Readers of James Robinson’s epic run on ‘Starman’ may recall an arc exploring the mystery of the Starman of 1951, who turned out to be a familiar face. One might be surprised to find out that he was NOT an original creation, and that the original face under that mask was even more familiar… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Detective Comics #247 awaits!
DETECTIVE COMICS #247
Writer: Bill Finger/Jack Miller
Penciler: Sheldon Moldoff (signed as Bob Kane)/Ruben Moreira/Joe Certa
Inker: Charles Paris/Ruben Moreira/Joe Certa
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth (credited), Jack Schiff (actual)
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $400.00
Previously in Detective Comics: As you know, Batman originated at the dawn of the Golden Age as a dark vigilante of the night, but by the end of the 1940s he was a very different character. Officially deputized as an officer of the Gotham City PD, his smiling face and square jaw were as much ‘truth, justice and the American way’ as Superman’s own. The addition of Robin as a pre-teen wonder gave Batman’s adventures a paternal air, and by the 1950s his world was a colorful parade of goofy goobers with funny names, not yet entirely consumed by personality disorders and phobias. As with any DC comic of the era, the trick of the trade was to hook readers with a compelling mystery on the cover to get ’em to part with their 10 cents, and this issue’s cover (by Curt Swan, no less!) does that in spades. Why would Batman burn his iconic cowl? And WHO is this mysterious new hero patrolling the streets of Gotham?
With his arsenal of star-shaped and/or themed weaponry, Starman makes short work of one of the endless bands of ne’er-do-wells walking the streets of Gotham, and does so while matching better with Robin than Batman ever did. But, who is it under the rooster-crested crimson mask?
Oh, c’mon, you guys all know where this is going!
What could have made Bruce Wayne give up his life as a Bat, given his stance vis-a-vis superstitious and cowardly lots? After all, he’s been at this since 1939, something terrible must have occurred to make him change up the game now.
Enter Professor Milo, one of several lunatic mad scientists in Batman’s coterie of villainy.
Like so many comics of the age, there’s a grain of actual scientific accuracy to be had here, but it pretty much ends at the definition of “phobia”. Professor Milo’s secret plan goes off without a hitch, and the Caped Crusader is none the wiser as Milo’s plan goes into motion…
As an aside, the artist of this issue, Sheldon Moldoff (one of DC’s long-time workhorses, who had been drawing Batman under Bob Kane’s signature since ’53) draws one of the most interesting and imposing Bat-cowls ever, as seen in that first panel. The first time I ever saw his work was also the first time I really wanted to read a Batman story. (The alternate identity of Batwoman seen in the ‘Batman: The Brave And The Bold’ cartoon was named for him as a tribute.)
Aaaaanywaaay, Batman’s phobia of all things Chiroptera was somewhat soothed by ripping off his distinctive chest symbol, but when he goes into action again…
…his weaponry betrays him. Batman becomes afraid of even his own shadow and it’s resemblance to a bat, forcing him to create his new identity and weaponry in order to continue his heroic career. Still, working alongside Robin, using all of the same skills and moves as Batman, it’s only a matter of time before villains put two and two together and start using the bat-phobia against Starman.
Thankfully, as Ashley Robinson will tell you, Robin is the greatest superhero of all time, and takes the initiative…
Star-Bat wails his way through demonstrations of his bat-cape, the bat-signal, batmobile and more, and to be honest, that thing is a two-and-a-half-ton Detroit monstrosity with a razor-sharp bat-head for a prow, we should all be afraid of it. Still, as night falls on Gotham, Professor Milo’s goons find themselves facing Starman once more…
Has Robin’s amateur psychological prowess failed them?
Perhaps it’s just me, but “Punchinnaface Man” is equally intimidating to either Batman or Starman, especially since the force with which Milo is propelled backward makes Drago’s shot to Rocky’s heart look like butterfly kisses. It’s also a nice Golden Age-tyle twist to have Professor Milo end the issue with his own bat-phobia, reminding us that even though some stories have officially kicked off the Silver Age revolution, Batman doesn’t really catch up until about 1964 or so. This being an anthology comic, we round things out with a typically ridiculous adventure of Roy Raymond, TV Detective…
Now, I have a fear of bloodhounds. Thanks, DC!
Our issue wraps up with a very early appearance of J’onn J’onnz, still firmly locked into detective tales, albeit with the gimmick of having an invisible Martian alter-ego. It’s interesting to see these bits of early-installment weirdness, before J’onn was really even a superheroic figure, especially in the depiction of his Martian form…
Sadly, as someone who loved the story built off of this quickie tale, there’s not a whole lot more to Starman than just the gimmick, but there is a nice moment in the sun for Robin (the true hero of the piece) and a moment for Batman to overcome his emotional problems by sheer force of will. Given that the last three decades or so of Batman stories have been about him wholeheartedly embracing his emotional problems, though, you can clearly tell this one comes from an earlier time. (Too cynical? Sorry…) Detective Comics #247 is short, well-rounded, cute and snappy, like my high school crush, earning a solid 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. That Starman costume is pretty spiffy, too…