Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Batman #11 (June/July, 1942)

Another classic cover from artist Fred Ray.

"The Joker's Advertising Campaign" 
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis:  The Joker is once again free from prison, and to advertise his return to Batman, he appears as himself at an amateur comedy night doing an impression of himself. Bruce and Dick hear the news on the radio while doing some practice sparring, while Joker decides to base his entire crime spree this time around on the idea of advertising his crimes (doesn't he always do that?)
And so the  Joker pays for an ad in the Gotham Gazette (hey, it's publicity! - the editor) informing Batman to check the Want Ads section every day for clues to his upcoming crimes. 
Bruce can spot nothing suspicious in the section, but Batman and Robin go on patrol anyway hoping to stumble across something, which they do of course. An entire street clogged with hansom cabs, horse-drawn carriages, old automobiles and other slow-moving vehicles of the early part of the century! Nearby, the Joker robs a jewelry store, the police can't make chase because of the traffic jam of ancient, slow vehicles! As the Joker takes off in a horse-drawn carriage, Batman and Robin commandeer a tandem bicycle and make chase, but after a clever pursuit the Joker escapes in a subway car. 
Examining the Want Ads in retrospect, Batman discovers a fake ad the Joker had planted for owners of antique vehicles to show up at that address to audition for a "gay 90s" motion picture. Again, they don't notice anything strange in the next day's ads, but a want ad for extra police to protect a show of Presto the Magician is actually a plant of the Joker's! Bruce goes to the show, invites Linda Page, and instructs Dick to come and relay any message to him if Linda phones (yeesh, I know they didn't have cell phones, but there isn't a telephone in the lobby or something? Dick has to go all the way from Wayne Manor into downtown Gotham to relay a message?)
When Dick arrives at the theatre, he overhears that Presto's publicity agent wasn't the one to place the ad, and begins to suspect the Joker. While Bruce, watching the show, hears Presto's laugh when he's about the perform a trick and decides that Presto is the Joker himself and jumps on stage in costume as Batman! Following Presto/Joker into the Magician's cabinet, Batman falls down a trapdoor and is captured along with the rea magician while Joker makes off with... jewelry... from... someone? Why not kill the Batman? Joker finds the game of wits between them too amusing to end it.
However Robin manages to follow the Joker and his goons into the hidden system of catacombs and aqueducts under the theatre, because Bill Finger thinks every theatrehouse is built like the Opéra de Paris. While Joker and his men take a gondola because that's what Lon Chaney did, while Robin swims behind using an old pipe to breath. However, despite his best efforts, Robin is captured as well, with the Joker announcing that he has always considered the Boy Wonder an annoyance and is now going to kill him.
However he chooses a remarkably roundabout way of doing so -- tying Robin up in a room with some piles of sulphur, setting the sulphur aflame, and leaving Robin to suffocate. It's so roundabout in fact that the Boy Wonder manages to contact Batman via radio, explain his situation, and be successfully rescued. 
However sulphur inhalation, even if it isn't fatal, doesn't do wonders for you, and do Dick is laid up in bed and Bruce is right pissed at the Joker's assault. He figures out the Joker's next Want Ad clue (asking for two painters to work on a billboard by another jewelry store), and shows up at the right location to just beat the crap out of the Joker.
Later, a police report on the radio explains that the badly beatened Joker was found lying unconscious on the court steps and taken to a prison hospital, while Bruce and Dick laugh about the awesomeness of unnecessary force.

