A Tribute to the of

It's been utterly fascinating of late to learn more about the creators of these beloved and timeless characters, both from their own mouths (or written or typed words) and in particular some of the great stories of others they've shared.  My friend Clem Robins told me in one e-mail, with tongue in cheek that... Bob Kane hadn't drawn Batman since Hitler invaded Poland."  That was quite a humorous observation, but as with all really good humor it contains a grain of truth.  Bob Kane was pretty shrewd, especially for his time.  He had the Batman characters completely sewn up for years until finally selling the rights for a tidy sum, and basically didn't have to lift a finger to benefit from it.  I just realized I used "finger" in that last sentence, perhaps in a Freudian manner as Batman's co-creator, Bill Finger, was very much left out in the cold.  I don't know when Kane fully turned over his work for DC to his many ghosts, who included Dick Sprang, Joe Giella and of course Sheldon Moldoff, but the work these men did under the contractually enforced "Bob Kane" signature went on for well over a decade at least.  So they toiled in obscurity while he basked in the credit, at least until the storylines had nearly driven the character into oblivion and (gasp!) serious talk of cancellation prior to Julie Schwartz taking over editorial duties and bringing in Carmine Infantino to revamp the artwork while the stories quickly brought Batman back to Earth, among other improvements.  Julie also promptly eliminated many of the extraneous characters, such as the Bat-Woman, Ace the bat-hound and Bat-Mite.  There was a radical overhaul, in other words, but as had happened so often before, Julie and his team pulled it off and Batman was back, in a big way, with the television series, as little as I think of it, acting as a massive propellant in the effort.

After all that build-up, I'm actually going back to the "Bob Kane" days of Batman for this edition of the Silver Age Sage and have selected a story from the Dark Knight's self-titled magazine; Batman #152 from December of 1962.  The cover is penciled and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, who also did the pencils on all 3 interior stories and even the "Pennies for UNICEF" public service segment on the inside back cover.  Ira Schnapp did the cover lettering.  The story, "The False Face Society!," was written by Bill Finger, inked by Charles Paris and lettered by Stan Starkman with Jack Schiff in the editor's chair.

The premise for this tale is that a series of crimes have been committed in Gotham City and they share a pattern in that each perpetrator is clad in a bizarre mask.  With the masked duo of Batman and Robin taking things on, it's a battle between the concealed.

Their first encounter with a member of the False Face Society occurs when they spot two men struggling atop a penthouse, one wearing a deep sea diver's gear.  Mr. Van Brunt tells the caped crusaders that the weird figure has stolen his wife's necklace.  Batman gives chase, thinking that at least he has an advantage in that the faux diver cannot run quickly in the cumbersome gear, but the tables are turned when the thief leaps into the river.  Batman attempts pursuit, but his need for air thwarts his effort at capture.

The next day, while on patrol in the famed Batmobile, shots are heard coming from the Gotham Art Museum.  Upon entry, the Dynamic Duo discovers a pair of armed guards firing on a man in a full suit of bullet-proof armor wielding a lance.  A short battle ensues, but Batman is again frustrated when the knight summons his horse and rides off with a priceless masterpiece into the woods of the nearby park.

A short while later, the World's Greatest Detective checks in at police HQ where he learns that another crime had been committed, this time by a crook wearing the mask of a Chinese temple dancer.  Batman begins to see the pattern and decides to use his mastery of disguise to infiltrate the underworld to gain some leads.  Infiltrating an appropriately seedy joint, Batman's inquiries are rewarded with the scoop:  A mastermind has created The False Face Society and has created a crime sweepstakes.  Each participant must pull a job using the false face of an occupation and at the end of the contest the most sensational crime is rewarded with all the loot, less a cut for the mysterious boss.  Furthermore, contact with the anonymous boss is accomplished via a contact at pier 14 at midnight.  Bruce now has the information he needs and formulates a plan.

The next night a renowned violinist is preparing to play his priceless Stradivarius for a television studio audience when Batman arrives and offers to guard the instrument from a rumored thief.  At that moment another cowled figure arrives and a heated battle is on.  Batman manages to subdue the imposter outside the view of the reporters covering the event, but then pulls a switch, telling them that the bogus Batman knocked him out.  In reality, the false face member is concealed in another room, waiting for the police to smuggle him out to headquarters while Batman assumes the place of the phony in order to get into the False Face Society.

Soon Batman finds himself waiting at Pier 14 with the Stradivarius along with a "competitor" decked out as a bobsled racer with his own loot.  The contact man arrives, tells the two False Face participants that the contest ends tomorrow and to rendezvous at Pier 18, where they'll be escorted to the hideout.

The next night a bizarre gathering of costumed criminals is ferried to an old lighthouse where they're greeted by a figure in a metallic face mask and top hat.  Ballots are issued with the caveat that they must vote for someone other then themselves.  Once tallied, the votes indicate the most spectacular crime was perpetrated by the "Batman" who defeated the real Dark Knight.  Before things are settled up, however, the contact man whispers to the boss that "Batman" didn't seem to know the hideout was in the lighthouse.  Using his lip reading ability, Batman is warned of what's going down and uses his skills of deduction to his advantage.  When he's confronted as being the real Batman, he turns the tables by asking how they could know he was the real Batman unless they already knew the identity of the false Batman.  The only way possible is that they were in cahoots with the imposter as a way to manipulate the outcome of the contest, splitting the loot.  The other criminals turn on the boss, but before things can get too ugly, Robin and the police arrive, having trailed the launch to the lighthouse via seaplane.  The boss tries to escape, but is stopped by a gauntleted right cross.  When his mask is removed, he is revealed to be The Joker.

