Saturday, August 24, 2013

Detective Comics #71 (January, 1943)

"Crime a Day!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Batman has agreed to give a daily series of lectures about crime fighting for the USO, and so come Monday crowds of Gothamites show up to watch Batman's lecture (can you imagine modern-day Batman doing something like this?).
Batman's opening lecture addresses the concept of clues, and he points out that the Joker is often undone by his egotism where he intentionally leaves clues daring Batman to stop him and these are often his undoing.
Batman's remarks hit the newspapers which are soon calling Joker an egotistical fool -- there's even an editorial cartoon lampooning him!
Well, of course, openly mocking the psychopathic muderous clown in your city is a good way to get a response, and so Joker crashes Batman's next lecture with some of those clues he's going on about: "Take a Bow -  Sow the Seeds - Shed a Tear - Reap the Harvest". Joker plans to commit crimes based on clues Batman can't possibly figure in order to shame him into quitting. He'll commit a crime a day to match Batman's lecture a day. 
Batman realizes that the "Harvest" refers to a painting of that name by a famous artist that's being displayed at a new art exhibit. The Dynamic Duo race over there, but Joker and his men are already there -- spraying the crowds with pepper spray while they make off with the goods (oh, and Joker takes a bow before doing so, so that all the clues work). 
Joker and his men make off with the painting in an oil truck and while the Batmobile is in hot pursuit they easily shake it by pouring oil all over it and then lighting it on fire! Joker escapes whlie Batman has to ram the Batmobile into a fire hydrant to save Robin and himself (the car is wrecked, though). 
Joker's daily crimes continue and he continues to make a fool out of Batman, until it is the Dark Knight who finds himself the subject of an editorial cartoon. At his lecture, he is hammered with questions about his inability to catch the Joker. The pressure is such that Batman actually does consider quitting crime fighting, until Robin sets him straight and restores his self-confidence. 
Joker airdrops his newest clues on the Dynamic Duo: "Kill the Motor - Hang the Jury - Take the Rap". Batman and Robin think it must refer to a court or a trial at first until they realize that "rap" could also mean "wrap" (what) meaning a woman's wrap garment, meaning the beauty contest being judged tonight for which the prize is a fur wrap worth $15,000! (Almost $200,000 today!) This month's apophenia concluded, they race to the contest, where Joker has trapped the contest's jury in the elevator for which he has cut the power (hence the first two clues).
Our heroes save the jury, and Batman manages to catch up to Joker and capture him this time -- at his next lecture he displays Joker live in a cage and mocks him on stage (which seems like a questionable decision) and our story ends with a final editorial cartoon mocking the Joker.
My Thoughts:  We've really moved quickly from "Batman, Dark Avenger of the Night" into stories that would feel totally at home on the Adam West TV show, haven't we? Once again we have a Joker story that emphasizes that the Clown Prince of Crime is more into testing Batman than any kind of actual gain from his criminal exploits. The interesting thing about this issue is the way it frames their battles not as a private feud but as something that the whole city is an audience for, which makes sense. We only get rare hints occasionally in these Golden Age stories of how the average citizen reacts to Batman or his rogues, so this kind of story is fun for the new perspective it gives on our characters -- even if the idea of a publicly famous Batman who gives lectures for USO benefits is pretty unthinkable in a modern context.
The Art: Jerry Robinson is clearly doing a majority of the work here, contributing a lot of detail and dimension in his inks over Kane's rough pencils -- it appears to me that Kane is mostly doing figures, faces, and layouts while Robinson is fleshing them out. However the story also has a lot of really great black shadows and somehow the art all pulls together to give the story, ridiculous on the surface, an effective urban thriller feel that gives it the grandiosity of a classic Batman/Joker tale from this era. The mock editorial cartoons are also really well done and in a convincing imitation of the common style.
The Story: Bill Finger's scripts often meander, introducing an initial gimmick before quickly forgetting it in favour of big setpieces, but this story stays on track by keeping anchored to the crime/lecture a day, clues and editorial cartoons. Joker's clues are actually pretty clever this time around and the crimes and chases interesting and new -- by coming up with this exciting variations Finger avoids the feeling of repetition one sometimes gets when reading these stories one after another. The sight of the flaming Batmobile crashing into a fire hydrant is pretty amazing. 
Notes and Trivia: Another Batmobile destroyed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Batman #14 (December 1942/January 1943)

