Monday, November 21, 2011

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.

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