Monday, November 21, 2011

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

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