My Thoughts: Continuing the evolution of the Joker from Detective #64, although not meshing well with continuity, we see the Joker's schemes focusing more and more on the battle of wits with Batman. The actual goals here, stealing some jewels, are pretty petty and low-grade and the Harlequin of Hate doesn't cause much mayhem either -- no the real point is now testing his criminal mind against the Bat's. This is further emphasized by the fact that he lets Batman live when he has him cornered, but decides to kill Robin -- because two's company, three's a crowd after all. The idea that Joker sees the battle as between him and the Dark Knight alone, with the sidekicks as simply interference, is one that has continued until the present day in Scott Snyder's recent Death of the Family storyline.
The Art: Good stuff, particularly the Joker character art and the catacombs sequences. Excellent and clever chases and action scenes as well. At this point Kane/Robinson have settled into a comfortable professionalism that only bears remarking upon in unusual cases.
The Story: While Joker's scheme is pretty low-key, what makes Finger's script interesting is the character interaction. We open with Bruce and Dick boxing, practicing their skills, always a good way to show that being the Dynamic Duo takes work and effort. We get a sense of their relationship and friendship, especially Bruce's anger over Dick's near death experience (although if you don't want Robin to die, perhaps don't take a ten-year-old crimefighting?). We also get a new sense of how Joker regards his foes.Learning how the characters feel about each other makes a fairly standard "set of three crimes, chases in between, nab him at the end" structure feel like it has something newer and more interesting to offer.
Joker Body Count: 45

"Payment in Full"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Batman and Robin drop in on the hideout of wanted gangster, Joe Dolan. After a two-page fight scene he's nabbed and the heroes take him to the police. But Dolan keeps rambling that he'll be fine because he has an in with the District Attorney. Turns out he's right - DA Benson knew Dolan when they were kids and Dolan saved Benson's life! Benson feels in debted to Dolan and says he'd rather resign than prosecute! But Batman strongarms him into staying on as DA and gives him the night to think over prosecuting Dolan -- but the Dark Knight is confident Benson will do the right thing and send his friend up river.
In a flashback, we learn that Benson was a bookworm as a kid and Dolan the tough athletic type and that one day Dolan saved Benson from being run over by a truck. Bneson swore to pay him back and from that day on they were friends, with Dolan standing up to the bullies who would pick on Benson. However as they grew up they grew apart -- Dolan becoming a thug and a bank robber and Benson studying hard and becoming a sucessful lawyer. 
In the present day, Dolan breaks out from jail and goes on the lam. Batman confronts Bneson, who promises to prosecute if Batman brings Dolan in. Benson believes Dolan may be hiding out in their old neighbourhood and offers to lead the Dynamic Duo to him. Thanks to Benson,  they find Dolan's hideout, but Dolan is in full Paul-Muni-at-the-end-of-Scarface mode and shoots his way out with dual pistols. Benson is shot, but insists on chasing after Dolan with Batman and Robin.
The hunters and their prey both commandeer cars and begin a chase through the streets of Gotham. Desperate and cornered, Dolan jumps off a bridge into the river, but he can't swim. Benson still feels in debted to Dolan from when they were kids and jumps in to rescue him. But even then Dolan, who is just red hot crazy now, tries to kill Benson only to be stopped by Batman.
Dolan goes to state prison, while Benson is nominated to run for governor! After some platitudes about two people and the road not taken, we get our moral about how crime rots good people from within. 
My Thoughts:  Another entry in Finger's Urban Crime Gangster Morality Play genre, with similarities to Scarface and Public Enemy  and all those other great Pre-Code gangster movies that Finger loves to rip-off. These stories also fel a lot like the 1940s Warner Bros urban crime dramas that inspired a lot of the tone of the1992 Batman animated series. Speaking of which, this story reminded me a lot of the episode "It's Never Too Late"  which explored a mobster and his brother, a priest. It's a good story, well, told, despite it's derivative nature.
The Art: Kane and Robinson do really good character work here.  Benson and Dolan are both distinct characters, not just generic figures. The best work is when Dolan goes mad with paranoia, his lips and eyes going red with hate. It really successfully evokes the charged madness of Paul Muni in Scarface. Good stuff.
The Story: By this point, I must admit, the Finger Crime Morality Play is getting pretty rote. But it's important to remember that comic book readership, for a long time, was considered to have a five-year turnover rate, meaning that after five years you had a completely different audience than the one you started with. Granted, the Batman stories have only been at this for three years. Anyways, Finger still does a good job with this one, with the two men nicely contrasted and the theme of what can make a decent kid turn out bad nicely explored. Even if Finger has told this story before, he still tells it well. It's also worth nothing that this is another one of those stories where Batman and Robin are more or less deuterotagonists, witnesses to someone else's story.

