Friday, December 30, 2011

Detective Comics #43 (September 1940)

"The Case of the City of Terror"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick have decided to take a "vacation from crime-hunting", which is a hilariously Golden Age idea that I could never imagine modern Bruce doing, and go on a cross-country tour in their 1936 Cord, aka the exact same car the Batman drives. Which is another hilariously Golden Age idea. But their break doesn't last long when it turns out the town that they've stopped in is filled top to bottom with corruption.
After witnessing the abusive policeforce, Bruce inquires with the locals about what is going on, but they're all too afraid to talk. Bruce decides to question Mr. Carter, the richest man in town, because bird of a feather I guess? Oddly enough, he decides to visit him as Batman, and discovers the corrupt police about to rough up Carter for speaking out against the mayor.
The Batman makes short work of them, of course, and proceeds to question Carter. He explains that Mayor Greer came to power through suspicious means and is allied with a mobster named "Bugs" Norton, and they promptly replaced all the officials with toadies and the cops with thugs and turned the town into a racketeer's paradise. There's no legal way to touch them, but luckily the Batman operates outside the law and agrees to help. He sends messages of warning to Greer and Norton (delivered by live bats, no less!) that their days are numbered. Meanwhile, Robin has been listening in on Norton's meeting, and learns of an upcoming heroin delivery!
The Batman and Robin attack the shipment (the state police would never think to check a big unmarked truck! Uh guys? Isn't that exactly the kind of thing they'd check?), and beat up all the crooks. Batman actually grabs a guy by his ankles and swings him around to knock out the others. Now THAT's how you get things done! Anyways, with the crooks all tied up, the duo confiscates the dope. And here's where I have to make a point about how this is really indicative of one of the key difference between Golden Age and Silver Age comics -- yeah, these stories are being written for kids, but there's really no self-censorship here. It's sort've shocking to read about Batman taking down heroin dealers in NINETEEN-FORTY but the fact is that teens and young adults were reading these things too -- as WWII came to the US, comics in fact got a big audience with overseas GIs. Whereas in the Silver Age there was NO references to drugs allowed, heck -- you could hardly even have someone die in a storyline!
Now that Norton's more, let's say adult, shenanigans are fooled, Batman decides to send Robin to destroy all the slot machines that Norton is using to get the town's kids hooked on gambling. Apparently Batman has NO tolerance for such things, smashing them with an axe and having Robin tell the kids that he would never play such machines. (Apparently, despite being fugitives of the law, Batman and Robin are already nationally well known and respected figures. One of the kids talks about seeing pictures of Robin in a magazine!)
Then Batman goes after the corrupt cops, taking them down one at a time, until they've all gone "missing". Robin, meanwhile, works with the kids of the town to produce a leaflet to turn the town against Norton and Greer, and Batman even gives a speech in a music hall encouraging the out of work former cops to take their town back by force! Holy Leninists, Batman?
The town complies, and soon everything is back to normal -- thanks to violence!
But there's a loose end to tie up -- Greer and Norton! Robin intercepts Greer while he's trying to escape, while Batman does his standard breaking and entering following by severe beat down on Norton. The townspeople are grateful, as Batman reveals all the crooks are tied and gagged in Carter's cellar, awaiting the state police. With everything turned right, Bruce and Dick get back in the car and resume their "vacation".
As a final gesture, the town unveils a statue to honor Batman and Robin -- y'know, two fugitive vigilantes.
My Thoughts: Wow! Okay! Here's something fun and different! The idea of Batman versus corruption, specifically a mob-run police force, is really gangbusters (no pun intended) and this must have been a story Frank Miller looked at when writing the seminal Year One storyline. It's a really great idea and plays on the natural notion that Batman is someone who breaks the law in order to be a hero, therefore having him fight villains who are supposedly upholding the law is a natural conflict. At the time this was written, mobsters were still high profile, almost celebrity like individuals who had a lot of sway over public perception. For example, Bugsy Siegal had just been acquitted for the murder of his "Murder Inc" syndicate operatives. Comics like these come from a time when the idea of a town run by the mob wasn't an unbelievable idea. It also explains the somewhat pedantic nature of some of the storytelling and dialogue -- with Batman and Robin serving as a heroic ideal to the children reading the comics to stand up to crooks and bullies and to fight them instead of idolizing them, even if that means standing alone. This theme, that crime does NOT pay and encouraging children to abandon the idea of worshipping gangsters, is a recurring one in early Batman comics, and makes me really laugh at Dr. Wertham's later notion that reading these comics was turning young children into delinquents. Another interesting notion introduced here is that Batman and Robin have become known to the public, and are respected as heroes despite their outlaw status. This is a change from Kane and Finger's initial "mysterious avenger of the night" character, and the beginning of a slow transformation that by the end of the decade would have Batman placed in a much more standard benevolent superhero kind of role.
The Art: Pretty good, standard work from Kane and Robinson here, although Kane swipes the cover of Detective #33 for Batman and Robin's assault on the heroin delivery. Still, for the most part this is good, exciting Batman vs. gangsters stuff. Roussos is beginning to settle in, his penchant for filling panels with all black backgrounds adding a kind've darkness to the strip -- which is getting brighter all the time in the foreground art -- and will soon earn him the nickname "Inky".
The Story: Ah, I am SO glad Bill Finger decided to do something different for this ish! The stories had really been following a formula since #40 and it was refreshing to read something breaking out of that format. And this story is an epic! I mean, the idea of Bruce and Dick going on a cross-country crime-fighting roadtrip against smalltown corruption is something that Grant Morrison would probably do like four to six issues of in a modern comic, if not an entire damn series! That being said, there is one element I don't like about this story: it's not in Gotham. I mean, I understand why. For one thing, Gotham isn't even the main setting of the series yet. At this point, we're still in an undefined, vaguely fictionalized New York. So saying that all of New York is corrupt and having Batman fight that would be a pretty large statement, and having Batman accomplish something like that in eleven pages would probably be too big a story. Also, while the City police are against Batman, Gordon has been established as a competent and honest official who knows Batman is one the side of justice -- so it would be hard to do this story there and keep Gordon's integrity as a character intact. But I just don't like Batman stories set outside Gotham! I just don't. Maybe it's an irrational thing, but despite young Bruce vowing to war on "all crime", I've always felt Batman was tied to the City. I've never liked globe-trotting Batman stories, they've never felt right to me, unless there was some personal reason (like Batman going after the Monk and Julie in #31-32) And the whole notion of Bruce and Dick going on a vacation from crime fighting is pretty unthinkable, although that's probably just me applying my 21st Century ideas about the character. I mean, it's probably more a vacation for Dick's sake, given that he's like ten years old or so, and his parents have been dead for only like five months, and since then Batman's just been continually putting him in life-threatening scenarios. So he probably needs a break.
But anyways, outside my metatextual analysis, I have to say this was a great story and a much-needed change of pace at this point.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Detective Comics #42 (August 1940)

