Author: Bob Kane
There are those Batman stories out there which have a strong focus on psychological realism, telling stories about crimes and criminals which may be colorful, but are still grounded in the reality of the characters and of Gotham City.
And then there's this:
what is this I don't even
As our utterly ridiculous story opens, Bruce and Dick are on vacation, driving across America because, well, they're bored. Who could blame them? Crime in Gotham has gotten kind of stale of late, walking scarecrows notwithstanding. Plus it's not as though Dick goes to school or anything. That would require him to have been legally adopted, not just found at the circus. And I don't think we've ever actually seen Bruce work--not even "running Wayne Enterprises" kind of work. So he probably asked for some vacation time, and Commissioner Gordon's couch was kind enough to agree.
In this fashion our heroes happen to stumble blindly into yet another series of weird happenstances, like a proto-Scooby gang. (It's all part of the bat-thropic principle: Batman and Robin only drive through towns where weird crimes are occurring because otherwise it wouldn't be a story.)
This time it's what the narration calls a "ghost town", but I don't think those words mean what they think it means. For one thing they've decided that the town, formerly the bustling center of a thriving silver mining operation, is actually named "Ghost Gulch City", which, okay, but that's kind of pessimistic on the part of the town founders. For another thing, there are still people living in this ghost town. People with strange superstitions and an even stranger assortment of hats:
The bartender is wearing a baseball cap, I am not even kidding
Anyway, Beardy McForeshadowing turns out to be right. That night, while Bruce and Dick are "enjoying" the quaint local hospitality of an inn in a town where even the jobs factory has gone out of business, a terrible--excuse me, "turrible"--storm blows in. The rain puts a truck in danger as it washes out the mountain road; and a lightning bolt strikes at the feet of the giant stone idol which apparently has been on the mountain, worshipped by Native Americans, since... well, since before Beardy McForeshadowing could shave.
It hasn't rained in 2000 years? Okay now I know why everybody left.
"Mad Mack" crows over the fallen idol, immediately trying to use his newfound spiritual cache for evil purposes. "The stone idol's powerful--last night he upped and spoke to me--about you, Mr. Mayor. He said--" But before he can end that sentence with "He said you should give me all your fancy booze", the stone idol flashes and comes to life!
Worse, he's totally pissed:
A symbol of Native America, justly angry that his land has been stolen and filled with strip-mines and whorehouses? This looks like a job for Batman!
Everybody runs off, except for the Mayor, who decides to stand his ground. He's not leaving, goddammit. Not when being Mayor gives him two for one beers on weekends. Sadly, he is not smooshed by a giant stone fist; instead, the statue flashes again, and goes back to normal.
This story is even better if you imagine they're talking about a stoned, rampaging Billy Idol.
What we have here, fascinatingly, is a religious conflict. Even in the face of what some consider to be plain-sight miracles, the skeptic remains. Belief seems natural, given the evidence, but carries with it the price of leaving their home forever (or risk incurring the stone god's wrath).
Debate sweeps the "ghost" town--are they afraid of something that isn't real, as the Mayor claims? Or is the correct decision, both morally and pragmatically, for the townspeople to follow the edicts of their new divine leader? Devotion does not come without sacrifice, but disbelief in reality does not come without getting smooshed by a giant stone fist. Which path will the citizens of "Ghost Gulch City" choose?
Whoops, time's up.
This is so silly.
Aw, comic! You were doing so well. But here's where it all falls apart:
A walking, talking giant stone man? Okay, I can buy that. But flesh and blood servants? I call shenanigans.
Remember how I said Batman and Robin were driving around like a proto-Scooby gang? Yeah, more prophetic words have never been spoken (not even by Beardy McForeshadowing). Because those are clearly not statues, or even Native American ghosts. No, they are clearly criminal mugs who have never actually seen Native Americans but maybe read about them in a book once. That is why their costumes are "Fred Flintstone," "naked midget", and "caveman", respectively.
