Sunday, December 8, 2013

Detective Comics #76 (June, 1943)

"Slay 'Em With Flowers"
Writer: Horace L. Gold
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: The Joker and his men have taken over an old florists' shop, using it as a front for buglarizing wealthy patrons. The flowers are delivered, release a gas which knocks out the guards and inhabitants of the building, and then Joker and his men bust in wearing gas masks and steal the loot.

The cops can't figure how it's being done, so the Bat-Signal calls the Dynamic Duo to police headquarters, and the next day Bruce Wayne is taking Dick to a "flower show" based on a hunch from the case.
Of course the Joker and his men are robbing the place and so Batman and Robin appear for the fight -- but the gas gets them, and once unconscious the Joker's men place them in an elevator car and cut the cables (rather than just, y'know, shooting them).
The masked manhunters manage to wake up and hit the emergency stop lever in time, and escape. Batman recognizes there must be a connection between the gas and the flowers and does some detective work. Batman and Robin stake out the Florist shop, and then follow millionaire Percy Fillmore from the shop to his penthouse apartment.
They arrive in time to find the Joker's men robbing the place, but Joker shoots them in the face with gas. The crooks stick our heroes in a closet and run gas from the kitchen into the room to suffocate them. Once again they wake up in time, and bust out. Robin suggests raiding the flower shop, but Batman feels the Joker is keeping the loot at a second location.
So Bruce Wayne goes to the flower shop to set himself up as bait. Upon delivery of the flowers to Wayne Manor Bruce notes that the soil is rigged to release a spray of chloroform on a timer. 
Alfred suggests fighting the Joker's men when they arrive, but Bruce explains that they must pretend they've been drugged otherwise the Joker and his men would surely kill them. Alfred, an upper crust British guy in 1943, doesn't understand a policy of non-resistance. Oh-ho, contemporary events joke!
After the Joker's gang robs Wayne Manor, the Batmobile  follows them to a greenhouse on the outskirts of town, where our climatic fight scene begins. Joker holds up in the greenhouse, but Batman instructs Robin to wet their capes and wear them as gas masks while the Dark Knight pumps chloroform into the greenhouse air intake!
And so with the villains heavily drugged, the police are called and everyone sent to jail.
My Thoughts: This is a basic Batman tale. Boilerplate stuff. Joker has a scheme involving robbing folks. He does it once successfully, once again fighting Batman, then the third time is the bait and switch ending with a chase and a climatic fight. This is formula. But "Slay 'Em With Flowers" is still a good read for a few reasons, even if as a Joker story it is uninspired.
The Art: The absolute best thing about this story is the art. Jerry Robinson hits it out of the park here, drawing in a dark, rough style that really feels noirish and pulpy. People's suits and baggy and get wrinkled. Joker is thin and wiry and his hair get messed up. Batman has a chin so big and square that it makes the art of George Freeman looked restrained. It's really lovely to look at and it's a big element making the story feel better than it is. For a long time Robinson was an unsung hero of Golden Age Batman (just like most everyone else), and it was great that before his death he finally got some recognition, even if it was usually accompanied by an exaggerated "creator of the Joker" title. Still more than anything Bill Finger got when he was alive.
The Story: That the story is so formulaic is mildly disappointing considering who is writing it -- H.L. Gold, the classic Golden Age science fiction author who transformed the genre with his magazine Galaxy Science Fiction in 1949. However those days of innovation are a few years away and in 1943 Gold was simply another stuggling sci-fi author making ends meet by slumming it in comics. That being said, Gold slums it quite well, following the formula, constructing the tale in a coherent manner, and wrapping it up nicely. It does the job and does it expertly, even if there's no real innovation on display here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Detective Comics #75 (May, 1943)

"The Robber Baron!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis:  The Robber Baron is the leader of a group of thieves dressed like a nineteenth century aristocrat (top hat, monocle, white tie tuxedo and cape). His gang is based in an abadoned factory that is also a tall skyscraper and sports a medieval style tower on top with a cannon that launches a grappling hook!  Then they travel by zipline to the building they shot the hook at! And somehow the cannon is powerful enough, the hook strong enough and the line long enough that it can stretch across several city blocks to it's target (somehow not hitting other buildings along the way, implying this abandoned factory is very tall).
So they do the zipline, rob places, zip back and somehow the GCPD is completely "baffled" and can't discover how these guys are getting in and out despite the fact that a huge skyscraper topped with a stone tower shooting grappling lines across city blocks that dudes are zipping around on is totally something you'd think someone would notice!
Meanwhile, at Wayne Manor, new butler Alfred is bringing lunch to Batman and Robin as they work out the problem of the Robber Baron in their criminology lab. Batman has figured out that they're using grappling hooks from marks left on the edge of the rooftops of the buildings robbed, and then drawn straight lines from the sites of the robberies and found the intersecting point - an abandoned brass factory by the waterfront (and the crooks' footprints had brass filings in them at the crime scenes!) Detective work, folks! See, was that so hard, Gotham Police?
The Batplane brings our heroes to the factory, where they surprise the Robber Baron and his men. Using the grappling hook they zip over to a nearby suspension bridge. Robin recklessly zips over, despite Batman's warning, and the crooks cut the line! The Boy Wonder falls into the Gotham River, and presumably drowns. So, now Batman's pissed. 
So he flies over the to bridge with the Batplane and just starts decking dudes off the bridge into the river, presumably intending to kill them. But the Robber Baron proves his intelligence by just shooting Batman, who then also falls into the river. 
The Robber Baron then climbs down to a speedboat he had waiting there just in case this happened, which he uses to pick up his men who are all not dead, as well as the Batman who is also not dead. The Baron plans to kill Batman in a more dramatic fashion.
Meanwhile, Alfred's been reading his "How to Be a Detective" book and decides to seek out suspicious persons down at the riverfront. He happens upon the Robber Baron's boat just as it comes ashore, of course, and notices they have the Batman prisoner, so the crooks take him prisoner too.
Back at their tower hideout, the Baron's plan is to fire the grappling hook at police headquarters, then hang the Batman from the line and zip his corpse right to the Commissioner! Gruesome!
However, Robin didn't die when he fell into the river (gee, really?) and when he came out of the drink he found the abandoned Batplane and flies it over to the Tower. He freaks the crooks into thinking that the police have surrounded them by speaking over the two-way radio link to Batman and with them distracted he pounces on them.
Freeing Batman and Alfred, the three of them beat up the crooks, and then send them tied up to Gordon over the zip-line! 
My Thoughts: The second story to feature Alfred, it's clear that it's going to take a bit of work to get his inclusion to feel natural, although for now it's just fun to have a new regular character around -- even if his "written" British accent is a little overbearing to read. "Pardon me, Mawster Bruce, but it is pawst your luncheon" and so on.
The Art: Not Jack Burnley's best, perhaps because Roussos is inking instead of his brother? It's still very good, but Roussos keeps it looking more like Kane Studio standard than the high quality Burnley can reach when let loose.
The Story: It's all right. The Robber Baron is basically a generic gangster type in fancy clothes, but seeing Batman do some detective work is great, and even if the "death of Robin" moment is an obvious cheat it's still cool to see the Dark Knight go to town on the crooks in his rage. Alfred gets to have some part in the story, even if he gets involved entirely through contrived coincedence. Honestly my biggest problem is the whole "grappling hook launched across city blocks" thing. I mean, it's sorta awesome on one hand, but I really have a hard time believing that none of the GCPD detectives figured that shit out or noticed it. It kinda strains credulity.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Batman #16 (April/May, 1943)

Okay, so this cover. It's our first "homage" to Jack Burnley's classic cover to Batman #9 that forms the background of this blog. And by "homage" I mostly mean "swipe" -- Jerry Robinson has just taken that image, flipped it (although at least he remembered to reposition Robin's "R") and then added this menacing shadowy figure.
Secondly, the text on the cover tells us that someone in this issue is going to discover the secret identities of Batman and Robin, the implication heavily being that it's this tough thug looking guy. Which is completely false, placing this as I believe our first cover to fall under the category of "patently misleading", a type of cover that DC would become masters of during the Silver Age. Covers that imply or promise stories that are not what the issue is really about.