This cover always reminds me of Frank Miller's Batman, for some reason. Something about seeing the Dark Knight somewhat sinisterly smiling as he watches his young aide (or "soldier") take down a bad guy. But on the other hand, it's also a very in character Finger/Kane Batman, who by this time in the series has lightened up quite a bit from his initial portrayal as a harsh avenger of the night. This transformation began, of course, with the introduction of Robin himself, and has been Batman gaining a bit of a quipping, daredevlish personality as opposed to the grim Shadow-like character of his initial appearances.

"The Case of the Prophetic Pictures!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: We open with a great Bob Kane symbolic splash page depicting a green skeleton in a white cloak painting a picture of the Batman's death. This is a great visual, suggesting a great idea, but unfortunately the story doesn't 100% follow through.
This time, we open with Bruce Wayne attending a party of wealthy socialites being hosted by a Mr. Wylie. The occasion of the party is that Wylie has brought a genius young artist over from Europe named Antal (the implication is more that Wylie has rescued Antal from Europe, where WWII was already in full swing). While Bruce is at the party, we get some snide comments from the other guests about what a lazy and useless fellow he is. This is some good character development work that is resulting from the growing page count the feature is receiving. The idea of Bruce Wayne as lazy, useless, layabout playboy is very much a Golden Age one. It's roots are in the adopted identity of Lamont Cranston assumed by The Shadow, and it's currently getting a comeback in Chris Nolan's recent movie interpretation of Wayne's public persona, although he's more openly abrasive there. In the comics themselves, Wayne transformed into a publicly respected philanthropist in the SIlver and Bronze Ages, before becoming essentially a powerhouse recluse CEO in the Modern Age.
Anyways, Wylie is working with manager Bleek to turn Antal into a fashionable society portrait painter, even though Antal prefers working on landscape art. This is because society portraits will bring a repuration faster. As they explain this to Bruce, a crazy looking man bursts in and begins yelling at Antal. This is Mikoff, a rival artist whose sister loved Antal and committed suicide when Antal left her. Seems he came to the party just to threaten Antal.
Bruce follows Antal outside, where he has an argument with a man named Ryder in one panel and Drake in the next. Apparently Antal is having an affair with Ryder/Drake's wife. It is clear to Bruce that things are not all right with Antal's new life in the US.
Antal soon becomes a hit society portrait artist, as planned, but strange things start happening. His portraits start becoming targets of bizarre vandalism. The portraits will have knives sticking out of them, bullet holes in them, darts in the neck, etc. Soon after these vandalisms appear, the individual in the portrait is killed in the same manner. This happens several times, until one man, Mr. Warren, demands police protection after his portrait is done. Gordon arranges a cordon of men to be placed outside Warren's rooms (he lives in a penthouse), since this method has been so successful in the past, lolol.
Batman decides its time he gets involved, and so scales the walls of the skyscraper (with suction cups no less!) He enters at the top in a frame copying art from Detective #28, but then Kane loved swiping panels. Anyways, he discovers Warren has been killed. The police burst in, to find Batman with the murdered man, and we get an always fun Batman vs. the Police sequence that ends in Batman escaping in his suped-up 1936 Cord.
A few days later, Bruce visits Gordon, and of course Antal comes bursting in at the same time. Damn, Bruce always plans these visits conveniently doesn't he? Anyways, Antal is upset because all these murders are natually causing him to lose clients. Gordon believes someone is intentionally trying to ruin Antal, but the list of suspects is pretty long: Mikoff, Drake, Bleek, etc. Then, Wylie bursts into Gordon's office! Apparently the commissioner of police doesn't have a secretary?
