Saturday, December 3, 2011

Batman #2 (Summer 1940)

"Joker Meets Cat-woman"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Last we saw The Joker, he was presumed dead after stabbing himself at the end of his second appearance in Batman #1. Thankfully, DC editor Whitney Ellsworth saw fit to save the Joker's life, metaphorically speaking, and it is revealed that Joker has survived his wounds, but is recuperating in a hospital.
Upon hearing of this, Batman develops a plan of action: abduct Joker from the hospital before he can escape, and take him to a brain surgeon for an operation so he can be "turned into a valuable citizen". So, Batman wants to force Joker into a lobotomy? That's an interesting idea, certainly, and I don't think I've ever seen Batman consider anything like it for Joker. Batman often wishes to rehabilitate his enemies (Harvey Dent is a good example), but has never shown any hope for Joker. Unfortunately, this one line of dialogue is as far as the story gets with this intriguing idea.
Instead, we cut to the headquarters of "Crime Syndicate Inc.", an organization of gangsters whose "Chief" has recently died. Since this isn't a reference to a past Bat-story, I can only imagine that Finger is referencing recent events in the real life "National Crime Syndicate" -- a newspaper coined name for the loose organization of mobsters operating out of New York and Chicago.
Anyhow, with the "Chief" dead, the de facto leader Weasel decides to kidnap the Joker and turn him into the new Chief, starting by having Joker plan the theft of the Pharaoh Gems, owned by E.S. Arthur.
The gangsters slip into the hospital, and force doctors at gunpoint to operate on the Joker. However, their activities attack the attention of Commissioner Gordon and the police, who blockade the building. At that moment, the Batman appears. Gordon orders his men after him, but Batman fights back, killing two of the cops. Gordon remarks that this behavior is out of character for Batman, but orders his men to leave the hospital in pursuit. The police chase Batman to a barnhouse, where after an exciting fight sequence, they shoot down the Batman. Gordon unmasks the vigilante to discover the face of "Circus Charlie", a known criminal.
Meanwhile, the gangsters leave the hospital with Joker in tow, their ruse to divert the police a success. However, the mysterious Cat-Woman (last seen in Batman #1), has been watching them from across the street. Just then, the real Batman appears, grabbing the Cat and throwing her into his 1936 Cord (with Robin in the driver's seat?). She demands to be set free, but Batman wants information on the Joker. She tells him they are bringing the Joker to Weasel's hunting lodge, and so Batman agrees to let her go. But! The floor of Batman's car is coated with a radioactive material, and using a special flashlight, Batman can track the Cat's movements! Which is precisely what he orders Robin to do while he goes after the gangsters.
Meanwhile, the Joker has recovered, but is unsatisfied with his present company, and decides to poison the gangsters. At that minute, Batman bursts in and beats up the crooks in typical fashion, allowing Joker to get away.
Then the story gets really, really, rushed, even by Golden Age standards. Basically, the Cat-Woman has seduced E.S. Arthur, gaining access to his castle (castle??). She sneaks into his study to take the gems, but finds Arthur murdered by the Joker, who sticks her up. Robin swoops in, having followed Cat-Woman, but is bested by Joker, who is held up by Cat-Woman, at which point Batman swoops in the window, and challenges Joker to a swordfight (??). Batman beats up Joker, and leaves him to die in the burning castle (Joker lit it on fire in the course of the fight), while he rescues Robin and the Cat-Woman in the Bat-plane. However, to avoid incarceration, the Cat dives into the waters below. But Batman saved the jewels! So, um, happy ending?
My Thoughts: This story is several half-baked ideas mushed into one. Every element is just an excuse to get to the next plot point, but none of it adds up to anything special. Both the Joker and the Cat were introduced last issue, but this story doesn't really do anything new or interesting with either of them, much less the idea of the two of them in one story. It feels more like a placeholder story, acknowledging that the characters were popular and keeping them alive in the minds of the readers, but biding time until a better outing could be thought up.
The Art: Frankly, it stinks. George Roussos debuts as an inker in the Bob Kane studio, helping ease the load from Jerry Robinson now that the strip's output has increased. However, this story's pen-work is poor to say the least, leaving the art with a rushed and unfinished look. Joker is barely recognizable, and key details are missing in many panels. At this point, the Cat-Woman is still just an ordinary woman, although now she has a hood. Either way, its not an improvement. This is probably the worst the art has looked since Kane was inking himself, possibly worse.
The Story: Finger's writing is hurried and plot-driven, feeling like we're moving from setpiece to setpiece rather than being told a story. It could've been interesting to contrast Joker and the Cat-Woman, both brilliant jewel thieves, but one happens to be a murdering psychopath. Instead, their interaction is limited to two or three panels, and the entire climax feels very undeveloped. It also could've been interesting to contrast the Joker with the regular criminals of the Syndicate, but alas their only purpose in this story is rescuing the Joker. What a waste.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of multiple Bat-villains in one story.
Joker Body Count: 16

