Bizarro Back Issues: Batman Battles The Scourge Of Elephant Crime (1964)
Like a lot of people who started reading comics at an early age, I learned a lot of things from superheroes. Most of it was trivia, like all the Army slang that you can pick up from back issues of GI Joe --- and a lot of it was completely wrong, like that thing about only using 10% of your brain --- but comic books have always been full of weird little facts that creators decided to build entire stories around. Like, say, the time that Batman devoted his considerable resources to finally battling the most pressing scourge of 1964: Elephant Crime.
No, not crime involving elephants, like, poaching or illegal ivory smuggling. This is crime committed by elephants. And that's not the weirdest thing about this story.
This particular issue of Detective Comics was brought to my attention by CA's own Benito Cereno, who's been steadily working his way through Carmine Infantino's work on Batman over the past few weeks. This one, by Infantino and writer Gardner Fox --- the team that would go on to create Barbara Gordon three years later --- was enough for him to stop reading, pick up the phone, and just text me the words "Detective Comics #333. Batman fights elephants."
The man knows how to get my attention.
And right from the opening, it's a good one, with Batman and Robin shutting down a gang of criminals that has been operating out of the Gotham City Zoo.
In any other story, I have to imagine that this would be pretty disappointing. I mean, Zoo Crooks are a pretty interesting story hook all by themselves --- just imagine that deathtraps that you could get from luring Batman into the reptile house or that big refrigerator where the penguins live! Sure, that last one might be gimmick infringement, but still, there's a lot of potential there, and it seems like a bit of a waste to have them punched out and done with in the span of a single page.
Or it would be, if page two did not introduce Gorla, Goddess to All Elephants.
Gorla --- who, just to be clear about this, is a woman dressed in what I can only describe as a Sexy Wooly Mammoth costume, which I guess makes a certain kind of sense --- has appeared to the Dynamic Duo because she's very concerned about Evan Bender, an "animal trainer and explorer" who went to Africa looking for the legendary Elephant Graveyard. He's been at this for two years, but Gorla has only recently decided that he's in danger and that Batman needs to be alerted so he can go to Africa and save him. But, you know, you have to give her some leeway there. Elephant Goddesses are probably not going to operate on our frail human ideas of punctuality.
After charging Batman and Robin with saving Bender, because even if he'd been around in '64, you don't really want to trust B'wana Beast to get the job done when someone's life is on the line, Gorla vanishes. And Batman? Batman is having none of it.
Thanks to his photographic memory and an undoubtedly rich history of dealing with sexy mammoth costumes, Batman is able to peg "Gorla, Goddess of All Elephants" as one Alice Foss, Bender's fiancee, who made a quick change into a green minidress after her pseudo-mystical appearance.
This really raises the question of why she bothered to dress up as an elephant goddess in the first place --- or rather, why Gardner Fox thought that it was a good idea to take up two pages in a thirteen-and-a-half-page story with a weird red herring about the humanoid deity responsible for pachyderms rather than just having her go directly to Batman and ask for his help. I mean, he's a pretty good guy. He'd probably look into things if you asked him nicely, especially since he's no longer busy dealing with Zoo Gangs.
Which is exactly what happens. After explaining that she merely wanted to get his attention in a "provocative way," Alice explains herself, and before long, Batman is off to darkest Africa in a sequence that is every bit as weird as Gorla's appearance:
A few things to mention here: First of all, you probably shouldn't be talking about how elephants have to rely on their other senses or else be helpless due to poor eyesight when you are literally dressed as a bat. Second, elephants have the capacity for hate. That is not a thing I knew before reading this comic, and I honestly do not care if it's true, although it does make me wonder if Gary Larson read this comic before drawing that one Far Side panel about the elephant who sought that most human of desires: revenge.
Third, and this was Benito's other selling point, the time frame of this sequence implies that Batman has just been straight lecturing Robin on elephant facts (elephacts) for at least eighteen hours.
One thing he failed to mention, though, was that when faced with a charging herd of the great beasts, one should always attempt to ward them off by drop-kicking them right in the trunk.
And also that their eyes are more red than the devil.
Eventually, the caped crusaders find Bender, leading a bunch of unfortunately stereotypical natives who attack Batman on his orders. In the fight, however, Batman manages to knock loose a stone necklace that Bender was wearing, and as I think we all expected at this point, it was of course a magic stone that gave him control over all elephants because he loves elephants so much that they cannot resist his charms.
Oh, and also it gave an unscrupulous hunter --- the actual villain of the story, who shows up with one and a half pages left to go --- telepathic control over Bender, which is how he's been controlling them by proxy and literally sending them to go steal diamonds from local villages.
And again, Batman is having none of it.
I think this might actually be the first Batman story I've read where Batman just sort of casually stands around while some rando from Gotham beats the living bejeezus out of the villain of the story. And really, the fact that Bender and the hunter are both virtually interchangeable, and that Batman's body language is of someone who was really excited about elephacts and is now just having to deal with this stupid mystical rock squabble, only makes it better.
And with that, the story ends --- but not before we cut back to Gotham, where Batman and Robin hang up the mystical stone in the Batcave, just in case they ever need to telepathically control elephants of their own. That might not seem like a very pressing concern, but, well, this is a story that opened with Batman fighting zoo crimes, so, y'know. Better safe (to control giant animals with the power of your love for elephants) than sorry.
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