Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Batman #164 (June, 1964)

This is the first "New Look" issue of Batman, and the first New Look issue featuring the New Look itself (the yellow oval) on the cover. It's art by Sheldon Moldoff, but as cover art goes it's already a million times more dynamic and exciting than the Silver Age madness of the previous month's cover.

"Two-Way Gem Caper!"
Writer: France Herron
Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff

Inks: Joe Giella
Synopsis: Bruce hears Dick singing and playing music in his room, and can't stand it. Dick is supposedly singing folk music (folk rock was really popular in 1964), but like, he's singing about Doc Holliday and plucking a bass? I don't think the creative team knows what folk music is.
Bruce is like, WTF, so Dick explains that folk singing is really popular nowadays, and that a folk group called the Hootenanny Hotshots is playing in Gotham tonight, and that Bruce has been too busy Batmanning to notice these things. Apparently the Hotshots let local talent play with them, so Dick has been practicing.
Bruce harrumphs at this and then decides to show Dick what he's been busy with. First up, the staircase down to the Batcave has been replaced by an elevator hidden by a secret panel. Next surprise, the old Batmobile has been replaced by a new model -- an open-top sports car Batmobile with a half-bubble canopy. It's the first major Batmobile re-design in about ten years. Bruce takes the time to explain to Dick that sports cars are the trend nowadays, "small, manueverable jobs!"
There's also a new tunnel out of the Batcave -- in a classic Batcave cutaway panel, we see the old barn exit has been abandoned, replaced by an automatic door (operated by remote electronic control! Wow-ee!) designed to be camoflouged as a cliff wall, which has a private road leading onto the highway. It's insane how excited Robin is by this. He calls it a neat electronic gimmick. He's freaking out over a garage door opener, essentially. Like - Robin, you invented a device that could see through lead last month!!
But I digress. Meanwhile, a bus transporting the Hootenanny Hotshots, drawn as two cowboys and two barbershop types playing a fiddle, bass guitar, acoustic guitar and double bass (I think the creatives think folk is country?) is driving to Gotham, but a random dude puts up a Bugs Bunny ass "detour" sign to get them off the road because them arriving in Gotham would "spoil everything" in his carefully laid plans. 
He's a crook, see, and he's made a Plan A and a Plan B for everything, but he didn't figure on a "last minute" appearance of the Hotshots at a show in Gotham Square at the exact time his job will be pulled. So last minute that Dick has been practicing for weeks...
Anyways, the bus hits the detour sign and the crook gets on board claiming to be the Gotham Hootenanny Greeting Committee and that he'll be guinding them into town.

Then the Batmobile hits the same detour sign and Batman's like "this ain't right", and Robin knows this is the route the Hotshots are taking because he's an uber-fan. Batman spots bus tracks in a dirt road and they follow, while the Hotshots bus has been taken out by tire trap the crook laid ahead of time.
With the bus stopped, the crook gets off, announces out loud that this was all according to plan, and runs off into the woods! Batman and Robin pull up and run after him, but he traps them in "a network of strong wires painted like brush" that work like a Chinese finger trap, because again despite the Hotshots performance being last minute enough that he couldn't plan his job around them, he could still plan the detour, the tire trap, this elaborate bush ruse, etc. He escapes in a car. It's 7:15 so the Hootenannys are going to be late for their 8:30 show for sure, so he's gonna be a million dollars richer after the job!
Batman and Robin escape the trap off-panel thanks to the Hotshots and then drive to Gotham.

