Batman | Origins | Early Stories | Bill Finger Joker Tales | Clayface | Edmond Hamilton's 1950's Work | High Tech Stories | The New Look | The Goodwin Years | A New Mythos

Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)

Recommended Stories

Batman

Detective Comics

The Brave and the Bold

Batman Kellogg's Special (1966)

The above is not a complete list of Batman stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

Batman

Batman was created in 1939, and is still going strong today!

The Origin Tales

The Origin of the Batman (1948). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Bob Kane. Batman finds Joe Chill, the man responsible for his parents' murder. This story retells the origin of Batman; it also extends that origin tale to look at the later life of Joe Chill, and Batman's attempt to bring him to justice. Batman functions as a genuine detective in this tale, who uses strategies to go after the crook, attack his organization, and set traps for him.

The art of this tale is exceptionally vivid. Bob Kane's drawing skills have improved greatly since his 1930's Batman tales. He excels at a depiction of a paddleboat steamship. Kane also does a good job with the numerous police in this tale.

The First Batman (1956). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Batman discovers that his father once appeared as Batman; he also tracks down Lew Moxon, a man involved in his parents' murder. This tale builds on earlier Batman origin stories; Finger shows real ingenuity in extending the Batman origin in not just one, but two different directions.

This is a good story, but it is not quite as overwhelmingly vivid as the first tale.

To Kill a Legend (1981). Writer: Alan Brennert. Art: Dick Giordano. Batman goes into a parallel universe, where he strives to prevent the murder of his parents. This is a well constructed worlds of if tale. One consequence of this approach: to turn what were small characters with fixed roles in the saga into members of a Batman mythos. For example, the story of the murder of Batman's parents has always been a fixed, and necessarily brief, episode in the Batman stories. Batman's parents are glimpsed while they are being gunned down; the petty crook who killed them is little more than his name, Joe Chill. The world of if approach suddenly turns these fixed glimpses into active, continuing characters in Batman's universe. We see both Batman's parents and Joe Chill in the days leading up to the killing. Each is acting in character, behaving according to their predefined personalities, and yet doing new things we have never seen them doing before. This is precisely how members of a mythos behave and function. Furthermore, the tale is constructed out of this background behavior and personalities of the characters; this is exactly how stories are built in comics that are based on a mythos and a universe that recurs from tale to tale. It is as if Brennart has flicked a switch, and we are suddenly in a Batman universe based on a common mythos, one in which fixed characters are animated and brought to life.

This story is directly based on Bill Finger's earlier Batman origin tales. It re-uses characters from them and extends their story ideas. Together with them, it forms a trilogy of classic stories dealing with Batman's origin. All three of these tales are available in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (1988). Brennart is remarkably successful at preserving a consistent origin for Batman.

Paperchase (1981). Writer: Alan Brennert. Art: Jim Aparo. Batman teams with the Creeper, to track down a paper-themed killer, in a story that also looks at "family values" broadcasters.

Early Stories

Batman versus the Vampire (Detective Comics #31-32, 1939). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Bob Kane. Batman tries to rescue his fiancee, Julie Madison, from the clutches of a combined vampire-werewolf villain known as The Monk. It has been commonplace to compare early comics, especially Batman, to film noir. This story shows what a mistake this is. It resembles 1930's B-movie thrillers, horror movies and serials, NOT film noir. This is not surprising, when one looks at the chronology. Although there are some precursors in the work of Fritz Lang, Hollywood first began producing film noir in quantity in 1941. This is precisely after the main burst of Golden Age super-hero creation in 1938 - 1941. One can itemize some similarities in this tale to 1930's thrillers: its hero and heroine are well to do members of Society, in the 1930's movie tradition. They are not hard-boiled members of a mob world, as in film noir. There is no sign of political or social corruption, or of social alienation - all common themes in film noir. The villain, the Monk, is a mysterious masked personage, like those of countless 1930's B-movie serials and thrillers. There is lots of slinking around in the dark at sinister yet elegant upper crust locations, also familiar from 1930's B-mysteries and horror films.

Knights of Knavery (Batman #25, October-November 1944). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Jerry Robinson. The Penguin and the Joker team up for the first time. This story is very uninspired. However, some features of the writing are interesting. Don Cameron was a prolific scriptwriter of Batman and Superman tales during the 1940's and early 1950's (up to 1952). The narration of this tale bears a strong resemblance to the campy narrations of the Batman TV show. The characters in the story are often referred to by ingenious euphemisms: the Joker and the Penguin are called "twins in transgression", for instance. This sort of thing goes on and on, until the reader of the tale is tempted to giggle. Often times the portentous phrases are awfully alliterative. Furthermore, the narrator is constantly indulging in high flying rhetoric about fate, and wondering where all this is going to end. All of this is strongly reminiscent of the Batman TV show.

