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Detective Comics 327
"The Mystery of the Menacing Mask"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND May 1964
Story: John Broome
Art: Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella
Editor: Juluis Schwartz

"It was a strange power that top crook Frank Fenton wielded over Batman and Robin! No sooner would the pair come within sight of this startling criminal than they'd ben rendered completely helpless--unable to make a move against him!" And so...300 issues after a moody loner began his mission of intimidation against urban lowlifes, only to dead-end with a smothering supporting cast and frequent threats from space aliens...the New Look era began.

Gotham City itself takes immediate center stage as Bruce and Dick wander through a rundown area called Gotham Village (think Greenwich Village). We see street musicians, street litter, sidewalk cafes, and a bearded painter in front of an easel. There's politics afoot, though: the Anti-Crime Commission wants to raze it all, calling it a refuge for crooks who use its winding streets and alleys to evade the police. An opposing voice is the Committee to Preserve Gotham Village, which argues that the housing stock is essential, and that the area is colorful and historical. Dick finds the area fascinating. Bruce agrees, which is why he serves as Vice-Chair of the Preservation committee, though concerned that criminality is indeed a problem there. "If only the criminal element could be DRIVEN OUT, those who want to raze Gotham Village might change their mind--eh?" He's interrupted by a shout of "You--you're Bruce Wayne--and I HATE YOU!"

Bruce's accuser is a young woman, Linda Greene. Tearfully, she tells him that he's wrong, that the "awful place" should be destroyed! At a cafe table, she tells him that while she and her fiance Jimmy Packer had lived there all their lives, she wants to move uptown, but he wants to stay put. They've argued about it, and it's making her afraid. Lately, he'd take her home after a date and when she'd call him an hour later, there'd be no answer! "What does he do in the middle of the night? Where does he go? I can't help fearing that he's mixed up somehow with the criminal element that infests Gotham Village!" She then produces an area map he'd dropped at her place the other day, and Bruce notices an area marked with an "X"! He and Dick then share a meaningful look as they recall a strange recent incident in their lives as Batman and Robin.

They had followed a mysterious gem thief to his penthouse apartment. Batman circled around back so they could trap him between. But, as Robin entered the front, he heard an explosion from where he expected Batman to be! Robin ran to his partner, who rose, face in hand. The kid then yelled, "Batman, your mask! Quick--take it off!" Doing so, Bruce saw a glowing circled "X" on the forhead of the mask! Looking up, he saw that a similar mark had appeared on Robin's forehead, then faded away after a few seconds. Meanwhile, their quarry had made a run for it, gloating that his explosion knocked Batman out just long enough for him to be branded...and for Robin, too! "From now on, neither of them will be able to make a move against me!"

Next morning in the Batcave, Bruce determined that the mask now carried (Selegue alert!) a faint trace of a "little known isotope of phosphorus," which can be purchased locally only at the Rare Chemical Company. He put on a spare mask and they went to check it out. The clerk there identifed the only recent client, Frank Fenton, and gave an address. On the way there, Robin said it seemed too easy, that a crook would not have given his proper name and address; Batman replied that, if it's a false lead, they'd soon know. The address was legit, they found, and Fenton was listed on a mailbox in the lobby.

When Batman kicked in the door, Fenton laughed as he greeted them. He told them he'd been stalling until they arrived, and would now leave for his perfect hideaway. An incriminating pile of gems and jewelry sat on a table in plain sight, and the duo lunged for him, only to stop dead in their tracks! While they expressed surprise that they couldn't move a muscle, a smirking Fenton calmly packed his loot piece by piece. "From now on, whenever you try to stop me, you'll freeze--unable to make a move against me!" As he calmly put on his jacket and hat, he assured them that the paralysis would wear off in a few minutes.