Cut to the Gotham Square Museum Grand Opening, at 8:22. Mr. Dabblo is inspecting the displays to ensure his "Golden Aztec Pyramid" (drawn exactly like an Egyptian pyramid) is safe. Oh, and Mr. Dabblo is the crook, and you can totally see where this is going, yeah?
The guards assure Dabblo that his pyramid is just as safe as the million dollar Pearl of the Orient sitting right beside it. The security system is that stuff just sits out in the open on shelves, but an alarm goes off if you remove it. Which is... yeah.
Anyways, then at 8:30 exactly a jet mechanism in the pyramid, which is rigged, goes off and the pyramid lifts up and the alarm goes off and the guards are like "what?" and look that way and Dabblo grabs the pearl and runs off in the other direction. Yeah, that was his brilliant scheme.
So the whole reason he needed the Hotshots out of the way was so he could make a clean getaway from the Square, which would be too full of people and traffic stops during a concert. Except, the concert isn't cancelled, just late, so shouldn't those people still be there? How late did people show up for concerts in the 60s? No one in the audience would know the band was going to be late, it's not like they'd have some form of instant communication!
So, the Batmobile is just getting into Gotham now, which means Wayne Manor is either over forty-five minutes drive away in a sports car (49 miles away if Batman is driving the highway speed limit), or else if Wayne Manor is 14 miles outside Gotham like the TV show says than the Dynamic Duo drove into town at like 18 mph. Either way it's nuts. But whatever, they see the Bat-signal and so Batman reveals the final update to Robin -- a direct hotline phone to Gordon's office, where the Commissioner reveals the GCPD has thrown up a dragnet and blocked all the streets.

Batman stops by some cops, assuming they have Dabblo cornered because there's only one area he can be in. The cops have assumed that too, but they can't find Dabblo -- the warehouse doors in the area are all locked and the fire escape is too high to climb! So Batman uses his rope to pull the ladder down, climbs up it with Robin, assuming Dabblo must have pulled the ladder up behind him. Somehow that did not occur to the GCPD.
Dabblo is on the roof of the building across from the one Batman and Robin have climbed to the top of -- Batman tracks him because his shoes melted tracks into the tar at 9:00 in the evening (so it's like 130 degrees F after dark in Gotham??), but when Batman swings across the gap on his rope towards Dabblo, he is shot by an electric shock from a TV antenna Dabblo picks up (????) like in the cover. Robin swings down to rescue him and by the time they've climbed back up the building, Dabblo is gone.
Robin is like "how do we track him?" and Batman's like "hmmm, this TV antenna" and determines its a "neat electronic gimmick" like the Batcave door opener, points it at the floor and it opens a trapdoor right to Dabblo's fence!!
Dabblo's all like "shame I had to get rid of my pyamid to get this pearl" (wait, so the pyramid was legit??) and then Batman and Robin punch him and the fence and its over. Dabblo has one last trick on his sleeve -- he touched the pearl with his greasy fingers so it's ruined now! Except Batman just wipes it with his cape. 
Then Bruce and Dick go to the Hotshots show.
My Thoughts: So after last month's issue of 'Tec introducing the artistic changes of the New Look, it was up to this issue of Batman to debut the story changes -- namely, a bunch of tech updates to Batman's schtick. An elevator, a new car, and the Batcave entrance and hotline phone familiar to us now from the TV show. They are all hilariously introduced as if they are cutting edge stuff, when Reed Richards and Tony Stark are inventing way crazier shit over in Marvel comics. France Herron was 46 when he wrote this and it feels like, with the "hey, have you heard of these newfangled sports cars and other electronic gimmicks?" dialogue.
This is a really rough piece of work because its two guys in their forties being tasked with updating this twenty-five year old character to appeal more to modern kids of the 60s and they just have no idea. Bruce comes off as a total square, they have no idea what folk music in 1964 is, and are just guessing at instruments. It's hilarious.

