A Tribute to the of
The local rag here carries a Sunday magazine, probably much like your hometown newspaper and recently there was an article about collectibles. Since my old man once owned an antique store I was drawn to the article, but I was also looking for the inevitable mention of one of the most popular collectibles out there; classic comic books. Sure enough, there was a mention of the debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27 from 1939. Apparently an unrestored, slabbed edition sold in 2001 for $278,190.00. Not a bad return for dropping a dime sixty-odd years ago. That led me to my old scrapbook where I had glued in an article from a Seattle newspaper discussing the sudden premium on the old pulp wonders. I don't have a date on the article, but due to the reference to "Whip Inflation Now!" I'm guessing it was the mid-70's. The accompanying photo shows a classic geek that makes those of us who follow the genre (or at least me) cringe. Chubby, long sideburns and horn-rimmed glasses, proudly holding a copy of Batman #1 from 1940 that is touted to be worth $1,000.00. The story also discusses a copy of Action #1 going for $2,001.34 the prior summer. Ah, how times have changed.
So, anyhow, thus inspired, I went back to my collection and decided to try once again to find a decent Silver Age showing of the Batman. Those of you who have been with me for a while know that it's been a tough assignment. I thought this time I'd go back to one of the titles the Dark Knight dominated for several years, the Brave and the Bold series of team-ups. The issue at hand is the October/November 1967 edition, #74, under the editorship of George Kashdan, where Batman has an unusual encounter with Doc Magnus' Metal Men. The story by Bob Haney is titled "Rampant Run the Robots!" Long-time Metal Men (& Wonder Woman) artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito handle the art for both the cover and the interior. Let's see if one of my favorite years is a good one for this issue.
Right out of the gate things don't look promising for the unique Metal Men as the splash page shows the World's Greatest Detective herding them along with their creator, Doc Magnus, into what literally appears to be a holding tank and charging them as criminals. This ought to be interesting.
As the story itself begins on the next page, we join Gotham's guardian in his element, the nighttime skyline of the city, displaying tremendous acrobatic skill as he moves from rooftop to parapet. In one skillful maneuver he (and of course the writer) take a little jab at the competition: "Here's one I did before anybody, including a certain Peter-come-lately!" I love that line. Unfortunately a couple of panels later he utters a stupid one after noting some searchlights and deciding to go check them out: "So let's go where the action is, Brucie Boy! Hmm…must never say that within earshot of crooks—and give away my secret I.D.!" Duh, Brucie.
On the next leaf a full-page spectacle greets the Batman as he discovers the source of the searchlights, which is the first international robot exposition. It isn't long before he meets up with the famous Metal Men along with their inventor, Doc Magnus. After greetings are exchanged, including an attempt by the ever-stuttering Tin, Magnus explains to Batman that the exposition is to exchange ideas on design and development of robot technology from all corners of the globe. He then introduces the organizer of the event, Dr. Daedalus, along with his robot, Icarus to the Dark Knight. Batman then takes his leave to continue his patrol.
Soon afterward, things begin to go very wrong in Gotham City as a robot crime wave begins to wash through the streets. When Batman hears the reports on the radio he wonders whether the exposition is the origin of the perpetrators. He then spots a fleeing automaton on wheels with a bag of ill-gotten gains. Speeding up to overtake it in the Batmobile, he tries to use an oversized butterfly net, but the robot snaps it off with a stiff arm. The next thing our hero encounters is a robot roadblock, bringing his vehicle and Part One to a screeching halt.
Part Two opens with an interesting perspective. We're coming to behind the cowl of the Batman as he groggily regains consciousness and is face to face with the Metal Men and Doc Magnus. As the cobwebs continue to clear, the Masked Manhunter sees that Commissioner Gordon is in attendance as well. Magnus expresses his thankfulness that Batman is okay and mentions that they need him to help rein in the renegade robots that are terrorizing Gotham. Apparently the only units that are unaffected by the strange phenomena are the Metal Men and Icarus, Dr. Daedalus' creation. Daedalus then explains that he's discove red a radioactive isotope in the projection area of the exposition and theorizes that it affected the responsometers of all attending robots. He explains Icarus' immunity due to his being coated in a lab accident. Batman questions why the Metal Men are unaffected and Doc Magnus has no explanation for why his robots, save Lead, weren't affected. Not wishing to waste any further time, Commissioner Gordon announces that the police are being overrun and he deputizes Icarus and the Metal Men to join in the effort to stop the rogue robots.
Since the Batmobile is temporarily out of commission, Batman takes to the skies in the whirly-bat, his one-man helicopter. He soon gets a distress call from Tin, advising of a situation at the First National Bank. Batman hustles over there and finds Tin, but the Metal Man is confused by Batman's questions, stating that he hadn't summoned the Dark Knight. The World's Greatest Detective accuses Tin of sending him on a wild goose chase. Batman then gets another radio call alerting him to a group of robot raiders who are striking across town. He soon spots four of the renegades spiriting away a solid gold sports car and then hurling it into the air, right into the waiting hands of Iron, who was standing on a nearby building roof. Batman accuses Iron of being in on the robbery, but the strong man insists he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and he caught the car to keep innocents from being harmed. Before the discussion can continue, Batman gets yet another signal, this time from Commissioner Gordon, summoning him to a jewelry store. The whirly bat takes to the skies yet again and Batman arrives in time to see Lead emerging from the jewelry store, covered in the store's wares. The loyal Lead says a uniformed policeman directed him into the store when he tripped over the merchandise. Gordon comments that none of his men are in the area. This tears it for the Masked Manhunter, who formally accuses Magnus and the Metal Men of being part of the rogue robot crime wave. The call goes forth to arrest the Metal Men. They and their inventor quietly surrender and are placed in the special tunnel caisson.
