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

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