A Tribute to the of

I suppose you could say it was inevitable.  Back in 1967 the Batman television series had been around for awhile and, for reasons I still cannot fathom, enjoyed a great deal of popularity.  That popularity fed upon itself and caused a fascination with Batman and his world, which of course spilled over into the comics (and the coffers) at DC.  So, in order to capitalize on things and hopefully continue the momentum, a decision was made to introduce a new character into the Batman family. Bat-Editor Julius Schwartz laid out the character details and tapped the ever dependable Gardner Fox to craft the premiere tale. The venerable Detective Comics title was the chosen forum and in the January 1967 issue, (on sale November 29, 1966) #359 that Dominoed Dare-Doll Batgirl was introduced to the public.  The Carmine Infantino/Murphy Anderson cover again takes you by the hand:  "Is she heroine or villainess?"  "What is her startling secret identity?"  Can't you just hear that narrator from the Batman series?  So, come along now as we explore together "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!Carmine Infantino also does interior artwork.

The splash page shows three costumed figures with a harvest moon for a backdrop.  One is Killer Moth, who is propelling Batgirl into some sort of trap while Batman is racing up behind with a thought bubble asking who this mysterious female could be.

The first scene (recreated by Carmine Infantino in 1998 as a signed limited edition lithograph) as we flip the page is at the Gotham City Library after hours where librarian Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon is putting the finishing touches on a costume that she will soon don to attend the Policeman's Masquerade Ball.  As she gets changed, Barbara thinks to herself that this costume will put her, a plain-Jane brain into a new light.  Soon she is making her way to the hotel where the ball is being held and her thoughts reveal more about her:  "I made my PhD at Gotham State University!  I graduated Summa Cum Laude!  I wear a brown belt at Judo!  But tonight will be the highlight of my life!

A little further ahead, another car is making its way along the same road, but it is about to be intercepted by two strangely garbed men who lie in wait.  These are moth-men and their odd weapons produce a gooey substance that replicates a cocoon, holding the car fast.  The assailants yank the man from the car just as Barbara comes upon the scene.  Recognizing Bruce Wayne, she decides to assist.  Barbara disguises her voice and announces that Batgirl will handle these human moths and advises Mr. Wayne to make a run for it.  Bruce does so, with the intent of making a change himself.  Batgirl quickly goes to work and uses her judo skills to trip up the moth men.  Before she can do much more, however, Killer Moth himself grabs her from behind and above, thanks to a strong wire holding him aloft and hurls her into the same cocoon that surrounds Bruce's car.  Batman himself then appears and clocks Killer Moth, who uses the wire holding him to "fly" away.  Batman frees Batgirl from her sticky prison and she tells him about Bruce Wayne's plight.  He assures her that he'll take charge of Mr. Wayne and asks about her.  Batgirl explains she was on her way to the costume ball, but that she cannot go now as her outfit is a mess.  She offers to swap secret identities, but of course Batman refuses.  Despite her exhilaration at the events of the evening, Barbara muses that this may have been the first and last appearance of Batgirl. 

On duty at the City Library the next morning, Ms. Gordon feels even more stuck in the mundane and routine life she's been leading. 

Segue now to Wayne Manor where Bruce is looking over some mail and talking with his ward, Dick Grayson.  Bruce says he now knows why he was attacked last night as he has a letter from Killer Moth demanding a payment of $100,000.00 in cash by that night or the previous night's shakeup will be repeated with much greater emphasis.  Dick speculates that the appearance of Batgirl may have been more helpful than Bruce realizes, as he'd have not had an easy time tackling the moth men in his civilian identity.  Bruce suspects that other Gotham City millionaires may be receiving the same threatening letters and so he and Dick assume their crime fighting personas and pay a few visits.  It soon becomes apparent that a full-blown protection racket is in full swing as at least 10 of Gotham's wealthiest citizens have paid off Killer Moth to the tune of $100,000.00 each. 

The Dynamic Duo work their way back to the Batcave and the World's Greatest Detective begins to hatch a plan that will involve his butler, Alfred Pennyworth.  He instructs Alfred to drop the bag that was to hold the ransom money at the appointed location and that Bruce Wayne will not be leaving the mansion until further notice. 

Next we fade to Moth Mansion, where Killer Moth (who in "real life" is Cameron Van Cleer, a well off criminal whose goal is to become the antithesis of Batman, a dark avenger of persecuted criminals) and his gang are gathered.  The villain is incensed that the bag apparently contained merely a note from Bruce Wayne refusing to pay and explaining that he'll be holed up with police protection at Wayne Manor.  Killer Moth instructs Larva and Pupa to keep the mansion under surveillance and to notify him as soon as the police depart.  He intends to make an example of Bruce Wayne.  

After three days of observation, the moth men report to home base that there are no police at the mansion, but Bruce Wayne has not emerged. 

Meanwhile, back at the library, Barbara Gordon busies herself with making up a replacement Batgirl costume and pursuing an intense regimen of diet and training to bring her to peak physical condition.  She is still uncertain to what end, but wants to be prepared.  Her duties as librarian continue on, though and she soon takes delivery of a rare tome ordered for Bruce Wayne.  It's the Bay Psalm Book, which an editor's note describes in greater detail for us:  "In 1947 a perfect copy of this book brought $151,000 at auction—the third highest price ever paid for a book up to that time!"  Because of its rarity and value, Barbara decides to make a personal delivery to Wayne Manor, but when she arrives, she hears a gunshot and discovers to her horror that Bruce Wayne has apparently been murdered by Killer Moth and his gang, bringing Part I to a close.

