Saturday, May 25, 2013

Batman #12 (August/September 1942)

Another patriotic wartime cover, although I'm wondering what anniversary this "Anniversary Issue" is celebrating. Yeah, it's the twelfth issue, but this series isn't monthly so that means nothing. The series started in spring and this is an August/September issue, so what's the deal? Oh well.

"Brothers in Crime!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Art: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: So we open with a significant milestone in Batman history -- the introduction of Batman's Trophy Room! Yes, the Batman is a bit of a hoarder, as it turns out, keeping all kinds of knick-knacks from his past cases in a room in Wayne Manor locked up by a dial combination in a six-inch thick steel door! Cuz that ain't suspicious.
Trophies already collected include a stuffed penguin and gas umbrella from Detective #58, what looks like the Joker's mantlepiece from his early lair in Batman #1, the Joker's decoy duck from Batman #9,  and Bruce Wayne's portrait from Detective #42.
Batman draws Robin's attention to trophy from a story we've never heard: a bullet proof vest used by Peter Rafferty in June, 1939. He was one of three brothers who tried to protect themselves with such vests and all ended up dead.

We then flashback to May, 1939, when Peter Rafferty was being released from a stint in prison. He's eager to go straight, but his brothers Steve and Mike draw him right back into their criminal schemes. They kill a gas attendant rather than pay for gas, steal the station's money, and implicate Pete in the crime. Stuck with them, the three brothers go into business painting the town red, believing themselves protected by their iron bullet proof vests.
They start a spree of robberies which are accompanied by an equal amount of unnecessary murdering that has Pete on edge. They soon attract the attention of the Batman and his youthful aide Robin, the Boy.... wait a second! Robin didn't join the show until April, 1940 -- I call bullshit.
Anyways the Dynamic Duo end up fighting the gang at a scrap metal yard, and by a contrivance Steve Rafferty finds his iron vest getting picked up by the big yard magnet, and leading to his death in the scrap pile. 
Batman and Robin find a note directing them to the next target, the wealthy Gotham Yacht Club. When the Duo shows up to break up the heist, Peter Rafferty takes off in his car while Mike and the gang try to escape by water. Fighting the Batman ends up sending their boat out of control and they all fall into the water. Then Batman, floating there with the rest of the crooks, just kinda watches as Mike Rafferty sinks and drowns due to his vest. Wait, what? That's cold, Batman. I mean, it's in like with genuine 1939 Batman, but continuity's sorta broken what with Robin being here.
Pete tries to get out of the gang, but they don't take so kindly to that and begin hunting him, so Batman decides to get Pete before they do. A storm breaks out and Pete seeks shelter in a suburban home. Turns out it's the home of two kindly old people who's grandson was being operated on for his appendix by a doctor upstairs when the storm took out the power. The doc can't operate by candelight, so Pete decides to redeem himself by saving the kid by using his iron vest as a conductor. It works and the kid is saved, but the gang catches up to Pete and shoots him while he's not wearing the vest. Batman knocks out the gang. 
In 1942, Batman and Robin remark on the irony that the live-saving vest saved the life of the boy, but lead to the death of the three Rafferty brothers.
My Thoughts: The trophy room is such a mainstay of the Batcave that I'm sorta surprised that it's first appearance predates it. We've now got Bruce keeping his costume in a secret trunk, his crime lab in a secret room, and his trophies in another secret room in Wayne Manor. Meanwhile the Batmobile and Batplane are in that abandoned barn reachable by underground tunnel from Wayne Manor. Good thing it's a big house and they never have guests over.
Still, it's an element of the Bat-canon that's just going to get bigger and bigger, and the "tell you a story about something in the trophy room" is going to become a dependable framing story schtick over the years as well.
But while the continuity of the current trophies is well done, the gaffe of Robin with Batman in 1939 is nigh-unforgivable, especially since Joe Greene just did a story set in 1937 with the correct, solo Batman. I'd blame it on Don Cameron being a new writer, if it wasn't for the good continuity with the trophies showing he at least knew the series' history to some extent.
The Art: Holy smokes if there's a reason to read this story it's the art. Jerry Robinson has clearly, clearly surpassed Bob Kane as a solo artist. The detail in this art is fantastic, the character art is extraordinary, and holy crap there's actual effort put into the backgrounds! They aren't just non-descript shapes and shadows, the action is actually taking place in defined spaces. Robinson also uses different panel sizes, angles, and layouts than Kane, whose work is often based on repetitive poses and images he can reuse over and over. Robinson's art has great detail in it, looking far more realistic than Kane's carboard cut-outs. It's not quite as good as Jack Burnley, but it's quite amazingly good compared to Kane with Robinson's inks, even.
The Story: As much as I get the use of the framing device with the trophy to build interest, why the heck is this story set in 1939? The time setting isn't used at all. Is there some reason it needs to be pre-war? If so, set it in 1940 or 41 so at least using Robin isn't a total anachronism. I mean the tale is set in the strip's earliest months but otherwise the story is completely contemporary in style.
Other than that snafu, I must say it's a well plotted story. It's pacing is excellent and it's relatively consistent. It feels a bit standard as it were, but the art more than makes up for it. Writer Don Cameron was probably the oldest member of the Batman creative team when he came onboard. He'd been a crime writer for several US and Canadian newspapers in the 1920s, then tried to make it as a pulp fiction writer in the 1930s. By the 40s he'd hit hard times and turned to DC comics work to make ends meet. As such, we're seeing a writer nearing the end of his career, but with a lot of experience both in pulps and non-fiction crime writing, which serve him very well as a writer on Batman. I'm looking forward to more Don Cameron stories.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Batman's Trophy Room

