Thursday, January 5, 2012

Batman #3 (Fall 1940)

"The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Out one night on patrol, Batman comes across a man being accosted by a brute in a cossack outfit. Batman comes to the fellow's aide, but is attacked by an acommplice of the cossack. The two get away, and Batman discovers the man he rescued is none other than "Dr. Craig", a leading researcher in the field of atomic energy. Turns out that he has discovered a formula to perfect its use, something which Batman realises would be of great value to the warring powers of Europe.
After Batman leaves, Dr. Craig discovers he has an odd scratch on his arm -- oh well, it's just a scratch... or is it??
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne runs into the two men from the other day and follows them to a music hall showcasing "Dmitri, the Puppet Master". Bruce is suspicious and sends Robin to spy on Dmitri and his men.
The duo finds out that the Puppet Master is after Dr. Craig as well as something called the Voss Rifle. Bruce decides to head over to Dr. Craig's to protect him and stop the Puppet Master.
Meanwhile, at the Puppet Master's lair, we learn that his men have been scratching their targets with a needle containing "thought serum" a drug wich enables the Puppet Master to hypnotize and control his victim's thought waves -- which is some grade A comic book science if you ask me!
And so the Puppet Master begins to control Dr. Craig from afar, having him get up from bed and get the atomic formula from his safe and deliver it to his waiting men. But of course, just then, the Batman intervenes! After a two-page fight scene the henchmen get away. Batman and Robin take Dr. Craig back to "the Batman's laboratory", which at this point is still presumably just a room in Wayne Manor!! Bruce proposes electric shock as a method to bring him out of hypnosis and so...
We suddenly get a new scene in which Bruce annnounces that the Voss Rifle the Puppet Master is a new army gun and that Batman and Robin will prevent its theft! Huh. Okay, Bill Finger.
Meanwhile, using the thought serum the Puppet Master gains himself an army of hoods to take on the soldiers guarding the Voss Rifle, a concept illustrated by a fantastic panel visualizing the Puppet Master reaching his clutches out into the underworld.
Back at Wayne Manor, Batman and Robin race along an underground passage that leads from Wayne Manor to an abandoned barn in which the Batplane is kept and can be launched from!! Now THIS is a new concept! When the Batplane was first introduced, it was the Batgyro, and just kept in a large room in Wayne Manor along with the laboratory.
Anyways, the plane launches, but the hypnotized hoods have already attacked the "Metropolis Limited", the train carrying the Voss Rifle. The Batplane swoops down, and Batman and Robin launch themselves onto the train to fight the hoods. They are successful in beating them back (the army also helps), but during the fight Batman is scratched with the thought serum! Unfortunately he doesn't know what it does, and assumes it's just a scratch.
One of the Puppet Master's lieutenants reports this to his master, who is delighted and immediately devlops a plan. He summons Bruce from his sleep hypnotically and, without knowing his true identity, orders him to steal jewels from a downtown shop as Batman and bring them to the Puppet Master. Then the Puppet Master calls the police and tips them off, hoping to discredit and disgrace Batman.
The Batman obeys the hypnosis and arrives at the shop, confronted by the police -- but even hypnotized the Batman defeats them and escapes, and heads back to the Puppet Master's place as per his instructions. Meanwhile, Dick notices Bruce is gone and concludes he has left to capture the Puppet Master and may needs Robin's help.
Robin knows where the Puppet Master is because when he was giving his puppet shows his home address was listed in the newspaper (!!!) and once there he spots Batman going in. He confronts him about what's in the bag, and Batman slaps him across the face! Robin is hurt, but realises Batman has been hypnotized, and clocks him in the jaw, which manages to knock him out! Robin carries Batman home.
In the next panel, Batman arrives at the Puppet Master's, and Bill Finger tries to pretend like he's still hypnotized, but he isn't! He beats up the Puppet Master and he and Robin deliver him to the police, where Batman intends to explain that he was hypnotized and will never cease fighting Crime!