"The Case Batman Failed to Solve!!!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: A gathering of the world's greatest detectives is to be held in New York City at the behest of the great Dana Drye. Invited are "Sir John" of Scotland Yard, America's greatest "country" detective Sheriff Ezra Plunkett (who seems to live in one of those Old West towns Bill Finger seems convinced still exist west of the Appalachians), Grace Seers (a *gasp* woman!), Dr. Tsu the great Chinese (racial stereotype) detective of San Francisco, and finally of course the Batman and Robin (invitation delivered by way of Commissioner Gordon).
Batman exposits to Robin that Dana Drye is the "dean of detectives", greatest of them all and so on, and so the Dynamic Duo is greatly honoured to attend and meet all the other stereotype detectives. 
Dana Drye, a very old man, comes out to address the group to announce his retirement... and is promptly shot and killed. The detectives all rush to the window but find that the building there in is on the river, so no one could have fired the shot... it's a mystery! Rather than notify the authorities, Batman suggests they all compete to discover the murderer and meet back at midnight (rather confident of their abilities, aren't they?)
Right away they see someone running from the scene of the crime and chase after him -- they would've gotten him too, but Dr. Tsu trips them and lets the man get away so that Tsu can question him instead himself (because he's a treacherous Chinaman, you see). 
Grace approaches the Dynamic Duo and lets them in on her theory that clothes are the essential clue to solving crimes (because she's a woman, you see), and tells Batman the clue that Drye's pockets were empty, which Batman is convinced is utterly essential to solving the mystery. 
Finally, Sir John reveals he's taking Drye's body to the crime lab to be examined because science is the only way to solve a murder (thank you!), while Sheriff Anachronism explains that he believes all he has to sit and think on it because common sense is all you need for detective work (because he's a time traveler from 1888, you see).
Batman and Robin head to Drye's apartment (drawn as a house) to follow up the vital "HIS POCKETS WERE EMPTY" clue, but upon arrival end up fighting a bunch of crooks who were searching the apartment for... something. Batman tries to indicate to Robin to let them go so they can follow them back to their superiors but Robin can't take a hint because he's eight, so they all end up unconscious and Batman is left to pick up the pieces when he notices that a weapon is missing from a display shield that fell down from the wall. The crooks already got what they were looking for!
They head off to police headquarters but none of the detectives there can identify the missing weapon. Sir John rushes out of the crime lab to inform Batman that the bullet that killed Drye is perfectly smooth, with no rifling marks of any kind. Batman identifies it as an old musket ball -- but why would the killer use such an out of date weapon? 
Then Ms Seers runs into them again, informing them that she discovered that Drye's suit was made by a tailor who specializes in making suits for magicians! At that moment, some gangsters show up and start a big fight!
They capture the heroes because it's that point in the story, bringing them to their boss, the notorious Red Rip. Rip explains that Drye had a lifetime of evidence on him that he never turned over to the cops, because Drye solved crimes just for the fun of it. Rip's men were searching Drye's place for where he kept the evidence, not the missing weapon, meaning they didn't take it! 
Dr. Tsu rescues them from the crooks, and informs them that the missing weapon was Drye's antique flintlock pistol. There's a fight scene where the criminals are defeated, and then the Sheriff tells Batman that he found an odd mark on the windowsill of the window the shot was fired through.
Batman then goes to search the bottom of the river for the final piece of the puzzle, which he finds. Now he can explain everything to Robin:
"We all assumed it was murder... it was not! It was suicide! Drye knew he was to die shortly of an incurable malady, so he staged this mystery to baffle us all, hoping we'd never be able to solve it!"
Drye had set the flintlock on the windowsill, because the powder could be ignited by heat from the sun after being set long enough, then the recoil would knock the gun off the windowsill, leaving no murder weapon. The evidence of Rip's crimes was in a box attached the to gun, weighing it down. Drye used a magician's suit with secret pockets to smuggle the apparatus into the room.
Then Batman and Robin discovers Drye's diary amid his papers, which reveal that Drye had figured out that BATMAN IS REALLY BRUCE WAYNE way back in 1940 (presumably because it was obvious within a year of his first appearance!) and chosen not to reveal it to the world out of respect for Batman's wishes. 
With this in mind, Batman decides not to reveal the truth of Drye's suicide either, and so when midnight comes the world's greatest detectives all just collectively give up on solving a murder because they failed to do so by an arbitrary and somewhat ridiculously short deadline.
My Thoughts: "The Case Batman 'Failed' to Solve" is a good entry in the "Batman-as-a-detective" genre, stories which are always a good change of pace from "Batman-as-a-sentient-pair-of-fists" stories. But while I like Detective Batman, he's not very well serviced by the 13-page stories of the Golden Age, often resulting in resolutions that come out of nowhere. But at least this time the guys remembered to include clues.
The Art: Jerry Robinson's artwork in this story may, may, be the best art ever featured in a Batman comic up to this point. It's not the moodiest, it lacks the noir shadows of a Roussos inked story, and it also lacks the peculiar drama Kane brings to things, but on a purely technical level it is just gorgeous to behold compared to everything that's come before. Figures actually look somewhat three-dimensional, Batman and Robin's faces no longer appear to be cardboard cut-outs, individual faces are well defined and individualistically drawn. The draftsmanship here is just amazing, a real cut above everything we've seen so far, even the work of Jack Burnley (although it does admittedly lack Burnley's sense of drama). 
The Story: Cameron's script is a step above Finger's usual efforts in that it's almost possible to figure out the mystery on your own with the clues given (although how did Batman deduce that Drye had an incurable illness?), however it's biggest problem is that it's too busy. There are a ton of characters and subplots and clues introduced over the course of the story and it makes the whole thing feel very fractured and haphazard. It doesn't help that all of the other detectives are rather hack stereotypes (and what was the point of the Old West Sheriff character?). The entire gangster subplot is very tacked on and obviously just there to give us some action because we couldn't possibly have a Batman story without at least two fight scenes, right?? That being said, I won't knock Cameron too hard because at the end of the day this is a good story that holds up and even competence of story structure is impressive sometimes in the Golden Age of Comics.

