Detective Comics #275, "The Zebra Batman!"

DETECTIVE COMICS #275; January 1960; DC Comics (National Comics Publications); Jack Schiff, editor (Murray Boltioff & George Kashdan, associate editors); cover-featuring "The Zebra Batman!"  On the cover, Batman stands on a Gotham City street with a black and white zebra-stripe pattern replacing his usual gray and blue-black look.  Radiation from his body is knocking over a car and a lamppost, bystanders are fleeing in terror, and a distraught Robin is warning, "G-get back, everybody!  Batman has become a MENACE!"

Review by Bill Henley

On the splash page, Batman looks normal, driving the Batmobile, but he and Robin are facing a villain sporting the glowing zebra look.  The Zebra-Man boasts, "Now, Batman, I'll show you what I can REALLY do with my power!", and emits lightning-like bolts from his arm which send a water tank crashing down toward the Batmobile.  Robin helpfully warns, "Look out, Batman! The Zebra-Man has sent that water tank crashing down at us!"

One day, "socialite Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson" don their costumes and set out to patrol Gotham City as Batman and Robin.  They come across a robbery in progress at the Gotham Art Museum, and one of the masked bandits has an unusual fashion sense; "he's) wearing some sort of costume with weird, glowing stripes!"  The "Zebra-Man" touches a button on his belt and "strange emanations from his fingers" tear the locked steel doors of the gallery asunder!  "Okay, boys-- now let's grab some of the priceless paintings inside!"  (Priceless maybe, but pretty traceable and hard to fence, no?  Maybe this elementary mistake in choice of loot is meant to mislead any misguided young readers who may be tempted to don a zebra-striped costume and go out robbing.  After all, the Comics Code says not to teach kids the unique methods of any crime.)  Despite being startled by the Zebra-Man's method of entry, Robin is confident of the outcome; "We caught 'em flatfooted, Batman!  They're as good as captured!"  Maybe not... Zebra-Man uses his forceful personality to push a life-size knight statue over on to Batman, knocking him down.  By the time our hero recovers, the gang is fleeing in a car, and our heroes pursue in the Batmobile.  It is then that Zebra-Man uses his power to topple a water tank.  Batman manages to swerve out of the way, but the Batmobile gets stuck in a ditch as the Zebra-Man and his henchmen make their escape.  "We'll never get that striped character now!  Who is he?  What do those stripes mean?" 

As Batman alerts the police department, and Gotham newspapers report the Zebra-Man's raid, back in his "secret laboratory" the Zebra-Man explains to one of his gang members the source of his power.  It seems that he is a scientist with criminal leanings who studied how all energy, such as magnetic energy, has "lines of force!"  He found a way to charge his body with energy so powerful that the glowing lines of force are visible on his costume in a zebra-like pattern!  But he has to be careful to keep the power under control by means of a special belt on his costume; "If I hadn't pressed THIS button first and put the force in NEUTRAL, everything in this room would have been sent flying back!... because without this belt, the powerful force cannot be controlled!" 

Meanwhile, at police headquarters, Batman and Robin are searching through the "rogues' gallery" records for a clue.  There are no zebra-striped faces in the mug shots, but Batman does recognize one of the masked henchmen by the grey streak in his black hair.  He is Jo-Jo Forbes, and frurther investigation reveals that Jo-Jo recently purchased a boat called the "Dolphin," presumably for use in one of the Zebra-Man's crime schemes.  Indeed,  out at sea the crew of a salvage ship, preparing to dive for gold bullion contained in a sunken vessel, spots the "Dolphin" with the Zebra-Man clearly visible on deck.  Using his magnetic powers, Zebra-Man raises the sunken gold ship from the sea bottom and tows it away! (Hmmm... couldn't Zebra-Man have skipped the art theft and grabbed the sunken gold without actually breaking any laws?  As far as I can figure, he would have as much salvage right as anyone else, even if he beat a rival salvage crew out by using his powers.  Another example of a comic book villain being at once very smart-- enough to create amazing scientific devices-- and very, very stupid-- using his powers to commit crimes and tangle with superheroes instead of finding legal and lucrative ways to exploit them.) 

The Batplane arrives above the scene and Batman leaps down upon the shoulders of Zebra-Man, hoping to subdue him before he can switch his powers from "attracting" force to "repelling".  But one of the henchmen pulls Batman off his boss; "Good work!  Stand clear-- I'LL take care of him now!"  He repels Batman overboard into the water, Our hero climbs a rope ladder to reach the Batplane piloted by Robin, but Zebra-Man creates a tidal wave which raises the formerly sunken ship into the air to strike the Batplane!  The broken-winged Batplane crashes into the water and stays afloat on its pontoons, so Batman and Robin survive to be picked up by a passing ship, but once again Zebra-Man has escaped with his loot!  Once again the Deductive Duo go looking for clues, and discover the "Dolphin" boat abandoned with signs the gang transferred the gold to a getaway truck.  A mud sample from one of the gang's footprints contains sulphur, which is only found in the soil of one area of Gotham City, and in that remote area our heroes find a cabin which they suspect to be the Zebra-Man's secret lair!