My Thoughts: This is a really fantastic return to form for Golden Age Batman. A classic "comic book" style story with a big villain, plot twists, and heroism. It seems clear from his strong gimmick and open ending that Finger intended Dmitri the Puppet Master to become a recurring villain, but to the best of my knowledge this his only appearance. Both DC and Marvel would have subsequent villains known as "The Puppet Master" but this is it for Dmitri. Other items of note: Craig's atomic formula and Dmitri's thieving of military secrets points to the specific era this story was written in -- World War II was raging in Europe, but the US was not yet involved. Although Finger could not have known it, the US Army was even at this early point already looking into the possibility of nuclear arms.
The Art: Kane, Robinson, and Roussos do really good work this time. There are some fantastic panels in this, mainly revolving around the Puppet Master -- including a great circular panel of hoods falling under his control, with the Puppet Master's leering face and outreached hands in the centre. Great stuff. Batman gets a lot of great poses as well. It's a topnotch effort from the art team.
The Story: Finger does a great comic book supervillain type plot here, moving away from the mystery type stories he's been doing in Detective Comics. Probably the weakest point is the ending -- the Puppet Master's address was in the newspaper??? Why the hell didn't Batman just nab him at the start of the story then?? Also, while it appears the electric shock therapy works (it's how Robin breaks the Puppet Master's control of Batman), what happened to Dr. Craig?? It's a loose end left entirely hanging -- at first because Finger needs the suspense of if the electric shock works, but then he seems to just forget about it. Also, Batman's just going to explain everything to the police?? Even if he was hypnotized, he's still a wanted vigilante, as Finger has demonstrated many times. Aside from these holes in the story's resolution though, it's a good and ambitious effort.
Notes and Trivia: Establishing a tunnel from Wayne Manor to an abandoned barn where the Batplane is kept, an early precursor to what will eventually be the Batcave.

"The Ugliest Man in the World"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: While on his regular patrol, Batman spots a man being attacked by a gang of hideous looking men. Batman beats them all up, of course, but they escape in a car -- spewing gunfire at the man who Batman narrowly saves. Turns out the man Batman saved is Detective McGongile, who was attempting to stop the hideous gang from setting fire to a museum. McGonigle then realises he is talking to Batman, and tries to arrest him, but Batman pulls a fast one on him and gets away. McGonigle returns to police headquarters, and vows to arrest and unmask the Batman.
Meanwhile, Batman returns home in time to change into Bruce Wayne and visit a rich friend of his named Harvey Dodge. When Bruce arrives, Dodge introduces him to a Mr. Larry Larrimore, another handsome young rich man. After eating dinner and talking for a bit, all of a suddent a ghastly change comes over Dodge, and his facial features suddenly contort and droop and change into the visage of a fat, ugly, idiotic man. Bruce and Larrimore call a doctor, but he is unable to discover what is wrong with Dodge.
Soon, however, men all over the city begin to be affected by what the newspapers dub "The Ghastly Change", while a gang of criminals known as the Ugly Horde begin attacking and destroying works of beauty in the city -- museums, statues, models, paintings, etc -- police follow the getaway car but it always manages to disappear.
Bruce pays one of his customary visits to Commissioner Gordon, who admits the case is driving him "batty" (I don't think Finger intended the pun). McGonigle bursts in, announcing that he believes the Ugly Horde is the same gang that tried to assault him the other night. Gordon assigns him to the case.
Meanwhile, the Ugly Horde gathers at their lair, to hear from their leader...The Ugliest Man in the World! He gives a speech in which he essentially declares war on beauty because people worship beauty and shun ugliness, thus he and his cohorts have been shunned and deserve revenge.
Bruce learns of a painting being shipped to America from a country that the Nazis have invaded in Europe and guesses the Ugly Horde may try to destroy it. So Batman and Robin head out in the Cord to the docks, where they meet the gang and have a two page fight scene. But McGongile shows up and blasts the gangmembers, claiming to be saving Batman's life only because Batman saved his. He once again attempts to arrest him, but Batman pushes him into the sea, and the two escape, hoping to catch the escaping Horde. However, even Batman can't catch up to the car, which once again disappears.
