Batman #167, "Zero Hour for Earth!"

BATMAN #167; November 1964; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor; featuring  "a
book-length spy-thriller", "Zero Hour for Earth!"  The cover is an  unusually
striking one by Carmine Infantino with (I think) Murphy Anderson inks, 
depicting Batman and Robin transfixed by twin beams of light emanting from the 
eyes of a Mayan-looking pyramid-sculpture.  The interior story is written  by
Bill Finger (credited on the letters page) and drawn, I'm assuming, by  regular
"Bob Kane" ghost Sheldon Moldoff with inks by Joe Giella.

Review  by Bill Henley

On the splash page, Robin is battling crooks (or spies?)  atop a Dutch
windmill, and Batman dives between the blades of the spinning  windmill to push
Robin out of the line of fire of a thug with a submachine  gun.  Our story begins
at Gotham City Airport where Batman and Robin are  meeting a representative of
Interpol, the international police agency.  But  before they can make contact
an assassin strikes at the Interpol man.   While Batman tries to help the
victim, Robin pursues the killer, but in his rush  to escape the assassin is
caught under the wheels of a taxiing plane and  silenced forever.  Later, Batman
and Commissioner Gordon meet with  reporters and reveal that the Interpol man
died without regaining consciousness,  but is believed to be a victim of Hydra,
an "internatinal crime syndicate" which  "calls itself after the monster
which grew a new head every time one head was  lopped off".  Noting that Hercules
destroyed the original Hydra, Batman  vows, "I intend to become a modern-day
Hercules and put an end to the Hydra of  Crime!"  (Yes, Hydra.  This was about
a year before Marvel launched  its Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD series with the
international criminal  organization with the same name and motif.  As I
recall, fan-turned-DC-pro  E. Nelson Bridwell used to have a theory that DC and
Marvel stories really took  place in the same "universe", and he used this as an
item of evidence in  favor.)  But in a torchlit chamber somewhere, the news of
Batman's vendetta  against Hydra "brings a smug smile to a cunning face".  A
white-haired,  round-faced man with a black mustache gloats that "Batman
guessed wrong", didn't  learn the real reason the Interpol man was killed, and now
won't interfere with  his real plan.

Arriving in Holland, Batman and Robin receive a puzzling  clue to Hydra's
next meeting from local authorities; a card captured from a  Hydra agent that
reads "General Sherman Slept Here-- X".  "X" might stand  for the shape of a
Dutch windmill, but what does an American Civil War general  have to do with
Holland?  Making what might be called a SWAG (Scientific  Wild-Ass Guess) sort of
deduction, Batman deduces that since the "General  Sherman Tree" is a famous
giant redwood tree in America, their Dutch target is a  windmill called the
Redwood Mill.  Arriving there, our heroes do battle  with a Hydra gang who are
using the mill as a stash for stolen diamonds, and the  splash scene with Batman
saving Robin from a hail of bullets is enacted.   But as European newspapers
report Batman's victory against Hydra, Batman takes  off in the Batplane and
tells Robin, "Now to get on with the REAL reason we left  America!"  It seems
that, in reality, the murdered Interpol man lived long  enough to inform Batman
of a crucial bit of information, that a man named Karabi  is plotting to start
a war between two Asian countries, a war likely to embroil  other nations and
ultimately the United States.  For the peace of the  world, he must be
stopped.  Batman meets with CIA agents (this was the  innocent day when any U.S.
government agents including the CIA were  automatically counted as part of the
good guys and not depicted as more  villainous than the villains) and volunteers
his aid.  But if Karabi knows  he is hunted, he will go underground and delay
his plans until the heat if  off.  The answer is to create a decoy by telling
the public Batman is after  Hydra.

Flying all the way to Singapore in Asia, Batman disguises himself  as an
Asian nightclub-goer and makes contact with a female Interpol agent,  herself
disguised as an Oriental dancer; she passes along information in the  form of
semaphore signals camouflaged as motions in her arm-waving dance.   The info she
provides moves Batman a little closer to finding Karabi, but his  next move is
to backtrack back to Europe, to Greece (good thing gas prices  weren't as high
back then, or even Bruce Wayne probably couldn't have afforded  all this
flying in the Batplane) to continue with his "publicized Hydra  hunt".  Seeking a
Hydra agent who is described as a skinny man carrying  counterfeit money, all
Batman and Robin spot is a fat man; but Batman is  suspicious when he notices
that the man is sitting in a rickety wicker chair  which shows no sign of
strain from the great weight.  Our heroes follow the  man to the ruins of an
ancient Greek amphitheater, where  he meets with  some confederates.  But a slight
sound made by Robin's feet alerts the bad  guys to their presence (Batman
explains the ancient theater was built with such  good acoustics that the
slightest sound can be heard throughout it).  The  hoods empty their guns at a
shadowy, cowled fgure of Batman, but are baffled  when he appears unharmed.  "What's
holding Batman up?  Why doesn't he  drop?"  "If you want me to drop-- I'm
willing to oblige", Batman says as he  (minus his cape and wearing a makeshift
mask) and Robin leap from above to land  on and subdue the crooks. It turns out
that Batman has draped his cape and cowl  over a statue of Hercules in order to
create a false target for the thugs.   (Greek authorities may not appreciate
a precious ancient statue getting  bullet-riddled.  And don't ruins of this
sort have any guards or  attendants, even at night?)  Later, Batman confirms
that the "fat man" had  cheeks padded with cotton and clothes padded with
counterfeit bills.  Under  pressure from Batman, the secret leaders of Hydra meet and
consider laying low,  but decide to keep operating, since each "head" Batman
eliminates will be  replaced by another "head".  Meanwhile, as workmen prepare
a giant rocket,  Karabi again gloats that Batman has been diverted by his
Hydra hunt and has no  idea of his activities.  And Batman flies all the way to
Asia again, to  Hong Kong, to pick up secret info written in Braille inside a
hat offered for  sale.  Back and forth Batman flies, battling Hydra in Europe
(a panel shows  him and Robin climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, apparently in
pursuit of Hydra  hoods) while gathering more clues to Karabi's plans in
Asia.  At last he  has pieced together the mastermind's plan.  Karabi intends to
fire a  nuclear missile from "County A" to "Country B" in order to spark war
between the  two  (An editor's note explains, "For security reasons, we cannot
reveal  the true names of the actual countries involved".  Well, that was a
change  from the usual practice of making up names for countries not found on the
maps  of Earth-Prime.)  Karabi's ultimate intent is to form a group of 
"malcontent" confederates and seize power in the chaos following a worldwide  war.

