The following review is, at least technically, doubly off-topic for the Silver Age Comics Review list, since it not only is not a review of a comic book, but the item being reviewed dates back to the Golden Age of comics (and superheroes) rather than the Silver Age Nonetheless, I recently had the chance to appreciate this item and thought a review might be of interest here. Specifically, I'm reviewing "Batman's Great Mystery," a serial storyline which was broadcast on the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN radio show from Feb. 3 through Feb. 17, 1948. The voice of Superman/Clark Kent is provided by Bud Collyer, while Batman/Bruce Wayne is played by Gary Merrill (later a movie and TV actor) and Ronald Liss played Robin/Dick Grayson. I heard the episode on a CD recording, part of a package published by Radio Spirits Inc. and titled MASKED MARVELS in addition to the 11-episode Superman serial, the package includes episodes of radio's Shadow, Lone Ranger, Green Lama (that's Lama, not Lantern) Green Hornet, and the Scarlet Cloak (who?)
Like many fans, I was aware that Superman and Batman first teamed up on Supes' 1940's radio show years before they joined forces in the comics (in SUPERMAN #76, 1952, and then in the ongoing WORLD'S FINEST team-up series starting in '54). However, I had never until now actually heard any of the SUPERMAN radio episodes in which Batman and Robin appear (is "appear" the right word for a purely audio medium)? This is not Batman's first guest star stint on the radio show (in which, it is reported, Batman and Robin searched for a missing Superman for weeks in order to give Bud Collyer some time off. Here, the roles are reversed, as Superman helps search for a missing Batman.
In Chapter 1, Clark Kent gets a frantic call for help from Dick Grayson, whom Clark knows is secretly Robin, "friend" of the famous Batman". (There's something very peculiar about this, but I'll get to that later.) It seems that Bruce Wayne disappeared one night from his stately mansion, after having a mysterious conference with a "Mr. Jones" and then warning Dick Grayson that if he, Bruce/Batman, does not return within a week, "You may never see me again!" It's now been twelve days. Is Batman gone forever? Dick and Clark search the Wayne home for clues, and finally find a wire recording (early precursor of tape recording). of Bruce's interview with "Mr. Jones," who insists that Bruce accompany him on a vital errand. Bruce Wayne at first refused, but then "Jones" revealed that he knew Bruce's secret identity as Batman, and if Bruce did not cooperate with "Jones'" plans, he would reveal the secret to the world!
Though they now know why Bruce left so suddenly, Dick Grayson and Clark Kent are no closer to finding where Batman is now. Until, that is, they get a call from Police Inspector Henderson. Batman has issued a public announcement that he will appear in full view of all-- at a mass political meeting. (Interestingly, there is no mention in the show of Gotham City or of Commissioner Gordon. On Earth-Radio-Superman, it seems, Superman and Batman both operate in Metropolis.) Clark and Dick attend the meeting and see Batman appear on stage to issue a ringing denunciation of the then-pending Marshall Plan for financial aid to war-scarred Europe. America should keep its resources for itself and let Europe stew in its own juice, Batman says. Both Clark and Dick are utterly shocked, because they know that Bruce Wayne actually supported the Marshall Plan, and in fact, regarded opposition to it as being "selfish, bigoted and un-American". It is as if Batman suddenly came out in public and endorsed the Ku Klux Klan.
(Histories of the SUPERMAN radio show note that, in addition to being entertainment for the kiddies, it carred a distinct political mesage. Often cited is a storyline, from around this same late 40's time period, in which Superman endorsed racial equality and battled the Ku Klux Klan, identifed by name rather than in some fictionalized verison such as "Sons of the Serpent". The KKK storyline even used authentic Klan jargon and slogans, obtained from an informant in the group, for its bad guys. Now I'm certainly not going to object to Superman taking on the Klan. But the politics here in this "Batman's Mystery" story are a little more disturbing. You can certainly argue, especially in historical hindsight, that opposition to Marshall Plan foreign aid was short-sighted. But to insist-- over and over again, as this show does-- that *only* evil "un-American" bigots could possibly question the aid program-- to take a current political issue of the time and cast it in stark comic-book Good Guy vs. Bad Guy terms-- was a bit over the top. You could almost call it "un-American" itself.)
Anyway, Dick Grayson and Clark Kent confront Batman after the speech, suggesting that he is only making such a loathsome speech under pressure from "Jones" who knows his secret identity, and offering their help in extricating himself from the trap. But Batman insists he has truly changed his political views, and when Dick Grayson tries to talk to Batman alone, Batman calls Dick a "brat" and hits him, injuring him.