"The Joker Reforms"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Our story begins in the small town of Farr Corners, in the Ozark Mountains, which Bob Kane draws as one of these Old West towns that he and Bill Finger seemed convinced still existed in America anywhere west of the East Coast.
A mysterious, shadowed individual stumbles into town, finding his way to the Constable, where he produces a valise of precious jewels that were stolen in Gotham City. He wants to ensure they are returned to their proper owners, and gives his name as Ed Smith. The twist? Ed Smith is... THE JOKER!
Flashback to the night before, as Batman and Robin are swooping in to stop a robbery by the Joker and his men of a jewelry store. However the crooks get away when the Joker throws an ammonia bomb, and soon they're in a plane headed west to pick up the other stash of jewels the Joker hid during their crime spree.
However the plane's engines fail and so the gang parachutes out to avoid a horrible death. Joker figures he can still land the thing and thus claim all the stolen goods for himself. Unfortunately Joker is a better criminal than aviator and crashes in the Ozarks.
He's thrown clear of the wreck, wakes up with amnesia, finds the jewels, heads to town, and thus we're back at the beginning.
Back in Gotham, Bruce and Dick are trying to figure out the Joker's next move. Bruce thinks he has a lead with a scrap of paper he found at the scene referencing "Joe Kerswag, Farr Corners", and even though Bruce is somehow too dull to figure out the clue, they decide to head to Farr Corners anyway to investigate the lead.
Of course, the crooks who jumped off the plane are also headed to Farr Corners, where they find the town holding a celebration in honor of town hero Ed Smith, which... waitasecond, you're telling me none of the townsfolk recognize him as the Joker? A renowned federal criminal? The comic gives the rationale that they haven't seen pictures of the Joker this far out, but the townsfolk have clearly heard of Batman and the Joker, presumably through newspapers, so why do newspapers in the Ozarks not print pictures? And even if you didn't know what the Joker looked like, wouldn't a pale-white faced man with ruby red lips and green hair in a purple suit strike you as a little... odd?
Batman and Robin show up and are instantly recognized by a young boy in town who reads Batman comics -- wait, so this town gets Batman comics whose existence is confusing enough in a world where Batman is real and yet they don't get newspaper pics of the Joker? And this kid didn't recognize the Joker either? Are people in the Ozarks just really stupid?
Anyways, the constable introduces the Dynamic Duo to the town hero Ed Smith and Batman of course does a massive double take. He decides however to follow the Joker and observe him rather than immediately arrest him, in order to see what his game is.
The Joker's goons thus of course see their leader paling with the Batman and assume the worst. 
They attack, but when they shoot at Batman the Joker actually saves him! The crooks run off, and Batman and Robin continue to be baffled by the Joker's behaviour. Robin believes it must be a trick, as it'd be impossible for the Joker to have reformed, while Batman believes they must keep following him until they find out where the cache of stolen jewels is hidden.
"Ed Smith", meanwhile, has been having a series of terrible nightmares, images of hidden jewels placed in the railroad express office. He isn't sure why he's having these visions, but decides to check the office and see if there isn't more good he can do by returning more stolen goods to their owners.
The crooks spot him and assume he's going to the cache, so they follow. Batman finally figures out the "Joe Kerswag" clue and also heads to the express office. Batman and Robin manage to tie up all the crooks, but Joker gets knocked on the head and regains his "sanity".
Threatening the Dynamic Duo with two pistols, they are only saved when Robin knocks a column of boxes over onto the Joker, which end up spilling out all the crook's ill-gotten gains.
Batman reveals the obvious clue ("Joe Kerswag" = "Joker Swag") and the Clown Prince of Crime is locked up and sent to prison once again. 
My Thoughts: One of the toughest things about reading and writing about these old Batman comics can be the monotony. The stories, which are very simplistic and formulaic by nature, can become very repetitive read one after another at a rapid pace. So to get a story like this, which even if it strains credulity at times, features the characters in different situations and settings, can read like a breath of fresh air. In terms of the development of Joker's character, it's interesting that when he loses his amnesia and becomes "himself" again, it's explicitly written as the Joker regaining his "sanity", especially since the madness of the character has become such an explicitly large element of how he is written today.
The Art: One thing I haven't mentioned that much when talking about Bob Kane's art is his excessive habit of swiping. In the early days of the Batman comic he excessively swiped many panels and poses from other sources, usually pulp magazine illustrations. Once he had built up a good number of Batman and Robin poses, his swiping mostly became about swiping from himself -- using the same poses and angles over and over when depicting those two characters, almost like the comic book equivalent of a Filmation "limited animation" series from the 1970s. Usually these aren't too obtrusive -- while he may use the same pose everytime he draws Batman putting on his cape, that pose only occurs once an issue usually and ultimately it's a pretty standard pose so you don't mention the repetition.
I mention all this because in this story Kane draws a very distinctive panel of the "Good" Joker talking to Batman, Batman doing a hilarious double take, and Robin reacting. And then two pages later he REPLICATES IT EXACTLY. Yep, even with uncredited writers assistants, ghosts and other help -- Bob Kane was still incredibly lazy.
That being said, the biggest joy of the art in this story is seeing the Joker being drawn as a good guy, having innocent expressions on his face, or really just any expression other than grinning evilly. It's a unique sight that makes up a lot of the fun of the story.
The Story: I've really got to hand it to Don Cameron for really delivering a fun and unique story. "The Joker goes good", even if it's just amnesia, is very different and really brought a smile to my face as being a unique and imaginative premise. Pretty much my only issue with it is the fact that I just don't buy that everyone else treats Joker as normal. He's a dude with green hair! That's a little bizarre. 
Other than that I think this one was a lot of fun and it was just great to get a new kind of story -- even if the clue was really really obvious.

