Monday, November 28, 2011

Detective Comics #41 (July 1940)

"A Master Murderer"
Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Right off the bat, an homicidal maniac has escaped from an (unnamed) insane asylum. Later, on the grounds of the “Fashionable Private School for Boys”, the superintendent is found strangled to death. Next, a young boy named Ted Spencer is kidnapped from his dorm in the school by a mysterious shadowy stranger. These events together make headline news, spurring Bruce Wayne to believe it is a situation worth investigating. In order to get close enough, he enrolls his new ward, Dick Grayson, at the school – implying that Dick has not been attending school in the time he has been with Bruce so far. At the school, Bruce and Dick meet the principal, Blake, who agrees to enroll Dick. At that moment (of course), an angry teacher named Greer bursts in to yell at Blake. Turns out Blake dismissed him from the school because he failed a student for doing poorly on a test (instantly this principal is a favourite of the comic's youth audience). Greer leaves, but not before making some vague threats.
Blake decides to introduce Bruce and Dick to the rest of the faculty. First up is Graves, the art instructor, a master engraver who boasts of his skills. Then there is Hodges, the history teacher, who brushes off the introduction and who Graves does not trust. The police then arrive to begin their investigation for the missing boy (a little late, guys), so Bruce takes his leave of Dick, who will work alone as Robin.
Dick hears that the police failed to locate the boy's diary, and believing this to be a vital clue, he sneaks into the room at night, dressed as Robin. He finds the diary (the police missed it because it looked like his other school books -- worst police ever) and begins to read the final entry. It turns out Spencer spotted a masked man wandering the school and was going to tell the principal about it. Robin deduces that the boy was killed to keep the secret. And of course, at that moment the masked man is right behind Robin and attacks him! After a brief fight the masked man escapes with the diary.
Defeated, Robin contacts Batman using the wireless radio in his belt. Batman suggests searching the principal's office, since he was mentioned in the diary entry. So the next night Robin goes out to search Blake's office. But he's interrupted by a scream on the grounds, and discovers the escaped maniac attacking one of the janitors, convinced he's actually staff from the asylum come to take him back. Robin saves the janitor and fights the maniac. The commotion gets the attention of the police, who arrive and take the maniac back into custody while Robin escapes.
The next day the faculty members discuss these events, deciding that this must mean the case is wrapped up. Blake especially is convinced, until Hodges reminds him that the boy is still missing. That night, Robin returns to search Blake's office. He immediately discovers that Blake has been murdered. The next morning the police arrest Greer in connection with Blake's murder. It turns out the student Greer failed was Ted Spencer, the missing boy, but Greer protests his innocence!
At this point, Finger pauses the narrative to directly address the audience and ask which of the suspects they think is behind everything: Greer, Blake, the Maniac, Hodges, or Graves?
Batman does not believe Greer is the culprit, and orders Robin to patrol the school. Robin discovers the masked man lurking the halls, and follows him into a classroom, where he uses a sliding panel to access a hidden tunnel. Because that makes sense. Robin follows him and it leads into an old dwelling somewhere nearby. Turns out the masked man is running a counterfeit money operation, and Blake was involved somehow. Robin attacks, but is quickly overpowered by the gangsters. Of course, just then Batman arrives and saves the day. The two proceed to beat up all the bad guys, and unmask the villain. Turns out its Graves, the art teacher, and he was using his skills as an engraver to counterfeit money.
Batman proceeds to explain that Graves and Blake were partners, but Blake got greedy and Graves killed him. Graves is placed in custody, the young boy is rescued, and Bruce complements Dick on his detective abilities in this case.
My Thoughts: This story is essentially the first Robin solo story, which speaks to the popularity of the character, given that he was only introduced as Batman's sidekick three months ago. The plot itself is pretty formulaic, resembling both last month's Clayface story and an Agatha Christie novel with its parade of possible suspects and then reveal and explanation at the end. Its a decent Robin story, placing him in the appropriate setting of a private school for boys, but on the whole there is nothing particularly special about it. It feels like the creative team have settled into a pattern beginning here -- ending a great period of desperate innovation, now that the Batman character has proven successful.
The Art: Kane and Robinson deliver a product about on par with last month's issue, but the pedestrian nature of the story doesn't really produce any particularly memorable images.
The Story: Finger's writing feels like he's on autopilot. The Batman feature was now officially successful, and there just seems less at stake now. Robin solves a mystery is the long and short of this issue, which after over a year of really groundbreaking storytelling, just feels like coasting.
Notes and Trivia: First Robin solo story.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Detective Comics #40 (June 1940)

"Beware of Clayface!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Bob Kane
Jerry Robinson

Synopsis: Suddenly, Bruce Wayne's fianceé Julie Madison (not seen since Detective #34) is a motion picture actress. From reading the newspaper, Dick discovers she's acting in a new movie at Argus Pictures. Bruce decides to meet her at the studio (which is assumedly across the country in Hollywood). All this transpires in a single panel, because this is the Golden Age, dammit! Julie introduces Bruce to Bentley, head of the studio (drawn carrying a golf club!), who in turn introduces Bruce to Kenneth Todd, the star of Bentley's new picture "Dread Castle", a remake of an old silent picture.
Just then, the star of the original version, Basil Karlo, steps in to wish Todd good luck in the role. Karlo is remarked upon as an excellent character actor and make-up artist who ruined his career with his bizarre behavior. Just as Karlo leaves, Ned Norton bursts in, proving that Bentley has the worst secretary of all time. Norton is the director of "Dread Castle" but Bentley fires him because he has been chronically absent from set and causing delays. Norton leaves, but not before making some ominous threats.
Bentley takes Julie and Bruce down to the set, and it turns out he has spared no expense and built an entire castle for the movie (proving that Bentley is the worst film producer of all tim
e). As they arrive, star actress Lorna Dane is breaking up with her boyfriend Frank Walker because he hasn't had a role in "months" and she can't be seen "tied to an actor that's slipping!" Jeez, they must've really cranked them out under that old studio system, eh? Frank gets angry and leaves, but not before making some ominous threats.
Bruce decides this is an appropriate time to take Julie home (back to Gotham? Or some house in LA?), but not before Bentley can make a joke about how women are property. Oh, 1940, how I miss you. As Bruce leaves, a gangster named Roxy Brenner shows up and begins hustling Bentley to pay him protection money on the set. Either Bentley is way more of a B-movie producer than the story wants us to believe, or Brenner is the dumbest gangster of all time. Major studios pay insurance, Brenner, which is like protection money, but without the guns. Also, worst studio security ever, am I right? Anyways, Bentley refuses to pay, so Brenner leaves, but not before making some ominous threats.

A few days later, Bruce returns to visit Julie on the day they are shooting the pivotal scene where Lorna Dane's character is killed by The Terror (Kenneth Todd's character). Because again, worst studio security ever. But just as the scene reaches its crescendo, we are introduced to a frightening figure in the shadows in one of Kane and Robinson's spookiest panels ever (right -->). The mysterious man kills the lights and in the darkness there is a scream, and when the lights return, Lorna Dane is dead.
The police investigate, but after a week, Bentley decides to resume production. Julie confides in Bruce that she is worried she may be next, but Bruce reassures her by saying the killer was probably only after Lorna. Privately, however, Bruce is not so sure, and so he and Dick suit up as Batman and Robin, apparently driving Bruce's 1936 Cord all the way to Argus Pictures. As they get there, Roxy Brenner is using Lorna's death as a point to insist upon Bentley paying up, but Bentley still refuses. Batman and Robin leap in, unannounced, and spend a page beating up Brenner and his men, but once Batman is satisfied they had nothing to do with Lorna's death, he lets them go. Bentley tells Batman that he suspects either Frank Walker or Ned Norton, so Batman goes to confront Walker at his home and instructs Robin patrol the studio lot. Yeah, real good use of your partner.
Batman discovers Walker unconscious and hanging from a coat hook in a closet (??), any attempts to interrogate him yielding only the mumbled name "Clayface". Batman wonders who Clayface could be -- Ned Norton or Ken Todd? Meanwhile, back at the studio, Robin is attacked by Clayface and dropped off the side of the castle, into the moat below. Luckily, Batman returns at just that instant and saves Robin from drowning. With no new leads, Batman and Robin decide to wait until Clayface makes the next move.
The next morning, the scene where Julie's character is to be murdered by The Terror is being shot. Clayface shows up to attempt to kill her, but Batman is waiting and foils the attempt. The two battle on the catwalk, and Bentley (who appears to be directing this picture as well), orders the cameras be turned on the fight because "the shots will be knockouts!" Clayface tries to make an escape, but is foiled by Robin. Captured, Batman removes the mask to reveal Clayface to be... Basil Karlo! The master of monster make-up was jealous the remake of his great role did not feature him, and decided to murder the characters in the order they die in the film, as the scenes were shot. As for Frank Walker, he had found out and threatened to black mail Karlo. Bentley is greatly impressed by Batman's fighting and detective abilities and offers to put Robin and him in movies, but he refuses because they have devoted their lives to fighting crime. Julie once again wishes Bruce could be as dashing as the Batman.
My Thoughts: The introduction to Clayface may be the peak of the classic Batman creative team's obsession with cinema, specifically genre cinema. We've seen in the past how the character of Batman is essentially Zorro crossed with The Shadow, how Robin is inspired by Robin Hood, the influence of King Kong on the Monster Men, of Conrad Veidt on The Joker. Clayface's story clearly results from Bill Finger's love of horror, and Kane's art reflects a semi-expressionist sensibility. Basil Karlo's name comes from Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff, two popular actors of the time, but his character is largely based on Lon Chaney Sr., a silent film horror character actor who was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" due to his amazing ability to create make-up to slip into any role. Chaney died before making any kind of transistion to the sound era, but many of his films were indeed remade with others in the lead roles. By turning him into the fictional Karlo, Finger and Kane create a creepy, murderous villain that remains my favourite interpretation of the Clayface character.
The Art: Kane and Robinson succeed in one thing in this issue, and that is the spectacularly spooky and shadowy design of Clayface himself. Shadows and blacks are used very evocatively in this issue, courtesy of Robinson's pen. But the art itself seems rushed, even lazy, compared to the past two issues of Detective. Kane's compositions are crowded and unclear, with the fight scenes feeling very familiar by this point.
The Story: Finger's plot would probably require a six issue mini-series if done today. As is, it passes by extremely quickly, its tale of revenge wrapped inside a whodunit mystery -- whose answer might seem quite a twist to a young child reading the story, but in retrospect Karlo is fairly circumspect in being the only character who doesn't immediately start swearing revenge on the movie. That being said, linking a Bat-villain to a tragic, mad, revenge filled origin story is unique at this point, and in fact will remain that way until the 1980s or so. And while the plot of this story is fairly unique for a Batman tale, I suspect the writers of Scooby-Doo must've read it because it follows the formula of that show to a tee!
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Clayface

