Monday, May 20, 2013

Detective Comics #65 (July 1942)

Here's a special treat -- cover art by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon! One of the few times The King ever drew Batman,  although the focus of the cover is welcoming Kirby's own feature "Boy Commandos"  to Detective Comics. As it stands, there's not much of Kirby's style, even Golden Age Kirby, in tis Batman and Robin -- there seems to have been a concious effort to keep them "on-model" , as it were.

 "The Cop Who Hated Batman"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: Our story opens in 1937, before Batman took on Robin, before he was officially recognized by the police, hell -- before "Case of the Chemical Syndicate!" Two crooks, Mike Nolan and Nick Rocco, are holed up in their hide-out, surrounded by cops. The Batman bursts in on them, knocking out Rocco. Nolan decides to turn himself in and confess everything -- he never really wanted to be a part of this anyway, but Rocco gets up and shoots him dead. As the cops rush in, the Batman must flee since he's an outlaw, and the police believe that perhaps the Batman killed Nolan (which would fit with the Dark Knight's early history of lethal measures).
Five years later, the Bat-Signal once again lights up the night sky, calling the Dynamic Duo to the office of Police Commissioner Gordon. However, Gordon has no horrific crime for them, but rather an invitation to join him on his holiday! (I'm sure Gordon's family loves that he chose to be accompanied by two identityless masked vigilantes rather than them). And hilariously enough, Batman accepts, and they all drive up to a "northern state in the mountains" together!
Gordon has accepted an invitation to stay at the barracks of the state troopers of this unidentified northern state and thought Batman would be interested seeing them in action, which is a pretty darn contrived premise if you ask me, but hey, here we are.
Anyways, the Staties all love Batman, all except one -- Tom Bolton, who utterly hates Batman without giving a reason. He's a good cop, one of the best according to his fellow troopers, so this is a mystery which Batman declares the strangest he's ever come up against. I dunno, Batman, that seems like quite the exaggeration.
That night, Batman is so shaken by Bolton's hatred that he has nightmares -- his first since childhood!! (Kinda flies in the face of modern writers who write him as haunted by his parent's death every night. Also -- Batman sleeps in his costume). The next morning, the dam bursts from the pressure of the spring thaw and there's a flood!
So of course Batman and Robin save a ton of people, but when Batman spots some looters he rushes off to fight them. He bites off more than he can chew, however, and gets kocked into the raging flood waters. And who should save him but Tom Bolton! Batman's confused, but Bolton says that it's his duty as an officer to save lives, and then refuses to shake Batman's hand.
See, turns out that Tom Bolton is Mike Nolan's son. He changed his name when his dad turned to crime so he could still join the police academy. And to this day he believes the Batman killed his father.
The next day, contrived circumstances get Bolton and Batman into a full on fisticuffs brawl. One of the officers points out that since Batman is a deputy, technically Bolton is assaulting a fellow officer, but Batman says he'll let it go and fight Bolton if this gets things out of his system. Bolton does all right, but eventually goes down.
Later he's on jail guard duty, and one of the inmates who saw his fight with Batman through the window asks him why he hates the Dark Knight so much. Bolton explains, and tells him he wishes Rocco would just tell the world what happened so everyone could see the Batman as the murderous coward he is. But the crooks explains he knows Rocco! Yeah, he used to run with his old gang! He can lead Bolton straight to him!
Anyways, as they set off, turns out Robin was eavesdropping. He reports to Batman and they take off on skis after the pair. Bolton arrives at an old cabin, and of course it was all a trap. They get the drop on Bolton, but Batman shows up for the rescue and explains the truth to him. Rocco admits to it -- Nolan only got into crime to pay for Tom's college tuition! The crooks tie up Batman and Bolton and make off on skis (killing them would bring too hot a manhunt on their heads). But the heroes escape and begin their pursuit!
One exciting ski chase later (including a cool bit where Batman and Robin use their capes as sails in order to catch enough wind to clear a jump), and they catch up with the crooks and Tom delivers good old fashioned fist justice to Rocco's face. Tom and Batman shake hands, everyone's happy.

My Thoughts: "The Cop Who Hated Batman". What an interesting premise. Especially starting with a flashback to the Bat's earlier dark vigilante days. Maybe it's about the jealousy that a cop can feel for a superhero, especially one who gets to have the best of both worlds. After all, Batman can operate outside the strict law like a vigilante, but is still free from reprisals like a cop. He has it all, and no one even knows his name. His face isn't out there like a cop's is. There's a lot of room for resentment there.
Or, it could be a contrived situation regarding mistaken identity and a murdered relation where it turns out neither the cop nor Batman are really at fault. That could work too, I suppose.
The Art: The art here is by Jack Burnley, who we've previously seen only do covers, and it's gorgeous. DC had hired him themselves, not the Kane Studio, and he's clearly a cut above the other draftsmen workin on this strip. I mean this is just gorgeous stuff compared to what's been the norm lately. It's like an entire comic strip done just like pulp cover art, albeit without the painted colour but definitely in that style. The figure work especially, the faces and whatnot. The only disappointment is Batman and Robin themselves, oddly enough. Inker George Roussos (making a triumphant return!) keeps everything drenched in noir shadows gorgeously, but I also suspect he did some work keeping the Dynamic Duo on model, because while everyone else in the strip looks a cut above, the heroes don't appear all too differently than they usually do. It also would have been cool if Batman had been drawn in the old Bob Kane style for the 1937 flashback, but obviously this is way before there were fanboys caring about such things. Still, it's all great stuff, with very good layouts and very, very good pacing, which I appreciated.
The Story: This is the first script from Joe Greene in a while that hasn't sucked outright. While it doesn't live up to my expectations for the premise, it's still a good story well told. The contrivance of getting Batman and Robin out to the mountains is a bit of a stretch, and not even really necessary for the tale -- it all could have been told in Gotham City, but I'll admit the new locale makes for a nice change of pace. While I can't say this tale does anything especially memorable, it was interesting, entertaining and well-told, which makes it I think the best script Joe Greene has done for the strip so far. Good stuff.

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