap Batman and Robin, reflecting the scene on the cover, but not much else to make this special.
The story in Detective 341 is reminiscent of a 1940s Joker story, with old vaudevillians and a will. In both cases, the Joker committed crimes while acting like a famous comedian. This story begins with him clearly impersonating Charlie Chaplin, although the character is just called the Tramp. He gets people off guard, and then he and his men rob the place.
He’s done up as Harpo Marx when Batman and Robin finally catch up to him. The Joker is covering these crimes by pretending to be filming a movie. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it was used for an early Joker story on the Batman tv series.
Batman 186 has one of those stories that I would prefer to ignore. The Joker has a sidekick in this story, a dwarf named Gaggy. Gaggy does silly things, which amuse the Joker and inspire his robberies in this issue. And that’s about all there is to this tale. Gaggy doing dumb things to entertain the Joker, and the Joker then pulling robberies, which Batman and Robin try to stop. They get caught, and wind up sharing a prison cell together. And no one ever sees Gaggy again.
A truly great cover on Detective 365 for an amazingly awful story. The Joker starts selling his merchandise at cheaper prices than Batman. Yes, that is what the story is about.
The Joker even commits the dastardly deed of opening his own department store. Batman and Robin will have none of this! So, everybody fights. The Joker house from the cover is one of the items for sale at the department store, and serves as the setting for the final fight scene, but it does not look nearly as cool as the cover image. Such a let down.
The Penguin makes his first appearance since the New Look begins in Batman 169. This story was adapted, very closely, in the Batman tv series. The Penguin is all ready for a new crime spree, but cannot think of what to steal. He grabs Batman’s attention with a free giveaway of umbrellas, which all go haywire. He sends Batman a multi-coloured umbrella, with a bug in it, and listens as Batman tries to figure out what crime it might be a clue to.
In this story, Batman and Robin settle on a jeweled meteorite. The conclusion plays out a little differently. That’s ok. The jet umbrella that the Penguin tries to flee on would not have looked very good with the budget of the tv show.
In Batman 190 the Penguin decides to go futuristic for his new crime spree, even to the degree of forcing his gang to eat food pellets instead of real food. The Penguin does have some impressive gear for Batman and Robin to deal with: a robot duplicate of himself, mentally controlled trick umbrellas, and a gravity beam.
Makes for some good scenes, although it all seems a bit out of place with this character. Alfred shows that he has totally recovered from being dead, and is the one who manages to take the Penguin down, while Batman and Robin are dealing with the robot double.
The Scarecrow, not seen since the early 1940s, makes his big return in Batman 189. Since the character had not been seen in so long, the first few pages of the issue recap the origin of Jonathan Crane, and how the university professor turned to crime. This is also the first story in which the Scarecrow uses chemicals to induce fears in Batman and Robin, keeping them off balance while he and his men escape with their loot.
Alfred, having recently come back to life, makes a small appearance in this story. It’s a good story, solid and serious, and the Scarecrow proves what a good villain he really is. Batman and Robin have to overcome the various fears he induces in them in order to triumph.
The Riddler, who had not appeared since 1948, makes a big return in Batman 171. The Riddler has been gone so long that, when he gets out of prison, Batman and Robin do not even recognize him. The story briefly recaps his origin and first two encounters with Batman. The Riddler insists that he has reformed, although he still likes to wear his costume. He leads Batman and Robin to the hideout of the Molehill Gang, who he had formerly worked with. The story, which was adapted for the tv show, then turns into a game of cat and mouse between the two. The Riddler taunts Batman with clues and attacks, but everything is actually legal and above board, no matter how it appears. It’s only at the end that the Riddler actually commits a crime, robbing a company safe. Batman and Robin have figured out his complex clues, but still have to deal with a strange element, that the Riddler cannot be knocked down while standing on a certain spot. It’s the only weird and weak spot in what is otherwise an excellent return for the character.
The Riddler returns in Detective 362. His henchmen now wear crossword puzzle outfits. Before the tv series, henchmen were fine in their normal day clothes, but now they required special uniforms. The Riddler is pulling a series of bank robberies, leaving clues for Batman and Robin, who are always one step behind. Same old same old. The climax has a bomb hidden in a model of Gotham City, which Batman must destroy before it goes off. So the last page is, as the cover would have it, Batman destroying the city, but it looks so bad in the comic, laughable rather than suspenseful.