Detective Comics #39 (May 1940)

"The Horde of the Green Dragon"
Bill Finger
Bob Kane
Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Two millionaires are abducted by mysterious shadowed figures, with a chauffeur getting a hatchet through the head in a particularly violent addition. Does make one wonder how many millionaires this city has though -- two or three seem to die in every Batman adventure. Anyways, because of the use of the hatchet, Batman figures its the work of Chinese assassins. This must be a 1930s era stereotype because I'm certainly not familiar with that association -- a modern version would probably evoke more Hong Kong style Chinese villains than the Mongolian stereotypes we see here.
Anyways, Batman goes to visit his ally Wong (mayor of Chinatown) for information, but tells Robin to stay behind, since this Tong societies are dangerous. Meeting with Wong, he learns that a new Tong is indeed operating, called the Green Dragon, and they are dealing in opium smuggling. What that has to do with kidnapping millionaires is never really explained in the story.
Wong is killed by the hatchetmen, but manages to scratch out the location "Pier Three" into his desk. Batman fights the hatchetmen, but falls out a window and is knocked unconscious.
Meanwhile, the Boy Wonder has completely ignored his mentor's orders and followed him to Wong's. He finds the "Pier Three" clue, and heads down to the docks, but is followed by one of the hatchetmen who attacked Batman earlier. Easily captured (seriously, the bright yellow and red is not the best night-time camouflage), Robin awakes in the den of the leader of the Green Dragon Tong (apparently Bob Kane can't draw a Chinese dragon, so the large jade idol of the Tong instead resembles a Mongolian version of the Jolly Green Giant).
The leader has Robin duel with a talented swordsman, only Robin is given a wooden sword. But before the child is brutally killed, the shadow of the Bat descends on the Chinese criminals. After a two-page fight scene, Batman beats the Tong leader senseless, and then rescues the captured millionaires.
In a brief epilogue, the people of Chinatown make Batman a local hero, Bruce Wayne's fiancee Julie Madison chastises him for not being as exciting as the Batman, and the debut of the third addtion to the Batman's Rogues Gallery -- Clayface -- is previewed for next month's issue.
My Thoughts: This is another classic pulp/noir style Batman story. The late thirties Shadow influences in Bill Finger's work are pretty evident here, but it's nice to see some continuity in these tales, with this being a semi-sequel to the "Ruby Idol" storyline in Detective #35.
The Art: This is another big win for Kane and Robinson, who show great line work and excellent shadowing, though I'll admit they have a big weakness when it comes to character expression -- most faces in Kane's art look like static masks. Still, the dark noir compositions help make an otherwise fairly forgettable tale pretty exciting to read.
The Story: Other than the continuity, this story is pretty much standard pulp magazine fare. For the most part it also pales in comparison to where Finger had brought Batman in Batman #1, so this sort've thing feels like a step back.
Notes: Second story in Finger's "Chinatown" cycle, following Detective Comics #35.

Batman #1 (Spring 1940)

In June, 1939, Superman became the first comic book character to be given his own series. In April, 1940, Batman became the second. This issue sees the debut of numerous elements, not the least of which is the "Batman" title logo, a famous image that would be used in various forms for years to come. While it merely says "Batman" on the cover, interior art in both this and Detective Comics will read "Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder".

Batman #1 contained five stories within its covers, the first of which was "The Legend of the Batman - Who He is and How He Came to Be" which was primarily a reprint of Batman's two-page origin story from Detective Comics #33. Following this came four of the most memorable and reprinted Batman stories of all time.

"The Joker"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Late one evening, the regularly scheduled radio broadcast (oh, radio!) is interrupted by a toneless, droning voice of a man calling himself The Joker, threatening to kill millionaire Henry Claridge and steal the Claridge diamond at midnight that very night. While the public figure it must be a hoax (the Joker is thanking Orson Welles, I figure), the police take things very seriously and set up a full cordon of men around Claridge, with no chance of anyone getting in or out. When midnight comes, Claridge becomes hysterical about still being alive -- then bursts into laughter, and dies. The police are baffled by the hideous grin Claridge continues to bear, even in death. A check of the premises reveals the Claridge diamond is also stolen, and what the police have been protecting all this time has been a glass fake. Underneath the diamond is left a Joker playing card -- the sign of a madman.
We then get our first look at the Joker. Bill Finger describes him as a man without mirth, filled with hate, and Bob Kane draws him with the hollow face of German Expressionist actor Conrad Veidt. He gloats about his brilliance to himself -- completely calm, completely monotone, which makes it all the more terrifying. He poisoned Claridge yesterday with a poison that takes twenty-four hours to take effect, and took the diamond at the same time -- announcing a crime that had already been committed. Truly he is mad, brilliant, and a showboater.
At Wayne Manor, young Dick Grayson asks his mentor, Bruce Wayne, whether they should deal with the Joker in their identities as Batman and Robin. But Wayne prefers to wait until they have a more solid lead. More people dead, more clues right??
So the next night another announcement from the Joker comes over the radio, this time declaring the death of Jay Wilde and the theft of the Ronkers Ruby (which Wilde presumably owns). Again, the cordon of police officers. Again the man dies at exactly the appointed time. Also, a strange gas suddenly appears and renders all the police paralysed. From out of a suit of armour in the corner of the room the Joker emerges. He reveals that he killed Wilde with a poisoned dart. He then taunts the dead body, and departs.
Meanwhile, the "normal" criminal underworld feels intruded upon by this new upstart. In particular, one Brute Nelson announces his opinion that the Joker is a "yeller rat". Hearing this through the criminal grapevine, Batman decides that now is the time to act.
The Joker attacks Brute Nelson in his home, but its a trap, with Nelson's gang waiting to spring. Luckily, (for the Joker?) the Batman deduced Nelson would be the Joker's target, and begins fighting the gang. However, this gives the Joker the distraction necessary to kill Nelson. He shows he's not above simply shooting an enemy, stating that the Joker venom would be a "waste" on Nelson.
The Joker proceeds to make a getaway in his car, but the Batman grabs on and begins to struggle with him inside the car. Eventually Batman pries Joker out of the vehicle as it careens off a bridge. But the Joker proves he's no slouch in a fight and kicks Batman into the river. Batman realizes he's finally met a worthy foe. So do the readers.
The next night, the Joker threatens to kill Judge Drake (interestingly, as revenge for the judge once sending him to prison). The Judge is being guarded by the chief of police -- who turns out to be the Joker in disguise. Revealed, the Joker promptly kills him with the venom.
However, the Batman has ordered his trusty aide, Robin, to follow anyone coming out of the house. The young boy follows the Joker to an abandoned house -- where he is quickly taken out by the Joker.
The Batman realizes his young partner is missing, but luckily coated Robin's boots with a special paint visible only under infrared light. Using IR goggles, Batman can follow Robin's trail. He bursts in just as the Joker is going to inject Robin with the venom. He rescues Robin, but in the fight with the Joker, the house is lit aflame. The Joker manages to spray Batman with his paralysing gas.
However, and I quote, "the Joker has not reckoned with the amazing recuperative powers of the mighty Batman" and our hero merely shakes off the gas and makes his escape with Robin.
Robin reveals that the Joker told him his next target will be the Cleopatra necklace, owned by Otto Drexel. The duo makes their way to Drexel's penthouse, where they discover the Joker's robbery already in progress. The Joker grows tired of the battle and shoots Batman point blank, crying "DIE -- BLAST YOUR -- DIE! WHY DON'T YOU DIE!"
But the Batman is wearing a bullet proof vest, and so the Joker's bullets appear to have no effect. Having wasted his bullets, the enraged Joker makes flight, but is cornered by Robin, and finally defeated by Batman.
The Joker is imprisoned at the State Penitentiary -- but vows to escape and have the last laugh.
My Thoughts: This is, at the end of the day, THE Batman story. This is where all the elements that make up what a Batman story is essentially crystallize. This is the classic, and you can feel it when you read it. Finally Bill Finger and Bob Kane have hit upon what makes a good villain for Batman. To this day, the Joker is the pre-eminent Batman villain, almost invariably following the Dark Knight into whatever media he is adapted to. The essential mix is that of the weird, the threatening, and the real all in one form. The Joker is a carnival clown mixed with the 30s gangster to create a precognition of the merciless serial killer. The Joker is a performance criminal, something never truly seen in fiction before then and only rarely seen in reality. Like Batman, he has no special powers -- simply a bizarre appearance and a relentless evil that defies explanation.
Finger gives no origin for the Joker, no reasoning for his appearance or motives -- although he does provide tantalizing clues. We know he was a criminal before he became the Joker, since he seeks revenge for a former imprisonment. He must not have always looked the way he does, otherwise he would've been known in the underworld before now. But it would be eleven years before Finger would pen an origin for The Joker, following up on some of the clues given here.

