Friday, November 11, 2011

Batman's Weird Transformations: Detective

This is another post that will take time to assemble, and any help my readers can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Batman has now been a character for some 72 years. During that time, he has gone through many phases, as different writers and editors have molded the character into something they felt would entertain their readers. Many times Batman has undergone weird transformations, especially during the period when Jack Schiff's name appeared as editor from about 1959. The purpose of this post is to identify and discuss all of Batman's transformations.

For starters, I will do the Detective issues, then follow with posts on the transformations taking place in World's Finest, and finally in Batman's own title. The first transformation I am aware of takes place in Detective #127:
Issue: Detective #127
Transformation: Batman and Robin are transformed into Pigmies (sic) by a mad scientist.
Affects: Both Batman and Robin
Status: Fake. The scientist created a giant room to make people think they had been shrunk, so they would pay him a fee to become normal-sized again.
Rating: Not rated; fake. Batman's next transformation takes place about a year later:
Issue: Detective #138
Transformation: Batman becomes invisible
Affects: Batman and the Joker
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman becomes invisible by drinking a serum to battle the Joker who has stolen an invisibility serum from a scientist and is using it to commit crimes.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. The concept of Batman changing to battle a crook who had undergone a similar transformation would become a staple of the Silver Age.

The concept of shrinking Batman and Robin apparently proved popular with readers and was dusted off for a return engagement:
Issue: Detective #148
Transformation: Batman and Robin shrunk.
Affects: Batman and Robin and several other characters
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman, Robin and several other characters are reduced greatly in size via a ray by Professor Zero who demands a ransom to restore them to their original size.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. While the story is entertaining, it has two major flaws. First, it is told via a flashback by Batman and Robin, revealing to the reader beforehand that they were returned to their normal size and had defeated Professor Zero. And second, the plot is a recycling of Detective #127.

One of the more obvious differences between Batman and the animals he's named after is that bats have wings. So a few issues later:
Issue: Detective #153.
Transformation: Batman gains wings.
Affects: Batman only
Status: Not a true transformation on two counts. First, the wings in question were mechanical, strapped onto Batman's back. And second, the bulk of the story turned out to be a dream sequence after Batman was knocked unconscious. In fact, Batman never used the wings, which turned out to be flimsy and not ready for primetime.
Rating: Not rated. The concept is cool, and I've always loved that splash page. The only negative is that it didn't actually happen.

The concept of role-reversal is always entertaining:
Issue: Detective #218
Transformation: Batman becomes ten years younger, while Robin becomes ten years older.
Affects: Batman and Robin
Status: True transformation. As indicated by the cover, the change is mental as well as physical, caused by two different canisters of gas which Batman and Robin recover at the end of the story so they can change back.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. I love this story and the transformation makes it cool.

Small Batman, how about an economy-sized Batman?
Issue: Detective #243.
Transformation: Batman becomes a giant.
Affects: Batman only
Status: Genuine transformation. A scientist creates maximizer and minimizer rays. Batman is accidentally hit with the former and grows to 30 feet tall, while a crook makes off with the latter.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. A classic story with art by Dick Sprang.

A couple of years later, Batman briefly gained super-strength:
Issue: Detective #268
Transformation: Batman glows and exhibits super-strength
Affects: Batman only
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman was test-piloting a new jet when he flew through the tail of a comet. Gases in the comet made him glow and caused him to have super-strength. However, doctors warned him that when he stopped glowing, he would die. Fortunately he located a scientist who was able to save him.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. Giving Batman super-powers is not an original idea as we shall see when we analyze his adventures in World's Finest.

At this point, the transformations come more frequently:
Issue: Detective #275
Transformation: Batman resembles a zebra and repels anything that comes near him.
Affects: Batman and the Zebra Man, a crook
Status: Genuine transformation. The Zebra Man invents a machine that grants him magnetic powers; with the aid of a belt, he can either attract things to him, or repel them. Batman is accidentally given the same powers by the machine, but he lacks the belt and can only repel things.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. Something of a dull story, but the ending is pretty good


Issue: Detective #284
Transformation: Batman takes on the appearance of a photographic negative and becomes sensitive to light.
Affects: Batman only
Status: True transformation. A crook has invented a camera that can capture anything photographed by it inside the machine. Batman is only partially affected, giving him the negative appearance.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. I like the look of the negative Batman, but the story is nothing special.


