A Tribute to the of
Greetings again, faithful readers. I welcome you to the latest musings from the Silver Age Sage, where we fondly recall the glory days of DC's Silver Age.
This edition will cover a character that came to us over 60 years ago. His debut was in 1939 in Detective Comics and he became a classic character almost immediately. He was selected to be the feature for Detective Comics for years to come and in fact continues to grace the pages of that magazine. The character came courtesy of Bob Kane and Bill Finger and he became known to millions as the mysterious Batman. A tireless fighter of crime and inustice by night, an apparently directionless millionaire playboy by day, Batman has enjoyed a staying power that is fairly unique to the fickle world of comic books. His long run is particularly remarkable due to the fact that he is not a meta human. His only abilities are his finely tuned intellect and incredible physical condition, causing him to be known by turns as the Dark Knight and the World's Greatest Detective. Furthermore, he has carried storylines in several magazines for years and has been a key figure in World's Finest, Justice League of America, newspaper strips, Radio--guesting several times on The Adventures of Superman, Saturday afternoon Serials, TV series--both animated and live action and major motion pictures. All this is an amazing tribute to the complex and fascinating character that is Batman.
This edition that we'll be taking a peek at is his flagship showcase, Detective Comics. Batman first hit this magazine with issue #27 and 300 issues later, we find a new and revamped Batman in the May 1964 issue of Detective. Editor Julius Schwartz had assumed control of the title. The new artists given charge over the Dark Knight were the amazing team of Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella. Storytelling details fell to John Broome. Gone was the Martian Manhunter as the backup feature in Detective and in his place, another detective, recently departed from Flash Comics, Ralph Dibney, better known as the Elongated Man. So, with a new backup feature, new look and new storylines, let's see what issue #327 has to offer.
In this tale, Batman and Robin are pit against the "Mystery of the Menacing Mask." The intro on the splash page reads: "It was a strange power that top crook Frank Fenton wielded over Batman and Robin! No sooner would the pair come within sight of this startling criminal than they'd be rendered completely helpless...unable to make a move against him! Follow the tangled clues of this gripping story which leads through the most picturesque quarter of Gotham City...and builds to a fantastic climax!" The reader then notes the Dynamic Duo frozen in place while a smug thief, surrounded by jewels, grins maliciously.
Our story kicks off in Gotham Village, a decaying part of the old downtown that is seen by some as an area rife with crime and in need of razing while the preservationists hail it as a link to the past and a haven for the arts. Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson are shown strolling through the area, speculating that it's probably more in need of saving than destroying and updating. Bruce, it seems, is a board member of the preservation committee. Oh, by the way, if there are any of you out there who don't know that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are the secret identities of Batman and Robin, you've apparently just beamed down recently. ;-) Moments later, Bruce is confronted by a young woman who states her hatred for him as someone who's trying to save the Village. She tearfully relates to the two that her name is Linda Greene and her fiancee' is James Packer. (Greene? Packer? Green Bay Packers? Hmmm.) Well, Linda goes on to explain that they live in the village, but she's concerned for her fiancee's safety in the crime-ridden area. She also produces a map he dropped that shows an area of the Village marked with a circled "X." The two consider for a moment the significance of the circled "X" and recall a recent incident where they were in pursuit of a criminal and ended up on the receiving end of an explosion. No real damage, but Batman's cowl suddenly sported a mark just like the "X" while Robin had one on his forehead. Later, the marks disappeared, but not the mystery that came with them. Batman does a chemical analysis and discovers it's a rare isotope of phosporous that has been somehow applied to them. The only known source for the isotope is at the Rare Chemical Company (naturally) on Morrow Street. Time to investigate. They discover a recent purchase was made by one Frank Fenton, who is the next stop for the Caped Crusaders. When they arrive, the strange paralysis overtakes them and Fenton gloats about his ability to stop them cold in their tracks. Later, they decide there must be a connection with the odd marks that were placed upon them. They decide to check out the fabled criminal hideaway somewhere below Gotham Village. Now we zoom back to the present where they continue to converse with Ms. Greene, who suddenly spots Packer. They decide to follow him in costume and determine he's going to the area indicated on the map with the "X" and secretly follow in his footsteps. The building has a secret underground stairway leading to the suspected crime hangout. It is, in fact, a place of refuge for those who are on the lam, providing not only sanctuary, but entertainment and a place to relax. Lo and behold, the infamous Fenton is there checking out the facility and offering his services as a living insurance policy against the appearance of Batman and Robin. Shortly thereafter, our heroes make their entrance and the same paralyzing effect begins to take place. They move out of range of Fenton's mysterious power and just as the gangland fugitives are about to execute them, they burst free of their bonds and go into action against the criminals. They apprehend the mastermind of the hideout, the man known only as "Smiler." Later at police HQ, Smiler is unmasked to reveal Roland Meacham, chairman of the preservation committe. It seems it was in his best interests to deter any interest in Gotham Village to ensure the continued underground operation. Batman then reveals the secret to the mystery of Fenton's power, which was a signal beamed from a box on his person that reacted with the phosphorous marks, enabling him to neutralize their motor functions in their brains. The pair had shielded themselves with lead to cancel out the effect. The story wraps up with Jimmy Packer being revealed as attempting to rout the criminal element by searching out the underground. Gotham Village is spared and everyone presumably lives happily ever after.
As we take a brief glimpse of the accompanying story with the Elongated Man, we find Ralph Dibney trying to continue to gain respect for his status as a super hero. He has publicly revealed his identity and just wants a little notoriety. Is that so wrong? Apparently. He seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the genre, and is consistently ignored as he goes out and about. Ralph ends up stumbling across a gang of jewel smugglers (this seems to be the jewel thief issue) who used his car at night to help move their loot. He finds their hideout and quickly abducts all in the house with his ability to stretch his body into all manner of shapes and lengths and quickly turns them over to the local authorities, who still have no idea who he is. As the story comes to a close, Ralph has finally managed to get some recognition. His wife notes that his name seems to be on everyone's lips and then sees why. He's placed a sign on his back stating that he is Ralph Dibney, the Famous Elongated Man. Hey, whatever works, right?
Now for my long-awaited rating. I know some of you think I've got my keyboard riged so that it will only register a 10. Not this time, folks. While I enjoyed the story and the fact that it was a significant turning point for Batman, I found the stories to be pretty ordinary. Maybe I'm just a bit jaded and used to being dazzled more, but to me this issue is more in the range of a 5. You could blame it on the fact that the last few issues I've reviewed have been a cut above, often with the reintroduction of a classic figure or some terrific team-ups. Make no mistake, Batman is an old and dear friend, but this issue didn't do him as much justice as others I've enjoyed. That doesn't make it substandard, it just doesn't make it a classic. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. If you've got a thought, for or against, feel free to e-mail. I'm open 24 hours at: email@example.com and I'd love to hear from you.
As always, I'll be back in about two weeks with another visit down memory lane. Please join me.
Long Live the Silver Age!
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