Anyways, Wylie's portrait has bullets holes in it, and Wylie himself is suffering from an injury caused by the murderer himself, who got away of course. Then a Mr. Travers bursts in, and this is starting to get ridiculous. Anyways, his portrait has an arrow through it. Travers decides he can't rely on the police and is retreating to the safety of his yacht.
Batman orders Robin to guard Travers on the yacht, and hopefully the Boy Wonder does a better job than the last few times he was put on "make sure this guy DOESN'T die" duty.
Anyways, while Robin is on the yacht, a guy wearing an artist's beret, a purple overcoat, and a green skull mask shows up, and tries to shoot Traver's with an arrow. Robin fights him, but he escapes on the speed boat that Robin used to get to the boat! Robin consoles himself that at least he saved Traver's life, but I'm sure Batman will still be pissed.
When Dick gets back, Bruce announces that he's figured out who the murderer is, and that it all has to do with the "root of all evil -- money!" Which is a pretty douchey proclamation when the sole reason you've been able to devote your life to fighting crime is that you're an old money rich New Englander. Anyways, Bruce announces he's going to have his portrait painted by Antal, obviously in a scheme to draw out the murderer. Antal is surprised, and concludes that Bruce must either be the bravest or stupidest man he's ever met.
Anyways, Bruce takes the portrait back to Wayne Manor, where it is promptly shot in the head. Bruce concludes that the best course of action is to sit in his easy chair, smoking his pipe, and wait for the murderer to come. Dick is confused.
Sure enough, green skull dude with the artist's cap shows up, and shoots Bruce (sitting in a pose stolen from Detective #33 I believe) point blank in the back of the head. At that moment, of course, the Batman bursts in, and after a customary two page fight scene, subdues the murderer! Turns out the Bruce in the chair was a dummy, with Dick inside to move the arms.
Bruce then unmasks the skeleton and it turns out to be... old man Wylie! Turns out Wylie was heavily in debt, and bought a ton of Antal's pictures for cheap in Europe, and brought Antal to the US to turn him into a star in order to raise the value of the pictures. And, because of the logic of Golden Age comics, figured the best way to raise Antal's notoriety was the prophetic murders scheme.
Wylie panics, and in order to avoid being taken to jail and disgraced, shoots himself in the head. Batman's verdict? "Much better this way". Woah, Bats. Woah.
My Thoughts: Basically, this is the exact same story as the last two issues of this book, with a masked or mystery murderer knocking off victims one at a time, while a multitude of suspects all harbour grudges, and Batman unmasks the villain Scooby-Doo style at the end. At least this time we get a neat gimmick (the paintings) and a fun visual for the villain -- although he would've been way cooler if his appearance had matched the initial splash page, which promises a kind've spectral, undead menace. Of these plots, Clayface was probably the most successful due to a good visual and a good villain name. Oh, and he's carted off to jail instead of killing himself.
The Art: Pretty standard affair from Kane and Robinson this ish, although Kane swiping from himself is pretty noticeable, and none of the "homaged" panels are as well done as the first time. The green skulled disguise Wylie uses looks pretty cool, but, again, would've looked cooler had it matched the splash page.
The Story: Again, Finger is retreading material here, and this Agatha Christie/Scooby-Doo formula is starting to get tiresome. However, I'll say this is probably the best use of it since Clayface. It's also nice to see a few non-plot related scenes of Bruce and Dick and Gordon, developing their characters and relationships if only just a little bit. It was a cool idea to make the murderer a member of the "high society" that Bruce rubs elbows in, in order to give Bruce a more natural role in the story. This is something the Bat-comics will use over and over, of course.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

