Abandoning 50s-style adventures in time and space, 60s-style camp and -- at least for a while -- colorful super-villains, the Batman stories of the early Bronze Age put the emphasis on mystery and sleuthing. The "Caped Crusader," we were reminded, is also "the World's Greatest Detective."

Stories of the 70s often found Batman conducting investigations not from a Bat-Cave full of microscopes, computers and analyzers, but on the streets of Gotham, using a handful of gadgets from his utility belt, but more importantly his own keen powers of observation and encyclopedic knowledge of crime and science.

It may be hard to imagine these days, when most Batman stories are concerned with large-scale carnage, running battles and plots that focus myopically on Batman and his closest allies, but there was a time when the character did solve crimes. It wasn't uncommon for whole issues to deal with unravelling the details of a mysterious death. And not the death of a "major character" or sidekick, but that of a common Gothamite, some poor schmuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words, Bronze Age Batman had a job to do -- ridding Gotham of crime -- and he did it. Not by lying in wait to beat the snot out of small-time hoods, but by using his incomparable brain to outfox even the craftiest murderer.

A sleuth in spandex was always an odd concept, which may be why today's Batman favors Marvel-style butt-kickin' over intellectual pursuits. But in the Bronze Age it helped set him apart from the crowd. Batman was not only the hero we could aspire to be, he was also the one who seemed really concerned with what was happening in the real world. While the rest of the longjohn crowd were battling world-eaters and pummelling each other, somebody still had to work the scene of a simple homicide. It was that focus on the real world, on the human cost of crime, that gave the Batman mythos its appeal. After all, Batman was the hero created out of crime. He was a victim whose mission was to help other victims.

Getting killed in Gotham left you as dead as getting killed anywhere else. But at least you knew with Batman on the job, the odds were better than good that your killer would get caught.


Batman #295 gave us this tale of old-fashioned sleuthing from writer Gerry Conway and artist Michael Golden. This time Batman has some help from the Mystery Analysts, a group of professional and amateur detectives not seen since the 60s and -- as far as I know -- never seen again after this tale.

Golden was a good choice for Batman with his penchant for lanky, lithe characters and his masterful use of blacks. His work on the character here and elsewhere remains some of my favorite stuff. As late as the 90s he provided memorable covers for the bat-books and in 1984 he drew (most of) the fondly remembered classic, "The Player on the Other Side."

Besides the mystery angle, "Houdini" is also memorable for Batman's display of prowess as an escape artist. Sadly the printing processes used by DC in this period were extremely poor, so my scans aren't fantastic, but the charm of the story still comes through. So without further ado...Abra-Cadabra!


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