Before I read this tale, it never occurred to me that the Batman TV show's style might be derived from a single author. I had always assumed that Batman was satirizing "old time stories" or some other generalized "comic book entity". But here we find a story by Cameron having all these features, features that are not found in the old tales written by Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Edmond Hamilton, or other DC scriptwriters. It is possible that the Batman TV show is spoofing the style of a particular author, Don Cameron. By the way, it is doubtful if the TV show intended to single Cameron out, as a known person. The old Batman comics were anonymous. Someone probably just found some of Cameron's purple prose, and realized its comic potential for satire.

There are other features to Cameron's narration that recall the Batman TV show. The narrator is much more personal than the narrators of much fiction, comic book or otherwise. At one point, he refers to a "vaguely familiar" character lurking on the street. This means that the narrator himself finds the character vaguely familiar. The narrator is sharing his own emotions and cognitive reactions to things. All of a sudden, the narrator then recognizes the character as the Penguin. It is as if the narrator is an active viewer of the story, not an omniscient device designed to aid in exposition. The Batman TV show often pushed this sort of narration to an absurd extreme.

Cameron's tale is completely lacking in the horror found in other early Batman tales. Instead, it mixes light hearted detection with comedy. The Penguin in the tale is especially well characterized.

The Blaze (1945). Writer: Mort Weisinger. Art: Dick Sprang. The Blaze, a criminal who uses fire and smoke, organizes all of the mobsters in Gotham City into one large super-mob. When he edited the Superman family of comics during the Silver Age, Mort Weisinger explicitly kept tales of organized crime out of its pages. But during the Golden Age, he occasionally wrote such scripts himself. The tale shows affection shown by Batman and Robin, and the concern they have when each other is hurt. Friendship will be a major theme of Weisinger's Superman family tales, between Superman and Jimmy Olsen, and Superboy and Pete Ross.

Dick Sprang's art is notable for its tuxedoed mobsters. They look like arrogant members of the upper class. One panel shows them seated around a large hall in a mansion, lounging in easy chairs and smoking big cigars. The effect is of an English Men's Club. The spiffy mobsters are clearly enjoying their impersonation of the upper crust of their day.

Alfred, Private Detective (1945). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Dick Sprang. After taking a correspondence course in detection, Alfred the butler sets up as a private detective in another city to impress Batman and Robin with his skills. Comic tales about correspondence school detectives have a long history in prose mystery fiction. Usually they manage to make a complete hash of things, and Alfred's misadventure here is no exception. Apparently this tradition was started by humorist Ellis Parker Butler's story collection, Philo Gubb, Correspondence School Detective (1918). Louis Joseph Vance, creator of the gentleman thief the Lone Wolf, weighed in with "Old Man Menace" (1927). Percival Wilde's gem "P. Moran, Shadow" (1943) appeared just two years before Alfred's saga. These are all American writers. Buster Keaton is studying to be a detective at the start of his film comedy Sherlock, Jr. (1924).

The Joker's Journal (1953). Art: Bob Kane. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. The Joker starts a newspaper for criminals.

Radio Station C-R-I-M-E (1953). Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. A radio station warns crooks of police activity; Batman and Robin have to track down its source. Well constructed mystery tale. At first glance, this sounds like one of the media spoofs popular in 1953, in which crooks ape popular media institutions. But the tone of this tale is very different. It is a serious, well plotted mystery story. Its idea might have been inspired by the spoof tales, but its execution and approach are very different. The story also sticks closely to its main, central idea, instead of the scattershot satire of most of the spoof tales.

Throughout the tale, Batman and the reader learn more and more about the operation of the radio station. Finally, Batman solves the trickiest, most hidden mystery of its operation, near the end of the story. The subject of the mystery is more "how does the radio operate", rather than the "who done it" of the traditional prose mystery story.

The story explicitly points out the role reversal implicit in the plot: police use radio heavily in their work; here crooks are doing the same. The mirror image symmetry that is built up makes an interesting plot pattern.

The story has elements similar to Anthony Mann's film He Walked By Night (1948). The identity of the criminal and his background and skills is similar in both works. The comic story also has the detailed focus on the police and their operation found in that film. The main plot of the comic book tale is original, however.

