It’s been well covered over the years that in 1964, with sales flagging thanks to editor Jack Schiff clinging to an outdated approach to the character as the Silver Age blossomed, the reins of the Caped Crusader’s two titles were handed over to editor Julie Schwartz, in the hopes that Schwartz, who’d had a lot of recent success in reinvigorating defunct super hero properties, might be able to turn the strip around. Julie did so by throwing out the old approach (as well as a certain amount of the staid artwork ostensibly done by Bob Kane but actually the work of Kane’s ghosts, primarily Sheldon Moldoff) and modernizing the entire enterprise. This worked, and it primed the pump in a lot of ways for the BATMAN television series that would air just a scant few years later.
Schwartz knew that the look of the series had to be updated, so he took his best artist Carmine Infantino (who had been drawing the Adam Strange stories in MYSTERY IN SPACE, which was handed over to Schiff in trade) and placed him on the Masked Manhunter as often as he was able to. This amounted to Carmine drawing every other issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, with Kane and his ghosts now required to attempt to emulate Infantino’s approach to the character. Instantly, the strip looked a million times better, and seemed to fit in with the rest of DC’s Silver Age line, rather than seeming like a relic of a bygone age. (The most antiquated thing about this splash page is the logo at the top, and Schwartz would soon fix that as well.) Schwartz dumped all of the science fiction elements, restoring an emphasis on crime-solving and detection, as well as escape from impossible traps and situations. As he got his legs under him, Schwartz also oversaw the return of Batman’s rogue’s gallery of costumed villains, many of whom had made only scant few appearances in the previous couple of years.
This particular issue featured only the second story that Infantino drew since taking on the series, the first being the actual refresh issue #327. It was written by Schwartz’s favorite writer, John Broome, and inked by Schwartz go-to inker Joe Giella. In it, Batman and Robin get a tip-off from Commissioner Gordon concerning the whereabouts of a criminal who had eluded them in the past. He appears to be camped out in a castle in England, so the Dynamic Duo cross the ocean in their Batplane in order to extradite the man and bring him to Gotham City justice. But when they arrive, the owner of the castle turns out to simply have a strong resemblance to their prey. Invited to stay over after their long journey, Batman finds himself plunging through a trapdoor into a quicksand bed as the pair traverse the castle hallways.
Our typical time out for an Ira Schnapp-calligraphed house ad, this one for the very first SUPERBOY Annual. It only takes up a third of a page, but Schnapp does his level best to still make its arrival seem exciting.
With quick thinking, Batman is, of course, able to get himself out of the trap. But now he and Robin are suspicious of their host–why is he seemingly attempting to kill them if he’s just an innocent man with a passing resemblance to a criminal? So the pair decide to spend a bit more time at the castle, investigating. But they find themselves having to overcome danger after danger, trap after trap while doing so. This being Batman and Robin, they handle each successive challenge in stride. But their suspicions are mounting as a consequence, even if they as yet have no proof of any wrongdoing.
In the end, it turns out the the man the Dynamic Duo is seeking is the cousin of the castle-owner, and has been holing up there, keeping the man’s family captive in order to compel his assistance. But knowing that he’s in jeopardy so long as Batman and Robin are still standing, the man eventually comes out of concealment–which is a huge mistake, as the Masked Manhunter clobbers him after first blinding him with a chemical tossed into a nearby fireplace. In the end, the villain is captured, the owner’s family is freed, and a hidden treasure has been uncovered within the castle, one that the family donates a portion of to batman and Robin’s favorite charity. So everything turns out all right. It’s a straightforward by engaging yarn, and a good deal more involving and exciting than most Batman stories had been for some time.
Schwartz had also inaugurated a letters age within DETECTIVE COMICS, something the title hadn’t had until he took it over. At this early stage, he’s still needing to fill it with letters concerning the last few Jack Schiff-edited stories, but that would change soon enough. As impersonal as this page still was, with the sign-offs still attributed to an anonymous editor, this too made the series feel more contemporary.
For the back-up slot, Schwartz had exiled J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars (whom Schiff took with him, featuring the character thereafter in HOUSE OF MYSTERY of all places.) and in his place began a series devoted to a character whose creation he had overseen in the pages of THE FLASH: the ductile Elongated Man. E-Man had a number of facets to him that made him a good fit for DETECTIVE COMICS. The first of which was his drive to solve mysteries, his nose twitching whenever he picked up the scent of one. Another was the fact that his true identity was known to the world, and that he was married to Sue Dearborn. The pair traveled the countryside and the world, finding new adventure and danger in all sorts of different locales. Artist Carmine Infantino wasn’t happy with the generic DC house style inking he was getting elsewhere, and on this strip, Schwartz permitted him to ink his own work. Infantino’s inks were a lot more abstract and impressionistic than what DC typically preferred, but as E-Man was only a back-up series, nobody cared much.