"The Grade A Crimes!"
Writer: Ruth "Bunny Lyons" Kaufman
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis:  In the early hours of the day, as the milkman makes his rounds, a daring robbery is committed - the Van Dorn jewels stolen and their servant shot. The jewels are brought back to a mysterious ringleader who conceals his identity behind a domino mask, and sends his men out again and again dressed in black robes and cowls, committing a series of "early bird" robberies in the hours of the morning when only the milkman is active.
Late one evening, millionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson are leaving a high society party at the Morgon Mansion, when they hear a gunshot -- the guard shot in the back! They quickly change into Batman and Robin and begin fighting the eerie cultist looking burglars. However they manage to overpower the two and escape -- the only man on the scene once again the milkman, who didn't see anything. 
Searching the mansion for clues, they discover a white button ripped from a white shirt -- odd, since the crooks were wearing black mantles.
It's the next morning at the breakfast table when Bruce finally puts it all together - the early morning robberies, they're always the morning after a party, only jewels are stolen while other valuables are left untouched, the white button, the milkman -- obviously someone at the party is the inside man, they case the joint and perhaps lift the keys, and then the milkman is their getaway driver whom no one would ever suspect.
I for one am simply amazed that a Batman mystery was "fair play" for once and that Bruce figured out the clues at about the same time the reader would. 
The next big society party is being held by Winthrop, treasurer of the Purity Milk Co. and a renowned gem collector. Batman figures that by spying on Winthrop's party they'll discover the ringleader of the crooks, since it must be someone high up in the milk industry! Waiting around for the party to end, Batman finds Winthrop's guards have been drugged -- just in time for the milkman's arrival!
One of the cloaked burglars enters and prepares to shoot the guards for appearance's sake -- but Batman charges in to battle -- but when the crooks escape he intentionally lets them go as Robin has coated their getaway vehicle with infrared paint of the kind we've seen Batman use before to follow people. 
They follow the gang to a diary farm hideout, where of course a battle breaks out amid the cows and milking machines and so on. Batman fights the masked leader of the group, whom he deduces is Winthrop himself - Winthrop was the inside man, drugged his own guards, and of course he's the jewel collector.
After a few more fight scene pages, Batman and Robin deliver the thieves to Commissioner Gordon, revealing that Winthrop had gambled with his company's money, and had to resort to thievery, in addition to wanting more jewels for his own collection.
My Thoughts: Sometimes all you really want is a standard story, well told -- or told well above the average level of quality. "Grade A Crimes" features no supervillain, introduces no new elements, it simply does a standard Batman robbery/mystery plot, but does it with style, panache and very well plotted storytelling. I enjoyed reading it -- on paper it's nothing special, but here it's all in the execution.
The Art: The Burnley Bros. deliver gorgeous artwork in this story. Go and get yourself a reprint of it somehow and see this stuff. It's looks like an episode of the hallowed Animated Series, it's dark and stylish and just lovely to look at. The touch of dressing up the crooks in cultist looking outfits adds a delicious extra element of macabre mysterioso that is perfect for Batman and feels like it's been missing from the strip for a while. It just instantly makes it cooler than just more gangsters in three-piece suits. 
The Story: This story is written by Ruth Kaufman, and usually when a new writer appears I try to do some research to find out who they were. But all I can find out about Ruth is the somewhat self-evident info that she was one of the very first female comics writers. Apparently she wrote a couple more scripts for DC that appeared in their other books around this same time, and that was that. I have no idea what happened to her. 
Which is a damn shame, because this is a really, really well written story for a rookie writer. It's solid and confident, it understands the characters and the world of the strip, it remembers that Batman is a detective and remembers his methodologies from past stories. It gives us a mystery with clues that we can figure out along with the Batman, and it's exciting and interesting. It's a standard kind of story, but it's done well, with excellent art and very competent plotting, and that puts it a cut above.

"The Adventures of the Branded Tree"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: Scotty and Olaf are two highly exaggerated racial stereotypes working as lumberjacks in the "north woods" when they come across a tree with the image of a dagger cut into it. Oh well, there's choppin' to be done, so they get to it -- which of course is when a bunch of Gotham City gangsters who are looking for just that tree happen across them!
Olaf eats a bullet, but Scotty is saved by the timely intervention of Batman and Robin -- lucky for him Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were taking a fishing trip in these very same woods! The Dynamic Duo drive off the Gotham gangsters, saving Scotty -- but they still have no idea why they wanted that dagger tree.
However, an exaggerated French stereotype lumberjack informs Batman that the tree is now heading down river on its way to the mill, and there's no way to find it out of all the thousands of logs in the river.
So, of course, the gangsters beat up a bunch of employees at the mill, rendering them unable to work and creating job openings that the gangsters themselves take, because somehow this is the easiest way to get into the mill to look for the log. 
Batman and Robin arrive in town and question the local police, leading them to the suspicious happenings at the mill. The ensuing fight that breaks out of course ends up with Batman and Robin unconscious on the conveyor belt headed for the buzzsaw!
Batman manages to wake up in time to see Robin heading for some sawing, and saves the Boy Wonder by throwing logs into the saw to jam it! 
However by this time the crooks have found the log with the dagger cut in it, and retrieved from it a small cylinder. Seeing that the tide of the battle is turning, the gang leader Bull Beaton stuffs the cylinder within a large roll of newly made paper and retreats.
Two days later Bruce and Dick are back in Gotham and just happen to be walking past a printing plant as paper from that mill just happens to be getting delivered and of course the gangsters just happen to be there at that exact moment to get their cylinder.
So we get our third fight scene of the story, this time in a printing press (lots of "stop the presses" puns) and finally the Dynamic Duo are victorious and retrieve the cylinder -- which holds industrial diamonds stolen weeks ago and hidden by Beaton and his gang in the tree. Well, those diamonds are of course badly needed for the war effort and so these crooks are branded traitors (a capital crime), and tied up for the police.
My Thoughts: It's hard to get this across in the synopsis but the gimmick of this story is that it's being narrated by the paper you're reading it on, and is supposedly the story of how it was made -- tree, cut down to a log, sent to a mill, pulped into paper, printed into a Batman comic. As such it's an educational story as well as a Batman adventure -- although the idea that Batman exists in the same world as his comic is one that keeps cropping up and gives me a headache each time.
The Art: Good stuff from the Burnleys -- not as good as the previous tale but still high quality. As the story consists mostly of fight scenes what makes all the difference here is the way Burnley takes advantages of the three setpieces the characters are dropped into -- forest, mill, printing press. It's well rendered, dramatic and exciting.
The Story: There's nothing too-too bad with this story, aside from it's heavy reliance on coincedence, but ultimately it's just some fight scenes in some neat locations tied together with a simple gimmick and capped with a rather non sequitorous ending -- why was such a big mystery made of what was in the cylinder? It was stuff the crooks stole, okay, anyone could've guess that! Frankly, while it's well done, it's also highly forgettable.