Bill Finger Joker Tales

Batman vs. The Joker (Batman #1, Spring 1940). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Bob Kane. The first appearance of The Joker: The Joker threatens to kill a series of prominent men at midnight, which he promptly does, despite intensive police protection of the victims. Each victim develops the Joker's horrible menacing leer. This story has Bill Finger's tradition construction of a series of mysteries. Each threat to kill a prominent man is a separate episode in the story. In each case the mystery is if and how the Joker is going to do it, despite all of the police's precautions. The Joker succeeds over and over again. The reader learns immediately after each death how the Joker did it. The Joker's methods are surprisingly variable: Finger comes up with a new technique for each killing, different from the last. This means that although the final appearance of each crime is the same - a man murdered at midnight - the causes are all different.

The plot of the story has several precedents. The suspense plot of a threat to kill a man at an announced time despite police protection is found in Edgar Wallace's novel The Four Just Men (1905). Roland West's silent film The Bat (1926) opens with a similar criminal challenge about a midnight crime. The mad killer in James Whale's film The Invisible Man (1935) makes similar threats. As is well-known, The Bat is probably the origin of both the idea of a bat-suited character, and of the visual appearance of the Bat-Signal; it is a film that probably played a profound role in the creation of Batman: please see the article on West for more details. Once again, the roots of early Batman tales are in 1920's and 1930's thrillers and horror material, not in film noir, as is often erroneously claimed by modern critics. Similarly, the Joker's horrible grimace derives from the silent film The Man Who Laughs (1927): see Brian Augustyn's biography of Jerry Robinson in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (1988).

Even in this first tale, the Joker impersonates an authority figure, the Chief of Police, to commit one of his crimes. This plot device will become a Finger specialty over the years. Here it has its comic touches; later stories will expand on it in all seriousness.

The Case of the Joker's Crime Circus (1941). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Bob Kane. The Joker's small circus gives performances at the homes of the wealthy, while secretly casing them for robberies. Already in this early story Finger has transformed the Joker from a murderer into a ring leader of a gang of crooks committing thefts. This is the role he will maintain over the next thirty years, until Denny O'Neill revived the serial killer persona in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" (1973): a big step down for the character.

At the end of this story Batman explores the Joker's "haunted" mansion. These scenes derive from a whole movie tradition of fake haunted houses, complete with sliding panels, trapped doors, masked killers, fake ghosts and so forth. Such 1920's silent films as The Cat and the Canary (1927) pioneered this tradition.

The Sound Effect Crimes (Detective Comics #149, July 1949). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Dick Sprang. The Joker uses sound effects to scare and delude the public at various events, making them believe that bad things are happening, allowing him to commit crimes. The tale is consistent with Finger traditions. First, it deals with hoaxes. As usual in Finger, the hoaxes are very sneaky and quite convincing. Here, as in some other Finger stories, the hoaxes are used to manipulate public opinion. Secondly, it keeps to Finger's approach of having the Joker be a high tech criminal, using ingenious devices to commit his crimes. The later stages of the story, in which Batman and Robin try to interfere with the Joker's hoaxes, and keep the public from believing in his illusions, also show some ingenuity. These sections too have the theme of the mechanics of influencing public opinion, albeit more benignly.

The Man Behind the Red Hood (1951). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Lew Schwartz. Batman becomes a criminology professor at a college, where he has his students investigate the still unsolved mystery of a criminal who wore a shiny red hood. This sf mystery uses similar approaches to Edmond Hamilton's later 1950's puzzlers. There is a person whose secret identity the reader is challenged to guess. There is much about science in the tale, and many ingenious plot developments based in scientific knowledge. There is an especial interest in chemistry, a subject that DC writers always found fascinating. This tale has a sort of "box within a box" construction. The heroes will solve one mystery, then another will spring up that they'll solve, and then another, and so on. The ultimate effect is quite ingenious.

Noteworthy at this early date is the non-stereotyped Chinese character, Paul Wong, who appears as one of Batman's criminology students.

The Joker's Utility Belt (1952). Writer: Bill Finger?. Art: Dick Sprang. The Joker develops his own utility belt, in imitation of Batman's. The Joker is one of the most high tech characters in comics, or in popular art in general. He is always coming up with ingenious new devices to commit his acts. This aspect of him was not captured in film or TV versions of the character, but it is very well developed in the comic book stories. Despite the fact that his personality is nightmarishly absurd, his devotion to invention is serious, intelligent and imaginative.

