Thursday, August 16, 2012

Detective Comics #54 (August 1941)

We begin with some really terrible cover art from Bob Kane. For one thing, it's a rip off of Detective Comics #33, and for another it's really, really poorly drawn. This is the cover art of your flagship book, DC. And you're paying Kane a lot of money, for the time. Make sure he puts more than five minutes worth of effort in.

"Hook Morgan and his Harbor Pirates"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis:  So, remember back in Batman #4 when Bill Finger made a big deal about how there are no pirates in the modern world, and to even expect such a thing is preposterous, and then based an entire story about an elaborate scheme of a bunch of gangsters to pretend to be old-timey pirates? And it was all kinda silly because there totally are modern-day pirates, because its still semi-profitable to steal things from boats? Well, now Finger's gonna do a story about those modern day pirates, too. So at the Gotham harbour, some pirates show up and steal some bales of silk from an offloading boat and put it onto their launch. Some shots fired draws a police boat, which loses the pirate launch mysteriously. It seems to have suddenly vanished. 
The next day Dick Grayson is reading about it in the paper, and suggests to Bruce that they do something about it, but Bruce says nuts to that in favour of going on a date with Linda Page. I'm sure Dick'll understand when he's older. Linda takes Bruce shopping, but Linda is upset to discover she can't get a rare and exclusive cloth that she ordered imported because it was stolen from the harbour by pirates! As they head home, Bruce notices the very cloth Linda wanted on sale in a totally different store. So, since they inconvenienced his girlfriend, now Batman will take down the harbour pirates!
That night, he shakes down the store owner for information, learning that he bought the stolen cloth from a company with a warehouse on the east pier. After Batman departs, the store owner phones and wares the owner of the warehouse, Mr. Conroy, who of course is in business with Hook Morgan and his gang of pirates! Hook is well named, with a large meathook instead of a right hand. 
So Batman shows up and starts asking questions, and for his troubles is immediately attacked by a bunch of thugs. Hook knocks him upside the head with his hook, and the dazed Batman is thrown into a refrigerated meat locker and locked inside with his hands tied. So of course he bashes his head against a hanging light bulb until it hits the wall and breaks, then uses the shards to cut his binds, and uses an acid vial from the utility belt to eat through the lock. 
He shakes down Conroy for information on the next attack -- Morgan is going after a liner called the Dolphin. Batman contacts Robin on their compact wireless radios and gets him to meet at the river with the Batplane. Hook and his men attack the Dolphin, coming up alongside in a longboat and pretending to be survivors of a submarine attack. Hook slashes the captain's face and the men begin raiding the boat, but the Batplane shows up and the Dynamic Duo fight the man.
Hook and some of his men manage to escape, so the heroes give chase in the Batplane, which they transform into the Batboat to navigate the troublesome waters. But the pirate boat disappears when it gets near the shore! Batman figures out they're using a secret hidden panel in a brick wall on the harbour to gain access to a chamber to hide the boat. Surprising the pirates, there's another fight! Batman goes one-on-one with Hook, who slashes at him a few times. Robin doesn't even bother to help, believing the Dark Knight would be angry if he interfered. I'm not sure if you're the best sidekick ever or the worst, Boy Wonder.
After a few close calls, Batman wins the fight, they inform the police of the harbour pirates secret hideout and the story ends.
My Thoughts: Another pretty good "Batman vs crooks" story, certainly better than the pirate story from Batman #4. That story, while fun, suffered from a lot of credibility straining plotting in order to justify the old timey pirates, while "Hook Morgan and his Harbor Pirates" gets over all of that by simply realising that.. y'know... maritime crime is still a thing. So we get all the fun maritime action but still keeping it in the urban crime mileau that suits Batman best. And it's a surprisingly violent story as well, with several people getting slashed by Hook, with blood and everything. It's always surprising reading these Golden Age comics, which are written for the child audience of Silver Age comics, but are pre-Comics Code so they can be just as violent as modern comics. 
The Art: Another great job from the Kane team, with plenty of great dramatic Batman poses, dynamic fight sequences, and Roussos does a fantastic job with the black, inky backgrounds that the characters practically sink into. Robinson and Roussos really are a fantastic inking team that greatly enhance Kane's pencils and layouts.
The Story: Other than Finger realizing that pirates are real, there's really not much to say about this story, other than the odd element that Bruce just flat out does not care about these harbor crimes until they inconvenience his girlfriend. It's a bit of characterization that seems bizarre when you're used to reading modern Batman comics. The story is a standard, serviceable Batman tale. 

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