By 1965, DETECTIVE COMICS had become something of a schizophrenic title. Editor Julie Schwartz’s revamp of Batman had taken hold and increased sales, saving the series from possible termination. Yet, he was still limited by DC/National’s deal with Batman’s creator Bob Kane. Kane was to be provided a certain amount of work on the series (though he’d turn that work over to ghosts to actually produce.) What this meant that it was only every other issue of DETECTIVE COMICS that could be illustrated by Carmine Infantino, Schwartz’s best artist during this period. The others all attempted to emulate aspects of his style, but did so awkwardly.
I had read this story years before, when it had been reprinted in an early issue of BATMAN FAMILY:
It was one of a series of semi-regular instances in which Schwartz had his creators combine the lead Batman and Robin feature and the back up series starring the Elongated Man into a single full-length story featuring all three heroes. These longer epics were something of a minor event. Writer John Broome used this story to pit Batman up against an international adversary, mixing in the contemporary flavor of a globetrotting James Bond adventure. It was that sort of an era.
Broome rather playfully inserts himself as an occasional narrator for this story, which also allows him to get a writer’s credit for it–the Batman books in particular were loathe to indicate that anybody apart from Bob Kane was working on the feature, despite he obvious evidence. Infantino’s caricature of Broome on these pages is both spot-on and pretty funny. he captured Broome’s likeness well. The story concerns the efforts of former Nazi General Von Dort–a man believed to have been killed during the war–to organize the underworld into a crime army under his direction. Batman and Robin’s assistance is requested by Ralph Dibny after the Elongated Man becomes aware of the plot.
The General also possesses a monocle that can sap the will of men, and so he has little challenge in assembling his underworld army. But when he puts it into operating to loot Gotham City, Batman and Robin are there. There’s one ridiculous moment in this story where the Dynamic Duo come swinging in on bat-lines to confront invaders in the equivalent of Central Park–leading one to wonder what in the world their lines could have been anchored to? Anyway, the Caped Crusader puts a stop to this raid, but it turns out the entire thing was a feint, a ploy to allow Von Dort to steal away with his actual objective unmolested.
It turns out that what Van Dort has made off with is a rare radioactive isotope, M-244, that he intends to use in constructing a death ray. This is some Bond villain 101 stuff here. Having worked out his scheme, Batman and Robin join forces with the Elongated Man (who was absent for the actin in the first two chapters so that the Dynamic Duo could show off their stuff alone) and the trip tracks the radiations from the M-244 to a hidden base south of the equator.
Break time here for the Batman’s Hot-Line letters page, limited this time out to only half a page to make room for a subscription ad. Editor Schwartz was a lot more forthcoming with the names of his creators on these pages than he’d get to be for some time at the start of the stories, and so there’s a bit of discussion here concerning who did what in recent issues.
This is followed up by a 2/3 page House Ad for a particularly catty LOIS LANE 80 Page Giant. DC’s editors tried to give each of these releases a theme but this became more difficult as time went on and so many options had already been done. It’s a fun Kurt Schaffenberger cover, though one that somehow feels as though it would have been more at home on an issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL a decade earlier.
And one more dramatic House Ad before we get back to the action, this one plugging ENEMY ACE’s appearances in SHOWCASE. He’d started out as a back-up feature in STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES and this was an attempt to see whether he could carry his own series. The answer wound up being that he’d take over SSWS as the cover feature for a good while. The typography here was likely done by Ira Schnapp.
Back at the story, as the heroic trio land, E-Man uses his ductile abilities to disarm a sniper aiming at them with his head. I’ve spoken before about artist Infantino’s unique approach to depicting an elastic character–his work on E-Man has an undeniable charm and zip to it. It’s not like Plastic Man, nor like Kirby’s Mister Fantastic. It’s its own thing, somehow at once both more and less plausible in its depiction. Carmine’s passion for design really comes into play here. Anyway, after locating Von Dort things go pear-shaped, as the former Nazi is able to mesmerize the Elongated Man, causing him to attack Batman and Robin. The pair is able to escape by pulling Ralph in two directions at once and then winding him up in his own arms.
With E-Man out of the fight, Batman and Robin are left to deal with Von Dort on their own. Robin is swiftly overcome by the former Nazi’s mental power, but Batman keeps his head down and his eyes closed behind his cowl as he rushes the General, knocking him unconscious with a single skillful punch. And it’s all over. Von Dort never gets to perfect his death ray, the M-244 is returned to teh authorities, and the General and his gang of underworld criminals are all arrested. So it’s a perfectly clean Silver Age win.
3 thoughts on “WC: DETECTIVE COMICS #343”
Julie told me that his two attempts to make an annual Batman-Elongated Man team-up a thing sold miserably, which is kind of a pity—but no one had yet caught Elongated Man Fever yet, I guess.
That two-panel sequence on page 19 – still thrilling after all these decades
Speaking of Kane’s deal, was it always for art only, as in the sixties, or in the early days did his studio produce the scripts as well? I remember the comment from the Gerard Jones book that DC would send scripts for the Simon/Kirby studio to execute during their heyday at the company, and S&K just turned in whatever they wanted because they knew their books were hot sellers at the time. (The actual claim was that S&K would take the DC scripts and make them into paper airplanes, though that may be hyperbole.) Somehow I have the sense that a lot of the forties scripts for the Batman titles had a special quality, one I won’t try to define, I hardly ever saw in any other DC titles of the time. However, by the fifties, a lot of Batman stories read pretty much like everything else in the DC stable. Anyone have any insight on the matter?