This is a relatively effective cover for an issue of DETECTIVE COMICS in this period, even given that the series tended to look a bit antiquated when placed on the comic racks next to the other contemporary DC titles. That use of the close-up of the Robot Brain with Batman and Robin trapped inside it is attention-getting. That said, the Batman titles were still lagging at this point, often concerned with bizarre science fiction plots and displaying colorful, open artwork all in defiance of the essential appeal of the series. There’s something fun about these stories in a kind of so-bad-they’re-good manner, but they can’t really be described as playing to the heart of the idea of the Masked Manhunter.
This was only just a few months before editor Julie Schwartz was brought on board to replace Jack Schiff as the overseer of the Batman titles and overhaul them, bringing them into the 1960s and halting their downward trajectory. So let’s see just what sort of a state this title was in just before that. Here, the issue is divided almost in half, with the lead Batman and Robin story taking up only a page more than the Martian Manhunter back-up strip. It was written by Dave Wood with artwork by Sheldon Moldoff and Charlie Paris, all working anonymously under the Bob Kane byline. This particular story is a bit more grounded than some, but it goes to some outlandish places in order to justify the cover illustration.
The story concerns a string of thefts carried out by otherwise law-abiding citizens. Batman gets involved when a friend of bruce Wayne’s is convicted of one such robbery–a robbery that he doesn’t recall. Questioning the victims, Batman finds a common denominator in that they all had their portraits photographed recently by the same photographer. Theorizing that the cameraman used a rigged camera to somehow hypnotize the men into committing the crimes, Batman goes to investigate the guy at what turns out to be a building topped with a colossal mechanical head. The Dynamic Duo sneak into the building through the head’s mouth, but find that the gigantic mechanical head is booby trapped against intruders.
The rest of the story showcases Batman and Robin overcoming the various traps and obstacles to penetrate the building. At one point, Robin is trapped without his nose filters in a gas-filled room and Batman must come to his rescue. In the end, the criminal scientist who is behind everything manages to trap the pair within the Robot Brain driving them crazy. But suddenly, he moves to liberate them. Turns out that earlier, Robin had used his own set-up to mesmerize him and so when they were trapped, Batman and his partner could order the scientist to free them and he’d be compelled to do so. As was traditional, the last page included a 1/3 page ad for the other titles in which Batman was starring , his own book and WORLD’S FINEST COMICS.
Next came a full page ad composed by DC’s ace letterer Ira Schnapp and dedicated to the team-up up of three of DC’s war series stars in an upcoming issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD. B&B had become a SHOWCASE-like try-out series during this time, though it didn’t launch as many new features as SHOWCASE would. DC would use the 3 BATTLE STARS banner again on future reprint collections but it never became a series of its own. But man, that’s still a cool ad.
As mentioned previously, the back half of the issue features JOHN JONES, MANHUNTER FROM MARS. It was a feature that had come a long way since its launch in 1955, but not all of those developments had been positive ones. Initially, it was created as another gimmick detective strip since the title of the series was DETECTIVE COMICS. In the same way that Captain Compass solved crimes on the high seas or Roy Raymond, TV Detective solved crimes on the airwaves, John Jones would solve crimes using alien science. He was, in essence, “MY FAVORITE MARTIAN DETECTIVE”. At least he was until the Justice League of America was ready to debut. At that point, with the super hero fad heating up, a decision was made to reveal J’onn J’onzz’s existence to the world and to change the patina of his series into more of an actual super hero strip. The results, though, were mixed.
This particular adventure was written by Jack Miller and drawn by Joe Certa. In it, an ancient petrified creature is revived in a freak accident. The Martian Manhunter and his alien pet/friend Zook are called in to help patrolwoman Diane Meade in attempting to stop it. The cave carvings where it was found depict a trio of strange beasts that contended with the menace in the past. Not knowing which one eventually triumphed over it, the Manhunter decides to alter his form into each one in succession, searching for the correct attributes to bring the runaway monster to heel.
There’s a further complication in that the second creature the Manhunter transforms into breathes fire–which is his one weakness. Consequently, he’s unable to change back or to explain himself to the human authorities, who attack him as another monster. It’s Zook who is able to detect that this second creature is actually the Manhunter, and he’s able to follow J’onzz’s instructions to reduce his temperature until his “internal flames” have been put out and thus the Manhunter can restore his regular form. The third creature he transforms into turns out to be the one that can do the job, and so everything turns out all right. But there wasn’t a whole lot of suspense of even interest in this tale–it read like a watered-down Superman story, really. More could have been made of the Manhunter, but nobody quite had the right handle on him in 1963. And unfortunately, matters would get worse after the character migrated to the pages of HOUSE OF MYSTERY once Schwartz took over DETECTIVE COMICS in a few issues.