by Jimmm Kelly
The Cat-Man Strikes Back, DETECTIVE COMICS No. 318 (August ’62); story: Bill Finger; art: Jim Mooney
more clouds of grey
NOTE TO READERS:
Continued from issue No. 2 . . . go over the blue line if you have read THE LAST DAYS OF THE DYNAMIC DUO.
To recap–It was both a surprise and conundrum to me–in my salad days as a Batmaniac, circa 1967–there had ever been another Dynamic Duo than what I knew: A square-jawed Batman, with no yellow spot on his chest, and a Boy Wonder with a messed up hair-do. They had been the real Gotham Gangbusters for a quarter century!
The change comes when established editor Jack Schiff leaves the regular Bat books, and incoming editor, Julius Schwartz, devises a new direction and a New Look. That’s the on-sale month of March in ’64. So then what transpires fifty years ago (now) leading up to the final Batman comic–BATMAN No. 163–the Caped Crusader’s Waterloo?
I opened up that can of worms last issue, contending that, with The Return of the Penguin–in BATMAN No. 155 (May ’63) on sale March 7th in ’63–editor Schiff plots to return other villains left fallow for some years. Meantime, there are the mind-bending adventures of Batman and his extended family, like Robin Dies at Dawn, in BATMAN No. 156 (June ’63), on sale April 18th that year.
Besides BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, both edited by Schiff, the other two titles where Batman is a permanent fixture in 1963 are WORLD’S FINEST COMICS–also edited by Schiff–and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA edited by Julius Schwartz–the guy who will become the main Batman editor starting in 1964. WORLD’S FINEST COMICS features team-ups between Superman, Batman and Robin–and when Schiff leaves, that title will fall into the hands of Mort Weisinger, the Superman editor.
By their very nature, WORLD’S FINEST and JUSTICE LEAGUE have to feature stories that are more grounded in science fiction, given that Superman and other DC super-heroes are science fiction based characters.
In WORLD’S FINEST COMICS No. 133 (May ’63)–on sale March 7th–Superman, Batman and Robin encounter Dr. Henry Gault, who has combined the powers of the supernatural with the methods of science to summon arcane beasts into the mundane realm.
Here writer Bill Finger, by blending together the supernatural with science fiction, piggy-backs horror on the hobby-horse of science. A strict horror story might not have gotten past the Comics Code Authority (even the word horror was restricted in the Code). Jim Mooney is the artist on this story.
Mooney had done a lot of art on Batman over the years, since the ’40s, as well as on other DC features. When Dick Sprang leaves comics in the early ’60s, Jim pretty much takes over from Sprang on WORLD’S FINEST, as well as a good share of work on DETECTIVE COMICS–either inking his own pencils or inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
The odd illustration by Sprang shows up once in a blue moon after he retires from the field. But the final Dick Sprang classic work is Menace of the Future Man in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS No. 135 (August ’63) on sale June 13th.
–We know when this story takes place, because the dates are shown on Future Man’s time machine. The present adventure takes place during two days in Gotham City, June 8 and 9, 1963. Superman heads into the future to New Gotham City–April 12, 2084. While Batman and Robin go to Ancient Norseland–(estimated) March 6, 522.–
Future Man has travelled back to the time of the Vikings to fetch Thor’s hammer (Thor turns out to be a mortal Viking who discovered a weird meteorite and fashioned it into a hammer). This isn’t the first time the Gotham Gangbusters have visited the Vikings–thanks to their old friend, Professor Carter Nichols–see Batman and the Vikings, BATMAN No. 52 (April-May ’49), reprinted in the Giant BATMAN No. 193/G-37 (July-August ’67).
Carter Nichols has been sending Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson on time travelling adventures since BATMAN No. 24 (August-September ’44). Nichols supposedly doesn’t know that Bruce and Dick are the famed Caped Crimefighters–or does he? At first, the professor uses a form of hypnosis on his subjects, but by the ’60s he is using some sort of time machine. Hypnosis is a better explanation, I think, as it allows that Nichols might be a therapist helping Bruce and his young ward deal with psychic trauma through past life regression.
