Retro Comics are Awesome

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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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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #215
January 1955

The Batmen of All Nations!
Script: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

I'm guessing this is what Grant Morrison based his "Batman Incorporated" off of. It's interesting that at a time when DC barely had any superheroes in publication, we get a story introducing a bunch of new costumed heroes all inspired by Batman in some way. When I say "inspired", I mean that they all try to act like Batman, while wearing costumes roughly inspired by whatever culture they're living in. They're not bat-themed at all. It's a stretch to call them "Batmen". Many of them wear a mask like the one Robin wears and some have the same short pants. Maybe they should be the Robins of all Nations?

In some nice continuity, the Knight and Squire reappear in England. France has the Musketeer (who not only has Robin's mask, but his short pants as well!). In Rome it's the Legionary, dressed like a Roman soldier more or less. In South America the Gaucho fights crime with his bolo, and in Australia the Ranger fights crime. He's not quite the Lone Ranger, but with his mask and hat, there's a passing resemblance. All of these men wonder how Batman fights crime and wish they could meet him. So being an obliging fellow, Batman answers a letter from the Ranger and invites all of them to Gotham to learn his methods.

With all of these costumed crime-fighters in Gotham, most criminals would be scared stiff. But not "Knots" Cardine, who has a plan to turn their presence to his advantage and to kill Batman. As he puts his plan into motion, Gotham City holds a ticker tape parade for the visiting "Batmen", and Batman runs them through his methods including the Bat-signal, his utility belt, and his constant practice of his acrobatic feats. When Cardine sends a public challenge to the police that he will commit crimes right under the nose of the Batmen, they all set out to stop him. You'd think a group of so many costumed crime-fighters would make short work of the Cardine gang, but no... they're ambushed at the first crime site, with some of the foreign Batmen and even Robin thinking that Batman isn't doing too well at the moment. Robin of all people should know that the crooks usually get away with it the first few times before Batman finally catches them. Come on, kid!

The Batmen follow their one clue, a car with a scratched up side, and while the others are still baffled by Batman not catching these crooks in five minutes flat, Batman has noted how petty the crimes are for a big gang like Cardine's, and how easy it is to follow them. As Batman, Robin and the Legionary approach an old house that could be the gang's hideout, the Legionary suggests someone stay on guard, and Batman agrees, approaching the house alone. Seconds later, the house explodes, with Batman seemingly killed. It was all a trap. "Batman Killed" read the headlines in the newspapers. The other Batmen vow to guard the bank currency transfer that will surely be Cardine's target now. The various costumed heroes scatter all around the truck to guard the approaches, but it's the man inside the truck who is the threat: the Legionary pulls a gun! He's working with Cardine's gang! Looking back at this point it's easy to spot where he was subtly manipulating events, but the first time through it wasn't obvious at all.

But of course Batman is alive, and he dives in while Cardine's men are stealing the money, calling Robin and the other Batmen to capture them all. Turns out the real Legionary was captured early on, and the one who has been working with Batman was one of Cardine's men the whole time. Batman suspected a trap and sprang it, pretending to be dead until he could catch the whole gang in action. All the other Batmen apologize for doubting him. There's only one Batman after all!

I'm not sure what to think of all these "Batmen" who really aren't much like Batman at all. They're so broadly sketched as characters that we know next to nothing about them (the returning Knight and Squire aside), other than that they use historic clothing from their countries to create an identity. There's no time in the limited page count to do more of course. I can't help but think that there's some potential to a group of international characters inspired by Batman that simply isn't tapped here. I wonder if they'll return? The substitution of the Legionary with one of Cardine's men is well done... seems like I should have spotted it, and it's obvious in retrospect. Once you know he's a crook, you can see where he's playing his role to trap Batman, but it's not obvious at all the first time through the story. I'm not sure exactly what to think about this story as a whole, the plot is not necessarily all that novel (a trap to kill Batman), and the idea of Batman-inspired costumed heroes is just an expansion of the idea that we first saw with the Knight and Squire, but it's fairly enjoyable. I still think it should be the Robins of all Nations though.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #78
July 1970

A Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!
Script - Denny O'Neil Pencils - Neal Adams Inks - Frank Giacoia

I've got to gamble Green Arrow's life against Black Canary's soul! And pray I'm not making a mistake!

