Deck Log Entry # 184 The Silver-Age Challenge---So, You Think You Know the Batman? Answers!

Three . . . two . . . one.

 

Step back.  Hands in the air.

 

Wow!  Lots of comments on this one.   I love that.  Philip Portelli had posted his answers so fast---I mean, he’s usually fast, but this time, it was almost like he had been looking over my shoulder and was just waiting for me to hit “publish”---that I was afraid the quiz would be over before anyone else even got a chance to see it.

 

That almost happened.  It would have, if Philip hadn’t missed on two of his answers.  Fortunately, these were the two questions that I thought would be the trickiest to get right.  Not that I wished Philip ill, but it afforded other folks a reason to bother to play.  Only two others---Fraser Sherman and Luke Blanchard---bothered to post a stab at it, and it worked out, because both of them got a claim on some of the remaining bragging rights.

 

As usual, one question was a real bear.  I thought I had you on it, since it relies on a detail that even the authors of various on-line compendia, such as the DC Comics Database and Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, overlook.  It sure generated considerable discussion, and I have to say, it was fun to sit back and observe the keen thinking taking place.  You fellows are incredibly tough to fool. 

 

Because it is so detailed, I’ll hold that question for last.  In the meantime, here are the answers to the other seven:

 

 

 

1.  In 1964, the “New Look” Batman’s chest insignia was changed by enclosing the bat-emblem in a yellow ellipse.  In what story did the Caped Crusader wear the yellow-oval insignia for the first time?

 

When Superman-Batman fans opened up their copies of World’s Finest Comics #141 (May, 1964), they found some surprises.  Mort Weisinger was now in charge, and suddenly, the title looked very much like Superman and Action Comics.  The story, with the unwieldy title of “The Olsen-Robin Team Versus the Superman-Batman Team”, was the product of one of Mort’s favourite writers---Edmond Hamilton.  And the interior pages were filled with the beautifully pristine art of Curt Swan and George Klein.

 

But the biggest surprise of all had to be Swan and Klein’s depiction of the Batman.  Throughout the tale, except for two flashback panels, the bat-insignia on the Caped Crusader’s chest was enclosed in a yellow circle.

 

Of course, all of us here know about Batman’s “New Look”, conceived by editor Julius Schwartz after DC handed him the reins to the Bat-titles.  Much as he had with the Flash in ’56, Schwartz performed a major overhaul on the Masked Manhunter.  But unlike with the Flash, one thing the executives upstairs would not let Schwartz do was put their number-two cash-cow in a new costume.  The most he was permitted was to add a yellow ellipse around the plain black bat-emblem on the hero’s chest.  It would be the only consistent visual cue that Batman and Robin had entered a new era.

 

Schwartz introduced his “New Look” Batman in Detective Comics # 327 (May. 1964), which hit the stands on 26 March 1964.  The new bat-insignia came as a surprise to many readers, but not to those who had picked up World’s Finest Comics # 141 two weeks earlier, on 12 March.

 

How it happened that Weisinger “scooped” Schwartz on the Big Reveal, whether it was deliberate or a well-intentioned accident of publication, I’ve never heard explained from an authoritative source.  The only comment on it by Mort came in his answer to a reader’s question appearing two issues later, in the letter column:

 

WFC # 141’s jumping the gun in presenting the Batman’s new insignia is one of those rare “Believe It or Not” instances which has actually eclipsed the old conventional wisdom, as shown by the fact that Philip and Fraser and Luke all knew it right off.

 

 

3.  Who was given a Batgirl costume by the Dynamic Duo, and why?

 

It was, indeed, Supergirl.  A Batgirl costume was one of the gifts the Girl of Steel received from Batman and Robin for her “sweet sixteenth” birthday.  This was shown in “Supergirl’s Busiest Day”, from Action Comics # 270 (Nov., 1960), as both Philip and Luke knew, and Fraser remembered a bit too late.

 

 

4.  What foe did Batman and Robin help Superman defeat on the Dynamic Duo’s first visit to the bottled city of Kandor?

 

This is one I thought would have given you guys more pause, but not from any confusion over the Kandor-Krypton City thing---I figured all of you knew my style of questioning well enough that I wouldn’t quibble over something like that.  No, I expected one or more of you just plain didn’t know about it, or would overlook it, in favour of the more-well-known “The Feud Between Batman and Superman”, from World’s Finest Comics # 143 (Aug., 1964).

