Monday, March 11, 2013

Detective Comics #60 (February, 1942)

And here's what Jerry Robinson art looks like without Bob Kane, just in case you thought (or heard) Robinson was doing all the work. Batman's all right I guess, but just what is that haircut, Robin?

The Case of the Costume-Clad Killers”
Writer: Jack Schiff
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: So in literally no time at all, the Joker is back again. His scheme this time? Dressing his goons up in official uniforms so as to sneak past guards unawares – crooks in military outfits raid a US armory, crooks in police uniforms rob a bank, firefighters start fires and then steal valuables under the cover of “doing their job”, etc.
Bruce and Dick, hearing of this in the newspapers as is their lazy-ass custom, agree its a brilliant scheme, and Bruce has already concluded that it can only be the work of the Joker. Suddenly, a bright searchlight on the roof of police headquarters beams into the night sky, projecting the image of giant bat onto a black cloud! It's the first appearance of the Bat-signal, and the duo quickly realize they are wanted by Commissioner Gordon.
They rush into Gordon's office, where the Commish confirms its the Joker, having received a mocking playing card inscribed with a clue to the Harlequin of Hate's next crime. Batman correctly deduces the clue (after admitting he doesn't get the Joker's “cryptic sense of humour”) as meaning that he's going to strike the Post Office a block away from Police Headquarters, with his men dressed as postmen. After a two-page fight scene followed by a chase in the Batmobile, the Joker escapes.
The uniformed robberies continue, with railroad hold-ups and even elevator operator purse snatchings! Unless Batman can predict where the Joker is going to strike next, there's almost no way to catch him. So, of course, he lays a trap for the Joker by placing a fake article in the newspaper. Aka, Batman's sole non-fist-related method of crimefighting.
The Joker buys the bait, that the great Brody Diamond is going to be sold aboard Gerald Brody's yacht. So, continuing the theme, he dresses his gang up in Coast Guard outfits and pull up alongside the yacht in a patrol boat. But Batman and Robin are waiting for him! However a two-page fight scene sees the Joker gain the upperhand, tossing Robin overboard to drown, and then hanging Batman over the water by a rope set to slowly burn by a candle (yeesh).
Robin comes to underwater and makes it onto the Joker's patrol boat, following the gang to their hideout. Batman eventually falls into the drink as well, but awakes upon the splash of water and escapes his bonds by cutting the rope on the boat's propeller blades. Back on shore, he concludes that the Joker must be operating out of Charlie's Costumes for Hire, based on a clue one of the henchmen gave earlier.
Batman bursts in on the gang, and Robin has already infiltrated the shop by pretending to be a dummy wearing a... Little... Red... Riding... Hood outfit? Oh man, yep, there's Dick Grayson in a dress, curled hair and a bonnet. How come I've never seen these panels mocked online before? Yikes. Anyways, a two-page fight scene sees our heroes come out on top, with the Joker comically knocking himself out when he tries to throw a boomerang at Batman (yeesh). Batman quips that there's only one uniform the Joker has yet to wear – a convict's uniform, and so the Harlequin of Hate ends up back in jail. But for how long???
My Thoughts: This issue sees the debut of Jack Schiff as a Batman writer. His premiere story is a little formulaic (almost remarkably so!), but Schiff is an important figure in the Batman mythos, as he will eventually take over from Whitney Ellsworth as Editor of the Batman comics in the 1950s, shepherding the character after the rise of the Comics Code Authority, after the end of the Golden Age and through the start of the Silver Age. Although his tenure as editor was marked by a decline in story quality, and a rise in sci-fi fantasy silliness in the books, the fact of the matter was that he was editor for almost ten years on the series, and cannot be easily dismissed.
In this story we see that he, like Joseph Greene last month, hews carefully to the Bill Finger trends and standards, yet he manages to introduce some new elements that refine the formula and end up lasting for decades – like the Bat-signal, which makes its first appearance here, as a very visible symbol of the police department's new partnership with the Batman, as well as a dramatic and clever way for Gordon to get in touch with a man whose identity is unknown to him.
The Art: Good artwork here from Kane and Robinson, particularly a few character close-ups such as one of the Joker reading the paper and one of Batman spying the criminals through a pair of binoculars. Also the opening splash page depicting the Joker in a Napoleonic uniform is fantastic, if a bit misleading as to what sort of “costumes” the “costume-clad killers” are using. If there's something to be said against this issue, it's that many of the panels are very small, as if Schiff wrote more action that could be comfortably fit into the page-count – as a result, the art is sometimes claustrophobic feeling and muddled.
The Story: A rogue's gallery villain commits a spree of daring crimes. The Bat-signal summons the Dynamic Duo to police headquarters. Commissioner Gordon informs our heroes just which dastardly fiend we're dealing with. The Caped Crusaders attempt to defeat the villains, but are placed in a seemingly inescapable death-trap. They, of course, escape and finally confront the villain in one last fist fight before hauling him off to jail while making a joke. What does that sound like? The story not only of this issue, but also almost every Batman story from here on out – but far more significantly, it is the exact formula of every episode of the 1966-68 ABC Batman television series starring Adam West, which for all its problems was a major factor in cementing Batman's place in mainstream popular culture. So while Schiff's story is formulaic and close to the Bill Finger mold, it's his exact application of the formula that sets a brand new standard in Bat-storytelling, although I doubt that was apparent to anyone at the time. But it certainly explains how Schiff became a rising star in comics writing (and furthers my point that his contributions cannot just be disregarded).
As for the story itself, it's very similar to “The Case of the Lucky Law-Breakers” in Batman #9, as its another story about Joker figuring out a clever way for his gang to commit robberies. At least Schiff remembers to keep the gimmick up the whole way through. But the title is a little disingenuous. The criminals are more “Uniform-clad” than “costume-clad”, and they only kill one bank guard in the course of a robbery – the Joker doesn't even kill anyone at all! “Case of the Uniformed Robberies”, more like.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of the Bat-signal, perfection of the Batman “story formula”

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