"Here Comes Alfred!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: A passenger liner pulls into Gotham pier after a dangerous wartime Atlantic crossing, and two gentlemen disembark. One is a mysterious fellow named Gaston LeDuc, the other a loquacious, heavyset Englishman with a thick posh accent who fancies himself an amatuer detective.
However, the new arrivals are being watched by a gang of (Mexican?) criminals led by Manuel Stiletti - who are themselves being watched by the Batman and Robin! The crooks attack the Englishman, as they are apparently after his valise. Batman and Robin rescue the gentleman, who offers to assist them in their cases as an amateur criminologist in return -- our heroes brush off the offer and retreat into the night.
But later that evening, at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Dick get a surprise when the doorbell rings and its none other than their English friend! Has he somehow discerned their secret identities? Is he a better detective than they thought?
Nope! He's Alfred the butler, arrived from England to serve "Mawster Bruce"! He had meant to be here two years ago, but because of the war he had to wait a year for a ship from England and then the one he did take took a very circuitous route, and then it was torpedoed and so was the next one and so on so that he didn't arrive until now. But of course, Bruce is still rather confused as he never sent for a butler and hadn't had one for years! Well, turns out that Alfred is the son of Jarvis -- who was Bruce's father's butler! Jarvis had wanted Alfred to carry on their family's service to the Waynes and succeed him as butler but Alfred wanted to be an actor in a music hall and so disappointed his father by staying in England and becoming an actor. 
However, on Jarvis' death Alfred promised to return to America and take up the call of duty as the Wayne family butler, but has been delayed getting there on account of the war.
Well, this puts Bruce and Dick in quite a pickle -- what if he discovers their secret identity? Bruce can't think of any reason to send him away however, and so Alfred begins his duties.
But Manuel's gang has followed Alfred to Wayne Manor, and begin prowling around the house, tripping a burglar alarm that wakes up Bruce and Dick but which Alfred somehow doesn't notice. What he does notice is an old newspaper lying around about the "Duke of Dorian" fleeing the Nazi invasion of his country, and Alfred recognizes the Duke as "Gaston LeDuc", the man from the boat!
The crooks burst in and once again demand Alfred's valise, threatening to kill him. The butler gives it over to them and they begin cutting the labels off the valise, but Batman and Robin burst in, having intentionally delayed themselves so as not to get the crooks wise to the fact that they are the residents of the house. The crooks take off with the Dynamic Duo in hot pursuit, leaving Alfred alone.
Which of course prompts Alfred to check in on "Mawster Bruce" and "Mawster Dick", only to discover they aren't in the house! That's when a crook whom Batman and Robin simply left unconscious in the house (quite sloppy!) wakes up and attacks Alfred! Alfred knocks him into a wall, knocking him out again but also jarring a concealed trigger, opening up a secret passage!
Alfred follows the passage to a hidden criminological laboratory, and then through another tunnel to an underground hangar containing the Batplane! And thus Alfred comes to the obvious conclusion! Yes, the scary looking shadowy dude on the cover who discovers the secret identity of Batman and Robin is ALFRED!
Meanwhile, the Dynamic Duo has pursued Manuel and his gang to an abandoned theatre, and since we've reached that point in the story, they're captured and tied up -- hung from the catwalks high above the stage, but left alive because Manuel thinks its better to do "all our killing at once" because he's a really stupid criminal.
Turns out they needed the labels on the valise to learn the identity and address of their intended victim (huh?) who is of course Gaston LeDuc aka the Duke of Dorian!
Meanwhile Alfred has followed the crook left behind at Wayne Manor to the theatre, where he finds and rescues Batman and Robin. The crooks break into the Duke's hotel where they proceed to steal the crown jewels of his country -- which he had brought to America to establish credit for his government-in-exile.
Stealing the jewels and kidnapping the Duke, they return to the theatre -- where they fall right into the trap of Batman and Robin! The crooks rounded up, Alfred returns the jewels to the Duke, revealing his identity and purpose to the Dynamic Duo. 
Back at Wayne Manor, Alfred explains how he solved the case to Bruce and Dick, and they realize he learned all the information by accident, and thus isn't a master detective after all. Dick is just through declaring him "not very bright" when he enters the room with their capes and cowls in his arms, pressed and ready since the Bat-Signal is calling them to police headquarters! 
Alfred reveals he discovered their identities the night before (but doesn't mention how) and so Batman and Robin are off again into the night, but now they have Alfred at home taking care of them!
My Thoughts: So this is clearly a very significat story in the Batman canon, perhaps the most significant since the introduction of the Penguin or Batman joining the police force. Today, Alfred is considered such an essential element of the Batman mythos, even more so than Commissioner Gordon or Robin, that it's bizarre to realize that the character had been around for four years before Alfred was introduced!
Of course, then there's the odd fact that when you're reading these early Batman stories, you don't really miss him. Part of that is the length of these stories mean there really isn't time for character development and interaction, just plot, so the things that Alfred contributes to stories today don't really factor in -- much the same reason that Gordon has barely appeared in the past four years of stories. 
However, it is strange that millionaire Bruce Wayne hasn't had anyone working for him at Wayne Manor this whole time -- granted, Golden Age Wayne Manor is drawn much smaller and more modestly than it's mammoth Modern Age counterpart. But that doesn't really explain why, after four years without him, the creators decided to add a butler character.
It's even weirder because the Alfred that appears in this story is nothing like our modern conception of the character. He's overweight, clean-shaven, and most significantly something of a bumbling fool who considers himsef an amateur detective. He arrives from overseas and then accidentally discovers Batman's identity. He's basically the exact opposite of the supremely cool, tough Alfred of today who has served as Bruce's conscience and father figure since his parents died. Indeed, even the way Alfred is worked into the story is somewhat awkward -- the whole backstory that he's carrying on his father's legacy but couldn't make it until now because of the war and so on. 
The explanation for this seemingly strange comedic addition is quite simple, however. The Batman movie serial. Although it's premiere was still several months away, production had begun on the first live-action Hollywood adaptation of Batman into a theatrical serial from Columbia Pictures, and it's screenwriters had decided that a rich guy should have a butler and that the butler could be a great source of comic relief in the serial. Thus, Alfred. 
Bob Kane had been invited to serve as a creative consultant on the serial in LA and decided that the character should be brought into the comics ahead of time to familiarize readers with the character. However, lead times on comic books are actually quite long, and so in order to get Alfred in the comics before the serial, they had to produce the stories before an actor had even been cast.
Once the serial debuted (with William Austin as Alfred),  the character was altered to resemble the actor (more on that when we get there!) resulting in the thin, moustached Alfred we know today!
So until then we will have this bizarre proto-Alfred, who is significantly different than how we're used to thinking of him.
The Art: Since we're introducing a significant new character, Bob Kane is on pencils, and while Jerry and George do a decent job cleaning him up, there are a few panels in here that really look quite bad -- characters drawn very far away and small in the panel and thus lacking detail, becoming vague smudges. Alfred's a decently designed character, drawn fat and goofy looking to match his bumbling personality. It's decent stuff, a little below par.
The Story: So aside from doing some creative gymnastics to justify Alfred's existence and inclusion, Don Cameron also has to provide some kind of action story for Batman and Robin to fight some criminals. And so we get a really weak story about this foreign politician and crown jewels that is mostly interesting solely in how it ties into the real-life war. Of course "Duke of Dorian" makes no sense - a Dorian is an ethnicity in Greece, which was conquered by the Nazis and had a government-in-exile, but there's no Duke. 
Anyways, what I don't get is why they need labels off Alfred's valise to find the Duke. For a while I thought they were after Alfred because they got him and the Duke mixed up at the pier, or maybe Alfred's bags where switched with the Dukes, but there's nothing in the story that indicates that. Maybe I'm just unaware as to how 1940s US bag-tagging works? Seems odd that the name and address of someone else on the same boat as me gets tagged on my bag? 
Oh well, here comes Alfred!
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Alfred!

Monday, September 23, 2013

World's Finest Comics #9 (Spring 1943)

"Crime of the Month"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Jerry Robinson
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis:  The top crime bosses in Gotham are all invited to a "literary tea" at Mystery Castle, the home of best-selling crime novelist  Bramwell B. Bramwell (wanna bet the middle initial stands for Bramwell?). For some reason despite being experienced criminals they all decide to go (I wonder myself how Bramwell got their addresses).

