Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tales From the Vault: DETECTIVE COMICS #348

It's almost the weekend and that means just one thing: it's time for another juicy, random back issue. What better way to kick things off, after all, than with a relaxing jaunt through comics history? Up for consideration today: Detective Comics #348, which came out just a few short weeks before the Batman TV show hit the air and became a massive pop sensation. So what was the series like before camp took over? Let's find out...


Details: The story is titled "Birdmaster of BEDLAM!" and has a cover date of February, 1966. There aren't any credits, but Bob Kane's signature appears on the splash page. Not in a "created by" credit, but just his signature. The chances of this actually being Bob Kane art are about zilch, as he had a studio of schleps working under him by this point; he was, however, a big enough name to push the writer credit entirely out of the book, so there’s no mention of who wrote this story. Stay classy, Bob Kane.

Synopsis: Right off the bat (no pun intended, of course), a blurb on the splash page explains the plot of the story. In your face, decompression. Seems Birdmaster is a guy who collects all manner of rare flying animals, and so he needs Batman and Robin to finish his collection because of their codenames. Well, why not. Makes as much sense as The Collector did.

Our story really starts, though, in an airport, where the new Miss USA is kissing Bruce Wayne goodbye with the comment that the best part of winning the title is "a date with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson". Uh, that sounds like a really awkward date. Robin is watching them embrace with the comment "Wish I were old enough to rate a blast-off like that!" which... okay, I'm not going to rehash all the old Batman and Robin gay jokes, but really, they are totally asking for it with stuff like this.

Then she does end up giving Robin a peck on the cheek and he responds with this:

"Yeoww! All systems are go! Go! GO!"

Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. Maybe Bob Kane can, but nobody else could.

Anyway, the chick, Mona, takes off (in a plane, not in a metaphor), but suddenly her plane crashes. Batman and Robin rush to the scene and put out the fire with their capes -- that's pretty good work -- but discover they are too late: Mona is dead. Wow, I have to say I didn't expect that. Batman and Robin investigate, and the pilot says that the plane was attacked by a flock of birds. This is backed up by maydays suddenly coming in from all the planes in the air, which are also being attacked by birds.

The FAA immediately grounds all planes, but Batman hops in his jet and he and Robin take off to try and lure the Birdmaster out of hiding. Of course, they get attacked, to which Robin responds by saying "Seems like he's trying to give us the bird!" Er... did the Code people even read this comic?

Anyway, the birds attack the Batplane, and Batman blasts a bunch of them with rockets, but a flock of "medic birds" swoop in and carry the injured ones to safety. Heck, even birds have universal health care! C'mon, Congress!

Batman and Robin just can't shake the birds, though, so they set the Batplane to autopilot and bail out. This temporarily throws the birds off the trail, but when the duo lands, they find themselves face to face with a group of men wearing bird costumes. Yes, henchmen of... THE BIRDMASTER! A fight ensues, but then, well.... let's let Batman explain:

"Look out, Robin! They've got NOSE-GUNS! They're shooting knockout gas at us!"

Yes, the bird people all snort toxic gas in unison and take out the dynamic duo, because they apparently work for Cheech and Chong. Then a bunch of birds swoop down with a giant net and cart them off to a giant cliffside citadel. Once there, they are deposited in a cage, captives of... BIRDMASTER! Birdmaster turns out to be a bearded goof wearing a turban, and he has his condors and vultures attack Batman and Robin for sport.

Cleverly, though, there's no top to the cage, so the duo just climb over the side and clobber all the henchmen. Fearing for his life, Birdmaster flees. He jumps in a plane and take off, and of course, his birds, trained to wreck any plane they see, smash into it and he dies in a fiery crash. Yes, it’s the rare double-dumbass oversight combo by the villain. And you were wondering why he never caught on.


Next up is the backup story, an Elongated Man tale called "My Wife, the Witch!". Ralph and Sue are tooling around on vacation or something and they come to an inn. The innkeeper doesn't have their reservations, though, so the only room he has available is the haunted Room 13. They take it and have no troubles, but the next morning, while Ralph is getting his car looked at, Sue finds a tome of spells. Most of the spells are missing, but she tries a couple and they work.

Of course, she just has to call the garage and tell Ralph to buy a bunch of witchcraft supplies so she can try some more spells. Now, that doesn't seem like a great idea, but they are adventurers I guess. Truns out the town they are in is a town famous for witchcraft; yes, they are in the town of "Malem". I can't think of any reason why they didn't just call it Salem, but whatever.

While he's buying the goods, some thieves show up with pistols to rob the place. Ralph fights them, and he's apparently famous enough that they recognize him right away; even the good folks in far off Malem have heard of the Elongated Man.

Anyway, during the fight, one of them drops his weapon to surrender, but the gun is rigged to explode with gas when it hits the floor. Obviously. However, E-Man stretches his nose out the window to get fresh air, I kid you not, and defeats them all.

Back at the inn, Ralph shows up with the goodies and suddenly smells a mystery. He deduces that the ringleader of the gang purposely left out the book of spells so that Ralph would go to the local witch museum to buy supplies. He then sent his men there to get captured so he could keep all the loot himself. Why do these people always come up with the most convoluted plots imaginable? You’d think that Gardner Fox was writing th… oh.

Sure enough, E-Man is correct: that was the big plan. The ringleader is the innkeeper, and he rigged up the room so that Sue would think her spells were working. However, Ralph jumps him before he can make his getaway. Once again, the guy has a special gas gun, this time with a gas that blinds Ralph. Ralph, however, stretches himself so that his arms and legs cover the whole room, so that if the guy moves at all, Ralph will feel it and grab him. And... yep, it works.


Extras: There’s not a lot going on outside the main stories (or inside them either), but it seems that the readers also were getting a little tired of the Bob Kane figurehead act, as several of them have written in to ask who wrote different issues; editorial responds by teasing them and asking them to guess who wrote the Birdmaster story. But you can’t fool us, DC; we know Kane would hobble anyone who dared reveal the truth.

My Grades: BIRDMASTER! gets a C- for being awful; a B+ for actually having the unexpected nuts to kill that chick at the beginning (sorry, Gail Simone!); and an A+ for slipping subtext past the censors. The Elongated Man story gets a B- for having Elongated Man in it, which is almost always a guarantee of coma-inducing boredom.

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