New York World's Fair Comics (1940 Issue)

It could be safe to say that the 1939/40 New York World's Fair is probably one of the most continually inspirational cultural events in American history. Created to inspire a country in the throes of the Great Depression, the Fair held a theme of "The World of Tomorrow", showcasing the potential of science and industry to transform our lives for the better. One of the most popular exhibits was Futurama, a GM exhibit demonstrating the "City of Tomorrow".
But the World's Fair wasn't without its share of problems. Launched as an international event in 1939, the timing wasn't exactly great for promoting international co-operation. The pavillions for Poland and Czechslovakia did not reopen for the 1940 season, for one thing.
The World's Fair was also a great opportunity for promotion. Many of the exhibits and events were corporate sponsored, and National Publications (aka DC Comics) was quick to take advantage. DC released two special length comics, one for each season, showcasing their most popular characters. The 1940 issue has the distinction of being the first comic to feature both Superman and Batman, although they figure in seperate stories. But the cover of the book certainly demonstrates how popular Robin had become in the very short time since his introduction, sharing the cover with Superman and Batman, his byline "and Robin" already becoming an almost mandatory addition to Batman's.

The format of these World's Fair comics, longer issues featuring a cross-section of DC's most popular characters, was popular, and ended up informing the format of the long-running World's Finest Comics.

