WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #322

Not every comic book that I got as a part of my Windfall Comics purchase in 1988 became a beloved favorite. Some of them, such as this issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, I barely remember at all. In fact, if it wasn’t on a list of books compiled when that purchase was made, I would swear that I had never read this issue before. But I have it, so clearly I did, for all that it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Such were the vicissitudes of Batman in those dreary pre-New Look days of the early 1960s–Julie Schwartz’s arrive as incoming editor was only four issues in the future. The Sheldon Moldoff cover does immediately give the sense that this isn’t going to be a hard-hitting crime drama so much as a goofball flight of fancy.

For the time being, DETECTIVE COMICS was still in the hands of editor Jack Schiff, and he had an almost childlike approach to his material and his characters. Like so many during this time, Schiff viewed the comics he worked on as disposable momentary entertainment for the youngest of readers, and so he didn’t think twice about employing the most bizarre or unlikely twists and turns in the stories he oversaw. In particular, Schiff imitated the approach taken by SUPERMAN editor Mort Weisinger, which included lots of alien menaces and strange transformations for his title character, the Caped Crusader. Schiff didn’t give a whole lot of thought as to the intelligence of his audience, but consequently, this meant that sales on the Batman titles were trending dangerously downwards (especially given that, unlike most of the other characters in the DC line, the Batman books carried greater overhead thanks to the deal made years before with the Masked Manhunter’s creator Bob Kane.)

The Batman adventure in this issue was written by Dave Wood, drawn by the aforementioned Sheldon Moldoff and inked by Charlie Paris. OF course, only the Bob Kane signature ran on the splash page, crediting Kane with everything in the manner of a newspaper strip. And it concerns the theft of the Larko Lamp in Gotham City. The Lamp had been crafted years before by the sorcerer Larko, and was said to be able to transform anybody enchanted by it into an all-powerful genie, imprisoned within the lamp until three wishes had been granted. The Lamp needed a strange, special powder in order to function, and Batman is able to determine that not only has the lamp been lifted, but also a supply of the needed powder from an overseas community. So presumably the lamp can now do what it says.

And sure enough, when Batman and Robin are able to hunt down Aristo, the criminal whose gang was responsible for the two thefts, he douses Batman with the strange powder, causing the Caped Crusader to vanish into thin air. Aristo and his boys had planned to use their genie to lood Gotham City blind, and they see no reason to continue with this plan even if Batman himself has become the genie. Meanwhile, at Police Headquarters, the flummoxed Commissioner Gordon and Robin are joined by Bat-Girl, who has heard about the situation and come to help with the crisis, despite the fact that her own mentor, Batwoman, was out of town. This wasn’t Barbara Gordon but rather Betty Kane, the earlier Bat-Girl who didn’t make the transition into the New Look era. It is interesting to see her here as a solo player rather than being effectively Batwoman’s Robin.

This story winds up being a real showcase for Robin, as Batman isn’t faking here or pulling some trick–he legitimately has been transformed into a genie and is forced to do Aristo’s bidding. In his first heist, Robin and Bat-Girl are able to stay one step ahead of him, substituting the money held in the Gotham Mint with actual mint leaves, thus allowing the Batman genie to fulfill his orders while not stealing anything of true value. The second time Batman appears in order to carry out a brazen theft, Robin is able to stow away on their escape vehicle, and at a precipitous moment seize the Larko Lamp. Unfortunately, when he does so, the vehicle is going over a high bridge, and in the struggle, Robin and the lamp are plunged deep into the waters below.

Aristo and his boys make it to the river’s edge, where they’re able to recover the lamp–there is no sign of Robin. But when they call upon their genie again, Batman appears and clocks them all. Turns out that Robin used the lamp its third and final time to summon the Batman genie to save him from drowning, so once Aristo had it back, the components of the curse had already been fulfilled. Poor Bat-Girl, though, doesn’t get to be involved in the denouement and the triumph–she had been forgotten about a few pages earlier. Poor girl. The last story page guided readers towards the two other titles Batman was then appearing in: his own series and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS.

The break between stories doesn’t run a letters page–DETECTIVE COMICS wouldn’t carry one until Julie Schwartz took over as editor. Rather, we find another of these wonderful ads for a pair of DC Annuals, oversized books that they released multiple times a year despite being listed as Annuals. They were all-reprint editions, but they provided a great value for a quarter and are well-remembered today. The graphics of this ad, like most of DC’s house ads of this period, were done by hand by Ira Schnapp.

The second tale in the issue featured John Jones, Manhunter from Mars. It was a strip that had undergone a series of bizarre changes over its lifetime. It had started out in 1955 as a gimmick detective series, one intended to take advantage of the growing interest in space travel. While J’onn J’onzz/John Jones possessed multiple special abilities due to the fact that he was actually an alien from Mars, the series wasn’t set up as a super hero strip. But this changed as planning began on the Justice League of America. Seemingly in order to allow J’onn to become a member of that august body, his existence on Earth was revealed to the world, and he became more of a traditional super hero in his adventures, a kind of green-skinned Superman. He even palled around with a quirky alien companion, Zook.

This particular adventure, written by Jack Miller and illustrated by Joe Certa, pits the Martian Manhunter against Arnold Hugo, an old for of J/onn’s JLA compatriot Batman, who is able to use his great intellect to scientifically duplicate J’onn’s powers. This lets him spar with the Manhunter and Zook for a full 12 pages–but of course, he’s also duplicated J’onn’s vulnerability to fire, and so the pair is able to capture him and remove his Martian attributes. Batman himself makes a rare cameo in th estory’s final panel to give J’onn a pat on teh back for his service. The Manhunter was a strange concoction, but he was popular enough (at least with Schiff) that even after Schwartz exiled him from DETECTIVE COMICS in favor of his home-grown creation the Elongated Man, J’onn J’onzz managed to find a home for the next several years in the pages of HOUSE OF MYSTERY, of all places.

Finally, here’s the text feature that ran in this issue, which only occupied 2/3 of a page in this instance. I’m guessing that the Post Office wasn’t paying enough attention. I only include it here because it too contains one of those cool 1/3 page ads for another title, this time an issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD teaming up Aquaman and Hawkman. Hawkman didn’t even have his own series yet when this issue came out, so getting a berth in an issue of B&B was a real victory for the character.

5 thoughts on “WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #322

  1. Not that this was the finest Batman comic of all time, but I do miss the simplicity of the era. I like the idea of reading an entire story or two in one issue and not have to buy dozens of other books just to try to figure out what the heck is going on.

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  2. That may be Shelly on the rest of the strip, but I’d have sworn panel one of pager four was by Jim Mooney, though only Batman’s face. Mayyybe the entire Batman figure in that oanel, but probably not.

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  3. I’ve wondered about this story ever since I saw the cover in a weird-transformations list. A plot of “Batman is transformed into a genie …” is, well, of its time – but if it ends up “… and outwits the crooks by twisting their wishes”, that’s at least an entertaining follow-through of the initial premise. But the execution is poor. The moment the crook said to fill the pail at the Mint, I expected Batman to pull something like “Here, master, I’ve filled the pail with a pile of copper which is used to make pennies”. In fact, a huge pail full of pennies themselves is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Putting mint leaves in the Mint doesn’t make any sense from the dramatic logic of wish-twisting, which is always about doing the letter but not the spirit of the words. The Batman-genie is an idiot, rather than a genius turning the tables on his captor.

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