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DETECTIVE COMICS 234
"Batman and Robin's Greatest Mystery!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND August 1956; DC Comics; Jack Schiff, editor (Whitney Ellsworth on the indicia); featuring "Batman and Robin's Greatest Mystery!" What mystery is that? "In this issue Batman and Robin solve the mystery of their own secret identities!" On the cover, Batman and Robin are struck by a strange ray and babble, "Who-- who are we? What are we doing here in these strange costumes?" as the sinister figure firing the ray from a nearby window gloats, "It worked! My sonic projector gave Batman and Robin amnesia!"

I don't know the writer or artist of "Batman and Robin's Greatest Mystery!"... the "Bob Kane" art is a bit more crude than usual and doesn't really look like regular Bat-ghost Sheldon Moldoff, let alone Dick Sprang. On the splash page, Commissioner Gordon shows our heroes photos of their past exploits, but the snapshots fail to jog their memories; "A great danger threatens Gotham City, but we can't remember what it is-- or who we are!" As Alfred the butler prepares to serve dinner to Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the meal is interrupted by the Bat-Signal, sending the pair off as Batman and Robin to investigate a robbery of scientific equipment from the Gotham Research Foundation. "Only a robber with a scientific background could safely break into this dangerous electrical equipment!", Batman declares, guessing that the culprit is "Jay Caird, the scientist who was jailed for espionage". One of the stolen items is an "ultra-sonic projector which can STUN animals (and people) into unconsciousness", and as Batman and Robin track the crooks to their lair, they discover that the gang plans to use the beam to blanket crime scenes and knock out all potential witnesses. Our heroes crash through a window into the hideout to stop the crooks' plan, but Caird the criminal scientist targets Batman and Robin with the sonic projector and then the gang flees, taking the projector along. When Commissioner Gordon and his cops arrive on the scene, Batman not only cannot remember what the gang's criminal scheme was, he and Robin can't even remember who they are!

The suggestion is made to take Batman and Robin home so that they will recognize their surroundings, but nobody, including them, knows where their home is. Meeting with Commissioner Gordon, Batman and Robin ask him to tell them who they really are, but he explains that though they have helped him for years, even he does not know their true identities. Nor does it help when they take their masks off in private, for they don't recognize their own faces. The only hope to foil the criminal plot that threatens Gotham is for them to use their detective abilities to ferret out their own identities. Studying old newspaper files, they learn that they have performed some spectacular feats-- defeating a giant "crime-robot", rescuing people from a burning tower, and tracking down an undersea criminal hideout in the Batmarine-- but find no clues to their identities. Batman asks Gordon if he left any clue when he first offered to help the police as Batman, and the Commissioner describes their first meeting ...it seems that Gordon was working late in his office one night and "looked upward in amazement" as a cloaked figure appeared. "That queer costume-- that mask! Who are you?" "My real name, no one will ever know! But you can call me -- BATMAN!" And I want to help the police in their work! I've trained myself thoroughly, and want to help enforce the law!" Instead of calling for the men in the white coats with the butterfly nets, Gordon merely advised, "I appreciate your spirit-- but police work isn't for amateurs!" Batman proved his worth by solving a robbery at the "Museum of Time", deducing that the crook was hiding inside the only stopped clock in the place, and then swinging on a giant pendulum to capture him. Explaining his motivation, Batman told Commissioner Gordon, "I've suffered from crime and I WANT to fight it!"-- and so, in the present, Batman gets his first clue, that he is a man who was hurt by crime. (This would all be a lot simpler if Batman would just unmask for Gordon, who would recognize his friend Bruce Wayne, but even as an amnesiac he's apparently too paranoid about his identity to do that.)

Studying more of their past exploits, Batman and Robin read of an early case in which Batman skillfully piloted the Batplane to catch an out of control biplane-- leading our heroes to conclude that Batman must be a trained pilot with an aviator's license. They read of yet another case in which they fought crooks inside a machine shop, and the owner willingly wrecked his whole plant in order to save the crimefighters from danger. Batman and Robin seek out the owner Melden, thinking he may have helped them because he knew them, but he has no clue to their identity-- except that Batman paid for the whole $90,000 loss from his own personal fortune. This reveals that Batman is a rich man. Robin observes this is a surprise, since Batman has calluses on his hand, which suggest he is a "workingman of some kind". This gives Batman an idea, and he tries out various manual activities to find out which one would produce those kinds of calluses. Swinging a polo mallet, he realizes that it would create the right kind of callus, and deduces that he is a polo player. Robin, again, adds another seemingly obvious clue; "You must have a son or younger brother-- me!" Searching through sporting records of Gotham polo players, they find one name that fits all the clues; "His father was a victim of crime, he's rich, a flier, and a polo player!" That name, of course, belongs to Bruce Wayne, and Batman and Robin rush to stately Wayne Manor, the mere sight of which reawakens their memories not only of their true identities-- "You're not my son or brother, but my ward!"-- but of the criminal plot to knock a city block unconscious, which is just about to be carried out. Fearing massive casualties as drivers stunned by the sonic beam crash into each other, Batman and Robin hurry to the scene and deduce that the beam projector is hidden inside a large van on the street. Swooping down, they capture Caird and his gang before he can activate the beam projector; "You got OFF the beam and you'll be put back on it-- in prison!" The inventor of the sonic beam urges Batman himself to take it for safekeeping, and he and Robin install it among the trophies in the Batcave; "A trophy of our strangest mystery-- the mystery of our own identities!" "And we can thank our stars that WE are the only ones who ever solved that mystery!"

