Monday, March 25, 2013

Batman #10 (April/May, 1942)

A nicely rendered and memorable cover from Jerry Robinson. 

"The Isle That Time Forgot"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis:  Dick Grayson awakes to Bruce Wayne spanking him ten consecutive times, even though he's done nothing wrong, because it's his tenth birthday (least I assume that it's his tenth because that's the number of time Bruce hits him, but it's also possible to interpret the scene as Dick is just turning 8, which means he's been a 7-year-old crime fighter so far! Jesus!). Cuz that's not weird. Then he let Dick have a piece of his own birthday cake (which has fourteen candles?), a cake topped by a model Batplane (where did Bruce get that?). Dick says he wishes he had a real Batplane... and GUESS WHAT? Bruce has made him his OWN small Batplane, exactly like the main one, only smaller (which means they now have two Batplanes sitting along with the Batmobile in the old barn linked to Wayne Manor with the underground tunnel). Ah, the privileges of the 1%! Dick wants to take it for a test run right away, and Bruce agrees. And this is strange, right? I'm not alone in thinking this first page is just bizarre?
Anyways, they're off flying and they run into a hurricane. It just straight up pops out of nowhere I guess and they get stuck right in the middle of it. They make it out fine, and Robin spots an island. Batman decides to set down on it (keep in mind the plane isn't damaged or out of gas or anything), and Robin thinks he's spotted a dinosaur. Batman tells him not to "get gay", then spots a good-looking couple being threatened by a bunch of cavemen looking types. So naturally he decides to set down the plane and help them.
While trekking through the jungle, the Dynamic Duo are spotted and knocked out by the cavemen. When they awake, they find that they are captives alongside the attractive couple -- captives of a mad scientist named Moloff who wants no trespassers on his island, which he sees as the scientific find of the century! Batman and Robin break free of their bonds and start fighting the cavemen, but then Moloff tells everyone to run and suddenly Batman and Robin are left fighting a Tyrannosaurus rex! (Which looks more like an inaccurate depiction of an Allosaurus maximus, but I doubt Bob Kane had a lot of paleontology).
Batman ends up strangling the Allosaurus to death with his Batrope (described as 'silken', yet also 'strong as steel cable'), and Robin remarks that "now we've fought everything!" 
The girl faints in Batman's arms, gracious for having been saved, at which point her companion clubs Batman and Robin on the head and accuses them of butting into "other people's affairs" and "crabbing my act"! He and some goons he promises money too leave Batman to die in the jungle, although they complain that the "Big Guy" isn't going to like this.
Unconscious Batman wakes up to find himself attacked by a boa constrictor, which is luckily shot in the head by an unknown aide before it can kill the Dark Knight. Following a trail of footprints, Batman heads off to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, Robin is thrown in a kind of glass zoo/cage building, while the woman begs with the other guy not to be a murderer. He insists that Robin will be all right, and that this island is a fortune in buried treasure for both of them. The reader begins to wonder if this story will ever stop being coy and start making some kind of sense.
So Robin gets attacked by a sabretooth tiger. He climbs a tree and uses his radio to call Batman for help. Batman rushes to the rescue, and runs into Moloff, who denies being the one who saved Batman from the boa constrictor. He pulls a gun on Batman, who simply punches him and runs on after Robin. There's some suspense as Batman is chased after, but he eventually crashes through the glass windows and tackles the sabretooth tiger, only to find that it's tusks are fake! He pulls one out and uses it to stab the tiger to death! Yeesh, Batman.
Batman and Robin are stumped as to what's going on, but before they can figure things out they come across Moloff once again holding the handsome couple hostage with a gun. The Dynamic Duo jump in and a fight starts, and once again the handsome guy tries to take out Batman, but hitting him with a stone club seems to do nothing! During the fight, Robin uncovers a movie camera, and when he wonders what it's doing there, someone yells that he's ruining the shot!
Yes, turns out that it's all been a movie, directed by "Big" Guy Markham. Guy tells Batman they were already shooting when the Batplane landed and he decided to take advantage of the situation. Figuring the heroes would never consent to be in the film, he decided to have the actors improvise and stage scenes around them. The leading man got jealous, as this was supposed to be his break-out role, and this is why he kept trying to kill Batman. The dinosaur was a mechanical construct controlled from within by a man. A crack marksman killed the boa and would've killed the tiger if it had gotten out of control. 
The director believes his "third-rate melodrama" is now an epic, and Batman and Robin fly back to the mainland looking forward to seeing it upon release.
My Thoughts: Oh, man. So this is another in the "Batman and Robin NOT in Gotham City" genre that I generally dislike, and this time it's by Joseph Greene, writing his second Bat-script. And man it just doesn't work on so many levels. I don't like these kinds of stories, I just don't think Batman and Robin work well in them, but I admit they can be good if the change of scenery is well justified. This, on the other hand, is a story that works only through trickery. It's writing down to the audience. And sure, the audience is between eight and ten years old, but that doesn't make it okay in my eyes. Also, the whole damn thing is weird -- and also the first comic I've seen that falls into the "let's make Batman and Robin look gay by pulling panels out of context" genre of modern internet foolery.
The Art: It's all right. The Batplanes, the storm, the dinosaur, the tiger, they're all quite well done. Ultimately, too much happens too quickly in this story for the art team to really strut their stuff with the action bits. But what they do get, they do a good job of, like the boa constrictor scenes and Batman racing to rescue Robin. So in many ways the art is pulling the weight here. We're seeing Batman and Robin do cool things we don't normally see them do.
The Story: Yeesh! Not a lick of this makes sense. I kept waiting for Robin to wake up and it was all a dream. First Bruce gives Dick an airplane for his tenth birthday, which may be the height of Bruce's reckless child endangerment so far. Then they get lost in a hurricane, land on an island, fight dinosaurs and dudes with confusing motivation, and then it was all a movie? I think Joseph Greene either has no idea how movies are made, or decided his readers didn't and that it didn't matter. I get that special effects were a more mysterious and magical thing back then (no DVD commentaries and features to ruin it all) -- but a life-size mechanical dinosaur? Is that how people thought King Kong was done? And who is putting up the insurance for a picture that's really shooting on an uncharted island, with real dangerous animals? What director would just decide to start throwing dangerous animals at Batman and Robin and filming it? Why are the Dynamic Duo okay with this?? These people are crazy! This story thinks its being clever by keeping it all a muddled mystery til the end, but the explanation is just so lazy and nonsensical that it renders the whole story somewhat stupid.
Notes and Trivia: Robin has his own Batplane, identical to the first, but smaller.