"Prescription for Happiness!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Doc Chalmers is a pharmacist on Gotham's Lower East Side who is basically the nicest guy ever. He gives candy to children, free medication to poor people, offers kind words to the beat cop who comes in for foot powder, tries to keep the fat balding guy's self-esteem up, refuses to give steroids to the down-on-his-luck prize-fighter who just needs to believe in himself, gives advice to the young doctor trying to build his practice, etc. etc.
One day a woman comes to his shop wanting prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) so she can kill herself. Chalmers takes her to his young doctor friend for help with her "hysteria". Meanwhile, across the street a gangster named "Pills" Mattson is conducting a robbery.
Batman and Robin show up to fight him and his gang but during the brawl "Pills" is banged on the head and an explosion knocks dust into Batman's eyes, allowing the crooks to get away (no, really).
"Pills" is something of a hypochondriac and demands they stop at a pharmacy so he can get some aspirin for his head, and of course they end up at Doc Chalmer's. They end up taking Chalmers, the young doctor, and the girl hostage and decide to use the place as their new base. But then BATMAN shows up there as well, to get his eyes cleaned out! In a tense moment, Chalmers helps the Batman while he cannot dare reveal that he's got gangsters and a hostage situation going on in the back! The Dynamic Duo leaves, Robin eating some liquorice and making the odd remark that he hasn't had candy like this since he was a kid -- Dick, you're eight years old!
Anyways, the crooks use the druggist's as a base of operations, getting their messages out to their men in pill bottles, which the men have to steal from the people they are normally prescribed to in a uselessly convoluted scheme. This series of bizarre crimes in the Lower East Side make Batman realize they are operating out of Chalmer's shop, and he goes in to investigate alone -- and is promptly chloroformed and tied up for his troubles.
Dick realizes Bruce has been gone too long, and decides to investigate by getting a job at the store as a soda fountain boy. He manages to smuggle some tubes of toothpaste to Batman in the back, and the Dark Knight manages to cut through his bonds with the jagged edge of the toothpaste tube!
A fight breaks out, but the whole neighbourhood hears it and soon enough Batman and Robin are being assisted by the prize-fighter, the beat cop, etc. and all the crooks are defeated. The beat cop gets a promotion to a car so no more foot pain, the prize-fighter gets his self-confidence back, the doctor gets a new nurse and girlfriend in the person of the troubled young girl, and the crooks go to jail.
Unfortunately Doc Chalmer's shop was smashed up good in the fight and he doesn't have enough money to cover the damages. But with the encouragement of the Batman, the neighbourhood bands together to help not only cover the damages but actually improve the shop so it's better than ever (even though Bruce Wayne could probably have paid for it all himself without much trouble).
My Thoughts: Another street-level, man-of-the-people, average-joe morality play type story of the kind that Bill Finger is a big fan of telling. It comes off well even if Chalmers is a little too saintly to be believeable and most of the story relies on a whole ton of coincedences. I find it amusing how revered the local druggist is here, with a pill or a tonic for every problem, since I've been playing Red Dead Redemption lately, where medical science is not nearly as well thought of. 
The Art: Robinson's inks do a lot of good here, but you can tell this is Kane's work. Batman and Robin are back to their 2D selves, Chalmers looks like every old man Kane has ever drawn, etc. None of this is bad, and Robinson's inks keep the quality pretty high, with good detailing in the panels, but it's a noticeable step down from the previous story.
The Story: Another Don Cameron script! It's a pretty standard story, the most notable thing being the bizarre choice of focus for a comic book (what ten year old cares about his local pharmacist?) and the story's rather coincedence driven nature. That being said, Cameron keeps things admirably focused and on track, with the story developing fairly naturally and moving from A to B in a way that, while predictable, at least makes sense.

