It’s 1956 or thereabouts. Born in December 1951, the young Tony is an avid watcher of The Adventures of Superman and that love brings him to the neighborhood bookie-adjacent newsstand on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland. The newsstand sells more racing forms than Tony had ever seen, not that Tony knows what those are. The actual bookie is next door.
The newsstand also has more magazine and newspapers than Tony has ever seen before. Most glorious, it also has more comic books than he’s ever seen before. Tony learned to read from comic books when he was four years old, but he was only now becoming the avid fan we know today.
Superman and Action Comics were his favorites, but he was getting interested in this Batman guy as well. Soon, Batman would eclipse Superman to become Tony’s favorite super-hero. Because Batman, with no super-powers per se, seemed an attainable role model for a young would-be hero. He could train himself just as Bruce Wayne had. If Dick Grayson could do it, so could young Tony. Alas, he lacked the essential element of dead rich parents. Still, Batman remained his favorite until Spider-Man swung around.
We’re continuing our reading of Batman: The Silver Age Omnibus. The book collects Batman #101-116 and Detective Comics #233-257. Let’s get back into it...
Detective Comics #237 [November 1956] presented “Search for a New Robin” by a currently unknown writer and with art by Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris. This rather lightweight ten-pager consists mostly of a disguised Bruce Wayne imaging what his life would be if his new Robin was one of the two rather unpleasant youngsters he meets in his temporary new identity.
The weak premise is that, while appearing with Batman at a bridge dedication ceremony, a dummy of Bruce Wayne is shot by a gangster. The dummy tumbles into the river and everyone thinks Bruce is dead. Taking on a new identity, he knows Batman must work solo for fear of exposing Robin’s identity. It’s faulty logic, but, after Bruce’s daydream of a new Robin or two, the police find the bullet-riddled
dummy. A half-ass explanation of why Wayne had taken on a different identity mercifully brings this story to an end.
Batman #104 [December 1956) has one of my favorite covers of this era. Drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, it evokes the giant dinosaur movies that were captivating me. Beyond that, the issue has three terrific stories, starting with “The Man Who Knew Batman’s Secret” by writer Edmond Hamilton with art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris. In just eight pages, we see a Gotham City imperiled by master criminal John Varden. Complicating Batman and Robin’s hunt for Varden, quirky amateur detective Thaddeus Crane accidentally discovers Batman’s secret identity. Varden is determined to kidnap Crane and get him to reveal Batman’s identity. Even as a kid, I saw the ending coming a mile away but was still excited to learn Crane was actually loyal butler Alfred, the key element of Batman’s plan to capture Varden and his men. I was around five years old and my detective skills were pretty darn sharp.
Bill Finger’s clever “Robin’s 50 Batman Partners” was also a hit. Again drawn by Sprang and Paris, the tale has Batman injured with Robin having to do solo hosting duties at a gala honoring some of Batman’s greatest cases with appropriately gigantic displays. The bad guys figure they can easily take down Robin, but the Boy Wonder uses the exhibits to take them down instead.
“The Creature from 20,000 Fathoms” is by Finger, Moldoff and Paris. No hoax here. The fire-breathing monster is the real deal. Batman and Robin must battle the dinosaur as a member of their exhibition tries to kill them to protect a treasure he discovered. This would have been a standout story in most Batman issues of the time, but it came in a close third to the other two.
Detective Comics #238 [December 1956] featured writer Dave Wood’s highly entertaining “The Doors That Hid Disaster!” The cover is by Sheldon Moldoff with the interior art by Moldoff and inker Charles Paris.
Super-criminal Checkmate thinks he has escaped Batman and Robin but has instead doomed himself by hiding in a chamber holding deadly radioactive material. He plans his ultimate revenge against the duo by having his gang carry out his plans after his death. They lure Batman and Robin into a building filled with deadly traps that the crime fighters have faced before. But repeating those escapes would kill them. It’s a great “battle of wits” adventure.
What makes the story even more fun are the mentions of Batman foes that never appeared previously and are not seen, even in flashback, in this tale. It’s only a matter of time before some modern Batman writer introduces us to such evil luminaries as the Bowler, Harbor Pirate and Wheelo.
Detective Comics #239 [January 1957] has a wash cover by Sheldon Moldoff and Jack Adler. The writer of “Batman’s Robot Twin” has not yet been identified, but the art is by Moldoff and Charles Paris. The brilliant but naive Professor Carden happily shows his latest invention to the clearly shady Dr. Dall. It’s a robot that can be programmed with the knowledge and personality of anyone. Dall tells the professor the robot is too dangerous to be given the thoughts and personality of anyone other than Batman. Realizing the robot won’t be used for evil with this thoughts and could even be a boon to crime-fighting, Batman agrees.
Dall cuts the brakes on a crane, forcing Batman to leave the robot before he can give it any commands. Dall then clobbers Carden and takes control of the robot. He takes control of the robot, but is stymied because the robot won’t reveal Batman’s secret identity. That’s Batman’s personality coming through.
Dall sends the robot to capture Batman. On his own, the robot goes to the Batcave. A high voltage shock will erase the robot’s memory, but the robot knows that’s what Batman will attempt and foils him. Batman escapes. Dall uses the robot’s knowledge to help him break into a diamond-cutting factory. Another clash of Batman vs. Robot Batman commences.
This time, Batman tricks the robot into high-voltage wires using a tactic our hero just thought of and which the robot could not know about. Batman disguises himself as the robot, tricking Dall and his gang into a locked truck.
Even with its memory erased, Batman and Carden agree the invention is to dangerous to be used. It ends up yet another souvenir in the Batcave.
I’ll have more from Batman’s Silver Age adventures in the hopefully near future. Thanks for stopping by.
© 2023 Tony Isabella