Monday, November 21, 2011

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

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