In fact, this is the exact same set-up countless episodes of Scooby Doo used in the late sixties and early seventies. You've got the vaguely exotic setting, the innocuous townspeople, the made-up legends, the historic wealth and present poverty, and the seemingly impossible supernatural figure whose sole desire is to scare people away. Based on the setting, I predict it's a gang of crooks who stumbled across a rich silver vein and wish to mine it themselves without the interference of the "ghost town" residents. If we're really lucky, there'll be Batman Snacks.
This is actually the same exact plot as the season 1 Scooby Doo episode, "Mine Your Own Business", where a mysterious figure named the "Miner 49er" scares everyone away from desert mining town "Gold City". That link there leads to the show, online. I'm gonna go watch it!
Man, I'd forgotten how cheesy and awesome that show was. (Isn't nostaliga great? Used to be better, though.)
Granted, part of the similarities between this comic and the Scooby Doo cartoon might be both works' adherence to even earlier Gothic traditions, going back to the mother of them all, Ann Radcliffe, whose novels made Gothicism morally palatable to the masses by giving them supernatural events which were later explained as trickery, allowing readers to have their self-righteous cake and eat it, too. We already know Batman draws on Gothic traditions, and usually at least pretends to take place in a world with crazy science but no actual horror elements. (Never mind the werewolves.) And it wouldn't surprise me if at least the tropes of Gothic fiction also filtered into a children's mystery show.
Of course, it might also be a case of direct influence--after all, somebody at Hanna Barbera was a Batman fan, since Batman and Robin made a couple of appearances during that "special guest" season of Scooby Doo.
But I digress (should be this blog's motto). What's important here is, now that we understand these are just criminals, Batman and Robin can safely combat the stone idol and his goons without getting into a religious war or perpetuating an ancient racial injustice. And get into it they do, in this fabulous splash panel:
Due to the size of the panel, you may not be able to read the "quips". FYI, it's all nonsensical sports metaphors.
Our heroes are doing well, up until there's another one of those flashes of light. The "servants" disappear, and the stone god returns to the chair he stole from the Lincoln Memorial. Their work apparently done, Batman and Robin hightail it out of there.
The townspeople, meanwhile, are standing around in a circle, jaws agape. Stone idols and vengeful ghosts are one thing--but masked crimefighters? Well, I never! (Apparently Batman's market penetration hasn't made it out to Bumfuck, Nowhere.) And the only one who actually likes them is the Mayor. "Whoever they were, they certainly have my respect! What fighters!" he says, with a look on his face that says he's thinking, "If I could just harness their power for eeeevil..."
While Bruce and Dick are getting undressed in their hotel room (no, not like that), Bruce pontificates a bit on the philosophical ramifications of the punching he just did.
"Perhaps... yes. Yes, I do have the sexiest chin."
Meanwhile, like any religion worth its salt, the Ghost Gulch Cult of the Stone Idol has decided that their god requires human sacrifice. And what better candidate than the Mayor, local heretic and encourager of masked fighters?
Oh, superstitious townsfolk. Is there any problem you can't solve?
The crazy mob is foiled, however, when Batman swings in, using his strength and acrobatic skill to... uh... whatever this is:
The Mayor is naturally speechless. For some moments in life, there are no words.
Batman lands, and after an awkward moment, lets go of the Mayor's, uh, Mayoral seat. No time for recriminations or sexual harassment accusations, however! There are fanatics about! They must be beaten with the chair leg of truth until they renounce their (literal) idolatry.
Apologies (and love) to Warren Ellis.
Before the depunchgramming can begin, however, the stone man in the stone loincloth decides to join the fight. He grabs Robin ("He's got Robin!" Batman helpfully exclaims) and does his flashy-light trick, leaving the stone idol back in his chair and Robin nowhere to be found. Get this statue a show in Vegas, please.
Naturally, the fastest way to Angry Batman is through hurting or kidnapping Robin. So he grabs a giant ax-looking thing (from, I dunno, hammerspace?) and tries his Batman-est to beat the stone bastard to death with it. And he bursts open like a pinata, and out comes Robin, covered in candy! Yay!