 

As it turned out, all of you did know about “The Dictator of Krypton City”, from World’s Finest Comics # 100 (Mar., 1959), and that the villain of the piece was Lex Luthor.

 

 

5.  Also in 1964, Bruce Wayne finally got tired of trudging up that long winding staircase from the Batcave to Wayne Manor and installed an elevator.  In order to keep Aunt Harriet and any guests in the mansion from discovering it, how was the elevator disguised?

 

It was Philip who provided the detailed response I had intended with the question.  In “The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes”, from Detective Comics # 351 (May, 1966), Aunt Harriet accidentally discovers the secret elevator to the Batcave (installed two years earlier, in Batman # 164) and, sticking her nose where it has no right to belong, she rides it to its subterranean destination.  In order to protect their secret identities, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson pull a gaslight routine on their snooping aunt in residence.  They redress the elevator car as a closet and pull other tricks to make Harriet doubt her senses.

 

“Made the elevator look like a closet” was the answer I was going for.  I had a problem in wording the question, however.  If I wrote the question stating that the elevator was deliberately disguised to fool Aunt Harriet, that would have been a certain tip-off to Detective Comics # 351.  So I phrased it in a more general fashion.

 

After posting my quiz, though, I reëxamined the question and realised I had been a bit too vague.  It wouldn’t have been fair to reword the question after posting it, so I decided to award any poster who answered with some form of “sliding panel” half-credit, since the elevator was, indeed, concealed behind a sliding wall panel and wasn’t disguised as a closet until Harriet discovered it.  So both Fraser and Luke got half-credit for their answers.

 

 

6.  According to Alfred the butler’s fictional accounts of the Second Batman and Robin Team, what was the adult Dick Grayson’s occupation?

 

I thought this one would be mildly tough because it couldn’t be Googled, but all three players nailed it.   In the first of Alfred’s fictional accounts of the next-generation Dynamic Duo---“The Second Batman and Robin Team”, from Batman # 131 (Apr., 1960)---he depicts the adult Dick Grayson, when he’s not fighting crime as Batman II, as a roving newspaper reporter.

 

 

7.  What recurring character in the Batman mythos did not have a last name---until the Batman television show supplied one?  After that, it became the character’s surname in the comics, too.

 

As both Philip and Luke knew, it was Aunt Harriet who didn’t have a last name until the Batman television show provided it.  From the beginning, Hattie had gone without a full name, like many of the Gotham Gangbuster’s supporting players.  (Curiously, Mort Weisinger ensured that Superman’s civilian friends, Perry White and Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, had fully developed backgrounds, with families and personal interests and complete names. Meanwhile, the mufti-clad cast of the Batman mythos, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon and Aunt Harriet, were strictly functionary, with almost no fleshing-out, not even full names.)

 

Thus, it was left to the producers of the Batman TV programme to give her a complete identity as Mrs. Harriet Cooper, tossing in her status as a widow or divorcée for good measure.  It took the comics a little while to follow suit.  It wasn’t until “Mr. Freeze’s Chilling Deathtrap”, from Detective Comics # 373 (Mar., 1968), and not until the last panel, yet, that we learn the comic-book version is also Mrs. Cooper.

 

Interestingly enough, the comic-book Aunt Harriet received a last name well before the more familiar Alfred the butler did.  Alfred wasn’t bestowed with the surname “Pennyworth” until the story “Angel---or Devil?”, from Batman # 216 (Nov., 1969).

 

 

8.  We started with a famous first; let’s finish with a not-so-famous last:  what story marked the last Silver-Age appearance of Ace, the Bat-Hound?

 

I mentioned how Julius Schwartz gave the Batman mythos an extensive revamp in 1964.  One of those measures was to jettison all of the Bat-hangers-on that had attached to the star character like barnacles.  Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, Bat-Hound---all got the heave-ho.