The Riddler is back again in Batman 179. The villain escapes from prison, and leaves behind a riddle on how he managed to do it. But he realizes that sending the riddles has been his downfall, and decides to commit crimes without sending clues first. But hen he tries to do this, he finds he cannot steal. Slowly, the Riddler trains himself to steal without ending clue. But then weird clues do take place throughout Gotham. They aren’t sent to Batman or Commissioner Gordon, but nevertheless provide clues to the Riddler’s thefts. Thanks to the clues, Batman and Robin stop the Riddler. To his dismay, the Riddler discovers that he was sending the riddling clues while sleepwalking. He simply cannot overcome his compulsion.
With such an amazing cover for Detective 353 the story inside only needed to be servicable to work. And that’s pretty much what it is. The Flash’s enemy the Weather Wizard comes to Gotham City, and announces that he is going to steal the city’s most valuable treasures.
His men spy on the wealthiest citizens, as they go to check their valuables, and the Weather Wizard steps in and robs them. Batman and Weather Wizard tussle a few times before Batman finally triumphs. All of it is good, but only the cover is great.
A major new villain for Batman is introduced in Detective 334, but it isn’t the one who seems to be the enemy. The Grasshopper is the eponymous villain, luring Batman and Robin into a building, but immediately appearing at the base of it, stealing the Batmobile. The Grasshopper then pulls a shipboard theft, and we get to see that he is actually two men, in identical costumes, explaining his impossible feats. Batman has also figured this out, noting slight differences in the voices.
They capture Robin, and attempt to lure Batman to his death, but he’s too smart for them. The Grasshopper(s) are thrown in prison. And then, on the last page, Batman receives a threatening call on his carphone from a man calling himself the Outsider, who was behind the Grasshopper’s attack. This mysterious villain will plague Batman for the next year and half.
Batman and Robin are called to a robbery in Detective 336, where a witch announces that she will be removing their senses one at a time as the evening, and her crime spree, progress. And that’s essentially what happens, though the two heroes always manage to prevail. Robin is the one to figure out that the broomstick is the actual source of her powers, and unseats her, freeing Batman from her spell.
The whole thing turns out to be a ploy by the Outsider, who brags at the end to Batman. Later continuity would add even more to this story, when it was revealed that the witch was actually Zatanna, in disguise and under the thrall of the Outsider.
The Outsider comes at Batman through his car and weapons in Detective 340. The batarang is the first thing to come to life, attacking Robin. Batman pulls out his rope to swing to Robin’s aid, but the rope turns on him. The heroes escape, and the Outsider calls them again on the carphone, taking credit for the attacks, and then sends the Batmobile itself against Batman. It climbs the outside of a building! It never did that for Batman. Of course, it then explodes. Aunt Harriet has a cameo, with the clicking phone. They do absolutely nothing with her. Batman insists he can handle the Outsider on his own, and demands that Dick attend his school prom.
While facing the Outsider, he figures out that there is dust on the items the Outsider affected, and creates a cloud to block his control. Dick comes back from the prom, having figured that out as well. So clearly he was not making time with any of the girls there.
I haven’t finished dealing with the Outsider, but I need to start talking about another new Batman villain, who debuts in Detective 345, Blockbuster. The story begins with a flashback of Bruce Wayne saving the life of a young boy, Mark Desmond. The story then jumps to present day, as Mark has become a mindless behemoth, Blockbuster, under the control of his brother Roland. Blockbuster is simply too massive for Batman to be able to defeat physically, and of course Robin hasn’t a chance against him.
After realizing Blockbuster is the same boy he saved years ago, Batman unmasks and re-enacts the circumstances of their first encounter, which pacifies him. Bruce Wayne is able to stop Blockbuster, while Batman is not. Blockbuster escapes at the end of the story, and returns a few months down the road.