Also in the issue, Roy Raymond, TV Detective, solves the secret of "The Man Who Hid His Powers!", drawn by the series' regular artist Ruben Moreira. On the splash panel, the man in question is so annoyed by Roy's brand of ambush journalism that he takes off flying from an upper story window. After covering the launch of a new U.S. Army "bug-jet", Roy and assistant Karen are startled to observe a man whose body glows in the dark. But when they ask him what is the cause, he claims he was just smeared with some fluorescent paint-- which Roy doesn't believe, since the "paint' doesn't rub off when they shake hands. Then they spot the same man escape unharmed when a falling safe bounces off his head-- but again, the man claims nothing unusual, insisting that the safe missed his head and hit a nearby post ... a post which, however, is undamaged by the heavy safe. Roy is convinced that the man is hiding some kind of paranormal powers--a suspicion that is confirmed when they see him flying through the air. Confronting the mystery man, Roy declares, "I think I know what this is all about! WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM, MISTER?" Caught at last, the man confesses that he is a stranded traveler from the planet Mars, in need of radium to recharge the batteries of his downed spaceship. Roy offers to help obtain radium from the nearby army hospital. On the way, the Martian explains that "we have powers to change ourselves at will-- or speak the languages spoken on all the planets!" But on arriving at the "spaceship", the "Martian" boasts of how he has fooled the famous and brilliant Roy Raymond. On the contrary, Roy says, he has known for some time that the appearance of the "Martian" is a swindle to rob valuable radium from the army. The swindler knew that if he simply claimed to be a Martian, Roy would never believe him, but if he tried to "hide" his supposed extraterrestrial powers, it would make his story seem more convincing. And Roy believed him at first, but realized the truth when the "Martian" did his "flying" act, but left no footprints in the earth where he landed. The "flying man" was really an air-filled dummy. Roy then figured out how the fluorescent glowing and the falling safe were tricks perpetrated with the help of fellow gang members. But why did Roy help the gang steal radium? He didn't-- the box of "radium" actually contains a radio signal device which leads soldiers to the scene to arrest the gang.

If Roy wanted to meet a real, flying, shape-changing Martian, he would only have needed to hang around a few more pages for the last story in the issue, featuring John Jones, Manhunter from Mars-- "The Carnival of Doom!", drawn by Joe Certa. Though he was normally reticent in these early stories, J'onn J'onzz showed himself on the splash panel to a gang of crooks riding the "Tunnel of Thrills" ride, causing them to exclaim, "Help! Call the police! Call the army! It's a Martian invasion!" "No, it's only ONE Martian-- traveling so swiftly I look like a whole platoon!" Police Chief Harding's nephew Willy (who resembles Howdy Doody and is described as "quite a handful") is visiting for the week, and detective John Jones volunteers for one of his most harrowing missions-- taking Willy to the Wonderland amusement park. A gang of three hoods also visiting the park recognize Jones, crack detective of the Middletown police force, and resolve to get rid of him before he can expose their crime scheme at the carnival. One of the crooks sabotages the track of a "mechanical horse" ride Jones and Willy are riding, but Jones momentarily assumes his invisible Martian identity and spins at super-speed to generate heat and weld together the severed track. Next, Jones and Willy are sent on an "unscheduled flight" as the cable holding a whirling plane ride is cut ...Jones allows himself to plunge from the miniature plane only to change identities again and use his Martian super-breath to waft the plane with Willy in it safely to the ground. The credulous kid concludes that "a strong wind caught the plane and let me down easy", and also buys Jones' explanation that "I was lucky! Something slowed down my fall, too!" Then Jones hears a shout that the park safe has been looted, and realizes why someone is so eager to get him out of the way. He pursues the crooks who are making their getaway through the park's "Tunnel of Thrills" ride, but his chase is impeded when Willy insists on going on the ride with him. The crooks topple a giant cartoon statue to try to crush Jones, but he uses his hand as a "super-propeller" to speed the boat past the falling statue. Then the Martian Manhunter makes a rare personal appearance to the crooks, causing them to forget their escape plan and flee into the arms of the police babbling of a "Martian invasion". The cops assume they saw nothing but part of the ride's thrill show, and when Willy insists that he too saw "strange creatures", Jones reassures him, "You were probably a little confused by all the thrilling effects in there!"