Saturday, September 22, 2012

Detective Comics #59 (January 1942)

For those wondering, this cover is a good indication of what Bob Kane's artwork looks like when no one else is inking him -- flat like cardboard.

"The King of the Jungle!"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: We pick up directly from last month's story, with Penguin hopping railway cars like the world's classiest hobo. Speaking of hobos, he meets up with some, and quickly recognizes that many of them are wanted criminals, on the run. He proposes a scheme where he brings them in for the bounty, then springs them and splits the money. This is fairly successful, largely thanks to Penguin's upper-class appearance, intelligence, and umbrella gadgets.
Bruce and Dick, meanwhile, are travelling by train on vacation (picking up from the Winter issue of World's Finest), and Dick spots the Penguin at a station. They disembark from the train and vow to foil the Penguin's plan. After some questioning they find Penguin and his band of bums in a hobo's jungle, and there's a fight. A chase leads to the trains, wherein Penguin and his men manage to overpower the Dynamic Duo and place them in a primitive death-trap (hanging upside-down on meathooks so the blood rushes to their heads and they die a slow, lingering death).
Penguin and his men escape to continue their scheme, but Batman manages to get out of the deathtrap by cutting through the bonds with another meathook (convenient). Heading back to Wayne Manor, Batman examines his criminal files in his hidden laboratory (maybe the first time we've ever seen these items) and confirms his hunch that the hobos are wanted men and thereby guesses the Penguin's scheme. Because they know who Penguin just sprang from prison they guess that the next man will be the one geographically closest and off they fly in the Batplane to Arkansas.
They corner Penguin at the jail in the middle of the escape attempt. A fight turns into a running battle, and Penguin stows onto a riverboat on the Mississippi river. There's a fight on the boat which ends up with Penguin deciding he's no match in a duel with Batman (despite having a sword/umbrella!) and diving off the boat. The authorities aren't able to find him in the river, but flying back to Gotham Batman asserts that this is not the last they've heard of the Penguin.
My Thoughts: I think this is the first direct sequel from one month to another in Detective Comics since the Monk story in #31/32, but more significantly it's also the first Batman tale not written by Bill Finger since Detective #34. Joeseph Greene was a sci-fi short story author who's greatest creation was "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet", but at this point he was just a gun-for-hire writer probably being given a few bucks to fill in for Finger on a month he was late getting a story in. It's interesting he decided to follow up with Penguin right away -- by immediately giving the character a second story I think it really cements Penguin as a major new rogues gallery member on par with Joker and Catwoman. Greene sticks to Penguin's character as established and doesn't try to mess around with the formula, although he does give Batman a hidden crime laboratory (which, to be fair, has been hinted at before now), complete with case files and rogues gallery -- which also begins a slow transformation of Batman from "Shadow fan fiction" to "Sherlock Holmes in a cape and cowl".
The Art: No complaints. On-par quality for Kane and Robinson, capably produced all around. Good shadowy inks, dynamic action scenes. 
The Story: My synopsis was much simpler and shorter than it usually is because in all honesty not a lot happens in this story compared to Finger's plots. Maybe it's a case of different pacing -- this story seems plotted a lot closer to how a 13-page story would be plotted today, as opposed to Finger fitting an entire six-issue arc into 13-pages. That being said, Greene is also using a lot of padding. Most of the story is seeing different variations of Penguin "arresting" one of his accomplices, bringing him to jail, then breaking him out using some umbrella based gadget. They're all pretty clever, but not worth really repeating in synopsis. Same with the several fight scenes. That's not to say it's a bad story -- it's good, it's enjoyable to read, and it's a good follow-up to the previous Penguin story that keeps the character relevant. But it's not up to Finger's level or standard -- which is perhaps understandable. Greene's playing it safe for his first script, delivering something workable, if neither original nor ambitious. He's playing with pre-established pieces, leaving things more or less where Finger left them when he's done. (Although continuity wise this story does a good job of picking up from where both Detective #58 and World's Finest #4 left off) That being said, the title annoys me -- Penguin becomes king of a gang of hobos, and in one scene they are in a hobo "jungle", but that's not the primary setting nor primary theme of the story.
Notes and Trivia: Batman's crime laboratory is explicitly noted as a secret, hidden room in Wayne Manor, complete with case files and rogues gallery

World's Finest Comics #4 (Winter 1941)

"The Ghost Gang Goes West!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson

Synopsis: We open in medias res with Batman about to be lynched by a bunch of people in an old Western town in Old West clothes, accused of murder. One man shouts his innocence, and Batman fights for his freedom, but it is no use. Why is he being lynched? Who is he accused of killing? Why is everyone acting like its the 1870s? The story promises to answer these questions.
We flashback a few hours to Bruce and Dick on a train, on vacation, and while I get that crime-fighting is a really intense occupation for a millionaire and a ten-year-old, this is seriously like the fourth vacation they've been in the past two years. Anyway, Bruce is taking Dick to see a dude ranch and Dick is excited about hanging around cowboys and I'm trying not to read any homoerotic subtext into any of this. 
Bruce gets a few words into saying how the West is all civilized now and isn't like Western movies when a bunch of bandits on horseback show up and rob the train. The conductor explains that this is the Ghost Gang, called such because they travel from crime to crime with such speed that they must be supernatural. Bruce and Dick show up in town and the ghost gang have gotten there ahead of the train, and are robbing the bank. The town and all the people in it look like an Old West town -- no explanation. Batman and Robin fight the Ghost Gang and chase after them but the townsfolk mistake the Dynamic Duo for bandit leaders (because... ?) Batman decides to turn himself in and reason with him, and uppercuts Robin upside the head for "his own good" to ensure the kid stays out of trouble.
The townsfolk capture Batman, won't listen when he explains he's the goddamned Batman, and put him in a noose. Notice that none of this really matches the scene at the start of the comic. Batman basically says "look at my damn costume! I'm Batman!" and the townsfolk realize that, "hey he is Batman!" and let him go. The owner of the dude ranch offers to let Batman and Robin bunk at his place, Batman acccepts. 
Batman apologizes to Robin for hitting him and explains that he made their stay at the dude ranch public to make themselves into bait for the gang. While they are sleeping, a snake is placed in Batman's bed, but Robin charms it with a harmonica like an Indian snake charmer (despite the fact that this is not how "snake charming" works). Turns out the head of the Ghost Gang is the owner of the dude ranch. 
The next day, several more attempts are made on Batman and Robin's life, but they srvive them all. When they return to the ranch, Batman notices that the owner seems overly surprised to see them. He also notices cans of white paint outside the building, despite nothing inside being painted white. The Duo sets up a watch outside the ranch at night, and see the white horses of the Ghost Gang being loaded into an autogiro -- this is how the gang is transported so quickly. 
Batman beats up the leader and the gang is captured by the sheriff.
My Thoughts: This is another "let's put Batman in another genre!" story, and perhaps the worst one so far. In many ways its similar to the pirate story in Batman #4, in that it visibly strains in attempting to justify the central conceit of "Batman in the Wild West". Ultimately, despite what the beginning of the story promises, there's no explanation for why this town looks like an Old Western, or what's up with the Ghost Gang beyond explaining their methods. Why does a successful dude ranch owner rich enough to afford an autogiro large enough to carry a gang of men on horseback need to steal things? The story spends most of its effort on action setpieces and wraps up much too quickly and suddenly, with Batman deciding on hardly any clues that the dude ranch owner is the gang leader and beating him up. The End!
The Art: No real complaints on the art front, its more or less the same great work from the Kane Studio. Great blacks and shadows, as usual, and some really fun and evocative colouring choices for the western town. It feels, at least, visually different from the city-based Batman and  there's obviously some fun being had drawing saloons and horseback bandits and such.
The Story: Finger's script is such a failure, especially the totally unnecessary flashback opening which in no way matches the actual story -- there's no murder, Batman willingly surrenders himself, there's no one defending him, even the idea of Batman being lynched is rididulous and poorly justified and given up. It's like Finger came up with the "wild west" premise and "Batman being lynched" hook and just had no clue what to do with them. It's a lifeless, poorly plotted affair. Which is probably why it got stuck in World's Finest.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Batman #8 (December 1941/January 1942)

First up, we have one of the most classic Batman cover images of the Golden Age, brought to us by regular World's Finest cover artist Fred Ray. Almost immediately popular, and still a kind of emblem of the carefree enjoyment of 1940s comics.

"Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: So in an interesting twist we begin at the usual end of these stories, with Batman nabbing Big Mike Russo, crime czar of Gotham City, and sending him to prison.
But while everyone writes Russo off, he has big plans to continue his criminal empire from within the prison. He has his men capture the prison warden, then make up one of their own to look like him (and sound and act like him thanks to studying newsreel footage). The prison guards are also all replaced by hoods in guard uniforms. With this Russo makes the prison his new headquarters, able to act freely without suspicion. His gang engages in daring robberies, with the loot loaded onto boats headed for the state prison island on the East River -- the harbour police assume there's no way a crook would be headed in that direction and loose them.  When Batman attempts to stop one of the robberies he notices that one of the perps is supposedly already in prison. Gordon tells him this is impossible and the two journey to the state prison for a tour, accompanied by the "warden". When passing Big Mike, Batman notices his shoes are finely crafted and comfortable, not the standard regulation shoes. He mentions this to Gordon and with the commissioner, concocts a plan to get into prison.
In one of his patented make-up disguises, Batman pretends to be "Killer Sikes", and discovers that Russo is using the prison as his headquarters. He manages to smuggle word out to Robin, before Russo sends "Killer Sikes" and some other men out at a job to the Fink Warehouse. However, under the hot incandescant lights, Batman's make-up begins to melt, arousing the men's suspicions. Quickly changing back into the Dark Knight, and joined by Robin, there's a brief warehouse fight scene before the Dynamic Duo are overwhelmed and put in prison by Russo.
Russo plans to kill Batman in the gas chamber (as "this state has no electric chair", despite Batman mentioned the electric chair in several previous stories, and Gotham has been roughly synonymous with New York so far, which never used the gas chamber, neither did New Jersey, the modern location of Gotham -- if Gotham is indeed an east coast city, this statement would place it in Maryland, rofl). Russo describes the method as a cyanide "egg" hitting a pan of water, the fizzing of which produces an odourless, colourless gas that kills the victim instantly with no pain. Which is also nothing like how a US gas chamber works -- in reality, potassium cyanide pellets are dropped into sulfuric acid, generating a visible hydrogen cyanide gas and the process is quite slow and painful.
Robin brings Batman his last meal, and when Batman complains of stomach pains, Robin is allowed to grab him some "Burpo" Seltzer tablets. The Boy Wonder is then placed in solitary as Batman is taken to be killed. However, by using the magnetic dynamo in his belt radio, Robin is able to lift the door latch from the inside and escape. The cyanide eggs are dropped into the water pan and Russo watches as the Batman dies. His men remove his body, which suddenly springs to life and begins to fight the men. Robin joins in and the crooks are persuaded to go back into their cells peacefully when Robin threatens to use the cyanide eggs to gas the whole prison.
With Russo behind bars, Batman explains that he and Robin switched the seltzer tablets for the cyanide and so there was fizz but no death. Batman then announces he'll go find the real warden and put him back in charge so as to wrap up the case.
My Thoughts: Another gangster story, another Al Capone stand-in. Russo I think represents the fears that Capone would somehow manage to still run his criminal empire from within prison. But in fact, Capone's health and mind deteriorated greatly in the pen, and he left a shell of the man he was. But as a Batman story, it's a neat idea, addressing the issue of what happens after the standard ending of a Batman story with the crook thrown in jail. It makes this a unique and memorable story.
The Art: Artwork is pretty fantastic in this tale, with great character design for Russo (who resembles Zucco from Detective #38), fantastic panel layouts, and evocative shadowy inks. It's exciting, dramatic and dynamic, topnotch work from this team. It's really the art in many ways that make this story shine.
The Story: Finger provides a script that is at once brilliant and bungling. The central issue is the fear of a criminal continuing on his criminal acts once being jailed -- an understandable fear when your hero won't resort to more permanent methods of ending a criminal career. And while that issue is explored, it isn't addressed or even solved. Russo is put behind bars at the end of the story, but he's been behind bars the whole time. The real warden isn't even restored on panel, it's something Batman is going to go do now that the fighting's done. So really, nothing is accomplished. We're in the same place at the end we were at the beginning. Also, you're telling me no one noticed that the warden was replaced by a gangster? Even if he was a perfect mimic, the dude stayed at the prison the whole time with Russo -- did the real warden not have a home or family to go back to? And while using Robin's magnetic dynamo in his radio belt (established in many stories previous to this) was genius, Batman's escape from the gas chamber relies on this gas chamber not working in any way like a real one. So while this is a great story in some ways, it's frustrating in others.
Notes and Trivia: There's no electric chair in the state Gotham is in? And they use a gas chamber??

