A very strange cover on this issue of BATMAN, though not strange enough to keep me from purchasing it. The main image doesn’t depict Batman at all, only his special guest-star, the Shadow. I wasn’t very familiar with the Shadow at the time this book came out, but I understood that he was a precursor to Batman. He didn’t wear what I would then have considered a costume, though, and he used guns, so he didn’t qualify to me as a super hero.

That all said, this is a pretty great issue of BATMAN from front to back. It’s got an excellent lead story, and the reprints are almost all stories that I really embraced, even the weird ones. 

The first story opens up with a flashback to years earlier, in which the Wayne family finds itself present in the middle of a gun battle between the Shadow and some criminals. Thomas Wayne puts himself at risk to save a threatened nurse, but fortunately today is not his day to die. However, young Bruce Wayne is traumatized by the sounds of the gunfire.

Events then segue to the present, where Commissioner Gordon has summoned the Batman to give him a tip-off to a pending crime. While there, the firearm Gordon has been given for his anniversary on the Force leads batman to admit that he simply doesn’t like guns. This aspect had been a part o the character previously, but only in a subliminal way–this was the first story that i can recall to draw the line between the Wayne’s murder and Batman’s dislike of firearms.

Along the way, Batman decides to check in on the nurse from the opening of the story, who never completely recovered from the trauma of that incident. He finds her on the roof being accosted by the same criminal, a man who has spent the last 25 years in jail getting ripped. He and batman exchange blows, but the criminal gets away when the nurse’s associate drops from a heart attack, requiring Batman’s assistance.

Following this, there’s an attempt on Bruce Wayne’s life–and then, at the unveiling of a tiara that was the item almost stolen 25 years before, a note discloses that the item on display is a fake. Suddenly, the Shadow’s laugh emerges from the speakers, and he gives Bruce a clue in the form of a reference that only he will understand.

Following up on the Shadow’s tip, Batman returns to the scene of the original crime, and again crosses paths with the criminal, who snipes at the Caped Crusader from under cover. At a crucial moment, Batman finds himself in possession of a .45, which he discards as is his method. But as he charges the criminal, the events of years before play out once again, and he is once more the traumatized child of years ago, helpless on the ground before the killer.

But before Batman can be gunned down, the Shadow’s laugh rings out, distracting the gunman and giving the Darknight Detective his second wind. He takes the bad guy apart, then faces the Shadow, who tells him that the real thief of the tiara was the associate who earlier perished of the heart attack. Also, the Shadow knows Batman’s true identity, and allowed events to play out as they did to exorcise Batman’s demons of long ago.

After the wrap-up, on come the reprints, beginning wit this brilliant story in which the villain is a guy in a Batman cowl an a purple suit. He’s operating a racket where he’s convincing wealthy patrons that Batman isn’t a single man, but in fact a society of men, all trained and operating as the Caped Crusader. And for a fee, he will equip his suckers with their own Batcave and Batmobile and so forth. Batman, as you can imagine, is not amused.

I can’t resist posting this additional page of this story, where the whole pitch is given. It’s brilliant.

Next up is the story that launched a thousand action figures, the Strange Costumes of Batman. This adventure revolves around different specialty outfits that Batman had used in unique situations, very much like Iron Man’s later specialty armors. It’s also a rare story in which Batman gets shot, badly. In the end, Robin must use a special costume that allows him to impersonate Batman in order to bring the shooter to justice.

After a feature showcasing readers’ ideas for a new costume for Robin, we get this strange tale in which a couple of down-and-out private investigators impersonate the Dynamic Duo. It veers between playing the situation for laughs and creating genuine jeopardy, and manages to walk that tightrope well.

Next came another feature that I loved, in which new cover copy was written for old Batman covers. Most of these are pretty dumb, but as a kid I thought they were pretty funny nonetheless. Following this was a ‘60s story in which the Elongated Man and the Atom impersonate an oversized Batman and a tiny Batman for reasons that, well, don’t really make a whole lot of sense. 

The final story is a heart-string puller in which Bruce Wayne’s elderly grand-uncle fears that he’s letting down the Wayne family tradition of heroism by being a spoiled playboy. By the end of the tale, Bruce has managed to contrive a situation wherein it looks as though he’s given aid to Batman while dressed in a Batman costume, but he also comes clean to his great-uncle when the old man is on his deathbed. My question: where was this great-uncle when Bruce was orphaned years ago? Probably out being a swashbuckler, like all of the other Waynes.

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