Part II opens with Barbara quickly changing into costume with each major component already with her, but cleverly hidden.  Her beret rolls down into the cowl; the skirt about her waist transforms into the cape; the boots on her feet are rolled up to their proper form and her handbag somehow morphs into her weapons belt.  Grimly, she leaps forward, hoping to bring the killers to justice.  Her training serves her well as she begins to knock the criminals silly.  It is then that we discover Batman and Robin hidden in the shadows of a nearby room, watching the scene with great surprise.  In the next moments, two of the moth men are knocked into the room and the Dynamic Duo knock them senseless.  The next figure to fly in is Batgirl herself, who they quickly restrain as the remaining villains depart the premises.  Batgirl indignantly chastises them, telling the pair that they've let Killer Moth escape.  Batman replies that she is the one who spoiled the plans to secretly follow Killer Moth and his gang so that they could apprehend them and recover the extorted money.  "Bruce Wayne," you see, was merely a lifelike dummy.  Chagrined, Batgirl says she has indeed ruined everything, but Robin replies that he's planted a tracking device on the (you ready for this?) Mothmobile.  She offers to accompany them, but Batman refuses to worry about a girl.  Infuriated, the "girl" pulls a modified motorbike from the trunk of her car and follows. 

Killer Moth is pleased with the night's activities and is certain that now he will not be defied again.  He may even up the amount he's demanding.  The Batmobile follows at a safe distance, tracking the signal of the planted device.  Further back, the special lighting system on Batgirls bike allows her to follow as well until one by one the three parties arrive at Moth Mansion. 

Unfortunately for Batman and Robin, they've been spotted and upon entering the lair of Killer Moth they find themselves in a zero gravity chamber, helpless.  When Batgirl surveys the scene, she quickly retrieves the magnetic tracking device from the Mothmobile and uses it to anchor herself to the metal baseboard-heating strip in the room.  Extending her hand, she propels both caped crime fighters toward the moth men who are coming to do them harm.  Quickly the villains are dispatched, but where is the leader, Killer Moth himself?

Soon the trio comes to the master control room.  Batgirl announces that she'll find the fiend and goes to a particular panel, tearing it away to reveal Killer Moth.  He is quickly put down for the count, but Robin cannot understand how Batgirl knew where he'd be.  Batman then explains that when Batgirl was fighting Killer Moth back at Wayne Manor, some of her perfume adhered to him, so she located him with the sense of smell.  Batgirl congratulates the World's Greatest Detective on his deductive skills and offers that she was helpful after all.  Unwilling to give much g round, Batman says that he was preparing a way to escape by using his laser torch and the principle of action and reaction.  Still, there are smiles all around as they fugitives are brought to jail and a report is made to Police Commissioner Gordon.  He mentions that they seem to have a new member of the team.  Batman acknowledges that she's proved her worth and he'll welcome her aid when and where the occasion rises. 

The final panel takes us to the Gordon home where the Commissioner comments to his daughter that Batgirl is tops in his book and how he wishes she could be a little more like her.  The bookish Barbara merely smiles to herself thinking, "If Dad only knew!"  The readers are then given the patented Infantino text box with a pointing hand treatment:  Will the new Batgirl appear again?  That depends on you, readers!  Write and let us know!

When you mention Batgirl, this (Barbara Gordon) is the character brought to most people's minds, although she did have a predecessor by the name of Betty Kane who tended to hang out with her Aunt Kathy, aka Batwoman. The original Bat-Girl first appeared in Batman #139 dated April, 1961, her last appearance occurs in Batman #163 dated May, 1964.  If memory serves, this was also the era of Ace, the masked Bat-hound and Bat-Mite.  Fortunately, all four faded into oblivion when Julius Schwartz took the editorial reins from Jack Schiff in 1964. While Barbara has been basically a niche character having never earned her own title nor joined any particular hero teams outside the occasional alliance with Supergirl and of course Batman, she has long outlasted her predecessor. 

To the Batman purist, the notion of any other Bat characters is somewhat ludicrous.  Batman exists not on some whim, but as a result of a tragedy endured in childhood, the murder of his parents right before his eyes that has driven him for years and years to try and bring a measure of justice into his realm that was denied Thomas and Martha Wayne.  I've probably mentioned before that to truly be the Dark Knight, you'd have to be just a little unhinged.  That being the case, what sort of motivation would others have to don the mantle, or a reasonable facsimile at least, of the Batman?  At least in Robin's case (Dick Grayson, to be specific) there is also the common thread of loss, so I can see his presence in Batman's world, but a femme fatale in a copycat costume with bright yellow high heels?  This is another dark avenger in the night?  It just doesn't quite wash.  Now I realize I'm taking things a bit too seriously here, and truth be known I kind of like the character, but I do find some vital ingredients missing to make her truly credible.

Speaking of credible, I found it a little tough to find Killer Moth and his gang to be very menacing in their loud, goofy looking costumes. This, by the way, was a return engagement for the Moth as he first appeared in Batman #63, February-March 1951 and Detective Comics #173, July 1951.  It's well established that Batman tends to attract some of the most bizarre villains known in the DC universe, but these guys have got to be in the bush leagues. 

Despite all that, the story itself wasn't bad and didn't contain much of the camp that I so loathe, (it does, however, run unchecked through the TV series episodes broadcast the week Detective #359 went on sale--#59: "Come Back, Shame" and #60: "It's The Way You Play The Game") so I'll score this one a 7 on my 10-point scale.  It has historic significance as Batgirl's debut and goodness knows I've reviewed much worse offerings involving Batman here.   

Thanks as always for spending a little of your time here with us.  I solicit your feedback, questions and comments and lay out the red carpet to invite you back for another trip into the glory days of this special era in comics in about two weeks.  You can reach me in the interim at silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

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