That story in Detective 349 picks up from the previous one, as if no other stories had occurred in between. Batman continues his hunt for Blockbuster, and finds him. He unmasks in order to calm him down, but his mask flies right back onto his face, and will not come off again. Batman paints the image of Mark’s brother Roland on his mask, made visible when Robin shines a special light on it. Batman figures that, as Roland was able to control him before, he should be able to again, but this fails as well.
Batman defeats Blockbuster almost through luck, a karate chop, using a calcium-hardened glove, that happens to hit a weak spot on him. In the final few panels we see the shadow of the Outsider, and discover that he was behind the problems with the mask.
A great cover for Batman 194 brings back Blockbuster following his encounter with the Justice League and Justice Society in recent issues of JLA. The Justice League story ended with Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy having pounded each other into a state of happiness. Blockbuster is in prison as this tale begins, but in a cheerful state, until he sees a cut out of Batman. This sends him into a rage, and he busts out of prison. Batman tracks down Blockbuster, which isn’t really the hardest thing to do. He tries the various techniques that have worked before to calm him down, unmasking to reveal that he is Bruce Wayne (who had saved Mark Desmond as a child), or duplicating the voice of Mark’s brother.
But neither of these work this time, and Batman keeps getting pounded while he tries to come up with a way to calm Blockbuster down. After Blockbuster tosses Batman into a swamp, he gets the idea to emerge looking like Solomon Grundy (apparently he had the make-up in his utility belt). Grundy is the one person that Blockbuster still likes, and he calms down. Batman then tosses him into the swamp, and then rescues him as Grundy, to ensure that Mark will continue to trust him. It makes more sense than it sounds. It also has the added benefit of making the confused Blockbuster believe that Batman is really Solomon Grundy, rather than Bruce Wayne.
The Outsider storyline comes to a resolution in Detective 356. The Grasshopper(s) return in this story, but get rounded up right away. Their function is simply to remind Batman and Robin that the Outsider is still after them. Then we cut to an extended flashback, as a scientist discovers that Alfred is still marginally alive, and uses an experimental machine on him.
The machine kills the scientist, but revives Alfred as an evil white globby creature, the Outsider. This was not intended when the character was created, despite the timing of it. The reason Alfred was brought back to life was the rampant success of the tv series. The film that spun out of the tv show is advertised at the bottom of the page above. So anyway, Alfred became the evil Outsider, which is why he knew so much about Batman and Robin.
Batman manages to reverse the machine, and saves his life. Alfred seems to remember none of his time as the Outsider. Aunt Harriet gets another cameo, preparing to leave but being told to stay. The line-up from the tv series is now as close as it will get. Chief O’Hara never made the cut.
The Outsider saga was not quite done, though. The Riddler opens the tale in Detective 364, getting taken down by Batman and Robin. They discover a mysterious clue, not from him, and continue to find these at the sites of other crimes. Moldoff is not up to par at all on this issue. Aunt Harriet looks about 20 years older, and the Batmobile is an ugly version of the tv car. The story isn’t that great, either. It wanders, and then concludes with the villain being a sleepwalking Alfred, partly under the control of the Outsider.
The Getaway Genius makes his debut in Batman 170. Roy Reynolds plans his crimes, and even moreso his getaways. He has no interest at all in facing Batman, as this is what always spell doom for the other thieves in Gotham. His gang goes along with this reluctantly, wanting the notoriety of killing Batman. The Getaway Genius shows how right he is, though, spilling oil to wipe out the Batmobile, and then just fleeing rather than stopping to fight the heroes.
Batman and Robin pull a scam, pretending there is a villain called the Hoaxer, who has the ability to use the Bat-signal to bind Batman and Robin. But that is done just to lure Reynold’s gang. They cannot resist the urge to try to kill the heroes, and get caught. In turn, they tell Batman the Getaway Genius’ hideout, and Batman captures Reynolds.
Roy Reynolds makes his return in Batman 174, which begins with the Getaway Genius in a cell, but not a prison. The actual villain of the issue, B.G. Hunter, broke Roy Reynold out of prison, but then caged him, forcing him to use his skills to lay a death trap for Batman. Robin is not a part of this story, being busy on a Teen Titans case.