Over the car radio, Batman and Robin have learned that a Dr. Ekhart has discovered the cure to the Ghastly Change, and they figure the Horde might make an attempt on his life. They defeat the crooks, and Batman orders Robin to guard Ekhart while he follows the escaping gang. He discovers they cover their tracks by driving the car up into the bed of a shipping truck. He follows the truck, but once he leaves his car he is knocked out from behind and captured.
He awakes to find himself chained in a dungeon with two other prisoners -- a Mr. and Mrs. John Tyler. The Ugly Horde is guarding them, and announces the approach of their leader -- LARRIMORE! He removes the mask to reveal The Ugliest Man in the World! His real name is Carlson, and it turns out that in college he was accidentally injected with an unknown drug during a fraternity initiation prank. The drug's side effect was that Carlson's face was ruined -- contorted and twisted into a horribly ugly visage. Carlson's fiancee left him, later marrying John Tyler -- the man who injected Carlson! It turns out all the men struck by the Ghastly Change, from Dodge on, were members of the fraternity. Carlson had, after 15 years of research, replicated the drug, and is now going to use it on the Tylers and Batman!
But, as it turns out, Robin had followed Batman, deciding Ekhart was all right. Using the radioactive material coating the tires of Batman's car (previously established as coating the bottom of the duo's shoes), Robin tracks Batman using the infrared flashlight. He appears in the nick of time and rescues Batman. During the fighting, Carlson sneaks up behind Batman with a knife, but is shot by McGonigle! McGonigle spotted Robin and followed him there (that's what you get when you wear red, yellow and green!) Once again he attempts to arrest Batman, once again Batman and Robin escape.
At Wayne Manor, Bruce explains to Dick that the drug deactivated the thyroid gland, causing the men to develop acute myxdesma, which caused their hideous appearance. Which, actually, is pretty good comic book science considering how ridiculous the explanation of the Puppet Master in the previous story was. Bruce and Dick feel sorry for Carlson, remarking that he would never have gone mad if he hadn't been rejected by his friends, who were really the truly ugly ones.
Back at Police Headquarters, McGonigle is pleased he cracked the case, but vows to nab Batman!
My Thoughts: There are two really interesting ideas going on in this story. The first one is McGonigle -- a slightly oafish, stereotypically Irish detective who has vowed to go after Batman, but while not entirely incompetent is far below Batman's level and is always being mad a fool of. This will be a recurring character for a while, a kind of Golden Age Harvey Bullock, really. McGonigle is a kind've incongruous character -- while on the one hand hilarious and bumbling, on the other hand he's actually pretty effective, he shoots and kills several crooks in this story, something Batman would never do. Or, at least hasn't since Robin came around.
The other interesting aspect here is the villain. It's clear that Finger and Kane are attempting to create memorable and interesting villains after the creation of the Joker -- unfortunately Whitney Ellsworth isn't stepping in to save them all from Finger killing them off, so it's a little hard to build a consistent rogues gallery. But regardless, it's clear that Kane has decided that the key to a good villain is a good, horrific visual -- a hallmark of the villains in probably the best rogues gallery in comics before Batman came along: Dick Tracy. Tracy's villains are a lot like Batman's -- their twisted visages reflect their twisted natures. But Chester Gould, who wrote and drew the strip, also painted his villains with pure black and white morality -- there was no redemption for Tracy villains, who were evil to the core and usually punished mortally.
But here, with Carlson, we see a core difference with Batman villains. It will soon be a standing trope that Batman villains are motivated by revenge, jealousy, betrayal -- they are often pathetic, damaged people. So there is a sympathy for them and their plight, even as they do villainous acts. We see that clearly here, when Bruce and Dick feel sorry for Carlson -- which also represents a change in attitude for Bruce, who up until this point has often remarked with grim satisfaction upon a villain's death, even if he is no longer the one dishing them out.
