Bizarro Back Issues: Batman Battles The Completely Nonexistent Threat Of Witchcraft (1965)
Batman is no stranger to the supernatural. I mean, he's been fighting vampires since 1939, and there was an animated series only a few years ago that prominently featured the idea that he has special Batarangs made of space metal specifically for the purposes of beating up ghosts. It's a thing that he does, and unsurprisingly, he does it well. Except, of course, for that stretch where the Comics Code wanted to assure people that while benevolent alien newspapermen and bachelors in Dracula suits with teen sidekicks were a-okay, witchcraft was something that definitely, definitely did not exist.
Which, of course, did nothing to stop it from being the source of Gotham City's latest crime wave.
It all happened in Detective Comics #336's 'Batman's Bewitched Nightmare', by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff, a story that promises magic spells and a broom-riding sorceress and then immediately makes sure to tell its readers that magic does not actually exist. Seriously: It's the very first line in the story.
It's in there, of course, because of the Comics Code, whose content guidelines forbade any reference to the supernatural as part of its scheme to put EC and its line of lurid horror comics out of business. If you wanted that stamp (and its nigh-magical ability to trick parents into thinking that stories of Batman and Robin solving social ills by punching them squarely in the face were good, wholesome, educational entertainment), then the only way that you could do a story that involved any of those exciting elements was to constantly assure readers that it was all going to turn out to be a big fake-out at the end. And really, that undercuts the drama just a little bit. Even when you're watching an episode of Scooby-Doo, they still wait until the end to show you that it's just a weird old man dressed up as Frankenstein, right?
But it does make for a pretty interesting challenge for the creators, and seeing how they get around it is always fun. Assuming, of course, that they try to get around it at all.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First, we have a pumpkin to deal with:
Right away, I have so many questions, and chief among them is why. Why is there a coach made of a pumpkin being pulled by mice in the middle of Gotham City? It's only there to be transformed as a demonstration of the mysterious witch's power, but even in Gotham, that is not a natural occurrence. Someone had to put it there, and that is an awful lot of work for something that only the readers are going to see.
But yes, the pumpkin and its attendant mice are transformed into a car full of gangsters who quickly set about robbing a bank. Fortunately, Batman and Robin arrive to put a stop to the crime, and we get to see exactly what it would be like if I was a criminal in Gotham City:
At first, I thought the crooks were being weirdly complimentary towards Batman as some kind of weird side effect of having recently been mice, but amazingly, that is not something that's ever going to be brought up again. Instead, they're perfectly happy to get punched out and thrown into walls because Batman can't actually arrest them. When he tries, his hands pass through the smiling crooks as though they're ghosts, and it's revealed that the witch flying around above them has robbed them of the first of their five senses: Touch.
As the story continues, the Witch keeps up the theme in a series of escalating deathtraps, with each one relying on the loss of a particular sense. First, the loss of sight renders the crooks' getaway car (and literally nothing else) invisible, and then once the Dynamic Duo are lured into a cave, a lack of hearing almost gets them crushed by a rockslide, before their inability to smell a natural gas leak almost gets them blown up.
Sadly, the witch never gets around to taking away their sense of taste, which is a real shame. If this story is missing anything, it's a scene where everyone breaks for lunch.
Eventually, Batman and Robin track the witch (and those mousy crooks from earlier) to a farm house, but before they can bring her in, they're ambushed with one last "magic" "spell" that turns Batman into a scarecrow:
At this point, with Batman literally turning into straw and bursting at the seams of his costume, you might be wondering just how exactly Fox and Moldoff were going to tie this story up without explaining away all the stuff that happened as magic. Go ahead and guess how they're going to do it now, I can almost promise you the actual answer will blow your mind.
While Robin figures out that the witch has only used her powers while she's riding her broom, Batman shakes off his temporary bout of scarecrowitis just in time to beat the living heck out of the bank robbers in one of the most amazingly brutal fights of the Silver Age:
Bashing your way through someone's front door and then literally picking up the door you just broke down and using it to beat the people inside into unconsciousness is one of the most baller moves of all time, even by the standards of a guy who has a car and a jet shaped like his own head.
So! Who's got a guess for how all this magic stuff's going to be explained away? The answer, and I have to admit that this is a bold move, is that it's not. Fox and Moldoff make no effort at all to say that there weren't actual supernatural powers in play that were robbing Batman of his sense of smell and turning pumpkins into cadillacs. They just use slightly different words.
It turns out that the entire thing is a plot by the Outsider --- you know, from that time when Alfred got killed in a junkyard and then got Frankensteined back to life and thought he was a super-powered crime boss who hated Batman for a while? --- who has suddenly gained the ability to speak through a broomstick:
Aha! It was never witchcraft or sorcery at all, which, as the Outsider is sure to tell us for the third time in fourteen pages, do not actually exist at all! It was just normal, run-of-the-milll paranormal powers channeled through a rare wood, which as we all know are similar to but legally distinct from supernatural powers. Hope that clears everything up.
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