Sunday, August 26, 2012

Batman #6 (August/September 1941)

With issue no. 6, Batman transitions from a quarterly publication to a bimonthly, being published six times a year rather than four. This is a testament to the continued and rising popularity of the Batman character, now appearing a total of twenty-two times a year, in the monthly Detective Comics, quarterly World's Finest and now bimonthly self-titled series.

"Murder on Parole"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Batman and Robin are patrolling the waterfront, when they happen upon the scene of a gangland execution. The Dynamic Duo burst onto the gangsters and narrowly manage to rescue the man they were trying to execute, a crook named Miller, who has a bullet in him but manages to recount his lengthy backstory to Batman anyway.
Chick Miller was three years into a five year sentence at the State Penitentiary, going stir crazy, His cellmate, Slink, says he can arrange for Miller to see the parole board, as he's paid big money by the mob to arrange such things. Soon enough, Miller is in front of the board, who vote to release him. Free and clear, Miller is immediately set upon by the mob, who demand that he help them on a job to crack the "National Bank" in exchange for arranging his parole. The big shot in charge of the mob is actually one of the parole board members, which is how he arranges this! Miller refuses on principle, and since he knows too much, his death is ordered. 
Which brings us up to speed. Miller of course passes out before he can reveal the identity of the top man -- Batman even comments himself on how much of a cliché this is -- and the Duo bring him to a hospital.
Batman concludes that the mob will certainly try to kill Miller in the hospital, and intercepts a plot to do just that. After running off the crooks, the Batman must also fight and escape from the police guarding Miller. Now Batman goes on the offensive. He flies the Batplane to the State Prison, beats up a bunch of perimeter guards and a prisoner, then creates a disguise to look exactly like the incapacitated prisoner, who is Slink's cellmate of course!
PrisonerBatman plays the "stir-crazy" act and Slink sets him up with the parole board, and is freed. In his crook persona, he is recruited to help rob a silks warehouse on the waterfront and in the process, gets a good look at the Boss, whom he has instructed Robin to keep a tail on.
Upon reaching the waterfront, Batman pulls off his disguise and confronts the crooks. Literally. One moment he's in a hat and coat and has the face of "Marty Loden" and then he pulls it all off and he's in full cape and cowl Batsuit underneath! Amazing. A fight scene in the warehouse ends with Batman pushed out a window into the water and presumed dead (crooks are stupid) and the Boss taking Robin hostage. 
But at that moment (gotta love dramatic coincedence!) Slink busts into the Boss' office. He's broken out from prison, having gone stir crazy himself and sick of waiting for the day when the Boss might bail him out. The cops have followed him straight there, and a gun battle between the two sides breaks out. Batman, of course, is not dead, and when the crooks take the Boy Wonder hostage, the cops allow a cease fire on the crooks and on Batman in order to let him go in and retrieve the boy. Batman goes in, and with Robin's help, kicks ass. He grapples one on one with the Boss, who ends up tumbling into an open elevator shaft (?) and falling to his death. 
All the men paroled by the crooked board are sent back to jail, save Miller, whose use as an informant meant he earned his parole. Bruce tells Dick that there is no better moral lesson than a criminal who realizes the error of his ways.
My Thoughts: I love seeing these stories where Bill Finger shows corruption in Gotham City. It's such an essential element to what makes Batman work, and unfortunately it was (and continues) to be a real problem in the major cities of the world. It's so open here and in other Finger Batman tales, which seems surprising given the era these comics were released. But the Golden Age was very much a strange breed of the story telling simplicity of the Silver Age but the violence and dark themes of the Bronze and Modern Age. Another detail I like is that the Parole Boss is brought down by his own accomplices, showing a moral that criminal organizations will always fall because they have no standard of trust to be based on, without outright stopping and lecturing that moral.
The Art: Decent enough artwork from the Kane Studio. Roussos' background blacks are fantastic as always, but Robinson's character inks are a little thick and smudged, particularly on the faces, which Kane draws with expressive lines all over them that sometimes become blurred messes in Robinson's inks.
The Story: It's a story based on a lot of coincedences and weirdly jarring transitions. Batman happens upon Miller, who passes out just before he can reveal the crime ring. The idea of guarding Miller til he can wake up is totally abandoned in favour of suddenly infiltrating the crime ring. Batman merely knocks out the crook he replaces, but still impersonates him for a good long length of time -- what happened to him? Ultimately the big mystery of the Parole Boss' identity is moot -- we see his face but never learn his name and he falls to his death rather than be arrested. Slink appears out of nowhere with the trailing cops in the third act. It's rather sloppy construction, a story that actually would've been suited to a longer length than the standard thirteen pages of the Batman feature. It's good stuff from Finger, but the seams show quite a bit.