Finding Zebra-Man tinkering with his scientific equipment, Batman directs Robin to "get the Zebra-Man" while he handles the henchmen.  But Robin accidentally joggles a switch and Batman is himself "imbued with an eerie light" which infuse in him the same zebra-striped lines of force as his foe!  However, his zebra energy is uncontrolled, and it knocks everyone-- Robin, the gang, and Zebra-Man himself-- backwards!  (What, Bats, you forgot to install a Secret Bat-Lines-of-Force-Neutralizer compartment in your Utility Belt?  Shame on you.)  The uncontrolled force emanating from Batman also wrecks Zebra-Man's machine.  Zebra-Man adjusts his own lines of force to repel Batman's, and now Batman cannot get at his foe-- or at anything else!  As Zebra-Man flees, gloating that Batman will be "a prisoner of the force-lines" forever, Zebra-Batman warns Robin to stay clear of him lest he be shattered like a nearby tree.  Without a control belt, "I'm a menace to anyone who comes near me!"  And "in his mind's eye, Batman envisions a tragic future..."  He'll be unable to eat food, since his force field will repel any food brought near him. (A few years later, in an X-MEN story, Unus the Untouchable had a similar problem.)  If he resumes his Bruce Wayne identity, his secret will be exposed to all as the glowing zebra stripes shine through his Bruce clothes.  He'll be feared and shunned by all and will have to abandon Gotham City in order to avoid endangering the public.  (Actually, if he's going to be unable to eat or drink, he won't have to worry about any of this other stuff for very long...)  As he flees from Robin, Batman urges the Boy Wonder to try to track down and defeat Zebra-Man; "Finish the job I couldn't do!  I can never work with you again!"  "No, Batman... d-don't say that!"

"Like an outcast, Batman wanders off alone-- always careful to keep his terrible power away from anyone or anything near him!"  But he does wander near a junkyard, and notices that his super-charged body is attracted by an electromagnet attached to a crane.  This gives him an idea of how to escape his dilemma, and he rushes back toward Zebra-Man's hideout, where Robin is still searching for clues.  Robin has found a sketch of the next robbery target which Zebra-Man and his gang have "cased."  "Robin, here's what I want you to do-- and FAST-- before the Zebra-Man gets there!"  Just one hour later, the Zebra gang arrive at the Gotham Storage Co., where Zebra-Man tears down a steel door to give his henchmen access to a load of valuable furs.  But as they start to make their getaway, Zebra-Batman arrives on the scene to stop them!  Zebra-Man tells his gang to just stay clear of him and he'll use his repelling power to make sure Batman can't reach them.  But the unexpected happens; as Zebra-Man approaches Batman, instead of the Striped Crusader being pushed away, the two of them are pulled toward each other!  As Zebra-Man is yanked into his grasp, Batman is able to punch him on the chin and pull his control belt off him, causing the lines of force to vanish from the villain's body.  (I had the impression that the belt only kept the force lines on Zebra-Man under control, but didn't actually cause them.  But never mind...)  After using his own repulsion power to knock the gang into the hands of the police, Batman puts on the control belt and uses it to cancel out his own lines of force.  Batman explains to a puzzled ex-Zebra-Man that after realizing that an opposite charge would attract his body, "I charged that manhole cover so that it would reverse your force field, making it OPPOSITE to mine!"  Later, Batman and Robin visit Zebra-Man in prison and are amused to note that he's still wearing stripes!  No, he's not wearing an old-fashioned striped prison uniform, but shadows from the bars on the window fall across his body giving him a striped look.

I came across this issue and picked it out to review because I vaguely remember reading the story when it first came out, when I was about six years old.  As I recall, I thought the zebra look was kind of cool and almost wished Batman could keep it permanently.  Someone else must have remembered it also; there was a BATMAN: BRAVE & THE BOLD animated episode (I think it was just the short teaser to the episode) where Batman goes through a whole bunch of these strange changes from Silver Age stories, including Zebra Batman, Mummy Batman and others. 

Next in the issue is "The Best Present of All!", one of the public-service pages with uplifting mesages that often appeared in DC comics i the 50's and 60's (reportedly they were a pet project of editor Jack Schiff).  Some of these pages starred Superman, Superboy or other costumed heroes, but this one features Archie-wannabe Binky, who kept on appearing occasionally in the public-service pages long after his own comic book bit the dust.  Here, Binky helps convince the impoverished Allergy that the home-made gifts and generous deeds he did for others were just as good as the expensive store-bought gifts he couldn't afford.

