Friday, March 15, 2013

Detective Comics #61 (March, 1942)

Holy crap, it's cover art that actually advertises and depicts the story INSIDE the comic! What a freakin' concept! What an (obvious) innovation! Gee, that only took us thirty-four issues, eh boys? I mean, it's just the title page of the interior story repurposed, but still!

"The Three Racketeers"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis:  We start with three crooks at a table smoking and playing cards. There's a balding guy, a tough guy with a cigar, and a brainiac type. They establish themselves as all being smart guys with neat rackets that were all ruined by the Batman. 
The balding guy, Crafty, came up with an idea to run fake police radio calls to call cops away from businesses his organization was looking to rob. Meanwhile, he organized his gang's movements using the same radio system, broadcast on shortwave from a moving laundry truck. The gang makes off like bandits, until the Batmobile catches up with them on a job. They get lucky and escape, but Crafty comes home to find his apartment ransacked -- which Batman found because it was listed in the phone book! I guess Crafty isn't so Crafty after all. However, it appears that Batman failed to find the code book Crafty's been using to direct his men, so he calms down. After he leaves, Batman and Robin emerge from behind the curtain -- having baited Crafty with this ploy to reveal the code book's hiding place. So at the next crime, the Dynamic Duo are able to follow the radio to the crook's next job, and they beat them up. The End.
The brainiac describes his tale as a tragedy. He was a professor who managed to create a drug that makes men lazy. Yes, that's right, lazy. He uses it on the chairman of a stock exchange board, causing him to be too lazy to work and thus paralyzing the board. He then appears to the board and ransoms them for the antidote. When he leaves, however, he is followed and ambushed by the Batman! The professor suspects that maybe someone on the board is Batman, perhaps that Bruce Wayne fellow (the bored playboy act comes on so strong, y'know?) But that doesn't matter to this story, as the professor hits Batman with the lazy drug, making him TOO LAZY TO FIGHT CRIME!! And so the professor continues to the next company and the next ransom. However, he gets his shoes shined by a young boy who happens to be Robin in disguise! Robin follows the prof back to his hideout, and attacks him (meaning that the prof has also seen Robin without a mask -- seriously, the guy basically knows Batman's identity). Robin slips Batman the antidote, the two beat up the prof and pow! The end.
The final guy, the big shot with the cigar, had a smart racket too. He had his boys steal tanks from the army -- three small, one-man types. The MPs suspect fifth columnists, never dreaming its the work of gangsters. Using large, fast trucks to transport them, the gang goes from bank to bank and raid them using the tanks! But they didn't count on the Dynamic Duo in the Batplane! Robin tosses Molotov cocktails at them from above!! The gangsters seem licked, until they remember they have tommy guns and use them to shoot down the Batplane! It crashes in the Atlantic, but our heroes make it out okay of course. Robin even remarks that it's a "good thing we have a spare, improved Batplane at home!" Ah, the luxuries of the 1% -- a spare Batplane! Anyways, they take off on motorcycles after the trucks, catch up to the crooks, tear gas their lair, and beat the crap out of them. The end. 
Turns out our three storytelling crooks have been waiting to get processed into their cells at the State Prison. A guard appears to tell them to get moving, then turns to the reader and remarks that all three were very smart, yet outsmarted by the Batman -- so what does that tell you?
My Thoughts: What's mostly neat about this story is the structure -- all three segments are narrated in first person by the crooks, so we really see Batman from their perspective -- the way he seems to figure out their schemes out of nowhere, the way he descends like a tornado and is utterly brutal in his application of his fist to your face. It very much reads as a Golden Age prototype of that beloved Batman Animated episode "Almost Got 'Im". It's a neat experiment and a nice change of pace and narrative style.

The Art: Standard quality from Kane & Co. The Batplane action is particularly well done. The various chase sequences throughout allow for a kind of dynamism lacking in the standard "punch-the-bad-guys" fight scenes.
The Story: Okay, so the concept is cool and the execution is interesting, but let's not kid ourselves. These are three story ideas Finger couldn't flesh out to full length, so he found a way to cram 'em together. This is made really obvious by the fact that there's no real punchline to this idea. In "Almost Got 'Im", the fun was in seeing the villains interact while they told their stories, and there was still a larger story going on in the frame narrative. Here, what you'd expect based on the title is that after sharing their failures, that these three guys would team up against Batman. Hell, in a longer story, a modern story, it'd be a freakin' given. But instead we end on yet another Finger moral about how "crime doesn't pay", but since these guys did great til Batman showed up, it's more like "crime doesn't pay if you live in a city where a bored rich guy plays dress up vigilante and has tons of toys and gadgets." Because TWO Batplanes, everyone!
Notes and Trivia: The Professor basically figures out Batman's identity, but doesn't care. The Batplane is destroyed, but there's a new and improved one on its way!

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