His plans succeed in luring Batman, but the death trap bag looks much better on the cover than in the issue itself. Reynolds is relying on Batman running out of air and passing out, but according to this story, all one needs is a flower to replenish all the oxygen Batman had inhaled. It’s not a great return for Reynolds.
Poison Ivy gets the cover for her big debut in Batman 181. Three other female villains get introduced in this story: Dragon Fly, Silken Spider and Tiger Moth. Each claims to be the “Queen of Crime” in Gotham, but Poison Ivy shows up to insist that only she deserves that title.
Ivy lures the three woman into a trap, using an electrified crown to hold them. Batman and Robin show up, and Ivy makes a play for Batman. She kisses him, but he rebuffs her.
This story only really endows her with one power, that of being able to climb a building the way ivy does. Curiously, this is not a power that remains in her repertoire. Batman captures her, but she vows to return.
Poison Ivy is back in Batman 183, a direct follow-up to her debut tale. Batman finds himself constantly thinking about Poison Ivy, even as he dates other women as Bruce Wayne. His obsession affects him even as Batman, when on a case. Ivy sends Batman a gift, a mirror that sends him messages from her. Robin doe not seem able to hear or see what Batman can, implying there is more to this than just a mirror. The story does not delve into this, though. Batman smashes the mirror, to try to get Ivy off his mind. Ivy then seems to be dying, which finally brings Batman to the prison, which had been her goal all along. Ivy reveals that she has “utility hair.” Various strands have medicinal properties, able to induce or cure ailment, and also cause explosions. Mercifully, this concept does not appear in any of her later stories.
Batman breaks Ivy out of prison, and she uses her exploding hair to take out the police cars pursuing them. Batman insists that he would rather die than join Ivy, and even makes her think he has died. The ending is a bit quick, as he takes advantage of an angry panther to capture Ivy. Whenever this story is referenced in later days, much more is made of the hypnotic quality of the kiss she gave Batman in her debut, and how this induced his obsession in this story. It really makes sense, and this tale seems right on the verge of including that explanation, even though it doesn’t.
Johnny Witts, a mob boss always one step ahead of the heroes makes his debut in Detective 344. His crimes do show a mastery of predicting the behaviour of Batman and Robin, and laying traps to exploit that. Sadly, there is little to define this character aside from that. He is generic in appearance, and mob boss-y-ness. Just a great planner.
Johnny Witts weakness becomes apparent when Batman and Robin burst in on him and his men, he is not able to think on his feet, and stands around helplessly in a crisis. Only after he is caught does he figure out what he should have done.
Detective 347 takes an interesting, if not wholly fulfilling direction towards the end of the story. The tale begins by introducing the Bouncer, a thief who has developed an outfit made of a highly “bounceable” substance. Considering the year this was released, I’m sure most of the readers associated it with “flubber.” Essentially, the bad guy is a skinnier version of Bouncing Boy, with criminal tendencies. Batman doesn’t have too much trouble taking him down.
But wait! Lo and behold it’s Gardner Fox, musing over a possible different resolution to the story, one in which Batman dies. And then we get to see this alternate ending, with Batman getting shot. Robin tries to hunt down the Bouncer, but the killer is captured by…Batman?
The story ends with the Batman and Alfred of Earth-2 coming to live on Earth-1. In other words, if Batman died, nothing would be any different, except Alfred would be back. Which just left me wondering why even bother telling this story if that’s going to be the resolution. The Bouncer would return in a story in the early 80s. Also worth noting is the appearance of the Earth-2 Alfred. Usually, he is shown as the “fat” Alfred, the way he appeared originally, rather than the skinny version.
Joe Kubert does the cover for Detective 350. He makes the Monarch of Menace look like a far more interesting and dangerous foe than the story has him be. Batman tells Robin about a foe from his past, from his days before taking on a sidekick. The Monarch of Menace was a mob boss Batman was never able to capture. His costume included a cape that gave off a choking gas, an electrified sceptre, and a crown with hypnotic gems.
