This particular issue of BATMAN was the only one I got in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988 that featured editor Julie Schwartz’s “New Look” revamp version of Batman and Robin. After years under former editor Jack Schiff and with sales dwindling, irwin Donenfeld shifted the Caped Crusader over to Schwartz’s editorial control. Even at that time, Julie was considered the super hero revamp kind, and it was hoped that he could turn Batman’s fortunes around. And he did so–even before the advent of the 1966 BATMAN television program sent sales into the stratosphere. Schwartz was limited in how much he could do, as Batman creator Bob Kane was still promised a certain amount of work on the feature (which Kane sub-contracted out to others, usually Shelly Moldoff), so Schwartz could only use his power hitter Carmine Infantino on covers and the occasional story. The rest had to come down to better scripting, more inventive stories, and slicker inking, with an eye towards modernizing the feature. BATMAn often still looked a bit primitive in comparison to much of the DC line a lot of the time, but it was definitely a much closer race than it had been.
The inside cover is a great time capsule of a certain moment, the introduction of “action figures” for boys with the release of the initial line of G.I. Joe figures. Hasbro spared no expense in getting the word out about their new fighting soldier, and so they took out this inside cover ad while blanketing the airwaves of kids television with commercials. (Which is where that As Seen On TV blurb comes from–Joe didn’t have a television program at this point.)
In addition to all of the improvements mentioned above, Schwartz also instituted running occasional book-length adventures in BATMAN, which gave his creative team a lot more elbow room to tell a fulfilling adventure. This particular story concerns the Dynamic Duo’s battle against the sinister secret organization known as Hydra–coincidentally, also the name of the organization who would wind up doing seemingly-eternal battle with Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. over at rival Marvel in a few months. It was written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, whose involvement, while uncredited on the splash page, is made clear by Schwartz on this issue’s letters page. And as mentioned earlier, it was illustrated by Shelly Moldoff with inks by Schwartz mainstay Joe Giella.
Evidencing the growing pop culture fascination for spies and secret agents, this story wouldn’t be entirely out of place as a James Bond caper.It opens with Batman and Robin being unable to prevent the assassination of an Interpol agent who had journeyed to the United States and Gotham City to pass them information concerning the rise of Hydra. Batman vows to destroy Hydra, and he and Robin fly the Batplane to Holland as their first step in tracking down the agent’s killer. They follow the trail to a secret hideout in a windmill that Hydra men are using as a cache for stolen goods, and wipe up the criminals before heading off to another European country. Batman has concealed the fact that, before he died, the Interpol man whispered to him that a man named Karabi was intending to arrange for two nations to go to war. So the Caped Crusader’s pursuit of Hydra is all just a cover, so that he can attempt to locate and defeat Karabi unsuspected. In disguise, Batman picks up some information in Singapore, then the duo makes their way to Greece, where they’re targeted within an old Greek Theater.
The gunmen open fire on Batman, only to learn that he has outfoxed them. Leaving his cloak and cowl behind on a statue as a decoy, he has outmaneuvered the assassins. So another Hydra operation is shut down. But the leaders of Hydra aren’t worried, their whole set-up is that they’ve got a replacement ready to step in whenever any of their “heads” is cut off. And Karabi also reads the headlines and feels confident that Batman is investigating in the wrong direction, away from him. As Batman continues to roam around Europe, though, he’s secretly collecting information about Karabi’s plot along the way. (And, fortunately for everyone, it seems that Karabi’s plan wasn’t ready to be put into action for several weeks, giving the Masked Manhunter enough time for all this globe-hopping.) He’s learned that the plan calls for Karabi to cause a nucellar missile to fire from Country A at Country B (an editor’s note tells us that the true names of the nations cannot be revealed for National Security reasons!) which will set off retaliation and then a war that the rest of Europe will be drawn into.
With the world engulfed in war, Karabi and his band of S.S. Elite-like soldiers will attempt to seize as much power for themselves as they can. But Batman has learned where Karabi’s base is located in Country A, and so the pair venture there in the Batplane. It’s a stone temple like the one on the cover–and its gaze projects rays of light that blind Batman and Robin, allowing them to be overcome and captured. Karabi separates the Dynamic Duo and tells Batman that in fifteen minutes, he’ll be pressing the button that will launch the missile from Country A at Country B. forced to watch a ticking clock counting down to the event, Batman appears to crack, and he tells his guards that he will reveal to them why Karabi’s plan is going to fail, as though he has broken.
A pause here between chapters two and three for another cool Ira Schnapp-designed house ad for an upcoming 80 Page Giant, the format that had succeeded the Annuals once somebody noticed that they were coming out more often than once a year. This is the second FLASH collection, and like all of the earlier ones, it’s a cornucopia of vintage stories.
Batman’s seeming breakdown is all a ruse, of course. Having realized that the clock he was watching is an alarm clock, Batman has maneuvered himself in position to take advantage of the surprise of his guards when the bells start going off. Freeing Robin from his cell, the pair race to intercept Karabi. But there are only a few moments left to prevent the launch. Locating the launch site within the temple, Batman and Robin acrobatically leap into the fray in a sequence reminiscent of the soon-to-come bat-fights on the television show, and are able to prevent Karabi’s launch! So it’s mission accomplished, right? Not so fast! As they go over karabi’s notes after having handed him over to the authorities, they come across information that Hydra has plans to heist a Swiss bank that very day. But thanks to the time zone differential, they still have time to fly to Switzerland and prevent the theft. So off they go!
The Caped Crime-fighters reach the scene where Hydra is tunneling into the bank through a nearby curio shop, and clobber the bad guys. But the Hydra head escapes. Batman and Robin pursue him across the Swiss Alps on skis, eventually catching up with him and putting him out of action. While Hydra isn’t completely smashes, its activities have been severely damaged–but rather than finish up the job, a tired Batman and Robin head for home. Back in Wayne Manor, Robin realizes from the news reports that, thanks to the Time Zone differential, Batman captured both karabi and the last Hydra head at the exact same clock time–and what’s more, it’s that selfsame time now in Gotham as well. So he and Batman have been in three places at once. A fun note for this story to go out on.
The issue closes with the Letters to the Batcave letters page, which was launched once schwartz came on board. As was typical for his efforts in this area, the page is erudite and informative, with Schwartz choosing letters from the older and more well-written correspondents to feature. It’s got a sober and serious feel to it, for all that its discussing the adventures of a man who dresses up like a giant bat. Schwartz is also very forward with information about which writer wrote which issue. Exposes such as this one infuriated Bob Kane, who preferred to maintain the myth that he was solely responsible for each and every Batman story, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. Ina few years, though, incoming editorial director Carmine Infantino would renegotiate Kane’s deal, freeing him from the absurd need to keep this charade up.