"Report Card Blues"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Little Tommy Trent plays hooky from school a lot and his grades are failing. His parents are angry with him, and tomorrow is report card day. His dad says that if Tommy doesn't get a good report card he won't be allowed to play after school anymore. Tommy just knows it's going to be awful, so he decides to run away from home, and sneaks off at night.

Meanwhile, in the City, some gangsters are setting a bomb at a storefront in order to scare the owner into paying protection. Batman and Robin happen upon them, and successfully beat up the crooks, but they forget about the bomb, which goes off. In the confusion, the three bandits make off in a bakery truck. 
Batman tells the police to put an alarm out for the truck, which the crooks end up hearing on the radio. They put on butcher's uniforms and change the sign on the truck from Baker to Butcher, but they realize as they approach a carstop that they still match the description of three guys in a truck. But, seeing little Tommy Trent trying to hitch along the highway, they pick up the boy and use him to throw off the police. The gangsters talking makes Tommy realize they are, in fact, gangsters, and the crooks realize the kid could be a potential witness. They throw him into the back of the truck and decide to take him back to the boss for further instructions. But Tommy is smart, and drops a trail of breadrolls out a hole in the back of the truck so that... someone... can follow them. The truck arrives at a Florist's, and the lead crook reports to their boss, the flower-loving gangster named L. Milo. 
Batman and Robin pick up the trail of breadrolls and follow it. At the Florist's, Milo instructs the men to kill the boy, but before they can do anything, the Dynamic Duo burst on the scene. There's a brief fight, before Milo manages to grab ahold of Robin and point a gun at him, telling Batman to stand down or Robin dies (Why he doesn't just shoot both of them is beyond me). Now captured, Batman and Robin sit tied up with little Tommy Trent, who relates his runaway story to his idol, the Dark Knight. 
Milo announces that as it is the first of the month, they must settle accounts with those who haven't paid their protection money, and as they are now wanted by the police, they must work quickly. He splits the group into three, so as to hit all three businesses simultaneously, and takes Tommy with himself as a hostage, leaving Batman and Robin tied up alone in the flower shop with a guard. Batman manages to escape by pushing a fern plant in front of a steam vent, the heat causing the buds to ripen and explode in the guard's face, allowing the momentary distraction needed to strike! Ah, the things one learns in an encyclopedia! They find Milo's records book and figure out which businesses he is hitting and split up. 
Robin heads to a barber shop and defeats the crooks there using a combination of barber shop props and bad puns. Batman promptly does the same at a penny arcade. There's a funny moment when he knocks a crook into a fortune machine which spits out a card reading "A tall dark man will enter your life and cause you much trouble."
They then arrive at the final location, a department store, but the crooks know the Duo is coming and outnumber them. Trying to help, Tommy grabs a bow and arrow off a shelf in sporting goods, ties his hankerchief around it, lights it on fire with a match, then shoots the arrow into the ceiling, setting off the automatic sprinklers (somehow managing to do all this without anyone noticing!) The sprinklers provide the distraction needed for the heroes to get the upper hand in the fight, especially when the Fire Department shows up to provide back-up!
Batman returns Tommy to his home, where he promises to be a good student and never play hooky again. Having only been gone during the night, he goes to school in the morning with his parents none the wiser that he was gone, promising to study hard and get good grades. (None of which will change that this term's report card is still gonna suck!)