 Like many Golden Age characters, there is some question of who exactly created the Joker. In modern times, inker Jerry Robinson has assumed much of the credit, while at the time the books were published, artist Kane was the only creative force credited. It seems clear that Kane and Finger were the primary architects of the character, with involvement from Robinson being minimal at best. Finger was well known as a fan of expressionist horror cinema, and Kane practically admits that Finger came to Kane with the idea of basing a villain visually on German actor Conrad Veidt's appearance in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs. Kane liked the idea and agreed. If Robinson did anything, it was to bring in a Joker playing card, the design of which Kane used for the villain's calling card, and perhaps suggest naming him "The Joker" after the card.
The Art: Kane and Robinson do a fine job here -- although Robinson's inks aren't nearly as good as his work in Detective #38. Kane creates a truly unique look for the Joker, and its clear he enjoys pencilling the madman. Robinson's claims that he alone created the character (similar to his claims that he created Robin) just lose credibility when you see how well Kane pencils the character, but how lazily Robinson inks him. However, while the art team's work is good, it isn't their best and not really up to how good Finger's script is.

The Story:
The actual plot of this story is so simple and so archetypal in comic books that its hard to look at straight on. If not for the creation of the Joker, there would be little exciting in it. What details are interesting are the new elements Finger is adding to the standard superhero plot -- the criminal announcing his crimes ahead of time, for example. The clever methods of killing the victims. The fact that the Joker actually seems frighteningly, truly, insane; as opposed to the melodramatic cackling insanities of most other villains of the period. However, Finger's writing here has hit a top-notch form -- and his repetition of the basic formula in this story for years shows that he knew it.
Notes and Trivia: First time Batman is referred to as "The Dark Knight", first appearance of the Joker, first use of Joker venom, Joker is placed in the State Prison.
Joker Body Count: 4

"Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inker: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Okay, this is the story that was originally solicited to appear in Detective Comics #38, before that issue became the debut of Robin. As such, the Boy Wonder does not appear in this tale -- indeed, this is the last solo Batman story until 1969!
The tale opens with the violent escape of Professor Hugo Strange and several other prisoners from the State Prison, followed by his freeing of five mental patients from the Metropolis Insane Asylum, and Bruce Wayne learning of these events over the radio -- all in the space of four panels. Bruce concludes that something new in crime is brewing, but decides to bide his time - smoking his pipe - until Strange acts (Golden Age Bruce is much more laid back than the regularly patrolling, constantly suspicious Bruce we know and love today).
A month later, the narration tells us, a giant monster man (fifteen feet tall apparently) appears to lift up cars and throw them around, and when the police fire upon it, the bullets have no effect. The monster's size varies significantly from panel to panel, but the basic imagery shows a distinctive influence of King Kong.
At the end of its rampage, the monster jumps into the back of a truck and escapes, while Bruce decides its definitely the work of Professor Strange and that he must stop him. The monster appears again the next day, stealing more scenes from Kong, and once more escaping in a truck. Batman follows in the Batplane until the truck enters a farmhouse outside of the city. Batman acknowledges it is probably a trap, but enters anyway...
...And is instantly captured by three hulking monster men and brought to their master, Hugo Strange. Batman asks Strange to reveal his plan, "a dying man's last request", and Strange willfully does so. I'm not sure if I should take that scene straight, or if the villain revealing his plan was a tired old cliche even by this point. Either way, Strange reveals the monster men are created by a serum that accelerates growth glands, the side effect of which is decreased intelligence. He uses the monsters merely as distractions, so that he can rob banks while the police are kept busy. Strange then removes Batman's utility belt and injects him with the growth serum. Strange exposits that the serum takes eighteen hours to take effect, then has Batman knocked out.
Batman wakes up the next day with a dramatic fifteen minutes to spare until the serum takes effect, while Strange once again sends his men out with the monsters. Batman escapes his cell by mixing two explosive chemicals he keeps in his boots. He then proceeds to punch Strange out a window, off a cliff, and into the sea, pausing to wonder if "this is really the end of Professor Hugo Strange?"
He's attacked by three monster men, but deals with them all expertly (including causing two of them to kill each other) and then with five minutes to spare cooks up an antidote to the serum using Strange's lab and cures himself.
Then its time for vigilante justice as Batman swoops down upon the criminal trucks in the Batplane firing his machine gun while intoning to himself, "Much as I hate to take human life, I'm afraid THIS TIME its necessary!" The three men inside killed, the truck crashes, and the monster man inside escapes out the back. Batman ropes him up and essentially strangles him to death by hanging him by the neck from the flying Batplane. He then proceeds to find the second truck, kill all the men in it, and follow after the final monster man.
But with Batman in a plane and a fifteen foot tall monster on the loose, Finger and Kane couldn't resist one final King Kong rip-off, and so the monster man climbs the Empire State Building and is shot down by Batman, who wonders if Hugo Strange will ever resurface.
My Thoughts: Its interesting to note that the last Batman story without Robin is also the last Batman story where the Dark Knight kills anybody, and one of the last Batman stories in the original "dark, mysterioso" mode for the character. There are a few noirish tales after this one, but really this is the last really dark Batman story until Neal Adams and Dennis O'Neil revised the character in the late sixties. Seriously, though, Batman kills eight people in this story -- the Joker only killed four in his first appearance! Brian Azarello thinks its a great idea to bring back this version of Batman, and is teaming him up with Doc Strange I believe in a new mini-series -- but I think at the end of the day taking the gun away from Batman was a good call on Finger and Kane's part.
The Art: This is another really prime effort from Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson -- the art is evocative, moody, and atmospheric. There are frames of Batman and Strange in this story that are really quite well done. It's the last great hurrah of vigilante Batman before Bob slowly changed him into the square-jawed crusader of justice he would become under Dick Sprang's pencil.
The Story: This story idea is so bizarre that its no wonder its the one most associated with the Golden Age Hugo Strange as opposed to his other schemes. However, King Kong must've been on re-release at the time for filmaniac Finger to be stealing so many beats from it.
Notes and Trivia: Final time Batman kills anybody (on purpose?), final solo Batman tale until 1969.
Batman Body Count: 20 at least.