Batman and Robin track Karabi's lair to a stone temple in the  jungle of
"Country A" (which  looks in the interior art more Asian than  Mayan), but as seen
on the cover, they are dazzled by the sudden beams of bright  light from the
temple sculpture's "eyes" long enough for Karabi's men to seize  them and
render them unconscius.  Batman comes to to find himself  confronting Karabi, who
boasts that in just fifteen minutes, when the alarm on a  simple alarm clock
goes off, he will launch his deadly missile-- and, also, his  soldiers will
carry out their orders to kill Batman and Robin.  "WATCH THE  CLOCK, BATMAN!",
Karabi taunts, as he locks Batman alone in a cell (Robin is  locked up
elsewhere) and goes off to make final preparations for the missile  launch.  Af first
the loud ticking of the clock distracts Batman from his  efforts to plot an
escape, but then it gives him an idea.  He shouts for  the guards, begging for
his life and offering to reveal a hidden flaw in  Karabi's plan.  Though
suspicious, the guards enter his cell, figuring they  have Batman thoroughly
outnumbered and outgunned. But as the guards level their  rifles at Batman, they are
startled by the loud ringing of the alarm clock, and  Batman responds; "Like
the referee says-- when you hear the bell-- come out  fighting!" He has set the
clock ahead to create this momentary distraction, and  given only a few
seconds' adventage, our hero is able to disarm and overcome the  guards and lock
them up in the cell, while he goes to free Robin and stop  Karabi.  Arriving in
the temple chamber from which Karabi is about to  launch his missile, Batman
and Robin fight their way through his henchmen, and  Batman leaps to punch
Karabi in the face before he can reach for the missile  control "Right on the
button!  But not the one on the control panel!"  

But though Karabi is defeated and the peace of the world saved, Batman  isn't
quite through with his war with Hydra, even though it was a side  issue. 
Karabi's records coincidentally reveal a clue to a planned Hydra  robbery of a
Swiss bank "late this afternoon".  Since it is already  evening, Robin figures
they have missed their chance to foil the robbery, but  Batman points out that
when it is evening in Asia it is still afternoon back in  Europe.  Back once
more the Batplane flies to Europe, where our heroes  intercept a Hydra gang
tunneling from a curio shop into the bank vault.   The leader gets away, but a
lump of wax he leaves behind enables Batman to  deduce that he is planning to
escape on skis through a "favorite route for  people who want to smuggle
themselves across the border between Germany and  Switzerland".  Donning skis
themselves, they catch up with the Hydra "head"  and take him into custody. 
Returning home at last, Robin muses that "even  though you couldn't cut off all its
heads, you certainly crippled Hydra's  activities!"  "Yes, Robin, and maybe
Hydra will never recover from the  blows we gave it!  Only time will tell!"  (As
far as I know, Batman  never took on Hydra again, though-- he left that job to
Nick Fury.)  Back  at home in Gotham City, Dick Grayson is amused to note that
thanks to time zone  differences, news reports have Batman and Robin
capturing Karabi in Asia at 8  p.m. and also bagging the Hydra head in Switzerland at
the same hour.  "You  seemingly were at two places at the same time!"  Bruce
Wayne tops that by  pointing out that back in Gotham City it is only 8 p.m.
now, so they both can  actually say they were in three places at the same time. 
(Given travel  distances between Asia, Europe and America even with a fast
jet, I find this  pretty hard to believe.  I didn't realize the Batplane had
lightspeed  capability.....)

The letter column conducted by Julie Schwartz has some  comments, mostly
favorable, about the recently introduced "New Look".  One  writer, Bill Elliott of
Wayland, Mass., sadistically notes that he was glad to  see Robin get shot in
the leg in an earlier story "after twenty years of being  under fire". 
(Actually Robin got shot and otherwise banged up a few times  back in the Golden
Age.)  Ye Editor responds, "Curious, isn't it, that  'after 20 years of being
under fire', Robin is still a teen-ager?  That's a  mystery that we doubt even
Batman can solve!"   Another writer, Cecil  Van Beuren of Slater, Mo.,
complains that Batman and Robin's "seeming  indifference toward the feminine sex" is
"unrealistic".  (I guess he wasn't  around a few years earlier to hear Freddy
Wertham's alleged explanation for  this....)  The editorial response is, "We
don't pretend to give you a  minute-by-minute accounting in the daily lives of
our heroes, just the  highlights, especially (of) their crime-busting
activities.  So to assume  they are 'indifferent' to embers of the opposite sex is
'unrealistic' on your  part."  (It's still curious, though, that each of his other
heroes was set  up with a love interest, Schwartz got rid of Batwoman and
didn't make any real  effort to establish a new girlfriend for Batman.  Well,
there were a couple  of stories in which a policewoman named Patricia Powell was
introduced as a  possible love interest, but that didn't go anywhere.)