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Batman and Robin have the busiest, goofiest, globe-trottingest week EVER. (INCLUDES BULLFIGHTING.) – Detective Comics #248

May 20, 2012

Look at that Sheldon Moldoff cover. Batman just pole-vaulted his way out of a gondola to kick an evil gondolier right in his face. Already I have a feeling this comic will be much more entertaining than the Christopher Nolan Bane/Catwoman dirge that’s coming out in July.

Batman morphed into something a whole lot more goofy after his dark initial days as a pure crimefighter. He ditched the night and the shadows for ever-escalating preposterous scenarios, until finally he was put on more conventional, gritty footing heading into the 1970s. This 1957 comic doesn’t exactly have him on the moon fighting aliens, but oh, is it ever goofy. And I mean that in the most flattering sense imaginable. Because if you have a bucket list that includes reading Batman stories in which he rides a windmill’s blades, takes a gondola ride in Venice, and uses his cape to fight a bull, then friend, you have some checking off to do.

Seriously, this short story (12 pages) has all the fun of a good miniature golf course. Every turn is a dumb but enjoyable surprise, and all that’s lacking is a clown on the last hole whose mouth is the ball return. (Joker? Where are you?)

The impetus for all this Bill Finger (script)/Dick Sprang (pencils)/Charles Paris (inks) hullabaloo is a theft at a hospital, where an experimental drug has been stolen. Batman and Robin are called in, and — predictably — learn that the drug is the only cure for a dying man, and that they’re about to find themselves LOCKED IN A RACE AGAINST TIME. And it further turns out that the stolen goods have been split up and fenced around the world, which sets our heroes on a globe-hopping chase, one whose “Around the World in 8 Days” title is an obvious allusion to H.G. Wells’ Around the World in Eighty Days. (This one’s a lot faster because, instead of relying on rail and steamers, they have that Batplane thing.) They have a busy few days ahead of them. (We could pause and ask why in hell the thieves stole the cure and how the pilfered supplies were split up and spread across the world instantaneously, but to do so would  undermine the fun. And also, if you carry that questioning far enough, you get back to the fact that you’re reading about a guy dressed as a bat who has as his chosen companion a garishly attired half-naked teenage boy. What I’m saying is, turn off that inquisitive portion of your brain before stepping onto this thrill ride.)

Various clues at each point of their journey guide them to their next destination. First up is Holland, the proud nation that gave us a classic translated Green Lantern comic profiled here a few days ago. Being a 1950s comic book, the story has to make use of the most obvious, stereotypical features of each location visited. For Holland, that means windmills. And, whadaya know, some of the cure-holding hoodlums are cooped up in one. What are the odds of Batman using this windmill’s blades to help tackle the toughs that are hiding on said windmill? About 1:1, right? RIGHT:

Next it’s off to Venice (where maybe the Dynamic Duo will cross paths with the I Spy boys). Despite the amorous locale, there’s no time for romance, so Fredric Wertham couldn’t use this for an updated edition of The Seduction of the Innocent. There’s ass-kicking (or face-kicking, as it were) that needs doing (as seen on the cover):

Next up is the Orient, back in the days when you could still type “Orient” without worrying whether you’re committing some sin against political correctness by doing so. (I think I’m okay. Aren’t I? Yeah, I think so.) How can you tell you’re in Asia? Well, there’s a giant dragon statue and perfidious guys in sarongs. At least Batman gets a chance to work his abs on this leg of the journey:

There’s a very, um, dainty quality to Batman’s foot positioning in that last panel. Granted, there’s no set masculine way to hold a burning torch between your feet, but still… Maybe ballet (complete with tutu) was part of Bruce Wayne’s pre-Batman training.

Last up is Mexico. And BULLFIGHTING. Yes, Batman pulls off his cape to dabble in the cruel, savage bloodsport that Ernest Hemingway so lovingly chronicled. There are no cheering crowds to shower him with roses, but our unCaped Crusader does an admirable job of mimicking a matador’s moves:

Does Batman get gored? Does he display bullfighting panache that outshines that of the great Bugs Bunny? YOU’LL HAVE TO READ THE BOOK TO FIND OUT. And also, of course, to learn whether or not they get the cure back to the hospital in time. (Hint: THEY DO.) Sadly, though, I don’t think this issue’s Batman tale has ever been reprinted in any of the numerous trades that have come out over the years, falling in a dead zone after the introduction of the character and the prime Silver Age hijinks. Patience will have to be a virtue in this instance. Someday.

It would be worth the wait. Some old Batman stuff is just awful. Putrid. This is good, and a quick, gratifying read. You can almost picture Finger twirling a pen in his writing hand while staring at a blank sheet of paper, an architect’s lamp his desk’s sole illumination, probably a lit cigarette in his hand waiting to join its extinguished brothers in the ashtray, and finally saying to himself “Let’s have some fun with this goddamn thing.” And all due praise goes to the artwork. Just from the scans posted above, I was quite taken with Sprang’s use of perspective and point of view in the windmill sequence, as well as the lonely desolation of the empty stadium in the bullfighting scene. Paris’ inks made a haunting contribution to the deep moonshadows of the latter.

This story only takes up 12 pages, but provides more pleasurable bang than many more drawn-out affairs.

So get off your ass, DC. Get a Justice League movie made, and bring toreador Batman to the reading public. You have your marching orders. Now step to it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. bluekatt permalink
    November 10, 2012 7:38 am

    holland is just a part of the country and it being used as a catchall name for the whole country is just a pet peeve of mine

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