"The Strange Case of Professor Radium"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Professor Henry Ross is collecting dead dogs from the city's pound. He has developed a radium serum that he believes will bring the dogs back to life. He injects the corpses and waits all night, and in the morning the dogs indeed live again! However, the director of the institute that Ross works at believes that the experiment is a hoax and that Ross simply swapped the dead dogs for live ones, and fires Ross for appropriating thousands of dollars worth of radium.
Ross, of course, decides that the best course of action is to prove his theory by experimenting on himself, killing himself with poison and then leaving instruction to his assistant to revive him with the radium serum. It works, Ross returns to life but it turns out that his body is highly irradiated (duh!) and his very touch is deadly. In the dark, his body glows green, even. He accidentally kills his assistant with his touch. Horrified, Ross races to find a cure, and discovers that injections of the serum Volitell can restore him, but the effects wear off after twenty-four hours. Wishing to prevent any more deaths, Ross develops a special rubberoid-lead containment suit and sets off to steal more Volitell to treat his condition. However, most hospitals only have a small amount, so he must keep on stealing to gain the amounts he needs.
Batman and Robin decide to stake out Gotham Hospital in case of a burglary, and of course run into the Professor. There's a two page fight scene during which Ross removes his glove and burns away a drain pipe in order to escape. While they've lost the culprit, Batman takes the glove, bringing it back home.
Bruce explains that a criminal's fingerprints can be gotten from the inside of a glove if the glove is recovered. After a brief lesson in how to obtain the fingerprints (powdered lead oxide, photographic citrate paper, voila!), Batman brings the fingerprints to Gordon, who is able to run them against records to determine that the culprit is Professor Ross (Ross' fingerprints are on record as a former civil service employee).
Meanwhile, Ross believes the Volitell injection has cured him, but when he goes to visit his fianceé Mary, his touch kills her! Horrified, he escapes, but the maid witnessed everything. Gordon, Batman and Robin show up at the scene, and an autopsy reveals the woman died of radium burns, the same cause of death as Ross' lab partner. Batman deduces that Ross is a human radium ray and needs Volitell to treat the condition. Police begin a manhunt, and station themselves outside his home. Without the volitell injections, the radium in Ross' blood cause him to go mad, he becomes a violent murderer -- Professor Radium!
Batman decides to trap Ross by convincing Gordon to withdraw his men and publicize the end of the search in the news. Ross falls for it and returns home, where Batman and Robin attack him. The professor gives chase, donning his suit, but finds in his attempts at counterattack that the Dynamic Duo have coated themselves with a thin layer of transparent rubber, which immunizes them to limited radium exposure. In a battle at the shipyards, the Professor falls into the river, his heavy lead suit undoubtably dragging him to the bottom. 
Batman returns the stolen Volitell to the hospitals, and reflects on the tragedy of Ross' life. But will the mad Professor Radium return?
My Thoughts: Professor Radium establishes a classic archetype for the Batman villain: Brilliant scientist's experiment goes tragically wrong, causing him to live out his life in a special suit, and warping his mind to use his new special powers for crime. See Mr. Freeze in the Silver Age, or the Bronze Age Clayface. But despite a promising and well produced debut story and an open ending clearly intended for the character to resurface, Professor Radium never appeared again in a Batman comic. His second appearance wasn't until the 2006 Battle for Bludhaven mini-series where writer Justin Gray repurposed him as part of the Nuclear Legion. And speaking of nuclear, the use of radium in this story can be considered typical. The highly radioactive element was a standard MacGuffin in genre tales of this era, particularly in Saturday matinee serials, where the glowing blue rock was a plot element in everything from sci-fi tales to Westerns, including the 1943 Batman serial. Despite being a real element, its properties were warped to serve any plot ends, similar to this tale.
The Art: Kane and the gang really do a superb job with the art in this story. The inks are glorious, the shadows expressionistic, the layouts brilliant, the style minimalist and evocative. Ross resembles a green, glowing, Hugo Strange, but his suit is also visually memorable, resembling a kind of diving suit with a gas mask. Above all, the art is really what makes this great.
The Story: As said before, the story establishes a kind of archetype for Batman villains, and so it's somewhat hard to see in retrospect what Finger is doing so brilliantly here. But this is a great story, and Finger is clearly giving his all in establishing what he obviously hoped would become a recurring villain. I wonder why Finger never wrote Professor Radium again? Either way, it's an exciting and original tale that really stands out in this issue.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Professor Radium

"The Superstition Murders"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: A theatre company is preparing a new play, "The Superstition Murders" for a summer production. To drum up some publicity for the play, the writer decides to hold a superstition-breaking party (?) and invite the press. And Bruce Wayne, of course. There's Fred Brooks, the lead actor, who starts the party off by walking under a ladder. Then the play's author, Johnny Glim, lights three cigarettes on one match. Even the press photographer gets in the spirit, smashing a mirror. The play's star actress, ingenue Ms Francine, walks in the path of a black cat, and the producer, Banks, opens an umbrella in doors. Meanwhile, a weird old man who's present for some reason keeps saying things like "when folks start breaking superstitions, things are bound to happen!" in a vaguely threatening mannner.
So of course, someone gets murdered. A ladder falls onto Brooks, and everyone takes for granted that this killed him, despite that being hilariously ridiculous. The weird old man basically says that Brooks got what was coming to him. However, Bruce notices a fallen glass by Brooks' body, and takes it for further study. Meanwhile, the photographer realizes that Brooks was poisoned when he develops his photos, and hits the murderer up for blackmail. 
Examining the crime scene, Batman is attacked by a mysterious masked man. In the scuffle, the masked man gets the glass, the prime piece of evidence. Chasing after him, Batman bumps into another man, Paul Mett, who was going to be the star of the play but was fired for his alcoholism. Mett is paranoid, and thinks that Batman believes him to be the murderer of Brooks, pulling a gun, but Batman is saved by the timely intervention of the writer, Glim. Mett is cleared of suspicion when police reveal that he had been in jail at the time of the murder. Batman turns on Banks, as Brooks had been his business partner and with him out of the way Banks will get all the money -- although from what is unclear, since it's sorta hard to run a play without a lead. Then the weird old man pops up again and says "mark my words, there'll be more murders!" Anyone consider arresting that guy?
Straight outta luck, Bruce sends Robin to the photographer's house to see if any of the photos contain a clue. Upon arrival, Robin hears the photographer threatened by a man refusing to pay out any more blackmail. Entering the house, Robin finds the photographer murdered, a mirror smashed over his face. But the murderer/masked man is still there and, attacks Robin! After a brief fight scene, Robin's quarry gets away, but at least Robin gets a clue -- he finds a card for Larry Paine of Argus Pictures in Hollywood (same studio Bruce's ex-fianceé works for!)
Batman believes that Glim ruled out as a suspect because he saved his life, and considers either the weird old man or Banks, who had the most to gain. Gordon brings Banks in for questioning, but doesn't crack -- there's no evidence against him.
Bruce shows up for the premiere of the play. Glim wonders if the bad publicity will affect ticket sales, and they have -- positively. People are attracted by the morbid, and show up in droves. The weird old man declares the play cursed. Banks gets out on habeas corpus to attend. During the show, Francine is killed when a black cat attacks her, its claws having been dipped in poison. Gordon starts accusing everyone in a panic -- Mett, Banks again, but no one has motive or evidence against them for all the murders. Bruce tells Gordon and Glim that he's found a clue that points to the real murderer, and is planning on coming back to the threatre once everyone's gone to collect it.
Of course, it's a ploy to draw out the masked man, who shows up and tries to kill Bruce. Robin saves him, Bruce changes to Batman, and a short fight later the masked man is revealed to be Glim. Turns out that Glim had been offered a massive sum of money for the movie rights to the play, but Glim had sold his rights to Banks. Rights would only revert if the play closed after two weeks, so Glim started murdering people in an attempt to stop the play, and earlier saved Batman to put himself in a good light. Glim is arrested, the end.
My Thoughts: We're back in the Agatha Christie murder mode, with a parade of possible suspects and a list of victims. The superstition aspect adds a possible macabre element, but ultimately it's all stuff we've seen and done before, very hackneyed stuff. 
The Art: Pretty standard fare, not nearly the quality of the last two stories, but not terrible by any stretch either.
The Story: This story sucks, plain and simple. Disregarding all the cliché elements, it doesn't play fair as a mystery because the one vital clue to figuring it all out is withheld from the audience, meanwhile the story has to make Batman and Gordon look like idiots so the murders aren't solved too early. If Glim wanted to get his rights back from Banks and was willing to kill to do it, why not just kill Banks? Why the elaborate series of murders, why the supersition theme? What the hell was up with that old man? Just poor storytelling overall.

"The Cross Country Crimes!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick are hanging around listening to the radio, when a sudden annoncement declares that G. Henry Mover (J. Edgar Hoover), head of the FBI, wishes to meet the Dynamic Duo in Washington and congratulate them on behalf of the president (Franklin D. Roosevelt) with a parade and everything. Instead of assuming it's a trap, they suit up and drive the Batmobile to Washington, D.C., and holy shit there's a parade and everything! Guess that answers the question of whether Commissioner Gordon's move to deputize a vigilante and his underage partner was politically popular.