"The Wizard of Words!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: So, inspired by something one of his henchman says, that crazy-ass Joker decides to start a series of crimes based on taking turns-of-phrase literally. So he sends a message to a banker saying he'll cover him with dough (give him lots of money) -- but then literally dumps dough on his head. He sends a message to the D.A. (drawn to look like Nolan from last issue, so this story probably takes place sometime before Detective #66,) saying he'll frame him, and then literally ties him up in a picture frame. He sends a letter to the Mayor (drawn to look like La Guardia) saying he'll see fireworks, then actually lights fireworks in his office. 
Everyone in Gotham is sorta thinking, "WTF?", including Bruce and Dick, although Bruce is sure he's up to something. The Joker sends another note to Commissioner Gordon promising to "paint the town red", and sure enough his goons are out coating the town in red paint, including a plane just spraying that shit from the air.
Bruce notices one of the buildings hit with red paint is a bank, and decides that all these pranks are designed as random chaos to cover the Joker's real crime. And so! As Batman and Robin they take a secret elevator down to an underground hangar beneath Wayne Manor where the Batplanes, Batmobiles and a repair workshop are held! In the Batplane, they are pulled up an incline by a winch into the old abandoned barn, where they now take off! (Holy Almost-Batcave, loyal blog readers!)
Anyways, turns out there's an acid mixed in with the paint that allows Joker and his men to bust in through the bank ceiling and into the vault. Cue the fight scene, the police show up and the Joker gets away again. Back at his lair, one of Joker's henchmen complains about Joker not letting him shoot the Batman during the fight, but Joker explains that only he may be allowed to kill the Batman, and it must be a death worthy of his brilliance.
The next clue Joker sends is that he's going to make "hot news" by "setting the world on fire". Bruce deduces this means Joker's going to burn down the printing plant of the Gotham City World newspaper. Batman heads out to stop them, gets knocked out by the Joker, who is going to "send him for a spin" and  ties him to a huge gyroscope (they have huge gyroscopes in printing plants?) Joker intends the spinning to send the blood to Batman's head and kill him, but halfway through the process decides this death isn't good enough, changes his mind and decides to send Batman on "the road to success." In this case, that means a narrow wooden board placed over a high space in the burning factory. If Batman, in his extremely dizzyed state, can cross the board he'll live, but if he falls, he'll die. Batman can barely walk, and he nearly falls crossing but then Robin swoops down and rescues him.
So then the Joker escapes AGAIN, and for his next crime he hears that a large amount of gold is being brought to Gotham by train by a passenger in a large plain satchel. He sends a message to the company that "Money Talks", and the company men notify the Batman. Joker sneaks on the train in make-up and uses a metal detector to find the passenger with the gold. He then gets off the train and makes off in a handcar, but the Batmobile shows up. Batman and the Joker start fighting on the handcar, then he chases him into an army base, Joker steals a barrage ballon (basically a small zeppelin shaped thing) and they fight on top of THAT until Batman punches him off into the river.
Is he dead? Who knows, but Robin makes a joke about the criminal "drowning his sorrows." Ugh, Robin.