No, wait, I think that was a dream I had once. Yeah. No, in the comic, it doesn't work. Batman's axythingy just breaks some of the stone off, nothing actually happens. Clearly Batman was not expecting this, and it is breaking his poor little Bat-Brain:
When asked later, after the murder-spree, one prominent psychologist traced Batman's psychotic break back to this very moment.
Batman and the Mayor literally topple the idol (heavy-handed, much?), and underneath they find a "yawning cavern". Batman wastes no time diving in, and finds--exactly what I predicted. A mine, and a mechanical apparatus which replaces the statue's chair with an identical, empty one under the cover of the flashing light. Also, goons!
Remembering that the townspeople around here were ignorant of his persona, Batman helpfully added, "And then I'll tear off your head and fuck the neck hole."
The key difference between Robin and a damsel in distress is that Robin is smart enough to kick the man next to him and try to escape. Oh, and that it's politically correct to show this in a comic book:
Good Lord! He just smacked the Japan out of that kid!
Sometimes my jokes just seem unnecessary.
The mine car picks up Batman, and Batman leans out of it and picks up Robin, and the two barrel on through the mine like... like dudes in a barrel? I don't know.
The mine cart takes him right to the boss of the level, the giant stone idol himself. To be honest the story and I have kind of checked out, so I'm just gonna gloss over the rest of this. There's a fight, they talk about stuff... about cooking, apparently? At least I think they're comparing recipes.
Guys, guys. There's no need to fight! You both make the best knuckle sandwich.
Batman knocks the stone dude back into a load-bearing beam, and the mine shaft starts collapsing around them. Batman and Robin survive by hiding under their mine cart, but the stone idol is crushed. When our heroes emerge from the pile of rubble ("like two human moles", claims the comic--Narrator, this isn't the adventures of Mole-Man, come on), they find Mad Mack, dying.
"The mine was mine! Get it? Ha ha!"
Why does nobody confess in this comic until they're dying? Batman never interrogates anybody, he just asks politely if they'll tell him now that there's no point in keeping secrets. World's laziest detective.
Mack explains a truly ridiculous series of events: after he found the silver vein, a traveling circus happened to come to town, walk up to him, and ask for work. They painted the strong man to look like a stone statue, and dressed some of them up as the idol's servants (although that dude in a caveman outfit looked like that when he arrived, so clearly Mad Mack got lazy at some point). Then they used flashlight powder to blind on-lookers for a minute while the elevator switched the real statue for the strong man. His plan was to scare the townspeople off, but he whipped them into a religious fervor instead, and this is where Batman and Robin came in.
"It would have worked, too, if it weren't for those meddling crime fighters, and that mangy Mayor!"
Ironically, Mad Mack's injuries were survivable--it's the Creeper that gets him.
Mack actually dies apologizing for his greed, but really, this is the same problem I had with that Scooby Doo episode (which ended with the Miner 49-er going to jail)--there's no law against dressing up and yelling scary stuff. Speech intended to harm somebody is troublesome, but speech intended to get people to leave, there's nothing wrong with that, legally or morally. Mad Mack's crime was theft--of the silver lode, from the rest of the town--but his scheme to accomplish that theft didn't actually hurt anybody. In fact Batman and Robin threw the first punches. This is one story where our "heroes" aren't that much less morally at fault than the supposed "villain", who gets over-punished for his deeds.
Not as much as the strong man, though. Buried under the cave-in without even getting mentioned again. Harsh.
Well, time for Batman and Robin to hit the road. A new day is dawning, and they must away, ere the sun turns them into a little pile of ash. (No wait, that's vampires. Never mind.) But they do have to go and continue their "vacation". There are more mysteries to be solved! Screw Gotham, let's hit the road, man. Burn a trail through this crazy country they call America.
A grateful person, anyway.
Batman never knew it, but for a brief time after he and Robin left, the townspeople of Ghost Gulch formed a religion around his worship. They fashioned crude costumes for themselves, night after night re-enacting the great fight between the stone idol and the masked warriors. The strong among them fought for the right to play the man in the dark cape, and the town fop always portrayed the wonderful boy who fought at his side. This state of affairs lasted about three and a half weeks, until they realized that they were all incredibly rich, and had no further need for silly cults.