I bought this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS during that same first visit to Bush’s Hobbies, and I bought it for the same reason: it was old. I believe it was likely the oldest copy of DETECTIVE in the actual boxes (though I wouldn’t be surprised if some earlier issues were either on the wall or held behind teh counter.) But I was astonished that I could pick up a comic book that came out in 1961 and had sold for a dime originally for only a couple of dollars–in 1979, few fans cared much about the pre-“New Look” Batman, this whole period in which the caped crusader battled weird aliens was something of an embarrassment to most readers. But I liked a bunch of these dopey stories when they had been reprinted in BATMAN FAMILY and elsewhere–so what the hell.
In 1961, DETECTIVE was still a true anthology series, with three regular features being represented in every issue. The big draw, of course, was Batman. Even then, with his star fading a bit, he was still popular enough to be a main player in three different titles, and to turn up in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA on occasion. DC didn’t list any creator credits in the early 1960s, so the question of who did what on this issue is open to some speculation. But the Grand Comics Database suggests that possibly Bill Finger, Batman’s co-creator, was responsible for writing this story, with pre-eminent Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff handling the art. It must be said that this story is worlds away from the dark, mysterious, grim Masked Manhunter of even 1979–just look at how bright and colorful that splash page is!
This Batman story is only 13 pages long, but it packs in a ton of incident largely by eschewing any attempt at characterization. It opens with Batman and Robin being stymied in their attempts to stop a mysterious criminal in a Raven costume armed with a futuristic weapon from stealing a piston from an engine. They are later baffled when another criminal shows up, this time attired as a Wasp but wearing the same strange goggles as the Raven. The Wasp attempts to make off with a particular gear–but when Batman and Robin engage him in combat, the three costumed battlers are all ambushed by the Raven, who makes off with the gear, leaving the Gotham Guardians puzzled. They were able to capture the Wasp, though, and they unmask him as escaped convict Willie Blake. But what does it all mean?
To find out, Batman himself puts on the Wasp costume and heads towards the man’s rendezvous point–where he’s met by a flying saucer that decloaks. An alien being, Jhorl, spills the beans; the gear, the piston and an as-yet unrecovered fireplace poker were stamped out of the metal of a particular meteorite–one whose properties are valuable to the alien. So valuable, that he’s got a rival, Kzon, who created the Wasp. Because of Earth’s heavier gravity, the aliens needed human operatives to steal the meteorite fragments, and so they created the prison breakout and recruited a convict each to be the Raven and the Wasp. The goggles both villains wore allowed them to see the specific elements they were looking to steal. Meanwhile, Robin and Ace the Bat-Hound have tracked the Raven back to the other saucer, but are captured by Kzon–who then attempts to disintegrate Jhorl’s ship with Batman inside it. but Batman has already overcome the one alien, and he uses the mind control device that both aliens were battling to complete to mesmerize Kzon as well, wrapping up this story. Whew!
One of the things I enjoyed about perusing this old issue was the vintage advertisements, especially the ones for other DC comics of the era. The end of the Batman story was shortened so that the editors could squeeze in a plug for that month’s current issues of BATMAN and WORLD’S FINEST where the Caped Crusader would also be appearing. And a few pages later, there was a full-page ad for the second SUPERMAN Annual, a reprint collection of even older and more significant stories. It was a bit weird to think about their being reprint comics in 1961–these were all similarly old comics from my vantage point. (Pretty much anything issued before 1973 felt like an “old” comic to me in 1979.)
DETECTIVE COMICS was true to its title in 1961 as all of the features contained in its pages concerned different types of detectives–it maintained its theme still. So the second feature in the issue was an installment of ROY RAYMOND, TV DETECTIVE. Roy was the on-air host of a Television program called “Impossible But True”–he always seemed to me to be cast in the mold of a Rod Serling. In this short tale, possibly written by Jack Miller but definitely illustrated by Ruben Moriera, Roy Raymond is called upon to locate the genuine heir to the throne of a far-off Asian nation–and to expose the various hoaxers who are trying to position their assorted impostors as the actual Prince. As usual, this wasn’t a super hero story, so it was only of limited interest to me, despite Moreira’s restrained yet lovely artwork.
The final story in this issue of DETECTIVE starred J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. We think of the Martian Manhunter today as a super hero, a quasi-Superman figure–but when his strip was created, that wasn’t the intention at all. Rather, with the growing interest in science fiction, DC decided to add a gimmick detective series to the pages of DETECTIVE to cash in on the trend. In the early days, J’onn J’onzz used his hidden Martian abilities to solve baffling crimes on Earth in the same manner that Roy Raymond did on TV, or Captain Compass did on the high seas. It was really only after he joined the Justice League of America that his series began to shift more towards standard super-heroics. This story was created just at the start of that process, and so it retains some of its gimmick detective charm, even though by this time the Martian Manhunter’s existence on Earth was known to all.
In this story, while working to repair the Robot Brain that has accidentally transported him from Earth to Mars (and why didn’t J’onn ever ask his fellow League members Superman or Green Lantern to ferry him back home to Mars?) J’onn accidentally pulls his younger brother T’omm to Earth, and calamity strikes. J’onn’s got only one charge left in the Brain, so he can only send T’omm home–but not before the excitable youth who wants to emulate his older brother almost exposed Detective John Jones as the Martian Manhunter. Writer Dave Wood may have written it, and artist Joe Certa certainly drew it. And that (apart from an ad for Aquaman’s upcoming full-length appearance in SHOWCASE, his first time as a full-on headliner) was it for this issue of DETECTIVE.