Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #88
December 1954

The cover advertises the issue as "featuring The Son of Batman", but isn't Dick Grayson in every issue?

The Mystery of the Four Batmen!
Writer: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

The omnibus table of contents credits this story as being drawn by Bob Kane, but come on! All you have to do is look to see that this was drawn by Dick Sprang. His style is unmistakable. So I've put his name in the credits above. At any rate, Batman and Robin are trying to break up an international smuggling ring as the story opens, and they capture Duke Walling he boasts that they'll never get his pals. One of them happens to call at that very moment, and though by imitating Duke's voice Batman is able to learn that "the Batman we're expecting" will arrive on the liner Varonic, but that's all he learns. Needless to say, Batman is interested in this other Batman. Investigation in Gotham turns up nothing, so he and Robin head out to meet the ship.

The captain gives them the run of the ship and they investigate the passenger list, where they determine three possible suspects who could be "batmen": Lefty Lingard, a baseball player (swings a bat, that's obvious. And no good guy is ever named Lefty!); Horace Hubert, a pottery man (Batman: "aren't those pottery plates in the first stage of manufacture called Bats?"); and Egbert Smills, an ornithologist who has been collecting bats rather than birds. Putting characters in a confined location and loading up the suspects is a tried and true formula. It's the small details as usual that Batman zeroes in on, such as a man who has been in the tropics not being sunburned, or a baseball player without the usual callouses from swinging a bat. Nothing gets by this guy! Lefty talks when confronted, though he's silenced by a blow to the head, but not before he reveals a fourth batman on board. Robin gets to imitate his mentor by noticing an important detail about one of Smills bats, that it's not an Asian bat at all. I have to say, I appreciate the amount of research and details put into this story to make Batman and Robin appear educated and observant. I still think of that crook calling Batman a "walking encyclopedia" in one story, because he knows so much useful trivia and facts. In many ways, the entire story is built around these small details, which makes an interesting mystery.

Turns out that Hubert and his pottery are the key to the smuggling, which Batman figures out. But he's not the final member of the smuggling ring. That would be Dr. Veering, shown in two panels back on page 3 worried about his ancient Persian statuettes. Turns out that stolen jewels were being smuggled inside these fake relics, made by Hubert in his kiln. Batman figured it out because "a batman is a unit of weight in Iran and the east equal to six and a half pounds". I had never heard of this, so I looked it up, and this is an actual unit of measurement. "The batman (Turkish pronunciation: [batˈman]) was a unit of mass used in the Ottoman Empire and among Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire. It has also been recorded as a unit of area in Uyghur-speaking regions of Central Asia. The name is Turkic... It was originally equal to one-ninth of the weight of an artaba of water,[6] or approximately four kilograms (or 8.8 lbs, so Batman was a little off) in modern units." I did not expect to learn interesting trivia reading a 1954 Batman story, but I have. Nice.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Continuing Batman #88....

Three Letters to Batman!

Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

Batman and Robin move in to break up the theft of a valuable tiara and pearl necklace, worn by visiting royalty. They're slightly late and though they capture the thieves, there's no sign of the stolen jewelry. While conferring with Gordon, he says that a letter came for Batman, who reads it. Someone calling himself "Mr Mystery" (uncle Stan from Gravity Falls?) saw everything that happened and warns that he is watching. Robin is concerned about this mysterious observer learning too much. When the two of them stop a robbery in an insurance office in a high rise the next night, the same thing happens. They can't find the stolen loot. And a second letter arrives revealing the mysterious watcher knows everything, even about Batman's sore arm where he was hit with a gun. Robin thinks he could be spying with television or radar, and they take steps to counter both possibilities.

The solution to the missing loot turns out to be balloons. Satchels are tied to balloons which are released to be picked up by a waiting helicopter. I can't quite buy that idea, for a couple of reasons. The crooks robbing the insurance office had no way to release balloons without being seen, and a helicopter overhead would surely be seen or heard. Maybe the sirens of the fire trucks meant to cover the sound of the burglar alarms during the insurance robbery would cover the sound in that case, but Batman would have seen balloons released out the window. Circumstances prevent this otherwise fairly clever idea from being quite believable.

So the case of the missing loot is solved, leaving only the mystery letter writer, which Bruce doesn't seem all that concerned about, despite the fact that the third letter to arrive shows the mysterious observer knows Batman and Robin's secret identities. Turns out the letter writer was Bruce all along, testing Dick Grayson's ability to solve the mystery of someone shadowing the two of them. I felt like I should have guessed who it was but I'll admit the mystery letter writer had me fooled. I had no idea how someone could be spying on the two of them like that. At only 8 pages, this story does a fairly decent job of setting up two mysteries for the reader and our heroes to deal with, with the solution to one working better than the solution to the other one. Still, it's a solid story that kept me engaged and wondering just what was going on.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #88 concluded....



The Son of Batman!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

I thought at first that we were going to get something like the son of Superman story from The Golden Age Omnibus vol. 7, but this turns out to be something quite different. Ed Wilson has spent time in prison, and rather than tell his young son the truth, told him he was Batman. He's shot while carrying on the masquerade, and the real Batman promises to carry on the deception until he feels the kid is ready to learn the truth. Wilson thinks he's dying, so when Bruce unmasks in front of him and Wilson sees his face, Bruce isn't too concerned. He disguises himself to look like Wilson and then goes to see Wilson's son, telling him all about the "retirement" plan.

Meanwhile the man who shot Wilson in the Batman costume thinks he killed Batman, and his pals take this as a chance to pull some profitable jobs. They're shocked when Batman appears to stop them. Batman captures the gang leader and turns him over to the police, where he learns that Ed Wilson will live. Now Bruce is in a spot. Wilson knows who he is, and he has no idea what he's going to do. In the meantime he and Robin continue to go after the gang, unaware that Wilson's son Tommy has followed them so he can see his "dad" in action. We almost get the cover image replicated on page 5, only Tommy doesn't speak directly to the reader, he just watches in awe as Batman and Robin fight the gang. As he cheers on his "dad", gangster Big Jim Garver hears him and captures him, using the kid as a hostage to make Batman back off. Tommy is a clever kid who figures out a way to use some carbon paper and the heating vent to make a "bat signal" as all his little bat cutouts go out the roof vent, and two policemen nearby tell Gordon.

Garver knows he's there and again uses the kid to keep Batman away. The whole hostage situation is on the news, where Ed Wilson sees it and has to help. Meanwhile Batman decides the only way to save Tommy's life is to reveal who he really is, so the crooks will know Tommy isn't Batman's son. I don't think that would actually make any difference, because Garver would figure Batman would do the same thing for anyone and would still hold him hostage. Robin's innocence in thinking that the crooks will just assume Bruce has no children because he's not married made me smile. He's still an idealistic kid in a lot of ways, even if he does fight hardened criminals night after night. Ed Wilson showing up just as Batman unmasks, revealing two identical men, surprises the crooks just long enough for Batman to dive into action and rescue Tommy. All ends well as Tommy and his dad are reunited, Tommy learns the truth but still looks up to his father, and Ed was too injured to remember who Batman really is.

This was a fun little adventure. I always like it when writers portray crooks, grown men, as afraid of Batman, while kids see him in quite a different light. There's a scene in the movie Batman Begins where Batman is spying on some crooks or something on the side of a building, and a kid sees him, and they just chat a bit with the kid thinking it's so cool that he's met Batman. That's the way to do it, and a story built partially around that concept hits the right notes for me. Batman in this era has a big heart sometimes, and helping let a kid down easy when it comes to the truth about his father is a admirable thing to do.
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