 

But, apparently, Mort Weisinger never got that memo.   When Edmond Hamilton cranked out scripts for World’s Finest Comics, he drew elements from Batman’s old, pre-New Look history.  That led to Ace, the Bat-Hound getting a two-panel cameo in “The Feud Between Batman and Superman”, from World’s Finest Comics # 143.

 

Fraser Sherman nailed this one cold.

 

Interestingly, Mort also kept Batwoman and her civilian identity of Kathy Kane going until 1966, appearing in two stories about the sons of Superman and Batman, from WFC # 154 (Dec., 1965) and # 157 (May, 1966).  Frankly, that would have made for a much better question, except for the fact that those two tales were Imaginary Stories.

 

 

And that brings us to the question that inspired the most commentary:

 

2.  Who was the first villain in Batman’s rogues’ gallery to actually appear “on camera” in an issue of Justice League of America?

 

First, let’s get the correct response out of the way . . .  it’s the Penguin, from “Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island”, JLA # 40 (Nov., 1965).

 

I felt that this was the slyest question on the board.  Especially since all of the usual on-line resources have their information on this wrong.  There’s usually one poser in each of my quizzes that nobody gets right, and as I watched the comments post, I figured Question Number Two would be it, this time.

 

It turned interesting when Luke Blanchard provided the correct answer---and then got talked out of it!  Fortunately, Luke regrouped his thinking and persisted---and, what do you know, he was right all along. 

 

How is it that the Penguin was the correct Bat-villain, despite all the conventional “wisdom” insisting otherwise?  As Tony Dunst would say, let’s break it down.

 

The dispute centres on the story “The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny”, from JLA # 34 (Mar., 1965).  In this tale, long-time JLA foe and current penitentiary inmate Doctor Destiny has succeeded in building a working model of his materioptikon in his sub-conscious mind.  From his prison cell, Destiny seeks revenge against the Justice League.  His plot consists of the following steps:  with the materioptikon stored in his sub-conscious, he induces five Justice League members to have specific dreams---something we saw him do in his last attack on the JLA, in “The Super-Exiles of Earth”, from JLA # 19 (May, 1963).   In each of these generated dreams, a Justice League member faces a particular menace, but is handicapped by a specific talisman which impairs his super-powers. 

 

In their dreams, Superman squares off against a colossal statue of a Roman gladiator in Italy, Wonder Woman and the Atom confront a pair of giant conch shells rising out of the Atlantic Ocean, and Hawkman and the Batman battle a couple of their arch-foes, Chac and the Joker, in Central America.

 

Dr. Destiny “eavesdrops” on the Leaguers’ dreams, to observe how they defeat their dream foes, despite the obstacles.  Once Destiny has learnt that information, he pits the now-awake super-heroes against the same opponents, re-creating the circumstances here in the physical world.  Only Destiny has informed the menaces of the tactics that their respective Justice Leaguers will employ to beat them, enabling the villainous forces to anticipate and thwart those tactics.  Thus outwitted, the heroes will fall.

 

The part of this plot which the authors of the indices seem to miss is the execution (in both senses of the word) phase.  In order for his plan to work, Dr. Destiny has to generate the same circumstances in real life as the Justice Leaguers faced in their dreams.  He can’t just sit around and hope that there really are a living stone colossus and two sentient conchs that happen to be in the right locations, or that the real Chac and Joker will show up in Central America.  (Nor does the story establish that Destiny was in contact with either of those villains, something which the detail-oriented Gardner Fox would have indicated.)

 

To guarantee that the JLA members’ dreams are re-created exactly, Destiny uses his materioptikon to transform their dream-foes into physical reality.  We had already seen that the materioptikon could do this in “The Super-Exiles of Earth”, when Destiny materialised into the real world an evil version of the Justice League from the dreams he induced in the super-heroes.  Destiny’s thoughts on page 17, panel 2, reveal that is exactly what he did to create physical versions of the Joker and Chac and the other menaces, as well as the five talismans that handicapped the JLAers in their dreams.

 

Thus, the real-life Joker never appeared in JLA # 34, and, as Luke pointed out, the Killer Moth that appeared in issue # 35 was only a magical doppelgänger of the real item.  That brings us to JLA # 40, in which the Batman tangles with Captain Cold---and the Penguin.