The Crimes of Batman (1952). Writer: Bill Finger?. Art: Lew Schwartz. The Joker captures Robin, and tries to force Batman to take up a life of crime. The Joker is always trying to get at Batman through Robin. Partly this is because he realizes that this is Batman's point of vulnerability.

Already, by the early 1950's, we are with a Batman who seems close to the Silver Age Batman. The character, his environment, and the basic ethos of the series all seem fixed in an approach that will be preserved until the New Look of 1964. This tale also has the "series of challenges" approach that will often be found in Silver Age Superman family tales: the bad guy or events challenge the hero in some way, he comes up with an ingenious response, the bad guy challenges him again in a similar way, he responds again cleverly, and so on. As in many Superman family stories, there are three challenge and response cycles in this tale.

The Joker Jury (1964). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. The Joker does a series of crimes involving Gotham City's government divisions; he also puts a captured Batman on trial in front of a courtroom full of Jokers. The Joker uses large machines in this story to dominate Batman. He also uses the machinery of the law. The idea of a Joker police force, complete with officers whose face has been made up to resemble the Joker's, is especially striking. Not only are these men in uniform, but even their faces all look identical. Once again, Finger shows people impersonating authority figures.

Clayface

The Challenge of Clay-Face (1961). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. The Origin of Clay-Face, a villain who can change his body into any shape. (There was an earlier villain during the early 1940's Golden Age named Clayface; this was his Silver Age version.) Finger had early written non-series stories about shape-changing villains, notably "The Thing from 40,000 A.D." (Superman #87, 1953) and "The Contest of Heroes" (World's Finest #74, January-February 1955). These tales in turn influenced Edmond Hamilton, who wrote both non-series stories, and eventually created the noble shape-changing animal Proty: see the discussion in the article on the Legion of Super-Heroes. Finger also wrote his own series stories, the Clayface tales, working them into the Batman mythos. It is consistent with both men's literary personalities that Finger created a villain, whereas Hamilton a good guy, with similar powers.

This apparently simple, straightforward tale shows good construction. Finger shows us every step of Clayface's acquiring and learning to use his powers. Each step is logical and follows naturally from what has gone before. Batman shows good deductive skills in this tale, where he figures out many aspects of Clay-Face's powers, reasoning them out from clues in Clayface's behavior. Finger also vividly shows Clayface's feelings at each new step in his adventures.

The Great Clayface - Joker Feud (1963). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. The Joker and Clayface have a rivalry to see who is the greatest villain. This story shows great plot ingenuity. It is one of the Batman tales that is closest in approach to the Silver Age Superman family stories in its plotting technique. The ingenious plot developments have a formal relationship to that of mystery fiction. Each section here comes to some surprising but logical conclusion, similar to the solution to a formal puzzle plot mystery. Finger creates his mysteries in succession, one after the other. Each one helps drive the plot forward, and lays the ground for the next mystery in the tale. This "serial construction of mysteries" seems like one of Bill Finger's basic approaches to writing. One sees it here, within a single tale. But it also is used in series of tales, such as Finger's stories of the Origin of the Batman. Each one of these stories is used as the foundation for the next, allowing for plot developments that expand upon the plots of the previous work.

Other Bill Finger Tales

The Great Batman Swindle (1955). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Dick Sprang. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. Crooks launch a scheme to persuade rich men that there is more than one Batman, and that they can join the team. Typical Finger hoax tale, loaded with ingenious plausible detail. As in many Finger hoax tales, the crooks impersonate authority figures, here Batman himself. In the second half the real Batman interferes with the crooks' scheme; these sections also have a wealth of plot. The wealthy yachtsman Ned Judson who is conned into being an aspiring Batman turns out to be an unexpectedly decent guy. This story anticipates the Green Arrow tale "The Decoy Archer" (Adventure #223, April 1956), in which he trains another man to be a substitute Green Arrow. Both tales have a heavy focus on what being a substitute hero might be like, and how it might affect a person's attitude. Finger proves unusually concerned here with the psychological well being of a man innocently caught up in one of his story hoaxes.

The Gotham City Safari (1957). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Batman and Robin solve a murder mystery at a game preserve that recreates India, Africa and Mexico's Mayan areas. This story is a little mystery in the Hamilton tradition. There is a good deal of interesting animal lore in this tale. This sort of background information is typical of Batman detective stories, which tend to take place in some unusual location.

