Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Detective Comics #50 (April 1941)

"The Case of the Three Devils!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Batman and Robin, while on patrol, spot a trio of men in bright red devil costumes leaping across rooftops carrying a purse. Batman (correctly) assumes the purse is stolen and the Dynamic Duo jumps down and starts fighting the devils, who manage to get away using some impressive acrobatics.

The three devils go on a crime spree which the GCPD is powerless to stop (there's an amusing panel of Gordon yelling at his men for results and his men essentially giving up). After they steal some diamonds, Bruce explains to Dick (and thus, the audience) that they will need to take the diamonds to a fence in order to get any money, so Batman and Robin stake out the only two fences big enough to handle the diamonds involved.
It is at this point that Robin decides to take along "those rocket-powered roller skates we developed recently", and we may have the debut of the first overly ridiculous Batman gadgets. Granted we've seen the batarangs, bat-gyro, batplane (that turns into a batboat), a crude batmobile and some IR goggles and radioactive paint, but all of that stuff is fairly plausible for a 1940s billionaire and also have become tried and true elements of Batlore. But rocket powered roller skates? Oy.
Anyways, the devils show up at Frankie the fence's, and Batman and Robin swoop down to fight them. During the fight, Frankie pulls a knife on Batman, but Robin knocks him out by literally throwing the book at him (a book titled "Crime Does Not Pay", no less). Batman gets knocked out (by hitting his head on a table while ducking a bulllet!) and the devils escape. Robin then becomes the best sidekick ever by deciding that Batman will probably be fine and going after the devil's car using his rocket-powered roller skates. Oh, jeez.
When Batman wakes up, a police patrolman has arrived on the scene. The policeman has Batman cornered, but admits he actually admires the Dark Knight's work, and suggests that if Batman were to say, knock him out, then he could get away while the cop could still have appeared to have done his duty. Batman obliges, punches the cop in the face, and makes his escape.
Robin follows the devils to their hideout in an abandoned subway track. The devils attack and leave Robin to be run over by a coming train, but Robin pulls the old trick of lying flat between the rails and letting the train pass over him (something I see in movies all the time and that I totally doubt works). Robin then meets up with Batman and leads them to the lair. The devils are gone, out on a job, so Batman looks around the hideout and finds evidence that the devils are in fact ex circus acrobats turned to crime (gee, what tipped you off?) and finds clues pointing to their next job.
The Dynamic Duo surprises the devils on the observation floor of a clock tower and there's a fight. Robin ends up falling and getting his cape caught on one of the giant hands of the clock, dangling precariously -- a soon-to-be classic Batman image.
The kid gets rescued, and Batman uses the bell in the tower to defeat the devils, kicking them down to a lower level where they presumably are knocked unconscious rather than killed. Batman and Robin then escape into the night, remarking that the devils should have stayed with the circus rather than try to gain wealth "the easy way". Frankly it seems like working at the circus would be easier than being criminals. Meanwhile, since Batman didn't really do anything than knock out the devils, unless the police show up right away then they have clearly been left at large.
My Thoughts: This is a really lightweight story. Kind've thing that just feels like a filler, get it out and done kind've deal. Basically nothing happens. Crooks show up, Batman defeats them. They've got a gimmick look and MO, so Finger/Kane are clearly aware that even their second-string villains need to be colourful, but there's nothing really to go on in this story. There's some "crime does not pay" moralizing, and interestingly there are several situations where the devils could've just shot Batman but don't because "it would bring the cops down on them", but that's about it. They don't even take advantage of the fact that these guys are ex-circus like Robin is, other than giving them some nifty fight moves. But that similarity isn't actually brought up in text. Would've been neat if they were from the same circus, for example.
The Art: The art is good. On the same high level it has been recently. That really saves this story because it makes it enjoyable to read. There's some really good, dramatic panels, great use of shadows, and some dynamic action scenes.
The Story: It's just so... forgettable. Nothing motivates the devils. They are criminals because... they decided it was easier than being circus performers? We don't know if they were down on their luck or what. Basically it's just a series of action and chase scenes. Nothing really happens. Crooks show up, Batman defeats them. Finger seems to be taking a breather this month and letting the art do all the work.

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