Clark Kent decides that the only way to solve this mystery is to learn the true identity of the pseudonymous "Mr. Jones", and to this end he arranges to have the wire recording of "Mr. Jones'" voice (editing out the parts referring to Batman and his secret) broadcast all over Metropolis and nationwide, hoping that someone will recognize the vaguely familar voice of "Jones". (While working on this project, Clark confers with Perry White-- who at this point is not the current editor of the Daily Planet, but Mayor of Metropolis! Apparently Perry getting elected mayor was an earlier storyline in the radio show.) Meanwhile, the recuperating Dick Grayson is deligted to get a phone call from Batman, indicating that his strange actions have all been part of a secret plan, and that he, Batman, wants Robin to assist him by meeting him at a hotel room in a bad part of town. Dick joyously rushes off in his Robin guise, but when he gets to the room, Batman is not there-- but a couple of thugs are. Robin has been lured into a trap. He is knocked unconscious, and shortly does find himself reunited with Batman-- the *real* Batman, for the "Batman" who made the "bigoted" speeches and hit Robin was a clever and skilled impostor. Now Batman and Robin are both prisoners of the mysterious "Mr. Jones", who is keeping them alive for his own purposes while his fake Batman goes about propagandizing for isolatinoism.
While Batman and Robin make several unsuccessful attempts to escape, Clark Kent continues his efforts to find someone who recognizes the recorded voice of "Mr. Jones". He also assumes his Superman guise briefly when he learns that Batman has shown up at a Metropolis bank to withdraw all his vast wealth. (Normally it's Bruce Wayne who is the rich half of the double identity, but in Radioland, it seems Batman has a fortune in the bank *as Batman*, and is able to show up, mask and all, and collect it! Though, of course, it is really the Batman impostor, and he has Batman's secret deposit codes because "Jones" forced the real Batman to reveal it by threatening Robin's life. Alas, Superman arrives just too late to catch "Batman".)
Finally, Clark locates a man-- a crusty old farmer-- who recognizes the voice of "Jones". It seems that "Jones" is really a local rabble-rouser who once made an unsuccessful pitch for the farmer to join his isolationist group. There is a lot of business about the farmer insisting on a guaranteed reward before he will reveal what he knows, and then Superman whisking the farmer back to his cluttered house to find the discarded letter that shows "Jones'" real name and the address of his group. It takes two or three episodes for Superman to finally find the needed info. In the meantime, Batman and Robin have gotten loose from their bonds and, though unarmed, have managed to bluff "Jones" and his goons into believng that they have a gun and will shoot anyone who comes after them. "Jones" however has a clever idea-- he no longer needs them alive, so he will burn the farmhouse down around them! Or maybe not so clever, when "Jones" asks his confederate, the fake Batman, if he brought the satchel of Batman's money with him out of the farmhouse. "What? I thought *you* brought it!" Thinking all their ill-gotten gains are about to go up in smoke, the evil duo rush back into the farmhouse to recover the loot, only to be caught by a collapsing roof. Superman arrives on the scene just in time to save the real Batman and Robin from a flaming doom, but it is too late for the two chief bad guys.
As Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson relax and compare notes at the Wayne home afterwards, Dick comments ruefully that it looks like he and Bruce will have to go out and get regular jobs to finance their crime-fighting, since all their money is burned up. Not so, Clark reassures him; actually, one of the other gang members brought the satchel of stolen loot out of the burning house, and "Jones" and the impostor died for nothing. The episode ends with a bit of humorous byplay between Clark, Bruce and Dick which indicates the really peculiar thing I referred to at the start of the review. Apparently, in Radioland, though Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne each know the other's secret identity, Dick Grayson *does not* know that Clark Kent is Superman! This was not made clear in the episode till now, but I guess he's too young and callow to be trusted with this secret (well, considering that he couldn't tell a guy in a fake Batman costume was an impostor, maybe this Dick *isn't* too quick on the uptake.) But then...why would Batman tell Robin to appeal for help, in an extreme crisis, to Clark Kent, who as far as Robin knows is nothing more than an obscure, mild-mannered newspaper reporter?
Another peculiarity-- Bruce Wayne/Batman seems quite unperturbed about the fact that the late unlamented "Jones' found out his secret identity. OK, Jones is dead now, but how does Batman know he didn't leave the secret to somebody else? Or that there might be a clue out there somewhere that "Jones" found and someone else could also find?
I said that was the end of the episode, but it's not quite-- in a lead-in to the next storyline, Clark Kent returns to the Daily Planet and receives an urgent message from an old buddy, a tough private eye with the curiously feminine nickname of "Candy". This call, we are told, will lead Clark and his mighty alter ego directly into their next exciting adventure, known as "The Kingdom Under the Sea"! (Sounds like a good spot for a guest appearance by Aquaman, but AFAIK Batman was the only other DC hero to turn up on the radio show. Anyway, Aquaman talking under water would probably be really hard to understand on the radio. So, since I don't have a recording of that episode, I will bring this review to a close...