My Thoughts: And so we've comfortably settled into the "post-murderous" phase of the Joker's career, where the focus is entirely on crazy patterned crime schemes meant to confound the Batman. A neat detail here is Joker's insistance on killing Batman himself, and his inability to decide on the best means of doing so.
The Art: The art is good -- Kane/Robinson/Roussos do a great story with a lot of colour and shadow and action and movement. Sometimes figures are drawn too small or indistinct in the panel and facial features are mushed together, but this is a common problem with Kane's artwork. Overall this is all right stuff -- although Joker's eyebrows seem to be getting bushier with every story.
Probably the most significant thing in the art is the panel that gives us a cross-section of Wayne Manor's new underground hangars -- this is going to be become a recurring visual motif for depictions of what will soon be the Batcave.

The Story: So Joker's pun-based crime spree starts all right, but this is a story that runs out of steam really fast. The burning newspaper plant was the natural climax, but Finger has Joker escape AGAIN, which leads to a series of set-pieces that are just going through the motions of over-the-top comic book escapades, from the train to a fight on top of a zeppelin that just screams out to be trying too hard. Ultimately the Joker formula, while applied well here, is just too shallow to draw out for too long, and the back-end of the tale just loses energy.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of "underground hangars" beneath Wayne Manor

"They Thrill to Conquer!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Jack Burnley
Synopsis: Everyone is gathered to watch the stunt man "Fearless Ford" perform a human fly act crawling up a skyscraper to promote war bonds. Bruce and Dick watch from a skyscraper across the street and think they spot a man with a gun in a window just above Ford. They dash across into the room as Batman and Robin, and Robin is shot in the face with the gun -- which shoots ammonia at him instead of bullets. The gangsters run off and they pull Fearless Ford into the room.
Ford explains that the mob has been muscling in on stunt men for protection money (okaaay) and that several stunt men have been killed during their stunts in ways that could be written off as tragic accidents. In this case, Ford was going to get the ammonia to the face, so that he'd fall to his death.
Turns out Ford was once a circus performer in a family of acrobats but his son was injured in a fall (lucky they didn't all DIE! thinks Robin, I'm sure) and now Ford needs to pay for a costly operation on his son's spine, which is why he's taking all kinds of extra dangerous stunt jobs and also why he won't pay the mob.
Batman figures they'll try again at Ford's next performance for a circus at Gotham Garden, the Dynamic Duo check up on Ford in his dressing room. Turns out Ford is afraid he'll be killed and doesn't want to go on with the act. So of course our hero gives him a rousing speech at convinces him to go on, or perhaps he remembers he's a millionaire and gives Ford the money he needs for Tommy's operation so this'll all be over? No, Batman declares Ford a coward who's lost his nerve, revokes his man card, and socks him in the face, because it's 1942 and even heroes were kind've assholes back then.
So it's last-minute substitution time, and even though Batman takes to the stage in full-on Batman regalia, and he's announced to the crowd as Batman, the crooks still try to make an attempt on his life even though he's not the one who owes them money. Robin stops them, of course, seemingly unharmed from the faceful of ammonia he got last time, but Batman ends up falling into the lion's den (literally) anyways. Luckily, his lion taming skills keep him alive in time for Robin to swoop in and save him.