"Swastika Over the White House!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: Young Fred Hopper is trying to get a job as a newsreel cameraman at the Gotham City newsreel company. The chief, Mr. McCoy, will only give him a job if he can get footage of the reclusive millionaire J. Peerless Morton. The other cameramen at the company take a liking to Fred and help him get the footage, and so he gets the job. The successful company's next assignment is taking footage of war production factories, footage which of course will be properly censored by the war department before appearing in newsreels.
But what the others don't know is that young Fred Hopper is in actuality young Fritz Hoffner, a Nazi spy taking his orders from a spy ring led by Count Felix (of course the German nobility had been abolished in 1919) and operating out of an antique store (they have a swastika shaped chandelier!) Anyways, this whole thing was a set-up so that Fritz could take photos of the US war production unhampered -- he will have a secret spy camera within his main camera and the footage it takes won't be censored.
However Count Felix is no fool -- he also realizes that Batman and Robin must be dealt with, and so when the Dynamic Duo happens to arrive the next day at the newsreel company to do some footage for the war bond campaign the Count springs a drive-by shooting on them! It is, of course, unsuccessful, but even though our heroes capture the Nazi would-be assassins, they refuse to talk.
Suspicious, Batman decides to begin shadowing the newsreel men, while Fritz begins to bring the first of his espionage footage to his superiors. They decide to attack the factory, but Batman decides to patrol it the same night, and so the Nazis engage in battle with the Dynamic Duo who realize that "Fred" is a spy.
The Nazis bind the Duo and stick them in a car loaded with explosives and send them to crash into the gasoline tanks, but in typical serial cliff-hanger fashion even though it appears that the car does explode, Batman and Robin in fact get out just in the nick of time by using the cigarette lighter to cut their bonds. 
They follow Hoffner to the antique shop, and beat up all the Nazis (even using the swastika chandelier for the old "spin and kick" routine). Using maps and records found in the hideout tey are also able to arrest scores of other spies throughout the country.
My Thoughts: We're almost a year into full-fledged involvement in WWII for the US, but aside from some patriotic covers we've seen very little war-related storytelling in Batman. This is in fact the first story to involve Nazis as villains since the US entered the war. In some ways this is a good thing -- Batman fights crime in Gotham City, not ideological socio-political conflicts on a global scale, but given how easily the Nazis become comic book villains (see contemporary issues of Wonder Woman for example) it's still somewhat surprising that the book has been as restrained as it has been to this point. Although I still wonder why Bruce isn't serving overseas (other than the fact that it would be difficult to fight crime in Gotham otherwise, but why hasn't he been drafted?). 
The Art: Jack Burnley delivers some really great stuff here, almost attempting photorealism, or as close to it as you can get while still having to be consistent to the cartooning style of Bob Kane. The inks by his brother Ray are absolute fantastic, lending great noiresque shadowy blacks to everyone's faces. Just about everything in the story looks dynamite except Batman and Robin themselves, oddly enough, who retain their Bob Kane style two-dimensionality. That being said, the Burnley art is good enough on the whole that it's always a treat.
The Story:  It's a pretty standard "heroes defeat Nazi spy ring" story from Cameron, but the newsreel cameraman angle feels new and adds interest. Most of the schemes make sense and the action setpieces are fairly exciting. The title is a little misleading though -- I mean yes "swastikas over the White House" is the eventual Nazi game plan but it's not a good indication of what's actually going on in this story.