Later, in the Batcave, they talked it over and agreed that Fenton's power over them had something to do with the mysterious "X's." "Yes, in fact," Bruce said, "I'm beginning to see how we may be able to defeat him next time we meet! It's a risky business--but when has that ever stopped us?" Their daring plan is soon underway, with Bruce rubbing the forehead of his cowl, and Dick making a similar gesture against his own forehead. The duo now needed to find Fenton, and fast! The felon spoke of his "perfect hideaway," and police reports had increasingly mentioned that crooks were finding a mysterious refuge somewhere in Gotham Village. He and Dick, as Bruce and Dick, then headed there straightaway, with an eye out for clues. (Holy Scooby Gang, Batman!) So, back to the present, as Bruce muses to himself at a possible connection between the circled X's on the map and those on their foreheads. Suddenly, Linda blurts, "Oh, there goes Jimmy now! He doesn't see us! I'll call to him--!" Jimmy looks absent-minded as he wanders by.

Interlude: an anti-taunting psa titled "Names DO Hurt" is interesting only because it's drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. He didn't seem to have been informed that a New Look was in progress, a situation that was rectified the following month.

PART 2! Standing now, Bruce urges her to go home instead and wait until she hears from them, while he and Dick try to help in their own way. She trusts him now that she's met him, and does as he asks. In a nearby shadowy area, the duo rapidly change into costume, the better to trail Jimmy Packer. (In those outfits, in broad daylight?!) He leads them to an area marked on the map, there to enter a house. Through a window, they see that the place appears unoccupied, and that Jimmy is making for a back door. They follow him in, but find that the door opens to a closet! However, Batman's "gimlet eye" notices finger marks on the dusty shelf, and as he tilts it backward, the rear wall swings back to reveal a descending stairway. Batman warns that this could be the mysterious escape route, and Robin wonders if this means that Jimmy IS a criminal after all.

The stairs end at a chamber deep underground. The main, high-ceilinged cavern has an office setup on an area rug placed almost sarcastically over the rough stone floor. We also see couches (occupied) and standing lamps...plus a ceiling fixture! Sitting at the desk, Smiler tells Fenton that it will cost him 50% of his take to hide there, just like everyone else. To the side are various caverns; one is a clubroom with pool tables and a tv (how's the reception down there?!), another shows gangster movies (presumably lacking their final reels), and then there's a travel bureau/hot passport shop. Fenton, though impressed by the setup, feels he should get a reduced rate since he can serve as insurance against attacks by Batman and Robin! Smiler balks, but just then a sentry rushes in to announce that B & R have made their entrance by knocking out two of the guards! Smiler calls out to spread the alarm, but Fenton tells him, "You ain't got a thing to worry about! Just let me handle this--!"

Moments later, the two crusaders burst into the cavern, but Robin, in the lead, is stopped in mid-lunge, his forehead glowing as if taking the brunt: "UHH! His queer power over us is working again, Batman! I--I'm losing the ability to move--! (And so, in this subtle throwaway dialogue, first time players Schwartz & Broome shift the "queer" intimation away from our Dynamic Duo and over to this clever criminal! A masterstroke!) Fenton muses, "Ha, ha! What a lock I've got on these two! My gimmick never fails!" Batman's forehead then glows as he warns, "Back up, Robin! Get out of range--!" Too late: they now stand at attention, immobile. Fenton gloats, "So you figured out my power over you only works at a short distance, Batman? But your mistake was retreating into this corner! I'll really paralyze you now!"

Soon, the duo is shown as prize exhibits to the admiring denizens of Sub-Gotham Village! Fenton smugly repeats his request for special treatment, and Smiler looks on in amazement. Batman whispers to Robin that this Smiler seems to be the big gun they've been hoping to reach. Smiler takes charge now and tells his boys to take no chances: MOW 'EM DOWN! But, Batman and Robin suddenly break pose and slam the nearest thugs! Robin then swings from that ceiling fixture and kicks a guy in the puss, while the guy next to him, caught up in the excitement of the moment, falls as well; Batman feints a football-style flying tackle against Smiler and two pals, then sends 'em flying as he switches to a baseball-style slide into home plate! The first to regain his feet is Batman, who grabs for a nearby gun, and orders the nine dazed crooks to their feet. He thinks, "Fenton's the only one that hasn't tried to use a gun! But that fits with his character--he's just NOT a killer--or he would have finished off Robin and me the first time he had us in his power!" Well, except that we didn't see a gun in his room.