Nichols shows up one more time before he is put in limbo–in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS 138 (December ’63), The Secret of the Captive Cavemen, by Finger and Mooney. While Mooney maintains a semblance of tradition in how he draws Batman and Robin, the artist tends to draw in a much more realistic style, as expressed in the savage world of the cavemen in this yarn (where Bruce and Clark display fake scruffy beards and Dick has a mop-top).
in pastures green
One of the oddest Finger and Mooney yarns is in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS No. 136 (September ’63)–The Batman Nobody Remembered! It is one weird mind trip for the Caped Crusader. I first read this story in the giant-size (64 pages) WORLD’S FINEST COMICS No. 188/G-64(October-November ’69)-where it made me immediately think of a TWILIGHT ZONE episode.
Batman is flying his plane through stormy skies, when he finds himself in a world where nobody knows his name. It’s as if he never existed. The Joker is the stage name of TV funny man, Freddy Forbes. Superman and Robin are a crime fighting team. Bruce doubts his own sanity. At story’s end Batman finds out he’s on a parallel world and returns to his own Gotham, relieved to be recognized by his friends (Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Vicki Vale and Batwoman).
WORLD’S FINEST No. 136 comes out on July 18th, a month after JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA No. 21 (August ’63), on sale June 13th. And a week before JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA No. 22 (September ’63), on sale July 25th. Those two issues relate the first epic meeting between the Justice League from Earth-One and the Justice Society on Earth-Two. So Batman is doing a lot of travelling between parallel Earths this summer.
Gardner Fox writes all of the Justice League stories (he had worked on the Dark Knight in the early days and would return to the Batman comics after the New Look began). Mike Sekowsky pencils the JLofA and his approach is unusual but effective in handling the big compositions that so many characters demand. His style also fits with the Bob Kane version of Batman.
orange blossom special
Also that summer of ’63, you might find BATMAN ANNUAL No. 5 (Summer’63)–which goes on sale May 23rd. Comic books are usually given cover dates two months beyond their expected on sale date, in hopes that newsdealers will keep them on the stands longer. With a date like Summer, there’s probably the expectation that a comic will stay on the stands for a good four months. Of course, on sale dates apply mainly to places like New York City. Comics in Vancouver come out months later. It’s entirely possible that a DC ANNUAL with a WINTER ’63 cover date stays on the newsstands for a whole year, if it goes on sale in December of ’62.
BATMAN ANNUAL No. 5 (Summer’63); front and back cover art: Sprang, Kane, Moldoff, Robinson et al.
–The theme of this summer annual is The Strange Lives of Batman and Robin: Giant Batman, Zebra Batman and so on. But the back cover features the front covers for the first appearance of Batman in DETECTIVE COMICS and in BATMAN. For readers of the day, those covers might as well be the Dead Sea scrolls. The 80 PAGE GIANTs rarely reach back that far. By way of example, the actual contents inside BATMAN ANNUAL No. 5 are all from 1959.–
Two of the yarns in the 5th Giant BATMAN ANNUAL are concerned with Robin growing up.
In one story–Rip van Batman from BATMAN No. 119 (October ’59)–the Caped Crusader believes he has woken up in the future as an old man. In Gotham City, he discovers a new Batman and Robin duo. Dick Grayson has grown up to be the new Batman and enlisted a blonde boy as his partner–but at the end, this glimpse of the future is passed off as a hallucination.
In The Grown-Up Boy Wonder, an alien gas ages Dick into adulthood overnight. Now a man, he dubs himself Owlman. When the effect of the gas wears off, Dick returns to being a boy.
These kind of stories are likely the inspiration for a series of what-ifs, beginning with The Second Batman and Robin Team in BATMAN No. 131 (April ’60). The conceit is that Bruce Wayne’s butler is typing these stories as his own kind of fan-fiction, positing what might happen one day. In the future, Kathy Kane and Bruce Wayne (Batwoman and Batman) will marry and have a red-headed son, Bruce Wayne Jr. Dick Grayson will grow up to be Batman II and he will train Bruce Jr. to become Robin II.
The beauty of this premise is it allows the writers to work outside the framework of the regular Batman stories. The results are often interesting character studies that go beyond the usual tropes that readers would expect. For example, The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne Jr.–in BATMAN No. 159 (November ’63), on sale September 5th–allows the writer to fill in information that wasn’t covered in the previous what-if yarns.
