Saturday, October 31, 2009

Out of the Vault- Batman/Superman Halloween Special

Okay, since I missed the Vault a couple of times this month, this here will be a special Halloween double-feature with the two biggest heroes in comics history--Batman and Superman--squaring off against scary monsters.

First up, a spooky two-parter from 1939, originally published in Detective Comics #31, reprinted in the Batman Super Spectacular in February 1973. The story has no actual title beyond Batman, interestingly enough. Gardner Fox is credited with the story. If you're familiar with Batman, you know that no one except Bob Kane received credit on any Batman story for the first twenty years of his existence. But the credit was added to the story in the reprint.

The story opens with this bit of narrative description:

The Batman--weird menace to all crime--at last meets an opponent worthy of his mettle. A strange creature, cowled like a monk, but possessing the powers of a Satan! A man whose powers are uncanny, whose brain is the product of years of intense study and seclusion!

No idea if that last sentence refers to the Batman or to the Monk. And that level of clarity will hold true throughout the story, sadly.

Batman rescues a man from a strange woman claiming to have been sent by the Master Monk. Batman pulls the guy up onto a telephone pole to keep him safe and says, "Remain until I give you leave to go."

Then he goes down to discover that the woman is his own fiancee, Julie Madison (Julie was his recurring love interest in those early pre-Robin days)! She awakes as if from a dream, and Batman takes her home (the guy up on the phone pole is forgotten and never heard from again--he may still be up there).

The next day, Bruce Wayne takes Julie to her doctor, who gets a strange intense look in his eye as he recommends Julie take an ocean voyage for her health "to Paris..and perhaps later, to Hungary-the land of history and werewolves." Ominous. Bruce buys Julie a ticket on a Lunar Lines steamship, but doesn't offer to go along.

Instead the Batman goes to his secret hangar (the Batcave not having been invented yet, but you'll have to read Movie Monday for that story) where he unveils two new weapons for use in his fight against crime--the Batgyro (precursor to the Batplane) and the Batarang!

Bruce jumps in the Batgyro and chases after Julie's ship, causing widespread panic among the people of Gotham as he flies overhead.

He looks like he's enjoying the panic below, doesn't he? Robin may have had the name, but Batman was the real dick.

Batman pays Julie a visit on the deck of the ocean liner, but the Monk suddenly appears and tries to hypnotize him. So Batman throws his Batarang at the Monk's head, breaking his concentration, and Batman leaps for the ladder to the Batgyro and gets away.

In Paris, Batman terrorizes the populace, searching for Julie, until he stumbles upon her bedroom one night. As he enters, though, he is attacked by a gorilla! Leaping out of the ape's way, Batman falls through a secret door into a net hanging over a huge dungeon! The Monk gloats and pulls a lever, lowering Batman into a pit of poison snakes!

Batarang to the rescue! Batman throws the Batarang, which not only turns off the lever, but also breaks the glass light fixture before returning to the Batman's hand. The Batman also catches a piece of falling glass. The Monk flips the switch again and Batman continues his descent, but is able to use the glass to cut through the ropes and escape the snakes.

Batman chases the Monk, but a cage drops over him and the gorilla is lowered into it by a rope. Batman, who 33 years later would kill a great white shark with his bare hands, bravely runs away.

He races to the waiting Batgyro and follows a car speeding "towards Hungary." He manages to stop the car and save Julie, the car's only occupant. "Poor kid!" says Batman.

In part 2, published in Detective #32, Batman is in Hungary and a stops a horse-drawn carriage which contains a female passenger named Dala. He takes her to his hotel and leaves her in Julie's room for the night. Later in the night, Dala exits the room, seemingly in a trance, with blood on her lips. Then she knocks Batman senseless and runs away.

Batman discovers Julie with bite marks on her neck, then chases through the woods after Dala. Batman catches her and accuses her of being an accomplice of the Monk, as well as a vampire. Dala offers to help Batman catch the Monk, but only if he promises to kill the mad hypnotist. "I'll be the judge of that," Batman says.

He takes off with Dala in the Batgyro toward the Lost Mountains of Cathala, but suddenly, a silver net drags the Batgyro down! The Monk appears, and Batman is hypnotized. Help! The Monk decides to take Batman back to his castle and toss him into the werewolf den (and what is it with the Monk's lack of imagination? Snake pit, ape cage, werewolf den: is there an animal he won't use for a death trap?) Dala insists that Julie witness the execution as well, so the Monk hynotically summons her, and we get a flash of nightgown cheesecake.

The Monk transforms into a wolf and summons a pack of seemingly normal wolves, then throws Batman into a pit with them. But as he's falling, the trance is broken and Batman can act freely once again. He gasses the wolves with a pellet from his utility belt, then tries to escape by lassoing something above the pit. He fails until he ties the rope to the batarang, which allows him to climb out easily. The Monk, having inexplicably decided not to watch the execution, is sleeping off the daylight in his coffin. So Batman melts down a silver statue into bullets and...

Well, that was a little anti-climactic. And you know, we never did find out what was up with that guy at the very beginning, or why some vampire in Hungary would be so obsessed with some random American chick anyway. Wow, Golden Age comics made absolutely no sense at all. Let's see if Superman's monster battle goes any better.

"Meet the Metropolis Monster" was published in Action Comics #415 in August 1972, written by Cary Bates and drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. The story opens with a strange green-skinned man climbing up the side of the WGBS building, where Clark Kent is preparing for his nightly newscast.

The monster enters through the window and attacks Clark, ripping open his shirt to reveal his Superman costume and slamming him down onto his desk. So Superman responds in an appropriately heroic way: he kicks the monster out the window.

Fortunately, neither monster nor bystanders are hurt, and the monster takes off. Superman lets him go, so as not to cause greater destruction in a super-battle. Soon the monster is the subject of headlines, as well as visual comparisons to a certain famous movie monster with green skin and a flat head. The monster is spotted later with a blonde hostage. When Superman hunts for the monster, he finds instead a man in a futuristic jumpsuit who claims to be the scientist who created the monster. He's dying of a mysterious disease, and implores Superman to revive him after he is dead, so that he may stop his creation. Then he dies.

So Superman takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where he builds a Kryptonian Revitalizer and, with much zapping, reanimates the corpse! When the hell did Superman learn to do that? Suddenly the monster bursts in and calls Superman a gullible idiot (that's not actually what he says, but he should). It can talk!

The monster is actually from another dimension, "the last survivor of a dying race of giants..." He discovers the chemical secret of life and decides to try it out by making a couple of people, a man and a woman. But because they apparently have neither the Twilight Zone nor ABC Afterschool Specials in his dimension...

Didn't anyone ever pull him aside and tell him such self-loathing is unbecoming of such an advanced race?

Anyway, it turns out the "scientist" Superman revived is actually one of the synthetic beings the alien created. And he's infected with the Protoplasmic Plague, a side-effect of the cell-creating chemical the alien used to make him. He sloughs off millions of giant cells a second, which all respond to his mental commands. Superman tries to stop him...

In the end, Superman wins easily by burying the humanoid under snow that he then freezes solid with his freeze breath. The alien scientist then takes off through the dimensional window with his blonde babe to make a new boyfriend for her before he dies.

So in the end, there was a real monster, even scarier than the seven-foot-tall, green-skinned red herring that created him. But I must say, that was anticlimactic as well. I mean, a monster story that turns into a science-fiction story about aliens! How Halloweeny is that?

Well, stay tuned, and I hope I have an answer for you later.

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