"The Cat"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Some old broad named Mrs. Travers is having a big soiree on her yacht. She actually announces in the paper that she will be bringing her famous emerald necklace and that there will be a masquerade party. In my opinion, she deserves to be robbed, but Bruce Wayne thinks he should send Dick Grayson to guard the jewels, because he has "another job to do first!"
With his various connections, Bruce gets Dick a job as a steward on the yacht, for Robin's very first solo mission. Dick does some eavesdropping and discovers that Travers has a nephew who is always borrowing money, and a doctor who always gambles his money away and a brother who loses big on the stock market. Dick deduces that "this yacht isn't the safest place in the world for a necklace until a half a million dollars!"
Dick observes the nephew toss a note over the edge of the boat, but the wind picks it up and blows it over to Dick, somehow. The note reads "Keep your aunt away from room. Will be by then," and it is signed "The Cat". But before Dick can do anything, Mrs. Travers runs out screaming that her necklace has been stolen. Geez, Robin, Batman would've solved the entire case by now. Travers' private detective has been killed, but luckily just at that moment the coast guard arrives to save the day!
But then the "coast guard" turns out to simply be mobsters after the necklace, unaware they've been beaten to the punch. But that doesn't stop them from robbing everything else -- until Dick springs into action with a trademark Robin tackle! (Which consists of flinging himself headfirst into someone's butt for some reason). The mobsters, not being retards, start shooting at Dick with tommy guns, but he dives into the ocean and they assume him to be shot and drowned.
Somehow, Dick manages to change into his Robin suit while underwater, meanwhile the thugs are getting ready to leave just as a high-powered speedboat pulls up to the yacht. A figure jumps off the boat and lands on deck -- it's the Batman!
We then begin a two-page lesson in how to write didactic literature for children, as Batman announces that he's going to "show the kids of America just how yellow you rats are without your guns!" Instead of wondering what the hell Batman's talking about and shoot him, the crooks agree to lower their weapons and fight Robin to help Batman prove a point beyond the fourth wall.
Robin easily beats up all the crooks, and Batman turns to the reader and says "Well, kids, there's your proof! Crooks are yellow without their guns! Don't go around admiring them - rather do your best in fighting them, and all their kind!"
Thanks, Batman. This from the guy who shot down twelve people in the previous story with a machine gun.
Now that all the crooks are stopped, Robin remembers to mention the note with "The Cat"'s signature on it, as well as the upcoming masquerade ball, and the fact that the necklace is still missing. Robin concludes that it's either the nephew, the doctor, or the brother. Batman rofls because he's already figured it out despite only being onboard a few minutes.
Meanwhile, at the masquerade, Travers' nephew asks old woman Peggs why she isn't dressed up -- turns out she's too old for that sort've thing, and her ankle hurts. THEN THE BATMAN SHOWS UP! And is immediately awarded first prize in the costume contest. He then proceeds to return all the stolen property at the ball, before the fire alarm suddenly goes off and everyone bolts for the door. As everyone runs off, Batman notices that Miss Peggs as awfully nice legs for an old woman. Wow, Batman. This is a side of you I've never seen before.
The captain announces it was simply a false alarm, while Miss Peggs realizes the Batman is after her just soon enough for Robin to dive tackle her!
Then, in a classic Scooby Doo manoeuvre, the pulls off Miss Pegg's mask to reveal -- The Cat!! She protests to this treatment, resulting in the hilarious Bat-quip: "Quiet or Papa spank!" Revealed to be a beautiful young woman with dark hair, the Cat asks "Haven't you ever seen a pretty girl before?"
The Cat had hidden the necklace in the false bandage for her ankle. She tries to seduce Batman, bring him in as her partner and split the take, but while tempted, Batman rejects her offer. The two partners take The Cat back to the wharf in the speedboat, but Batman leaves the Cat unhandcuffed, and she jumps off the boat and escapes. Robin tries to stop her, but Batman "clumsily" bumps into him, and when confronted by Robin responds with "hmmm, nice night, isn't it?"
The story ends with the Batman absentmindedly daydreaming about the Cat, and a promise for a full-page picture of Batman and Robin on the next page -- instead we get an extra bonus story first!
My Thoughts: So this is the "classic first appearance of Catwoman", eh? Well, to be quite honest, it kinda sucks. The focus seems much on the "first solo Robin story" aspect, and the Cat is only introduced in the last two pages. Kane said he created the character to introduce some interesting temptation and love interest for Batman other than the standard comic book damsel in distress -- in this way, she fulfills the "femme fatale" role in a classic film noir plot. But she seems to be a last minute addition to the story -- undeveloped, an interesting cliffhanger for further use, but not at all defined here, other than having a sultry, spitfire personality.
The Art: I think there is a definite split here in the art style between this story and the two previous stories in the issue. Things are more blocky, the lines are thicker -- this is the style of Batman that would persist throughout the nineteen-forties, and I believe shows a growing influence of Jerry Robinson on the look of the strip. The key way to tell the difference is the appearance of Batman himself: the ears get shorter, his jaw becomes squarer, the areas on his costume coloured blue or black begin to slowly shift (until the sixties when the only black left will be his face and the underside of his cape).
The Story: Basically this tale has three sections: Robin's first solo mission, "The More You Know", and The Cat. The first element is really rote and feels like a Hardy Boys book or something. The lesson from Batman to the kids of America is the very first time Batman ever speaks out against guns -- but I prefer Frank Miller's "this is the weapon of the enemy. We do not use it" version, personally. And as mentioned before, The Cat seems like a last minute addition designed to pucnh up an otherwise completely forgettable tale. Yawn.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of the Cat(woman), first Robin solo mission, originally designed to be the last story in Batman #1.

"The Joker Returns"
Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: So apparently it's been less than two days since the Joker was arrested and put in jail to await trial. Which allows for barely enough time for the previous two stories -- but then I suspect the Hugo Strange one is meant to take place before Detective #38.
Angry that anyone would lock up one as smart as him, the Joker escapes by mixing chemicals stored in two false teeth he has been wearing -- the combination yields an explosion in the prison wall and soon the Joker is free again. News breaks over the radio, and is heard by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
Meanwhile, the Joker makes it to his hideout -- a laboratory hidden in an abandoned crypt in an old cemetery. He's soon up to his regular tricks, as he threatens to kill Police Chief Chalmers at ten o'clock.
The police form a cordon to protect their chief -- but when was the last time that worked? Oh, right - never. The chief receives a telephone call, from the Joker no less, and then dies of Joker venom poisoning. Turns out the Joker had planted a poisoned dart in the receiver, and when he yelled into the phone the vibrations shot the dart into the Chief. That doesn't sound physically possible to me, but if I was a ten-year old American kid in the spring of 1940 I'd probably think that was pretty clever.
Soon the Joker is on a roll, stealing paintings and jewels and leaving a trail of smiling death in his wake. The Batman decides to go into action.
The Joker is going to steal the Cleopatra necklace from the city's museum. He emerges from the casket of a mummy and applies the Joker gas to the police guard -- but then Batman appears! The two battle for a few panels but the Joker manages to deal a glancing blow with a mace that is drawn curiously like an axe. Anyways, the Joker gets away, while the police back-up finds the Batman unconscious.
Eager to arrest the notorious vigilante, the lead officer makes a move to remove Batman's mask -- but the Batman suddenly regains consciousness, attacks the police, and makes a clean getaway.
Meanwhile, a reformist politician (which in forties-speak means disingenuous rabble rouser) named Edgar Martin makes speeches to the effect that the police are incompetent in being unable to catch the Joker, and that the public should take the law into its own hands. So, of course, the Joker marks him for death -- this time killing his victim from poison-tipped playing cards, all while Martin is being guarded by the police. Hmm, maybe they are incompetent.
Commissioner Gordon is certainly worried. He's afraid he's going to lose his job if the Joker isn't captured soon. Good thing his friend Bruce Wayne has an idea. Bruce suggests Gordon place publicity for the Fire Ruby in the newspapers, having noticed that most of the Joker's crimes revolve around gems. Gordon agrees -- unaware that this ploy is going to become a standard Bill Finger writing trope to draw a villain into the open. *Ahem*
The Joker is unable to resist, of course, despite suspecting it all to be a trap. He shows up, but is soon surrounded by police. He shoots his way out, but is followed by Robin. However, he pulls an awesome manoeuvre and punches Robin off the side of a building, leaving him literally hanging from a flagpole (is it just me, or are there more flagpoles on the sides of buildings in comics than in real life? They never seem to have any flags on them either). Joker doesn't hear Robin hit the ground, so he makes it to ground level to check around -- but is ambushed by the Batman. He aims for Batman's head, knowing he wears a bulletproof vest under his suit, but Robin jumps off his flagpole perch and takes Joker out.
Joker pulls a knife on the Batman, but our hero dodges, and the Joker actually stabs himself in the chest. Then we are treated to perhaps Bill Finger's greatest Joker moment -- for the Joker, accidentally killing himself appears to be the greatest punchline of all, as he begins to laugh maniacally, screaming "HA! HA! HA! The Joker is going to die! HA! HA! The laugh is on the Joker! HA! HA! Laugh, clown, laugh! HA! HA! HA! Ha-ha-ha-ha..."
Batman declares the Joker dead, while Robin notices the fiend is still smiling. "Yes," replies Batman, "and when the flesh is gone the grinning skull will still carry the sign of the Joker -- into eternity!"
As the police arrive, the two crime-fighters dash off, while an ambulance is called for the dead maniac.
But what's this? The doctor finds the Joker is not dead! And what more -- he is going to live!!!
We are then treated to "Robin's Code" for young boys (Readiness, Obedience, Brotherhood, Industriousness, Patriotism) and the full-page splash of Batman and Robin promised at the end of the Cat story.
My Thoughts: Okay, so it's my belief this story was originally meant for a later issue, and bumped up to this one at the last minute. For one thing, having both the first and "last" Joker stories in the same issue seems like a waste of the character. For another, the Batman and Robin splash page was promised at the end of the Cat story, but appears after this one. And finally, the art in this story seems very rushed, suggesting it was not given enough time for completion.
The Joker was originally meant to die at the end of this story, having killed himself it would allow Batman to be innocent of murder but at the same time not leave an unconscionable serial killer always on the loose, which Finger felt would make Batman look ineffectual over time. It is for this reason that the Joker is constantly linked with death imagery in the story -- the crypt, the mummy, narration comparing him to a Phantom, etc -- he's a dead man walking.
But editor Whitney Ellsworth decided the character was too good to lose -- after all, the Joker was the first foe in Batman comics who had really been worthy of the title character.
It was a good call -- as the Joker has gone on to be Batman's most popular foe, reinterpreted and brought back from the dead countless of times by countless comics writers and artists over seventy years of publishing, as well as appearing in multiple television series, cartoons, movies, and video games.
The Art: As mentioned earlier, the art in this story appears hastily done, from missing backgrounds to the final "Joker's alive!" panel (which, by the way, established for the first time that the Joker's skin was white all over, and it wasn't just make-up). The best panel in the story is one of the guards in the museum on patrol, with a use of black and white contrast that resembles the later work of Frank Miller.
The Story: The writing, on the other hand, is excellent, feeling like a real part two to the earlier story. The Joker's murders continue to be creative and eerie, and the ending is a disturbing classic that would be echoed in Miller's death for the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns. Christopher Nolan stated he based his Joker on these first two stories -- one can only imagine what the reaction would've been if Heath Ledger had stabbed himself and died at the end of The Dark Knight. Meanwhile, I liked the return of Commissioner Gordon, as well as the continuing subplot of Batman on the run from the police. All around a good effort from Bill Finger.
Notes and Trivia: The first escape of the Joker from prison, the first "death" of the Joker, and the first "resurrection" of the Joker.
Joker Body Count: 15