In Washington State, near Mt. Ranier, the issue opens with Black Canary being catcalled by some punks. They try to steal her motorcycle, but as long as the fight remains hand to hand, they're no match for her combat skills. It's only when one of the men hits her with his motorcycle that she's taken out. She's carried off by an unseen man. A few weeks later, Hal, Ollie and the Guardian arrive in the town and stop for a bite to eat, served in a diner run by an Indian. Even though this is 1970, we still get "paleface" and "redskin" dialogue, though one assumes the Indian is being tongue in cheek. The same biker gang who earlier attacked Black Canary attack the Indian, but Green Arrow and Green Lantern make short work of the punks. When one of them tries to run, Green Arrow recognizes the stolen motorcycle and beats the punk pretty bad trying to find out what happened to Black Canary.

After a short interlude reminding us how badly the US has treated the Indians, Hal and Ollie head out to find Dinah. And they do, but she's got two problems: she's got a certain level of amnesia and she's in a cult, rescued by the leader Joshua. Ollie tries to job her memory with a kiss, but she objects. As he and Hal are leaving, she remembers everything: her husband dying, emmigrating from Earth-2, and falling for Oliver Queen. She has a certain degree of rose-tinted glasses on when describing him, I have to say, because the man she describes here bears little resemblance to the jerk we've spent the last few issues with. But she's not out of the woods yet as Joshua gives her a pistol and seemingly hypnotizes her into being willing to use it when he commands. And Ollie hears the cult members practicing in the woods as Joshua turns out to be a white supremacist, commanding them to kill "the red man, the black man and the yellow man" starting with any Indians in the village. Ollie signals for Hal, and though he has trouble in the fight, it's pretty much done once Green Lantern shows up. Joshua tries to get Dinah to shoot Ollie, and Hal holds back to see if she'll really do it, ready to stop her. She can't shoot Ollie, and as Joshua grabs the gun, Hal decks him with a fist construct, only for the gun to go off in Joshua's hand. He's shot in the heart, and Dinah is left to try and understand just how she could have been taken in.

Seems like O'Neil tried to squeeze too much into this one, tackling both cults and bigotry, in his usual cartoonish and heavy-handed fashion, and not digging too deeply into either. It's a bit too over the top for me. "Racism is wrong" is always a good message to try and get across, but dialogue about "palefaces" and "the yellow man" in the 1970s is pushing it. And Dinah's descriptions of Ollie as kind and gentle, a man who enjoys laughing and has muscles of steel doesn't really resemble the man we've seen on panel. I'm still left wondering just what exactly she sees in him, and it seems like she's constructed an image rather than living in reality. Maybe she's still on the rebound after her husband died. I will say, it's good to see Black Canary join the cast of the book, though unfortunately she's mostly a victim in this story.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79
September 1970

Ulysses Star is Still Alive!
Script - Denny O'Neil Pencils - Neal Adams Inks - Dan Adkins

Denny O'Neil really was on an Indian Rights kick, because the second issue in a row deals with how badly Americans have treated the Indians. The solution, judging by the cover, is to have the white Green Arrow set things straight. Talk about your mixed messages....

While camping, both Hal and Ollie sense trouble and head into the woods near their campsite. They stop some white guys from murdering an Indian, and we get more risible "redskin" and "paleface" dialogue, with "injun" and "savages" thrown in for good measure. If this was a Western, set in the 1880s, I'd be fine with the terminology. But it's 1970, and I can't take it seriously. It's just stupid. And it's a shame, because the basic plot of a lumber company getting ready to cut down and harvest trees that the local tribe claims to own is fine. Oliver wants to stay and fight the lumber company, but Hal is doing things the legal way, and he finally tells Ollie off. "I'm getting a bit tired of your lording it over me with your moral superiority routine.." I hear ya, Hal, we're all a bit tired of Ollie at this point. I do enjoy Hal's conversation with the Guardian though, as he puzzles through the contradictions of human nature.

Hal returns to Evergreen City and references his time as an insurance adjustor as he tries to track down some means of proving the Indians' claim to the forest, made by their former chief Ulysses Star. It feels like forever since we've read those stories, but it was a little over a year ago in June of 1969 that Hal quit the job and left Evergreen City. Hal finds a lead and tracks down Abe Star, son of Ulysses, but any documentation he had was lost in the tenement fire that Hal saves him from. Hal refuses to resort to illegal means, and resolves to call on his friend Congressman Sullivan for help.

