A Tribute to the of






It’s September 1, 2013 (or at least it will be when this edition of the Silver Age Sage is posted) and do you know what that means? It’s the 87th birthday of the greatest letterer who ever put ink to paper. Happy Birthday Gaspar Saladino! If you’d like to see a great vintage photo of Gaspar, and indeed a fascinating look at the early days at DC Comics, check out the 5-part series Todd Klein did not long ago with a lot of great input from Gaspar. Here’s part 4 with the photo, though Gaspar told me his daughter is in "trouble" for sharing it.

http://kleinletters.com/Blog/the-dc-comics-offices-1930s-1950s-part-4/

It seems only appropriate to review a story Gaspar worked on and while there are literally scads of potential stories, I chose one from November of 1964 that he lettered, scripted by one of Batman’s “fathers,” Bill Finger, involving some exotic locales and hoods in fedoras wielding Tommy guns. It’s “Zero Hour for Earth!” from the pages of Batman #167, with a great cover by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson and interior art by Shelly Moldoff and Joe Giella, all expertly edited by Julie Schwartz.

Things begin at Gotham airport where the Dynamic Duo are waiting to meet with a particular passenger from the plane inbound from Europe. Unfortunately an assassin guns the man down and he slumps right into Batman’s arms. The assailant then has his own accident, colliding with a plane in takeoff mode. As it turns out, the man who was killed was a member of Interpol and he was bringing information on the international crime syndicate known as Hydra. Yeah, while there was a mention of Hydra back in in 1954 over at the competition [Menace #10], their version didn’t come to full fruition until 1965 [Strange Tales #135 The German edition].

Batman vows to follow the path of Hercules and destroy this modern day mythological beast. Elsewhere a mysterious gent is pleased to read of the news that the Caped Crusader is bound for Europe, allowing him to proceed with his plans.

The mighty jet-powered Batplane is soon aloft and bound for Holland to meet with local Interpol representatives who provide him with a critical clue. It’s a card that says, “General Sherman Slept Here,” with an X included. Batman and Robin ponder the clue and the Boy Wonder speculates that Holland’s famous windmills look very much like a large “X.” Wondering how a famed Civil War General’s name fit in, the World’s Greatest Detective notes that windmills have names and it could be code for the famous Sequoia in California named General Sherman, the largest living thing on earth. Soon they do discover a Redwood Mill and take out the local cell of Hydra headquartered there.

The reader is then privy to the real reason for this mission. The Hydra hunt is merely a cover for Batman and Robin’s search for a mastermind criminal named Karabi. The gunned down agent had just moments before he died to divulge information about Karabi’s plans to ignite a war between Asian nations that will drag others, including the U.S. into the melee. So while the world watches Batman tackle Hydra, he is clandestinely searching for Karabi. Next stop: Singapore.

Thanks to time zones, Holland in the afternoon gives way to Asia at night and a cleverly disguised Batman enters a club where his contact, a Balinese style dancer, passes along information hidden in her dance moves in the form of Semaphore.

Another change in scenery and our heroes are in Greece, seeking out another member of Hydra. When they believe they’ve found the local unit, their footsteps within the ancient Greek theater betray them. Batman tells his partner that the Greeks had built in such sophisticated acoustics that sounds could easily be heard throughout the theater. Ducking behind old columns, it appears the group from Hydra got the drop on Batman, but as it happened, the Dark Knight had quickly placed his cowl over a statue and donned a makeshift mask so that he and Robin could put the men away.

More miles are covered and more clues gleaned as Batman and Robin globe trot to Hong Kong, Paris and southeast Asia. Our hero tells Robin that Karabi’s nefarious plan is to secretly fire a nuke from “Country A” to “Country B” to start the fire to an all-out international war. Julie informs us via handy editor’s note that for security reasons they cannot reveal the names of the countries involved. We’re in the inner circle now.

Karabi’s ultimate aim is to take advantage of the global chaos and to lead a group similar to Hitler’s SS to step in and seize power. As the pair fly into the jungles of the unnamed “Country A,” they are blinded by the illuminated eyes of the stone idol, just like on the cover, and are captured by the minions of Karabi.

Karabi confirms his plan, locks the Batman up under heavy guard with only a ticking clock for company and heads off to execute said plan. As the minutes tick down, the keen mind of our hero comes up with a course of action and summons the guards. Having taken advantage of the fact that the clock is an alarm, he set it to go off, distracting the armed men long enough to be overcome with gauntleted fists.

Freeing his partner, Batman and Robin reach the launch platform just in the nick of time to stop the villain from launching the missile, but the adventure isn’t quite over. As they look over his diary, the Dynamic Duo learn that another element of Hydra is set to rob a Swiss bank. Robin states that they’re too late, but his partner points out that he’s failed to take into account the time zones and puts the jets on the Batplane to good use, arriving at the bank vault minutes after the crooks have escaped, but left a vital clue in the form of a lump of wax, the sort used on skis.

Our heroes are now on skis of their own in the alps when they discover the latest Hydra cell. They dodge bullets and give chase to the thugs, finally triumphing and recovering the stolen loot, finishing the last bit of work during this incredibly busy mission.

This was a typically detailed Bill Finger script, with bits of real world facts woven into an interesting, well-paced and exciting story. Joe Giella did his usual good job of inking and while I’m not a huge fan of Shelly Moldoff’s pencils during this period, the man could crank out the product and seemed content to be obscured in Bob Kane’s shadow. Gaspar had a lot of work to do on this story with many, many detailed captions and plenty of dialogue along with the sound effects here and there.

I’ll give this one a 6 on the rating scale. No major villains or twists, but a good, entertaining yarn that helped move the Batman mythos along in the mid-‘60s.

Keep those cards and letters (okay, e-mails) coming, readers. The webmaster and I are always interested in your thoughts and impressions and look forward to hearing from you. Just send them to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

We’ll have the latest review right here in the next couple of weeks and so…

Long live the Silver Age!



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