The Art: The art is so weird. Because Moldoff is under orders to make things more modern looking, but also under orders to maintain the "Bob Kane drew this" charade. So if you're a character like Dabblo, you're really well rendered and have great shadowy inks from Giella. But if you're Batman or Robin or Gordon, you look pretty close to on model to how you've always looked. Moldoff has followed Infantino's lead in aging up Dick and modernizing his hair, and softening Bruce's chin, and the heroes are drawn a little bit less like cardboard cutouts, but it's still a weird style blend. Still miles better than how Moldoff drew in the "old look".
The Story: In case you couldn't tell from the synopsis, the story is completely insane nonsense. Why are the Hotshots involved, other than pandering to kids' interests? Wouldn't a big concert be helpful because attention would be drawn away? Is Dabblo... is he legit? Is he a crook? Did the Gotham museum do no background checks on this guy? Did he just walk in and say "Hey, I have an Aztec pyramid that looks like the mini Egyptian pyramids you'd buy in a tourist gift shop, can I show it in your museum?" And they were like "cool." Was it coincedence or to plan that the GCPD cornered him off in an area of town where his fence already was? And also, why is this the two-way gem caper? The story tries to justify it by saying that Dabblo has a plan A and B for everything, but... that's not what two-way means? And then when he does the doublecross by ruining the pearl, he says that's two-way as well. Did two-way just... mean something different in 1964?
This story is awful.
Notes and Trivia: First elevator to the Batcave, first hotline phone to Gordon, new Batmobile, new disguised rockface Batcave entrance/exit, 

"Batman's Great Face-Saving Feat!"
Writer: France Herron
Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff
Inks: Joe Giella
Synopsis: This story introduces the Mystery Analysts Club of Gotham City, which are clearly being set up to be a thing. Like maybe a regular back-up strip or something. Either way, its a cute if nutty idea: It's a club that solves really hard mysteries and the criteria for membership is you have to solve a really hard mystery, and then the existing membeship votes anonymously. If there's one negative vote, it's better luck next time.
The membership consists of Professor Ralph Vern, apparently a forensic scientist; Art Saddows, an investigative reporter; Kaye Daye, a mystery writer of the "mystery writer who also solves real mysteries" trope; Batman; and Comissioner Gordon of all people, which makes me wonder why these people are amateur mystery analysts and not just on GCPD payroll, but okay.
A private eye named Hugh Rankin wants to join, claiming he has solved Gotham City's greatest mystery: what Batman looks like with his mask off! (I'd argue that his identity is more important than his appearance, but perhaps I'm splitting hairs)
Rankin's brought in a dummy under a sheet that he claims shows the true appearance of Batman, and he'll reveal it to gain club membership. There's some chatter about the ethics of doing this, but Batman says he's cool with it. 
Rankin pulls the sheet off and reveals Batman.... is a middle aged balding guy!
How does Batman react? He pulls off his mask to reveal... Rankin is right! Batman is a middle aged balding guy! Since none of the club members can identify him, he's just some guy, Batman considers his secret identity safe, and they vote on Rankin's membership. But there's one no vote, and Rankin is denied!
Cut to Bruce Wayne telling Dick Grayson the story, where obviously Bruce was the no vote since Rankin didn't get the mystery right! But then, how did Bruce manage to disguise his face to look like Rankin's dummy? Flaaaashback time....
Batman and Robin had been patrolling rooftops looking for the Trapeze Ten gang, when they spot them ziplining over to a building to rob an insurance company. But goes to swing over to the other building, but Rankin tackles him out of nowhere, saving the Caped Crusader from a hail of machine gun fire by a gangmember set up as a spotter on another roof. Rankin explains he's been tailing the Trapeze Ten as well, for some clients, and knows their operating patterns and knew there would be a sniper. Batman's all "yeah, well, uh, I knew that too, so I totally didn't need 'saving'" in a totally dickish response, and heads off to capture the Ten. 