Arriving at Bramwell's Castle (I bet Stephen King wishes he lived in a Castle) Bramwell explains that for years he's been writing crime novels in which criminals outwit the police and he thinks he's so good at it that he himself can commit crimes with impunity. The criminals (rightfully) laugh at him, but Bramwell proposes a contest -- whomever can pull off the "smoothest" theft shall be declared the Crime of the Month, and win the loot from all the jobs!
For some reason the crooks agree to go along with this instead of just shooting Bramwell or walking away laughing, and so Gotham experiences a new spree of overly elaborate robberies (such as a gang that robs a bank under the guise of exterminators dealing with a rat problem -- that they caused!). Somehow Bruce, by listening to accounts of the thefts on the radio, deduces the entire "Crime of the Month" contest and which gangs are involved and thus that they must follow "Slim" Ryan's gang next.
In the Batplane, they tail the gang to a wooden bridge where the gang is setting up dynamite to blow the bridge and capture an amored car. Batman and Robin foil the attempt, butt Ryan escapes. Batman follows Ryan's car in the Batplane and leaves Robin to turn the rest of the gang to the police.
Of course Ryan drives back to Bramwell's castle and so Batman enters in, deducing that Bramwell is "obviously connected with the Crime of the Month in some way!" But Bramwell immediately drops Batman into a fiendish deathtrap (because of course the best-selling author's castle has built-in deathtraps). Batman is locked in a sealed room with an induction furnace, which melts his utility belt and it's gadgets -- luckily Batman has no metal fillings in his teeth or "they'd heat up to 3000 degrees and cook my brain!" I admit this is so far one of the most impressive death-traps I've seen.
Robin figures Batman must be in trouble because he hasn't checked in on the radio, and drives to Bramwell's castle in the Batmobile -- only to be immediately locked in his own death trap room where a dynamo is building up a ten million volt charge in a metal rod which will eventually strike Robin with a bolt of artificial lightning!
Batman has no way out of the furnace room, where he will slowly suffocate, until he pulls a suction cup out of his utility belt (wait - I thought the belt and it's gadgets melted??) and uses that to pull the door open. He hears Robin's cries for help and saves him by smashing the dynamo.
Bramwell escapes, but not before gloating that his Crime of the Month will be the "social event of the year" and involve the "most tedious movie ever made!"
So of course from those two vague phrases Batman figures out that Bramwell is planning to rob a War Relief Drive being put on by high society by hypnotizing the audience with an experimental hypnosis film (which honestly just looks like the kind of Stan Brakhage/Andy Warhol/Michael Snow films I had to watch in my Bachelor's program). 
Just before Bramwell robs the transfixed audience, Batman switches the film with some Batman & Robin newsreel footage which snaps the audience out of it because that shit is dope and then captures Bramwell in between panels because we've only got three of them left.
Turns out Batman had read the phrase "most tedious movie ever made" in a book of Bramwell's where a crook pulled off this exact same crime and figured the author was just egotistical enough to plagiarize himself. 
In jail, the crooks tease Bramwell by remarking that he ought to be used to pens. 
My Thoughts: There's not much to say about this story except that I really like the deathtraps. They're very clever and deadly and a cut above what we've seen so far in the strip. Too bad Batman gets out of his through bad writing.
The Art: It's an interesting combo. Robinson's style shines through here, with his superior grasp of anatomy and slightly more realistic style than Kane's simplistic cartooning, but unlike in Detective #74 he's got Roussos inking him, which settles his linework down a bit and stabilizes things to look less "sketchy" and the faces look more on-model with Kane's style. It's still good art though, even if he can't decide from panel to panel whether Bramwell has glasses or not.
The Story: Safe to say I've missed Bill Finger -- we haven't seen a script of his since Detective #71 instead Don Cameron seems to have taken over the lion's share of Batman writing. Finger's story for this issue is very simplistic -- it follows his formula of coming up with a simple gimmick and then using that mostly as a wraparound springboard for over-the-top action scenes and setpieces. That being said, at least this time he sticks with the gimmick all the way through to the end, and man does he do deathtraps and action better than anyone else writing this book. I mean it's really fantastic the imagination he applies to this stuff. Unfortunately, Batman gets out of the trap by Finger just conveniently forgetting the melted utility belt from a couple of pages ago -- which I have to blame Whitney Ellsworth for as well since an editor's job is to catch shit like that. A bad point in an otherwise good story. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Detective Comics #74 (April, 1943)

"Tweedledum and Tweedledee!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Late at night a truck pulls up at a fur warehouse and a gang of crooks begins raiding the expensive furs. Their leader? An extremely creepy looking rotund man in a bowler hat and suit. Batman and Robin spot the robbery and show up to foil it, but during the fight they are caught in wolf traps (ouch!) and so the crooks get away.
After freeing themselves, the Dynamic Duo are back in the Batmobile when the police dispatch reports another robbery lead by a fat man at a jewelry store fifteen minutes away. How could the guy have gotten there so fast?
Once again they confront a batch of crooks, and this time the fat man is wearing a top hat and suit, but otherwise is identical. He zaps them with an electrified walking stick, and by the time Batman and Robin are up they've gotten away with the diamonds.
The next day, Bruce and Dick look into the identity of the fat man by visiting the "Fat Man's Emporium", the only fat clothing store of its kind in Gotham City (how times have changed!) and questions them about whether they have any fat twins as customers. Well, there are the Meeker brothers, but they hate each other (one's a Republican, the other a Democrat) but that's about it -- oh, there is the Tweed brothers: cousins who look so alike they are often mistaken for twins. They always have plenty of money!
Bruce and Dick canvas the Tweed household and after seeing the cousins Dumfree and Deever decide these are indeed their crooks, deciding to raid the place after dark. However the cousins have figured that Batman and Robin will be playing a visit, and rigged their house with deathtraps!
The Dynamic Duo burst through the skylight, as is their custom, only to find themselves ensnared in a net and facing Tweedledum and Tweedledee, accompanied by henchmen in March Hare and Mad Hatter costumes (with the Hatter also portrayed as a rabbit for some reason, looking much more like the White Rabbit character). 
The Tweeds are able to keep the heroes subdued by firing an "electron gun" at them which paralyzes them! The crooks head off to the "Grand March", leaving the heroes frozen and alone.
Luckily, through sheer strength of will, Batman breaks free of the paralysis enough to toss his utility belt at the electron gun, "short circuiting" it and allowing them to break free.
The Grand March is a high society masquerade ball which the Tweeds hope to rob. However Batman and Robin surprise them there and trap them, taking down the gang and the cousins -- who can't even fit in a regular paddy wagon!
My Thoughts: Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a pair of B-list Batman villains whom I've been aware of, but never really read a story about. I've read stories where they've appeared as cameo characters at Arkham Asylum or as henchmen to other villains (usually Joker or Mad Hatter, sometimes Two-Face) but I've never actually read a comic featuring them as primary adversaries until now. Interesting that they're so obscure and yet they debuted in the same period as many of the A-list rogues gallery. They're fairly creepy and effective in this opening story, but as with other interesting characters like Professor Radium or Scarecrow, it's less important how you debut and more about whether anyone's interested in you after that.
The Art: Jerry Robinson's pencils here are half of this story's effectiveness. Tweedledum and Tweedledee's designs are of course based on Tenniel's Through the Looking Glass illustrations, but they are much much creepier here. They are often drawn underlit, with bulbous noses, gleaming smiles and wide eyes that just make them very unsettling characters to look at, desite all the jokes about their size. Unfortunately Robinson's art here is very, very rough -- it looks like he just quickly inked his own rough pencils and then sent it in without really cleaning things up all that much. DC Database and The Batman Chronicles trade paperbacks give Bob Kane credit for pencils on this issue, and I usually trust their credits to sort out who did what in an era when the only official credit on the issue is Kane's signature, but none of the art in this story looks anything like Kane's style -- whereas Robinson's is all over it.
The Story: Cameron writes a very effective script -- it's very moody and dark in tone despite the potential silliness of the two new villains. The Tweeds are depicted as being very smart, mastermind style villains, and Cameron gives them really unsettling and creepy dialogue to match Robinson's art. It's very clear Cameron wanted to create a pair of recurring villains, given the ending where they are sent to prison and Robin wonders if they've seen the last of them. And in a way, he did -- while the Tweeds have never achieved the prominence of The Joker or Two-Face, they've still managed to stick around for quite a while simply on the strength of their visual I think.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detective Comics #73 (March, 1943)