The police arrive soon after. One cop is taking a good look at Smiler, but Batman notices something about the guy...and pulls a mask from his face! Why, it's Roland Meacham, chairman of the Preservation Committee! "The double-dealer," tsks the cop, "he was trying to 'save' Gotham Village--only to prevent his underground set-up here from being discovered!"

Batman then addresses Fenton. The duo had deduced that he'd planted the marks on their foreheads with a beam of radioactive phorphorus. This invisible imprint then reacted to an energy signal from a device in his pocket, freezing the motor areas of their brains when they came within about ten feet of him! They outwitted him with a lead lining inside Batman's mask, and a similar flesh-colored lead lining over Robin's forehead! As the police sweep the caverns, they come across Jimmy Packer, who was being held prisoner by the gang. Out of love for the old Village, he was making his own search of the area, looking to uncover the crook set-up so as to inform the police and thereby save the place!

Shortly, after "expert medical treatment" has erased the radiation imprints from our heroes' foreheads Bruce and Dick return to the area and witness Linda and Jimmy in an embrace. She's relieved that he's a right joe after all, and will live with him anywhere. Our guys complete the moment by smirking that wedding bells will soon follow, and then showing them the day's headline, that the Anti-Crime Commission has dropped its fight to rebuild the place. The end!

House ad: covers for that month's Batman (#164) and World's Finest (#142), both reflecting the New Look.

The letter column featured a nod to the new approach with brief credits to the new creative team, as was usual for Schwartz' books. It was remarkable here as it shot down the rule that Bob Kane get blanket credit. Then this, four paragraphs down: "Invigorated by our 'new look' policy, Bob Kane--Batman's originator--has fashioned an extraordinary art job for "Gotham Gang Line-Up," inspired by the swell script of Bill Finger, who has written most of the classic Batman adventures of the past two decades." Well, two-and-a-half decades, actually, eh? Then, there's that interesting choice of words: "fashioned" rather than "drawn." A sly hint that Shelly Moldoff, the next issue's artist, was still officially employed as a 'ghost,' though now working in a less brassy style.

The shock of this New Look can't be understated. We Bat-Fans had been lured back month after month by Shelly Moldoff in the new issues, as well as by Dick Sprang et al. in the Annuals...but this! Infantino's breezy neo-futurism was a predictable attraction on Flash and Adam Strange, but his assignment to Batman was as unexpected a change as John Romita would be to Spider-Man. Both these talentend gents took a classic look and managed to redefine it for a new era, while taking nothing away from those who came before.

Carmine had a bit of fun with Bruce and Dick: they wear matching topcoats as they stroll amid Gotham Village's hipsters and sidewalk cafes. The only contact they had with the outside world in earlier times was at charity galas,where they looked like everyone else while wearing tailcoats. Linda Greene, in her tweed jacket and white gloves, also looks like a tourist from an earlier decade. One of the storefront banners reads, "Expresso (sic) Cafe Bongo House." This must be where Scott Summers and Warren Worthington took their dates.

The head of the Anti-Crime Committee has the pasty look of a professional lobbyist with a touch of lower-level wiseguy; the Preservation guy could easily be taken for a cappucino sipper with his mustache and slightly overlong white hair. I feel so manipulated.

The Batcave does have some desk lamps among the cabinets and examination tables, but we also see the Duo sitting in easy chairs while illuminated by huge candles on end tables! The gallery of souvenirs and giant computers must have been mothballed in deference to the new presentation style.

Young Bruce Wayne's obsessiveness with criminology and physical culture must have been nearly maniacal if he'd never been to Gotham Village. Any normal person of high school or college age would have been drawn there instinctively.

Even in their subterranean hideout, these crooks are a natty bunch. Smiler never doffs his hat. For the others: ties, vests and suit jackets abound.

This may be the first time Batman has used a gun since a very early (pre-Robin) story that appeared in Batman Archives, vol. 1.

Lettering: Gaspar Saladino. Ahh. When Julie Schwartz takes center stage, he brings his backup band!

Tom Orzechowski
San Francisco CA