Tuesday, May 28, 2013

World's Finest Comics #7 (Fall, 1942)

Robin looks pretty pleased with himself on this cover, which is fair I suppose with a cover that is in-no-way-phallic as this one is. I mean it's just three superheroes pointing their big guns right at you, y'know?

"The North Pole Crimes"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Gotham City gangster "Angles" Bigbee decides he's sick of the cops and the Batman always messing up his business, and moves his gang somewhere they can operate unhindered: the Arctic circle. Hoo, boy.
So yes, they move all the way up north to begin attacking "company trading posts" in Alaska, Greenland, Baffin Island, etc. They fly in to one of these small settlements that trade "skins and furs with the Eskimos", steal all the money, and leave behind a snowman as a calling card, earning the name "The Snowman Bandits". They establish an extremely elaborate (like, Bond villain lair elaborate) base in a hollowed-out glacier of all things (which I don't think is physically possible even if stealing from fur traders would give you enough money for such an engineering feat). 
Meanwhile, back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon sends Batman and Robin to go deal with this criminals (isn't this a little bit out of everyone's jurisdiction??) because apparently the FBI is too busy dealing with spies and saboteurs to stop crooks in Alaska (what about the RCMP??)
Batman creates special cold-weather outfits for himself and Robin that work like electric blankets with wires running through the fabric to keep them warm rather than just wear parkas or something and while that kind've makes sense for Batman the fact is that it really shouldn't do anything for Robin considering his arms and legs are still bare. Either way they head up north by Batplane, arriving at a settlement just as the bandits strike.
After the customary two-page fight scene, the crooks get away in their plane. Afterwards, the Dynamic Duo meets Ray, a local photographer, and Cal Daly, a prospector. Cal plays checkers every night with his partner Curly over shortwave radio, but tonight Curly goes mysteriously silent midway through the game. Batman, Robin, Ray and Cal all hop in the Batplane to fly to Curly's and investigate, but of course the old-timer is found dead -- murdered!
However, Batman finds that the checkers on Curly's board are arranged oddly -- and by matching the number of the square to letters of the alphabet finds it spells... BIKOU! (Erm, okay Batman, great hunch...) However it turns out that Bikou is the name of a glacier in these parts. Batman figures Curly inadvertantly found the crooks' hideout and was killed for it. Ray offers to take the Dynamic Duo to the glacier, as he's familiar with these parts, and they set off in a dogsled (the Batplane's motor might warn the crooks of their approach, you see).
But then Ray turns out to be a crook (what a twist) and knocks out Batman and Robin, leaving them to die in the snow. When they awake, they're stranded and their only hope is to hike through the snow (I remind you Robin is dressed in a t-shirt and short-shorts). So naturally Robin begins to succumb to the cold first -- feeling warm and sleepy. Batman's method of saving his partner? He smacks him upside the head and calls him yellow! (See Batman #12 for more of Batman's dickery in this line) Anyways, it's just a blow to get Robin riled up and not succumb to the cold.
But as the sun rises, the light reflecting off the snow makes the heroes snow blind, and they're almost killed by a polar bear but they're saved by the crack shot of Cal Daly. The group returns to town, where Batman convinces the local population to fight the bandits. They get the Batplane ready for take off, and the gas fumes from the motor melts one of the snowmen left behind by the bandits. Inside, Batman finds a box of money -- yes the mystery of the snowmen is they contained Ray's payments, Ray who would scout out the towns, take pictures and report back to "Angles" when furs come in. Batman beats up Ray, he confesses.
Batman's "army" approaches the Bikou glacier by an ice boat fleet, and both heroes have dyed their suits white so they're harder to spot in the ice -- the first time the Dynamic Duo use special alternate costumes! (additionally Robin's hair is dyed white too, which is hilarious).
After a two-page battle, Batman has "Angles" cornered. They battle on the ice, when it cracks and swallows up "Angles" (and then the crack closes after he falls through it, which I am pretty sure is not how that works). Batman jokes that it's one angle he never counted on, then the Dynamic Duo plant a US flag at the North Pole (oh for cryin' out loud), and finally fly home.

My Thoughts:  I'm from Canada, and I gotta say I found the idea that Batman and Robin, even in heated suits, could be going around fighting guys at a location near the North Pole is bullshit. It's also kind've bullshit that Canada itself is never mentioned, despite a shoutout to Baffin Island. There's an implication that this is all more or less happening in Alaska, but largely everything in the North (Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Greenland) seems to have been conflated in this story into a similar area, easily traveled, and near enough to the North Pole. In reality of course these places are miles upon desolate miles distant, and even the northernmost settlement on Earth is 817km from the North Pole, which is of course not on land but in fact just water covered over with ice.
While Americans Frederick Cook, Robert Peary, and Richard Byrd all claimed to have reached the Pole (in 1908, 1909 and 1926 respectively), the fact of the matter is that all three were likely lying out of their asses, and the first credible over land attainment of the pole was in 1937 by the Soviet Union. There would not be a succesful US landing until 1952. 
The Art: Standard quality level from the Kane Studio. The art depicts the north much the way some East coast city slicker who would never have seen it other than in a movie would depict it. Everyone looks like an old-timey prospector, there's polar bears side by side with penguins (that's SOUTH POLE, guys! SOUTH!), and it's all perpetual winter. However, the snow-white costumes of Batman and Robin are distinctive, even if Robin's white hair is just hilarious (seriously, the goofy things this kid is up for in the name of crime-fighting).
The Story: I've never been one for stories that take Batman out of Gotham City, unless they have a good justification. And this story does not. Things are tough in Gotham so you decide to become an ice bandit in the Arctic Circle? That's fucking crazy. They have a hollowed-out glacier hideout? That's cool, but also fucking crazy. Batman and Robin leave Gotham to stop ice bandits in the Arctic Circle because the FBI is too busy? This is a fucking crazy comic book. Ultimately, it's just another "Batman and Robin in setting X" story, but I hate those stories and this one is pretty weak. And that ending? Ugh.
Notes and Trivia: Batman and Robin attain the North Pole (sheesh), first appearance of customized Batsuits (snowsuits in this occasion)

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