WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #319

Among the books that I acquired as part of my Windfall Comics purchase, there were a number of issues of DETECTIVE COMICS. Which stands to reason–the title was one of the very few books to continue to be published uninterrupted from the Golden Age all the way through to the Silver, thanks to the abiding popularity of Batman and Robin. This was the oldest issue in the bunch, dating from a period where editor Jack Schiff’s handling of the Masked manhunter was beginning to show its age. More than just about any other strip out there, Batman looked antiquated, a product of an earlier time as compared to the many Julie Schwartz revival heroes, the new Marvel characters, and even the facelift having been given to Batman’s good friend Superman over in Mort Weisinger’s titles. Within six months of this release, the Batman series would be overhauled and pulled into the 1960s. But that’s still all to come, let’s take a look at what the Caped Crusader looked like in 1963.

In a number of ways, this particular outing was a bit closer to the roots of what we might think of as being a Batman story than a lot of the other then-recent stories, which dealt often with alien visitors and monsters from other dimensions and the like. Here, the threat is simply a fantastic criminal, the on-the-non-existent-nose-titled Doctor No-Face. He’s apparently Dr. Paul Dent, who had invented a revolutionary ray capable of rejuvenating damaged skin tissue. But when the device blows up on him, as such devices inevitably must in comics, his own features are scrubbed completely–leaving him with only a blank, featureless head. This of course drives him to commit crimes wherein he destroys the faces of objects D’art and things of beauty. And that makes him a quintessential Batman-style foe, one driven by a singular mania and with a particular modus operandi to his crimes. In a way, he’s a precursor to the Question, although he may well have been inspired by Dick Tracy’s similarly-themed opponent, the Blank.

The story, while credited as all Batman adventures still were due to a contractual agreement to Bob Kane, was actually the work of writer Dave Wood and artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris. Moldoff was the mainstay Kane ghost during this era, and his work is solid and direct, limited by the Bob Kane style that he’s forced to emulate. Moldoff himself was capable of a much broader range of material, chops that he showed of during the Golden Age of Comics working on such characters as Hawkman. But ghosting Batman for Kane represented a guaranteed amount of work and income, and he did so willingly for a decade and a half–until such point as Kane renegotiated his deal with DC and kicked Moldoff to the curb with little gratitude for his many years of service. Kane was, to put it mildly, a bit of an ass.

Anyway, this opening story runs for 13 pages, and it turns out along the way that Dr. No-Face isn’t actually Dr. Dent at all! He’s really criminal Bart Megan, who had approached Dent about using his device to remove a telltale scar from his forehead. When he was transformed into Dr. No-Face, Megan decided to pose as Dent to commit his crimes, casting responsibility on the hapless Dent, whom his gang was holding captive. But Batman dopes out the substitution when he battles the faceless madman atop a bust of the Caped Crusader’s own face carved into a Gotham mountainside. The real Dr. Dent was acrophobic and never would have been able to contend with those heights. Once the Masked Manhunter realizes this, it’s a simple matter for him to work out that Dr. No-Face has been stealing the objects he was seemingly destroying, replacing them with replicas that are what he destroyed, so that he could eventually sell the originals and retire safely in Dent’s identity.

DETECTIVE COMICS still isn’t running a letters page at this point in its development–that wouldn’t come about until Julie Schwartz took over as editor. Instead, the series was still running a text story every issue, a requirement of the Post Office to qualify for second class subscription postal rates. The author of the piece in this issue is unknown, but there’s nothing about it that would make anybody remember it five seconds after reading it. More interestingly from our point of view, the book also included this nice vintage subscription ad, which offered DC’s young readers a chance to get their future copies of DETECTIVE COMICS and its siblings at the still-remembered price of 10 cents a copy. The ad didn’t mention that those copies would be mailed out folded in half, thus destroying their value as collectibles. But if you were interested in reading the stories and didn’t wan to risk missing an issue, this was a pretty good deal.

Like the other books of its type, DETECTIVE COMICS had started out as an anthology title, running several features in every issue. Reductions in page count over the years had reduced the number of available pages, though, so by 1963 Batman was only sharing space with one other series: John Jones, Manhunter From Mars. the John Jones strip had an interesting history. it had started in 1955 in response to the growing fascination with science fiction themes, and it was essentially a gimmick detective series. Where Roy Raymond was a TV Detective and Captain Compass was a Detective of the seas, John Jones was an alien detective, using his otherworldly powers to thwart criminals. While he wore a pseudo-costume in his Martian identity, J’onn J’onzz wasn’t really depicted as a super hero at all. He did most of his work in his human guise. It was only the changing times and the impending formation of the Justice League of America that caused J’onn to reveal his presence to the world and for his series to take on a slightly more super-heroic bent.

This particular John Jones story is summed up perfectly by its opening splash page. It was the work of writer Jack Miller and artist Joe Certa. In it, While on a vacation in Europe, John passes through a foggy cavern that casts him back 500 years into the past. There, the Martian Manhunter uses his array of powers to rescue Prince Charles from abductors who are after his throne–and he doesn’t seem to give a hoot who sees him in his formerly-secret Martian identity while he does so, either. I guess he figured that in 1463, nobody even understood what a Martian really was. There isn’t much of a conflict in this story. Like the early Superman adventures, it’s all just an opportunity for J’onn J’onzz to show off his array of powers against foes that stand absolutely no chance of even slowing him down. It’s amazing that the whole affair takes 12 pages to unfold. In the end, in the space of a panel, J’onn returns to the present by going back through the cavern, then destroys it so that nobody else can fall victim to it (or use it as a research tool or anything along those lines. ) That cavern is the sort of utterly fantastical one-off creation that the comics of this era were rife with. So the package is all entertaining enough, but really does feel like a bit of a relic. Neither Batman nor John Jones are in touch with the zeitgeist of the moment. But as I mentioned earlier, change was coming in just a few more issues.

4 thoughts on “WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #319

  1. When I first started getting into comics, one of my sisters gave me a handful of old comics for my birthday, and this was one of them.

    What I like about this story is that it doesn’t just feature a paradigmatic Batman-style villain — it’s someone who _pretends_ to be a paradigmatic Batman-style villain in order to distract from what they were really doing. Even in Gotham City, they knew there was a pattern, and Bart Megan wanted to use that pattern to his own benefit.

    [I also like that the intended fall guy for this was named Dent– if the cover story had been true, we’d have had Two-Face and No-Face as facially-mangled Bat-foes. And surely E. Nelson Bridwell would have eventually revealed that they were relatives.]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “That cavern is the sort of utterly fantastical one-off creation that the comics of this era were rife with” Yeah, Earth-One and TWo and the MU must have been weird places to live, even if you didn’t encounter a metahuman.
    The idea of a Batman villain who (as Mr. Busiek puts it) knows how to “use that pattern” was a common thing in the 1950s. The Spinner drops exactly the clues to his identity we’d expect, but they’re all fake. The Wrecker is apparently destroying everything that celebrates Batman (the Bat sent his brother to the chair!) — it’s actually a scam so he can murder himself (he’s a crime writer who wrote a book about Batman’s greatest cases) and escape the IRS.
    I love stories like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is the era of comics that (for reasons I cannot fathom) made me a life-long Batman fan. Also, to be distressingly nit-picky, J’onn restores the status quo not in a panel but in a mere caption!

    Like

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