Detective Comics #38 (April 1940)

At the end of last month's story, we were promised Batman facing off against hideous Man Monsters. On the cover of this month's issue we are introduced to "the Sensational character find of 1940: ROBIN - the Boy Wonder"! Well, then. Okay.

Convince me.

"Introducing Robin, the Boy Wonder"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
In a small town outside the big city, at the Haly Circus, the Flying Graysons are a family team of acrobats comprised of father John, mother Mary, and son Richard. One day, young Dick overhears a group of gangsters pushing Mr. Haly to pay them protection money against "accidents", which he refuses to do. The next night, Bruce Wayne is in the audience of onlookers as the Flying Graysons perform their act. The finale of the show is the two parents performing the death-defying Triple Spin. The trick comes off fine, until the ropes snap and both acrobats plummet to their death, right in front of their son. The gangsters revist Haly, and this time he agrees to pay them.
Young Dick deduces what has happened and decides to go to the police. He is stopped however, by the Batman, who tells Dick to come with him. The young boy gets in the costumed vigilante's car and they drive off (oh, the Golden Age!). Batman explains that Boss Zucco runs all the crime in town and controls the police. If Dick were to go to them he'd be killed. Batman offers to hide Dick in his home and to assist him in his war on crime, since he empathizes with Dick's plight, given that his own parents were killed by criminals.
Dick is eager to fight crime, but the Batman warns him that it is a perilous lifestlye. Dick replies that he is not afraid, and so the Batman has him swear an oath to fight crime and corruption and never swerve from the path of righteousness.
The Batman begins training Dick, realizing that the young boy's acrobatic training makes him more agile and adept than even himself in many aspects. After many months, he adopts a costumed identity as Robin, the Boy Wonder, an identity modeled as a modern-day Robin Hood.
Dick begins to press Bruce as to when they can make their move against Zucco. Bruce replies that they are ready to return to the small town and tighten the noose around Zucco. Bruce sets Dick up in the guise of a newspaper boy, and almost immediately Dick discovers that even a cut of his money from that goes to Zucco. Dick follows Zucco's enforcers to the gangster's home, and learns many of his plans. Over the next several days the Batman busts up Zucco's protection rackets and gambling operations with much glee. He sends Zucco and his men a note (by carrier bat, no less) saying that he knows Zucco is trying to squeeze money out of a local construction company and that the Batman will be waiting for him there.
Zucco and his men go to the unfinished skyscraper to cause an "accident" to convince the company to pay up, and are ambushed by Robin, who dispatches several of the men with his acrobatics and slingshot skills. Then the Batman shows up. He manages to beat a confession out of one of Zucco's men, Blade, that Zucco paid him to put acid on the ropes at the circus. Zucco murders his lieutenant but Robin gets it on camera and this, combined with the written confession, puts Zucco behind bars.
Afterwards, Bruce asks Dick if he wants to return to circus life now that Zucco is dealt with, but Dick replies that he wants to continue fighting crime as Robin alongside the Batman.
My Thoughts: What can I say? This is an all-time classic story. It's been repeated and retold many, many times - in the "Batman: Year 3" storyline from Batman #436-439, in Legends of the Dark Knight #100, in the Batman: Dark Victory series, in cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman, and in film in Batman Forever. It's most recent retelling has been in the much lambasted All-Star Batman & Robin series from Frank Miller and Jim Lee. And the many critics who have hated that series may be surprised to find, upon reading Detective Comics #38, that it is one of the more accurate retellings of the tale. For example, in the original tale it is the Batman who first confronts young Dick, taking him in his car back to his lair, training him to become his partner, and only later revealing himself as Bruce Wayne. In fact, there is never any mentioning of Bruce Wayne legally adopting Dick as his ward, rather the young boy merely chooses to stay with Wayne. These details are retained in Frank Miller's version. In later adaptations, Dick is sent to a Gotham orphanage after the murders, and adopted by Bruce (or alternatively immediately taken in by Bruce as part of a witness protection program, thanks to Bruce's friendship with police Commissioner Gordon). Only later does Dick discover Bruce is Batman and only with much reluctance from Batman does he join his crusade as Robin. These elements were added to improve realism and help ease the reader into the idea of the Batman allowing a ten-year-old boy to join his crusade. Because Miller retains the idea that it is Batman who recruits Robin, it keeps the Dark Knight in line with Miller's interpretation of him as a borderline-insane fanatic willing to do anything to further his goals - an interpretation that became very popular with writers in the late 90s.
Another detail from the original story that Miller retained was the Robin's identity is inspired by Robin Hood. Miller explains this by saying that Dick's father watched the old Errol Flynn version with him as a kid, which links Dick to Bruce in that Bruce's crime-fighting inspiration was the Tyrone Power Zorro film of the same era. Later retellings mostly associated the Robin identity with the flying bird, linking the Robin to the Bat as animal identities. This made reasons why Dick would adopt the name harder to explain -- with the Schumacher film conjuring up an elaborate back-story for the nickname and the Jeph Loeb version explaining that his mother always felt he was "bobbin' along", which is a pretty corny explanation for a superhero name.
As for why Robin was brought into the strip in the first place, the impetus seemed to come from writer Bill Finger. He found it frustrating getting development out of the Batman character when he had nobody to talk to. In order to get the hero's thought processes out, he wanted him to have a foil -- specifically, a Watson to his Sherlock Holmes. Bob Kane agreed, and came up with the idea of making him a young boy, so that the mainly young readers of the comic would have a character to identity with. And indeed it's a fantastic idea, as young boys might thrill to the adventures of the dark, crusading hero -- but then to be able to imagine themselves fighting alongside him? Fantastic! And it certainly proved successful, as the sales of Batman comics doubled within a year, and soon many other heroes gained kid sidekicks, such as Captain America and Bucky.
Jerry Robinson, the inker, also claims that Robin was his creation (similar to claims about the Joker). He ascribes Finger's Watson reasoning to himself (which makes little sense since Robinson wasn't even vaguely responsible for the writing of the strip). He also claims he came up with the name Robin (Jerry Robinson, right?) and designed the costume based on N.C. Wyeth's illustrations for The Adventures of Robin Hood. Now, maybe Robinson came up with the name, but the idea that he designed the costume is a laugh when you look at Robinson's solo artistic skill minus Kane's linework (the cover of Detective Comics #60, for example) or look at Wyeth's artwork, in which Robin Hood's look in no way resembles the Boy Wonder's. Frankly, as the only living member of the Golden Age Batman team, Robinson has it in his power to claim anything he wants - something he must of learned from Bob Kane, who claimed sole authorship of all Batman comics for the first thirty years of the character's existence.
The Art: Okay, so the art here is really great. I'm tempted to say it's the best art in the Batman feature so far. In fact I will say so. Kane and Robinson really put a ton of effort into this issue, with intricate line-work, shadows, and just a really gritty, urban, feel. Boss Zucco feels like something out of the Fleischer Studios (oh, a Fleischer Studios Batman would've been awesome, eh? Oh, man...) and the whole atmosphere is just lower to the ground and really helps the feel of the strip. Meanwhile, all the characters are given a lot more character and dimension here, like the puffs of smoke coming off from Zucco's face at all times. The depictions of Batman and Robin are purely fantastic and really just sell both characters. I'm phenomenally impressed.
The Story: Unlike the Batman, Robin debuts in an origin story. Bill Finger knew he would have to really sell the idea of a joking, smiling adolescent partner for his dark, driven avenger to make it work. To link Robin with Batman he makes young Dick also a victim of crime, which helps us believe the Batman would take such a youth under his wing. He makes Dick a circus acrobat in order to give a backing for why such a young boy would be able to keep pace with the highly-trained Batman. He specifies that Dick trains with Bruce for many months before going out, and still has Bruce scold Dick for being too impetuous in battle. Another great touch is to get the Batman fighting the world of true organized crime, with its hands in the pockets of the police and government. This sort've urban, avenging storytelling is perfect for Batman, a much better fit than jewel thieves or other small-time crooks. It's a classic story that's remained virtually untouched in its basic outlines for sixty-nine years. But what happened to that Monster Men story we were promised?
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Dick Grayson - AKA Robin, the Boy Wonder; first and final Golden Age appearance of Boss Zucco; first battle on an unfinished skyscraper, first time Batman reveals his secret identity
Robin Body Count: 1!

