It must be said that in the early 1960s, BATMAN was a weird comic book. The Caped Crusader was still popular, he was holding down regular positions in not only his self-titled series but also in DETECTIVE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST (and occasionally appearing in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA whenever his editor Jack Schiff’s back was turned.) But the character was about as far from his nocturnal roots as it was possible to be. Looking through this issue of BATMAN once again, it’s amazing just how bright everything is! There isn’t a hint of shadows, of darkness. And while Batman is still fighting crime and protecting the innocent, he’s much more likely in this period to run afoul of an alien menace–or have to fend off the well-meaning assistance of the extraterrestrial imp, Bat-Mite (as the cover blurb tells us we’ll be seeing here.) As in past weeks, this was another book that I got in my Windfall comic book purchase, paying 33 cents for it. So let’s take a look at this ancient, classic issue.
Editorially, BATMAN was under the purview of Jack Schiff, a longtime DC editor who often worked in the shadow of Mort Weisinger, who was now editing Superman, the big money-maker. Schiff was a talented editor, but the institutional fear after the Senate hearings on comic book violence in the 1950s and the advent of the Comics Code had him and most of the DC staff working in the most conservative manner possible. So anything that might be even slightly scary in a Batman story had to be eliminated. As was typical of this era, BATMAN carried three stories, all of them devoted to the Caped Crusader–you got exactly what it said on the cover.
This first story was written by Jerry Coleman and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff. Bob Kane’s contract still mandated that he be the only one credited for any Batman material, so these credits were worked out well after the fact. The story is a trifle, in which Batman and Robin save a stage magician, who makes a show out of conferring magical powers upon them. But Bat-Mite secretly shows up, and decides to make it actually happen. So the two crimefighters suddenly find themselves able to do extraordinary things–but when the underworld realizes that the magician’s spell seemingly did work on the Caped Crusaders, they want to be similarly enchanted and the Dynamic Duo need to come to the rescue. It all winds up in typical fashion with a fight atop a colossal kitchen stove–such oversized props had become de rigeur in Batman’s adventures that they were almost a requirement.
Next up came a beautiful full-page ad for a pair of titles out of fellow editor Julie Schwartz’s stable, lettered and designed as most of these were by DC’s crack letter-wizard Ira Schnapp. The combination of the cover illustrations, the electrifying copy and the elegant graphics make these two issues seem like must-buy material.
The second story in this issue was again drawn by Sheldon Moldoff–despite the obligatory Bob Kane signature in the lower left corner–and written by the Masked Manhunter’s co-creator Bill Finger. A lot has been written about Finger in recent years, and it’s terrific that he’s finally getting credit on materials featuring Batman after so many years in obscurity. It’s a typical adventure of the period, one far removed from the grimy alleyways of Gotham City. it opens with our heroes having trailed a gang to the African Jungle. But their Batplane is shot down, and they’re forced to make their way on foot. When they find the criminals’ camp, they discover that it is under siege by a strange Leopard Boy, who has an amazing rapport with animals.
Leopard Boy also speaks in the annoying “baby talk” language that DC loved to use at this time–essentially replacing “I” with “Me” in every sentence: “Me see what happened…called friend to help!” Batman is able to work out that Leopard Boy is the son of a crook who escaped with a fortune in stolen diamonds and vanished–his plane crashed here in the jungle and the boy was raised by the wildlife. The Gotham criminals are trying to find the lost jewels, and are hoping that Leopard Boy can lead them to them. Ultimately, though, the trip makes short work of the bad men, and in the final frame the Leopard Boy is reunited with his law-abiding mother for a happy ending. As is usual in this timeframe, the final story page includes a 1/3 ad for another DC title, in this instance the second issue of Schiff’s recently launched AQUAMAN series.
After another filler page devoted to odd facts about fingerprints (a subject actually of some use to Batman stories) we next get the letters page for this issue. As opposed to most of the other letters pages we’ve seen in these books, it’s a relatively dry affair, with the nameless editor reciting facts and plugging upcoming stories with all the enthusiasm of a homeroom teacher. It’s a far cry from the more literate Schwartz pages, and the more colorful Stan Lee ones.
Finally, in the back slot of the issue is the cover-featured adventure of this month. This story was written by Arnold Drake, a writer who would go on to co-create the Doom Patrol and Deadman among other things. Artwork again was penciled by Sheldon Moldoff and inked (as the opening Bat-Mite story was) by Charlie Paris. Batman and Robin receive an urgent summons from adventurer Keith Larsen, but upon arriving at his estate, they are stunned to find one of his guests being carried off by a huge disembodied hand–the Hand of Korabo! Larsen tells the Gotham Guardians that on a recent mountain climbing expedition, he removed the jewel-encrusted Hand of Korabo from its protective place at the peak. And since they, one by one, the members of his mountain climbing party have been killed by the strange disembodied hand-thing. Which all sounds creepy, except that the depiction of said events is so absolutely matter-of-fact and so unrelentingly colorful on teh page.
The ending here is a bit of a complicated mess, as it turns out that Larsen himself is the killer, targeting the other members of his mountaineering party so that they won’t disclose where he hid the actual jewel-encrusted Hand of Korabo. The giant hand, of course, is all stagecraft and nothing supernatural at all. But Batman figures this out and turns the tables on the explorer, tricking himself into revealing himself and also rescuing the other men endangered by him. It’s a good story until you ask yourself for a second, if Larsen was the culprit all along, why in the world did he summon Batman and Robin? I get that he was trying to alibi himself, but that still shows some suspect judgment on his part.
And the issue closes out with one of Schiff’s public service pages. Schiff wrote this one himself–it was illustrated by Lou Cameron–and he was largely responsible for these pages being a fixture in the DC titles for decades. They were a feature he cared about a great deal (and his pursuit of which had him labeled as the “house Communist” by the DC editorial staff.) For their time, many of these pages are remarkably forward-looking.