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Batman 151
"Batman's New Secret Identity!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND Nov. 1962; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications); Jack Schiff, editor; featuring "a sensational 2-part adventure", "Batman's New Secret Identity!" I don't know the writer and artist with any certainty, though I'm guessing the art is probably by regular "Bob Kane" ghost Sheldon Moldoff and inker Charles Paris.

On the cover, Batman and Robin, unmasked as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, are surrounded by reporters as a poster on a newspaper truck blares, "EXTRA! Batman Exposed As Bruce Wayne!" One of the newshounds asks, "Now that your identity is known, is this the end of your career as BATMAN?" "No, but it's the end of BRUCE WAYNE's career!"

On the splash page, a couple of kids are sitting in a school dormitory room, and one of them holds up a newspaper with a headline "Batman In Action Again!" and enthuses, "Gosh, isn't it terrific? But he's operating alone now....I wonder what happened to Robin?" His companion, a depressed-looking blond kid, thinks, "If I could only tell him that I'M ROBIN, disguised as Ted Grey!"

As our story begins, dinner at Wayne Manor is interrupted by the Bat-Signal, and Batman and Robin rush out in the Batmobile to discover a school bus about to collide with a runaway car. (Surely a sudden traffic accident is not what the Bat-Signal was lit for?) To save the kids on the bus, Batman rams the Batmobile into the car, but in the collision he and Robin are thrown clear of the Batmobile, and his cowl is knocked off his head, revealing the face of Bruce Wayne to a suddenly gathering crowd. Though neither crimefighter is hurt badly, their secret identities are mortally wounded. As per the cover, Batman declares to reporters "the end of Bruce Wayne's career", and Bruce Wayne tells his business associates that rather than have himself and everyone associated with him live under constant police surveillance for fear of "gangland reprisals", he is going to "sell all my holdings and CLEAR OUT!" One goodbye is particularly painful, as Kathy Kane (aka Batwoman) asks, "Oh, Bruce-- now that I find out you're not just a playboy, you're going away again?" "It has to be that way, Kathy *sigh* I'll never see you again as Bruce Wayne!" And yet another separation is in store; as Batman prepares to create a new secret identity for himself, he reflects that "since everybody will be on the alert for a man and a boy together, Robin and I will have to split up!" In due course, the Caped Crusader adopts the identity of mustached taxi driver Bret Wilson, while the towheaded Ted Grey is shuffled off to boys' school Wickham Hall.

In his new guise, "this cab-driving set-up gives me freedom to move around and function as Batman!" and the cab itself is set up to morph into the Batmobile at the touch of a button. Spotting a truck hijacking goods from a freight car, Bret/Batman pursues in the Batmobile and, when he is cut off by a moving train, uses a crane to vault over the train and capture the crooks. After completing this mission, Bret returns to his new secret headquarters-- a gas station, manned by a disguised Alfred. Batman's exploit makes the news, but at boarding school Ted Grey feels no elation; "Guess I'm not hiding my feelings very well....still, I wonder when I'll be able to work with Batman again...."

Ted's frustration only increases when a televised tour of the Gotham Foundry plant turns into another Batman feat, as he foils a holdup at the payroll office-- this time with the aid of Batwoman. She declares on TV, "I think we make an ideal team, don't you Batman?, and the two actually kiss on screen, leading "Ted" to conclude, "Well*choke* he's got Batwoman now to take my place! *Sigh* I guess that ends the team of Batman and Robin! I only hope she proves as good a partner for him as *choke* I was!"

Following a house ad for THE ATOM #3 and the "Letters to the Batcave" page, Part 2 picks up as the team of Batman and Batwoman catch more crooks and Batwoman saves Batman's life by pushing him out of the way of a falling load of lumber. As "Ted Grey" stews in frustration, "Bret Wilson" uses his cabdriver guise to snare Tim Neal, a member of the hijacking ring. But as Neal and other gang members ride in the cab and "Bret" listens for clues, bad luck strikes; highway construction near "Wilson"'s garage accidentally exposes the newly built Batcave, and eager reporters flash to the city not only Batman's new secret identity but Robin's identity as "Ted Grey". As the news comes over "Bret's" cab radio, the gangsters realize they are riding with Batman, and they hold a gun on him and order him to drive to their farm hideout. Meanwhile, "Ted" has been holding back in school athletic competition to avoid endangering his new identity-- but when the other students get the news of who he really is, he salves his pride by making a school-record broad jump and then flees, discarding the "Ted Grey" identity. He rejoins Alfred and Batwoman, who have been unable to locate Batman since the exposure of his secret.