Batman shakes hands with the head of the FBI, saying he can never be as good as the G-Men (this is just so weird), when suddenly J. Edgar Hoover is SHOT! It's the Joker! On a rooftop with a sniper's rifle! Turns out he was aiming for Batman and missed! Hoover lives, and declares nationwide war on the Joker (about time!) And so with a national bounty of $100,000 ($1.3 million in today's money), and all of the nation's police after him (including Batman and Robin naturally), what does Joker do? Laugh, of course, in a spectacular splash page. 
Joker responds to the nationwide manhunt by killing a radio DJ, and then mocking the entire nation on the air. Batman and Robin show up too late, but Joker has left a clue -- a Joker playing care with "New Jersey" written on it. And so the Dynamic Duo is off to New Jersey (although modern DC atlases actually place Gotham in that state!) 
A play about a rich family called the Vandgilts (not the Vanderbilts at all) is opening and for the premiere show the real Vandgilt diamonds have been loaned as props. So Joker shows up on stage with a tommy gun and robs the diamonds. Batman and Robin swing onstage and the people in the audience get the best show ever, as they battle. Joker takes Robin hostage until he can escape, leaving behind another card, this one reading "Ohio".
In Ohio, Joker meets up with some of his old crew from the gang of practical jokers, and asks them what's the best job to pull in, y'know, Ohio. They tell him of a bus full of jewelers heading for a jewelry convention and carrying a million dollars in jewels (or around $14.6m today), and Joker comes up with a hilariously cunning plan. He offers the men cigars in celebration, but upon smoking them they erupt in laughter, they faces twisted into Joker grins -- the cigars were ammounium nitrate, becoming laughing gas when smoked and the tips were dipped in Joker venom. Oh, that Joker.
His plan to get the bus? Pure Wile E. Coyote. He repaints the white line on the highway to lead right off a cliff, and since it's a pitch black night that the bus is en route, it totally works, killing everyone on the bus. The Batmobile just happens to be driving along the same highway that night and they chase after the Joker, but after a two page chase the Joker gets away... again! He leaves another clue... Kansas!
The Joker is reported seen entering a house, and Batman and Robin arrive to assist the local police. But it's a trap! An electrified Joker dummy hits the heroes, and there's another clue left behind (so there's no crimes worth committing in Kansas besides murdering Batman? lololol). This card reads "Delaware" and by this time Batman has (finally) figured out the Joker's scheme -- writing his name in crimes across the country:
New Jersey, Ohio, Kansas, Delaware, and of course Rhode Island. Batman and Robin head to Rhode Island ahead of the Joker and place a notice that a "I. Namtab" will be staying at a hotel in Providence with the "Jonkers Diamond". Hilariously Joker falls for this, despite Batman using his own usual "I. Rekoj" ploy against him. In a titanic struggle, Batman finally manages to overpower the Joker and capture him. "There's another bit of territory with an "R" in it," Batman gloats, "Alcatraz!"
My Thoughts: Wow. This is like the climax of all the Joker stories leading up to this point. For the first time since Batman #1, the Dark Knight manages to capture his arch-nemesis, this time in the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, rather than just a 48-hour stay in city jail. The nationwide manhunt, the Joker's biggest caper yet, and the finale all hammer home the huge scale and drama that a Joker story now commands. While it makes for a fantastic story, it does make you realize that it will be hard to top, and that the creative team runs the risk of overexposure for the character if they keep trying to go bigger and better. Almost as interesting is the prologue to the story, where the FBI and the President praise Batman and Batman accepts their praise, a phenomenally weird sight to a modern Batman reader like myself brought up on the likes of The Dark Knight Returns. But it pays to remember that this is December, 1941. A wartime Batman is right around the corner, so seeing him as a patriotic agent of the FBI, a costumed G-Man as it were, might become more common than one might initially suppose.
The Art: Everyone knocks it out of the park. The art is dramatic, gothic, violent, action-packed, dynamic, exciting, it's everything it needs to be and more. It's one of the best that the Kane/Robinson team has ever produced. Clearly everyone knew that this was going to be a huge story. I still can't get over that splash page, which is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in this book so far.
The Story: This thing is just brilliant. You can tell that Finger knew it too, you can tell he's really been building up to this. This takes the Joker to the next level -- this is full blown supervillainry. Finger makes Batman and Robin government approved just in time for the war, then makes Joker public enemy no. 1 nationwide. Joker's scheme is small scale in each individual crime, but brilliantly points out his overwhelming arrogance and egotism when the true nature of the caper is revealed -- more than the jewels or the murder, Joker wants an audience, wants attention, wants frame, wants to be the topic of discussion and to control that discussion. I love the bit where he murders his former accomplices after they are no use to him -- it takes the gang-leading Joker of the previous story and reconciles him with the earlier, solo Joker who doesn't play well with others. That Batman manages to get him by using his own hoaky ploy of the backward spelt name just shows how Joker is so arrogant that he couldn't imagine anyone ever being as "clever" as that. And finally, Joker arrest and behind bars in a federal prison. Even though he vows revenge and escape, this ending feels more satisfying, more final, than the last several "fall from a great height, maybe dead, maybe alive" Joker story endings because Batman has at last definitively triumphed over the madman, even if he is going to escape later. Damn this is a good story!
Notes and Trivia: Joker captured and imprisoned in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Batman and Robin acknowledged and celebrated by the FBI and President
Joker Body Count: Approximately 38.

And with that I am pleased to announce I have caught up to "Batman Completion", a similar blogspot site that I greatly admire and that has been reviewing Golden Age Batman comics since January, 2010. Feels good, man.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Detective Comics #58 (December, 1941)