This particular installment was written by Gardner Fox, and it involves Ralph Dibny and Sue catching sight of a cowboy capturing a wild horse and painting it purple for some reason. Intrigued by this development and wondering what’s behind it, Sue dispatches her elastic husband to investigate and come back with the answers. The truth involves the quest for a lost mine and a prophesy that says that only the rider of a purple horse will be able to locate it again. The Elongated man helps the cowboy and his girlfriend to do just that, and gets to knock the heads of some claim-jumping owlhoots together while he’s at it. The stakes are low, but the story is unremittingly pleasant. And Carmine has a unique way of depicting Ralph’s elasticity that is very clever and innovative.
One final house ad before the book is over, this one for a BATMAN Annual that looks as though it came from another century as compared to the story we just read. It’s still an intriguing package, but in this context it serves to reinforce just how thorough Schwartz’s reconceptualizing of Batman and his world has been.
7 thoughts on “WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #329”
“I memorized Batman’s advice on escaping quicksand. Happily I’ve never had to use it.
Schwartz dumped all of the science fiction elements, ” Not entirely — “Batman Battles the Living Beast Bomb” felt very much like a Strange Adventures story with Batman in it. But that’s still way better than Schiff’s SF stuff.
I found the New Look kind of dull and inspired compared to the weirdness of Dick Sprang’s art in the annuals. Having read a lot more of the Schiff era stuff now I can appreciate better what a big deal the New Look was.
Infantino had such fun with Ralph’s look. Mr. Fantastic is a great character but he didn’t knock people out by elongating his knees that I recall.
J’Onn’s shift to House of Mystery also shifted him from Martian Detective to Martian Fighters of the Supernatural, which fit better over there (https://atomicjunkshop.com/return-with-me-now-to-the-thrilling-days-of-1964/). But a couple of years later they jettisoned it for the spy adventures with Vulture.
A recent J’Onn back up in ACTION COMICS brought back both Vulture and the Diabolu Idol-Head and it was great fun.
I’ve read speculation that Schwartz was unaware DC owned Plastic Man or otherwise would have made Ralph the Earth 1 Plastic Man. Anyone have knowledge about that? It worked out great anyways since Ralph would have been awesome no matter what his super-name and we’ve gotten wonderful Plastic Man stories too.
Sadly, in my youth, I despised Elongated Man, just because, to me, he was a rip-off of Plastic Man. I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t really used to his potential and why did Ralph get the attention he did.
I never heard of Plastic Man until he appeared as one of the Dial H for Hero heroes. I agree about wasting his potential — his 1960s series was a pale shadow of a pale shadow of Jack Cole at his best.
Len Wein has said that’s why Plastic Man of Earth-X was dead rather than a Freedom Fighter: he loved the guy and hated DC’s take.
I know I’ll be in the minority here, but after reading Batman’s crazy adventures for some 10 years I was really disappointed in the “new look.” I liked Infantino’s art, but really loved Dick Sprang’s art. And I hated the Batman tv show. It was only when Neal Adams started drawing Batman that I came to appreciate the modern character (which was totally erased with Frank Miller’s dark and gritty take. I haven’t read a Batman comic for decades now.
Sprang had retired. His place had been taken by Jim Mooney. Schiff had brought in Dick Dillin to do covers and had started to pump up the supervillains, but there wasn’t much he could do about Kane/Moldoff’s approach to the art. Until Irwin Donenfeld started threatening to cancel the book. That scared Kane into going along with the “New Look”. Were sales actually bad enough to cancel one of DC’s formerly most popular titles? No- but Kane’s contract had them over a barrel and they needed leverage.
it’s interesting how you point out, Tom, how “much better” the Batman strip looked after Infantino started drawing it. I started reading comics in 76, and there were all of these introductions and text pages and so forth talking about how much more “realistic” the books looked after Infantino came in. I was looking at art by people like Adams and Garcia-Lopez and thinking “people thought Carmine’s work was REALISTIC?” I did come to love Carmine’s art, though – and I know many thing this is heresy – I preferred Irv Novick on FLASH….