Green Arrow meets with Black Canary, who has been doing what she can to help the Indians on the reservation. As we discover, Green Arrow adopts a method right out of a Scooby-Doo episode and disguises himself complete with glow in the dark paint as the "spirit of Ulysses Star", after which he proceeds to harass the lumber company representatives. And then he gives an inspiring speech to the downtrodden Indians. Yes, the white dude has to save his red brothers. The whole thing ends up in a brawl, lumbermen vs. "Ulysses Star", Black Canary and the reservation Indians, only for Hal to put a stop to it. He's brought the Congressman to investigate the competing claims. Ollie can't admit that Hal was right, so the two of them end up brawling with each other and looking like fools. One problem is solved, the arsonist who burned down the tenement is caught, but many others remain.

So this was a pretty big improvement on the last issue, though that's largely down to emphasizing the different approaches of Hal and Ollie to tackling the problem, so the story is built more on the character of these two very different men. Ollie dressing up as an Indian chief's ghost is silly, but I liked Hal's half of the story and the reference to his Evergreen City days. It's got to be tough to pair these two characters together, kind of like Batman and Superman with their disparate power levels, but I think O'Neil handled it pretty well here.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
October 1970

Even an Immortal Can Die!
Script - Denny O'Neil Pencils - Neal Adams Inks - Dick Giordano, Mike Peppe

Kangroo court? Say it ain't so! Denny O'Neil is many things as a writer, but he's not subtle. He also apparently ran out of patience with the cross-country road trip of Oliver, Hal and the Guardian, because it's done. I've read these stories a number of times over the years, and never really thought about the fact that the trip to see America that the Hard-Traveling Heroes era is known for only lasts three issues. It ends here, with the caption noting that the trio have been driving around for five months. Oliver even says they've crossed the country twice! Pity we didn't get to see most of it. The adventure begins when a truck driver crosses his lane, sending Ollie's truck off a bridge into the river. Hal rescues them and they're picked up by a boat (because Hal is still minimizing his power ring use per his agreement with Ollie) where they discover the boat is hauling toxic waste from plastic manufacturing. When the boiler on the boat explodes, somehow injuring Green Lantern so that he can't help, the Guardian is left with a moral dilemma: save his friend Hal, or stop the boat and its cargo of waste from going into the river. The Guardian can't play this by the numbers and make the choice that saves the most lives, he chooses to get his friend to a hospital. The crew toss the waste into the river before it explodes, and even Ollie goes along with their actions. Normally he'd be the one making the "must save the environment" argument.

Hal recovers, but the Guardian is accused of crimes and sent to the planet Gallo for trial, with Hal and Ollie going along as witnesses. Gallo is on the edge of the galaxy, near Oa, and they seem to be a sort of trial court for the galaxy. They insist that all weapons be surrendered and take the Guardian to the sun chamber for trial, with both Hal and the Guardian thinking something is not quite right. And indeed things are wrong, there is a single judge instead of a tribunal and the defendant's guilt is assumed even before the trial. No one is allowed to speak, with the defendants gagged by the robot escorts. The judge uses a pistol butt as a gavel. I had the feeling that Neal Adams based the judge off of some real-life individual and came across a review referencing the "trial of the Chicago Seven" and judge Julius Hoffman, who gagged the defendants in that trial the way Hal and Ollie are gagged here. See this review for information and a photo of Hoffman: https://50yearoldcomics.com/2020/08/08/ ... ober-1970/

Maybe even O'Neil realized how absurdly bad this scene is, with Green Arrow thinking "this is like some badly written parody of a trial!" Yep, I agree. The judge sentences the Guardian to death, and says that GL and GA will be tried for contempt of court, for which the penalty is also death. I'm showing restraint here in commenting on this judge and his antics. Hal and Ollie are thrown in a cell where they meet the actual Tribune, where they reveal the "judge" is their mechanic who maintained their robot servants, but he lost his mind and staged a robot revolt. Ollie fashions a bow from the cot in the cell and reveals that he too smelled a rat when they arrived and kept an explosive arrowhead. They escape, recover their weapons, including Hal's ring, and go to rescue the Guardian. Hal has this ridiculous internal monologue about how it's hard for him to use his ring since he respects the law. But they rescue the Old Timer from suffocating to death in a block of plastic (very subtle there, O'Neil) and I had to laugh when the Tribune praise Ollie for his wisdom just like the Guardians do! O'Neil is always shilling his favorite character. It is heart-warming to see Hal give the Guardian a hug when he finds him alive. That's a rare thing to see. The issue ends with the Guardian remaining behind to submit himself to his fellow Guardians for judgment.