"Bargains in Banditry!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: It's a Penguin story, and this time the old buzzard has a doozy of a plan. He's offering "bargains in crime" -- he's selling criminal plots. Come to him, pay him a fee upfront and he develops a fool-proof plan for bankrobbing, kidnapping, etc. and gives it to you, collecting a percentage of profits after the fact as well. It's a brilliant scheme, in fact it's the smartest thing Penguin has done so far and one of the smartest things any Batman villain has done to this point. Penguin sells a bankrobbing plan to Hairless Harry and Torchy Blaze, and soon his business is picking up quite well.
The bank robbery goes just as planned, but when Harry and Torchy arrive at their hideout they find Penguin waiting for them -- he wants his cut. And this is when Penguin's brilliant scheme goes stupid because he shoots both men with an umbrella gun and takes the entire loot. Penguin thinks this is smart but how is he gonna keep this scam going once it gets out he's murdering his customers and stealing from them?
Anyways Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are going to the bank to buy a few more thousands of dollars worth of war bonds but when they arrive they find it's the bank that was robbed. The next day the murder of the two gangsters is in the paper and Bruce pieces together what happened. They head to Grand Boulevard in the Batplane, "where the big jewelry stores are located", and where Batman is sure some of Penguin's dupes are sure to strike.
Sure enough, Slippery Elmer and his gang are looting a jewelry store and while they immediately surrender, Batman and Robin beat them up anyways -- confirming my longheld belief that Batman is in crime-fighting more for the physical violence than the values of justice. Elmer gets away, but the Dynamic Duo follow him in the Batplane to his hideout -- where Penguin is waiting to kill him!! Batman and Robin show up but Penguin catches them all in a chickenwire net and escapes!
The next day, Bruce and Dick have freed themselves and delivered Elmer to the police off-panel, when Bruce decides that the best way to draw Penguin out is to start a rival crime planning company. And so, dressed in his best "Nick-Fury-on-an-off-day" cosplay, Bruce sets up shop as "Bad News" Brewster and begins selling plans to crooks. Dick thinks he's gone nuts until it's obvious that all the plans lead the crooks straight into police traps -- which, again, how do you keep the business going once word of that gets out?
Anyways, Penguin challenges Brewster and gives an address to meet him at. Batman and Robin show up... and are instantly trapped in a giant umbrella that realizes crazy knock-out gas (it's seriously like something right out of the 60s TV show, amazing). Turns out Penguin figured things out because "Bad News" sounds like "Batman"... wait, what?
Penguin ties the two up seperately and starts throwing darts at Batman's head but Robin manages to break loose and take penguin down with one of his own umbrellas. FINALLY the Dynamic Duo capture the Penguin and bring him to jail, where he is promptly sentenced to death for the murders of those two crooks earlier in the story. The End. Wait... what?
My Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this story because for once the plot of the criminal was something pretty intelligent and made sense and wasn't just about gimmicks. Batman's counterplot was pretty clever too. Of course Penguin gets too greedy and this is his undoing, but that element of the tale actually seemed like a lost opportunity, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. Also, this is the first Penguin tale to end with Batman actually capturing the crook, as he's always escaped at the end of previous stories, but the sudden announcement of his death sentence seemed very extreme -- granted, all it really means is that if no one uses the Penguin after this then at least Batman finally caught the guy and brought him to justice, while if they want to use him again then it's easy to just right him as escaping (Spoiler alert: Penguin totally appears agan!)
The Art:  Not quite up to the usual Burnley standard, but still really good. It basically just looks like A-game Bob Kane, which is what it's supposed to look like anyway, but I must admit I don't think Burnley draws the characters created by Kane as well as everyone else. Which is to say that his "normal" people look fantastic but his Penguin lacks something (Kane draws a really good Penguin) and his Dynamic Duo always come off as cheap copies. I can't put my finger on it. It's not bad, in fact technically speaking it's probably much better than Kane, but it lacks something somehow.
The Story: Cheers to Don Cameron for coming up with something unique for Penguin to do that still feels totally in keeping with his character -- in fact this kind of "brains over brawn, third party crime" stuff feels very much like the Modern Age version of the character, or at least it would if the Modern Age version was ever done right. However I wish Cameron would have realized that crooks would have turned against Penguin themselves once they realized what he was up to -- a story where Batman and Robin actually teamed up with disenfranchised crooks to take down the cheating Penguin would have been really cool. Alas, instead we got a tale whose climax is essentially right on the money for the kind of thing Adam West and co. would parody twenty years later -- ridiculous, but kind've awesome at the same time.
Notes and Trivia:  Penguin jailed for the first time, sentenced to death. 
Penguin Body Count: 5

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Detective Comics #70 (December, 1942)

An absolutely spectacular cover from Jerry Robinson -- dynamic, pulpy, and it actually depicts a scene in the story! Fantastic!

