With The Batman’s Riddler/Zodiac riff making headlines, the celebrated Mr. K takes you back to 1963 to meet the Zodiac Master!

Much has already been said about how Paul Dano’s Riddler in The Batman was inspired by the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized the San Francisco area more than 50 years ago. That fits today’s darker than dark Bat-milieu, but the Caped Crusader has kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really been down this road before — when he battled the Zodiac Master during the much lighter Silver Age.

Yes, the powder-blue-clad Zodiac Master.

So dig 13th Dimension columnist Paul Kupperberg’s trip to 1963. (And for Jim Beard’s similarly absurd exploration of the Batman ’66 episode “The Zodiac Crimes,” click here.)


I wouldn’t pick up my first issue of Detective Comics until #324’s “The Menace of the Robot Brain,” which was graced with a Sheldon Moldoff cover that made me, at 8 years old, leap for the newsstand to grab a copy to read the story behind the startling image.

I might have glimpsed the previous issue, Detective Comics #323 (released in November 1963) on that same magazine rack in the candy store on the corner of Flatlands Avenue and East 80th Street in Brooklyn the month before, but its run-of-the-mill cover probably hadn’t made any impression on me.

I likely had 25 cents to spend, a single quarter clutched in my grimy little paw to buy whatever I wanted. Two comic books and a 1-cent slab of Bazooka (which came wrapped in a comic strip), or one comic, a 10-cent candy bar, and a selection of penny candies that actually did cost only a penny, or blow the whole thing on a single DC 80-Page Giant!

While I don’t stalk upcoming superhero movies, preferring to wait until there’s something tangible to critique instead of losing my mind over out-of-context costume designs, plot rumors, and dark location photos, the multi-dimensional Dan Greenfield informs me that in The Batman, “the Riddler is clearly patterned on the Zodiac Killer,” which would make this Silver Age tale the first time we saw “Batman vs. the Zodiac.”

Holy palm reading, Batman!


The Cover. OK, maybe it’s no “The Menace of the Robot Brain,” but the “The Zodiac Master” cover has Silver Age charm all its own, from the simplistic layout to the chatty copy explaining what we can clearly see is happening in the Sheldon Moldoff illustration.

Page 1. Rinse and repeat! If the cover hadn’t already clued you in to the Zodiac Master’s powers, the splash page reprises the concept, complete with the two of the Hat Trick of cliches common to the storytelling of the time: (1) the art shows the action, (2) the caption explains what you’re looking at, and (3) one of the characters restates it in case you missed it the first two times. (“The Zodiac Menace,” by the way, was written by Dave Wood, pencilled by Moldoff, and inked by Charles Paris.)

Page 2. “Heed my words,” this is good old school storytelling. No waste of panels diving into the story, no full-page dramatic “For I am… the Zodiac Master!” reveal before delivering his warning. Au contraire! He looks to be skipping off, finger raised in the air for emphasis, while the Gotham cops, likely fed up with the endless parade of costumed crackpots, barely bother to chase him off.

Page 3. When warnings aren’t enough, use sabotage! Thank goodness Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are at the airport after having seen a friend off on their vacation, proving that even millionaire playboys and their young wards are bothered by friends for rides to the airport.

Page 4. Still, if they’d made their friend grab an Uber, Batman and Robin would have missed the opportunity to be casually defeated in a net from Zodiac Master’s Scorpio sign while he escaped.

Page 5. Zodiac Master is two for two on the predictions (best sour grapes moment: “Or it could be just a coincidence, Robin!”), and then we’re into Act Two! No time for characterization (although I think Bruce driving his friend to the airport says a lot about his character right there), just enough time to introduce a crime wave into the story, a “seemingly random new element” before the Dynamic Duo is called into action.

Page 6. Batman and Robin capture crooks escaping on racehorses… on racehorses! In, I should add, a really nicely drawn little sequence.

Page 7. Storytelling nuance in a 1963 Batman story? It slipped into at least the first panel, when Crook A mutters how “Mr. Z must have read his symbols wrong” and Crook B gives him a nudge with his elbow and a dirty side glance to shut him up. But that’s all Batman needs to hear to give him a hunch. Still, don’t worry about any suspense sneaking in on the heels of the Panel One nuance: Zodiac Master spills the beans the next panel.

Page 8. Who needs Matches Malone? Batman’s Generic Hoodlum Disguise… new this Halloween from the Ben Cooper Company! So authentic, it gets you brought straight into the den of the criminal mastermind without anyone even asking your name.

Page 9. Physics worked differently when I was a boy. Back then, a jet-propelled arrow traveling a distance of six to eight feet struck with an impact barely able to pierce cloth.

Page 11. Act Three, people! The bad guy is on the lam (the double-crosser!), but they don’t call them the Darknight Detectives for nothing. “What possible crime could a bull suggest?” Batman muses. A butcher shop? The rodeo? A china shop?

Page 11. “Calling all units! Be on the lookout for large flying crab!”


Page 12. Zodiac Master throws everything he’s got at Batman, but fool Batman once, shame on you, fool him twice… well, you kind of have to fool him twice to stretch out the story for a few more pages, but dang it! Don’t expect to fool him three times!

Page 13. (Bonus “Moment,” because it feels mean not to run something from the last page!) Please note, at no point in the story is Zodiac Master given a real name, back story, or explanation of how his schtick works, another common trait of the Silver Age Batman’s villains. Also, Robin says “butt.”


— BATMAN ’66: When the Caped Crusader First Battled the ZODIAC on Screen. Click here.

— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite BATMAN ’66 EPISODES as a First-Run Viewer. Click here.

Sure, you know Paul Kupperberg as the prolific writer of over a thousand comic books for such characters and series as Superman, Aquaman, Doom Patrol, Vigilante, Life with Archie, Bart Simpson, Scooby-Doo, and dozens more for DC Comics, Archie Comics, Bongo Comics, and others, and that he is also the creator of the series Arion, Lord of Atlantis, Checkmate and Takion, and is a former editor for DC, Weekly World News, and WWE Kids Magazine. But Paul is also the author of numerous books, including the superhero novel JSA: Ragnarok and the comics industry-based murder mystery, The Same Old Story, not to mention (but we will anyway) Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics, I Never Write for the Money, But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check, Direct Comments: Comic Book Creators in their Own Words, The Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg and Son of the Unpublished Comic Book Scripts of Paul Kupperberg. You can follow Paul at and at

Author: Dan Greenfield

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