"The Scarecrow Returns"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Linda Page is taking Bruce Wayne on a date to a "hat show" because Bruce is always making fun of her ridiculous hats (to be fair, 1940s women's hat styles are really silly and Linda is always drawn wearing particularly awful ones).
But then the Scarecrow shows up to rob the place of all the... valuable... hats... Yes, the Scarecrow has escaped from prison and decided to rob a hat show because he wants Gothamites to be terrified of... small... words...
Anyways Bruce can't change into Batman with Linda around (secret identity and all that) -- so he stumbles around bumping into the Scarecrow's men and accidentally knocking them out. Eventually the Scarecrow pistol whips him and makes off with the goods, leaving a clue of a blackboard slate with the words "HAT" and "MAT" written on it in chalk.
Obviously the "HAT" refers to the most recent crime, and Bruce thinks that the "MAT" refers to an upcoming charity wrestling bout for which the proceeds are going to (what else) war bonds.
So Batman and Robin show up to guard the bout, and it turns out that Scarecrow's goons are actually both the wrestlers in the bout, and pull guns on the audience while Scarecrow steals from the cashiers. Everyone's incensed that Scarecrow would "steal from Uncle Sam", and the Dynamic Duo fights the wrestling goons and even save the money, but Scarecrow himself gets away again.
Another slate is left behind, and this time the clue is "VAT" and somehow Batman immediately deduces that this refers to the vats that clothes dyers use and also considers this so obvious a clue that it must be a trap laid by the Scarecrow. Well, considering that he's intentionally leaving you these clues, Batman, yeah I think that's a good bet.
So because it's that point in the story, when the Dynamic Duo shows up they're captured by the Scarecrow's men, tied up, and thrown in the vats while they are slowly filled with water, but not before Scarecrow tells them the next clue is "YAT" -- why are you giving him the next clue if your intent is for him to die? (And why not wait to make sure he drowns, or just shoot him, or...)
Anyways, turns out the "YAT" is Yat Sing, who runs a Chinese art store in Chinatown and is of course a big racial stereotype. Batman and Robin show up because OF COURSE they got out of the death-trap and OF COURSE they solved the clue (Yat Sing is the only Yat in the phonebook worth stealing from, you see).
So the Dynamic Duo beat up all Scarecrow's men and the Scarecrow himself and he's back to jail and THAT'S THAT. (Groan)
My Thoughts: When I reviewed the first appearance of the Scarecrow, I remember being impressed by how unique the story was and the attention to detail and characterization that Bill Finger gave to developing and motivating this new villain in such a way that was psychologically convincing and felt new and fresh. I enjoyed that story, but I also knew intellectually that there was only one more appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age before he'd disappear for two decades before resurfacing in the Silver Age. And I had wondered why that happened. 
I don't, anymore.
The issue of creators' rights and corporate comics is a sticky one, and there are pros and cons to each side. On the one hand it's true that Batman would be a far weaker and far less known  character today if the endless hordes of immensely talented writers and artists who worked on him hadn't have been able to. On the other hand, sometimes a writer picks up a character they did not create, and they clearly have no idea how to handle them.
And that can ruin a character.
The Art: Bob Kane and his studio handle things well enough. The Scarecrow looks like the Scarecrow, his unique appearance both in costume and out are retained as well as his gangly way of moving about. In many panels the characters are rendered very small in a large background space and Robinson's detailed inks become hard to discern. It's an overall trait of Kane's pencils and layouts.
The Story: The cover proclaims that the Scarecrow is back by "popular demand", and while I tend to believe that since it's been two years since he first showed up, I wonder why DC didn't wait for Finger to be ready to script Scarecrow's return himself, why they pawned it off on Don Cameron who clearly has no idea what to do with the character. In fact, Finger hasn't done a lot of scripts lately, last appearing in Detective two months ago, and another script of his won't appear in the book until July. My research hasn't turned up any explanation, but I conjecture that now that the Batman was a fairly established character and DC had a good number of other writers working on it, they didn't have to rely on Finger as much, who was notoriously bad at working to deadline.
But I wish they had. Cameron plops the Scarecrow into a dreadfully boring formula script. It reads like the formula from the Adam West TV show done straight. Nothing about it at all says Scarecrow, or retains anything about the character's methods and motivations. There are some token references to causing fear and terror in the character's dialogue, but it would just be the same fear and terror any criminal causes -- all he's doing is robbing stuff. And then leaving clues for Batman to find on purpose. Like the Joker does, like the Riddler will do, like every villain on that 60s TV show will do regardless of whether it's their MO or not. 
Professor Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow's true identity, is not forgotten, but other than a few token lines referencing "psychological reactions" and "nervous breakdowns" his intellect seems to have dropped from college professor to grade school teacher. Chalkboard slates and crimes based around rhyming three letter words? Is this Batman or Blue's Clues?
This is a terrible story, nothing of note happens in it at all, and I'm convinced that it's complete misuse of the Scarecrow character, making him as boringly generic as any random gangster villain, was responsible for him falling by the wayside for twenty-four years.
Boy, I hated this story.
Notes and Trivia: Last appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age of Comics.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Batman #15 (February/March, 1943)

"The Batman never carries or kills with a gun." - Editor Whitney Ellsworth, Batman #4

"Unless he's fighting Nazis! Blast those Krauts to hell!" - Cover Artist Jack Burnley, Batman #15, assumedly.

"Your Face is Your Fortune!"
Writer: Jack Schiff
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Elva Barr is a young woman in Gotham City, working at a beauty salon, living in an apartment, taking the subway, just like a normal person -- except that she's also the Catwoman! But why is the Catwoman masquerading as an ordinary citizen?
Elva takes part in a beauty contest for beauty salon workers (?) where one of the judges is millionaire Bruce Wayne. Elva wins the contest, but Bruce recognizes her as the Catwoman (since Batman has seen Catwoman without her mask many times), and can't believe she could have gone straight.
Linda Page reads about Bruce pronouncing Elva the winner in the paper the next day and is jealous, while Elva/Catwoman finds herself falling in love with the handsome playboy.
Anyways, turns out she's working at the beauty salon so she can make molds of her wealthy clients faces under the pretext of giving them facials, so she can make lifelike masks and get into places to commit robberies.
The Dynamic Duo follow Elva to find out her game, and witness her sneaking a message to a crook named Jim Jones. They follow Jones to a bowling alley, beat him up, and find out Catwoman plans to strike at the Maypoint Wedding.
It's a rich society wedding of the Maypoint heiress to a US Navy Captain, and Catwoman manages to get in under the guise of the society editor of the Gotham Globe. Once inside with her men (disguised as photographers) she changes into her Catwoman costume and they begin their theft -- but Batman and Robin are ready and waiting for them! Batman catches Catwoman, removing her mask, but she pleads with Batman to let her go -- saying she'll go straight if only she could date Bruce Wayne!! Well, this puts Batman in a quite a bind and so naturally he does the moral thing and... let's her go! Because screw your hard moral code when you've got other hard things to worry about!
And so over the next few days Bruce Wayne courts Elva Barr in a whirlwind romance, and announces his engagement to her! To which Dick pleads "What's gotten into you? What about Linda? What about... us??" On that suggestive note, Bruce tells Dick he's too young to understand, while Catwoman tells her men that's she's quitting crime and going straight for Bruce Wayne. But her men tell her that Wayne is sweet on Linda Page, "everybody knows that!"  Meanwhile Linda herself is crying herself to sleep, bewildered and hurt.
Catwoman decides she has to know Bruce's intentions for sure, so when Linda Page shows up at Elva Barr's beauty salon to get a look at her, Elva makes a mold of Linda's face for a mask, and meets Bruce disguised as Linda to ask him if he really loves Elva! Bruce tells "Linda" that he's only doing this as a favour to the Batman, and that the engagement is only temporary! "Linda" storms out, and when Bruce gets home, he learns that the real Linda had stopped by to talk to Dick and wish Bruce good luck on his engagement -- d'oh!
The heart-broken Catwoman returns to crime, while the identity of Elva Barr as completely disappeared! With no leads, Bruce doesn't know what to do. But Dick has been scoping out the bowling alley and trailing Jim Jones, and learned that Catwoman plans to hit the Fairview Pet Show. He's a little smarmy about sharing this knowledge with Bruce ("you might be too old to understand") and almost gets a spanking (!) but soon Batman and Robin are off to stop Catwoman from stealing the prize-winning pedigreed animals. 
At the end of the battle, Batman finally captures Catwoman and finally  arrests her and takes her to jail, hoping she'll "go straight in prison!" At home, Bruce wonders if Linda will ever forgive him -- Dick says she will, but will the Catwoman?
My Thoughts: It's been five issues since we last saw the Catwoman, when Jack Schiff pulled her out from obscurity and revitalized her as a villainess. Schiff writes this script too, and once again it's a great use of the character and really cements Schiff as a great member of the current Batman writing team. In that previous Cat-story Schiff has Catwoman operating under the alias Marguerite Tone, here he has her as Elva Barr. In both cases it's unclear if this is meant to be Catwoman's real name, but is heavily implied it's just an alias used for this particular job.
The Art: Good stuff from Kane and Robinson, with fun and dynamic fight scenes. Catwoman's cat head mask costume returns and still looks awful, but when she's out of costume as "Elva Barr" Kane and Robinson give her a kind of severe beauty that really suits the character. It reminds me of the young Joan Crawford. It's good stuff, although Linda Page looks a little different than she's usually portrayed -- a strawberry blonde instead of auburn haired.
The Story: One quality of this story that I really like is that Schiff writes a classic Batman tale and also brings in Bruce Wayne -- giving something to Bruce's personal life and romances and concerns, which have been ignored in the strip for some time. It really makes everything feel far more rounded. A kid in 1943 would've probably been bored by it, but oh my god does it make for more interesting and engaging reading for an adult seventy years later! Schiff really nails the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, and also begins a relationship between "Elva Barr" and Bruce Wayne, thus laying the seeds for a complex romance square that has been going on for seventy years hence! Schiff also moves the relationship forward in both cases -- Bruce proposes to Elva, something he hasn't even done with Linda yet, while at the end of the story Batman FINALLY actually puts Catwoman in jail instead of letting his boner get the better of him. And it's for a great reason -- so she can reform and get out and perhaps he can romance her on moral terms, which is far better than letting her go because she's pretty. Of course, the comic makes no pretense that she'll reform -- the story ends by teasing the reader not with if the Catwoman will return, but when.
Notes and Trivia:  Catwoman captured and arrested by Batman for the first time, using identity Elva Barr but her real identity still unknown.