This brief, 9-page story, as I mentioned above, is one of three within the covers of the magazine, so brevity would be necessary.  Unfortunately that doesn't allow much space to develop a plot of any complexity.  Even at that, I liked the fact that Batman's detective skills were highlighted.  I did think the appearance of The Joker in the final panel was a bit odd.  As a reviewer at the Grand Comic Book Database speculated, this whole scheme is unlike the prankish work The Joker was known for at this period in time and it seems to me he was typically a solo act, too, who didn't play well with others.  Despite that oddity, it was a fun little story, good enough for a 7 on the 10-point scale.  Again, you couldn't expect a great deal of sophistication in these old Batman adventures, so with your sights adjusted accordingly, they're still worth some of your time.

Readers, I pulled off another one.  I'm pleased to report that Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff is alive and well and I managed to track him down, and he agreed to answer a few of my questions about his work during the Silver Age, though of course his efforts pre-date that back into the Golden Age.  I'd called and made an appointment to speak with him, commenting about those I'd managed to contact before and how gracious everyone had been.  He replied that comic book people are usually good people.  I couldn't agree more.  Unfortunately when I called him at the appointed time, he had a conflict and asked me to just mail him my questions.  I gladly did so and he sent back a handwritten sheet of responses, in a very steady hand, I might add; not bad for a man of 87 years, which I'll reproduce for you here:

Prof:  Your major contribution to DC's Silver Age was your ghost work for Bob Kane on the Batman titles from the early 50's to the late 60's.  What was that like?  Did you ever tire of drawing and sometimes inking the character?

Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff:  I never tired of drawing.

Prof:  How did you manage to keep your "ghost" status under wraps?

SM:  I never advertised that I was Kane's ghost.  But I'm sure some editors suspected it—but never mentioned it!

Prof:  I understand you and Kane co-created Betty Kane, the original Bat-Girl along with Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat Hound.  Was the last name "Kane" a coincidence?

SM:  Kane didn't co-create any characters.  I read the script and developed the characters.

Prof:  Why were you, Wayne Boring and Joe Papp let go in 1967?  Did it have anything to do with the effort to get some benefits from DC for the freelancers or was it due to the sale of DC and the departure of Publisher Irwin Donenfeld?

SM:  Sales of comics were down – D.C. editors decided to change to a more realistic style to accommodate the change in storylines.

Prof:  Am I correct in saying you created Hawkgirl?  A husband and wife superhero team was quite a different idea what with all the sidekicks at the time like Robin, Green Arrow's Speedy and so forth.

SM:  I created Hawkgirl!

Prof:  Were you involved at all in the daily Batman comic strip?

SM:  I was not involved in the daily Batman strip.

Prof:  What were your impressions of Bob Kane?  Did you work much with Bill Finger?

SM:  I don't care to discuss Bob Kane – Finger was a good story man – and was happy to be working!!

Prof:  Legend has it that Batman was in danger of being canceled in the 60's.  Is that true and how could it be?  Everyone knows the Batman.

SM:  [DC Comics co-founder] Jack Liebowitz would not permit Batman to be canceled.  He proved right!

Prof:  I understand you did work on the Sea Devils, the Legion of Super-heroes and Superboy.  When was that and in what capacity?

SM:  I only inked Sea Devils.  Inked the others.  Did a lot of inking on Curt Swan's Superman.

Prof:  The Batman logo has changed several times over the years.  Whose idea was it and who designed the updates?

SM:  The lettering department sometimes changed the logos.

Prof:  Do you still do commissions?  How would someone contact you to get one?

SM:  Very few commissions.

Prof:  Have you seen the Batman Returns movie?  What did you think?

SM:  Batman movies are fair…comic books tend to be more realistic in art and story.  (I suspect Shelly thought I was referring to the animated movies.)

Prof:  Are comic books becoming obsolete art forms?

SM:  No one knows why some features become so successful – and others fail – if we did, we would have a hit every time we came up to bat.

I was grateful for Shelly's kind indulgence and I found it interesting that he declined to talk about Bob Kane, but did point out that he (Kane) didn't co-create any characters.  It occurred to me later that I've now had the great privilege to talk with two of Kane's "ghosts," Shelly Moldoff and of course the great Joe Giella.  I really appreciated the interesting insights from another one of the men who were there.

The Silver Age is the place to be and you're perusing one of the best sources for the era.  The webmaster and I continue to strive to make it a must-see place during your internet surfing, so by all means c'mon back soon as the data continues to grow and the reviews keep on coming the 1st and 15th of each month.  I love hearing from you, so take a moment to let me know how we're doing at professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you soon and

Long live the Silver Age!

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