The Art: Kane here displays a gift for caricature which he uses to create the freakishly ugly members of the Horde. It's very effective line work, much better than in the previous issue of Batman. Robinson and Roussos seem to be working more in harmony on the inks now, although Robinson's effectively nuanced shadowing is now being largely replaced by Roussos' solid black swaths in backgrounds.
The Story: Finger creates a neat tale of revenge, madness, mob hysteria, and action. These tales of colourful villains and heroics are far better than his recent attempts at mystery. I enjoyed this one, which was perhaps more creative and better suited to Batman than the previous "Puppet Master" tale.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Detective McGonigle.

"The Crime School for Boys"
Writer: Bill Finger
Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: We begin with a bang, as Batman jumps a gang of thieves on a high rooftop. What follows is fucking dynamite! Batman beats up the crooks, chases them across rooftops, is shot at, swings from one building to another on a rope, fights them on a fire escape, and down to the alleys. Finally, he is down to the last thug -- who turns out to be a mere boy, a little older than Robin! Batman makes the kid swear to go straight, and then follows him to an empty warehouse. The child enters, and Batman heads up to the rooftop to watch through the skylight. Inside a man named "Pockets" runs a Crime School for poor young boys, teaching them to pickpocket and so on, like Fagin in "Oliver Twist". He speaks of boys who have graduated and gone on to serve in Big Boy Daniel's mob, such as the young boy who runs from Batman and who Pockets convinces to stay in the mob, because he's bright and could go places. The boys look up to Pockets and Big Boy and are eager to learn. As you can imagine, Batman is angry about this and returns to Wayne Manor to tell Dick.
Dick asks the question I was thinking, which is why Batman didn't just bust in and start punching people, and Batman responds that it wouldn't do to attack the criminals, because the kids look up to and admire them. Batman must change the children for the better, win their hearts and minds, before he can shut down the crime school. The first thing he does is buy a property in the neighbourhood, and turn it into a free gymnasium for underprivileged youth. Then he sends in Dick as "the new kid on the block", introducing himself to the kids of the crime school. They try to beat him up and bully him, but he beats them easily cause, y'know. He tells them he works out at the free gym Bruce set up, and they follow him there. They start having a lot of fun and coming there regularly, and Dick teaches them to understand that in sports you have to play fair -- that the game isn't worth playing if you aren't honest. The kids learn this and love it -- but they don't apply it to anything outside sports and they keep going to Pockets' "school".
Eventually they invite Dick to the school, and there he learns that Big B
oy Daniels himself will be making an appearance, reporting this to Bruce. That night, Pockets introduces Big Boy to the kids. He picks two of the older boys for jobs -- one will help rob a warehouse, the other an apartment.
Batman, who has been listening in, vows to stop both kids from turning to crime.
At the warehouse, the shadow of the bat hovers over the crooks -- Batman is pissed. He leaps down and grabs a ladder, using it to trap the crooks and sock them. Then he scares the kid straight, saying "The next time I see you hanging around these rats you'll get a taste of what they got!" At the apartment it's a similar deal -- Batman beat sup the bad guys and threatens the kid til he agrees to be good.
Big Boy is convinced someone must have squealed for the Batman to know of both jobs, and just then the Batman phones! He tells Big Boy to shut down Pockets' school or else. Big Boy is convinced Pockets might be the rate and goes to the school -- murdering him in front of the kids! Batman is watching from the skylight and bursts down, now able to definitively pin murder on Big Boy. It's ambiguous, but it seems like Batman set up and allowed Big Boy to murder Pockets to play into Batman's bigger plan. That's cold.
Batman taunts Big Boy, saying he can't beat him without his gang or his guns. Big Boy takes him on and engages him in combat. They go head to head, and the Dark Knight ends up judo flipping Big Boy by his head! Defeated, Big Boy pulls his gun on Batman -- but the kids see this as cheating after Big Boy had agreed to Batman's rules. Dick spurs them on and they turn on the mobsters. They clean up and the mobsters go to jail.