Detective Comics #37 (March 1940)

"The Spies"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson

Synopsis: While driving in the country the Batman gets lost and pulls in at an old house to ask directions. Can you imagine that ever happening to modern-day Batman? Anyways, he hears screams from inside the house and goes to investigate. A gang of men are torturing a man named Joey because he was selling information about the dealings of a man named Turg. Batman beats up the gang and rescues Joey, but is rewarded for his trouble with a sock on the head. When he awakes the other men are dead.
Bruce Wayne looks in the phone book for a man named Turg (!) and finds three. The other two are respectable and the third runs a grocery store in a bad neighbourhood. The Batman pays them a visit and discovers it is a front for Turg and his men. He bursts in on them and the fight begins. Batman pulls a fast one by turning off the lights, rendering the crooks blind. Luckily, Batman has a pair of infrared goggles that enable him to see in the dark...LIKE A BAT! This is surprisingly high-tech for a 1940 Batman story -- especially since such devices were only five years old at that point. And German....
*Ahem* Anyways, Batman hands their asses to them on a platter, and then peaces. The crooks believe Joey led him there and they stab him to death and then leave to blow up a ship at the docks. However, Batman however was merely hiding, and from Joey's dying breathes he learns the crooks are foreign spies who are going to destroy a foreign shipping vessel, making it look the US commited the crime, drawing them into an international crisis (y'know, WWII).
So its off to the docks for Batman, and after a lot of fighting, ins and outs and close-calls, he manages to stop the spies and save the ship. Exciting stuff. Earlier, Batman got a phone number from dying Joey, which he tracks to a man named Count Grutt, a distinguished foreign dignitary. Turns out Count Grutt is actually Turg and therefore actually the leader if the spy ring! The Count (who's totally NOT from Germany or anything) attacks Batman with a sword but ends up getting stabbed and killed by Batman with his own sword.
And that's the end of that chapter, apparently. Batman kills a distinguished foreign personage with no real consequences. That's the Golden Age for you.
In the last panel Finger and Kane give us a special preview of next month's story -- Batman versus a group of hideous Monster Men!! Looks exciting! I'm sure it will make Detective Comics #38 a keeper! ;)
My Thoughts: Okay, so clearly the thing here is that WWII had already been going on in Europe for some time, and the Nazi scourge and it's frankly anti-Semite attitudes (to put it lightly) was weighting heavily on the minds of the largely Jewish comic-book industry. However, editorial edicts of the time meant that since America was not involved in the War, writers couldn't actually get their characters involved or mention the conflict. So Superman fought fictional Europeans in fictional European countries, and Batman smashes a totally not-German spy ring seeking to get America into a totally not-WWII international crisis. Although, why the Germans would want to get America in the War is beyond me.
The Art: After a pretty spectacular debut last issue, the Bob Kane/Jerry Robinson team gets sorta lazy this time around and really don't offer anything memorable. The sequence in the dark with Batman wearing the IR goggles isn't as well done as it could be, and the art in general looks like the strip's appearance a few months ago. One note is this is the last time Kane will draw Batman with tall, pointy, ears, as next month he'll begin shortening them and gradually moving Batman to what will become his standard 1940s appearance.
The Story: Besides Bill Finger bringing Batman into a political mileau that he has previously not been a part of, the story here is pretty standard of the kind of spy stories that were popping up in other comic books across the line. Batman's never really worked well in political stories, whether it's here in WWII or in the late eighties fighting Iran and the KGBeast. Maybe it's because we think of Batman as being a very local, Gotham-based hero as opposed to a more national-level character.
Batman Body Count: 12 at the least

Detective Comics #36 (February 1940)

On the cover, Batman battles the Mongols from last issue. Inside, he battles his first truly memorable (and long lasting) opponent.

"Professor Hugo Strange"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: On routine patrol, the Batman sees a man pushed out of a moving car and shot. He listens to the dying man's last words, "strange fog", but is chased by the police who arrive on the scene and assume the Batman was responsible.
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce deduces that the man was not talking of a strange fog, but rather of a fog caused by a man named Strange, Professor Hugo Strange! If you want to know how he deduced it, it was basically as I just described. Apparently, Bruce already knows of Professor Strange as a "scientist, philosopher, criminal... and greatest organizer of crime in the world", to which he adds "little is known of him". Okaaay. Also, Bruce took a notebook off the dying man, which includes a list of locations and names him as an agent of the FBI. Bruce vows to clear Batman's name of the FBI agent's murder and solve the mystery of the fog.
Meanwhile, Professor Hugo Strange is ruminating evilly in his evil high chair in front of his evil fireplace when one of his minions reports on the death of the G-Man. Strange is worried about about the interference of the Batman, and decides to step up the timetable and begin tonight.
The next night the whole city is blanketed in a fog "such as one would find only in England", which results in numerous robberies taking place and the police being unable to pursue the criminals due to the thick fog.
At home, Bruce hears a radio report about the robberies, whose locations match those on the list, as well as a side story about the kidnapping of a prominent electrical engineer. Bruce begins to put the pieces together....
Strange's gang make a move to rob the Sterling Silver Company, but the night watchman turns out to be The Batman in disguise! The Batman explodes into a whirling dervish and pretty much destroys the gang before making a getaway. With the news of Batman's interference, Strange decides that he must concentrate on keeping the Batman out of his schemes, and decides to cut up his hand with glass to accentuate the point.
When Batman shows up to the next plae on the list, he is forced into a trap and cornered by several men. The next two pages are an epic battle as the Batman tries to take on all the men at once, but is finally overpowered.
At Strange's lair he ties Batman up and whips him with a lash he had hanging on the wall. Okay, Doc.... whatever floats your boat. The Batman escapes by flexing his muscles and snapping the bands holding him (hawt?) and then gassing his enemies with a pellet from his utility belt. However, Strange is crafty enough to avoid the gas and gets Batman in a chokehold. But Batman is stronger and socks Strange out and ties him up.
With the villain dealt with the Batman discovers the giant machine powering the artificial fog, and the kidnapped scientist who created it. The machine creates artificial lightning that causes condensation in the air, generating the fog. The two of them turn off the machine and save the city. The Batman is praised by the media and people of the city, while Hugo Strange is imprisoned at the State Penitentiary, vowing escape and vengeace.
My Thoughts: Wow! Now, that was a story! This is probably the first really spectacular, memorable, cohesive Batman story. Gardner Fox tried to reach great heights with his Monk and Dirigible stories but fell short due to bad plotting. Finger here keeps things down to earth while still creating a large scale, impressive foe for Batman to face and a devilishly clever criminal scheme for him to destroy. Professor Hugo Strange is the first Batman villain to really catch on -- he'll appear in two more Golden Age stories before being retired however, before being revived by Steve Engelhart in the Bronze Age, and becoming a popular alternative Modern Age Batman villain. In this tale, he is less of the quirky psychiatrist/geneticist he'll be in those stories and is basically presented as a modern age Professor Moriarty, which at this point was a great villain characterization for the Holmesian Batman.
The Art: Big news this issue is the arrival of inker Jerry Robinson. With this addition the basic Golden Age team of Kane/Finger/Robinson is formed and it is this team that will create and shape the most enduring Batman stories of the era. Robinson's inks provide a kind of gritty, sketchy, tactile quality to the art, and really gives Kane's art a boost into a great kind of pulp-art quality. It's a huge improvement over even Sheldon Moldoff's inks and makes the art almost a joy to look at rather than a chore. Another stand-out feature this issue is Kane's character design for Hugo Strange, with his bald, misshapen head, round spectacles and bad-guy goatee, I think that this unique design became part of why people remembered Hugo Strange over other Golden Age villains. There are some great panels in this issue, including a really cool one of Batman's silouhette in the fog.
The Story: Finger manages a great feat here, which is giving Batman a powerful and effective villain while avoiding plot holes and nonsensical plotting. His story is much better written and clearly stated than past efforts, and only contains two small holes -- the first of which is that if the fog prevents the cops from following crooks, would it not also stop the crooks from escaping? The other is that Batman vows to clear his name of the G-Man's murder, which he never does. On top of everything, there are subtle changes to the characterization of Batman in this story. The city begins to regard him as a legendary fighter of crime, rather than a weird creature of the night --- also, Batman's silent, grim-faced determination has been subtly replaced with a more jocular, devil-may-care attitude, as Batman mocks the criminals he fights and jokers with them -- a precursor of the "bad puns" that would characterize the Silver Age Batman. End decision: great story, great issue.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Professor Hugo Strange, beginning of the Finger/Kane/Robinson team,

Detective Comics #35 (January 1940)

The Batman battles the Duc D'Orterre on the cover, but he won't appear in this month's story (or ever again), because Gardner Fox is out and original Batman co-creator is back in with a far more down to earth story.