The Creatures That Stalked Batman (1960). Writer: Bill Finger?. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Based on a cover by: Sheldon Moldoff. Batman is tracked in Gotham City by a robot and an alien animal. Intriguing mix of science fiction and detection, in which everything works well. The story takes place in Batman and Robin's familiar home base, and includes conventional crooks along the way, as well as the alien visitors. This gives it the feel partly of a Batman detective story, and partly sf. There are few or no horror elements here: the feel throughout is detection, with Batman and Robin using all of the detective prowess.

Like many Finger stories, this one involves a series of linked mini-mysteries. Batman and Robin solve each one in turn, then move on to the next one. Some of the mysteries are science fictional (how do the two creatures communicate) and others involve traditional detective work (tracking down the identity of a crook). Batman and Robin perform good logical detective work throughout. The detective plot keeps interacting with our growing understanding of the sf situation: the solution of each mini-mystery usually reveals more of the sf. The entire detective-sf plot is well constructed.

There is one of Finger's hoaxes here, performed by a human crook. It leads to cascading plot effects throughout the tale, and is only gradually unraveled, as part of the series of mini-mysteries. This use of a hoax to fuel the construction of mystery plots is perhaps slightly atypical for Finger, but very welcome.

Sheldon Moldoff does a good job with his police portraits (p3).

Edmond Hamilton's 1950's Work

The Lord of Batmanor (1953). Writer: Edmond Hamilton, based on a plot by Leigh Brackett. Art: Dick Sprang. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. Batman solves the mystery of a treasure in a Scottish castle that has been lost for nearly four hundred years. As the tale itself points out, Batman only rarely solved mysteries around the world, outside of the U.S. This tale is loaded with Scots local color. It also has some intriguing historical flashbacks.

Leigh Brackett was the wife of Edmond Hamilton, in addition to being a prestigious mystery writer, science fiction author and screenwriter in her own right. Her contribution undoubtedly helped the richness and detail of this fine mystery. Everything in the story is a lot of fun. As is typical of Hamilton stories, grotesqueness is avoided, and all of the plot elements are pleasant. There is humor, adventure, mystery and glamour in abundance here.

Sprang has some beautiful aerial views, showing the layout of roads, the castle, and a nearby Scots village. Sprang also does a good job with the wisps of fog that permeate some outdoor scenes, making them into beautiful compositions.

The Jungle Cat-Queen (1954). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. Batman tracks Catwoman to a tropical island, where she and her large cats battle Batman. This story combines the plot of Richard Connell's prose thriller "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924), with that of every jungle adventure movie you've ever seen. Hamilton shows ingenuity of a sort by finding a way to combine all of this material so smoothly and gracefully. Just about everybody would enjoy this tale.

Hamilton later wrote several tales with somewhat similar plots. The Legion of Super-Heroes get hunted down, like Batman here, in "The Doom of the Legion" (1963). So do Superman and Jimmy Olsen in "The Dynamic Duo of Kandor" (1963).

The waterfall is a spectacular element of this story. Dick Sprang provides several aerial views of the falls. These are both beautiful, and fascinatingly schematic. One can see every rock, every twist and turn of the river. It is like looking at a map of a ride at Disneyland. Comic books often include diagrams and diagram like pictures in their illustrations. These multi-media features greatly add to reader enjoyment. One notes that Hamilton sometimes used waterfalls in his tales: see "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" (1958).

The Map of Mystery (1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. An archaeologist stores information about an Inca ruin in Peru on a map; Batman and Robin help his friends at the Exploration Club in Gotham City track it down after he is attacked. This tale shows us every conceivable kind of map, including a factory where they are manufactured. Hamilton was fascinated by maps, and they occur in many of his stories. Frequently they are gigantic, room-sized or larger, as they are in this tale. The tale's two locations recall those of Hamilton's classic "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950). In that story, space explorers went out to other planets for the first time, then returned to Earth, where they put the planet's location in a giant map room, containing 3 dimensional images of the stars and planets. Here, the archaeologists explore remote countries, then return to the Exploration Club in Gotham City, which also has a Map Room with giant maps. It also recalls the Reference Room and its globes in Hamilton's Legion of Super-Heroes tale, "The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords; The Secret of the Luck Lords" (Adventure #343, April 1966)

This tale has only two suspects. Still, it is a Golden Age style whodunit, with a clue pointing to the guilty party.

