Here was another issue of BATMAN that I got in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988. While it’s a 12 cent issue, it was still published during the editorial reign of Jack Schiff. And as such, it was a bit noteworthy, as by this time schiff and his creative teams had largely pivoted the Caped Crusader away from the distinctive Dick Tracy-style villains that had once been one of the hallmarks of the strip, in favor of more exotic adventures often involving alien invaders and trips to outer space. So the cover appearance of the Joker here is a bit more noteworthy than it might be today, when it seems like his visage graces the cover of at least one Bat-title every month. It’s almost a cover that could have appeared on the book twenty years earlier (although Sheldon Moldoff, who ghost-drew it for Bob Kane in emulation of Kane’s supposed style, was a bit stiffer than much of the work that would have seen publication back then.)
Now, this first story in the issue (as was DC standard at the time, the book contained three short Batman adventures–book-length stories wouldn’t become standard for another couple of years) is much more in keeping with the overall flavor of Batman during this era. It was written by Jerry Coleman, about whom I don’ t know a whole lot. He was one of those anonymous scribes in those days before running creator credits became a thing who contributed to a number of comics over the years, but who was largely unheralded in his efforts. The artwork was produced by Jim Mooney, who is perhaps better remembered, having continued to contribute into the era in which most stories were credited. Mooney was one of the better Kane ghosts, his Batman work a bit more fluid and supple than the norm.
The story is relatively basic: flying over an unnamed “distant country”, Batman and Robin happen across a weird city. Investigating , they are attacked by a pair of energy watchdogs called “Force Twins” at the behest of a couple of alien beings who are prospectively looking to colonize our world. The Dynamic Duo is able to keep one step ahead of the Force Twins, while Batman works out that the aliens are vulnerable to common water, and is able to drive them away by drenching them. The last page in all DC stories in 1962 was only 2/3 comics, leaving room at the bottom for an ad promoting other titles in the line. So here, we get a small but elegant Ira Schnapp-designed plug for the current issues of DETECTIVE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, Batman’s two other publication homes.
Speaking of ads, here’s one for the first issue of THE ATOM in his own title, following his try-out run on SHOWCASE. Appropriately enough, this launch didn’t warrant a full page, but like the Mighty Mite himself, was crowded into a much smaller space. The balance is taken up with another one of Henry Boltinoff’s filler comedy strips, which similarly ran in all of the DC books. This one, Lefty Looie, seems to owe a debt to Beetle Baily, for all that it is set in a prison rather than an army camp.
The next story in this issue came from the hand of Batman’s co-creator Bill Finger, one of the best story men in the field. Finger’s work was always imaginative–he kept a series of notebooks in which he’d jot down interesting facts that he’d come across, that he might use to devise situations in his stories to pit his heroes against. Giant-size props, like the oversized spoon on this splash page, were also a recurring motif in Finger’s BATMAN work. It was drawn by cover artist Sheldon Moldoff, hidden behind that oversized Bob Kane signature as always.
This one is a more traditional Batman outing, without any science fiction elements to it. Bruce Wayne’s young cousin Vanderveer Wayne ends up staying at Wayne Manor for a week. When he stumbles on the Batman and Robin costumes, young Van ends up impersonating Robin himself, and hiring a criminal to portray Batman for him. When the villainous Batman goes rogue, the real Dynamic Duo come to the rescue, and Van proves his own mettle along the way, showing that he isn’t simply just another spoiled rich kid with too much time on his hands. The final page includes this plug for two of Schiff’s other titles, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN and TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.
By 1962, many titles had shifted away from running text pieces that pretty much nobody ever read to having letters pages instead, and BATMAN was no different. This one is noteworthy in that it leads off with a letter from Tom Fagan informing the editor (and by extension the readers) about the Rutland Vermont Halloween Parade that he is the marshall of, and in which he dresses up at Batman. This yearly holiday event became something of a destination spot for young comic book creators in the next decade, largely due to the lavish parties that Fagan would hold at his spacious home after the parade itself had concluded. Fagan and Rutland, Vermont would be immortalized in a number of comic book stories over the years, from a variety of companies including both DC and Marvel.
Following the usual established pattern, the cover-featured story ran last in this issue. As with the previous story, it was written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff. This was the era in which the Joker had been largely neutered, his insanity and homicidal tendencies replaced with a maniacal sense of humor and a penchant for colorful theme-based crimes. This episode opens with the Joker having delivered a clue to one such heist to Police Commissioner Gordon. But Batman sees through the ruse in the clue, and is correct in determining the Joker’s actual target. Unfortunately, the clown gets the better of him, and in a scene duplicating the cover, succeeds in unmasking the Caped Crusader. (The cover was definitely commissioned first, and this story written by Finger to match it.)
But the Joker doesn’t reveal Batman’s true identity. Rather, he uses it as a sword over teh Masked Manhunter’s head, making a statement that he’ll reveal the truth only if he is apprehended. This isn’t enough to dissuade Batman, though, and he continues his fight against the Clown Prince of Crime. But every time the joker escapes, the people of Gotham wonder if Batman isn’t letting him get away so that his true identity will remain a secret. Finally, to prove he’s just as dedicated and effective as ever, Batman and Robin intercepts the Joker a third time, using a robot of himself as a decoy. And it turns out that the Joker never knew Batman’s real identity at all–he had been blinded by a searchlight from an airport beacon when he removed Batman’s cowl earlier. Everything else had simply been a bluff on his part. Whew! And to close things out, one more 1/3 page ad for a Schiff title, this one BLACKHAWK.