A Tribute to the of
Welcome to episode two of the first ever series review here at the Silver Age Sage. For those of you who might be new, I'd recommend you read the last review in the archives so that you can catch the first entry in the saga of the magician Zatanna as she searches for her missing father, also a crime fighting magician, Zatara. As you'll see, this search knows no bounds and it hopscotch's across several DC titles before coming to its conclusion. This particular segment showed up three months after the last and we now find ourselves at the February 1965 issue of Detective Comics, #336 where we take in "Batman's Bewitched Nightmare!", courtesy of writer Gardner Fox, artists Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella and editor Julius Schwartz.
It seems a bit ironic that just a few weeks back that we had another Halloween style Batman cover featuring The Scarecrow. Check this one by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella out with Batman being zapped by a broomstick riding witch, in silhouette against a full moon and he's being turned into a scarecrow, of all things.
The story opens as nearly all tales in Batman titles do, a dark night in Gotham City. There are some particularly bizarre scenes in the city this particular night as a tiny pumpkin coach drawn by four white mice is spotted. Moments later, a witch on a broomstick is seen flying down and casting a spell on the coach, which immediately becomes a sedan filled with 4 gangsters. The witch stays in attendance to open the doors of the bank. The scene switches to the batcave a few minutes before where Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson receive a call from Police Commissioner Gordon pleading for help with the mysterious witch who is headed for the Town and Country Trust bank. (Why do I keep getting an image of The Mayor calling the Powerpuff Girls?) As the Batmobile pulls up, the Dynamic Duo spring into action against the crooks who are using some pretty unconventional dialogue such as, "Great work, Batman! You caught my arm fair and square! I sure wish I could fight like you can! You're too fast for me!" Rising from the street, the gangsters explain to the puzzled crimefighters that they're under the protection of the witch and won't be accompanying our heroes to jail. As Batman and Robin try to make contact again, they are shocked when their hands go right through the perpetrators. As they calmly drive off in their car, the witch taunts from above: "Hee! Hee! Hee! I've stolen the first of your five senses, Batman and Robin--the sense of touch! But this is only the first of my own special robberies! During this evening you will suffer defeat and death because of the loss of one of your five senses! Which one? Ah, that's for you to learn! Hee! Hee! Hee!" Are you noticing other similarities to the Scarecrow story?
Part II has the Boy Wonder clinging to the roof of the bandit's car while Batman pursues in the Batmobile. Rounding a corner, the driver manages to dislodge Robin directly into a lamp post. Feeling the pain of impact, he realizes that his sense of touch has returned, just as Batman scoops him up and the pursuit continues. The next thing we know, the car, under the enchantment of the witch, disappears. Again, the witch fills in the gaps: "I have stolen your second sense--that of sight! Your problem now is--will you destroy yourself by crashing into an invisible car?" The pair decides to follow the broomstick riding fiend and they soon arrive at the Cave of Winds, where she flies directly in and they continue to follow on foot through a field of evening primrose. Once inside, Batman and Robin experience an enveloping silence. So eerily quiet is it, that they soon realize they've lost their sense of hearing. In the next fateful minutes, Batman abruptly tackles his young protege right over a cliff and into a chasm. They land in a pool of deep water and only then does Robin realize what has taken place, when he surfaces and notes pieces of the cave's ceiling falling down after them and splashing harmlessly now into the pool. Robin also notes the departure of the witch from the cave. The two again sprint across the field and this time the tables are turned as Robin knocks his mentor to the ground right before an enormous explosion takes place. He then explains that apparently their sense of smell had been taken from them, as he could no longer detect the fragrant primroses. He somehow knew that a seepage of natural gas was there and that by taking their ability to smell, the witch hoped to destroy them.
Soon our heroes are again in search of the robbers when they spot the getaway car near an old farmhouse. As they park and cross the field, who should show her craggy features yet again, but the mysterious witch on her broomstick. This time she directs her energy directly toward the Dark Knight and begins to transform him into a scarecrow. Acting quickly and on a hunch, Robin deploys his bat rope and lassos the witch, yanking her free of her mount. The Boy Wonder had theorized, you see, that she might be powerless without it and his instincts proved correct. Robin quickly races to the broomstick and when he touches it, the spell holding his partner prisoner is disrupted. Strangely, he tries to work a spell on the witch with the broomstick, but is unsuccessful as she attempts to wrestle it away from him.
Batman, meanwhile, bursts into the farmhouse and starts sending the bank robbers to dreamland. Using his strength and agility to the maximum extent, it isn't long before he's completely cleaned house. Emerging onto the porch, he is just in time to see Robin use the broomstick to trip up the witch, sending her sprawling. All the criminals are taken to jail and we join our heroes in the batcave for the final few panels of the story when their new broomstick souvenir begins to send a signal to them: "This is the voice of--The Outsider! We are old foes, you and I, Batman! Again I must congratulate you for having staved off death at my hands!" (An editor's note refers the reader to Detective Comics #334 [12/64]: "The Man Who Stole From Batman!") "Yes, it was really I who sent out the Bat-Signal and imitated the voice of Police Commissioner Gordon to lure you to your destruction! It was I who gave the "witch" her strange powers which the world calls "magic"--by presenting her with the broomstick! Actually, of course, there are no "witches" and no "magic!" But some people--like the woman I singled out to be my agent--possess extra-sensory powers which the broomstick--being of a rare wood found only in a certain place on earth--can release, like a catalyst in a chemical reaction! Without the broomstick, the "witch" is unable to function! Only a few people, abnormally gifted with paranormal powers, can cause the broomstick--through me--to work this "magic!" I hoped by this unique method to defeat and destroy you... Though I failed, rest assured I shall try again...and again..." The eerie message ends there and the two resolve to be prepared for his next strike. The story is completed on that note.
Now, those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zatanna stories must be about now scratching your heads and wondering if I've lost it. Frankly, this one had me baffled, too. There was not one single reference to the magician, her father or anything related to her search for him. I will tell you the obvious at this point and that is that she (Zatanna) was, in fact, the witch that tormented Batman and Robin and obviously she was under the control and influence of The Outsider, but this particular very loose end gets tied up a few editions down the road, so, at the risk of frustrating you, I won't go into it all here for the sake of that portion of things. It has the feel, however, of an afterthought and it was suggested by one of my faithful readers that it might have been a way to incorporate Batman later. At any rate, rest assured that it will be cleared up in due time. Meanwhile, time to score the issue at hand.
This story didn't do a heck of a lot for me. I'll grant you that Batman has probably engaged more interesting and bizarre foes than anyone else in the DC stable and taking on a broomstick carrying witch was pretty over the top even for him, but outside that one element, this was a pretty ho-hum story. I didn't get much from it at all, so I give it a pretty run of the mill rating of 5. I actually liked the second story a little better where the Elongated Man and Flash have a half-baked team up against the Mirror Master in "The House of "Flashy" Traps!", but I'm not going to go into that story this time. So, while this is a part of the series, it doesn't hold up particularly well on it's own and it isn't one I'd especially recommend. There seemed to be a distinct dry spell in Batman's stories as I've run across more disappointing reads with him in it than most others during the life of this feature. I can't put my finger on it yet, but it will be interesting to see if some sort of pattern emerges.
Here's hoping the next issue in the Zatanna series is a bit more memorable. That one will hit the webpage in a couple of weeks and will plunge us straight into the microscopic world of another Justice Leaguer, The Atom. Don't miss it and don't miss the opportunity to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long live the Silver Age!
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