"The Case of the Ruby Idol"
Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Sheldon Moldoff
Synopsis: While Bruce Wayne is visiting Commissioner Gordon (not seen since #28), a man named Weldon drops in. Weldon is a collector of curios and recently bought a ruby Hindu idol from a man named Sheldon Lenox. However, the idol is that of the (fictional) Hindu god of destruction, Kila, and Weldon receives several notes threatening his death and the death of Lenox.
Gordon decides that this needs investigating and heads off to see Lenox. Bruce decides to come along, because he might "write a story about it" (?). However, when they arrive, a car full of turban and loincloth wearing "Hindus". They shoot out Gordon's tire, preventing a pursuit. Then they stab Lenox and toss his body into the water before escaping. The police search the river for Lenox's body and fail to find it.
Meanwhile, a couple of hoods (Joe and Mike!) decide to rob the idol from Weldon, and it also attracts the attention of an oriental named Sin Fang. Both groups decide to make their move when Weldon asks the police to stop guarding the idol. Bruce figures that whoever wants the idol will make a play for it now, and heads out as Batman.
When he arrives he stops the two hoods easily, but is taken out by the suddenly arriving gang of Hindus. They swipe the idol and escape. At that moment a bunch of guards/police officers of the kind we were told two pages ago weren't protecting the idol burst in and try to arrest Batman for stealing it (despite the fact that he clearly doesn't have it). He beats them up and escapes out the window.
The Hindus are escaping, so the Batman gets in his high-powered roadster (now a dark blue one-seater sports car) and follows them to Chinatown where they sell the idol to the maliciously named Sin Fang, a dealer in curios. Hrmm.... To find out more about Sin Fang, Batman pays a visit to Wong, the "unofficial mayor of Chinatown. Wong is a good and honorable man and trusts Batman because he recognizes Batman is a hero. He dutifully informs the Batman that Sin Fang is in reality a fence for stolen goods.
When the Batman visits Sin Fang, the oriental appears to be surprised that the ruby idol was stolen, and offers to return it to Batman. It is, of course, a trap and our hero is attacked by giant Mongol guards. Of course, the Batman promptly dispacthes them, stabbing one through the heart with a sword. Sin Fang apologizes and explains that they thought the Batman was an intruder, given his masked face. He then gases the room with mustard gas. Luckily, Batman has a gas pellet on his belt that neutralizes the effects when mixed. Sin Fang apologizes for the bad plumbing in the house and then drops Batman down a trap door to his death!
Luckily, Batman grabs a hanging pipe and swings back up out of the trap door. Sin Fang thinks Batman is dead and gloats to himself that he can keep the Ruby Idol all to himself. He then removes make-up and other costuming accoutrements to reveal himself as... Sheldon Lenox!! Batman bursts in on him and explains that he figured out who Sin Fang was earlier.
Batman explains it thusly, "You needed money and made a deal with Sin Fang to cut up the ruby. You made use of the destruction legend it was supposed to have and wrote those notes. You hired those fake Hindus. Staged your death and then ahd the ruby stolen!" Lenox reveals he quarelled with Sin Fang over the money and killed him, assuming his identity because he could speak Chinese.
Lenox pulls a gun and the Batman throws the idol at him, knocking him out a high window to his death.
My Thoughts: With the return of Bill Finger we get a return to the gritter, more pulp-like Batman, with stories that seem like they could've come from The Shadow and the pen of Walter Gibson. This story is the first in a series Finger did in Detective Comics about Batman dealing with crime in Chinatown, with the assistance of Mayor Wong (and who says the Golden Age lacked continuity?). However, this particular story suffers from some pretty big plot holes, pointing to a somewhat rushed composition. If Lenox just wanted to sell the idol for money, why the elaborate plot? He already had sold it to Weldon at the start of the story. If he killed Sin Fang, who can he know sell the idol to so it can be cut up? It just doesn't hold up to examination. However, at least it explains the extremely ethnically inaccurate portrayal of the Hindus.
The Art: It's frankly amazing seeing Bob Kane's art here compared to a scant eight issues ago. His Batman character looks much different and the entire style and composition is far more dynamic and bold. The overall style is very pulp and very entertaining. In many ways Kane's art saves the reader from thinking about the holes in Finger's story by carrying the action in an exciting and fluid way.
The Story: As noted above, Finger brought Batman back down to earth with smaller, more realistic stories, but with an entertaining pulp sensibility. However, Finger's story has a bad plot hole and feels rushed. It's not as completely baffling as Gardner Fox's piece last month, but it could still use improvement. Also, Finger needs to find a way to make his Batman stories feel more unique and less like rip-offs of the Shadow if he wants the feature to continue successfully.
Notes and Trivia: Batman's car is now a dark blue roadster. First appearance of Wong, unofficial mayor of Chinatown. First time Batman battles oriental crime.
Batman Body Count: At least 11 by this point.

Detective Comics #34 (December 1939)

This month's cover is the last Detective Comics cover to feature a character other than Batman until #854 in 2009. (DC nerds can correct me on this if I'm wrong). And even then, Batman's still got a logo above the title. Also, this is the last Bat-tale written by Gardner Fox before the return of original scribe Bill Finger next issue, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

"Peril in Paris"
Writer: Gardner Fox
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Sheldon Moldoff
Synopsis: According to Fox, Bruce has just seen his fiancée Julie off from Paris after rescuing her from the Monk, meaning #34's story takes place before #33 (while the cover depicting #34's story will appear on #35 -- scheduling errors are a bitch, huh?) Anyways, Bruce is still wandering the streets of Paris, when he spots a man who resembles an old friend of his. However, he is mistaken when he finds it is in fact a MAN WITH NO FACE. So, in what way did he resemble Bruce's old friend?? Somehow, the FACELESS Man can talk and see, and apologizes to Bruce for startling him.
Meanwhile, a blonde woman in a hotel has been marked for death by the leader of the Apaches, the Duc D' Orterre. (The Apaches were a French gang in the 30s, not to be confused with the Native American tribe). The woman flees her room and jumps into a taxi also carrying Bruce Wayne! She gets a dagger thrown at her and the two of them flee back to the hotel (what?) where it turns out that the FACELESS Man is the woman's brother, Charles Maire. Turns out the Duc D' Orterre is after his sister, Karel, after she turned down his advances at a masked ball. As a retaliation, he burned Charles' face off with a ray.
Bruce regrets he cannot help them as himself, but he changes into Batman and announces he will stop the Duc - essentially revealing his secret identity to them.
The Batman drops into an open sewer and is promptly captured by the Apaches. The Duc places him on an elaborate death-trap called the Wheel of Chance -- the Batman is strapped to a big wheel and will either be flung off the wheel by inertia and killed, or driven mad by its unceasing spinning. Through sheer strength the Batman breaks through the straps but is flung through an open trap door into the Duc's garden!! (???)
The garden is full of flowers. Flowers with human, female faces. I'll repeat that one more time - human, female faces. The Batman wonders if he is going mad and frankly so am I. The Duc's men capture Charles and Karel, and Charles is strapped to the wheel. One of the flowers asks Batman to save them (?!?!) and tells the Batman how to escape the Garden.
The Batman rescues Charles from the wheel, who tells him that the Duc has escaped in a car with Karel. The Batman follows in his Batplane (again, still drawn as a Bat-gyro) and quickly overtakes them. The Batman leaps onto the moving car, beats up the Duc, this somehow incapacitates the driver and it careens off the road and crashes while the Batman leaps onto the Batplane's rope ladder and escapes.
Later, Charles and Karel thank the Batman despite the fact that we never saw the Batman rescue Karel from the car (she must've jumped out sometime during the struggle with the Duc but this was never stated or shown). Despite their gratitude, they express their wish to know the Batman's secret identity, but he declines. Even though he pretty much gave it away earlier. FLASHBACK: "As myself, I cannot help you", says Bruce Wayne, exiting the room. The Batman enters and offers his assistance. Face. Palm.
My Thoughts: What the fuck, Gardner Fox?? No, what. the. fuck? What is this story? What were you on this month? Where does this come from? The faceless man was weird enough, but where the hell did the human-faced flowers that can talk (and beg Batman to rescue them, but he never does) come from?? The first time I read this story I really had no idea what to make of it. This may possibly be the most bizarre Golden Age Bat-story of all time. Definitely Black Casebook material -- I wonder what Grant Morrison ever made of this one, if he ever read it? No, but seriously -- What the fuck?
The Art: Well, the art is certainly memorable, I guess. Kane's faceless man isn't on par with Chester Gould or Steve Ditko, but it's still a goddamn faceless man. The Duc D' Orterre looks unique, with a thin head, devil's peak hair, weird eyebrows, etc. The human/flowers are just bizarre and disturbing and... WHAT THE FUCK??
The Story
: I cannot repeat this enough times: what the fuck, Gardner Fox? Where is this coming from? This story is like the ultimate hodgepodge of all the weaknesses of the last five Gardner Fox stories -- a plot that runs all over the place with no real sense of direction, massive leaps of logic and numerous plot holes, unexplained weirdness, bad villain characterization, forgotten plot points and just pure what-the-fuckery. Seriously, it's like a Golden Age Grant Morrison story without the pretension, good writing, or sense. I just don't even know what to make of it. If it wasn't for the seriously weird human-faced flowers I would chalk it up as just a failed, badly written pulp pastiche and leave the faceless man as just a "don't think too hard" Golden Age quirk. But SERIOUSLY, Gardner Fox -- flowers with female, human faces, begging to be rescued (but who never get rescued). WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT???
Notes and Trivia: Last Batman story by Garnder Fox before the return of Bill Finger. Obviously someone realized that Fox's stories, while imaginative, where just poorly written and plain old too weird for Batman. When Finger returned, he would restore Batman to his more urban based settings, but retain Fox's innovations of larger-than-life villains.
Batman Body Count: At least 9 by this point

