A Tribute to the of






The webmaster gave me one of his usual timely reminders, so I'll gladly pass it along.  This is a pretty significant month for us Silver Age fans.  March of 1937, a scant 70 years ago, was the debut of Detective Comics #1.  The initials for that magazine would, of course, live on in another form, that of DC Comics.

To mark the occasion I've selected Detective Comics #343 from September of 1965 to review.  The title is "The Secret War of the Phantom General!" written by John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino.  Inking duties were done courtesy of Joe Giella and of course the great Julius Schwartz is the editor.

The first scene opens in Gotham City, where the Dynamic Duo are headed at a fast clip to the New Gotham Hotel to meet up with the Elongated Man, who has long ago ditched his secret identity and openly operates as Ralph Dibney.  He and his wife Sue are visiting and had relayed a message to the Masked Manunter through Commissioner Gordon to meet up with them.

Enroute, though, the radio in the Batmobile squawks forth a police bulletin that a robbery is in progress at the Gotham City Terminal.  Batman comments to his young protégé that their luck is still holding (an editorial comment says that "luck" comment will soon be explained) as they're a mere block from the terminal.  A quick detour is in order and soon the Caped Crimefighters enter the scene, where literally dozens of crooks are robbing ticket windows with armed backup on balconies and throughout the train station.  Indeed a fully equipped machine gun and operator are at a strategic high point on one balcony.  Batman and Robin decide that will be their first objective.

Unseen, however, are two other thugs who pounce in order to protect the machine-gunner.  The fisticuffs fly as the Dynamic Duo put them and the gunner out of action.  They are now in mid-leap over the balustrade when a smoke grenade is deployed.

Slowly the pair work their way through the bilious clouds of smoke and then notice that the criminals are heading to the subway, covering their retreat with armed escort and carrying their felled comrades on stretchers.  They delay our heroes just long enough with a chained and padlocked platform door and successfully elude them on the subway train.

Awhile later the press arrives to ask what happened and the Batman comments that they operated like a well-trained army and indeed seemed to be using military style tactics.

The next stop for the Batmobile is the suite where the Dibney's are staying at the New Gotham Hotel.  Sue Dibney excuses herself to attend a performance at the Gotham City Music Hall.  Batman then explains to Ralph that they were delayed by a crime that seemed to be executed by a military mastermind.  This comment visibly affects Ralph Dibney and at that point we are interrupted by another patented Carmine Infantino hand and are then met by none other than our writer, John Broome, toiling away at his typewriter.  Behind him on the wall hang his jacket and a note with a deadline date and the initials "J.S."  John tells us we're in for a "startling surprise," but first he needs to turn back the clock.

Its a few weeks prior and we zoom in on a den of underworld toughs in Gotham City who are stewing about how the combination of the police and Batman and Robin has made their lives miserable.  It seems any time the Caped Crimefighters are out on patrol they manage to break up a caper.  The editor's note alludes back to the "lucky streak" our heroes have been enjoying. 

Then, a strange visitor in the form of General Von Dort, formerly of the Afrika Korps, complete with a goggle adorned campaign cap and jackboots and riding crop, not to mention the cigarette holder and monocle.

One of the gang says it cannot be Von Dort as he served in Africa during World War II and knew that the General was with Hitler in the doomed bunker.  The General dismisses the myth and states that he has given up conventional warfare to become a General of crime.  He then announces that they shall become his army and that his military-slanted crimes will make them all rich.  After briefing them on his plans the men are enthusiastic, but one asks what would keep any of them from turning the former Nazi over to the law.  Von Dort adjusts his monocle, which gives off some sort of energy beam at his questioner and says, "You wouldn't dare!!"

Back to a side view of John Broome who says, "Now, with that flashback out of the way, we can return to the present and the New Gotham Hotel where Ralph excitedly is explaining to Batman and Robin why he asked them to see him!"  I cannot help but notice that there is a large bulletin board in the background with a picture of Batman, some other papers and also a picture profile of a familiar DC editor with some darts stuck into it.  Tsk, tsk…

Back at the suite, Ralph explains that he and Sue had recently returned from a trip to South America and he'd learned of a rumor that a nest of ex-Nazi fugitives from the war, led by General Von Dort, had set up shop deep in the Andes Mountains and were plotting world conquest.  Ralph began to investigate and learned that Von Dort had left the Andes for Gotham City.