The kids go straight, continue using the gym, while Dick "moves out of the neighbourhood". Dick thinks the job is finished, but Bruce counters that they and others must continue to support the construction of playgrounds, gyms, public schools, church organizations, etc. for youngsters in poor areas -- only then and "we will wipe out crime!"
My Thoughts: WOW. Now THIS is a Batman story, possibly the best since Detective #40. The best part is that it's a story with a great moral and message, but without speaking down to kids (or even directly to the audience, like in past instances of Batman moralizing) and keeping Batman thoroughly in character throughout. It fits into past themes of Batman morals, such as teaching kids not to admire gangsters, who's lives seem to be glamourous but only have one ending (Batman's fist) and that crooks are cowards without their guns. But by incorporating them fully into the themes of the story, and keeping the moralizing realistic within the story's confines, it reads far more powerfully and naturally rather than stopping things cold.
There are times when I love comics that have a message and get across a point, like Steve Ditko's Mr. A stories. This comic does that brilliantly. It didn't hurt that it was damned exciting and awesome to boot.
The Art: The art team does dynamite work here. The fight scenes are inventive and exciting and Batman gets all kinds of cool poses -- including the classic "shadow on the wall" bit that will be done over and over for the next 70 years. The four page fight that opens the story is gangbusters (no pun intended) and the work in making all the crooks look really grimy is just aces.
The Story: I love the little details. It's so in character for Batman to just really, really, loathe the idea of turning kids into crooks, given his reaction to Dick's plight and of course his own origin. In turn, it gives Dick a natural spot to fit into the story as Batman's mole. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is well used as he uses his wealth to buy the gym. And THIS is maybe the greatest thing the story does -- realise that Batman cannot Stop Crime by fisticuffs alone, that there needs to be an element of social reconstruction as well, and that Bruce Wayne as a billionaire provides that with his wealth being able to support charitable organizations and philanthropy. This is a brilliant notion because it supports the idea that in BOTH identities, he is engaging in his war on crime, which he swore to as a boy. It's one of the things that overtime allowed the Wayne personality to become more interesting than just "bored playboy" and therefore get more "screen"time, which decreased in the nineties as once again Wayne was given little to do.

"The Batman vs The Cat-Woman"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: So Cat-Woman is back, having appeared in the previous two issues as well. She retains from her last appearance a confusing mixture of being referred to as The Cat and as the Cat-Woman, but what's new is she's got an actual costume! It's an ugly thing essentially made up of an evening dress with a cape and a lifelike cat's head mask. Anyways, she's been thieving jewels all over the city, becoming a media sensation. In other words, actually doing something in the story, unlike her previous appearances.
The Gotham police look like fools (neither for the first, nor last time) and Gordon angrily assigns McGonigle to the case, as McGonigle took credit from Batman for cleaning up the Ugly Horde. Meanwhile, Bruce is sitting at home reading the newspaper headlines about the Cat, and it's only now that he decides to do something about it.
So Batman's off on the prowl, and instead of running into Cat-Woman he runs into a bunch of hoods stabbing a dude in an alley. So of course he gives the hoods what for, and tries to help the stabbed man, who mentions some stuff about diamond syndicates and shipments before dying. Meanwhile, the crooks spot McGonigle coming along and escape in their getaway car. McGongile once again attempts to arrest Batman and is once again humiliated -- this time he chooses to leave "the Batman got away again" out of his report.
The next morning, Bruce once again gets his crime-fighting info from the newspaper, reporting that the man stabbed was a secretary for a large diamond firm. Bruce goes to visit Gordon, who is on his way to question the owners of the firm, so of course he lets Bruce tag along.
The three owners, Darrel, Blake and Hoffer, have no clue why the man may have been killed, unless it has something to do with the huge shipment they are bringing in to show off on models in a show in their salon. Y'know, nothing major. Gordon agrees to guard the salon with police, because that always works in these comics.