"The Clock Maker"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Bruce Wayne heads to a stockholders' meeting of the Hobbs Clock Company, shares of which he inherited from his father. The Hobbs Company is housed in a tall building with a clock built into the upper levels. After the meeting, the rich stockholders find themselves bored and desiring amusement. One of them is a collector of old clocks and looking to find a good place to get some. He is recommended to Elias Brock's clock store. The old clockmaker is impeccable, despite a reputation as an eccentric. A description of his eccentricities results in a suggestion that they all go down to see him. 
At the shop, Brock appears as a strange old man who refers to the old clocks as his only friends. He becomes angered by the bored rich men, who spend their days "killing time". Brock takes the phrase literally, and accuses the men of murder.  Upset, the men quickly make their leave.
A day later, Bruce receives a phone call from Keating, one of the stockholders, saying he's seen men prowling about his house and is afraid for his life. Batman and Robin rush over to the Keating home, where they fight off his attackers just in time. Keating is sent for medical attention, while the escaping thugs report back to a shadowy master, who decides he must be more subtle in his next attempt.
Two nights later, Keating sits reading while the clock strikes midnight, but the clock strikes thirteen times and on the thirteenth stroke releases a gas that kills Keating dead. Commissioner Gordon shows up the next day at noon to examine the crime scene (and why is it that the Police Commissioner of Gotham City is always examining crime scenes himself?) and of course his playboy friend Bruce Wayne is accompanying him. Bruce notices that the clock strikes thirteen at noon, but he is the only one.
Brock the Clock Maker is revealed as the killer of Keating, and sends another trick clock to Henry Decker, another Hobbs stockholder, who is killed by a poison dart shot by the clock on the thirteenth stroke of midnight. This time at the crime scene, again at noon, Bruce points out the thirteen strokes to Gordon and points out that the murderer must've known Decker's habits to know precisely where he'd sit at midnight to position the clock and the dart. 
The next clock is for Bruce Wayne, but since he knows what's up, he smacks it out of Dick's hands and out a window before it straight up explodes. That night, Batman journeys to the Hobbs company and confirms that Keating and Decker where both stockholders (weren't you at a meeting a few nights ago, Bruce? Why do you need the paperwork to confirm?)
Batman calls another stockholder Selby to warn him (somehow knowing he's the next target?) and arrives at Brock's shop to catch Atkins (another stockholder) instructing Brock to make a clock to kill Selby. Brock attacks Batman with a scythe, but knocked out in onoe punch. Some heavy exposition explains that essentially Atkins would have controlling interest in the Hobbs Company after the murders and was using Brock, who is essentially totally insane. Atkins pulls a gun and shoots Brock, and then ties up Batman. But Brock is unharmed! A pocket watch in his breast pocket protected him. He kills Atkins with the scythe and then suddenly decides to rig the giant Hobbs Clock Tower to explode at the strike of thirteen.

After Brock leaves, Robin rescues Batman they're off. Robin thinks they have plenty of time, but Batman (somehow?) knows that Brock is going to rig the clock to go off at ten instead of midnight. An epic fight ensues, with Batman struggling to prevent the strike of the bell that'll set off the explosion and the Dynamic Duo fighting the Clock Maker on the hands of the giant clock itself. Robin knocks the Clock Maker off balance and he falls to his death. The Dynamic Duo has saved the day, and Batman and Robin remark that in the end they felt sorry for Brock, who was right in hating people who waste time, but was too fanatical in his methods. Which is a hilarious comment for Batman to make.
My Thoughts: The Clock Maker is a definite attempt at a classic Batman rogue, complete with obsessive gimmick, crazed motivation, etc. but he falls to his death at the end of the story, an odd ending for what was intended as a continuing villain (not that it ever stopped the Joker or Hugo Strange). Ultimately however, there's something just not compelling about the Clock Maker, despite the dramatic climax of this story.
The Art: Kane does great action layouts in this story, and the final battle on the clock face is absolutely classic and iconic, and will be reused as a setting for climatic Batman fights in several later stories. Roussos does really fantastic background inks as well. Unfortunately Robinson's character inks really aren't up to par, with minimal detail on characters in some scenes revealing the full flatness of Kane's pencils. 
The Story: While the tale of the Clock Maker is full of Finger's standard tropes, none of them really click this time out. The Stock Holder murders for control of the company is lifted all the way from the original Batman story in Detective #27, the Clock Maker's midnight murders feel like an old Joker plot, but the way the pieces stitch together are full of holes. How did Batman know the final attack would be at ten instead of midnight like all the others? How did he know who the next victim would be? Did Robin straight up kill the Clock Maker? 
Robin Body Count: 2! 