"One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis:  Bruce has taken Dick to an art gallery to give him an appreciation of culture. While there they bump into a short, fat man wearing a tuxedo and top hat, complete with monocle, umbrella and smoking a cigarette in a long holder. Dick makes fun of the man's appearance, calling him a penguin, and Bruce chastises him, despite privately agreeing.
But then! The staff inform the visitors that two paintings, worth half a million between them, have been stolen, and that no one can leave until everyone has been searched. However, no one is found to have the paintings on them.
But that night, the fat man in the evening clothes meets with one of the biggest racketeers in town, offering to sell the stolen paintings. He announces himself as The Penguin, and shows the crooks that he smuggled the paintings rolled up in the hollow handle of his umbrella. The boss gives the Penguin a position in the gang planning their robberies, and soon a brilliant crime spree overtakes the city.
At the Stahl Auctioneering House, Bruce Wayne once again bumps into the Penguin. There's a power outage, and when the lights come back on the fabulous Columbia Diamond is stolen. When the Penguin returns to the Boss, he is squeezed out of his usual cut, and responds by shooting the Boss with his trick umbrella -- actually a concealed rifle. The Penguin takes over the gang by force.
In his disguise as a dock worker, Bruce overhears some of Penguin's men at a waterfront bar discuss the theft of a jade idol from the Stahl auction house. When the attempt is made, Batman shows up to stop the burglars. But he didn't know the Penguin would be there personally, who gasses him with a trick umbrella. As he leaves with the idol, Penguin hits the alarm, so that when the police show up all they find is the gassed Batman.
Batman is confused, the police only want to know what happened (remember, Batman is an honourary police now), as a gentleman named Mr. Boniface has reported a jade idol stolen. Just then, Mr. Boniface bursts in accusing Batman of stealing the idol, only Mr. Boniface is... The Penguin! Batman is confused from the gas, and doesn't have time to respond to the charges that Batman was using his status with the police to threaten Boniface for protection money. The police take Batman away.
Then a car, driven by the Penguin's men, rams the police truck, and Batman finds himself tied up in the Penguin's home. The Penguin has already called the police, putting out an alarm that the Batman has escaped, and now has the Batman trapped in an impossible scenario -- if he stays put, he's guilty and Penguin will kill him "in self-defence", if he escapes the police will shoot him down as a fugitive. Penguin wonders which trick umbrella to kill him with, finding one with a knife concealed in the handle...
But Batman has been tapping the heel of his foot while tied up, using the radio transmitter concealed within to communicate a Morse Code signal to Robin's belt radio receiver, and soon enough the Boy Wonder is crashing through the windows and rescuing the Batman. The Dynamic Duo retreats, and Penguin in his guise as Boniface sends the police after them. Commissioner Gordon is wracked with dramatic guilt -- was he wrong to trust the Batman? 
By following the Penguin's gang around disguised as a blind man and an urchin, Batman and Robin are able to burst in on their attempt to rob a diamond exchange by tunneling through a joined wall with another building. The police arrive soon after, and the Penguin covers his escape by firing a jet of acid at the Dynamic Duo from his umbrella and running off with the jewels.
Batman makes chase, but the Penguin manages to catch an express train passing through and escape. However, the Dark Knight recovered the jewels, which the fleeing bird dropped. In the Commissioner's office with the recovered gems, Gordon apologizes for doubting Batman, while the Dark Knight is merely upset that he failed to nab the Penguin.
My Thoughts: What a great little story for introducing the Penguin, one of Batman's most lasting rogues. In recent years the character has kind of fallen on the wayside as many writers and artists are unsure what to do with him, but I think going back to this conception of the character would be best. The Penguin is a criminal genius who cloaks himself in respectability. He wears the trappings of the aristocratic gentleman but in fact is a thief. It's unclear in the story if Finger intended "Boniface" to be Penguin's real name, but he states within the story that he has many aliases, so I am inclined to think that Boniface is merely his current "respectable" identity. Penguin talks of Shakespeare and quoting Keats, but then has an array of lethal trick umbrellas. He's all about the ugliness under the surface. He's a great character, and he's really fun here. He's also the first villain Batman's ever face whom the hero was unable to defeat at the end of the story. Penguin escapes! 
The Art: First things first, I have to compliment Bob Kane's character design of the Penguin. Kane stated he was inspired by Willie the Penguin, the mascot of Kool cigarettes, and the great thing about Kane's Penguin is that he actually looks like a penguin! He's fat, but it's all down at the bottom, and he's got short stubby legs, and his coattails stick out and his nose is held proud in the air and it really does give the appearance of a penguin, moreso than some of the modern redesigns. The line work is pretty good throughout, but the characters are often too small in the frame and the inking is thick and smudges their features together often.
The Story: Finger said he intended the Penguin to be a parody of the two-faced aristocrat, presenting one face to society but concealing another, and so like many of Finger's characters the Penguin is a great study in duality. He's also, like many Batman villains, a great mirror to Bruce Wayne, as they both imploy a high-society shield for their nightly activities. The notion of challenging Batman's status with the police, attempting to frame him, is really interesting this early into Batman's relationship with Gordon, as its actually realistic to think that Gordon could believe he was wrong about Batman the whole time, and one can imagine the strain this experience would put on their trust. So while most of the a-to-b plot elements of the theft, chases, and fights are pretty standard, they are given great new life by the new villain and the new status quo of the strip. Also, Finger remembered to keep Penguin alive, hell, not even in prison, to easily return in a sequel!
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of the Penguin, first time Batman is framed following his deputization
Penguin Body Count: 2

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Detective Comics #57 (November, 1941)

"Twenty-Four Hours to Live!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Our story begins with Jasper Sneed beginning poisoned by some unseen figure, revenge for some unknown reason. The poison is slow acting, and Sneed will die in exactly twenty-four hours.
Sneed decides the best use of his last day on Earth is to totally fuck up the lives of his family, who are all greedy hangers on who hate him and are waiting for him to die so as to inherit his money. He decides to give them his money, but not in the way he expects.
He calls a meeting of these people -- his butler, his stuck-up widowed sister, her playboy son, his orphan niece who hopes to sing opera, his business partner John Harvey, and a cousin who is an undertaker. He tells them he has been poisoned, that someone in that room poisoned him, and that rather than go to the police, he is going give large gifts to all of them. He's clearly insane.
Sneed goes to the bank, and withdraws all of his money into a single suitcase, and it comes to around $1 million (roughly $14.6 million in today's money, and one thousand $1000 bills). He then buys a new car, a saw and a screwdriver. He gives the car to the undertaker, and takes him for a drive. While the car is in motion, he reveals he has sawn off the brake, the steering wheel and all the doorknobs, then jumps out and shuts his door behind him. The undertaker is trapped as the car goes right off a cliff and into the river, drowning him. Eighteen hours left!
Next, Sneed goes to some gangsters, buys some hitmen, and has them collect his business partner and bring him to an old steel mill he owns to murder him. 
Meanwhile, Sneed's niece is telling her good friend Linda Page and her boyfriend Bruce Wayne about her crazy, dying, possibly homicidal uncle. Bruce insists the man is simply mad and means no harm, but then of course ducks out to change into Batman. He meets up with Robin and they go to question John Harvey but of course he's been snatched already so they beat up his clerk until he reveals that he's been taken to the steel mill. There's a two-page fight scene which results in Harvey being rescued. 
Meanwhile, Jasper pays $60,000 to one of those "stand really still and pretend you're a statue" type street performers to paint himself like a bronze statue, be delivered to Sneed's sister who collects statues, and then murder her. But the murder attempt is thwarted when Robin shows up and beats up the street performer. Sneed's sister phones her son to warn him of the murder attempts, but it's too late -- he's playing golf with Sneed at an exclusive club that Sneed has bought him a membership to!
But what the man doesn't know is that Jasper has also bought the whole course, to insure it's empty for the murder. It's a sunrise tee-time, and Batman shows up just in time to save the nephew from the ol' exploding golf ball trick. 
By this time Batman has informed the police about Jasper Sneed's rampage. With his description all over town (wide-eyed crazy man with a bag of cash), Sneed abandons his attempt to kill his niece with an acid throat spray and returns home, where he confronts the man who poisoned him -- the BUTLER!! (Really?)
He goes to shoot him, but Batman and Robin have been lying in wait and stop Sneed! The twenty-four hours up, Jasper Sneed dies then and there. But wait! There's more! Sneed's butler unmasks himself, to reveal that he is Jasper's twin brother Richard! Turns out, they both loved the same woman, and after Jasper married her, Richard took the fall for a crime Jasper committed so she would be spared the pain. She died while he was in prison, and Richard came back disguised as Jasper's butler to plan this elaborate murder. Batman moves to apprehend Richard, but it turns out he took the poison soon after giving it to Jasper, and also dies, leaving the Dynamic Duo aghast.
My Thoughts: What the hell was this? Bill Finger takes a turn into straight up film noir nihilism, a tale with no purpose other than the maniacal mayhem of Jasper Sneed's revenge on his family members, who aren't even the ones who poisoned him. It's increasingly elaborate deaths for all, and then we discover Sneed deserved his fate, as he himself as a terrible person even before being granted the carte blanche of his death sentence. And then, before Sneed's murderer can be punished, he kills himself. Aside from saving a few lives, Batman and Robin don't really accomplish much as they are merely witnesses to this insane rampage of jealousy, revenge, madness, hate, murder and death. It's a murder mystery with the victim going around doing his own murdering. It'd be a great story if it wasn't for the plot holes of that terrible double twist ending.
The Art: The art is pretty good. The best element is the character design of Jasper Sneed, who really does come across as this totally crazy and despicable person. He's always got these lines around him like he's constantly shaking. It's really great. On the negative side, the inks in this story are really muddy -- there's plenty of blacks, but it engulfs the characters too much sometimes and the line work on the faces is occasionally too thick and it muddies the details.
The Story: You can tell that Finger was really proud of this one by the extremely cool introduction on the splash page, which describes Jasper's last moments alive in second person. But the whole damn thing collapses with the lousy double twist ending. First, the butler did it! Which, like, I mean, Sneed saw who poisoned him. If it was the butler, especially Richard in disguise as the butler, why did he calmly stick around the house and keep taking orders from Jasper? And then there's the final reveal of Richard, which happens in literally the third-to-last panel and results in just reams of exposition that we had utterly no clues to, but Batman's not shocked, his reaction is "I figured as much!" It's a total cheat that comes out of nowhere and a) doesn't really seem attached or necessary to the rest of the story and b) could've been integrated into the whole a lot better. It's a Sixth Sense style ending, a twist designed to shock and awe but that doesn't really fit or make sense upon retrospective.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Batman #7 (October/November, 1941)