"The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: From an alleyway, a mysterious figure watches Batman and Robin beat the tar out of the gang of "Knuckles" Conger. The men are easily defeated and the Dynamic Duo disappear into the night. Of course it is Knuckles himself who is watching, who decides he needs to change his methods if he is to ever defeat Batman and Robin.
His conclusion? That he needs a kid sidekick! So he picks a homeless orphan shoeshine boy named Bobby from off the streets, tells him he's a crimefighter like Batman and how would he like to be like Robin -- the kid's answer being the same as every boy in America's: an emphatic yes!
Knuckles trains the kid in an old barn in acrobatics, boxing, fencing, judo, etc. drawing upon his experience in a lifetime of crime. They soon begin pulling a multitude of jobs -- robbing jewelers that Knuckles tells the kid are crooked fences, etc. They soon begin getting attention from newspapers and police, with Knuckles telling the kid that the police are just confused and only think they are thieves because they don't know them as well as they know Batman. However Bobby is beginning to get suspicious.
At their next job, Batman and Robin show up and Knuckles and Bobby attempt to flee. However the Batmobile is a damned powerful vehicle (it does ninety miles an hour!) so they catch up and there's a fight and Bobby finally realizes Knuckles is a crook. Knuckles threatens to give Bobby up to the police if he betrays him, but the kid fights back anyway. Knuckles flees up the side of the building, pursued by the Batman. 
The two battle on the ledge, but Knuckles slips off and almost falls to his death -- when Batman catches him, Knuckles promises to make a full confession so long as Batman saves him.
Commissioner Gordon takes pity on Bobby, understanding that he was only a dupe. Bruce Wayne sponsors the boy to go to a prestigious military academy where he does very well and looks to have a bright future.
My Thoughts: This is another story in the "moral allegory"/"crime does not pay" genre, as well as another story involving a down-on-his luck kid. These are standard Bill Finger tropes, but Don Cameron does a neat thing by having us never lose sympathy for this kid who's taken in by the "slickest crook in Gotham". It's handled just differently enough for it to feel worthwhile.
The Art: The absolute number one reason to look at this story is the art. It is phenomenal, perhaps the best art seen in Batman so far. The Burnley brothers really knock it out of the park, especially with the artwork of Knuckles early on. The first four pages are on a whole different level. Knuckles is drowned in dramatic film noir shadows at almost all times. The lighting is amazing, the figures are exact and expressive, the action scenes dramatic and epic. It's an artistic triumph.
The Story: The idea of the underworld hiring their own kid sidekick is fun, although it's rendered a little less interesting because the kid is truly a good natured boy who's being tricked, so we know how things will play out once he realizes he's been played for a sap. Knuckles is believably clever with his ruse, however, and Cameron paces the story very very well -- it doesn't overstay it's welcome, everything develops very naturally. My only nitpick would be -- why doesn't Bruce adopt Bobby? Wouldn't two Robins be better than one?
Oh well, we can't change the status quo now, can we?

