DETECTIVE COMICS #311

(JANUARY 1963)

BATMAN & ROBIN FACE THE

"CHALLENGE OF THE CAT-MAN!"

(12 2/3 pages)

Cover pencils - Dick Dillin
Cover inks -
Sheldon Moldoff

Story - Bill Finger
Art - Jim Mooney
Inks - Jim Mooney
Colours - NN
Lettering - NN

Second feature
John Jones Manhunter from Mars, "The Invaders from the Space Warp!"
(11 2/3 pages)

 

PLOT SUMMARY

"BEWARE OF BLACK CATS -- THEY BRING BAD LUCK !
AN OLD SUPERSTITION, BUT ONE THAT COMES TRUE FOR
BATMAN AND ROBIN !
YES, THE CAPED MANHUNTERS ARE INDEED PLAGUED BY A CAT -- A CAT IN HUMAN FORM,
WHO MOVES WITH CAT-LIKE CUNNING THROUGH THE NIGHT, TO CLAW AND PLUNDER EVERYWHERE !
THEN, AT BAY, HE ALMOST DOOMS
BATMAN AND ROBIN IN A DEADLY CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME
THAT CLIMAXES THE...
CHALLENGE OF THE CAT-MAN !"

 
After foiling a robbery together with Robin, Batman decides to do something for his public persona and pays a visit to his social club as Bruce Wayne, where he meets Tom Blake, the famous "Cat-Master".

Blake tells Wayne that he has retired from big game hunting because he found it had become boring as he knew all the ways of the wild animals in advance, and so two seemingly bored socialites (although Bruce Wayne, of course, is only putting on a show) sit out a yawnful evening.

Later, back at his animal farm, Tom Blake is haunted by a jest a fellow club member made concerning the one person in Gotham who would never get bored - Batman. Blake ponders the possibilities of becoming a crimefighter but quickly reaches the conclusion that there can only be one like Batman - so his second thoughts thus turn to the possibility of becoming Batman's adversary, and Blake feels a rush of excitement he has not known for years.

However, he feels he should be a "unique criminal, like the Joker -- my crimes must have a theme!" Seeing his pet black panther reminds Blake of Cat-Woman, and convinced that he can be a far more formidable threat to Batman than Cat-Woman ever was, he decides that he will become the Cat-Man...

 
 
A week later, Batman is a guest of honour at the opening of Gotham Museum's new Egyptian exhibition wing. Just as the guide elaborates on Bast, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess, a masked figure clad in yellow and orange bursts onto the scene - the Cat-Man. Grabbing the precious Bast statue exhibit, Cat-Man makes a run for it. Batman holds back Robin, warning him that the suit of the thief features sharp claws, and Cat-Man makes an escape through a window.

Outside the museum, Cat-Man takes flight in his car which is fashioned with a cat's head and tail and even features, as Batman remarks, a motor which purrs like a cat. Following him down an abandoned road the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder become witness to the fact that the Cat-Man's car can even make short, cat-like jumps thanks to special springs. Cat-Man leaves the Dynamic Duo behind making a remark about sweet music which he hopes to hear tomorrow at nine o'clock.

Later in the batcave, residues of calcium phosphate on Robin's cape where the Cat-Man's claws struck lead Batman to guessing who might be under the mask of Cat-Man, as the substance is commonly put on meat fed to large cats in zoos. At the same time, Blake returns to his animal farm which he has now set up as a complex hiding place for his supervillain activities, and he wonders if he really just turned to crime out of boredom or whether his motive might not actually be to regain the wealth he has lost.

Back at the social club, other members discuss the newspaper stories about Cat-Man and turn to Blake as an expert on cats... whilst one bystander remarks laughingly that there is as much a chance of Blake being Cat-Man as Bruce Wayne being Batman...

 
The following night, Batman ponders the Cat-Man's remarks about "sweet music" and feels it must be a hint to yet another "cat crime". An article in the newspaper on a planned auction of a Stradivarius violin convinces Batman that he is on the right track, and the dynamic duo head for the place in question.