I must question Bob Kane's proclivity for drawing Robin diving headfirst into guy's asses when he tackles them. Seriously, who does that?

"Wanted: Practical Jokers"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis:  So, first up, of course the Joker survived his fall from the lighthouse two issues ago. He places an ad in the morning paper for experienced practical jokers to meet I. Rekoj at 13 Gloom St. Which is hilarious. A bunch of practical jokers show up to meet old man Rekoj, who watches the men demonstrate their skills. He weeds out the applicants, keeping only those whose pranks are most harmful. Then he gets their fingerprints on a number of items involved with recent crimes, so that he has the power of blackmail over them. Then he reveals his true identity as the Joker and enlists the men in playing a series of practical jokes all around town: false calls to the fire department, water taps switched from cold to hot, counterfeit money being thrown around in the streets. Then the Joker increases the severity of the pranks: signs are changed on roads, causing fatal accidents; medicines are replaced in their bottles with poisons, killing hospital patients; and railway switchs are pulled in the wrong direction, causing disatrous train wrecks. The Joker's team of "humorists" have become too enamored of their work and their boss to notice the harm they are causing, it's all about wreaking havoc and chaos. (It's also kinda reminescent of the plot to Fight Club). 
The Joker drops leaflets all over the city taking credit for the deadly pranks, and mocking the Batman and the police for their inability to stop him (he hasn't been succesfully captured save for two days in jail back in Batman #1) and once again threatening to steal a large gem. A man named Henry Verne visits the exasperated Commissioner Gordon and shows him a letter from the Joker threatening to steal his diamond. The police do the standard thing and go to protect Verne. Batman and Robin also show up, but the police have already been killed by Joker venom when they arrive. Batman bursts in to find the Joker about to kill Verne, but during the fight another Joker arrives, and then another, and then another, until an entire gang of Jokers is upon them and overpowers the Dynamic Duo. They remove their masks to reveal themselves as the Joker's gang, and they do not kill the heroes because "he wants them alive so they may hear him laugh at them!"
The entire Verne scheme was a scam to make Batman and Robin look stupid -- the diamond itself merely a glass door knob. The real Joker was in fact stealing a real gem from another man across town. The Joker even phones the fake Verne apartment, purely to gloat at the Dark Knight. And then he offers the Batman a clue to his next crime, a riddle -- "When is a Duke not a Duke?"
Batman concludes that the Joker plans to abduct and impersonate the visiting Duke Michael, in Gotham to raise aid money for his wartorn country, and will steal the money. Which of course is exactly what happens. The Dynamic Duo crash the ceremony and attack the Duke, who is of course the Joker in disguise. The Clown Prince of Crime makes an exit, stealing a car, while Batman and Robin race after him. The Joker boards a train, and the heroes jump from their car onto the moving train and chase the Joker in, around and finally on top of the speeding train cars. It comes down to a fightfight atop the hurtling locomotive, and Batman finally knocks the Joker off with a mighty right hook, sending the Joker toppling off the train and into a ravine.
Robin is sure the Joker is dead this time, but Batman feels that Joker has cheated death so many times that he's sure to return.
My Thoughts: The team behind Batman continue to raise the stakes and excitement with each Joker story, slowly transitioning him from the serial killer/gem thief of his original appearances towards the insane supervillain with a twisted sense of humour that he would become widely known as. This tale shows the Joker, for the first time, assembling his own gang of loyal followers, and for the first time assembling his scheme largely around his conflict with Batman, intentionally committing crimes purely to wreak havoc and make Batman look the fool. This progression in the character's motivations will continue to become more prominent as the battle with the Dark Knight becomes more important to Joker than any criminal gains. However, the strip once again ends with Joker falling to a supposed but unlikely death, a repeated pattern that is beginning to become stale.
The Art: Kane and his team do another great job of the art, with dynamic chases and fights that really sell the ramped up aspects of this particular tale.
The Story: The most interesting aspects here are the transitionary elements in play between the earlier and later Joker stories, as well as all later rogues gallery stories. Joker gloats at Batman and offers him a clue to solving the next crime. This is a seminal moment, as the idea of Batman villains intentionally dropping clues in an attempt to goad Batman and test his wits against theirs will become a greater and greater element in Batman stories, to the point where an entire character (The Riddler) will become based around it, and become a formula for most Silver Age Batman stories. But while these are all interesting new changes, the story itself is a little fragmented, and ends with a predictably "epic and dramatic" one on one duel on the train. While I know Finger felt that the Joker could not be held in an ordinary prison, and showing him escaping repeatedly would make Batman look ineffectual, these repeated "falls from a great height and might be dead" endings aren't much better.
Joker Body Count: 24

"The Trouble Trap"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Batman and Robin are too late to stop a man being murdered on the streets during their nightly patrol. They confront the murderers, but find themselves attacked by two giant Hindu men who attempt to choke them to death. They escape thanks to Batman's exploding gas pellets, but so do the criminals. After searching the corpse, Batman finds the dead man is Henry Abbot and that he has been withdrawing large sums of money at regular intervals from the bank. The vigilantes take off before the police get there, and Batman feels this is only the beginning, although he has no idea why Henry Abbot was murdered (already I'm thinking it's blackmail).
While Dick does some homework (that kid still goes to school??), Bruce meets with an old friend named Dwyer who seems troubled, especially when a bunch of armed men burst in and demand payment by eight o'clock or there'll release some records. Bruce can't figure out what's going on (blackmail?) but figures Batman should be back at eight o'clock as well. Batman arrives to spy on the payoff, then follows the hoodlum to the house of a swami named Granda the Mystic. According to Batman, it doesn't make sense (maybe Granda is running a blackmail racket?)
After questioning Dwyer, Batman discovers that Granda is running a blackmail racket where he uses his position as a popular high society mystic to hypnotize the rich into revealing their secrets, which he blackmails them with. Batman's response? He actually phones Commissioner Gordon and tips off the police to raid Granda. A very different solution than his usual "punch everything". However, the police fail to find anything, because they are the Gotham City Police. C'mon, what did you expect?