"The Man Who Could Read Minds!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick attend a performance of Carlos, the Man who Can Read Minds! However, after the show Bruce explains to Dick that Carlos is a fake, and that his "mind-reading" is just a trick. 
Late that evening, as he is driving home, Carlos gets into a terrible car accident. Rushed to hospital, only delicate brain surgery can save his life. But there is a power outage at the hospital! By the time the emergency lights are back on, the neurosurgeon can't be sure if his scalpel slipped somehow. 
However, Carlos lives -- but through some strange comic book bullshit has been actually given the ability to read minds! He very quickly realizes that he could become a totally awesome criminal with this ability. Soon he's out robbing people's safes using combinations he's telepathized out of them, and when Batman and Robin try to stop him he's able to easily evade their attacks. He even threatens to reveal their secret identities if they try to stop him -- yes, he knows they are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson!
Stymied, Bruce and Dick sit at home, when a bat flies through the window with a message! It's Carlos, taunting them with the knowledge that he's going to Miser's Isle to steal Old Pete Jorgen's buried treasure (wait, what?) and if they try to stop him he'll reveal their secret. But, since they are heroes, Bruce and Dick decide to go anyway, even if it means... the end of Batman and Robin!
They fly to the island in the Batplane and try to fight Carlos -- but, y'know, dude can read minds, so it's totally fruitless. He manages to knock out both Batman and Robin. He throws Robin in a bathysphere and drops him to the bottom of the ocean with the oxygen valve turned off, while Batman gets the standard trap-door-into-a-room-with-the-walls-closing-in dilemma (Carlos apparently had time to booby trap Old Pete's house before coming here?) Batman's able to get out of the trap because, y'know, this isn't his first time or anything, and when he gets out he finds Carlos questioning Old Pete behind bullet-proof glass. He's able to make it through the glass using his diamond studded platinum Bat-logo shaped police badge that we've never seen before and save Old Pete. He also knows where and how to save Robin too -- is it possible Batman is also a mind reader?
He dives into the sea to save Robin by cutting him out of the bathysphere with an acetylene torch (hence the cover image) but as they swim up to shore they are again confronted by Carlos -- but they are saved when Old Pete just straight up SHOOTS HIM. Guess that was one mind Carlos couldn't read? Or else bullets travel faster than thoughts. 
Batman rigs a lighthouse to project a Bat-Signal to call the coast guard, but while that's happening a dying Carlos scrawls Batman is really Bruce Wayne into the sand of the beach. However by the time the coast guard gets there Carlos has died and the waves have luckily washed away the message.
Robin asks Batman how he knew where to rescue him, and Batman explains that he saw Carlos taunting Old Pete with the information through the glass, and while Carlos could read minds, he forgot Batman can read lips!
My Thoughts: Don Cameron delivers a standard, but well told, entry in the "oh no, the secret identity!" genre, although I'm not sure how I feel about telepaths in the Batman world, but at least there's an attempt to make it plausible in medical science, however vague and ridiculous it is. It's no worse than alternate worlds and witches and so forth. Also -- diamond studded police badge?? Where did this come from?
The Art:  Bob Kane's artwork isn't as good as Jerry Robinson's, but he's still got a talent for character design -- Carlos resembles Hugo Strange only with bushy eyebrows instead of the goatee and queer bottle-cap glasses. The climax at Miser's Isle takes up most of the issue and it's action and environs gives the artists a lot of fun elements to play with.
The Story: It's straightforward and gets from point A to B. There's nothing overly special about it, and it has a ton of old pulp clichés, and Carlos has no reason for turning evil other than "he can" (which is sometimes enough anyway) -- but all that being said there are no burgeoning plot holes, it's coherent and consistent, it's competent and there are few cheats (diamond Bat-badge, aside). So all in all I'm calling this a win for veteran writer Don Cameron.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Batman's diamond-studded platinum Bat-logo shapped police badge.

