Monday, November 21, 2011

Detective Comics #30 (August 1939)

Oh God, my face! Why are you blowtorching my face??
*ahem* Pre-Code covers aside, this month we get the second Gardner Fox Batman story. Last month he teased us with the possibility that the despicable Dr. Death may be still alive! And why would he tease us if that wasn't the case? And why would he start off this month's story with a recap of last month's ending (Batman watching Dr. Death burn to, erm, death) if that wasn't the case? And if that wasn't the case, why would this month's title be...

"The Return of Doctor Death"
Writer: Gardner Fox
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff
Synopsis: After briefly recapping how "about a week ago", the Batman watched Dr. Death "burn to ashes", we look in on Bruce Wayne reading a newspaper item about a man who dies of a disease that turns him purple. Wayne concludes "Only Dr. Death could be at the bottom of this." Um, what? Excuse me, but I think you need to go back to detective school Wayne, if your first reaction to a news item about a man dying of illness is that it MUST be the work of a dead madman. "Yet, he is dead," continues Wayne. Wow, really brilliant. Okay, puzzle it out, Wayne... "It's strange, this hunch of mine that he is still alive." Bruce Wayne is like one of those crazy people who insist on very little evidence that Elvis is still alive. Except Elvis is a mad scientist. And Bruce is right.
So Bruce goes off to visit the dead man's widow, and is admitted by their maid. Mrs. Jones says that her husband was killed because he refused to pay half a million dollars to Dr. Death. She then goes on to say that they have no money and lost it all in the Depression. So... why did Dr. Death pick them to extort then? And how can she still afford that maid?? Turns out, however, the Joneses have some diamonds.It was apparently Mr. Jones' "hobby" to collect them! Expensive hobby during the Depression! "I must get them out," says Mrs. Jones absent-mindedly, "for I need some money." Wow. That only took you ten years, lady.
Bruce goes back to his mansion to change into the Batman (he gets the costume out of a chest in a living room), and then zooms off in his "specially built, high powered" red car to the Joneses, where he proceeds to break in and start stealing the diamonds from the wall safe. Okay, Batman... far be it from me to question your crime fighting techniques, but, what the fuck?
"Meanwhile, Doctor Death still lives!" announces Mr. Fox, as a heavily bandaged figure instructs a large Jabah-like man to go to the Joneses and steal the diamonds and bring them to a fence named Herd. Dr. Death explains he escaped the fire through a trap door in the floor. His new henchman is a large man in a fez who is referred to as Mikhail, which makes him Russian, I guess. Do Russians wear fezes?
Mikhail breaks into the house and the Batman hides and watches him take the diamonds from the already-opened safe. Mrs. Jones enters the room, prompting the Batman to tackle Mikhail and punch him out the window. The Batman then proceeds to give the unconscious Mikhail the diamonds, reasoning that the only way Mikhail will lead him to Dr. Death is with the diamonds (okay...). Batman follows Mikhail to Ivan Herd's pawn shop, and then follows him to an apartment building, reasoning that Dr. Death is living low after losing everything in the fire. Batman breaks in and discovers... it's actually just Mikhail's apartment. He searches the room for any clues to Dr. Deaths whereabouts and finds... nothing. Was the real Batman on holiday this week? Who's this incompetent boon, Jean-Paul Valley?
Anyways, Mikhail (whose been sleeping) wakes up and shoots Batman at point blank range and misses. Did everyone take stupid pills this morning? Batman dives out the window. Mikhail sticks his head out to shoot after him -- AND BATMAN SWINGS DOWN ON HIS ROPE AND KICKS HIM IN THE HEAD, SNAPPING HIS NECK. Yep, Jean-Paul Valley for sure.
The Batman calls the police and tells them that Mrs. Jones' diamonds are at Ivan Herd's pawn shop and to go there. Batman then drops in on Mr Herd and starts intimidating him about Dr. Death. Herd runs off, and Batman ropes him in, only to discover that beneath the old man mask, Herd is really... DR. DEATH!! Turns out the Doc's face was horribly disfigured in the fire, and now he looks like the Phantom of the Opera with green skin and a goatee. Batman leaves Dr. Death for the police along with a card saying to give the diamonds back to Mrs. Jones.
My Thoughts: This issue is just bad. Dr. Death made a pretty weak first impression last month, and this follow up is just awful. Two bad appearances in a row contribute to this character disappearing off the radar for a whole forty-three years, before being brought back by Gerry Conway. Batman is really out of character in this appearance, and the whole story just feels sloppy and unrewarding, especially since we don't even see Dr. Death until the second-last panel and there is no real battle or confrontation between our hero and his enemy.
The Art: Okay, a few notes on the art this issue. First off, THANK YOU Bob Kane for getting an inker! Sheldon Moldoff brings a much needed sense of shadow, depth, and dimension to Kane's pencils, giving us a moodier feature more closely in line with the visual look of the pulp inspirations to Kane's creation. Another note is that the look of the Batman begins to change, as the ears on his cowl have become much taller and thinner here, and the cape is much longer and voluminous. This long-eared look will last for another five months, and be the longest the ears will ever be until Neal Adams comes on in 1969.
The Story: Okay, Gardner Fox isn't even trying with this one. The story is full of holes and coincedences and flat-out nonsensical sections even for a ten page feature in a Golden Age comic meant for children. Nothing makes much sense, from Batman's lack of detective skill, to the diamonds, to the fact that Dr. Death orders his henchmen to bring the jewels to a fence who IS Dr. Death! The whole thing feels completely slapped together and second-rate.
Notes and Trivia: Final Golden Age appearance of Dr. Death.
Batman Body Count: 4

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