"The Two Futures"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: Batman and Robin head to Gotham University because Batman wants to ask renowned historian Professor Ranier to predict the future of America after the war. Ugh, you guys realize that's not what historians do, right? It's almost the opposite of what historians do.
However, the Dynamic Duo are in luck, as it turns out Ranier has been debating just this very problem with his colleagues Professors Proe and Conn (oh, brother).
The future that the Professors present is one in which the Axis has WON the War, and the Nazi flag flies over the United States! Gothamites are rounded up and shot if they don't kowtow to the new regime, and enemies of the state are placed in horrorifc concentration camps!
Young Bobby Logan tries to slip his mother and baby brother some stolen food through the barbed wire fence and is caught by the Nazis and placed in the camp.
But somehow Batman and Robin are still out and about in Gotham, and spot Bobby being beaten by the Nazis guards and decide to stop it if it's the last thing they do. They put up a good fight, but are eventually both captured and thrown in a cell -- the only reason they're still alive is that the Nazis want to make a show of executing them.
Somehow Bobby manages to sneak past the guards and helps the Dynamic Duo break out -- they overpower some guards and steal a truck to free the prisoners and make a break for it. They fill up the truck but many die in the escape attempt. Breaking through the fence they head out on the open road with many Nazis in pursuit.
In order to give the freed prisoners the time they need, Batman and Robin jump off and attack the Nazis to divert them. They are shot down, tied up, and finally executed by firing squad, although defiant to the last.
Well, back in the real world our heroes are none too happy with this prediction -- but Ranier insists that this is merely a vision of the future if people are indifferent and don't pull their full weight in the war. "It could happen here! It happened in Poland, Holland, France! It happened in Shanghai, Singapore, Java!" So, the people of France and Poland were indifferent?
Yes, only if every American fights for victory will the Allies prevail and give a good future, one in which Batman and Robin fly around in the Batplane knocking out Axis spy rings, where they discover the Axis fleets are launching a last-ditch desperate attack on Gotham City (what? why?) But the USAF gets amble warning thanks to the Dynamic Duo and soon the Batplane joins the squadron of fighter planes that utterly destroy the Axis fleet! Soon, the war is over, with Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini "jailed". The powers of evil utterly defeated forever, there is never war ever again and America's great industries are turned towards building a GOLDEN CITY of skyscrapers that rise into the clouds.
But this future will only happen if we ALL contribute to the war effort, by buying war bonds and stamps and recycling paper and metal and rubber and so on! Yes, it's all up to YOU to do YOUR part!
My Thoughts: Holy crap. This is the most extreme propaganda story we've gotten in any Batman comic ever. We actually haven't gotten many stories about World War II in Batman, despite many patriotic covers and mentions of war bonds, probably because (like this one) they tend to beg the question "Why isn't Bruce Wayne over there fighting?" I guess someone's gotta look after Dick. This particular bit of story is pure propaganda, though, a fear piece designed solely to scare you into buying war bonds. In truth, neither Imperial Japan nor Nazi Germany ever had the resources or capability to invade the United States, and once the US was in the war the situation was never so dire as to present the possibility given in this comic. It wasn't a question of "if we don't all pull together, the Nazis will win" because neither the Nazis or Japanese had the manpower to accomplish this feat, especially with the Germans getting their asses handed to them by the Soviets.
By late 1942 the Battle of Midway had already occurred, turning the tide in the Pacific theater. Rommel was cornered in Tunisia and the German army surrounded in Stalingrad. Things were turning around for the Allies. Americans were fighting mostly for revenge in the Pacific, while the European theater for Americans was mostly a rescue operation -- the goal being the eventual liberation of Europe from Nazi control. It was never really about defeating the American mainland.
That being said, there was still another two and a half hard years of fighting to go when this comic was published, and for many Americans the Nazis did seem unstoppable. Stories like this one were useful propaganda to remind Americans why it was important to fight -- the possibility of Americans in concentration camps is stronger motivation for a people made up largely of isolationists than scenes of Europeans in said camps.
The Art: It's a Burnley bros. joint, but it's not up to the quality of their last story. It's never bad but it's just about standard -- I could see the Kane Studio doing about the same job of this story. One thing that stands out though is the excellent rendering of vehicles: the jeeps, the trucks, the planes and ships in the final climatic battle. It's overall all right. Worth noting that the Japanese soldiers are drawn as the standard glasses wearing, hair slicked back, buck-toothed stereotypes that were common to this era.
The Story: So, yeah, it's cardboard propaganda. The very idea of asking historians their predictions on the future is laughable, especially Batman's line that Professor Ranier's predictions are usually accurate. Since neither of these two futures came to pass (why would the Axis fleet launch a desperate attack on Gotham? What would that gain them?) I hope all three professors were fired -- oh, wait, tenure. 
Both futures are total propaganda, but the "bad future" is I suppose at least an accurate view of what a Nazi-occupied America would look like, even if there was never a chance in hell of that happening. The comic doesn't shy away from firing squads, concentration camps, and even has a very downbeat ending with Batman and Robin being executed by Nazis. Granted, it totally ignores the Nazis' anti-Jewish racial policies, but I'm not sure whether you were even allowed to mention Jews in a comic in the 40s. (America had it's own weird racial issues at the time).
The "good" future is just as ridiculous, ending with America's industrial might basically turning the country into a post-war utopia because the historians assume that industrial production would stay at wartime levels, but be given over to peaceful ends. And of course there's the old rub about there never being any other wars after this one. That worked out so well, didn't it?

"The Loneliest Men in the World!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: It's Christmas, and Bruce and Dick are out buying presents when they happen to notice that not everyone is filthy stinking rich and can afford piles of gifts for themselves on Christmas. 
Back at Wayne Manor, Dick proposes the idea of bringing cheer and joy to the "loneliest men in the world", and Bruce was thinking the same thing so they suit up as Batman and Robin, dress up the Batplane with sled runners, sleigh bells, and a Christmas tree and head out to deliver presents to the three loneliest men in Gotham!
On their way out, they stop buy to wish season's greetings to Commissioner Gordon, who is in a meeting with Dirk Dagner, a gangster whom Gordon is letting go because they have no evidence to hold him! Batman and Robin swing through the window and tell Gordon all about their plans to bring Christmas to Ben Botts (doorman at a swanky club), Link Chesney (famous radio humourist) and Tom Wick the lighthouse keeper -- however they somehow don't notice Dirk listening in to the whole plan! Dirk heads back to his hideout and announces his plan to his men to attack Batman on his Christmas itinery.
First stop, is doorman Ben Botts, who has been working at the Crane Club for twenty-five years but never allowed inside. So of course Batman and Robin take him in to show him that the club's rich snobby patrons actually do appreciate and love him after all, and they start throwing him a party and his boss gives him a raise and so on -- but without Botts watching the door, Dirk Dagner and his men get in!
There's a fight, Botts is afraid he'll lose his job, but luckily Batman and Robin fight the crooks enough for them to... leave, I guess, and for no real reason Batman tells Robin not to pursue them (Batman must know there's six pages left in the comic).

The Batplane flies off to its next engagement with Link Chesney, who is a famous radio humourist in Gotham but also a notorious grouch who hates everyone and thinks everyone hates him. When the Dynamic Duo show up Batman points out that Link Chesney must have some humanity to bring such laughter into the world -- Chesney reveals that he buys old joke from other comedians and keeps them in a "gag file" and brings them out when he needs them on air (so... he's a fraud?) 
That's when Dirk Dagner shows up to steal the gag file, and since it's the second act it's time for Batman and Robin to be captured and placed into a death trap! It's pretty elaborate -- the gangsters tied Batman and Robin to the raditor, tied a noose around their necks, then tie the end of the noose to Link Chesney who is then tied up and standing on tiptoes on a stool. The gag is that Chesney will eventually fall off the stool and thus hang Batman and Robin.
Batman gets them out of it by lifting up the stool with his legs enough for the rope to loosen and the three of them to escape. The crooks have already left to the lighthouse because I guess they didn't have much faith Batman would bite the dust either, but before going after them the Dynamic Duo reveal Chesney's Christmas gift -- all of his fans from across the country calling him at once through a national hook-up to wish him a Merry Christmas! Chesney fels appreciated and beloved (as he should, he's famous, after all!) and Batman and Robin leave in the Batplane.
The gangsters have knocked out lighthouse operater Tom Wick hoping to cause a vessel bringing in valuable war materiel will crash and they can loot it (who the hell do they think they can fence guns and ammunition to?). Batman and Robin appear, capture Dirk and his men, and celebrate Christmas Eve with Tom in the lighthouse.
Gordon's Christmas present is Dirk Dagner wrapped in a bow (literally) while Dick remarks that none of the men they helped were really lonely -- they all had friends, they just didn't know it. Bruce reveals that the true loneliest man is Dirk Dagner, who will never have a friend because he's "a wild beast to be kept caged"! Even on Christmas, Bruce Wayne is one cold sumbitch.
My Thoughts: It's the second Christmas themed tale in Batman after last year's story in Batman #9. It's hard to know what to say about a story reviewed by Senior Batmanologist Chris Sims himself, but I will say I think it's a better Christmas tale than the last one. Both are of course overly saccharine but at least this one isn't a complete Dickens rip-off.
The Art: It's decent stuff, pretty standard layouts and character work from Kane, with Robinson clearly adding the extra detailing. It's a very busy style that fills the panels with a lot of lines, as opposed to the clean look of the Burnleys.
The Story: Can I take this opportunity to say... Dirk Dagner? I think that's the most over-the-top "villain" name any Batman gangster has recieved, and they've had some good ones. It feels like it should exist in the same breath as Dick Dastardly, Snidely Whiplash and Dan Backslide.
Anyways, the structure of the story is all right, with a good three act structure and so on, although the fact that Batman lets the villains go in act one so that they'll have someone to fight in the rest of the story is a glaring flaw. Of course, if this story were done today the writer would try to posit Batman himself as one of the loneliest men in the world on Christmas -- Don Cameron doesn't even bring it up since Batman is a millionaire with a ward, a best friend, and a girlfriend - his life's great!