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'The Merman Batman'

Batman, Number 118, September, 1958, cover.
©DC Comics (National Comics Publications, Inc.)
"The Merman Batman"
Publisher: National Comics Publications, Inc.

Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Ray Burnley

Script: Bill Finger
Penciler: Sheldon Moldoff
Colorist: ?
Letterer: ?

Batman 118 follows the tradition of science-fiction stories that took over many comic books, including adventure-based books like Batman, in the late 1950s. The cover presents a typical grammar school science fact, that fish breathe oxygen dissolved in water. In the background we see the typical Florence flask of the Batcave's chemistry lab.

The eight-page story opens with a Bob Kane credited splash panel tag. Batman and Robin are hunting the Vince Kenton gang in the wharf area of Gotham City. Batman unadvisedly climbs a towering flagpole during a driving rainstorm when — Cra-a-ack! — it is struck by lightning. He is knocked unconscious and falls into the river. Robin scours the harbor bottom for his mentor and concludes that the undercurrents have taken him out to sea! Batman sends Robin a message in Morse code on his belt radio. Following orders, Robin shows up with the huge water tank shown on the cover and a tow truck. After he is fished out of the water, Batman explains that he has become "a Human Fish." Robin reinforces the science lesson, "You mean... you can breathe the oxygen in the water, but can't survive on the surface? But... how's such a thing possible?" Batman blames the combination of the lightning and the chemical in his utility belt! (Doesn't that usually give you super-speed?) Kenton has conveniently left half of his calling card, showing the tail fin of either a late-1950s model car, a rocket, or a fish, at the scene of the crime. Kenton and Carl Smarte are conferring in some sort of a museum on the top floor of the Marine Construction Company about the location of Treasure Island. Batman, wearing a glass helmet around his head filled with water, and Robin break in through the skylight as previously shown in the splash panel. Smarte notes for the benefit of blind readers, "B-Batman! And he's wearing a glass helmet around his head — filled with water!" Vince starts shooting at the helmet because he has a hunch that that will be the end of Batman. It seems like a bullet to the chest would work just as well. During the ensuing battle, Smarte smashes Batman's protective helmet with a large model ship. Robin notes for the benefit of blind readers, "Oh, no!—He's smashed Batman's protective helmet!" Batman begins to suffocate, and Robin saves the day by activating the building sprinkler system with a match while he runs to the Batmobile for a spare helmet. When he comes back with the helmet, an observant reader might notice that Batman is standing right next to an aquarium filled with aerated water! In the next scene, still-helmeted Batman and Robin show up at Gotham City's huge new aquarium. Batman dives to the bottom of a huge tank and used a stethoscope to determining that the criminals are hiding out under its floor. After rounding up the fish and draining the tank, Batman and Robin access the hideout through a "latch," that looks suspiciously like a "hatch" to me, and haul out the criminals. Smarte is about to shoot out Batman's lifesaving helmet when Batman collapses, shattering the helmet again. As the gang prepares to off Robin, Batman springs to life and takes them out with a flying tackle. He reveals that he felt himself returning to normal, smashing the helmet and pretending to suffocate. Our heroes haul the Kenton gang to the commissioner. With the exception of the mention of oxygen there is not a lot of chemistry in this story, but it stands as a great example of late 1950s Batman.

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