Dick wonders how the pair can help Ford if he refuses to make more appearances, so Bruce goes to Ford's booking agent Joe Kirk and offers to pay Ford $500 to appear at a charity event at Wayne Manor. Bruce! Why not just GIVE Ford the money he needs?? Anyways, Kirk books Ford, but he once again refuses to appear, as he's "lost the nerve". So Bruce (this time disguised as Ford) agrees to do the stunt, which is a car stunt this time. Once again, a murderous attempt is made, but Bruce gets out of it because he's awesome. Right away Kirk offers Bruce/Ford another gig, a high dive at the fairgrounds, and Bruce agrees.
Batman and Robin examine the fairgrounds before the stunt, and find evidence of tampering. Bruce/Ford does the high dive, but the tank explodes when he hits it! Ford's family are convinced he's dead, while Robin follows the trail back to... Joe Kirk! Kirk beats it in a plane, while it turns out that it was a dummy that did the high dive and Batman's alive and well. 
Batman uses the cannon for the human cannonball act to propel himself into the air and catch Kirk's plane, and they begin fighting. Robin heads to the Batplane, hidden in a nearby hangar just in case, to head after them but finds he's been beaten to it by Ford! Ford wants to get Kirk for his treachery, and heads up in the Batplane, diving out of it to get onto the other plane. He misses, but Batman saves him. The Dark Knight had already dealt with Kirk, but congratulates Ford on getting his nerve back and becoming a man again.
My Thoughts:  So I guess the moral is supposed to be about having courage and being a man, and given that this is a wartime comic that seems admirable, but I just can't get behind this one. Batman comes off as a showboating asshole, Ford is never really redeemed, and there are just too many plotholes. It was sort've a wasted opportunity with Robin given his tragic history with the circus, and ultimately the whole thing feels more like an excuse to let Jack Burnley draw Batman in some fantastic situations.
The Art: Speaking of which Burnley's art is great, as always. He really does well with human figures and faces, drawing them far, far more three-dimensionally than Kane or Robinson, about as "photo-real" as you can get in Golden Age style art -- although his Batman and Robin retain some 2D-ness to remain on model -- after all, every Batman story was simply labeled "by Bob Kane" so to the reading public it still had to look similar. I will say, however, that Burnley seems to be weaker on backgrounds -- they're often the kind've blank abstractions you see in Kane's art and a lot of other Golden Age work but that we just saw Robinson do a lot of good detail in.
The Story: Ugh. This might be one of the worst Batman stories I've read so far. I mean, start with the ludicrous idea that a stunt man talent agent is using the mob to hit his talent up for protection money (isn't he gonna run out of clients doing this), which is a contrived scenario even for a Batman comic. Then Batman, who could easily solves Ford's problems with a donation of cash, instead forces the man to perform when his life is in jeopardy, then beats him up and takes his place when he's unwilling to do it. Finally, when Ford does "man up", he doesn't even save the day. Batman saves him, and has already beat the crook. It really makes Batman look like an ass, and the moral that you're only worth a damn if you're willing to do crazy stunts for little money while the mob is trying to kill you is just bullshit. Finally -- what happened with Tommy? Did Ford ever get enough to pay for that operation? We'll never know, because this story sucks. (Also, what the hell is that title supposed to mean??)

