Oh, you just know you’re in for some negative Asian stereotyping in Detective 383 (Jan. 69) from the moment you see the cover.
The story, by Frank Robbins, with art by Bob Brown and Joe Giella, does indeed open in a Chinese restaurant, with Batman and Robin reading fortune cookies.
Batman and Robin each follow separate paths during the mystery. Robin investigates the source of the cookies, and finds a supposedly kidnapped girl, who turns out to be one of the villains.
Batman deals with the other side, finding the man in charge, and together they bust the pearl smuggling ring operating out of the restaurant.
And despite the cover, this is not nearly as bad as one would expect.
The Elongated Man story by Gardner Fox and Sid Greene that began last issue concludes here, which is the end of his run in Detective Comics.
Billy revives Ralph, and tells him of the bug he hid in the thieves car. The car itself gets stolen by a street gang, so it takes Ralph a while, but he tracks down the jewel thieves.
At the end of the story, Ralph and Sue present Billy with a Batman detective kit, the last wish he made on the coin.
The Elongated Man’s series comes back a couple years down the road for a few issues of The Flash, but will return to Detective in the 70s.
Batman and Robin get caught up in rival gangs and a manipulative arms dealer, the Armorer, in Detective 382 (Dec. 68), in a story by Frank Robbins, Bob Brown and Joe Giella.
Both gangs keep finding their stolen loot stolen from them, and each blames the other gang. In reality, the Armorer is selling gear to both of them that he can access, and is robbing from the robbers.
No one ever fully figures this out, but suspicions run rampant, and the two gangs set a trap for the thief.
Robin almost winds up the victim in this plan, opening the safe instead of the armorer, but Batman dives in, and the only ones killed are the gang leaders themselves.
Billy Warner, the fan who loaned Elongated Man his costume, returns in this story by Gardner Fox and Sid Greene.
He has a magical wishing coin, and everything he asks for comes true. Ralph gets suspicious, and discovers the coin is bugged, and the ones responsible are using it to spy on his grandfather, and learn the location of his diamond. Making the wishes come true just ensured the boy would keep the coin with him.
Ralph gets knocked out chasing the bad guys, and the story continues into the next issue, as Billy frantically tries to wake the hero up.
Detective 378 (Sept. 68) concludes the Frank Robbins/Bob Brown/Joe Giella story that began last issue.
Batman is alerted to both Robins in danger, and goes to rescue the one who he can tell is not the real one, taking him out of the picture, and learning that side of the plan to kill him. Alfred dresses up as Batman and tries to rescue Dick, but fails and falls into the harbour. Chino sees this, and thinks Batman is dead.
When Chino calls Salvo to gloat over killing Batman, Salvo and his men come to kill Chino. Batman and Robin save the boy and captures Salvo and his men. Robin returns home, and Chino is placed in foster care, promising to be good.
Not a great story, but a big change from the past few years.
Zatara makes his first appearance since being found by Zatanna in this story by Gardner Fox, with Sid Greene art. He has opened a magic shop, but gets attacked by criminals who want to use his magic tricks for crime.
While unconscious, he dreams of the Elongated Man, and in doing so gives Ralph his backwards magic casting powers.
Ralph goes to find Zatara, and of course finds the crooks who attacked him, and takes them down. Zatara wakes, and removes the powers from Ralph. As a nice touch, Ralph was not able to use the magic well, because he found the backwards speaking too difficult.
One of the best Riddler stories from this era (and there are a lot to choose from), is this Gardner Fox story from Detective 377 (July 1968). More than any other, it feels like a (good) episode of the tv series.
The Riddler is compelled to leave clues for Batman before he can commit his crimes, but in this story attempts to rig his clues to make them difficult to read and/or deadly.
Like the show, there are no real subplots or character development, just puzzles and action from start to end.
The trap in the page above, with the clues on blocks, the heroes trapped behind a cage, and an explosive device that will hurl the cubes randomly, would have been perfect for the series. And even in the comic, it’s well devised, as Batman and Robin use scattered gems as if they were marbles to move the blocks before setting off the explosive.
This is also the Riddler’s last appearance until the mid-70s. While the tv series made him a very popular villain, the backlash that followed the tv series kept him off the pages.
Mr. Freeze makes his second appearance against Batman in Detective 373 (March 1968), in a story by Gardner Fox. In the villain’s only previous outing, in a Batman story from the late 50s, he had used the moniker Mr. Zero, but the name was changed to match the tv show.
Aunt Harriet is undergoing emergency cryo-surgery, but the machine breaks down, and the heroes pursue Freeze in order to get his cold gun, which could be used for the operation.
Freeze has no interest in being helpful, and so everyone fights. And he loses, again.
Mr. Freeze would remain a marginal Batman villain until the 90s, but does make his next appearance in a Batman issue in the late 70s.
The Elongated Man is in Gotham City in this story by Gardner Fox, with art by Gil Kane and Sid Greene.
The Riddler has sent a clue to his next crime to Commissioner Gordon, who turns on the Bat-Signal, but it’s Ralph who answers the call.
Ralph figures out the solution, and stops the Riddler from committing a jewel theft.
Batman and Robin show up at this point, and in a really entertaining ending, Batman and Ralph argue over their different interpretations of the riddle, even though both came to the same solution.
Gardner Fox, Gil Kane and Sid Greene conspired to create the absolutely most appallingly sexist Batgirl tale ever, in Detective 371 (Jan. 68).
Right at the outset, Batgirl catches her mask and needs to straighten it out, and then lambastes herself for being “female.” She later gives away Batman and Robin’s location by screaming out in terror, and stops a pursuit when splattered with mud.
What’s even worse are her thoughts, and the way she uses “female” and “feminine” as disparaging and negative terms. I mean, obviously it’s Gardner Fox using those terms, but the effect of reading Batgirl thinking them is to make her character wallow in self-loathing.
Bruce and Dick almost steal the show in a scene where they are dressed as hippies to blend in in the ghetto. They are dealing with the bad guys, who really are tangential to the Batgirl’s-clothes-getting-torn plot.
The big climax of the story has Batgirl heroically showing off a run in her stocking, which causes all the (apparently sex-starved) men to stop fighting so that they can stare at her leg.
The pride Barbara Gordon feels in concealing the fact that she tore her stocking herself just adds another layer of twisted gender games to this horrible little tale.
Gardner Fox’s story in Detective 369 (Nov. 67) is basically a re-write of “The New Team of Superman and Robin” from a late 50s issue of World’s Finest Comics. The art is by Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene.
Both stories begin with the three heroes in action. Batman falls into a swamp in this story, and Batgirl notices something is wrong with him.
The earlier story had homoerotic elements in the relationship of the three men; this story brings it out even more, with Batman’s jealousy over Robin spending time with Batgirl.
In the end it’s all a plan to save Batman, who had contracted swamp fever. Batgirl and Robin knew he would not agree to rest, so tries to keep ahead of him and protect him until he collapsed.
The story concludes with a cameo by Catwoman, setting up her appearance in Batman, her first time in either of these books since the mid 50s.
Neal Adams does the art on Gardner Fox’s Elongated Man story in this issue.
Sue Dibny buys a “lover’s lantern, ” said to be able to reunite lovers when its lit. It gets stolen, and Ralph winds up pursuing two different sets of thieves.
It does eventually lead two lovers together (aside from Ralph and Sue), but despite Adams art, this story is kind of weak.