"The Secret of the Iron Jungle"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: On one of his nightly patrols, Batman comes across a man being tossed out of a window. Batman saves the man, who explains that he is the New York representative of the Page Oil Company, and that a bunch of crooks are trying to muscle in. The next morning Bruce Wayne visits his girl Linda Page to find out what's going on. She confesses that her dad's company is in trouble. They're expecting a big gusher at their Texas oil fields, and Thomas Page's partner, Graham Masters, is trying to push Page out of the company before the gusher hits.
Bruce decides to head down to Texas with Dick and see what's going on. Bruce arrives at Page's offices right as Graham Masters is choking the man to death! Bruce fights and beats up Masters, who leaves. Page explains to Bruce that Masters says that if he doesn't sell out by midnight he's a dead man. 
Bruce leaves Page's offices suddenly wearing a white suit for no reason and is attacked by a brute named Chuck and some other strong arm men in Page's employ. He, of course, beats them all up. The white suit he's suddenly in (and that Finger even points out in the narration) has no significance.
But meanwhile, Masters has kidnapped Page. He shoots him, non-fatally, and then tells his men to tie him up to the top of one of the old abandoned oil derricks in the Iron Jungle (a collection of old, abandoned oil derricks) until he agrees to sell, and to kill him if he doesn't.
Linda Page shows up in her car at that moment, which Masters and Chuck hijack to drive Page to the Iron Jungle. Batman and Robin pursue in a Page Oil truck, and Batman manages to jump from the truck to the car, grab Linda, and then jump back to the truck from the car with Linda. The crooks shoot at the truck, and it explodes of course, but luckily our heroes had jumped out in the nick of time. There's an electrical storm, and the Dynamic Duo race to get to the top of the oil Derrick that Page is being held on. A bunch of well done fight sequences result in Chuck and the other henchmen being killed by Masters to sacrifice them for time, while Batman grabs Page and they fall off the derrick, Masters following them, but the spongy, oil soaked ground breaks the fall.
The rain is going to ruin the nitro charge soon, so Batman rushes to blow the charge himself and save the Page Oil Company. Masters makes a last ditch attempt to shoot Page but is stopped by Robin, who turns the gun back at Masters as he fires, killing himself. Batman blows the charge and the company is saved.
With the adventure over, Bruce offers to drive Linda back to Gotham, but Linda declares Bruce a lazy bore who wasn't even man enough to help her father, declaring her love for the Batman. Bruce drives back wishing he could tell Linda the truth, while Dick complains about all this romance.
My Thoughts: So, on the one hand, good on Finger for actually developing Linda Page through her family and background and showing that Bruce is willing to go to Texas to help this man who is her father. It makes Linda a more developed character by far than Julie Madison, who was only ever really a prop for the stories in which she appeared. On the other hand, the story ends with Linda questioning Bruce's manhood and features a lot of questionable actions, such as Robin forcing a villain into suicide. 
The Art: Pretty good art throughout, particularly in the climatic action scenes, with some good panel lay-out and excellent inks from Roussos. Robinson's work here is better than the previous two stories, but ultimately I'm giving top marks to Kane and Roussos.
The Story: This script is sloppy as fuck. In broad strokes, it's good and it's certainly dramatic and exciting. But Masters keeps trying to kill Page despite the fact that he needs Page to agree to sell the company to him, and what was up with the white suit bit, and Masters' plan involves a ton of unecessary violence and then Robin basically murders him. Holy prepubescent vigilante justice, Batman! Masters comes off as unhinged and overviolent and the whole story kind've feels really intense for a nineteen-forties' comic. In some places that's good, and in others it sorta interrupts the flow of the tale.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Linda Page's father.
Robin Body Count: 3?

"Suicide Beat"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: A hired gun of mobster Fancy Dan's shoots a beat cop named Grogan. He's the third cop to die on the same corner, which has been nicknamed "Suicide Beat" by the police. An experienced cop named Kelly, a typical Irish policeman, is assigned to the beat, and promptly shot as well. Kelly's son Jimmy, a rookie cop himself, demands to know why Fancy Dan isn't being arrested since he keeps brazenly murdering cops. Turns out that Fancy Dan runs the whole neighbourhood under the protection of the ward's corrupt Alderman!