Arriving at the hijackers' hideout, Batman is forced to expose his true face as Bruce Wayne, but not content with this, the gang's bald, pudgy ringleader (he looks like a cross betwen Lex Luthor and Marvel's later Kingpin) forces Batman to change into full costume in order to "enjoy the pleasure to the full" of killing him. But before he can carry out "the little ceremony of finishing off Batman", Robin and Batwoman-- whom Batman has somehow alerted to his location-- arrive on the scene. As Robin leaps off Batwoman's motorcycle to attack some of the thugs, Batwoman uses the hijackers' truck to block the entrance to a barn and trap the rest of the gang. (Doesn't the barn have another door?) Robin is about to be shot in the back when Batman-- who has escaped from being tied up by using a dropped cigar to burn his ropes-- tackles and subdues the gang leader. However, though they have won a victory, Batman and Robin still face the reality that their old and new secret identities have both been exposed. Or do they? Back in familar Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson walk in on Alfred who is typing and muttering to himself. It seems that would-be author Alfred has taken a break from his series of "Batman and Robin II" stories to write an equally fictional tale of what would happen if his masters' secret identities were one day exposed. "How did we make out, Alfred?" "Not so good! You'll have to start all over again looking for new identities!" Not quite "And then they woke up and it was all a dream", but close....

The second Batman story in the issue, "The Mystery Gadget From the Stars!", is a "real" Batman adventure, but with the air of sci-fi unreality tht marked many Silver Age Schiff-edited Batman stories. The splash page shows Batman and Robin confronted by a giant, mutated rabbit and porcupine. "One day, at a site selected by fate to be the cradle of weird events," herb collector Ed Manos comes across an odd red box; "This strange gadget must have been buried in the ground for centuries! Wonder what would happen if I pressed this button?" He just has to find out, and the box emits a beam which strikes a nearby cliffside and causes an underground stream to flow out of the rock. Startled, Manos drops the box and flees. Meanwhile, in Gotham City, Batman and Robin are chasing the wily "Harris boys" who use tear gas to evade them. Before our heroes can find their trail again, the Bat-Signal appears and they are summoned to Waltons Glen, where Ed Manos tells his story as the spurting stream threatens to cause an avalanche upon nearby houses. Batman creates a series of pipes to divert the stream and then searches for the lost mystery gadget. He doesn't find it, but he does find a stalk of wheat with gigantic kernels. Batman concludes that what the gadget does is to speed up the natural development of any object; it caused the hidden stream that otherwise would have remained underground for eons to burst forth, and made the stalk of wheat evolve to a far future form. Where is the box, and what will it do next? Batman warns that if used in Gotham City, the box could cause presently harmless geological flaws in the bedrock under the city to crumble to the point of causing an earthquake. (So that's what caused that "No Man's Land" earthquake....)

Having been picked up by a retriever dog (!), the gadget is taken by the dog's owner into Gotham, where he encounters a stingy store owner chasing away a group of kids asking for a charitable contribution for a clubhouse. The storekeeper throws a hunk of coal at the kids, but the gadget turns the coal into a diamond, making the kids grateful. Their joy is short-lived, though, as a thug, "Little Pete", with mustache and dark glasses, swipes both the diamond and the gadget. Arriving on the scene, Batman and Robin chase Pete in the Batmobile into a forest wildlife preserve, which just happens to be the hideout of the Harris boys. As Pete trips and drogs the box, it transforms three animals, a rabbit, porcupine and lamb, into giant mutated futuristic versions of themselves. The porcupine threatens Batman and Robin by hurling quills, but they use the quills stuck in the ground as pole vaults to get out of the way, and then form the quills into a makeshift cage. Seizing the gadget and finding a "reverse" button on the bottom of the box, Batman turns the animals back to normal and rounds up the Harris boys and Pete. Batman reflects that the gadget which had such potential for harm has instead done good; the stream it created will create valuable irrigation for farms, and it helped inspire the stingy storekeeper to reform and make a real contribution to the needy kids. Nonetheless, Batman concludes that the gadget (we never really find out where it came from) is too dangerous to keep around, and he smashes it with a sledgehammer.

I decided to review this comic because I was looking at another comic of the period, saw a house ad for the issue, and was intrigued enough by the cover to pull out my copy of the issue. However, I'm afraid the issue is mainly a sample of why early Silver Age Batman was in dire need of a "New Look" (which it would get in another couple of years). The premise of the lead story-- how would Batman and Robin cope with losing their secret identities?-- was intriguing enough, but the it-was-just-Alfred's-story cheat ending was hardly satisfying. (Maybe Schiff should just have gone with a Weisinger-style "Imaginary Tale".) And the "Mystery Gadget" tale was disjointed enough to be a Robert Kanigher Wonder Woman tale.