We get to see what happened after Bruce Wayne married Kathy: Batman’s nervous excitement as an expectant father; the couple’s joy as their child comes into the world; the early life of Bruce Wayne Jr. as he secretly trains with his Uncle Dick. It’s not a story about crooks or aliens–it’s a story about a boy and his family. The final what-if in this series goes on sale in the final days of the Gotham Gangbusters–it’s a love story–but I’ll get to that in a bit.
when the deep purple falls
Batman’s extended family have their own ongoing soap opera. The core family, of course, are Batman, Robin, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. Some stories over the years are about Bruce Wayne’s cousins, aunts, and uncles–as well as lost members of Dick Grayson’s family. But the Dynamic Duo has another family–their costumed cohorts in crimefighting.
The first of these recurring crimebusters is a dog, Ace the Bat-Hound, introduced in 1955–who proves useful to Batman on many cases. The next is Batwoman, Kathy Kane–the circus performer turned heiress–who fights crime for her own amusement. Kathy becomes increasingly more prevalent in the life of Batman as the years go forward and she displaces (but not entirely replaces) Bruce Wayne’s girl friend, Vicki Vale, photographer for VUE MAGAZINE.
However, since Alfred makes Kathy not Vicki the future Mrs. Bruce Wayne in his fan-fiction, we can see where the butler’s allegiances lay.
Batwoman may also be intended as a replacement for Catwoman. In the early ’50s, Selina Kyle gets her memory back–it turns out that she has had amnesia and turned to a life of crime as the Catwoman after an airplane crash. Now remembering her old life, Selina attempts to reform. She becomes a sometime partner of the Caped Crusader rather than a foe. But in 1954, she returns to crime briefly, before disappearing from the comics completely. Why?
It seems like Catwoman is a hot button character for whatever reason and the publishers don’t quite know what to do with her. It might have something to do with the outrage heaped against comic books, ultimately resulting in the Comics Code.
A couple years later, along comes another raven-haired beauty, looking a lot like Catwoman–Batwoman! But Kathy Kane is on the right side of the law and a much tamer, more acceptable female for the times.
Edmond Hamilton has the distinction of having written both the last Catwoman story–The Jungle Cat Queen, in DETECTIVE COMICS No. 211 (September ’54)–and the first Batwoman story–The Batwoman, in DETECTIVE COMICS No. 233 (July ’56).
It all comes full circle in 1963, when Cat-Man drafts Batwoman into being his consort as the new Cat-Woman. Kathy Kane seemingly goes along with this plot and dresses in the costume Cat-Man has designed for her–a gaudy green and orange insult to the optic nerve–but it turns out Kathy is just playing him. This is in Cat-Man Strikes Back by Bill Finger and Jim Mooney–DETECTIVE COMICS No. 318 (August ’63)–on sale June 27th of ’63.
There is an actual reason why both Cat-Man and the ersatz Cat-Woman must wear their gaudy orange garb as Kathy finds out in Strange Lives of the Cat-Man, DETECTIVE COMICS No. 325 (March ’64), on sale January 30th in 1964. The orange cloth all comes from the same bolt that will protect the wearer for a total of nine lives. So Kathy dons the garish outfit again to brave all dangers to indirectly defeat the now death-defying Man of Nine Lives, by depriving him of those remaining lives they share via her daredevil stunts.
More members of the Batman family are introduced in the early ’60s. Bat-Mite comes along in 1960–a magical imp somewhat like Superman’s Mr. Mxyzptlk, but where Mxy is out to get Superman, Bat-Mite is a fan of the Caped Crusader–he’s just a little too keen.
More background on Bat-Mite and Mxy is in issue No. 6: MEISTER EDER FOREVER!
Kathy Kane’s niece (from out-of-town), Betty Kane shows up in 1961 to become Bat-Girl–in BATMAN No. 139 (April ’61). Just as her aunt has eyes for Batman, Betty has a crush on Robin the Boy Wonder.
Both of these romances are played up in the full-length Prisoners of Three Worlds, in BATMAN No. 153 (February’63), on sale December 6th of 62.
Kathy and Betty seem to pick up where they had left off in issue No. 153, when they get together again in The Clayface-Joker Feud, in BATMAN No. 159–the same issue as The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne Jr. Bat-Girl playfully flirts with Robin and Batwoman takes her cue from her niece to act cute with Batman. Finger, Moldoff and Paris are responsible for these stories and they walk a line between nervousness and repulsion on the part of the two male heroes in reaction to this unwanted/wanted teasing.