Following the drama of incarcerating the Metal Men, Batman gets back to the task at hand and soon locates another pair of looting robots.
I'd like to mention the next two pages, as they're a great trip down memory lane. It's a two-page ad for Saturday's Super Heroes on CBS. Remember when Saturday morning was about the only time you could watch cartoons? They had quite the lineup in '67, too. Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles; The Herculoids; Shazzan!; Space Ghost; Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor, alias cave boy Tor with Tog, the flying dragon; The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure; Jonny Quest and The Lone Ranger. I'd sure love to see some of them again. Maybe Cartoon Network will secure some more of the old treasures. Back to Batman.
The Gotham Goliath is in the fight of his life as the robots batter him tirelessly with their metal bodies. Soon he's overwhelmed and they dump him into the river. He gradually makes his way to a piece of flotsam and tries to clear his head as Part Two closes.
Part Three opens with our battered hero pulling himself up onto the dock. Batman thinks to himself that it's true that your life does flash before your eyes when you're near death. He specifically recalls the indignant words of the Metal Men as he sealed them into their prison when Tina accused him of bias toward robots and Tin's agreeing, but still admitting his admiration for the World's Greatest Detective. It is precisely then that Batman's detective skills kick in. He realizes that the stuttering Tin couldn't have been the voice on his radio calling him to the bank, as that voice did not stammer! The Caped Crusader vows to make things right, but before he can make his way back another renegade robot has snipped the air supply to the prison holding the Metal Men. Of course this is no threat to the robots, but Doc Magnus soon loses consciousness, so his creations spring into action, drilling and punching holes in the caisson or in Mercury's case, boiling his way through. As they emerge from the tunnel, carrying their former prison, they spot another group of robbing robots and heave the caisson into them, jumping squarely back into the crime-fighting fray.
A short while later, Batman arrives at the scene to find Icarus looking things over. Batman questions the robot, who claims that he tossed the caisson. Batman realizes that he couldn't have possibly done so, but goes along with the story in order to clandestinely tail the robot. He soon sees Icarus crawling into a manhole near city hall.
Batman next visits Commissioner Gordon who is in the midst of a tirade over his police force's inability to find the stolen loot. Batman suggests taking a peek in the basement of City Hall. 'Lo and behold, the goods are there. The police soon take out another door to an adjoining room to find none other than Icarus and Dr. Daedalus. Daedalus activates a signal to summon the other rogue robots and the melee begins. The battle soon spills out onto the street when Batman spots the arrival of the Metal Men. The next panel is a faithful re-creation of the cover with the Metal Men stopping in mid-stride while Batman grapples with two robots, seemingly retaliating for their treatment at the hands of the Dark Knight. A furious Doc Magnus orders them to help the Batman and soon it's metal on metal action as the famed band of robot heroes begin to systematically dismantle the renegade robots. It doesn't take long for the well-seasoned Metal Men to triumph and the coup de gras is delivered by the Batman himself as he judo chops Icarus into so much scrap.
Awhile later, Batman again comes upon the site of the exposition and is surprised to see it continuing. Doc Magnus explains that while Dr. Daedalus created it as a setup for a crime wave, it's still a good idea, so they're going forward with it.
In the final panel Batman is bussed by Tina as he utters, "Holy happy ending!"
Once again, when dealing with the Metal Men, you've got to expect a little camp. The odds go up even higher with the Batman of the 60's, but I was pleased that the writing to that end was somewhat subdued. Oh, sure, there were the occasional nods as in the final words uttered by Batman, but nothing like some of the other offerings I've reviewed here at the Silver Lantern. For that I'm quite grateful.
I am also impressed yet again with the creative artistic work of Andru and Esposito. While their work on Batman himself wasn't my favorite (his features look a little too soft to me) I enjoyed once again the oversized panels and the instances of the action spilling completely outside the panels and of course no one drew the Metal Men like these guys.
This wasn't the Metal Men's first, or last, encounter with Batman nor was it their first, or last, appearance in the pages of The Brave and the Bold. Batman & Robin and The Flash and Wonder Woman make a brief appearance in Metal Men #21 ("Metal Men versus The Plastic Peril!") dated 08-09/66. The Metal Men's initiation into the ranks of the Brave and the Bold occurs in issue #55 ("Revenge of the Robot Reject!"--paired with The Atom) dated 08-09/64. Next comes #66 ("Wreck the Renegade Robots!"--with Metamorpho) dated 06-07/66. After #74 they cross paths with The Batman in #103--09-10/72; #113--06-07/74; #121--09/75; #135--07/77 & #136--09/77 and finally #187--06/82.
I still don't think I've hit upon a seminal Batman work for this era, but this is closer than most of them to date, so I'll give it a 7. My search continues and I shall not fail.
My next self-imposed deadline rolls around in about two weeks so please be certain to join me as we journey again into the greatest era in comic books, the spectacular Silver Age! I'm only a few keystrokes away for questions or comments so let me hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long live the Silver Age!
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