Bizarro Back Issues: Aliens Give Batman The (Giant Glowing Green) Finger (1960)
Last weekend marked the official Batman Day, and while I hope I've made it clear over my years of writing about comics that I strive to keep Batman in my heart the whole year 'round, I think we can all agree that it's nice to take some time and talk about the many wonderful things that he's done in his 76 years of crime-fighting. The thing is, you always hear about the same stuff. It's always "Dark Knight" this, and "Year One" that, and "that time he fought Bane and got knocked out of comics for like two years because of an actual professional wrestling move."
Don't get me wrong, those are important events, sure, but they're a tiny, tiny fraction of what Batman has done, and I think it's time that we honor some of the more unloved --- but just as deserving --- examples of heroism from his considerable career. Like, say, that time that he saved Gotham City from having all of its metal stolen by a giant green hand from another dimension by proving that aliens should be able to speak foreign languages.
Okay, that one might require a little explanation. It happened in 1960's Batman #130, and if you ever get a chance to sit down and read the entire issue, you probably should. Not only is there a story about Batman's extremely public birthday party and how it got robbed by some crooks who had the absolute worst idea of where to commit their crimes and a story about a villain trying to take over Gotham's rackets with actual medieval siege weapons, it's also got "The Hand From Nowhere," a true gem of the era by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff.
At the time, the Sci-Fi Era of Batman was in full swing; the same strange period that saw Batman heading out to space for stories like "Robin Dies At Dawn." But the character was also starting to move back towards a formula that would be built more around the same kind of thematic villains that provided the basis of the '66 TV show --- most of whom, you may recall, were actually from Earth. And the great thing about this particular story is how well it straddles both of those little bits of Batman history.
It opens with Commissioner Gordon incredulously telling our heroes about a bold new crime wave that's being committed by a giant floating hand controlled by aliens, and I gotta say...
... Gordon's grumpy dismissal would carry a lot more weight if it hadn't actually been flying saucers the previous year. Get used to weird robberies, buddy. It's 1960 and you're in for a long decade.
Anyway, as the aliens chat about how their "Language Scramblers" give them the ability to speak English, the giant hand starts rounding up a bunch of zinc. It seems that the aliens have a giant creature called a Gnarl back on their home planet, and they're popping open a dimensional portal that it can reach through to gather various metals for some sinister project. Clearly, this cannot stand, but it turns out that our heroes aren't up to the task. In a sentence that I can assure you I take no small amount of pleasure from writing, Batman and Robin are fingered into unconsciousness.
It is not their proudest moment.
Batman and Robin prove to be so ineffective in stopping the aliens, in fact, that they manage to make off with metals seemingly at will, racking up a score of zinc, copper, tin and even platinum, while the government makes a truly amazing announcement to a terrified populace over a public address system:
And through it all, Batman and Robin are helpless. The hand seems to be immune to gunfire, and when Batman and Robin try to stop it by wrapping it up in chains and carting it off with the Batplane, it just snaps itself free of the chains and continues on its merry way.
But something's not quite right about all of this. Maybe Batman suspects something when he notices that the aliens are just basically dressed up as someone's fanart of what Silver Age Brainiac would look like if he was a kitty cat, but when they recognize that the police are carrying gas guns without being told what they are, he definitely decides that something's off here and launches his go-to plan:
Have you guessed how Batman has tricked the aliens into revealing that they're not aliens at all?
If you haven't, don't worry, because the answer's on the very next page, and it has a lot to do with Batman's highly dubious linguistic skills:
Far be it from me to think the worst of Bill Finger, but I suspect that may not have actually been an example of Inuit languages being spoken in those previous panels. If you know better, however, please get in touch; I'm willing to be wrong in this case.
Anyway, if the aliens are just crooks, this raises two very important questions: Who are they really, and, perhaps more importantly, don't they still have a giant all-powerful indestructible hand that has proven impossible to destroy, which doesn't really change even if you know they're not aliens? Well, that second one's never going to get answered, but that first one is a pretty good mystery.
You just have to think about who in the DC Universe would have the scientific know-how to make an unstoppable giant hand, and would think it was a good idea to make it glowing and green.
Yup: It's Lex Luthor. In fact, in a bit of minor historical significance, this is the only time that Luthor would appear in a Batman story without Superman as a solo villain until the '90s.
In any case, now that they have a face to punch, Batman and Robin are far more capable of dealing with the bad guys --- bad guys who, for some unexplained reason, do not attempt to use their giant indestructible hand to foil the crimefighters. Instead, Batman and Robin take it over and scoop up Luthor's car, delivering him directly to the police station.
And that... is how the high five was invented.
Well, fine, no, it's not, but the next time Batman Day rolls around, tell everyone that's what happened. If enough of us say it, it just might stick.
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