Issue: Detective #290
Transformation: Batman and Robin are given different electrical charges and turn different colors.
Affects: Both Batman and Robin.
Status: True transformation. Batman and Robin are separately hit by rays that give them a positive and negative charge, respectively.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. I like the contrast between the two.

Issue: Detective #292
Transformation: Batman becomes a giant again.
Affects: Batman only.
Status: Genuine transformation, this time caused by gas from the upper atmosphere.
Rating: Two stars, as this is something of a recycling of the much better story from Detective #243. One redeeming factor: The story features a cameo by Superman, helping Batman out by appearing at a dinner as Bruce Wayne, to keep Kathy Kane from being suspicious about Bruce's absence while Batman is a giant.


Issue: Detective #294
Transformation: Batman becomes an element man.
Affects: Batman and another man. Status: True transformation. A scientist is trying to draw the power from another element man, when the machine explodes, giving Batman elemental powers.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. As usual with these types of stories, there is some educational discussion about the different properties of the different elements.

Issue: Detective #301
Transformation: Batman becomes extremely hot and can only breathe methane gas.
Affects: Batman only
Status: True transformation. Batman is affected by high voltage equipment at a synthetic gem lab.
Rating: Two giant Batmans. It's a silly story, but the way Batman continues to fight crime in a flying plastic bubble is entertaining.

Issue: Detective #302
Transformation: Batman and Robin are turned into bronze statues.
Affects: Batman and Robin and several other men
Status: Genuine transformation. A famed sculptor has actually invented a device that turns men into bronze. He uses it to help mobsters hide temporarily while the heat is on, then turns them back into men.
Rating: One giant Batman. By this point, Batman has already been turned into various elements, and the transformation is very brief as Batwoman saves them.

Issue: Detective #308
Transformation: Batman gains the powers of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.
Affects: Batman and criminal Peter Dale
Status: Genuine transformation, caused by ancient Indian artifacts.
Rating: Five giant Batmans. This is the final Dick Sprang story in Detective, and it's also one of the few transformations that Batman undergoes voluntarily, in order to catch a crook.


Issue: Detective #312
Transformation: Batman gains Clayface's power to alter his body at will.
Affects: Batman and Clayface (Matt Hagen)
Status: Genuine transformation. Batman and Hagen fall into the clay pool that gives the latter his Clayface powers and battle it out as shapeshifters.
Rating: Four giant Batmans. Terrific entertainment. Clayface was one of the few villains in the Schiff era to have any staying power.

Issue: Detective #316
Transformation: Batman creates an energy duplicate of himself
Affects: Batman and Dr. X
Status: Not a true transformation, as Batman himself remains normal and observes the action as his energy duplicate battles Dr Double X.
Rating: Not rated; not a true transformation.

Issue: Detective #320
Transformation: Green skin color
Affects: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson
Status: Genuine transformation. Bruce and Dick are turned green by an alien ray. They wear mummy bandages to prevent people from seeing their green skin.
Rating: Three giant Batmans. Because Bruce and Dick see doctors in their normal identities, the transformation becomes a secret identity story as well.


Issue: Detective #322
Transformation: Batman becomes a genie
Affects: Batman only
Status: Hard as it may seem to believe, this is a genuine transformation. He's sprinkled with a special magical dust, which makes him become a genie in a magic lamp, compelled to grant three wishes to the crooks controlling the lantern.
Rating: One giant Batman. This must be the most ridiculous transformation ever.

That's it for the Schiff era; effective with Detective #327, Julius Schwartz took over editing of the Batman titles. However, that is not the final transformation in Detective; to the best of my knowledge this is:
Issue: Detective #356
Transformation: Robin turns into a coffin
Affects: Robin only (Batman barely misses being transformed)
Status: Genuine transformation. The Outsider had a machine that did the actual transformation.
Rating: One giant Batman. I bought this issue during the height of Batmania and hated the idea of Robin somehow magically being transformed into a coffin.

4 comments:

  1. Can't wait until you get to World's Finest - That book had some majorly goofy moments but was a lot of fun! At least Batman was been spared the host of indignities Supes and his entire cast suffered.

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  2. In fairness, it should be noted that Jack Schiff was against the introduction of science fiction in the Batman comics, but he was overruled by his boss. At least, according to an interview published in Overstreet's Comic Book Price Guide in 1983. Commander Benson's August 2011 blogs trace the evolution from sci-fi to the relatively realistic New Look to the camp fad.

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