With the dots connected and Ralph switching to his purple and blue uniform the trio of heroes make their plans.  Batman and Robin will try to pick up Von Dort's trail through the underworld while the Elongated Man does his detective work on Von Dort himself.

A couple of nights later, the Batmobile is again on patrol when some paratroopers are spotted dropping down toward the park where a charity auction of antiques and art is taking place.  Batman hits the accelerator and Part I closes.

Part II opens with the paratroopers landing and absconding with the paintings and other valuables, calling in transport via walkie-talkie and overall operating with razor-sharp precision.  They even go so far as to blow up the access road, forcing the Masked Manhunters to proceed on foot and bat rope to intervene.  Soon the moonlit brawl is on with the good guys prevailing.  An organized retreat takes place and a gas squad comes into play, issuing streams of tear gas at the Dynamic Duo.  Batman quickly heads for a huge electric fan he noticed and uses it to clear the air, allowing them to take down the gas mask equipped crooks.

Back at the truck, the criminals try in vain to contact headquarters for further instruction, but Von Dort and his aide, Heinrich, are elsewhere at a Gotham City laboratory where a cylindrical container, their "real objective" is procured.  Shortly the incognito pair board a plane for South America, convinced that nothing can stop their global conquest.

Two days later, the three heroes rendezvous again at Ralph Dibney's hotel suite to compare notes.  Ralph reports that he learned from a friend who was in the O.S.S. that Von Dort spent time as the project manager for a Nazi death ray that lacked only one critical element; an isotope called M-244, which cannot be purchased commercially.  Batman says that a canister of that very material was stolen from a lab during the art theft and it must have been Von Dort, using the caper as a cover.  They waste no time in boarding the Batplane and laying in a course for the Andes Mountain range, relying on a nuclear detection device to locate the M-244 and Von Dort.  Part II closes as they zero in and execute a vertical landing just outside a concealed compound.

Part III opens with the Elongated Man acting quickly to neutralize an armed guard.  Before the Batplane has completely landed he extends his neck directly to the sniper and head-butts him into submission.  Unfortunately the guard does get a shot off and soon mayhem erupts as the compound comes to life.  While Batman and Robin take advantage of the element of surprise, Ralph investigates a figure in a second story window.  Stretching up to see more clearly, the ductile detective encounters Von Dort himself, who swiftly refuses to surrender and brings his monocle into play, affecting the Elongated Man's mind to the point that he attacks his fellow crimefighters while explaining that he cannot help himself.  He wraps Batman and Robin tight with his stretchable limbs, but the duo turns the tables on their friend, dashing around him and wrapping him up in his own extended arms until he collapses.  Ralph mutters that Von Dort's monocle is dangerous just prior to the General's arrival below.  Robin makes a run for the Nazi, but is overcome by the radiation from the malevolent monocle.  Batman then makes his play, running full-tilt at Von Dort but with his head down.  By avoiding eye contact and watching for his quarry's legs, he is able to deliver the blow that puts Von Dort down for the count. 

The final panels show our heroes in a lab in the U.S. with the death ray prototype, now safely under wraps along with Von Dort and the gang.  His monocle has also been secured, its ability to temporarily hypnotize now put into cold storage as well.

It's been my understanding that since the Elongated Man made his way to the pages of Detective Comics that a regular team-up with the Dynamic Duo became a tradition and this was one of those team-ups.  I nearly always enjoy a team-up and as I've learned more about the creators behind the scenes it's enjoyable to see a depiction of writer John Broome in this issue, even if he did look a little like a basset hound with the elongated and somber features. (Batman's other regular scribe of the day, Gardner Fox gives readers a glimpse into his thought process in the January 1966 issue, #347. A review of the issue is available in the archives.) Those deadlines must have been murder…

I saw only one item out of place in this effort and oddly enough it was on Carmine Infantino's cover.  You'll note that the Phantom General wears his monocle on his right eye, while inside it was on his left.  By the way, I learned recently that quite often the covers were created first and then a story built around them, thus explaining at last my long time puzzlement with the so-called "misleading covers" I've referred to in the past.  Otherwise, this was an excellent story and easily held up the proud tradition of Detective Comics.  I particularly enjoyed the historical references, to include the true fact that many Nazis took refuge in South America after the war.  I give this issue a maximum rating of 10 for a good story with some excellent plot twists and a villain you could really sink your teeth into.

Happy birthday, Detective Comics!  We're very glad you came along!

Our next journey into the Silver Age happens in approximately two weeks.  If you have a question, comment or idea, let us hear from you via e-mail at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!



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