"Bandits in Toyland" 
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Pencils: Bob Kane

Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick are reading news headlines about a rash of crimes in which toys have been stolen from children, possibly by big time gangster "Muscles" Malone. But why? No time for that, because Bruce Wayne gets a jury duty summons! Dick volunteers to check out the toy robberies, but Bruce tells him not to because he has to study for an exam (Dick still goes to school? Cripes!). Hey, who wants to bet the two unrelated stories become the same story by the end?
In court, the case Bruce is serving on is of one Tom Willard who is accused of stealing $200,000 of jewels from his employers, Thompson's Luxury Shop. However Bruce is convinced Tom didn't do it because he's handsome and has a nice wife, and besides it would take a crack team of jewel thieves to pull off something like that! And then Bruce spots some members f Muscle Malone's crew in the audience, so that cinches for Bruce that Willard has been framed. 

So now Bruce is playing the Henry Fonda role in 12 Angry Men, hanging the jury and trapping them in a hotel over night. But of course Bruce isn't one for proper procedure and sneaks out as Batman to investigate the crime.
Meanwhile Robin has been tailing Malone's men himself, and bursts in on them stealing another toy from another rich kid. He's quickly Boy Hostage'd, but before Malone's men can do much with him Batman bursts in, as he was also following Malone's men. Batman frees Robin but the crooks get the toy and get away. 
They follow them to the next target, which is the house of an old woman who collects a ton of toys, and while they get away, Batman confirms a hunch when the old woman tells him she bought the toy at Thompson's. Next house is the toy collection of a really aggravating spoiled rich kid with a huge toy collection. Finger has some fun with a two page fight scene using all the toys as props.
Finally Batman cracks the case -- Henry Burton, store manager, stole the gems and then hid them in toys that Malone's men were to buy off him. But they bought the wrong ones and so had to go around restealing the gems in the toys. Willard was framed of course. Which only kinda makes sense by whatever. 
Anyways, Willard is cleared of all charges and reunited with his pretty wife, leaving Bruce to remark that Justice may be blindfolded, but she isn't blind! Which is a terrible moral.
My Thoughts: This story was written by Edmond Hamilton, one of the great early pulp sci-fi writers. He was a regular contributor to Weird Tales in the 1920's and 30's, and one of the primary developers of the space opera genre. But by the 1940s he had fallen on hard times financially, and so here we find him slumming for DC. And frankly from a guy with his resume, this is some pretty weak stuff.
The Art: Decent stuff from the team, you can tell they're having fun with all the props the story is giving them. But nothing particularly special going on here. Not bad, but standard.
The Story: Yeesh, it's just so rote. From the innocent man framed unjustly, to the smuggling plot. The toys are kinda interesting, but that smacks of a writer saying "I'm writing for kids... what do kids care about? Toys!" It's just not very well put together. Very disappointing.

"Four Birds of a Feather"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson

Synopsis: So it's Winter in Gotham city (isn't this a summer issue??), and the Penguin is still on the run from his last appearance in Detective #59, and he bumps into three other crooks who are also on the run from the law and headed down south to Florida to get in on the gambling racket. They are all bird themed as well, with the inexplicably green skinned Crow, the Buzzard and a femme fatale called Canary. So Penguin joins them and they head south to stay out of the range of Batman. An oh man, this is really contrived already isn't it?
So of course Bruce and Dick decide to take a vacation to Hawaii. On their yacht, Bruce spots a young woman being attacked by an octopus. Which... okay... sure. So he changes into Batman and then dives off the yacht into the water to save her. I'm sorry, but you know you don't need to be in costume to help people, right Bruce? Would probably have been better for your secret identity to dive off Bruce Wayne's yacht as Bruce, not Batman.
Anyways, the girl he saves turns out to be Canary, who alerts Buzzard and Penguin to the danger. Penguin decides to press ahead anyways and so their gambling establishment The Bird House opens! The catch is that it's a totally honest establishment, no crookery and or cheating -- except that big winners tend to get robbed. Which... how does that make sense as a scheme? Anyways, of course Bruce ends up there and wins big, and Buzzard asks him for his address fo their "records"  but Bruce recognizes all four crooks and phones Dick at the hotel to warn himt hat they probably plan to rob them. 

So Batman and Robin ambush the crooks, they fight, they escapse, and the Dynamic Duo follow them back to the Bird House and listen in to Penguin's new scheme (??) to fix a speedboat race. So Batman does his usual thing and chokes out Penguin's racer and replaces him, wearing full Batman outfit, and wins the race, which... I don't think...
Anyways, Batman and Robin chase after Penguin's car with Batman still driving the speedboat (!) and Robin riding a surfboard being pulled behind, and then... somehow... Robin... falls off or something and Penguin... captures him between panels?? Or something?
Batman starts beating up Buzzard at the Bird House to reveal where Penguin has taken Robin, and he squeals but then Canary tells Batman it's a trap, so Buzzard shoots Batman twice, but he shrugs it off and runs off to rescue Robin.
And now it's like the finale of Key Largo because hurricanes are the one Florida stereotype we haven't done yet and Batman has to brave the winds to make it to the hideout, where he beats up Crow and rescues Robin but the Penguin beats feet again. The hurricane winds pick up and so to survive Batman ties himself and Robin to a tree all night and did I mention the guy has two bullets in him?
Canary picks them up and since all the hospitals are busy with hurricane casualties (not to mention Batman being a vigilante with no legal identity), Canary performs the surgery to get the bullets out herself! Robin breaks in on Penguin at the Bird House, where he's gathering his money to fly the coop. Robin beats him up and takes him to Batman, who has made a full recovery thanks to Canary, who is gonna quit the rackets and become a nurse just like Florence (groan) Nightingale! 

Then Penguin manages to slip away and escape the heroes AGAIN, and we end with a pun about how Robin is a bird too.
My Thoughts: Ugh. This thing is a mess. It's basically the Joker's story from Batman #5, with the Penguin instead. Same deal with the group of crooks all named on a theme, the gambling scheme, and the girl who starts a crook but falls for Batman and reforms. But that story was really good, where as this is just a mess. And while it's nice to see Penguin quickly joining the small ranks of recurring Batman villains (Joker every damn month is starting to get tiresome, variety is nice), copying a Joker story for the Penguin just isn't the way to do it.
The Art: Oh man, it's OK, but jeez it's lazy. Joe Crow looks like Jonathan Crane with green skin -- and WHY DOES HE HAVE GREEN SKIN??? It's totally never addressed. No one even remarks on it. Some sequences are okay, but then the entire Boy Hostage even in this one is lost in the cracks between panels. It's totally confusing and not well done at all. I mean the quality of the art is standard Kane/Robinson, but their storytelling with the art just plain sucks here.
The Story: Finger is really lazy here too. What elements aren't outright stolen from the previous story are haphazard, nonsensical, and just plain don't work. It's winter, yet it's hurricane season. The octopus scene and the speedboating scene are here just for action scenes and stick out like sore thumbs from the "story". Penguin's scheme is completely lame. And then there are the other three crooks who come into the story as if we should recognize them from past appearances, but other than Penguin they're all new. The entire plot is built on conveniences and happenstance. And why set it in Florida at all? Other than to use all these cliches, it really doesn't add anything to the story. I mean, it's not like Batman even manages to track the crooks down there, he just ahppens to be there too at the same time. It's all just very... contrived.

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