Wednesday, April 4, 2012

World's Best Comics #1 (Spring 1941)

So the New York World's Fair comics of the previous two summers had been very successful in promoting DC's characters because they offered (poor) children the opportunity to pick up Superman, Batman, Zatara and other popular heroes in one book for simply fifteen cents. So the comic continued the next year as World's Best Comics, soon to be retitled as World's Finest Comics with issue 2. Kids could get Superman and Batman in the same issue (although not the same story, at least not for another decade or so). 

"The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom"
Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: On a dark and stormy night (sigh), a writer named Erik Dorne is alone in his study finishing the manuscript for his new book when a witch enters through the window and murders him, making off with the manuscript. The butler calls the police, and soon Commissioner Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne are on the scene examining the murder. Because the commissioner of police and his layabout playboy buddy are always personally investigating murder scenes in this city for some reason.
The butler testifies that the murderer was dressed as a witch and stole Dorne's manuscript, which was to be a book about a witch, based on a true story. Gordon and Bruce deduce that the witch must have killed Dorne in order to avoid being revealed. At that moment, a man named Joshua Grimm (oy!) walks in. He is an author of books on witches and demonology, and a rival of Dorne's. Then another man bursts in, this is Mr. Wright, Dorne's publisher who was heading to the house to pick up the completed manuscript. 
Gordon takes Bruce along to interview the other suspects. One is Dorne's aunt, an impoverished old woman with two big strong sons who looks like a witch and resents Dorne for never giving her any of his money. Then there's Dorne's fianceƩ Jane Ware, an actress currently starring as a witch in a play (of course), and who was seeking to divorce Dorne so she could marry someone else.
Arriving home at Wayne Manor, Bruce asks Dick to get him a sample of hair Jane Ware's stage wig, to compare with a bit of hair he found at the murder scene. Robin heads out to get the hair, managing to do so despite a run-in with stage security. Meanwhile, Batman heads off to search the home of Dorne's aunt to find the manuscript, and has to fight off her two sons. Finding nothing, he escapes.
Reunited, the Dynamic Duo set to work examining the hair. Finally, Bruce announces that he has deduced the identity of the witch and is going to prove his theory. He makes a phone call to an unidentified person and tells them there is a duplicate manuscript hidden in Dorne's room. The trap set, Batman and Robin head out to meet the witch.
Ambushing the witch at Dorne's home, the witch attempts to escape in a car, but the Dynamic Duo make chase. Soon, they follow the witch into a secluded house, but fall through a trap door in the yard and pass out! When they awake, they are tied up and in the basement of the house, surrounded by what appears to be a printing press. It turns out (stay with me on this one) that the witch is in fact a Nazi fifth columnist, publishing subservise literature! As a Nazi agent, the identity of the witch was adopted to ensure complete secrecy, even from the men working under the agent. (So... why a witch? That's sort've... ridiculous). Batman manages to get free and soon the heroes are fighting the Nazi agents. After defeating the witch, Batman unmasks the Nazi as Mr. Wright, Dorne's publisher! Batman explains that only Dorne knew about the manuscript before the murder, and so was the only possible suspect for its theft. Dorne had discovered that Wright was publishing Nazi propaganda, and was going to expose him in his book.
My Thoughts: What is this story? At first it seems to be promising to pit Batman against a supernatural foe, a witch. Then it turns into a whodunnit murder mystery, similar to the run of Detective #40-43. Then it turns out we've been fighting Nazis all along. While fighting Nazis certainly brings realworld events into the comics, the whole effort feels slapdashed and put together from spare parts to make it into this first issue of World's Best.
The Art: The art for the most part is nothing to write home about. The best panels are during the chase scene, which takes place during a heavy rainstorm. Otherwise it's just under par, mostly due to a quick and dirty ink job.
The Story: The writing here is awful. This is truly "comic book logic". Why would an American publisher working as a Nazi agent disguise himself as a witch? Why does he even need such a disguise? If Dorne had uncovered him, why write an entire book about the witch for publication (when he'd need to publish it THROUGH the man he's exposing?) Why not just call up the FBI and say "hey, this guy's a Nazi!"? This is definitely an inferior effort from Finger, cooked up from a bunch of half-baked formula plots to meet a deadline.

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