Mystery of the Sky Museum (1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Batman and Robin investigate an attack on the director of the Sky Museum, a huge outdoor complex that stores early flying machines. The flying devices in this tale are fascinating, and show much research and information on his part. The tales climax takes place inside a Zeppelin, and I learned much about these machines I never knew. Hamilton also wrote "The Patent Planet" (Mystery in Space #30, February-March 1956), a futuristic mystery tale that takes place on a world wide museum that is the repository for models of inventions used for patents. Both of the mysteries are set amid huge collections of machines. Like Hamilton's map tales, their locales are repositories of scientific information. Hamilton's fascination with newspaper settings also echoes this theme, of tales set in information-oriented areas.

This is another Hamilton whodunit. Here there is a larger range of suspects.

High Tech Stories

Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal (1950). Writer: ?. Art: Lew Schwartz. Anthology of vignettes showing how the Bat-Signal saved lives; also shows the technology of the Bat-Signal. During 1958 - 1959 the Superman family will develop a series of "Untold Tales". These are full length stories, each showing some previously undiscussed cornerstone in the creation of the Superman mythos. This story shows some features ancestral to the Superman series, including the title "Untold Tales", and a look back on the origin of a Batman mythos component, the Bat-Signal. However, there are some differences. Most of the vignettes here deal not with the creation of Batman's mythos, but rather are little independent adventure stories, each focusing on some ingenious use of the Bat-Signal.

The story opens with a newspaper editor dreaming the Bat-Signal series up, and assigning it to a crime reporter on the paper. Such editor-writer pairs would be frequent in DC books, both the sf comics and the Superman family. They can be seen as stand-ins for the editors and writers of the DC magazines themselves. There is a bit of humor here: the editor is seen as something of a nebbish, although he's a nice guy, while the writer is seen as a handsome and heroic figure. Perhaps this is just a writer's point of view! Such framing devices were not unheard of in Hollywood films. This story has a structure very similar to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), where a reporter goes around interviewing various witnesses, while we see their stories in flashback. Similar structures were used in Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946), with Edmond O'Brien's insurance investigator interviewing a stream of witnesses, each with their own flashback tale. The ace crime reporter in this comic book story, Dave Purdy, is dressed like a film noir tough guy, with suit, overcoat and hat. The editor wrestles with the difficulty of coming up with something new about Batman; this is probably similar to the difficulties real life DC editors had in coming up with new ideas for Batman tales.

The Birth of Batplane II (Batman #61, October-November 1950). Writer: ?. Art: Dick Sprang. When crooks steal the original Batplane, Batman creates a vastly improved successor, Batplane II. This story has much in common with a virtually contemporary story, "Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal" (1950). Both focus on details of a well established piece of Batman technology. Both contain diagrams, showing high tech details of their construction. Both show technological improvements being made to original versions of the tools. The diagrams in both stories are so similar, that it is hard not to regard them as creations of the same mind.

The Strange Costumes of Batman (1950). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. About various high tech costumes worn by Batman, each matched to a specific case. Many of the costumes vary noticeably in color, but otherwise tend to look just like Batman's main costume. This tale is pleasant, but pretty minor. As in later tales of Batman's inventions, Hamilton works in a small mystery puzzle for the reader to solve. The tale is notable for a very early appearance of an electron microscope in the Bat-Cave - it is startling to see this real life invention in a comic book. The depictions of panic that sweep over Metropolis when Batman is incapacitated are also notable. They are in the Hamilton tradition of having a whole community being a protagonist in his tales. As usual, the individuals here, Batman and Robin, are operating somewhat at cross purposes to the masses of people.

Sprang's art in this tale shows good examples of his three landscape specialties: aerial shots, urban buildings, and water. The dock side scene anticipates some of his water landscapes in "The Jungle Cat-Queen" (1954); it has a similar schematic quality, showing a detailed landscape. Many of Sprang's panels here are filled with billowing clouds: smoke, clouds, fog or poison gas. These clouds play a constructive role in Sprang's compositions. The stalactites in the Bat-Cave also tend to form similar elements in Sprang's compositions.

This story clearly laid the groundwork for Bill Finger's "The Joker's Crime Costumes" (Batman #63, February-March 1951); that tale shows some of Batman's costumes here in its first panel. Hamilton and Finger have literary personalities that are nearly opposite: Hamilton is idealistic and heroic, whereas Finger is perverse and oriented towards his villains. Hamilton's work shows a refreshing lack of kinkiness compared to Finger's.