The story jumps to the present, and to the emotionally abused son of the Monarch, forced by his father to dress as a jester. He steals a spare Monarch outfit from his father, to go on a crime spree himself and show what he can do. It’s Robin who spots him, and captures the boy, who doesn’t know how to work the costume devices well enough. I do like the way the story parallels the generations. With some time to study the costume, Batman preps defenses against the weapons, and plays on the Monarch’s ego, broadcasting the capture of the son as if it were the real Monarch. When the father comes out to face Batman, he is quickly defeated once his weapons are neutralized.
Great cover for the debut of the Cluemaster in Detective 351. The story itself gives the largest role to Aunt Harriet that the character will ever get. The story opens as she accidentally discovers the elevator to the Batcave. She even goes down and explores it.
She hints to Bruce and Dick about her discovery, but they have already covered their tracks. She spends the rest of the story trying to prove they are Batman and Robin. Meanwhile, the heroes are dealing with the Cluemaster. He’s basically the Riddler, except his clues are not in the form of riddles. And though Batman and Robin do not realize it at first, he is also seeking the Batcave, and the secret of their identities.
The two plotlines converge when the traps Cluemaster and Aunt Harriet have laid wind up exposing each others traps, so Bruce and Dick have plenty of time to figure out how to outwit both. And sure, Cluemaster is left in the dark, but the film they create for Aunt Harriet is hardly a solution, showing her that Batman and Robin do indeed have a cave under the mansion, and are in contact with Bruce and Dick. That’s just bound to create bigger problems later on. Or would, if Aunt Harriet hadn’t been such a marginal character.
A minor recurring foe, around for about a decade, Mr. Esper was introduced in Detective 352. The story is called “Batman’s Crime Hunt A-Go-Go.” Possibly the worst title for a Batman story ever. It begins with Batman getting a series of amazing hunches while patrolling with Robin, capturing a number of criminals he likely would not have. All seems well, but Batman does not trust the situation. While out for a night on the town, he sees mentalist Mr. Esper, who correctly reads Bruce’s mind. He repeats the exact sum that had been stolen, stumbling over one of the numbers when he realizes it’s significance.
Batman is quick on the uptake, and takes down Mr. Esper and his crew. Esper had been sending Batman sonic whispers, leading him to crimes, and away from others, and also getting him dependant on the voice, even when it started giving the wrong information.
It’s a big step backwards on the racism ladder in Detective 354. Dr. Tzin Tzin is cut from the same cloth as Dr. Fu Manchu, except Tzin Tzin can scare you so much with his stare that it kills you. Sigh. He is a criminal mastermind, sitting in his den watching with glee as his men battle Batman and Robin.
It feels like we’ve gone all the way back to the cover of Detective Comics 1. Batman battle his way through, avoids Tzin Tzin’s deadly stare and captures him.
Death Man makes a big splash in his debut story in Batman 180. The costume does not look as good as it does on the cover, but the thief does live up to his name. His gang is not as impressive, falling quickly to Batman and Robin. Batman hauls Death Man into court. The villain seems remarkably unconcerned, and then promptly drops dead during his arraignment. Despite having died, Death Man comes back again, doing his best to kill Batman and Robin. But once again, hen they triumph over him, Death Man drops dead. Batman does not believe Death Man is really dead, and they go to his grave, and find out that yup, he’s alive again. Death Man has learned how to stop and start his own heart. Death Man gets hit by lightning, and this time Batman believes that he is really dead. And he sure seems to be, not returning for over thirty years, until Grant Morrison revives him.
Spellbinder was a character with decent powers, and horrible visuals, who debuted in Detective 358. Spellbinder can cause intense visual hallucinations in his victims, which is great. His costume is too much. Even considering that it is intentionally garish, it goes overboard.
And the fact that he physically spins around to put a person under his spell both looks bad on the page, and even worse in the reader’s imagination of how it would appear in reality. Once Batman has been affected by Spellbinder, it is easy for the villain to bring the effect back on, even with a pinwheel. Batman does triumph, by force of will, breaking out of a hallucinatory state on his own.
Batman continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
Batman: Detective Comics 327 - 367 (May 64 – Sept 67)
Batman 164 - 195 (May 64 – Sept 67)
Brave and the Bold 59, 64, 67 - 71 (Apr/May 65, Feb/March 66, Aug/Sept 66 – April/May 67)
Next up – the Flash!
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