The main plot of the Clayface-Joker Feud is a rivalry between the Joker and Clayface. It’s a basic truth in Gotham City that the underworld is a snake-pit of biting ridicule. The worst thing for a criminal is to be considered an also-ran and the Joker will not tolerate it.
all the leaves are brown
BATMAN ANNUAL No. 6 (Winter ’64)–on sale November 14 ’63–is almost the end of the line for this title. There will be one more BATMAN ANNUAL after this in the summer of ’64 before the ANNUAL line is changed up for the 80 PAGE GIANT, although that format remains relatively similar.
House ad for BATMAN ANNUAL No. 6 (Winter ’64).
–The theme for No. 6 would have been right up my alley if I had been a Batman reader back in 1963: Batman and Robin’s Most Thrilling Mystery Cases! All of the stories were originally published in 1957. I always enjoyed stories where Batman got to play detective–and the reader can play along, paying attention to all the clues, figuring out whodunnit.–
The first story in this collection, Murder at Mystery Castle (by Finger, Moldoff and Paris), uses the concept that some eccentric millionaire has rebuilt a castle from England, stone by stone, on the outskirts of Gotham City. I’ve lost count of how many times this is used in a Batman story, in the ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s.
It’s always a different millionaire, but he’s always eccentric. Sometimes, the castle isn’t from England. In The Joker’s Crime Costumes from BATMAN No. 63 (February-March ’51), it’s Denmark to fit with the theme of Hamlet in the story. Even in early Joker stories, when he was still killing people, the Laughing Jackanapes inhabited a place on the outskirts of Gotham City that could be the same castle.
I mention this because the last Batman story is set inside just such a castle. In The Joker Jury, by Finger, Moldoff and Paris–BATMAN No. 163 (April ’64) on sale March 5th–the Joker has taken over the castle, now abandoned, where he holds a kangaroo court to judge his old foe. A jury of henchmen made up to look like their boss will render their verdict. As Batman remarks from the witness stand,
It’s like a scene out of “Alice in Wonderland!”
The verdict is guilty, but before sentence can be passed, Batman and Robin make their escape. They may escape that doom, but they won’t escape their immediate doom.
If we ignore JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA No. 27 (May ’64), on sale a week later and edited by the inheritor of the main Batman titles [check my checklist: 12 Last Months of Batman and Robin for other grey areas] . . . BATMAN No. 163 is the last Batman comic and The Joker Jury the last Batman story, bringing to a close twenty-five years of a fictional life.
Far from resting on their laurels, the creative people behind the Dynamic Duo have tried everything to satisfy their readers. But they can’t delay the end anymore.
While The Joker Jury is the last story in BATMAN No. 163, the lead story in that issue is the last in the what-if series about a future Batman II and Robin II. Bill Finger writes and Charles Paris inks, but another Bob Kane ghost, Chic Stone, pencils. Stone does a credible job of ghosting the stilted “Kane” poses; however, the faces are softer than what Moloff might have done. This gives it a kind of wistful tone.
A grown-up Betty Kane has returned to America from Europe and immediately visits her favourite aunt, the now married Kathy Kane Wayne–residing at Wayne Manor with her husband and son. While Kathy is happy with her new life as wife and mother, having retired from crimefighting, she’s still nostalgic for the good old days.
When Betty and her aunt visit Kathy’s old house, which she still keeps, they go down into Batwoman’s Bat-Cave in the basement. As Kathy goes through her mementos, Betty is inspired to return to fighting crime, not as Bat-Girl but as Batwoman II (thus the story’s title, Bat-Girl–Batwoman II).
At the same time, Kathy’s husband Bruce Wayne Sr. is also melancholy about his days as Batman, now done. When Batman II and Robin II are out-of-town, Bruce can’t resist the urge to go back into action once more as the Darknight Detective. Through a confluence of circumstances, the old Batman and the new Batwoman II track down the same criminal gang and end up in a trap.
Dick and Bruce Jr., as Batman II and Robin II, return to Gotham just in time to save the pair. When Batman II is revealed to be Dick Grayson, Betty follows her heart and they kiss.
Typing “The End,” Alfred is anxious to show Master Dick the latest chapter in his Tales of the Future.
Coming Up in . . . MY FAVOURITE FUNNIES No. 4 —
. . . for the first week in June, suddenly someone is there at the turnstile, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes . . .
Bob Powell (writer and penciller) and Howard Nostrand (inker) present the acclaimed story of Colorama in BLACK CAT [MYSTERY] COMICS 45 (August ’53), on sale June 1 ’53. Cover by Howard Nostrand.