So the road trip is over already, and mostly took place off-panel? Wow. Like I said, I had read this before but not really thought about it ending so quickly. The trial is a farce of course, and Hal's unwillingness to challenge clearly illegitimate authority without a struggle is absurd. The very dated references to the Chicago Seven trial would have been totally lost on me if I hadn't been able to do some searching and find someone who recognized them, so I question the impulse to comment on them at all. That aside, like all of these stories there is great art, plenty of action, and a pace that just keeps moving, to the point I was surprised where the issue ended. It seemed like there was more to resolve. And I think future issues definitely return to the Guardian and continue his story. I picked at some of the questionable aspects of this issue, but by and large I did enjoy it, and I think O'Neil is writing better comics at this point than he was in those late Silver Age issues from the omnibus. He has improved over time.
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Detective Comics #216
February 1955

The Batman of Tomorrow!
Script: Edmond Hamilton Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Batman and Robin are after a gang of jewel thieves. When they strike a hospital benefit ball which Bruce Wayne is attending, Bruce has to stop a model of the hospital from crashing down a flight of stairs and injuring guests below. Vicki Vale has a photo of the culprit, wealthy banker Jackson Barrow. Turns out that Barrow is not the culprit, someone who looks like his double is. Bruce sprained his arm stopping the model hospital, so he has to keep away from Vicki lest she figure out his secret identity. Fortunately there is someone who can fill in for Bruce as Batman: Brane Taylor, the Batman of the future. We first saw a different Brane in Batman #26, December 1944-January 1945 when he helped fight off invaders from Saturn. Brane Taylor is a more recent Batman from the future, introduced in Batman #67 from October-November 1951. We even get a recreation of the panel depicting Robin's arrival in the future and a bit of the plot of that story, though the continuity isn't perfect. The year Brane Taylor hails from is 3051 in that original story, not 3054. And I'm pretty sure Taylor was red-headed rather than blonde. But it's close enough, and nice to see the character return. Nowhere else but comics would a costumed crime-fighter have someone from 1000 years in the future on call to help him out!

Once again Robin teams up with future Batman, this time in his time rather than Taylor's. Taylor has issues adjusting to the for him primitive technology of 1955, and he doesn't act around Vicki Vale like Batman typically does, making her suspect he's an impostor. Well this scheme fell apart fast! Robin has to prevent Vicki from seeing Taylor use his personal jet motors to catch a crook escaping on a plane, and again to prevent her catching Taylor using an "invisibility refractor". Taylor is clearly way out of his depth here in terms of keeping secrets, and is used to using his technology. I'd enjoy seeing another future tale with the character where he's in his own element. When Robin out-thinks him in front of Vicki, she's sure he's an impostor. They run down the crooks who were using doubles and Taylor has yet more trouble when he has to ride a horse, but our regular Batman is back in action, his arm having been healed quickly with Taylor's future tech. Later, in Gordon's office, Vicki accuses Batman of being an impostor and demonstrates that her photos prove that he's taller than the genuine article. But anticipating this, Batman had noticed the height difference earlier and had thick-soled boots on to explain the difference. As Taylor returns home, Batman thanks him for the help and Robin breathes a sigh of relief!

So Brane Taylor makes a terrible fill-in for Bruce Wayne because he's just so unfamiliar with the people and tech of 1955, and he's dependent on his technology to the point that he doesn't have Bruce's keen detective skills. He was helpful, certainly, but if not for Robin's quick actions, things could have gone wrong really fast. I thought it was a fun story, and it was good to see the Batman from 1000 years in the future revisited. Good to see some continuity in these old stories once again.
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Batman #89
February 1955

Aunt Agatha all along? Just looking at the cover before getting into the stories, I have to say that it just made me laugh. "Why Bruce Wayne - whatever are you doing in that costume, striking those young men?" Funny stuff. And is Aunt Agatha the precursor to Aunt Harriet? I'd better wait for that story before getting too deep into questions.

The River Rogues!
Writer: Bill Finger Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

We've got another time travel storyline, with Batman and Robin going back a century to 1854 to investigate one Captain John Gordon, great-grandfather of Commissioner James Gordon, who was proclaimed in a recent headline to be a criminal. Gordon thinks publication of the photo is due to some enemy of his trying to make him a laughing-stock, and he fears he'll have to resign. Today he'd call Henry Louis Gates and go on "Finding Your Roots" to learn the truth, but that show wasn't on the air in 1954, so Bruce and Dick pay another visit to professor Carter Nichols for time travel via hypnosis. Captain Gordon's showboat is always near the scene of a string of robberies. Bruce and Dick sign up to perform an acrobatic show about the boat as they investigate.