"Wolf, the Crime Master"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Cyrus Craig is a millionaire who owns a private museum, curated by a meek little man named Adam Lamb, who loves reading crime novels. One night, Lamb is so enthralled by a novel called "The Crime Master" that he stays very late at the museum. Hurrying to leave after finishing the book, he trips on a loose carpet, falls down a flight of stairs, and hits his head just as the bell tolls midnight. The last thing his eyes see before passing out are the novel "The Crime Master", and the mounted pelt of a bat. He awakes several hours later, and once again heads home. But as he walks, he hears a bell toll midnight (was he lying there in the museum for a whole day? And no one noticed?) Anyways, when the bell tolls, Lamb's entire personality transforms, and he becomes an evil man named Wolf (har har). Wolf comes upon a random passerby, and beats them to death with a crowbar. The next morning, he awakes as Lamb and dismisses events as merely a dream. Each night, he transforms in Wolf, slowly building up a criminal empire, until he becomes known as... The Crime Master!
One night, Batman and Robin come across Wolf's gang raiding a warehouse. A fight ensues, during which Batman notices a dent in the fender of the getaway car, storing it as a detail to possibly identify the car later. As it happens, Bruce Wayne ends up visiting Cyrus Craig's museum, where he meets Lamb and sees that Lamb's car has the same fender dent.
Batman and Robin follow the car to the waterfront, where they attack the gang. There's a really good fight scene, featuring a fantastic panel of Batman rising up out of the water, and Batman is shot in the shoulder (not covered by the bullet-proof vest he wears). The pair use a smoke pellet to cover their trail and escape back to safety.
We catch up with them in "Bruce's laboratory" (still no Batcave), where it falls upon young Dick to remove the slug from Bruce's shoulder (no Alfred either!). This is a great little sequence of realism for the two, although I can't imagine the pressure a ten-year-old kid like Dick would feel in this situation. Anyways, while recuperating, Bruce deduces Lamb's connection to Wolf, and that in his altered state, Lamb has been following the plot of the "Crime Master" novel. They arrive at Craig's museum just as Lamb transforms and tries to kill Craig. A fight ensues, but Lamb is paralyzed at the sight of Batman. In his fear, he trips and falls down the stairs (again?) and breaks his neck. As he dies, he explains what happened to other three. Batman and Robin regret Lamb's death, as medical attention might have helped him.
My Thoughts: The story of the Crime Master is Finger and Kane's first attempt at creating a Jekyll and Hyde type character. Its not entirely successful, mainly because the resulting character isn't all that unique or interesting. Only in a Golden Age comic will you find a bump on the head sufficient to creating a psychotic murderer! Eventually, Finger would hit upon the idea of a character who is Jekyll and Hyde simultaneously, a far more interesting notion that will give birth to the villain Two-Face.
The Art: Kane and Robinson do serviceable work here, with perhaps the best sequence being the fight on the waterfront, which includes a great panel of Robin crying out in anguish as Batman is shot. Another excellent panel is the one of Batman rising out of the water, frightening the crooks.
The Story: This is a very "Golden Age" story, and it feels kind've rote and standard for Bill Finger, but its most interesting aspect, other than the Jekyll/Hyde aspect, is that I believe its the first time a Batvillain has been repentant, a villain of circumstance and fate rather than choice. Lamb begs Batman to forgive him, as he dies, and is in some ways a very tragic figure. This tragic nature has become something of a trope of Bat-villains, and will figure more prominantly the next time Kane and Finger attempt the Jekyll/Hyde archetype.

"The Case of the Clubfoot Murders"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: While on routine patrol, Batman spots a murder being committed by a large, clubfooted man with a hook for a hand. Clubfoot defeats Batman, leaving him dazed as the police arrive. They attempt to arrest the Batman, but he makes good his escape. It turns out the murdered man is the millionaire Harley Storme. The next day, Bruce Wayne bumps into Commissioner Gordon, who invites Bruce to accompany him to the Storme mansion to question Haley's relatives. Where police procedures more relaxed in the forties, or is Gordon just really, really casual about these kinds of rules? Anyways, Bruce naturally agrees and the two are greeted by young Portia Storme, a niece who lets the two into what is essentially the opening scene of Young Frankenstein, as the Storme family lawyer (Ward) reads out the will to a greedy family that is full of feuding parties. Anyways, turns out none of the Stormes are getting anything, except a piece of gold with the inscription "united we stand, divided we fall" and some illegible scratchings. The family is annoyed, but Ward tells them all will be explained if they attend another meeting in 30 days at which time he will open a sealed letter from Haley.
Later, Tommy Storme is confronted by gangsters to whom he owes a gambling debt. Tommy had been banking on paying it off with his inheritance, so he tells the gangsters about the sealed envelope in Ward's possession. Meanwhile, Abel Storme is murdered by Clubfoot, who announces his intention to kill more of the Stormes.
Meanwhile, having heard of Abel's death, Bruce asks Gordon about Clubfoot, who tells him that a man named "Clubfoot" Beggs was last seen boarding a train headed for New York (where the Bat-stories are still set at this point, remember). Bruce and Dick conclude that Beggs must want vengeance against the Stormes for some reason. As Batman and Robin, they leave to break into Ward's house and learn more about the will.
Of course, they arrive just as the gangsters are casing the joint. We get the typical two-page fight scene, and then Batman does his interrogation bit to figure out where the gangsters have taken Ward. Of course, its an abandoned power house on the riverfront, and we quickly get another two-page fight scene as Batman and Robin rescue Ward. Batman and Robin question Ward, who claims to have no idea what is in the envelope. Returning home, Bruce concludes that there must be a secret message on the gold pieces that would be revealed when they are all brought together. Batman sends Robin to protect Roger Storme from Clubfoot, while he once again attempts to get to the contents of Ward's letter.
Robin arrives at Storme's home to find Roger already murdered. Good work, Boy Wonder. Clubfoot attacks, the two fight, but the murderer gets away. Meanwhile, Batman is searching Ward's home and finds Clubfoot, the REAL Clubfoot, locked up in the basement. Turns out Ward has been masquerading as Clubfoot, and killing the Stormes, so that he could take the inheritance for himself, because it was an entire goldmine. Huh. Anyways, Batman and Robin beat up Ward, rescue Clubfoot, and call it a day.
My Thoughts: This is another standard pulp mystery story with Batman and Robin inserted. There's really not much of significance to say.
The Art: Kane and Robinson do their usual thing here, for the most part working by the numbers, although Clubfoot is a nicely creepy visual reminescent of Hugo Strange's monster men.
The Story: Finger seems to have been really rustling through the Agatha Christie pulp mystery stock plots at this point, with this tale have so little to it that it gets padded out with an entirely unneccessary gangster subplot, with several red herrings added in for good measure. Its an okay read, but the ending is just a big "so what?"