Granda wishes to prevent further meddling in his affairs by Batman, and decides to send his men to capture Linda Page, as she's been involved in many of Batman's recent cases. Batman stops the kidnappers, then impersonates them and continues taking Linda to Granda, while Robin calls the kidnapping into Gordon, who sends a squad car over. However, the hasty police get in a car crash (seriously?) and fail to arrive, forcing Batman to break his cover and fight Granda himself.
Granda sicks the giant Hindus on him from earlier, but after some fighting Robin arrives with the police and there's a shootout. Granda jumps out a window and steals a car, so Batman and Robin commandeer a police cruiser and go after him in a thrilling car chase that includes a spectacular (if cliché) jump over a lifting drawbridge. Batman captures Granda and returns to meet up with Gordon.
The police have found the blackmail records, and Granda's men have confessed to the murder of Henry Abbott, who was going to inform the police of Granda's activities. The story ends with Gordon shaking Batman's hand and thanking him on behalf of the police department.
My Thoughts: This is a pretty slapped together, haphazard Batman tale, standard in all its elements, with a thoroughly forgettable villain who feels like a throwback to the pre-Joker days. The story is largely saved by the art and by the interaction between Batman and Gordon. This is probably the most positive interplay between the Dynamic Duo and the police department we've ever seen. The two are seen as illegal vigilantes, and we've had many sequences of cops attempting to capture Batman, yet here the Dark Knight reaches an olive branch out to Gordon, who is already friends with Bruce Wayne, and the two establish a trust as Batman saves Linda and captures Granda. And so the story ends with the police commissioner of Gotham shaking hands with the city's notorious costumed vigilante. This new sign of trust will be very important later in this very issue.
The Art: The art is the saving grace of this issue. The car chase sequence is particularly spectacular, although the panel of Batman arriving at Dwyer's apartment is also very memorable: dark and moody. With Batman all in black, and his white eyes the only visible feature, it's the kind of image that continues to be dramatically utilized to this day. I give all the credit to the inking from Robinson and Roussos.
The Story: The script is all over the map. It's so slapdash that it makes the previous Joker story well plotted. Granda is a petty blackmailer, made into a hypnotizing mystic with Hindu bodyguards in a pale attempt to make him interesting. Batman takes forever to figure out the blackmail plot, the police are hampered randomly, the fake kidnapping plan from Batman amounts to nothing, really the whole thing feels completely pedestrian from beginning to end if it wasn't for the great art and the unique ending with Gordon.
Notes and Trivia: First time Police Commissioner Gordon and the Batman work with each other directly.

"The North Woods Mystery"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Bruce Wayne is on a date with Nora Powell, society girl, because I guess his relationship with Linda Page is an open one. Her uncle, owner of a large lumber camp in the "North Woods", has been shot. His adopted son, Jack Clayton, is suspected of the murder as he has inherited ownership, but was cleared on lack of evidence. Nora decides to head to the camp to offer her support, although in a phone conversation Jack implores Nora to stay in Gotham, and that he'll pay her a share of the profits so she can keep up her nightclub lifestyle.
However, Nora wants to show everyone that she can be more than a society girl, and heads out, inviting Bruce with her. Bruce decides to use this opportunity to investigate the murder, and of course Dick tags along as well.
Dick disguises himself and gets a job as the "camp boy" doing odd errands and such, while Bruce and Nora survive several mysterious "accidents" soon after they arrive. Nora transitions to being a working girl and finds she loves the outdoors, the camp and the work, and wants to help Jack run the place. Clayton is totally against it, however, showing nothing but distaste for Nora. 
When Batman and Robin snoop around the camp that night, they are instantly attacked and during the battle a man whom Batman tries to interrogate is accidentally killed. The next day, Bruce offers to help Jack get to the bottom of all the accidents, claiming to have learned about detective procedure from Commissioner Gordon, but Jack denies his help. Nora is worried, but Bruce promises to get to the bottom of things.
The next day Jack introduces Nora to Mr. Asher, owner of a rival lumber company. Jack has agreed to sell his shares in the Powell company to Asher. Nora, however, likes the business and refuses. When alone, Asher pressures Jack to convince Nora to sell. Jack offers to buy Nora's shares, so he can sell them to Asher, but again Nora refuses. 
Nora finds herself the victim of another "accident" when Batman must rescue her from a runaway logging train. Nora accuses Jack of killing her uncle and trying to kill her. Jack denies this wholeheartedly. Then another attempt is made on Nora's life, as she's shoved into the log chute, breaks her arm, ends up in the river, Robin tries to rescue her, is attacked by thugs, almost falls down a waterfall, is rescued by Batman, while meanwhile Nora is on the conveyor belt to the buzzsaw and is of course saved by Batman at the last possible moment!
Asher is suddenly there with a gun and tries to shoot but is punched out by Batman. Turns out Asher killed Powell, then blackmailed Clayton. Clayton was an ex-con before he came to work for Powell and was adopted by him. Asher then started the accidents in an attempt to get Nora to sell out. Clayton thought Nora wouldn't mind selling, as she was happy being rich and idle in Gotham. He never counted on Nora developing into an independant woman. With everything settled, the two realise they love each other and embrace while Bruce and Dick return to Gotham.
My Thoughts: Oh man, this was worse than the last story. Filled to the brim with clichés, predictable to the last, there's basically nothing interesting about this story. About the only thing that saves it is that Batman has yet to do the "northern" genre yet, but if you grew up watching Dudley Do-Right cartoons its really weird to see all these old (even by 1941) tropes played straight. They even do the whole jumping across logs on a river gag, and the conveyor belt buzzsaw thing, which is straight out of Perils of Pauline or something. It's really hack stuff.
The Art: The artwork is the only thing that makes this story worthwhile. The art is gorgeous. Robinsona and Roussos just go nuts with the blacks, doing exquisite shadow work. They use a motif of constantly silhouetting the characters, but leaving the hair detailed and coloured. It's a really cool visual look. The entire waterfall sequence is also spectacularly done. The action is dynamic and exciting. The great art lifts up the entire tale.
The Story: Just about every beat of this is standard for this genre. The corporate take-over, the damsel-in-distress, the tough mug with a good heart. Finger's using the oldest clichés in the book to string together setpieces. The only noteworthy occurrence is the incident wherein a man is accidentally killed during Batman's interrogation of him. It's weirdly gruesome and deadly.
Notes and Trivia: Batman kinda killed a dude
Batman Body Count: 24