My Thoughts: I can really see what Greene's going for here, the wish-fulfillment fantasy of a regular kid sharing adventures with Batman -- but isn't that what Robin is for? The idea of Batman interacting with normal kids on adventures is going to be used over and over, but I can't recall ever seeing it done particularly well ("I've Got Batman in my Basement", anyone?) 
The Art: Good, standard stuff from Kane & Co. Tommy Trent looks like something out of Dell Comics, like a poverty-stricken ginger version of Richie Rich. The gangsters also get some good designs, and the fight scenes in the barber shop and penny arcade are lots of fun.
The Story: Greene's script isn't as bad as the last story, but it does have a few issues. The biggest of which is that ultimately Tommy doesn't really learn anything in his adventure that actually applies to solving his issue. I get that Greene is trying to show a regular kid that the reader would relate to and impart the message that it's important to stay in school -- but Tommy running away from home means he gets to hang out with the Batman! He never could've done that if he'd stayed home! Meanwhile, he's still gonna get a rotten report card (changing your ways on the last day of term doesn't solve that) so his dad is still gonna ground him. Oh well, can't expect all your Golden Age comics to have good scripts, I guess.

"The Princess of Plunder"
Writer: Jack Schiff
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Popular socialite Marguerite Tone is known for throwing elaborate parties with gimmicks and games for the guests. On this particular evening, she gives all the guests a card with a rare item on it, for the game is to be a scavenger hunt! However, none of the guests know that Marguerite Tone is actually the Catwoman! Donning her cat's head mask, cape and skintight black dress, she gives her gang of crooks scavenger hunt cards as well, and sets them upon Gotham to steal items from the wealthy!
When the crooks are questioned as to why they are in these homes, they are able to use the scavenger hunt as cover, pretending to be Marguerite's guests! When Batman and Robin come across a pair of the burglars on their patrol, they give the same cover story. Batman phones Marguerite to check the story, it all seems legit, except Batman recognizes her voice as that of Catwoman's (which begs the question of why noone recognizes his voice as that of Bruce Wayne's, especially people who know both men well, like Commissioner Gordon...)