The Thousand and One Escapes of Batman and Robin (1955). Writer: ?. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Anthology piece showing five escapes Batman and Robin made from villainous traps. This structure has a framing device similar to "Untold Tales of the Bat-Signal" (1950). Robin narrates four of the traps in flashback, while the framing story concludes with its own escape from a trap. Robin was a frequent flashback narrator in the Batman stories. He knows all of Batman's secrets, yet he is not the hero of the stories. He can serve as sort of a Watson figure, recounting the hero's deeds. This story is also constructed as a set of mini-mysteries: the reader is challenged in each episode to figure out how Batman will escape.

When this story was reprinted in the Giant Batman Annual #1 (1961), its title was changed to "Thrilling Escapes of Batman and Robin". This new title might be more accurate - the story describes 5 escapes, not 1,001 - but it does not convey the tale's links to the story of Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights. Like the heroine of that tale, Robin is telling a series of stories within a frame story, and also like that heroine, he is fighting for his life by the cleverness of his storytelling. There will be similar references to Scheherazade in Otto Binder's "The Super-Tales of Lana Lang" (Superboy #60, October 1957), including a similarly structured frame device..

The 10, 000 Secrets of Batman / Batman's Electronic Crime-File (1956). Writer: ?. Art: Dick Sprang. When the Bat-Cave is featured on a live television show, thieves steal a microfilm copy of Batman's huge crime computer data base. Fascinating story with a look at an early use of computer technology. Batman's data base (a phrase not used in the story) is stored on punch cards, and he uses a large Hollerith machine to sort them and make queries. Such machines and their use by the police had long since been featured in crime films, such as Anthony Mann's He Walks By Night (1948) and William Keighley's The Street With No Name (1948). As in Mann's movie, the cards have a great deal of information on criminals, and Batman can use them to make queries about the probable perpetrators of a given crime. (Keighley's film shows the FBI using cards to identify fingerprints, something not discussed in the Batman tale.) Batman also has a great deal of information about Gotham City, including its architectural features, underground passages and security previsions and their weaknesses. All of this reminds one more of the 1990's, when massive government data bases started piling up showing city wide maps.

The live TV show, "Man to Man", is very similar to a famous real life TV interview show of the era, Person to Person. This was typical of the DC writers of the 1950's. They tended to incorporate actual TV shows into their stories, under pseudonyms. The idea seems to be, "what would happen if Batman appeared on Person to Person, or Superboy on To Tell the Truth?" - Superboy appears on a clone of that real life TV game show in Otto Binder's "The Three Secret Identities of Superboy" (Superboy #67, September 1958), where it is called "Unmask the Truth". These are questions that both the writers and presumably the readers of the comic books would want to know. Person to Person always interviewed its celebrity guests in their own homes, so it is natural here for the show to move into the Bat-Cave. Each of these TV shows had its own distinctive rules of operation, and these rules are incorporated into the plots of the comic book stories.

The 1,001 Inventions of Batman / The Amazing Inventions of Batman (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. This story describes four different high tech inventions of Batman, and describes the cases that prompted them. There is a good fit between the cases and the inventions: Hamilton shows craftsmanship and ingenuity on the logical relationships between the two. There are some small elements of sf mystery here: the reader is shown the invention first, then Hamilton reveals the mystery of how it was used. There is also another mystery over-arching the whole story: which of Batman's invention's was stolen by a criminal, and how did they do it? Hamilton wrote other tales about Batman's inventions, presumably because Hamilton was a major sf writer, whose creativity ran in this direction.

The New Look

The Secret War of the Phantom General (1965). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Batman and Robin team with Elongated Man to go after a Nazi general who is planning Gotham City crimes as military operations, in this three part story. As in many of Broome's tales, the life story of a character is woven into the plot: in this case the general. As usual on Broome, we see the evolution of the character towards the extreme position he eventually occupies in the tale.

Infantino's art stays strong here. Both he and Broome created the Elongated Man, in the pages of The Flash, so they are on home turf here. Elongated Man, like the Flash himself, occupies a certain sociological niche. Both are relentlessly middle class. Elongated Man is shown here in white dress shirt and tie, the typical clothes of the white collar man of his day. He looks extremely elegant in his clothes. Yet there is no attempt to make him look wealthy or upper crust. This attitude is more typical of the sixties confidence in the middle class, than in the eighties attempt to look like a figure of wealth and power. Barry Allen, the Flash's police scientist alter ego, is also consistently drawn by Infantino to look middle class but elegant.