Jimmy insists on being given the post, despite everyone knowing he's a goner. Bruce Wayne hears all about this during one of his many inexplicable visits to Commissioner Gordon, who explains that Alderman Skigg remains in power because he maintains a public front as a compassionate man of the people -- giving money to the poor, donating food at Christmas, finding men jobs, etc. so the people of the Ward support him and keep voting for him.
On Jimmy's first day on the beat, he gets an orange thrown at his head, and chases the kid that did it into a bar, where he is threatened by Fancy Dan and his men. Later that night, Jimmy rescues a little girl in the neighbourhood from nearly being run over by a drunk driver. Batman and Robin pop out of nowhere, commandeer a car, and chase after the drunk driver. The driver shoots at Batman, who leaps out of the car and punches him in the face. They turn him over to Jimmy to be arrested.
But Alderman Skigg makes an appearance at the trial as a character witness and appeals to the judge, who is a personal friend, and the man is released. He is, of course, one of Fancy Dan's men. Dan proposes shooting Jimmy, but Skigg insists he back down, as the shooting of so many cops in the same place in a row might bring down the Governor. Dan agrees to simply rough the cop up a bit to teach him a lesson.
When they attack Jimmy, Batman and Robin again jump out and join the fight. They've clearly been shadowing Jimmy for his protection. The three of them run off the crooks successfully, who drop something in the scuffle. A note from Skigg which declares his intent to bet $5,000 on a man named Mafey. Batman correctly deduces this is the Milk Fund Fight, a charity event in which Mafey will fight Jorgan the Champ, with the proceeds going to pay for milk for the schoolchildren of the ward. Jimmy concludes that Skigg must've paid off Jorgan to throw the fight and that the whole thing is rigged in Mafey's favour.
So what does Batman do? He incapacitates the champ and fights in his place, of course. With boxing gloves and trunks, but still wearing his cowl, and totally trading off the Batman persona for popularity with the crowd. And he, of course, kicks all sort's of ass. As he's declared the winner, Robin cuts the power to the arena so Batman can get away through the crowd safely. But Fancy Dan and his goons have robbed the gate receipts! Those were for the children!!
Batman goes after Dan, but ends up getting captured and left to die in a burning building. Robin and Jimmy Kelly have no idea where it is, but the father of the little girl Jimmy saved gives Dan up! They show up, beat up Dan's men, but the building is a tenement building and not only must Batman be saved from the blaze, but some woman's poor baby as well (of course)! Jimmy rushes in, declaring "Somebody hold this Robin kid back, this is my job!"
Jimmy gets to the top of the neighbouring building and Batman meets him at the roof of the flaming building, having of course escaped the ropes he was tied in no problem and in fact already has the kid, because he's the GODDAMN BATMAN. Then Batman, no joke, tosses the kid to Jimmy, who actually manages to catch him!
Jimmy arrests Skigg, as he can prove he rigged the fight and allowed Dan to steal the receipts, while Batman congratulates Jimmy before driving off with Robin. Jimmy becomes a respected and beloved cop on his beat.
My Thoughts: This is definitely the best story in this issue, and one of my all time favourites so far. It's a Bill Finger morality play, but it's morals and the way it tells them are fantastic. I love that Finger just goes for it with the corrupt Alderman. And he's believably portrayed too. He presents himself as this compassionate guy doing it all for the children and in reality he's getting all his power from protecting this gangster. He's the perfect villain, like something in a Steve Ditko story, a guy trying to get all the benefits of being good and being evil at the same time. And Jimmy is just this earnest rookie cop who believes in the system and doesn't understand why his dad was allowed to die. I love that Batman understands that Jimmy needs to be the hero of the story and is mostly here just to make sure he doesn't get killed. I love that when Batman is a hero in the story, it ain't no thang, because he's freakin' Batman. I love that Finger repeats the football bit from Batman #4 but this time it's boxing so that Batman can beat a dude up. I love that the bit about the little girl actually comes back to be significant and adds the theme of the neighbourhood in fact redeeming itself and coming to support the police and law and order instead of the criminals.
The Art: Standard Kane studio, pretty on par with the current fairly good quality we've been enjoying. Which sounds like faint praise, but all the other stories in this issue have had something off about their artwork from one corner or another, whereas in this story all the artists are producing their work competently. The layouts aren't as great as "Iron Jungle" or "Clock Maker", but Robinson's finally putting in some good work here, and of course Roussos is providing plenty of atmosphere.
The Story: Man, Finger really does a great job here. There's actually story structure and themes and it all comes together in the end, rather than just being a series of events. The characters all ring true, and he manages to get across all his usual pet themes without any didactic lecturing. Also, how great is it that Finger is writing about a corrupt Alderman in a children's comic? I mean, straight up, it's a city councilman who works with the mob. Again, the Golden Age is this odd period where the comics were for kids, but they weren't censored. This is the kind of story that Batman should be in -- urban crime and corruption, where Batman is the moral hero who must work outside the law to uphold true justice. This is a great story.

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