Sunday, May 19, 2013

World's Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942)

Another patriotic wartime cover from Fred Ray. Since it's only 1942, it's pretty innocuous.

"The Secret of Bruce Wayne"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Okay so we start with Batman smashing another crime ring but turns out it's actually a re-creation for a TV show! Yes, a TV show, which apparently is simulcast for radio as well, called "Racket-Smashers!" It's very popular (one viewer wonders why Batman doesn't have his own radio show, like Superman, another hint from the creative team which fell on deaf ears -- he was actually depicted as having one in previous issues in another such hint. The Caped Crusader would never have his own radio program).
Meanwhile, the editor of "View" magazine gives his top reporter Scoop Scanlon the assignment of finding out the true identity of Batman, promising Scoop a raise which he needs to get married. Meanwhile, an out of work actor named Loring asks the director of "Racket-Smashers", Mr. Rand, for a job but is turned down. Scoop asks Batman if he can accompany him and Robin on patrols to promote their works in a series of articles and Batman agrees. 
Batman and Robin chase down some bank robbers who manage to escape. Batman questions the bank guard and finds out that the robbers managed to commit the crime successfully by avoiding a mistake the criminals in the "Racket-Smashers" show made. Perhaps it's a conincedence? Meanwhile, a shadowy figure bursts into the "View" editor's office and begins making demands.
Scoop tells the editor that revealing Batman's identity would ruin his ability to fight crime effectively, but the editor keeps pushing, promising Scoop "help". Using the Bat-Signal, Scoop lures Batman into a trap in an old abandoned mill, but when the thugs have Batman down and out and Scoop wants him unmasked, the gangsters instead decide to kill him (why not do both? It's seriously no effort). Scoop objects, so they decide to kill him too. And of course rather than just shoot them they tie them up in the grinding millstones. But Robin shows up to rescue them, of course. 
Batman questions one of the thugs who says their boss shook down the editor and made him hire them. So Batman questions the editor who confirms this but says the mystery guy was masked. Scoop basically says no hard feelings and that he'll keep trying to find Batman's identity and the Dark Knight wishes him good luck (I thought Scoop didn't want to find it and only was motivated by his editor's pushing??)
Mystery dude gives a "new script" to some other shadowy figures and tells them to watch out for Batman. Another episode of "Racket-Smashers" airs where the crooks are found out by a mistake they made, then another crime is committed without said mistake. Batman questions the writer who says he gets his ideas from case files from a source in the police department. Batman then questions the director who says the scripts are written a week in advance because TV actors can't read the scripts live like radio actors. Then Loring shows up to beg for a job again, doesn't get one, and Batman takes pity and gives him a wad of dough. Loring promises to return the favour.

Scoop meanwhile, is examing the case files at the police department of crimes Batman solved and notes that society playboy Bruce Wayne is always hanging around crime scenes and that is really suspicious behaviour for a society playboy. (True, except Commissioner Gordon is always the one inviting him and a better question maybe why the police commissioner is always inviting civillian friends to crime scenes, and a better question than that is why the police commissioner keeps visiting crime scenes personally, which is totally bizarre.) Anyways, from this Scoop concludes that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same dude, which, while true, is a bit of a stretch.
Batman shows up and gives Mr. Rand a script for this week's show, insisting that they do his story, at the end of which Batman will reveal the identity of the criminal -- an ending not printed in the script -- and that he'll play himself. For some reason he allows this to be publicized in the paper and mystery dude sees it. 
When the show begins, however, Scoop rushes in (how did he get on the set? They're live!) and proclaims Bruce Wayne and Batman to be one and the same on (not-really-national-at-all) live TV! Batman promises to reveal the truth at the end of the episode.
At the end of the episode, a bunch of gangsters show up to try and kill Batman for real, but Loring shows up out of fucking NOWHERE and takes a bullet meant for Batman. Batman reveals that the mystery criminal is... Graves, the announcer! (What.) See, Graves had been losing heavily in the stock market, yet could afford to live beyond his means (since... when?) and while Batman suspected him, he had no definite proof until now (What?). Graves is taken into police custody and the broadcast ends (notably with no resolution to the Batman identity question).
Scoop demands Batman answer, and then Robin faints "from the excitement." Batman takes him into a back room, where of course it's reveal Robin faked it to stall for time. Then Loring comes in, still bleeding out (wouldn't the police who took Graves have taken Loring to a hospital?) -- apparently Loring came there to die alone. Batman offers him "the role of a lifetime". Batman walks out of the back room hand in hand with Bruce Wayne, proving to Scoop they're different people (wouldn't Scoop notice that Batman and Loring went in, and Batman and Bruce Wayne came out??).
Anyways, it's Loring in the Batman outfit, and he dies. Bruce remarks that he played the greatest role of all... a man! (What??) And Robin basically says that dying to protect Batman's secret is a noble death (what... the... ?) The End.