After the police show up, Rankin is still patting himself on the back to Batman, who wonders "wait, where's Robin?". Turns out the Boy Wonder, who's maybe 13 at the youngest and 15 at the oldest in these comics, was totally shot in the leg by that gunner! Robin's like "yeah, nbd, I'll be fine" but they take him to hospital and the doctor's tell him he's gotta stay off his feet for a while.
Okay okay, hold up, so a masked middle school age boy is shot in the leg by criminals, is taken to hospital, and not only does no one need to unmask him or record his true identity, but he's going to be fine after a few weeks bed rest? Wow, Gotham's gotten way too acclimitized to Batman and Robin, clearly.
Anyway, Dick's all "I know *this* part of the story, Bruce, I was there! What has this to do with anything else?" and Bruce is like, "You don't know because you weren't there for the next part!" and man everyone is kind of a smarmy dick in this story.
Returning to the flashback, Batman asks Rankin to join him in taking down the rest of the Trapeze Ten (who I guess are just the Trapeze Six now?). Their next job is swiping a case of diamonds away from a diamond courier waiting for a helicopter on a building rooftop, but flying to him in a helicopter and doing barrel of monkeys manuever to grab it from him without coming low enough to land!
Batman goes after the gang's helicopter, but again a spotter on another roof shoots a flare up into Batman's eyes. But! He's rescued once again by Rankin, who throws his hands over Batman's face, because again Rankin knew the gang's tricks ahead of time. Batman and Rankin run down to ground level to pursue the helicopter, which lands by an abandoned subway tunnel entrance. 
Batman notices some flakes of pliable wax fall down through the eyeholes of his mask, rubbed off from when Rankin covered Batman's face. Odd.
Anyway, they pursue through the tunnels, which the gang floods, as it's used as a drainage duct to the bay. Rankin knew they would do this and brought a breaing apparatus, but Batman's already got one in his belt.
They swim after the gang and catch them by hoisting Rankin up onto a ledge (he braces himself on Batman's head as Batman gives him a boost to the ledge), and then Rankin dropping a net on them when they run past. Seriously, straight up Looney Tunes level crime fighting here. 
Anyways, back in the present, Bruce quickly explains to Dick that he figured out Rankin was scoping Batman out the whole time to try and get his secret identity -- using his "expert sense of touch" to judge his weight and figure when he tackled him, using a wax impression of his face when he covered his eyes, and feeling the shape of Batman's "bald" head when he got the boost. But after the wax bit, Bruce figured out the scheme and *intentionally* disguised himself as the bald guy before the final bit of the adventure.
So in other words, Rankin got what Batman looked like right for all intents and purposes, but Batman had cheated Rankin by disguising himself, then voted Rankin out of the Mystery Analysts because he was wrong on a technicality. Batman's kind of a dick, huh?
My Thoughts: So in one way this was more enjoyable than the first story this ish, because it actually at least kind of makes sense. But it's really hard to get through these Silver Age DC "what about my secret identity?" stories because they almost always involve the character acting like just huge smarmy assholes throughout. I mean the whole point of this story is that only Batman knows Rankin is wrong, and Rankin is only wrong because Batman sabotaged him. But as far as everyone else in the Mystery Analyst club knows, Rankin was totally right, so someone just voted him out for pure spite (and like, probably still Batman, y'know?). 
The Art: Some really nice work in this story. Joe Giella swaths everything in moody patches of black, giving some nice shadow work to this story, helping restore a little bit of a sense of Batman as a creature of the night. It doesn't go all the way though, since the Caped Crusader himself is still rendered in bright colours, with the only shadows being the ones on his face and cape that are so ubiquitous they may as well be painted on. It also continues to be jarring to see Sheldon Moldoff continue to draw regular people very well rendered and Batman and Robin still in a faux-Kane cartoony style. Makes them really stand out in an odd way.
The Story: Like the first story in this issue, France Herron has given us an "and then" story instead of a "because" story. It's better organized that "Two-Way Gem Caper", but it's still a story that seems to change direction a lot and leave some weird unexplored threads in its wake. Like, I feel like Robin getting shot in the leg would be a huuuuge deal in a modern story, but here it's just brushed off like it's nothing. And it also feels like it's being hinted throughout the story that like maybe Rankin is a member of the gang? Because every time he knows what they're gonna do before they do it? And maybe that's why Batman is a dick to him, to foil him somehow? But no, that never really develops into anything. Rankin just wanted in this club and Batman cockblocked him.      

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