Detective Comics Issue 335- “Trail of the Talking Mask!”
Published January 1965
Writer: Gardner Fox
Pencils: Carmine Infantino
A new year for Detective Comics, but do they begin with a doozy of a thriller? Let’s find out!
After receiving some information from Hugh Rankin, Batman and Robin burst into the Gotham Jewel Mart where a few burglars are attempting to make away with the store’s inventory. Curiously, they don’t react when seeing the duo’s presence like any other bad guy. The heroes charge at these thugs and even more strangely they don’t fall on impact! Batman remarks that hitting one of them in the face was like hitting a block of concrete, while Robin has the same though. They try to catch up to the burglars but by they realize as soon as they reach the Batmobile, they’ll be long gone by now.
Batman tells his partner that there is definitely something strange about this crime. He looks down at his gloves and notices rubber specks on them, and deduces that they are dealing with robots, or more precisely “audio-animatrons” controlled by some “master mock-up artist!” In the ride to Rankin’s apartment, Batman recalls the information that was given to him by the private eye earlier that evening at the Mystery Analysts’ Club. Three men were casing the Jewel Mart, and they may be the same people behind the recent rash of jewelry store robberies in the city. Rankin also tells the world’s greatest detective that he will solve the case and let him deal with the robberies. When they arrive at the PI’s office, their secretary, still at work this evening, tells them that he left at 1PM and hasn’t returned yet. Robin thinks that Rankin may be still at the Jewel Mart, watching how the crime unfolds.
He is right, as Hugh Rankin spies on a trio of men who were behaving exactly like the robbers did during the robbery. Another flashback occurs this time regarding those three men, who have been training for days to be in tip top shape. They wore special electronic gizmos to move the audio-animatrons like a puppet or a mobile fighter. Back in the present, an old man dressed like a maestro greets the six persons, the three puppets and three actual burglars. They clean up for the night, and we are treated to a short origin of this “Make-Up Master.” When he was younger he was part of a theatre troupe and learned disguise himself in many forms, from Hamlet to Cyrano to Rip Van Winkle. But he grew tired of this life, despite his pedigree as an actor and turned to a life of crime.
Just as the Make Up Master enjoys the spoils of his victory, the celebration is really spoiled by an intruder alert. The three thugs go upstairs and find Hugh Rankin. One of them shoots a light at him, and the other two go and beat him up. They drag him back to the Make-Up Master, who has just changed disguises to something like Gene Hackman. The antagonist of this play laughs at how they’ll use this intruder as bait for a trap to defeat the World’s Greatest Detective!
Batman and Robin return to the Jewel Mart to find Rankin, and clearly he isn’t there waiting for him. Hoping that he left a way for them to track him, Robin pulls out a special eyeglass to detect a certain chemical or paint. Rankin did indeed leave a trail and they follow it to an seemingly dilapidated theater in the park. They see that Rankin entered the theater, when he didn’t leave a not. The duo enter and find Rankin lying prostrate on the floor. Robin walks to him, but his partner pushes him out of the way, for fear that they will blow themselves up. Upon closer inspection, they realize it’s a dummy wired to explode.
They continue their search and find the three dummies. Batman tells his protege to ignore them, but they spring to life and start fighting them. With precious page space left, they destroy the robots with a good heave ho. Bursting through the doorway, the thugs have their pistols primed and start firing at the crime fighting duo. Batman and Robin slide, forcing all three to hit each other on the head. Meanwhile, the Make Up Master, now dressed like a beatnik, activates more of his machines, this time the titular talking masks. They fly at Batman, but miss and explode into little pieces.
After that little scene is done with, they find Hugh Rankin standing and waiting for them. Batman reveals that he knew the dummy was a fake because he lacked a five o’clock shadow. As they exit outside, Batman sets off the dummy as a demonstration. When they see Rankin pulling at his car, they realize that this one is also a fake, because the real one would’ve remember he locked his door. They tackle and arrest the Make-Up Master, and go back inside to rescue the real Rankin. The PI is disappointed he didn’t figure out this case, meaning he can’t join the Mystery Analysts this time. Batman reassures him if he keeps trying he definitely will.