Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trouble Nearby? Shine the Signal in the Sky

Ah, the mysterious, looming Bat-Signal. What a fascination it held for readers.
Batman’s flashy-cool accoutrements — Batmobile, Batplane, Whirly Bats, the Batcave with its massive weird trophies, the ever-so-useful utility belt and especially the Bat-Signal — formed a serious part of his long-term appeal, I think.
Introduced in Detective Comics 60 (Feb. 1942), the Bat-Signal had, of course, been inspired by the Phantom Detective pulp magazine of the 1930s in which a red beacon atop a newspaper skyscraper was used to summon the crime-fighting Phantom. Batman editors Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger had edited that magazine, and were well aware of the gimmick.
My only real disappointment with Batman’s sales-boosting “New Look” in 1964 was the addition of a telephone “Hot Line” to Commissioner Gordon. I thought that undercut the importance of my beloved Bat-Signal.
When the TV show debuted as an instant hit in January 1966, I was pleased to see the producers had been smart enough to include both the Batphone and the Bat-Signal.
Here, in Batman 135 (Oct. 1960), we have one of those rare stories in which the Bat-Signal plays a central role. Criminals summon a super-powered sky creature to battle Batman and Robin using a sorcerer’s lantern as a sort of evil Bat-Signal.
The issue includes one of my favorite sub-series, Alfred’s fictional adventures of the second Batman and Robin team. Dick Grayson has become Batman II, and Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane’s son has become an earnest, ginger-haired Robin whose inexperience drives the plot.
In the third story, gambling-ring gangster “Wheels” Foster becomes the Wheel, one of those costumed obsessives who were always being inspired by Batman’s own costumed obsessiveness concerning bats. Like the sorcerer’s lantern, this satisfied the readers’ well-established taste for mirror-image reversal themes.

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