What have the Beatles been working on in the studio all these months? SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (LP) comes to record shops in the U.K. and North America on June 1 ’67. The final track can only be heard by dogs. After you pick up the album, stop into the drugstore and check out these modern art masterpieces: THE ATOM towers over the inhabitants of a micro-world in issue 32 (August-September ’67) of the Mighty Mite’s mag. Meanwhile, MIGHTY COMICS 39 (August ’67) presents Steel Sterling.
June 3 ’71, WORLD’S FINEST COMICS 204 (August ’71) hits the stands. How can a campus riot in the present have far reaching results for the distant future? When Clark Kent and Diana Prince go on a date, they don’t expect they’ll be dealing with a butterfly effect–but Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella have other plans. Plus, two adventures from ’52 featuring Captain Comet (encountering some Guardians of the Universe) and Green Arrow. And what did you expect Don Rickles? No, it’s SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN in another Giant-sized collection of his classic adventures in issue No. 140 [G-86]–featuring fabulous art by Swan and Klein and amazing stories by Hamilton and Siegel. [See Catch Up! Super-Human! MY SUPERMAN SUMMER.]
With its classic patriotic cover by Mac Raboy, MASTER COMICS 40 goes on sale on June 4th ’43. Inside, writer Otto Binder and artist Raboy offer a Captain Marvel Jr. adventure where the Little Blue Cheese confronts a band of yellow gremlins called Polties (or poltergeists) that are haunting a house.
An exhibition of two exceptional covers by Infantino and Anderson–BATMAN 194 and THE FLASH 172, both cover dated August ’67– goes on display at neighbourhood newsstands beginning June 6 ’67.
Who are the Viking Prince, the Silent Knight and the Golden Gladiator? They’re the stars of the new adventure anthology from DC–THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. Be sure to reserve the first issue (August ’55) at your local newsdealer, for June 7 ’55.
. . . for the second week in June, I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a litte better all the time (can’t get much worse) . . .
Fawcett gives Joltin’ JOE LOUIS his own comic, with the first issue (September ’50) at your news shop on or about June 9 ’50. This is Joe Louis not Jos. Louis. Joe Louis is the boxer, who was World Heavyweight Champion from ’37 to ’48. Jos. Louis is the sweet confection, consisting of red velvet cake with a creamy centre wrapped in a chocolate shell, named after the two Vachon brothers, first created in ’36, in the province of Quebec.
Not to be outdone by Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., Captain Midnight, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny and all the other flag-waving Fawcett characters this month–Mary Marvel is flying the flag proudly on the cover by Jack Binder for WOW COMICS No. 15 (July ’43) for June 11 ’43.
June 11 ’48 learn 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave, when BATMAN 48 (August-September ’44) goes on sale.
100-PAGE SUPER SPECTACULAR DC-20 (September ’73) on sale June 12 ’73. An all Golden Age issue, including the first three stories 0f Two -Face! Also starring, Black Canary, Dr. Mid-Nite, Blackhawk, Starman, the Spectre and Wildcat. Collected by editor E. Nelson Bridwell, cover by Nick Cardy.
Gardner F. Fox writes Batman for the first time, with the Darknight Detective’s third outing in DETECTIVE COMICS No. 29 (July ’39)–when Batman Meets Doctor Death–on sale June 13 ’39. Bill Finger wrote the first two Batman stories in the previous issues for Bob Kane on the q.t. Unaware of this, editor Vin Sullivan brought in his friend, Gardner, to help out with the stories.
All on sale June 13 ’63 from DC . . . JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA 21 (August ’63) Crisis on Earth-One (Fox/Sekowsky/Sachs)–in what will become an annual event, the Justice League of America encounter the Justice Society of America . . . SUPERMAN ANNUAL No. 7 (Summer ’63) the Silver Anniversary Issue! edited by Mort Weisinger . . . And WORLD’S FINEST COMICS 135 (August ’63)–Menace of the Future Man by Finger, Sprang and Moldoff)–with the aid of their old friend Carter Nichols, Batman and Robin time travel to the time of the Vikings, while Superman heads far into the 21st century–this is the last classic work by great Batman artist, Dick Sprang!
On June 14 ’40, Fawcett gives its new hero the spotlight in the one shot SPECIAL EDITION COMICS (’40) starring Captain Marvel. The – um – symbolic cover is by C. C. Beck, while Mickey Rooney enjoys reading MASTER COMICS No. 5 (August ’40) on the inside front cover.
All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.
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