Detective Comics #33 (November 1939)

Even though there's technically only one Batman story in this issue, the first two pages are completely removed from the main story and (according to DC) is written by a different scribe. This prologue is also vitally important to the Batman mythos, so I am going to discuss it separately.

"Legend: The Batman and How He Came to Be!!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Sheldon Moldoff
Synopsis: Thomas Wayne, his wife, and son, are walking home from a movie when a mugger holds them up for the wife's pearl necklace. He shoots Thomas Wayne when he tries to defend his wife, and shoots the wife when she tries to call for help. He does not shoot young Bruce Wayne, who vows to spend the rest of his life warring on all criminals. To this end he becomes a master scientist and athlete, but needs a disguise to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. At that instant, a bat flies through the window, and Bruce Wayne becomes the Batman!
My Thoughts: These two pages finally give an origin and reason for the Batman character. DC says they were written by Bill Finger, so they must've been scripted separately from Gardner Fox's main story and then inserted as a prologue once available. These two pages manage to set Batman completely apart from the rest of the growing number of costumed heroes in comic books at the time. Most heroes, such as Superman, fought criminals simply because it was the "right" thing to do with their powers, but as Batman had no powers, there needed to be additional motivation, and this tale offers a powerful explanation for why an otherwise normal person would dress up like a bat and fight crime. The origin story is so strong, so tragic, dramatic, and iconic, that it has remained virtually unchanged for seventy years. Only the details are missing in this initial version -- Mrs. Wayne's name (Martha), the movie they were seeing (The Mark of Zorro), the name of the criminal (Joe Chill). These two monumental pages lay the foundation, tone, and inspiration for almost every incarnation of the character for the rest of his history, giving a near operatic backstory for comicdom's most determined crime fighter.
The Art: Frankly, as some of the most reprinted art in Batman territory, Bob Kane's art here is quite iconic and well-recognized. The frame of young Bruce crying, making his vow, lifting a massive dumbell over his head one-handed, sitting in his study in contemplation, and finally, silhouetted against the moon as the Batman, are all frequently copied and homaged. For these reasons and others, it has to be considered fairly spectacular art. Moody and perfect. Kane himself would revisit these panels in 1941's "The Origin of Batman" to frankly lesser results.
The Story: If indeed Bill Finger wrote these words, he's a genius. Even if he HADN'T written the first Batman story, or created the characters of Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, or helped design Batman's costume, the writing of Batman's origin alone would justify calling him the co-creator of the character, so essential has this story become to the character's psychology and history. This simple story and motivation is so powerful that it has been copied and re-used with variations for a variety of later superhero characters (such as the Punisher, whose origin is kind've a reversed Batman).
Notes and Trivia: The motherfucking Origin of Batman!!!

The second story in this issue is another large-scale, pulp-style epic by Gardner Fox, and his third attempt to create a memorable Batman villain (and most failed).

"The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom"
Writer: Gardner Fox
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Sheldon Moldoff
Synopsis: Bruce Wayne is strolling through downtown Manhatten (not yet Gotham) when a large futuristic dirigible is sighted in the sky. It emits a ray with proceeds to level most of the city. Thousands are killed. The perpetrators announce themselves as the Scarlet Horde.
Returning him, Bruce checks his files and concludes the madman in charge is one Professor Carl Kruger, who suffers from a Napoleon Complex and developed a new kind of "death-ray".
The Batman sneaks into Kruger's home, where the mad doctor is meeting with his lieutenants. His Napoleon complex is interpreted literally -- he is dressed and styled exactly as Napoleon, and his lieutenants wear Napoleonic uniforms. They announce that the Scarlet Horde has an army two thousand strong, but just as Kruger is announcing no one can stop him, in enters the Batman! Kruger escapes however, after rigging the house to explode. The Batman narrowly escapes, and trails one of Kruger's lieutenants to the docking bay of the dirigible.
The Batman sneaks inside the compound and destroys all but one of the death-ray machines. He is about to smash the last one when Kruger enters the room and shoots him. He instructs a guard to watch the body while he fetches the death-ray machine to use it to kill the Batman. He returns and explains the machine works by combining ozone gas and gamma rays. He then fires at the limp body, which disintegrates.
However! The Batman had switched places with the guard, and narrowly escapes yet again. At Wayne Manor, Bruce coats the Batplane (still drawn as a Bat-gyro) with a special chemical, and flies it at the dirigible in a suicide run. The two collide and explode, but the Batman parachutes away just in time (Phew! Losts of close calls this issue!) He is pursued by Kruger in a bi-plane but manages to get on the wing of the plane and hit Kruger with a gas pellet. Kruger is knocked out and crashes in the water, while Batman gets away.
The radio reports that the body of Kruger was recovered (implying his death) while the Batman remains at large...
My Thoughts: Ho-boy is Gardner Fox trying to get a lot out of this one. This issue is a cinematic spectacular, like some high-budget movie serial mixed with a fantastical pulp adventure. It's really over-the-top for Batman, and reminds me of the James Bond style adventures that Denny O'Neil would put the character in when he battled Ra's al Ghul in the seventies. In addition to delivering an over-the-top, action-packed, exciting adventure, Fox is clearly making a covert jab at Adolf Hitler, through the character of Carl Kruger, a German with a Napoleon complex who wishes to conquer the world. Before the US joined WWII in 1942, comic books couldn't actively attack or deal with Hitler or the Nazi party, even though the predominantly Jewish writers and artists very much wanted to have their heroic characters strike back at the facist anti-Semite. Therefore, a lot of super-hero stories from this era had their heroes punching out Hitler surrogates from fictional European countries.
The Art: Bob Kane improves with every issue and here his renderings of Wayne, Kruger, the Batman, and the destruction of Manhatten are quite dramatic and well-done. He takes to Gardner Fox's cinematic storytelling quite well and really helps lead the reader along in what is, to be blunt, a fairly ridiculous outing for the Batman. However, Sheldon Moldoff's inks are not as good as last month, perhaps because this story is less dark and moody than Batman's fight against the Monk. Luckily, Kane's linework has improved enough that he doesn't have to hide in Moldoff's inks as much.
The Story: Gardner Fox apparently likes his stories big -- he must've seen a good movie serial the weekend he wrote this. However, the fast pace of the story works to its detriment. Downtown Manhatten is leveled and thousands are killed, yet this really has no impact on the rest of the story. The Scarlet Horde suddenly has two thousand members -- there is a feeling they come out of nowhere. Additionally, the Batman takes down only the dirigible, Kruger, and the death-ray machines, doesn't that leave the rest of the army still out there? It feels like we're only reading the climax of a story, removed and tried to make stand on its own. If this story where given a Modern Age re-telling, it would probably be spread out over six issues and given more thought and depth. So I realize its somewhat beside the point to criticize a ten-page Golden Age story for feeling rushed and unexplored. Again, an example of how writers in the Golden Age produced more story on a regular basis than comic writers today. On another note, unlike his last two villains, Fox would not attempt to bring Kruger back next issue, instead leaving him dead. However, just like his last two villains, he would be brought back by Gerry Conway in 1982 (was this all Conway did on his Batman run???), renamed as Colonel Blimp (rofl).
Notes and Trivia: First and final Golden Age appearance of Dr. Carl Kruger, second time Batman uses a gun,
Batman Body Count: 7, plus however many may have been on the dirigible