Suspecting that something is up, Bruce accepts an invitation to Marguerite's next party, a costume party where the guests must show up as their favourite character. So naturally, Bruce goes as Batman. Perhaps not a great idea for secret identity reasons, but a worse one is that he and Robin drive there in the Batmobile! Batman leaves Robin in the car and heads into the party.
Marguerite of course has had the audacity of dressing as Catwoman, but Bruce finds that he's not alone as Batman! There's a whole wack of Dark Knight cosplayers, one of whom mistakes Bruce for someone named Duke and tells him to meet up with Catwoman upstairs. So Batman finds himself standing with three other Batmen being given orders by the Catwoman! The plot is that the Batmen will be able to enter any building without suspicion (since Batman is an honorary police officer), and if there's any problems they can once again use the costume party as cover. But that's when the real Duke shows up, and they realize that one of them is the real Batman. Batman uses the identity confusion to his advantage in the ensuing two-page fight scene and is eventually assisted by Robin. However, Catwoman points out to Batman that she has not in fact committed a crime and that he cannot prove anything. Foiled, Batman lets her go. (Couldn't he arrest her for her previous crimes, knowing that she's Catwoman now?)
Marguerite's next scheme is to recommend new serving staff to her high society friends, who are unaware their new employees are in fact Catwoman's thugs, who of course use their new positions to rob their employers. Unfortunately, one of them is spotted and recognized by Bruce Wayne at a dinner party, giving the whole scheme away. He follows the crook down to the servant's quarters and confronts him as Batman. A two-page fight scene later and he's beaten the next target Catwoman and the gang intend to attack out of him.
Batman and Robin intend to stop the Princess of Plunder, but after a two-page fight scene Catwoman once again gets away. But Robin spots a clue, which leads the Dynamic Duo to a lost-and-found agency. Catwoman, unable to fence the highly unique items she has stolen, is instead selling them back to the rightful owners through a lost-and-found. There's a fight, during which one of the crooks tries to kill Catwoman for getting them into this mess. Batman saves her, Robin rounds up the crooks, and Catwoman embraces Batman in a kiss. 
Catwoman gets away, but the cops arrest everyone else. Once again Robin accuses Batman of letting Catwoman get away, while Bruce muses about what could be if only they weren't on opposite sides of the law. 

My Thoughts: This story is significant in that it is the first Batman tale created without any involvement from the character's two creators, Kane and Finger. Jack Schiff's second script is another Bat-classic, demonstrating a firm grasp of the characters, and story-telling style. Catwoman's character once again goes through some evolution -- this time given a real name. It's unclear whether Schiff intended Marguerite Tone to really be Catwoman's true name, but it is implied in the story that it is a recently created alias for the purpose of this series of crimes, as Bruce has never met Marguerite before this story despite both travelling in the same social circles, and the fact that at the end of this story Catwoman's scheme is outed and she gets away and seemingly abandons this identity. Still, it's an interesting development and continuation of a character who hasn't been seen in the book for some time now -- Schiff brings Catwoman back from near oblivion and makes her relevant to the book again.
The Art:  Jerry Robinson pulls a fine solo job here. His greatest contribution is a refinement of Catwoman's costume design -- now a tight black dress with a dark purple cape, and even the silly cat's head mask is drawn much better, giving the character a sleeker, more evil appearance that works in her favour. Perhaps the only major issue in Robinson's work is his Batman and Robin faces, both of which appear somewhat sloppy and off-model throughout. However, it in large part indistinguishable from his work with Kane, which I suppose proves how significant his contributions to the look of the strip have been.
The Story: Schiff once again writes a tale that feels like a classic Batman story, with no bumps or hiccups in the narrative. He also writes the first truly good Catwoman story -- with no major changes from the Kane/Finger conception of the character, yet she finally seems a competent and worthwhile antagonist. Schiff makes her smart and capable, and also gives her a gang of henchmen where previously she had been an independant operator. He retains the mutual attraction between Batman and Catwoman, and the now standard ending of Batman letting Catwoman go, a questionably immoral decision influenced by their forbidden romance. Yet this story feels so much better than the previous attempts at the character that it's like discovering her again for the first time.