Bruce goes home and informs Dick of his cunning plan, while the Cat-Woman is also plotting to steal the diamonds (having learned of it while reading the paper, lounging in her apartment, still wearing that ridiculous cat's head mask!)
Bruce attends the show, but one of the models, wearing a million dollar's in diamonds, turns out to be Cat-Woman in disguise -- she throws a flashbomb into the crowd and escapes. Instead of just calmly leaving once removing her disguise, she actually changes into the totally conspicuous cat's head outfit and is quickly spotted by police and then nabbed by some random thugs and thrown into a car (hey, Cat-Woman -- when you are more recognizable with your mask than without, what's the point?). Anyways, the gangsters car is followed by a speeding one-man racer driven by... ROBIN! Yeah, because apparently Batman doesn't stop breaking the law at vigilantism. Meanwhile, Bruce canges into Batman and makes his way over to Darrel's apartment.
Darrel has been waiting for a call, but he's not gonna get it because Batman punches him! Punching. It solves everything. The Dark Knight calls Robin on the Boy Wonder's belt-radio, and tells Batman where he followed the crooks to. Batman brings Darrel there, and the whole reading audience is still confused.
Batman pushes Darrel through the door, where he comes across Hoffer about to shoot the Cat, who is tied to a chair by the mobsters. Turns out Darrel and Hoffer had hired the Cat to steal the diamonds but Hoffer didn't want to share the take so Hoffer is going to kill both of them (yet is still willing to pay the mobsters?) At that moment, Batman and Robin burst in and kick ass. Batman frees Cat-Woman and they immediately start flirting. Batman ties up Darrel and Hoffer and Hoffer believes he has the upper hand because Batman has no proof -- but it turns out Robin took pictures with a wrist-watch camera gadget!
Turns out Darrel and Hoffer had ruined the company with bad stock investments and planned on stealing the diamonds to get the money back -- since the company had insurance it wouldn't take the loss. The clerk they killed found out and had to die.
Batman tells the Cat-Woman that he must arrest her too, but first she kisses him to thank him for saving her life -- then pushes him away and escapes.
Robin proposes going after her, but Batman makes an excuse and once again lets her get away cause she's hot. Batman -- pinnacle of justice until he gets a little hard.
Batman drops the evidence off with McGonigle (including a note about being "your pal" which pisses the detective off) as well as directions to where he's left the villains tied up. Meanwhile, Cat-Woman has escaped in a car, but finds herself dreaming of a day when she and Batman could have a life together.
My Thoughts: Kane and Finger intro'd Cat-Woman in Batman #1, but this is the first story where she really does anything, and there's still not much too her other than a feisty independant jewel thief who Batman is attracted to and so always "accidentally" manages to let go. It's okay, but nothing really stands out about the character so far.
The Art: Okay, so after two appearances where she was just a dark haired dame in a dress, Kane gives Cat-Woman a visual. And it's ugly. Kane said he invented Cat-Woman to give the feature some sex appeal, but putting a realistic looking cat's head mask on the character is not making her sexier. It'll be a surprisingly long time before Cat-Woman gets anything resembling a recognizable costume, so we're gonna have to endure this look for a while. Other than that, the art is good, with tons of awesome dramatic shadows.
The Story: It's sort've a confused mess. There's Cat-Woman and then this thing with the diamond guys and it's sort've thrown together. Which is how all the Cat-Woman stories have felt, although at least this time it's a bit better. But it's also a story where the twist makes no sense the second time you read it -- the way Cat-Woman plans on stealing the diamonds (hell, the way she actually goes about it) makes no sense if the owners of the diamonds have hired her to steal them for them. It's a bit lazily plotted and never really goes anywhere. But it's still the best Cat-Woman story so far. It's just that they've all kinda sucked.
Notes and Trivia: First attempt at a costume for Catwoman

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