Detective Comics #363 (May 1967)
"The True-False Face of Batman!"
Gardner Fox-Carmine Infantino/Sidney Green
Doug: Saturday, the 7th of June was a day of anticipation -- the fine folks at Amazon.com told me that was the day the postal service would deliver my pre-ordered copy of Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino. And what a beautiful book it is -- well worth the wait. I'm one among you who have maligned Carmine's Bronze Age work, particularly at Marvel on some Avengers one-shots and on the second half of the Nova run. However, I've always admired his Silver Age work and was looking forward to having a decent stock of Batman stories. At 520 pages and a 31% discount off the $50 MSRP, I say "mission accomplished"! And speaking of the huge page count, you'll notice that today's scans are blurred on the edges. Sorry -- huge book + pretty tight spine = below-standard scans!
Doug: In past Open Forums, we've asked our readers about their trading coups and dismal defeats. I've remarked in those discussions of my 1989 flea market acquisition of a longbox of Batman comics -- Batman, Detective Comics, Brave and the Bold. Lots of boss stuff -- 'tec #400, B&B #59 (the first Batman team-up), and a whole lot of other cool issues. It's all been sold by now, but it was neat to leaf through the Infantino book and see some "old friends" again. The story I'm reviewing today wasn't one of them, but I chose it anyway. I wanted a Batgirl story, but didn't want to go with her origin; one of the follow-ups, "Batgirl's Costume Cut-Ups" (Detective Comics #371 -- one that I did have at one time) has only the cover included in the Infantino collection, and I'd forgotten that Gil Kane did the interiors. So this issue is the one I chose for a closer look. Shall we?
Doug: Detective Comics #363 is the second appearance of Batgirl. From that bastion of historical knowledge and truthfulness, Wikipedia (hyperlinks preserved):
Her creation came about as a joint project between DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz and the producers of the 1960s Batman television series. In order to boost ratings for the third season of Batman, the producers requested a new female character be introduced into publication that could be adapted into the television series. At Schwartz's direction, Barbara Gordon debuted in Detective Comics #359 titled, "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" (1967) by writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino. Depicted as the daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon, her civilian identity is given a doctorate in library science and she is employed as head of Gotham City Public Library, as well as later being elected to the United States Congress. As Batgirl, the character operates primarily in Gotham City, allying herself with Batman and the original Robin Dick Grayson, as well as other prominent heroes in the DC Universe.In her origin appearance, Batgirl coyly responds to Batman's request for her identity, "...I'll exchange mine for yours!" So we continue her career four months after her debut. It's all-out action right from the start, as we are dropped into a burglary at the Amerindian Museum in Gotham City. Batgirl is roughing up a couple of toughs who were intent on stealing some gold artifacts. Batgirl thinks to herself that the clues she'd tracked added up -- she had guessed right on the location of this particular crime. It's a classic group of baddies, some with jackets and khakis, others with suits and hats -- Carmine gives us a mash-up of criminal get-ups from the '40s through the '60s! Batgirl isn't really tested, even when one of the hoods levels a gun on her. As two crooks argue whether or not to shoot her, with a gun firing into the floor in the scuffle, she reaches into her bag of goodies and pulls a "laser-strafer" -- apparently it's a pocket version of Cyclops's eyebeams. The bad guys are on their heels when one of them musters enough balance and energy to grab Batgirl from behind and places a tracer on top of her cowl. As he tightens his grip in an effort to make her tell how she knew about their potential heist, the Dynamic Duo arrive.
Doug: Once Batman and Robin arrive, Carmine uses the next several panels to choreograph a fight scene torn right off your television. Again, glancing through the Infantino hardcover it is so obvious how his "new look" Batman really came to life on the small screen. Some of the mannerisms of the Bat-stable of characters became the movements of Adam West, Burt Ward, et al. As the fight ends (and one of the burglars gets away), Batgirl asks her would-be partners how they knew to come to the museum. Batman says that when the gun had gone off the Batmobile's sensors picked up on it and directed them to the site. Batman returns a question to Batgirl -- how did she know the burglary would take place? Batgirl won't divulge her sources. I don't think at this point Batman was frustrated, but he does immediately come up with a ploy: he steps outside to call Commissioner Gordon on the Batphone housed in the Batmobile, and then returns to tell Batgirl that they are taking her to the Batcave!