"Batman and Robin Visit the 1940 New York World's Fair"
aka "The Man Who Turns Steel Into Dust"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick are out visiting the World's Fair, remarking on the notable attractions. Meanwhile, the "great West River Bridge" has suddenly melted away, collapsing into the sea. Hearing about it on the radio, Bruce orders Dick to scout over by the bridge, while he visits Commissioner Gordon.
At this point I'd like to stop and ask a question I haven't really thought about when reading these Golden Age Batman comics -- why are Gordon and Bruce friends? At this point, Gordon has never met Batman, has no alliance with him, no uneasy truce -- it seems more like that while Batman is a criminal in the eyes of the police, Gordon sort've turns a blind eye because he knows Batman is on the side of justice. As for Bruce? In this story alone Gordon remarks on how lazy and useless Bruce is, and Gordon is clearly far older than Bruce, drawn as a man in his fifties or sixties compared to Bruce's late twenties. So why the hell are they friends?
Anyways, at Gordon's office, Bruce confirms that the bridge has melted away. Just then, the head of an engineering firm bursts in, revealing a ransom note he has received threatening construction on a new bridge. Gordon tells him that it's probably a crackpot cashing in on the recent disaster, and blames the first bridge on the steel being faulty. Bruce isn't too sure, however.
Meanwhile, Dick discovers two men at the site of the destroyed bridge trying to rough up a girl. He beats up the two men, and the girl gets away, but the men claim to be detectives trying to arrest the girl. This doesn't sit well with Dick, who reports back to Bruce.
Bruce thinks the best course of action is to wait and see what happens to the bridge that was threatened. Because in case you haven't noticed, waiting around and seeing how things play out is Golden Age Batman's favourite method of crime fighting. It's less about preventing horrific crimes than it is letting them occur so he knows where and when to beat up the criminals.
Anyways, the bridge collapses and soon enough another bridge is threatened. So NOW Batman and Robin spring into action.They arrive at the "Flavin Bridge" and there is a standard two page fight scene in and around the bridge, from which Batman and Robin recover a strange device. The girl Dick saved earlier suddenly appears and announces se knows what the device is. Turns out her uncle, Dr. Hugo Vreekill (what a name!), is a mad scientist who invented a machine that melts steal with short waves! Naturally, he wishes to use this machine to extort men and become a "king of crime!" Ambitious, ain't he?
Anyways, the niece reveals her uncle's plan is to use the device to break a bunch of crooks out of prison and form a kind of criminal army. Okaaay. Anyways, Batman and Robin arrive in the Batplane at the State Penitentiary just as the breakout is occurring. They stun all the prisoners with gas bombs, beat them up, tie them up, and hop back in the Batplane before the police can arrive and arrest them.
Batman and Robin then fly in the Batplane to the under construction "Monarch Building" where Vreekill's men are attempting more sabotage. A patented two-page "Batman and Robin fight gangsters on girders" fight scene occurs, then they hop back in the Batplane and fly to Vreekill's laboratory. Batman punches Vreekill, who falls back into some equipment and ends up electrocuting himself. Batman's response? "He saved the State the job!" Yes, Golden Age Batman. He won't kill you, but he won't save you, and has no compunctions about someone else killing you either.
Dick hopes nothing else happens to interrupt checking out the World's Fair and Bruce breask the fourth wall to recommend it to the readers.
My Thoughts: So it's pretty clear to me that this is a standard Finger/Kane Batman story that was hastily repackaged into being placed in the World's Fair comic, given that the only references to the Fair are at the beginning and end of the tale. And that's somewhat unfortunate. It would have been great if the story was actually set at the Fair, especially given the somewhat unique position the Fair holds as an influence on Batman art. The oversized props and exhibits at the Fair would inspire fictional settings for Batman's adventures for decades to come, perhaps reaching a zenith under the team of Finger and Dick Sprang in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the specific art deco style of the World of Tomorrow and Futurama exhibits would prove a major influence on the look of the 1992-1999 Batman animated series, to such a point that the 1993 film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm would include significant scenes set at a "Gotham World's Fair" as a direct homage.
Instead, we get a really standard Golden Age Batman story with a hokey mad scientist villain and repetitive fight scenes.
The Art: Kane's art here is really, really weak and clearly rushed, and Roussos just doesn't do a good enough job with his inks to cover up Kane's hurried pencils. The whole thing looks rather amateurish. That being said, some of the ideas for the scenes are creative enough that it still works, but most are ideas we've seen already in the strip, and they look nowhere near as good as when Kane and Moldoff or Kane and Robinson were doing them.
The Story: A pretty paint-by-numbers affair for Finger, the villain seems like something more out of Superman than Batman, but given that this was essentially a throwaway piece for a promotional comic, I'll let it slide. The most interesting thing here is that with locations such as the "West River Bridge" and the "Monarch Building", Finger is taking his first steps towards fictionalizing Batman's hitherto New York location.
Notes and Trivia: First shared Batman and Superman cover.

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.