Friday, January 30, 2009

Single Issue Review: Batman #93

While working on the Dick Sprang tribute post yesterday, I noticed this August 1955 issue and thought it would be fun to review as it has three very different tales that have one marvelous thing in common. They were all drawn by Mr Sprang, making this one of only three all-Sprang issues published by DC in the Silver Age.

Early on, Sprang's style was so different from the other Batman artists (primarily Jerry Robinson) that it was quite common to see an all-Sprang issue followed by an all-Robinson. In fact, Sprang did every story in Batman #s 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 29, 30, 32, 40 and 46. After that there were only one or two Sprang stories per issue, so this one was a real treat.

What were the other two all-Sprang comics that DC published in the Silver Age? I'll let you folks ponder that for awhile and append my answer in a day or two. Update: The other two "wall-to-wall" Sprang issues published by DC were Superman #123 (a Supergirl tryout issue), and World's Finest #161 (a reprint 80-pager which has the distinction of having the most pages of any comic ever drawn by Sprang).

The issue starts with Journey to the Top of the World. A plane has crashed in the Himalayas. It jettisoned a cylinder carrying microfilm with the names of several major international criminals. Can Batman and Robin retrieve the cylinder before the crooks do?

This story is obviously inspired by the ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay two years earlier, and is heavily focused on mountaineering.

After being summoned to FBI headquarters by J. Edgar himself, Batman and Robin become part of a team already intending to ascend K-4, which is described by Robin nervously as "The world's most unclimbable peak! T-the place where the mystery snow creature of legend is supposed to live!"

That this will be a "Whodunnit" is pretty clear when we get this panel:

Plot problem, here. If Batman and Robin were given the assignment, isn't the FBI going to notice that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson did the job and make the obvious connection?

The story is filled with little bits of information about mountains and mountain climbing. We learn that a couloire is a steep gully on a mountain, and that a bergschrund is the crevasse at the head of a glacier.

Some of the climbers go off in pursuit of the "snow creature", leaving it to Dick and Bruce to pursue the summit, with a killer after them. Robin saves Batman's life on two occasions:

And in the end they retrieve the cylinder while the villain falls from a cliff and dies (leaving nobody to ask questions about how Batman and Robin were on the mountain).

Comments: An exciting story with a dramatic backdrop. As always, Sprang makes you feel like you are there.

The second story is very much off-beat, as you can pretty quickly gather from the splash:

Heheh. For some reason, Bruce was encountering a whole slew of relatives around this time: Aunt Agatha, Cousin Bruce N. Wayne, Great Uncle Silas Wayne, and in this story, Cousin Jane. Her husband is ill in the tropics and obviously she can't bring Junior so can she leave the baby with him, thanks, bye!

Well, no sooner said than Junior launches into a bawling jag. How can they shut him up? They're out of milk so they go in search of a milkman, but unfortunately he's made his final delivery for the day. And the stores are closed, so:

Batman milking a cow? Alfred suddenly the funny Alfred of the mid-1940s? And a secret identity crisis, all on one page? Wonderful, wonderful stuff!

Batman and Robin manage to defeat some crooks in a helicopter, but:

They manage to calm him down with a top, and in order to keep Alfred from resigning Bruce makes a deal:

Batman winds up the case alone and in the end, the secret identity crisis is averted by Dick's quick thinking:

This one is clearly played for grins and it delivers. As a change of pace from the usual Batman story it gets high marks, and Sprang's artwork is note-perfect. Check out the expressions on the faces of all the characters in that last set of panels.

The final story is The Caveman Batman. An archaeologist working for the Gotham Museum (where Bruce is a trustee), uncovers an ancient painting of cavemen running from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. But T-Rex died out well before the cavemen, so the painting is deemed a hoax and the archaeologist's reputation is ruined. Bruce and Dick decide to go back in time to the caveman era to find out the truth.

After changing into their costumes, they encounter a man dressed in a sabre-tooth tiger outfit, who discloses that he's fighting against the evil caveman Borr. Rog is the prehistoric equivalent of Batman! They give him some pointers:

Rog reveals that Borr has a T-Rex with which he terrorizes the villagers. It turns out that the dinosaur is frozen in a block of ice. In a desperate gamble to free Robin from Borr's clutches, Batman melts the ice with a fire, and the creature comes to life:

Thus proving that the discovered painting was legitimate. As added evidence, Bruce and Dick point the archaeologist to a companion drawing of the T-Rex frozen in the ice. And the story closes with a final mention of the significance of Tiger Man:

Note: This is the earliest appearance of Batman in Earth's chronology.

Overall this issue is terrific with superior art and stories. Although the Silver Age of Batman was not in general his finest hour, this was an exceptional comic.