 

You three guys all get a share of the glory.  Philip, for knocking out most of the correct answers about as fast as the Flash could do it.  Fraser, for nailing the tough question about the Bat-Hound.  But I have to admit, this time I was most impressed by Luke.  He answered the trickiest one on the board, and he did it by reïnvestigating all of the relevant data he could find.  And I got a chuckle out of the fact that one piece of that pertinent data was the review I did of “The Deadly Dreams of Doctor Destiny” for the DC Archives Message Board Forum.  Several years ago, I was invited to contribute to that forum’s “Time Capsule” threads, which reëxamine the DC comics that came out in the given month fifty years ago.  For my part, I review each issue of Justice League of America on its golden-anniversary month.  And just this past January, JLA # 34 came due.

 

I’ve never mentioned my involvement there, so it didn’t occur to me that someone might use it as a resource.  When Luke found my write-up, I imagine that pretty much sealed the deal on his answer to Question Number Two.

 

 

 

So, well done to Philip and Fraser and Luke.  And my thanks to all of the other posters who contributed so much thoughtful  discussion to this quiz.  We’ll do it again next summer.

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My recollection is Batman was also seen without his oval in Detective Comics #350 in the flashback account of his first encounter with the Monarch of Menace, since the sequence is set early in his career.


Luke Blanchard said:

My recollection is Batman was also seen without his oval in Detective Comics #350 in the flashback account of his first encounter with the Monarch of Menace, since the sequence is set early in his career.

The Fogey was referring to the last time the original bat-insignia appeared in a contemporaneous story.  There were a few flashbacks which showed the Batman wearing his old-style emblem in the past.  As you mentioned, there was a two-panel flashback showing just that in World's Finest Comics # 141.  Another such look-back-at-the-past occurred in "The Case of the Abbreviated Batman", from Detective Comics # 360 (Feb., 1967).

Curiously enough, however, the instance you mentioned---"The Monarch of Menace", from Detective Comics # 350 (Apr., 1966)---did not depict an early Batman wearing his original insignia.  Even though, as you pointed out, a significant sequence in the tale consists of the Gotham Gangbuster's first encounter with the Monarch of Menace, which occurred at a time "before [he] met Robin." Batman wears the contemporary, yellow-ellipse bat-emblem all through the recollected events.  It was a major gaffe.

And sure enough, a couple of issues later, a fan called Julius Schwartz on it in the letter column. Schwartz answered respectfully, admitting that the fan was right; it had been an error that he, Schwartz, had failed to catch and the Batman should have been wearing his old insignia in that flashback.

A far cry from the kind of response a fan would get to-day, in which the editor will indignantly reply, "I can't know every little detail!  Besides, continuity doesn't matter, as long as it's a good story. Harrumph!  Harrumph!"

Commander Benson said:

Curiously enough, however, the instance you mentioned---"The Monarch of Menace", from Detective Comics # 350 (Apr., 1966)---did not depict an early Batman wearing his original insignia. Even though, as you pointed out, a significant sequence in the tale consists of the Gotham Gangbuster's first encounter with the Monarch of Menace, which occurred at a time "before [he] met Robin." Batman wears the contemporary, yellow-ellipse bat-emblem all through the recollected events. It was a major gaffe.

This made me think about when the New Look started. I don't recall any in-story mention of Batman changing his symbol. It was somewhat implied that it never changed, that it had always had the yellow background. Was there an in-story reference to the change that I have forgotten?


Richard Willis said:

 

This made me think about when the New Look started. I don't recall any in-story mention of Batman changing his symbol. It was somewhat implied that it never changed, that it had always had the yellow background. Was there an in-story reference to the change that I have forgotten?

Bronze-Age DC would have preferred you to think that the Earth-One Batman had always worn the yellow-ellipse bat-insignia.  That's what it tried to pull over the eyes of the fans when it insisted, in the Batman entry in its first Who's Who series, that the adventures of the Earth-One Batman began with Detective Comics # 327.  Of course, the Earth-One Batman's stories couldn't have begun with Detective Comics # 327, regardless of the issue with the bat-emblem on his chest (which only demonstrates how asleep at the switch DC personnel were in the early '80's).

