Saturday, September 22, 2012

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.

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