Pretty sure that this was another book that my brother picked up that I eventually ended up with. All comics came to me eventually. Despite the fact that it was still being edited by Julie Schwartz, whose editorial style helped to define what I liked in my comic books, I still wasn’t following Batman with any regularity. I liked the character well enough but tended to prefer his older stories, the ones from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Some of that was just my natural tendencies, and some of it was no doubt the fact that BATMAN was in something of a dull rut at this point.
It’s maybe a bit difficult for readers today to imagine, but while the character remained popular during this period (often coming in highest among the DC heroes in popularity polls) the series itself was considered relatively weak stuff. While as has been reported elsewhere, Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams and others had restored the mysterioso aspect and fearsomeness to the character, a lot of the individual stories were pretty blah. They wound up playing like episodes of television cop shows more than anything, and the fact that Batman was wearing an outlandish get-up was somehow overlooked or not commented on. Every once in a while you’d get a stand-out story by a major talent. But the average issue of BATMAN was relatively pedestrian. And this one is no exception.
And in fact, I remember previous little about this story. It appears to be the second half of a two-parter, but I never read the preceding issue so I can’t be sure. it opens with Batman trapped in a cone of light by one Baxter Baines, a masked and cowled figure who has been threatening to reveal Batman’s true identity. Unfortunately for Baines, Batman calls his bluff–the cone of light won’t trigger a death trap if the Masked Manhunter steps outside of it (which is a pretty lame resolution to a cliffhanger) But before Batman can get any answers from Baines about why he’s been threatening the Caped Crusader’s identity, the scene is interrupted by the arrival of several mobsters with a score to settle with Batman–and they figure that Baines knows who he really is. The two costumed figures team up to beat the hell out of the newcomers, however.
With that task out of the way, Batman returns to questioning Baines about his announcement that he’d be revealing Batman’s true identity. Baines tells the Masked manhunter that he’s got a laundry list of things that he wants to accomplish in his life, almost impossible tasks that challenge his intellect and his skills. Revealing the face behind Batman’s cowl is merely the latest in this series of self-appointed challenges. And as Batman thinks back to the clues that Baines has already revealed to the world as a part of his game/challenge, he realizes that all of them could apply to Baines as well as to himself. Baines wants to replace the Batman. What’s more, the cone of light Batman was in permeated him with invisible radiation, which Baines could use to suss out his real identity. Batman, however, turns the tables on Baines in a particularly cruel manner: he issues his own clue, one that indicates that only Baxter Baines can truly be the Batman. Now, every crook with a grudge against the Gotham Guardian will be targeting Baines. Meanwhile, Batman will have to keep a low profile as Bruce Wayne, at least until the radiation he was zapped with wears off.
I’m not sure whether this was the book in which I first saw this ad for an upcoming FLASH Dollar Comics, but it was a thing that I wanted desperately. The one-of Dollar Comics didn’t get great distribution in my area, and so I badgered the people in my life about locating a copy of this book for me. And on a trip out to our home for some party or celebration, my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Clementine struck paydirt and secured a copy of this must-have issue (which we’ll cover at the appropriate future point.) As was her way, but Aunt wrote my name on the cover so that people would know that it was mine–an act that horrified me as a child but which I find touching and special as an adult, years after the both of them have passed away.
In the meantime, Batman gets back to the case that he was on before Baines distracted him with his secret identity hunting nonsense. And using Baines’ own radioactive light-lens, he’s able to irradiate a few of the Carib Assassins that he’s been after, then follow them back to their headquarters in the Batcopter with them none the wiser. The Assassins have failed to kill the Batman in the manner they had announced, and so now some of their number have to pay penance–and the female cult leader decides to dress the failure up in a batman costume, so that he’s a stand-in for their missed target. This feels like a plot point to justify the cover, but whatever. Batman knows that he’s got to save Aldrich, their captive and the other potential sacrifice. He’s not too concerned about the fate of the assassin, but hey, can you blame him?
In a quasi-voodoo ceremony, the High Priestess of the assassin cult calls for the death of Batman, and her honor guard strikes down the assassin dressed in Batman’s gear positioned on one of the altars. Batman himself takes this moment to make his appearance–he’s attempting to break the mystique of mysticism through which the High Priestess controls and commands her horde of killers. There’s a brouhaha of a fight, and Batman is able to get away safely with Aldrich, leaving the assassin cult in ruins.
Everything is wrapped up in a perfunctory and explanatory final page, where Batman clarifies for Commissioner Gordon what he did and why he did it, and the case is closed. Gordon responds by giving Batman a radiogram from Baines Baxter, who has gotten out of Gotham to avoid being targeted himself by killers and crooks. And that’s the end. I can’t say that it was very good, or even entirely made sense. There’s certainly no point in this story where Batman is on the back foot, in trouble in any way. A bunch of stuff just sort of happens, there are some fights and stuff, and then Batman and Gordon share a laugh at the end. Television cop show with tights. This was the state of BATMAN for literally years.
The letters page this time out includes our old friend the Statement of Ownership, revealing just how successful BATMAN was at this point in time. According to the numbers, the book was selling 158,552 copies on a print run of 417,917, for an efficiency of just under 38%. That’s in line with most of teh other books we’ve seen during this period.