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.

No comments:

Post a Comment