However, Cat-Man has deliberately given Batman a false clue and is now robbing the "Cat and the Fiddle" night club by having the seat in his car "cat-apult" him to the first floor of the building where he empties the safe. But just as he is about to leave Cat-Man is confronted by Batwoman who had noticed his caper. A giant statue in front of the night club - in the form of a cat holding a fiddle - becomes the scene for a fight between the two when the Dynamic Duo arrives on the scene after all. Seeing that he is outnumbered, Cat-Man opts for an escape by car.

 
 
Meanwhile, Batman is now certain that only Tom Blake can be the Cat-Man, and together with Robin he drives to Blake's animal farm where they find tracks of the Cat-Man's car leading to an abandoned mine. Inside, what they first perceive to be giant cat's eyes turn out to be lamps illuminating the tunnel. Moving through these "cat-acombs", they soon find themselves stuck in a trap and held back by electrified steel bars.
 

  Whilst Blake - aware that Batman has deduced his identity - explains his motives and operations over a loudspeaker system, Batman knocks out the electricity for the steel bars with a batarang.

Free to move again, the Dynamic Duo storm Blake's commando room - where they find Cat-Man riding on and operating a giant mechanical cat with razor sharp claws. However, Batman manages to stall the machine and Cat-Man flees once again.

This time, however, he slips and falls into an underwater stream running through the old mine. Too late, Batman and Robin are forced to helplessly watch Cat-Man drown in the turbulent waters - although Batman does wonder about cats and their legendary nine lives...

 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

Featuring an outright corny and at times even whacky Batman story, Detective Comics #311 actually is a surprisingly good and entertaining read - surprisingly, because the early 1960s Batman period was characterized by an increase in stereotyped sci-fi scripts and an accelerated decrease in plot and character interest - in 1963, no less than 10 stories featuring aliens appeared in Batman and Detective Comics. As a consequence, reader interest in Batman decreased rapidly and DC seriously contemplated dropping the character - a move only prevented by then newly appointed editor Julius Schwartz's last chance creation of the "new look" Batman in May 1964 (Detective Comics #327).

The story told in Detective Comics #311, however, takes place in an entirely different world - a world modelled on the outward appearances of the real world, yet a world entirely of its own and far removed from any semblance of the inner workings of the real world. It is a world so theatrically staged that there can be no doubt - as a reader, you are no part of this play, you are only following it as a spectator.

It is the Batman world of oversized props where seemingly every shop stocks a giant version of whatever product it sells, and it is the Batman world of zany characters who, more than anything, act in accordance with their "theme". The Batman television show is still some three years away at this point, but Detective Comics #311 is an early impression of what a "campy" Batman adventure could look like. As such it is rather well executed and in spite of the ridiculously exaggerated "cat theme" Bill Finger actually manages to deliver a well-paced and rounded off story. Feline references and word games chase each other in amazing numbers and a regular flow, and most of it works fine for readers who can take the odd punch at real world logic as being tongue in cheek.

 
This is also a time when Batman is quite happy to visit a museum in his costume as a guest of honour and even more than happy to share his immense knowledge and lets us know, for example, that a hoist-rope - used by Cat-Man to escape from Gotham Museum - is called a "cat-line" in oil field slang, or that "boma" is a Swahili word to describe a stockade used as a protection against wild lions.

A quick check on the world wide web these days confirms in a flash that Bill Finger got all of that right, but back in 1963 one can assume that Finger must have spent quite some time assembling all of this "cat-related" information.

Even though Detective Comics #311 clearly has no other ambition than to entertain, the creative team cut no corners in achieving this, and arriving there did not come cheaply either in terms of time and efforts spent.

 

 
Even more so as it was also a time when Batman's adversaries had taken on the Riddler's cue and were constantly throwing mysteriously worded clues for their next "themed crime" at Batman with one simple message - go figure!

And if the ending seems rather harsh with Cat-Man supposedly drowning - well, Batman's musings will prove to be spot on only seven more months into 1963 when the Cat-Man returns alive and well in Detective Comics #318.

 
VERDICT: SUGGESTED READING - A nice and entertaining early 1960's Batman story - in spite (or because?) of a nice collection of nonsensical props and machinery which defy all common sense and logic.
 

TRIVIA

The first Cat-Man story has not been reprinted since its original publication, and it carries no credits for the creative team - only after Bob Kane signed a new contract with DC in August 1968 did Batman artists get full credit in the comic books.