"Around the Clock with Batman"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: It's been named "Batman Day" in Gotham City, and the Dynamic Duo are thrown a parade! A statue is built of them in the city park! The Mayor (not-LaGuardia) reads out a list of their accomplishments (120 arrests, 118 convictions, 70 confessions, defeated the Joker six times, etc. and I can tell you that at least that last one is incorrect). Everyone is Gotham is amazed -- how can one man and one boy manage to do all this? Well, we flashback to sometime in May and a story of a day in the life of Batman.
Bruce and Dick get up in the morning and exercise in the gym. They perform tests on the Batplane, and this is followed by a healthy breakfast and then experiments in the crime laboratory, proving a crook named Maroni guilty. Dick notifies the commissioner, then tests Bruce's photographic memory with files from their casebook. Then they head out in costume to appear at an event to promote the sale of war bonds. They get home and Dick works on his homework (from what school? Is he home-schooled?) while Bruce works on a book he's writing (as Batman, I think) called "Observations on Crime". Unfortunately he can't think of what to write for the final chapter and the publisher's deadline is on Monday.
The Duo heads out in the Batplane for an evening patrol and spot a jewelry robbery in progress. They try to stop the crooks but they get away, so they follow them to an art gallery. Once inside, all they can find is a normal legitimate art gallery (if such things where filled with massive sculptures), until Batman notices the eyes in one large bust seeming to sparkle with their own life. He deduces the jewels are hid inside, they fight the crooks and round them up. The gallery owner begs the police to keep the story out of the papers to save the reputation of his gallery, and likewise Batman can't use it for his book.
Then Batman and Robin head to a children's hospital to appear for children with infantile paralysis and support the March of Dimes. Resuming their patrol, they spot a woman trying to commit suicide by jumping from a building. There's a large crowd and police trying to talk her down. Batman rescues her, and then they hear from the cops that "Heist" Andrews robbed a bank downtown while the police were busy with the suicide (man, the GCPD sure is undermanned). Batman follows a hunch by following the girl, who leads them right to Andews' hide-out. They beat up the crooks, round them up and take them to jail.
Batman decides to write the final chapter as a day in the life entitled "Around the Clock with Batman" and then the two go to bed (they sleep in the same room, but in seperate beds).
My Thoughts:  "Day in the Life" stories can either be really interesting or really banal, and this one straddles the line. But it's a cool concept, although it's always weird seeing a Batman who gets parades thrown for him and the like. Mostly the story just comes across as saying "aren't these great, swell guys who work 24/7 to fight crime and be heroes?" which does seem a little bit ridiculous and heavy-handed at times. I mean, I know Batman and Robin are swell guys -- but the volunteering for war bonds and the March of Dimes strikes me as a little much, especially when Dick apparently never goes to school or plays and Bruce Wayne has no life of his own. The impression you get is that their whole lives is being Batman and Robin, and if that's the case why have secret identities? Heck, now that they're honorary policemen and all and the city loves them, why not just join the police force? Or donate money to it at least? It seems kind've cowardly compared to the regular cops.
The Art: Decent, serviceable stuff here. Standard scenes and action we've seen before. Perhaps the best stuff is the opening four pages before the jewelry heist, which look to my eyes to have been heavily redrawn by Jerry Robinson, as they look much better than Bob Kane's standard work. The fight in the art gallery is cool though, it's sort've an early version of the classic Bill Finger trope of battles with giant props, but a lot of the other action is of a fairly standard type.
The Story: While the concept is decent, it does suffer from the fact that we don't see Linda Page or Commissioner Gordon or really get any sense that Bruce and Dick have a life outside being Batman and Robin. Because the whole point of the story is that it must be so difficult to be them and do all these amazing things -- but when they can devote their ENTIRE day to being superheroes, then it's really not as impressive. It's almost like "of course they can do all that, they don't have to worry about going to work or going to school or having a social life, etc etc"
Finally, I also feel that neat concept aside, this story really comes across as basically a couple of half-baked ideas (the jewelry heist and the bank robbery), with a bunch of pages of filler to round it out. I mean, ultimately, what does the "Batman Day" opening sequence contribute?

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