Roy Raymond, TV Detective stars in "The Super Brain-Maker!", drawn by Ruben Moreira (the GCD doesn't identify a writer).  In this story, which I'm not going to cover in much detail, Roy Raymond uncovers a hoax perpetrated by an inventor named Craven (anybody with a name like that in a comic book is up to no good) who claims to have created a helmet that will transform anyone who wears it into a super-genius capable of solving any problem.  In reality, the helmet only contains a two-way radio by which the wearer can receive info from confederates to make him look smart. 

Finally, John Jones, Manhunter from Mars, meets "John Jones' Pesky Partner!"  Actually, he meets her again, as this is the second appearance for policewoman Diane Meade, who debuted back in 'TEC #246 (Aug. 1957) as "John Jones' Female Nemesis!"  That was before J'onn J'onzz began functioning publicly as a superhero, and John Jones' problem was to satisfy Miss Meade's curiosity about his highly successful detecting methods without revealing that those methods were based on use of his secret Martian powers.  He put up with the nuisance partly because "she IS kind of pretty.. as, er, Earth girls go!"  and at the end of the story, having reverted to his true Martian form, he wondered, "Would her eyes sparkle if she saw me in my NATURAL state-- like this? *Sigh* A Martian on Earth can lead an awfully lonely existence!"

Here, we may find out how Diane reacts to John Jones' true form, for in the meantime, the existence of the "Manhunter from Mars" has been revealed to the world.  John Jones, who has been supplanted as the crime-fighting sensation of Middletown by his green alter ego, is chagrined when Diane, now an official uniformed policewoman, is assigned to work alongside him.  "OW!  With her around, how can I use my Martian powers as J'onn J'onzz?"  Their first assignment is to find a way to rescue a woman whose car is stuck atop a partially opened drawbridge.  Seems like more of a job for the fire department or rescue squad than a plainclothes detective, but anyway, John orders Diane to "help keep the crowd back" while he sneaks off to become J'onn J'onzz.  He rescues the girl by "rearranging his molecular structure" to stretch across the gap in the drawbridge, so that the girl can drive her car right across him to the other side!  (So J'onn demonstrates a similar ability to the character who would eventually replace him in DETECTIVE, the Elongated Man.)

When Detective John Jones rejoins Diane, she greets him, "Well done, Mr. Martian Manhunter!"  Based on the rather thin evidence that Jones disappeared when the Manhunter appeared, and that the Manhunter displayed shape-changing abilities, she has deduced that the Manhunter has "(chosen) an Earth detective to disguise himself!"  Jones is highly upset; though Diane promises secrecy, he fears she will inadvertently reveal his secret and herself become a target for criminals.  Quickly, he lays plans to divert Diane's suspicions.  As Jones and Diane are patrolling the street, a parked truck explodes in a fiery blast, threatening a famous statue standing nearby.  Diane urges Jones to switch to Martian Manhunter and save the statue, but he tells her, "i--I wish I could do what you say, Diane, but I can't!"  And he's not just pretending helplessness; (thought) "Fire saps my Martian strength!  Fortunately, I took other measures!"  Diane is amazed as, with John Jones standing on the sidelines, the Martian Manhunter appears to save the day!  It is actually a robot that the real J'onn J'onzz has built.  Not apparently as sophisticated a robot as the ones Superman builds for similar purposes, as he has to manipulate the robot with his super-breath in order for it to carry the iron statue out of danger.

Diane admits she must have been wrong, but then her suspicions are rekindled when a crook named Willy Horan fires a gun point-blank at John Jones and he is unharmed!  As bystanders wonder at Jones' survival, Diane thinks, "I think I know the reason-- but I daren't breathe a word of it to anyone!"  (Actually, the John Jones stories weren't very consistent on whether or not Jones retained his Martian powers, including invulnerability, when he was in his human disguise.  Sometimes he did, sometimes not, depending on what the plot called for.)  But once again Jones deflects Diane's suspicions by claiming the bullet was deflected by a metal good luck charm he was carrying in his pocket.  "You must think I'm an awfully silly goose for suspecting you of being the Martian Manhunter!"  (Jones' thought) "In fact, I think you're a very clever girl-- and I'll have to be especially careful in the future to fool you!"

Diane Meade remained as a supporting character in the J'onn J'onzz strip for the remainder of its DETECTIVE run.  She and Jones had a mild, low-key romantic relationship going, but it ended sadly for her as she mourned John Jones' apparent death in DETECTIVE #326.  He wasn't really dead-- he faked his death in order to be free to pursue the Idol-Head of Diabolu as the Manhunter-- but he left a tearful Diane behind with hardly a thought.  At least he didn't have to end up telling her, "Sorry, Diane, but it would never work out!  My old parents back on Mars would be mortified if I married outside my species!"