This was a noteworthy issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, though not for especially good reasons. Because this was the final issue to be edited by Jack Schiff before the Batman titles were moved over into Julie Schwartz’s editorial stable in an attempt to buoy their sinking sales. And one glance at this cover tells you precisely why that might be–if there’s a less Batman story concept than being trapped in a brightly colored zoo on an alien planet, it would be hard to find it. But Schiff had been leaning on science fiction concepts in his Batman stories for years, based entirely on the rise of interest in science fiction subjects as the Cold War heated up with the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite. But for Batman, this was all about as far removed from the character’s pulpy, mysterioso roots as you could take him.
There’s no indication that Schiff was aware that this would be his final Batman outing in the story itself. It’s just business as usual for the Caped Crusaders at this time. The piece was written by Dave Wood and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff behind the omnipresent Bob Kane byline. Bob’s deal with DC stated that he and only he would get byline credit on all Batman stories whether they were actually his work or not, and he employed ghosts on the strip for years. Consequently, Batman was the most antiquated strip in the DC line at this moment, as it hadn’t really deviated from the art style it was using in the 1940s, when Kane was doing at least some work on it. Even the venerable Superman had left the retro-future stylings of Wayne Boring behind to usher in the cleaner and more charming renditions of Curt Swan. But Batman still looked like your father’s Batman. That would change the following month for the first time–but that’s another story entirely.
The story beings with Batman and Robin in Africa, where they’ve landed due to a malfunction in the batplane. Forced to defend themselves from hungry tigers, the pair have no way of knowing that they’re being observed by a group of alien hunters who have come to Earth looking for exotic specimens for their interplanetary zoo. Not recognizing Batman and Robin as intelligent creatures, the hunters corral them and spirit them away to a circus on an alien world. Unable to make themselves understood by their captors, the two Earth heroes have no choice but to perform for them or face the prospect of being disintegrated should they prove to be dangerous to the aliens.
Batman and Robin see a crime being committed by two of the aliens, who are using the interplanetary animals to commit thefts. The Dynamic Duo is able to escape their cage thanks to Batman’s utility belt, and though they cannot get back to Earth on their own, they do manage to save the life of the leader of the aliens. Batman is able to use pictograms to communicate with the aliens, displaying his intelligence, and he and Robin are provided with translator units that allow them to communicate effortlessly with the aliens. But always a crime-fighter, Batman realizes that his job isn’t done. He helps the aliens in capturing the members of their community who have been committing crimes, demonstrating his skill as a detective even in this otherworldly environment. The story ends with Batman and Robin being transported back to Earth and freedom. And that was how the Jack Schiff era of Batman came to its conclusion.
A pause here for a full page house ad composed by Ira Schnapp that heralded the promotion of Hawkman into his own magazine at long last. The Winged Wonder had been a cause celebre in organized fandom for a while, chiefly because he’d been a favorite of both Dr. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas when they were kids. But despite their furious support, Hawkman tried and failed to win his own title a number of times before it eventually happened. Looking at this cover also gives a good sense as to how moribund the artwork in Batman was as compared to the other DC features of the time.
After a text page (DETECTIVE COMICS wasn’t running a letters page under Schiff, so more generic text features were used instead) we came to the final appearance of John Jones, Manhunter from Mars in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS. The series had started out as a gimmick detective strip in the manner of Roy Raymond, TV Detective or Captain Compass, in which Jones, really the Martian J’onn J’onzz, would use his extra-worldly powers to track down criminals. It took a turn for the more overtly super-heroic just before the formation of the Justice League of America, of which J’onn became a charter member. Since then, J’onzz had picked up a shape-changing alien pal called Zook and was now indulging in adventures that were typically shorter on detective work and longer on super hero puzzles of the kind that was so in vogue among the DC titles of the era.
But editor Jack Schiff must have had a soft spot for J’onn J’onzz, and he intended to set the character up in one of the new titles that he’d be inheriting, HOUSE OF MYSTERY. To that end, this story, written by Jack Miller and drawn by Joe Certa, puts a close to J’onzz’s career as a policeman while also setting up the running antagonist for the new series, the Idol Head of Diabolu. It’s a mystic Babylonian idol said to contain innumerable horrors, and once it is opened, it will discharge one of its monsters every full moon. Of course, a criminal steals the Idol and opens it, the fool. So now J’onn and the force need to deal with a crazy glowing cloud that consumes all matter. While saving a child caught in the thing’s path, it appears as though J’onn’s human identity of John Jones has been absorbed and killed by the creature.
It turns out that the crook who stole the Idol in the first place has gained the power to shoot lighting bolts from his eyes. Cleverly, J’onn tricks the two menaces into firing upon one another, which destroys the cloud and eliminates the criminal’s lightning-vision. So the day is saved. But the Idol is still out there somewhere, ready to unleash another destructive menace, and so J’onn vows to locate it and secure it, doing so in the name of his supposedly-demised alter ego. A final caption indicates that J’onn’s adventures will hereafter move over to HOUSE OF MYSTERY, where he’ll take on a new secret identity as well as become a short-lived cover feature.
3 thoughts on “WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #326”
Tigers, you say? There are no tigers native to Africa. Here, other DC comics were giving readers scientific fact pages and Batman was passing along the writer’s faulty geography.
I just saw a cartoon featuring northern indigenous people with penguins. And as we enter the Christmas season we’ll be seeing tons of penguins represented as natives of their home’s polar opposite.
I always loved the Martian Manhunter series in Detective Comics, not so much when he moved to House of Mystery. I was happy to see him as a charter member of the JLA, but disappointed when he was eventually written out. None of his appearances since then in comics have given me the same kind of thrill I got from his early appearances. I did love that he was in the JLA animated series.