Yet, back in the Silver Age, it did take DC over two years to make direct reference to the change in the bat-insignia, something that was curiously omitted in Detective Comics # 327.

In "Batman's Baffling Turnabout", from Batman # 183 (Aug., 1966), the Masked Manhunter is ambushed by a crook he put in prison five years before.  The crook has disguised himself as the Batman and, after leaving the real article behind to die in a death trap, he intends to fool Robin long enough to plant a bomb under the hood of the Batmobile, timed to blow the Boy Wonder into pieces-parts.

The scheme fails big-time.  Robin tumbles to the crook's imposture immediately---as the genuine Batman knew he would. The story climaxes with a knock-down drag-out between the impostor and the Caped Crusader, who (no surprise) managed to escape his intended doom.

The tip-off that spoiled the nefarious plot---which all long-time Bat-fans had already spotted---was that the crook disguised himself with a Batman costume displaying the old, oval-less chest insignia.  In the last panel, the Batman points to the phoney's chest emblem and tells Robin:

I knew you'd spot that old-time bat-insignia on his uniform!  Having spent the last five years in the big house---he didn't know about my "new look"!

That's the only story I know of which directly establishes that the Silver-Age Batman had changed his insignia.  Of course, it was implied in the occasional story flashback, such as the one that Luke and I mentioned, which took place before the New Look and depicted Batman wearing the oval-less emblem.

What was never specifically stated in any Silver-Age tale, though, is the in-fiction reason why the Gotham Gangbuster made the fashion change.

Hope this helps.

Now that you mention it, I do remember that plot point in that story. Thanks.

My memory betrayed me! Thanks.

Commander Benson said:


Richard Willis said:

 

This made me think about when the New Look started. I don't recall any in-story mention of Batman changing his symbol. It was somewhat implied that it never changed, that it had always had the yellow background. Was there an in-story reference to the change that I have forgotten?

Bronze-Age DC would have preferred you to think that the Earth-One Batman had always worn the yellow-ellipse bat-insignia.  That's what it tried to pull over the eyes of the fans when it insisted, in the Batman entry in its first Who's Who series, that the adventures of the Earth-One Batman began with Detective Comics # 327.  Of course, the Earth-One Batman's stories couldn't have begun with Detective Comics # 327, regardless of the issue with the bat-emblem on his chest (which only demonstrates how asleep at the switch DC personnel were in the early '80's).

The fact of an "oval-less" Batman appearing in the Justice League for more than four years in the early 1960s makes an absolute mockery of that position, if nothing else did!

Surely, they couldn't possibly be suggesting that those early JLA tales were not on Earth-One?
 

A whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, which is to say the whole can give the parts greater value. I suppose continuity matters because without it you get the reverse effect: the individual stories don't have any interest that comes from being part of a greater whole, and they don't benefit from the possibility continuity creates of building on previous ideas.

The problem with ignoring continuity is it's a form of rewriting continuity: readers keep having to learn the new rules. And when it's done by fiat declarations about older stories - "from now on the rule will be that Black Canary was the founding woman in the JLA" - they can't learn them by reading stories.

Of course most readers have to learn continuity about older stories by declaration. When I read my first comic (JLA 30) I had no idea the JLA had secret identities as they weren't mentioned--I assumed they just sat around in their costumes 24/7 and lived at the Secret Sanctuary.

For me, the real problems came post-Infinite Crisis when even even the declarations weren't clear--Wonder Woman was a founding member again, but was she the only female member? I never could figure it out.


Luke Blanchard said:

A whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, which is to say the whole can give the parts greater value. I suppose continuity matters because without it you get the reverse effect: the individual stories don't have any interest that comes from being part of a greater whole, and they don't benefit from the possibility continuity creates of building on previous ideas.

The problem with ignoring continuity is it's a form of rewriting continuity: readers keep having to learn the new rules. And when it's done by fiat declarations about older stories - "from now on the rule will be that Black Canary was the founding woman in the JLA" - they can't learn them by reading stories.

These ideas of junking continuity seem to come from the place that "if we lose two readers and gain four we'll be better off." Except it doesn't seem to work out that way since essentially all of the sales are to the same audience. These are the people who are close enough to and seek out comic book stores.

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