My Thoughts: First up, the TV thing legitimately threw me for a loop. I had no idea there were real, programmed TV broadcasts in 1942. Turns out there were about 5,000 sets in the US at the time, mostly owned by rich people on the east coast. There were no networks or anything, just individual stations. However, in 1942 TV production was halted by government order because of the war, those resources being needed for less frivolous shit, and didn't pick up again until after the war, with no real broadcasts in that time, hence why we mostly think of TV as a post-war thing. Still, threw me for a loop. The comic's presentation of TV production is... questionable at best of course. I'm sure the creative team had never seen a TV studio, TV being produced, or probably even a TV broadcast themselves, so I'll let it go. Still, it's a cool sign of how rich Bruce Wayne is that he's depicted as having one. Probably would have looked something like this. That's a nine-inch screen, by the way. 
Anyways, this comic really demonstrates the limitations of the 13-page Golden Age story. It's crazy how rushed it all is, with whole scenes either being one-panel long or taking place between panels. It happens so fast, with so many new characters and plot twists coming in all the time that you really get whiplash reading it. Maybe it seemed exciting and action-packed to a kid in 1942, but to a modern reader it really seems shallow and slipshod, the whole thing is spread so thin.
The Art: First up, I think it's hilarious that Scoop is drawn like a skinny, older, Dick Tracy, complete with yellow fedora and overcoat. I wonder if that was on purpose, since Tracy was such an obvious inspiration for the Batman comics and their crazy rogues gallery. The art, technically, is okay, but with so much happening in so few panels on every page, you really lose narrative clarity. Especially because a lot of pages are wasted on fight scenes. In my summaries I almost never give details on fight scenes, because they're very rote. Batman and Robin using props in the room to knock out bad guys while making puns. And you can tell from my synopsis how much shit goes down in the story, even though I tried to simplify as much as possible. But to give you an idea, chasing the bank robbers is two pages, the rescue from the mill is a page and a half, and the final fight is a page. There's also an entire half-page near the start on people listening/watching "Racket Smashers". And everything else is squeezed into the remaining eight pages. It's fucking crazy. Bang for your dime, I guess. And I will say that Jerry Robinson, on his own, does a really good job. You don't miss Bob Kane at all.
The Story: This shit is fucking ridiculous. I give Greene props for doing something new, although this "reporter tries to uncover Batman's identity" plot is gonna get real old real fast once Vicki Vale shows up. There are so many leaps of logic here that it feels really "DC Silver Age" in style. I mean, the reveal of the mystery crook is probably the worst part. Oh, it's a minor previously unnamed character who we knew NOTHING about and had no clues?? That's the worst kind of mystery writing, making something an "unexpected" plot twist by making it impossible for the audience to recognize it beforehand. And wait -- radio announcer loses money on the stock market so he becomes a gang lord? And why was he pressuring "View" to reveal Batman's identity/kill him? Yeah it gets him out of the way, but until they moved on him Batman didn't even suspect anything -- and wouldn't defeating Batman get rid of material for the scripts? Scoop's character changes motivations halfway through the story for no reason. Loring is in there for no reason other than to provide an out for Bruce -- and I'm sorry but getting shot for Batman and then dying to save his secret identity is a really lame ending for a character who really only appears in like two panels before that. And even if Scoop recanted his views in an article, the idea that Bruce and Batman are the same has been planted in public imagination anyway. It's just... really the issue is that Greene tried to pack what would be like a six-issue arc in today's comics into 13 measly pages. As you can perhaps tell from my synopsis, a lot of shit happens way too fast without a lot of details. It really shows the weakness of the Golden Age form. The thing is a total mess, but it could've been better with space to breath. As it is it's a bunch of events in a row that rush by way too fast and don't make a lot of sense if you put any thought into them. But then, maybe the 5-10 year olds reading didn't put a lot of thought into it either, but that, to my mind, doesn't excuse the 28 year old writing it -- Greene gets an "A" for ambition and a "D" for execution.
Notes and Trivia: Batman's true identity is reveal to a TV/radio audience, but recanted. Loring becomes the third (I think?) person to learn Batman's true identity, but he dies. 


  1. Very nice blog and thanks for the comment tipping me to this issue. About the lack of a Batman radio show, during the phenomenally successful Superman radio show there are many episodes featuring Batman and Robin including a number where Superman doesn't appear for a long part of the storyline; apparently these were written to give Superman/Clark Kent actor Bud Collyer a vacation. There was a pilot Batman radio episode somewhere in the 1940s; I listened to it years ago and about all I can remember is him telling the listeners earnestly that there are no such things as ghosts.

    Pat from the Nothing But Batman blog.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Reading these old issues, I've just noticed a lot of "gee, wish the Batman had his own radio show!" comments being made by the characters and it strikes me as Kane and Finger trying to hint on DC. I was aware that the Dynamic Duo made appearances on the Superman show -- but that wouldn't be until 1945 or so. I wasn't aware of a pilot episode attempt, that might be a good thing to get a hold of!

    Thanks again for the comment and I was happy to give the tip. Always enjoyed your site!