 
 
Detective Comics #311 featured several in-house ads, including teasers for the currently on sale or upcoming issues of Batman, World's Finest, and Detective Comics (all of which, of course, featured the Caped Crusader).

One entire page was dedicated to drumming up attention for the Batman and Superman Giant Annuals, while the inside front cover introduced readers to the (at the time) all-new "comicpacs" which contained 4 current DC titles packaged in a sealed plastic bag and sold at outlets which didn't usually stock comic books, such as supermarkets and retail stores.

 
 

 

SPOTLIGHT ON
THE CAT-MAN

 
  IDENTITY - Thomas Blake

FIRST APPEARANCE - Detective Comics #311 (January 1963)

CREATED BY - Bill Finger & Jim Mooney

CHARACTERIZATION - A marginal gimmicked villain

 

ORIGIN

Thomas Blake, a millionaire and world-famous trapper of jungle cats, turned to crime after losing his fortune and growing bored of hunting.

 
Basically copying Catwoman's burglaries, Blake also modelled his costume after her disguise and adopted the name Cat-Man - none of which made Selina Kayle a.k.a. Catwoman too happy.

Thus being essentially a copycat (feline references again), Blake does have a special aspect which clearly sets him apart from Catwoman: his cape, which is made of an African cloth. This was shown to have some very special characteristics when Catman returned in Detective Comics #325 (March 1964) from what had seemed certain death in Detective Comics #311 - in fact, the orange fabric in his uniform seemingly gave him nine lives.

As is the case with many Batman villains introduced in the early to mid-1960s, Cat-Man was originally presented as a gimmicked villain following the theme reflected in his name - Cat-Man thus operates on a strong (and at times way-out) "cat" theme by initially only stealing items with a material reference (such as cat statues) or an alluded quality reference (such as precious emeralds taken to be "cat's eyes") - and even riding a mechanical cat as depicted on the cover of Detective Comics #311.

 

 
Having originally been a big game hunter, Blake is a highly trained athlete and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, all of which he uses in conjunction with his extraordinary sense of smell when operating as Cat-Man. His weapon of choice, however, are a pair of steel razor-tipped gloves ("claws") and a sharp-edged "Catarang", which clearly is modelled after Batman's very own Batarang.

Following his initial appearances, the character became less clear-cut and at times drifted more towards being an anti-hero than a true villain.

 

APPEARANCES

 
Cat-Man originally appeared in 3 issues of Detective Comics in 1963/64 before being put into storage. He enjoyed something of a comeback in the early 1980s when writer Gerry Conway was looking at the repertoire of Batman's Golden and Silver Age villains which had become more or less forgotten in most cases.
 
 

However, Cat-Man's appearances in the two main titles of the Batman Universe have remained limited, although the character remains in use today (albeit outside the core Batman Universe):

Detective Comics #311 (January 1963)
Detective Comics
#318 (August 1963)
Detective Comics
#325 (March 1964)
Batman #322
(April 1980)
Batman #323
(May 1980)
Batman #324
(June 1980)
Detective Comics
#509 (December 1981)
Detective Comics
#526 (May 1983)
Batman
#371 (May 1984)
Detective Comics
#538 (May 1984)
Batman
#400 (October 1986)
Detective Comics
#612 (March 1990)

 
 
In 1992 Cat-Man made an appearance in Shadow of the Bat as a member of a team called the "Misfits", portrayed as a group of C list villains who were trying to prove themselves; Cat-Man also featured in the 1995 Shadow of the Bat / Catwoman crossover in which the background story concerning the cloth of Cat-Man's costume was retconned and depicted as having come from a South Sea cat cult from which Catwoman, through trickery, obtained the cloth.

Following these brief appearances, Cat-Man remained in limbo until 2003, when he changed the locale of his prowlings and resurfaced as a foe of Green Arrow; later on, in 2005, he featured in a mini-series (Villains United). Cat-Man made his New 52 debut in December 2014, with a completely changed outfit, in DC's reboot of the Secret Six.

 

 

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The illustrations presented here are copyright material. Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


(c) 2016

uploaded to the web 1 June 2016