I have to stop here and praise Dick Sprang for his backgrounds during the sequences set in New Orleans. He clearly found reference photos and made sure the scenery was authentic. He even drew the future Jackson Square, the Place d'Armes, without the statue of Andrew Jackson, which wasn't installed until 1856. Nice work by Mr. Sprang, even more than usual. Back to the story, and while Batman and Robin stop a trail derailment by some crooks, Captain Gordon is arrested when his uniform is recognized among the train wreckers. A daguerrotype is taken of Gordon in jail, and that's the photo published in 1954. Batman figures out that someone wore an identical uniform to frame Gordon, and finds just such a uniform among the costumes on board the riverboat. The culprit and head of the criminal gang is Baird Hawes, the director, who attempts to destroy the ship as he escapes to kill all witnesses. Batman prevents the boiler from exploding and flames from burning the deck, but now they have to find Hawes in the Mardi Gras crowd.

With everyone wearing a mask, it's impossible to know where Hawes and his men are. But Batman, knowing everyone will remove their masks at midnight, sounds an extra peal of the clock tower when it sounds at eleven, and they're easily able to pick the crooks out of the crowd. Captain Gordon is cleared, and he keeps a framed copy of the newspaper proclaiming his innocence in his office. After Batman and Robin return to the present, they take Gordon to see the century-old showboat, now a museum, where they find the newspaper behind some paneling on the wall. Gordon knew about the paper, but assumed it had been destroyed during the Civil War. Batman knew the wall covering wasn't the original paneling because of course he had been in that very office, but when Gordon asks how they knew where to find the frame, Batman's only answer is "professional secret!"

This is one of my favorite time travel mysteries in a while, partly because of Dick Sprangs above and beyond efforts, and partly because it's personal for Commissioner Gordon, and underserved character in this book. Every now and then he gets some backstory and attention, moreso in the 1950s than back in the 1940s, but it's always good to see him as more of a person and less of a plot device. This is a great opening story for this Batman issue.
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

Post by andersonh1 »

The Seven Wonders of the Underworld!
Writer: Unknown Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff Inks: Charles Paris

Underworld leader Vince Varden can't get crooks to follow him any more because he's "old fashioned" in his methods. An angry Varden spends tons to buy items from "the greatest criminal inventors" in the world. Items like the mechanical forger, to trace and reproduce signatures, or the hydraulic jimmy to open anything. There are seven of these inventions, hence the title of the story, but the seventh remains a mystery. It's a cannister of gas that will somehow end the careers of Batman and Robin. So Varden is at least smart enough to prepare for Batman to go after him.

The first "wonder" the gang employ looks like a tank with flexible arms that have claws at the end, used to drive straight up the side of buildings. Batman manages to drive it away from a gold robbery high up the side of a building, but only captures one of the gang, who brags that there's more to come. Batman was able to hide his belt radio on the machine, so he and Robin get a clue about the next crime. The crooks steal a safe from the Gotham Jewel shop, and when Batman and Robin go to confront them, they're hit with the gas. Nothing seems to happen. They pursue the crooks in the Batmobile but lose them, because the "phantom getaway car" can change its shape and color. Batman figures out the ruse, but the when the crooks change the car to look like the Batmobile so they can go through a police roadblock, the police stop the real Batmobile thinking it must be a fake since there can't be two of them.

The crooks return to Varden's hideout and are disappointed to find the safe empty. They see that Batman has followed them, and watch with satisfaction as Batman and Robin fall to their deaths into the ravine outside the house as their silk ropes snap. The gas was designed to rot and weaken silk, so Batman and Robin would apparently die by accident. But it was a trick, Batman figured it out when he and Robin's insignias fell off their costumes as the silk thread was also damaged, and they rigged up dummies to make it appear they had died. They easily wrap up the gang when they surprise them, and the "seven wonders" are destined for the trophy room.

So Varden had to have invested tons of money in these inventions, but they didn't pay off for him at all, and barely slowed Batman down, despite being fairly effective. I don't think the crime spree lasts more than one night. The gas destroying the ropes is a pretty good idea, and might have worked if not for Batman's quick thinking. It is amusing to see that Batman and Robin still have their insignias in the last few panels, after they had fallen off their costumes, so did they take the time to replace them before attacking the crooks? Calling these inventions "the seven wonders" is really overselling things, given how relatively easily Batman counters them, but I guess that's down to the crooks who operate them being overreliant on the technology to save them, while Batman relies on his usual brains and determination to win out.
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