Doug: On the ride to the backside of Wayne Manor, Gardner Fox gets us inside the head of Barbara Gordon so we can see just how she figured out the location of the museum heist. In her position as head librarian of the Gotham City Public Library, Barbara was privy to peculiar check-out patterns (talk about attention to detail!). A couple of days earlier she noticed that the same man had checked out a book that had to do with gold -- and there was a robbery of gold that night. A pattern formed, one that involved not only the man in front of her, but an accomplice as well, who would later check out the same books. Barbara knew something was up, so played a hunch and ended up at the Amerindian Museum and foiled the theft of some Inca gold. We get a virtual duplicate of a scene played out in Batgirl's first appearance -- that of how her normal clothes become her costume. It's a bit of a stretch, but I imagine it would have been fun for both boys and girls reading these comics 47 years ago.
Doug: At the Batcave, the Dynamic Trio emerge from the Batmobile. Before Batgirl's blindfold is removed, Batman begins to take off his mask. Robin is incredulous, as you might imagine -- he knows nothing of this plot. And how he contained himself when the cowl and the blindfold came off -- and Batgirl gazed on the face of... Bruce Wayne! But she immediately tells herself that he's lying. "Bruce" had some waxy residue on his face, and his hair looked freshly dyed. Nope -- this was some guy made up to look like Bruce Wayne in an attempt to throw her off. And no way she was going to trade her identity now! He asks, but she tells him it would be too easy for her to just tell. Nope -- he will need to use his detective skills to figure out who she really is. You can see Batman's explanation for this charade in a page sample towards the end of this review. Sketchy at best, at least to me. So it's back under the blindfold and back into the Batmobile. But once inside, Batman gives Robin the signal to be silent. Now the Boy Wonder is thoroughly baffled. But while they ride, the Dark Knight plucks the transmitter from Batgirl's cowl -- the one secretly planted (on the top of her head, no less) by one of the goons at the museum. Robin, an able detective in his own right, quickly deduces the who/what/where of the situation.
Doug: A short while later, the Caped Crusader and his youthful ward make their way through the woods to a cabin. Still not speaking aloud, we are let into Robin's thoughts: the heroes have come here to corral the bad guys, who will soon arrive, thinking that they will be corralling Batgirl. Ah, the trouble one little tracer can cause! Batman enters the cabin and seats himself low in a chair, facing the fireplace. Sure enough -- three thugs enter the building and attempt to sneak attack Batgirl. Only that ain't Batgirl in the chair, brochachos! In a fairly violent maneuver, Batman hurls his two attackers headlong into the brick fireplace. They'll get out of that with severe concussions, minimum. The third man was their ringleader, Paul Crowell, he of the checked out library books. Robin takes out Crowell moments before Crowell could get a shot off at Batman's back. With all three men down for the count, Batman moves to exit the building in order to raise Gordon on the Batphone. But little does he know that there are other men lurking just outside -- with machine guns trained on that door!
Doug: Of course we all would have assumed that Batgirl would not stay out of this as Batman had requested. And it's a good thing she followed, as she is able to swing through the two gunmen and ruin their attempt at murder. Now with five bad guys out of commission, and the Commissioner alerted, the Batman heads back inside to do his own interrogation of Crowell. Paul Crowell has no shame -- he's gonna spill it all in hopes of getting off easy. I've included the last two full pages of this story and exhibited them below -- you can see for yourself Crowell's explanation. And as you read that material, be awed at Gardner Fox's script. Holy disquisition, Batman! Bendis would have used at least six issues to handle the two pages below! And this thought occurs to me -- no wonder it took 20 minutes to read a comic book up until the last decade. There is some tender loving care put into the plot of this story, from beginning to middle to the very wordy (yet well-crafted) ending.
Doug: As I've commented during reviews of many of our DC subjects, it was not often that the reader got a full 21-22 page tale of the book's main character. In this era Ralph Dibny was holding serve in the back of Detective Comics, so our story above was only a 15-pager. But man -- as I just said, the creative team crammed a ton of action (and explanation) into this yarn. I found it very satisfying, and I'll admit to being a sucker for Batgirl stories. This was an interesting Batman: confident, smart, no one's stooge, rough-and-tumble, yet reserved, caring, and not at all dark. There was only a little bit of camp here and there, so I wouldn't say this version of the character was derived from the television show. It's there -- shoot, look at the top two panels on the page just above at right. Tell me that's not straight off the telly! So this was a wonderful slice of that Bat-era, landing somewhere between the Rainbow Batman in the high Silver Age and the O'Neil/Adams redo in the Bronze Age. Oh -- and how about Barbara Gordon channeling Leia Organa?