A memorable note: during a flashback sequence, the writer of the story addresses the reader directly. We see Infantino's portraits of John Broome, seated at his typewriter. This is a wonderful moment. It memorializes what was a major collaboration between the two men, stretching over many years, in The Flash as well as in the Batman "New Look" era. On the wall behind Broome is a bulletin board with a black and white photograph, hand written notes, etc. This is typical of Infantino's use of multi-media. We also see a number of books, including Edgar Pangborn's Davy and Harlan Ellison's Paingod - presumably these are homages to these writers.

The Joker's Happy Victims (1966). Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell. Art: Carmine Infantino. The Joker's theft victims enjoy his crimes so much they refuse to prosecute. This little tale is very well made. It has a logical plot: Batman and Robin have to investigate the latest peculiar series of crimes by the Joker. There is a bit of a mystery in stories like this: both Batman and the reader are challenged to figure it all out.

The Goodwin Years

Death Flies the Haunted Sky (1974). Writer: Archie Goodwin. Art: Alex Toth. Batman solves a mystery involving World War I era planes. Goodwin's stories tend to be genuine mystery tales. Usually they have a villain whose identity is hidden, and whom the reader is challenged to guess. Also, the villain is not who one thinks it is, and the motives for the crimes quite different from what one thought.

This story has spectacular art by Alex Toth. It is apparently his only Batman tale.

A New Mythos

The Deadshot Ricochet (1977). Writer: Steve Englehart. Art: Marshall Rogers. Deadshot, a playboy turned gunman, breaks out of jail and returns to Gotham City. The basic premise of this delightful story is: it would be fun to be Batman. This is not a radical idea, but after years of grimth, it seems charmingly breezy. Steve Englehart includes many homages to the past. He reuses obscure but interesting characters from distant past issues - one going back to 1939! There are also tributes to some of the great DC writers and editors. The recurrent Batman theme, the giant object, is snuck into the story under relatively "realistic" pretexts. Batman also gets an upbeat personal life, one that anyone would enjoy.

This story pays tribute to such DC giants as Mort Weisinger and Gardner Fox, both of whom were much more mythos oriented than is typical among Batman creators over the decades. Englehart's Batman is different from others I have read in that it involves a mythos. In Englehart's case, this mythos centers on a continuing group of characters, all of whom interact with one another. For example, although the Penguin is not the main guest villain in this tale, he plays a role in the story. Furthermore, he behaves according to the character and technological approach that have been assigned to him in previous stories. The Penguin is here functioning as part of a "Batman mythos", a self consistent world out of which the story elements of each new tale are constructed. Englehart brings in many other continuing characters, each in a small role. Englehart even has the Joker show up for a small cameo, laughing menacingly in one scene, then exiting from the plot. His appearance here is designed structurally to make the Joker part of the story. He is part of "Batman's world", the mythos of the series, and Englehart wants to preserve his membership in this world, even if he has to make the tiniest appearance in the tale. While the Penguin, Robin, Dr. Hugo Strange and others have bigger parts in this episode, Englehart manages to include the Joker in a role approaching the outer limit of small size a character's appearance can achieve, and still be part of the mythos underlying Batman's universe.

One might note that Englehart's mythos based approach here is structurally different from the concept of a "continuing roster of guest villains". Batman, like many other comic books, has always had that. One issue the Joker might be the guest villain, the next month Two-Face. The stories that ensue tend to have a common pattern: Hero battles guest villain. Englehart's mythos-based construction is different. Here the Penguin is part of Batman's world, and he can play a role in tales even where he is not the main villain. He will advance the plot, not merely fight against Batman.

Rogers' art has plenty of pizzazz, too. His depictions of New York City street scenes are brilliant. His Bruce Wayne has more presence than most artists' before or since. After all, Bruce Wayne is a leading philanthropist. This is a worthwhile activity. His life should be fun, and full of potential. Instead, he has often been drawn as a non-entity, Batman's frivolous disguise. This Bruce Wayne looks like a respected citizen, and a candidate for romance.

Bat-Mite's New York Adventure (1978). Writer: Bob Rozakis. Art: Mike Golden. Bat-Mite magically summons all his creators to DC's offices in New York City one evening. This charming tale includes portraits of all of the comic's staff. One might note that they have been captured in full casualness in the height of 1970's dressing down. No other decade in American life, not even the 1990's, could offer people in such full flight from suits and ties.