"The People vs. The Batman"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Batman is skulking around in a wallway and overhears a conversation about a poultry racket. He bursts in to discover to find some goons taking orders from a man named Horatio Delmar. The lights get turned off and there's some gunfire, bringing the police into the room. Everyone's gone except a dazed Batman, who escapes through the window as the police make chase.
Mobster Freddie Hill decides that it's too much of risk to their operation that Batman can identify Horatio Delmar as their boss, and this is also his perfect chance to eliminate him and take over. He figures out a scheme and tells it to his hitman, Weasel Venner. Meanwhile, Batman decides to investigate the outwardly respectable Delmar as Bruce Wayne in order to not arouse suspicion, thus falling into Hill's trap.
Weasel is meeting with Delmar when Bruce shows up. Weasel shoots Delmar dead, then calls out "Drop that gun, Mr Wayne!", shoots his hat, and then tosses the gun at Wayne, who catches it. Delmar's secretary runs in, and sees Delmar dead and Wayne holding the gun. Weasel punches Bruce out and the secretary calls the police, who arrive by the time Bruce wakes up. Bruce is arrested.
It's a bad scandal, given that Bruce is a rich socialite and friend of the police commissioner. Gordon and Dick visit him and Dick swears he'll find the evidence to exonerate him. Robin head to Weasel Venner's apartment, where he discovers that mob hitmen are about to bump him off so that he won't talk. Robin bursts in, trying to save Weasel, but the hitmen beat him up and chase after the running Weasel, eventually running him over with their car. But they don't do a good job, as Weasel lives, albeit in a coma. 
Realizing that Robin might be able to tell the cops that the mob was trying to bump Weasel off, which might ruin the frame, Freddie Hill comes up with a scheme to discredit the Batman. He has one of his hitmen buy a Batman costume from a costume shop and sneak into Weasel's hospital room with a gun. The place is crawling with cops and the hit attempt is unsuccessful, but it serves the purpose of making it look like Batman is trying to kill the witness against Bruce. 
Meanwhile, Robin has been studying old city maps, and discovers that an abandoned sewer tunnel runs under the jailhouse that Bruce is being kept in. He uses this to break Bruce out, and they replace him with a dummy which should fool the guards long enough, anyhow. Bruce changes to Batman, and the Duo head to Delmar's house in an attempt to find records that would tie Delmar to organized crime and exonerate Bruce.
Unfortunately Freddie Hill is there too, searching for the records to destroy them. The Batman and Robin tussle with the gangsters, but are overpowered. Tied up and weighed down with iron, they're thrown off a pier and into the river waters. Meanwhile, Weasel wakes up from his coma, and realizing that Hill tried to double-cross him, decides to testify in favour of Wayne at the trial. Double meanwhile, when the guards try to fetch Wayne for the trial, they realize he's escaped, which doesn't speak well for his innocence. 
On the bottom of the Gotham River, Batman manages to cut through his bonds with a convenient tin can (hooray for littering!) He frees Robin and then they beat the living hell out of Freddie Hill. Bruce Wayne is being tried by the D.A. in absentia, which hardly seems legal, and the D.A. further argues his breaking jail proves his guilt. And that's when Batman bursts into the courtroom with Freddie Hill in tow, because not giving a damn about due process is kind've Batman's whole deal. 
Batman declares that Hill ordered Delmar killed and that Bruce Wayne is innocent. Delmar exclaims that Batman beat him up and is trying to get him to take the rap, after all, why did he try to kill Venner? Batman's rebuttal is that it's easy for anyone to put on a Batman costume and frame him. The D.A. posits that it is indeed Batman's costume that is the entire problem, and produces a lengthy list of the vigilante's crimes, including aiding Bruce Wayne's escape, trying to murder a witness in a criminal trial, obstructing justice and meddling in police affairs and asks the police present to arrest the Batman!
But then, something happens that changes everything. Commissioner Gordon, present in the audience, stands up and addresses the bench (man, the extent to which none of this is legal!), and Gordon proceeds to give an impassioned speech in the Batman's favour that is five whole panels long (which is forever in Golden Age terms). It's so important that I'm going to reproduce it here in it's entirety:
"I speak for the Batman -- the friend of the people! Yes -- he works "outside the law", as  you call it, but the legal devices that hamper us are hurdled by this crime-fighter so he may bring these men of evil to justice. The eminent district attorney calls him a meddler with a theory -- Washington, the Wright Brothers, Lincoln, Edison, and others, they were "meddlers", too -- who proved their theories. They made sacrifices so that we might enjoy the security and comfort we do. The Batman has done that, too! This man who has saved a nation's gold reserve, fought fifth columnists and saboteurs, beaten the Joker, the Puppet Master, and other crime geniuses. This man who daily risks his life to save others -- who never carries a gun -- who's aided by his young friend, Robin, fights crime with the courage and zeal born of love for his fellow man. This is --- the Batman! Perhaps this comes a little late, but I, the Police Commissioner of Gotham City, appoint you an honorary member of the police department! From now on, you work hand in hand with the police!"
After Gordon finishes having his Rearden moment, Batman and Robin accept the Commissioner's offer. Weasel finally bursts into the courtroom (because why not at this point?) and proclaims Bruce Wayne's innocence and Hill's guilt before dying dramatically. Bruce Wayne emerges, looking haggard, saying that Batman had hidden him away for his own safety from the mob. Bruce ironically remarks that the life of Bruce Wayne depends quite a bit on the existence of the Batman. 
My Thoughts: Okay, so if only for the last page and a half alone, this is the most significant story in Batman since the introduction of Joker or Robin. And what's really amazing is that this incredibly large paradigm shift in the series' premise is done in a manner that utilizes the series' internal continuity, which is amazing given that this is 1941. Gordon's trust of the Batman has been developed over time, most notably in another story earlier in this issue, and in his climactic speech he notes actual accomplishments of the Dark Knight's from past issues. This is narrative progression. It also notes that Bill Finger realized he couldn't continue to have Batman operating on the run from the law forever. He makes Gordon's acceptance of Batman and the Dynamic Duo's recreation as "honorary members of the police department" seems like a natural development, the logical next step as the City continues to recognize and honor its hero. It shows that Batman is making progress in fighting crime and corruption in Gotham. After all, the only way Batman could be publicly accepted and heralded as a hero is if the good people in Gotham were beginning to feel safe enough to do so. On the other hand, Gordon sees that he still needs Batman -- he's endorsing a vigilante, tacitly legalizing the Batman's extreme methods because he needs them to continue, because crime is still beyond the GCPD's ability to handle. It's going to be intriguing to see where the new direction takes us.
The Art: The art is pretty good, with Kane and Robinson's work coming out the best, while Roussos seems a little off here. The figure work is well done, but everything else is occasionally very splotchy. It's unfortunately not as good as the previous two stories in the issue.
The Story: Man, this story could be six issues if it was done in the Modern Age (anyone remember "Bruce Wayne: Murderer" from Batman #599-605?). At thirteen pages it feels incredibly confined. The pacing is breakneck and things happen very suddenly. I would have easily traded one or two of the earlier stories in this issue to get this expanded to a larger page count. Finger should've argued for it, given the significance of this story, but he's lucky DC allowed him to make such a change to the strip at all. Jerry Siegel had tried to make a similar change in Superman #8 (January/February 1941) -- which would've featured Superman encountering Kryptonite for the first time, learning of his alien heritage, and revealing his identity to Lois Lane -- but DC had pulled the story, not wanting to disrupt the formula of its popular character (these events would finally happen in 1943, 1949, and 1991 respectively) but it was the moment when control of the Superman story was essentially pulled from his creators. Finger maintains control of Batman here, and establishes a new paradigm for the strip that will last for many years. But because of its rushed nature, the plot that leads up to this startling change feels extremely arbitrary, with plot points happening almost at random and with far too much suddenness. It's too bad, because it is in fact a very good story, but it's just too much squeezed into too little.
Notes and Trivia: Commissioner Gordon makes Batman and Robin honorary members of the Gotham Police Department, legalizing their activities while retaining their ability to work outside the regular confines of due process