"The Case of the Missing Link"Writer:
Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: We begin in medias res with Batman jumping onto a moving train, fighting some African pygmies who are shooting arrows at him (also on top of the train), then jumping into a car, fighting more pygmies and rescuing an apparently famous scientist named Drake.
Turns out Drake has brought back with him from Africa a giant, living, caucasian, prehistoric cave-man which he has dubbed the missing link between man and ape. At this point I must interject and point out that none of that makes any kind of scientific sense. At all.
Even Batman is dubious, wondering why the missing link would be so tall. Drake says its a glandular defect. Uh-huh. Anyways, turns out Drake found it living wild in the jungles of Africa (why is it white? Even Drake remarks that this is odd!) where the pygmies were worshipping it as a god. Naturally, Drake drugged it and took it back to the States, and the pygmies have been following and attacking Drake since. Batman asks what Drake wants to do with the giant, named Goliath, and Drake says he wants to civilize it, teach it English, and introduce it into society. What the fuck? This guy may be the single worst scientist, ever.
When Drake arrives in America, his discovery makes headlines. A duo of circus owners, Hackett and Snead, decided Goliath is perfect for their show. They visit Drake and Goliath (dressed in a tuxedo!) and offer a ton of money. Drake angrily refuses. Hackett and Snead threaten his life, so Drake tells Batman. Not the police, mind you, but Batman.
So Batman sends Robin to watch Drake, which tells you how seriously our hero is taking this.
Anyways, some hitmen show up and murder Drake, and Robin arrives too late to stop them. Great job, Boy Wonder.
The hitmen arranged the murder to look like a suicide, leaving a note that bequethed Goliath to Hackett and Snead. When reading of these events in the paper, Dick suggests telling the police. Bruce rightly points out that Dick is an idiot, and decides to "bide his time". Classic Golden Age Batman move.
Anyways, at the circus, they are exhibiting Goliath, but he spots one of Drake's murderers in the crowd and goes berzerk and after throwing the hitman into a pole and killing him instantly he begins attacking the crowd and causing general pandemonium. Of course, at this moment Batman and Robin arrive. Robin calms the rampaging animals, and the duo defeats Goliath. The beast unfortunately dies in this struggle.
Turns out that the hitman somehow managed to confess to the police about Hackett and Snead before he died, so they are arrested.
My Thoughts: So, I'm gonna go on the record with saying this is the first really ridiculous Batman story. Well, except for Detective Comics #34, because seriously, what the fuck was that? But anyways, this is the first time any element of "science fiction" is introduced into Batman, and frankly, it just doesn't work. Batman vs. the missing link is just preposterous. But I guess this is Golden Age comicbook storytelling after all. As a side note, the whole notion of the missing link is something the public was and still is taken with to some extent, but which has always been something of a misnomer. As of this writing, the links between man and primitive ape are well documented in the fossil record, it's not like evolutionary theory has this big blind spot of there being no connection. Nevertheless, the missing link is a trope that shows up a lot, although why ANYONE would think it would still be ALIVE, much less WHITE, is beyond me.
The Art: It's okay. Kane does his usual thing, but Roussos needs a lot more practice if he's gonna be as good as Robinson at inking him. Kane's art on its own is basically lazy cartooning, and it's really been Robinson who's been adding depth and dimension to the books. Roussos still needs to learn this.
The Story: Yet another stock story from Finger, this time full of pygmies after their god (a trope as old as The Moonstone), missing links, gangsters, circus pandemonium, etc. I don't know why, but ever since Detective #40, Finger seems to just be coasting. But then, I suppose stock plots help when you're a notoriously late writer.

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