"The Sheriff of Ghost Town"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Two tired travellers stumble upon an old ghost town somewhere in the American west. They are Cactus Joe, an old prospector, and a young boy named Joe Jeffers, son of his dead partner. Cactus Joe believes there's still gold to be found here, and decides to settle down to make some money to send the boy to school. Sometime later, a couple drives through and stops as they are out of gas. Their farm had failed, but Cactus Joe encourages them to homestead in the town and make another go of being farmer. Soon enough the town attracts a doctor (who arrives in a horsedrawn carriage?), a carpenter, a barber, a schoolteacher, etc. and becomes a flourishing small town (with the appearance of a Hollywood backlot version of a Wild West town, and everyone dressing in that style...) which names Cactus Joe its mayor and names itself Sunshine City!
So, this being a comic book, five crooks ride into town seeing easy pickings. And yes, I said ride -- horses, cowboy hats, everything like out of a western for some reason. They attack the town, they steal gold, they murder townsfolk and they burn the schoolhouse to the ground. Cactus Joe is at a loss for what to do (call the state police or the federal authorities, maybe?) but young Joe Jeffers suggests putting out a call to Batman to help them (of course! A quasi-legal vigilante from a city thousands of miles away!) The kid rides (on horseback, of course) to "State City" to ask a newspaper publisher to print their story in the hopes that it gets Batman's attention. The story is picked up by radio stations and broadcast coast to coast. Noone at any point apparently thinks to send police or help themselves or anything, of course. 
Batman and Robin hear the story on the radio, and decide to leave Gotham to help. Travelling by Batplane, they actually come across the young boy being set upon by the crooks (all on horseback!)
So of course Batman dives out of the plane and knocks a dude off a horse and drives the criminals off, saving the boy. Riding triumphantly into town, Mayor Cactus Joe nominates Batman for sheriff of the town -- and the crooks promptly counter-nominate their leader, Frogel, and oh man this is stupid. Like, episode of the Adam West show stupid. How could either of these guys actually be nominated -- one's a crook and the other has no legal identity? Anyways, there's a mild subplot of Batman on the campaign trail with Frogel attempting to sabotage it, but it lasts a page and Batman becomes sheriff. He of course makes Robin his deputy, and for a time all is quiet and peaceful in Sunshine City. Newspapers ring out that Batman has ended crime in the small town, which is impressive considering he couldn't manage it in Gotham.
Now the news comes that the neighbouring town of Gila Gulch is going to lend Sunshine City money to pay for electric lights and other 20th century conveniences. For some reason they decide to bring the money in a stagecoach, and the whole town agrees to dress in pioneer clothes like it was "frontier days", despite the fact that this whole country has been doing that since the start of the story. So of course the gang of crooks plans to rob the stagecoach.
Batman assigns Robin to escort the stagecoach while he... jerks off, I guess? It gets attacked by the bandits who steal the money, kill Cactus Tom, and take Robin hostage. Because Robin sucks. The kid at least leaves a trail for Batman to follow, so the Dark Sheriff rallies a posse of old-timers in cowboy cosplay to help him take down the gang because "one ounce of fighting spirit is worth a ton of muscle!"
A two-page fight scene later and the gang is defeated and Robin freed. And while of course Batman and Robin don't kill anyone, the cowboy cosplayers do indeed shoot a bunch of dudes with six shooters. Batman tracks Frogel to his hideout, and even though Frogel shoots right at him, it somehow doesn't matter and Batman beats him up and takes him to jail. The town erects a statue of Cactus Tom, and Batman reflects that the pioneer spirit is all anyone needs and then no one can rob you of happiness, before the Dynamic Duo fly back to Gotham in the Batplane.
My Thoughts: Usually when Bill Finger does these "Batman in another genre" stories, there is some justification for what happens. Nope, not this time. Finger apparently thinks that a) all people in the Midwest dress like they're in a Western B-movie and b) that apparently there is still no law and order in the Wild West. It's a dumb story and not only that but the central gimmick of Batman in a Western is also one we've seen before, in World's Finest #4 just four months ago, which also did a poor job of justifying things and was also a bad story. Well, I suppose I will just have to get used to recycled ideas and scripts as I continue on through this review series.
The Art: I suspect there must have been some kind of miscommunication with the art team on this story. The dialogue seems to imply that no one starts doing the Western get-up and such until the final bit of the story, when everyone dresses up for the town's celebration. But everyone looks like the 1860s all the way through, which just seems bizarre. 
The Story: It's just bad writing. Finger takes forever setting up this frontier town whose whole gimmick strains belief, then we're led to believe that no one else can help these folks except Batman. The "Batman is elected sheriff" plot is dumb, and seems like it's just there to use the silver star iconography and justify the title of the story. And the whole story can be summarized as "every B-western movie cliché, this time with Batman". This is the only Finger/Kane story in this issue and it stinks, which maybe demonstrates that the strip indeed needs new blood.

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