Detective Comics #69 (November, 1942)

"The Harlequin's Hoax!"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Bob Kane 
Inks: Jerry Robinson  
Synopsis: Four men in Gotham City receive some very strange packages from the Joker. Charles Saunders receives a radio with no loudspeaker, Mr. Fordney an automobile with only three wheels, Richard Morse gets a telescope with no lens, and finally Jim Brown gets a clock with no hour hand. Despite the seeming nonsensical uselessness of these "gifts", the men are all shocked and horrified -- there is some meaning behind the Joker's seemingly random "generosity".
Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is on a date with Linda Page at an amusement park -- but when they go on the "parachute drop" the ride gets stuck with them hanging in the air! An hour goes by and it still hasn't been fixed, and then the Bat-Signal blares into the night sky! What's a guy to do? Well, Bruce releases his safety belt, and pretends to "fall" and then catch a cable and slide down it. Playing "shaken" he hurriedly leaves the amusement park, and Linda still stuck in the air. Responding to the call of duty? 1. Not being a dick to your date? 0.
At HQ, Gordon fills him in on the Joker's latest mad antics, and Batman (reasonably by this point) assumes there must be a pattern and a larger scheme at work here. But what??
That night, Joker easily robs a department store -- the alarms were all turned off, leading Batman to think it must have been an inside job. And what a coincedence -- Saunders works at the same department store! With that in mind, when Joker attempts to rob a camera store where Fordney is a superintendant - Batman and Robin are there to meet him! A quick fight later and they've actually caught him! Tied up in the back of the car, ready to be taken to the police! What the heck? There's still six pages left in this comic!
Well, Joker ignites a flashbulb making Batman think they've popped a tire (really, Batman?) and when the Dark Knight stops to take a look at it Joker manages to get away. It may be the most down-to-earth and yet somehow ridiculous Joker escape yet.
Anyways, Batman decides to check on his hunch of what connects the men with the gifts and quickly finds himself proven right. Saunders is deaf in one ear, Fordney has a wooden leg, Morse a glass eye, and Brown an artificial hand -- just like the radio with no speaker, the car missing a wheel, the telescope with no lens and the clock with no hand. Turns out the four men had been in an accidental explosion in another city which caused their injuries and lead to the death of two other men. They had been implicated in the deaths and acquitted, but the scandal had forced them to leave and set up shop in Gotham. Joker somehow found out and has been blackmailing them.
A flash on the radio reveals Morse has given into the Joker's demands, but Brown promises Batman he will go to the police. At that moment, Joker and his men burst into Brown's home. They overpower the heroes and handcuff them to the radiator, leaving them to die with a time bomb about to go off (of all the hackneyed things!)
Brown manages to get out of the handcuffs since, ya know, one of his hands is fake (weird that Joker would forget about that) and throws the bomb out the window. He lets Batman know that Joker is headed to an aircraft manufacturing plant.
There, Joker is going to steal the diamonds the plant uses for it's precision drilling and cutting. Batman and Robin show up to stop the theft, culminating in a dramatic battle in and around the assembly line of the plant! But at the end of the line are the finished planes and surprise surprise Joker uses one to escape! The End.
Wait, what?
My Thoughts: Another formulaic Joker story, although quite competently handled by Greene. The most interesting element is the wartime references -- Joker stealing cameras because they aren't being made anymore and thus valuable, Batman won't drive on a popped tire because it would ruin rubber that's in short supply, Joker raiding an fighter plane manufacturing plant, etc.
The Art: Absolutely nothing special at all here, in fact a little subpar, until we get to the chase through the factory, an unfortunately truncated two-page sequence that is awesome in its scope and superbly drawn (perhaps traced or otherwise based heavily on photoreference).
The Story: Greene handles the Joker formula better than in his last few appearances -- the random acts of mischief at the top are actually important throughout the whole story, the bigger crimes are consistent and build on each other, the clues actually progress and make sense, etc. It's nothing special really, just competent writing, but unfortunately competent writing reads like a breath of fresh air sometimes in Golden Age comics. What Greene gets right here is that Joker's scheme only seems crazy at the start, but is completely reasonable once we have all the facts.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Batman #13 (October/November, 1942)

This wartime cover by Jerry Robinson is neat, but the sight of Batman and Robin parachuting into a combat zone does make me really wonder.... why the hell hasn't Bruce Wayne been serving in the war? Were rich people exempt? Guess he was just lucky enough not to be drafted, and didn't volunteer because he's... not patriotic? Devoted to his war on crime? It must be that second one.

"The Batman Plays a Lone Hand!"

Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: Dick comes home to find Bruce packing his suitcase. Are they going on a trip? No! Dick is leaving, because from now on, Batman works alone! Bruce has finally realized what we've all been screaming at him, which is that having a kid sidekick is reckless child endangerment. Now, firing Dick from being Robin is one thing, but flat out kicking Dick out of the house and on to the streets (which is what is happening) is not just a dick move, it's also kind of cold and evil. Am I suddenly reading a 1990s comic?

Dick tries to point out all the times he's saved Batman from certain death at the hands of their enemies, but it's no use. Bruce is alone, and Dick is out on the streets, living under a bridge with hobos (holy shit this is dark, what the fuck Bruce?). Then, in the night's sky -- the Bat Signal! Dick almost springs into action before remembering he's not Robin anymore, and then sees Batman swing into action overhead.... with another Robin!! It's all clear now -- he got rid of Dick not to protect his safety, but because he'd found a new kid he likes better!
Heartbroken, Dick sells his two-way radio to a pawn shop for eight bucks, enough money to live off of until he gets himself a job in his new Dickensian lifestyle (eight bucks being about $100 in today's money).
Now the story flashes back an hour to show us the call from Commissioner Gordon that the Batman answered. "The Thumb" and his mob have tried murder Mayor Not-LaGuardia, and while unsuccessful they were able to escape. The Batman swings after their car, the new Robin close behind him -- but "The Thumb" (he's just a gangster who wants the city under his) fires at the boy with his tommy gun and kills him!
The Batman jumps down to attack the crooks, but they manage to get away. Luckily, they didn't murder anyone -- Batman's been carrying a mannequin dummy Robin around behind him as a decoy to draw the crook's fire. Which, when you think about it, if that's his main use for Robin... you're really fucked up, Bruce, y'know that?
The gangsters realize they need to kill Batman before they can do anything else (duh) -- so they place a clever trap for him: a notice in the newspaper saying to meet them at a certain address (oy). Batman decides to go anyway (really Bruce?) but in disguise as a door-to-door sweeper guy (were those a thing?) he's able to get a foot in the door before unleashing the typical Dark Knight can of whoopass on the gangsters. Somehow, despite just being a bunch of goons, they manage to overpower the Batman (Batman's Strength Level in a Comic - Act 1: Awesome, Act 2: Weakling, Act 3: OP as Fuck -- look it up, kids) and imprison him Cask of Amontillado style in the basement to die slowly of starvation and suffocation. 
Which is when Batman decides to use his two-way radio to call the kid sidekick he threw away like a bad pair of socks, and the message comes through to the pawn shop owner. For a minute I hoped the pawn shop owner would step up, but he finds the message annoying and shuts off the radio. D'oh!
But luckily, Thumb and his boys go to dinner at a restaurant where Dick has been working as a dishwasher, and the kid overhears them gloat about offing Batman and thus springs to action. He changes into his Robin costume that he's been apparently wearing under the same outfit he's been wearing the last two days, and busts in to save the Batman.
After all the gangsters have been thoroughly K.O.'d, Robin heads off into the night again, since the Batman doesn't need him. But, he does! Turns out Thumb had threatened to kill Robin in order to keep Batman from interfering (a dumb threat), so Batman pushed Robin out of the team and had Thumb think he was killing Robin when he just shot a dummy, in order to keep Robin safe. And he didn't tell Robin and of this and was a huge dick to him because he knew that if Robin was in on things, he'd insist on being involved anyway (which is true, he totally would) and thus this was all an elaborate emotional manipulation so that Batman could beat up crooks without worrying about Robin (which doesn't negate the point that he always has to worry about Robin because he's a little kid and taking him into firefights is ridiculous).
My Thoughts:
So for a while I thought I was reading a late 90s/early 00s "Asshole Batman" story, with how manipulative Bruce is here. So, if y'all thought that Bruce being a total dick who doesn't trust anyone and will totally play with the emotions of his friends in order to get what he wants in his war on crime was something that started in the post Frank Miller world -- think again, cuz he's a total dick to Robin here, which is made worse by the fact that Robin is like between eight and ten years old here and their relationship has been totally buddy-buddy so far. 

This story also introduces what is going to become a very familiar trope, especially as we head into the Silver Age, which is the "break-up" of the Batman/Robin team, which always turns out to be a fakeout -- it's almost always what we see here, with Batman tricking Robin, although sometimes Robin fools Batman and sometimes they're both fooling the villains, but it's always completely bullshit designed to fool the reader most of all.... except for when it isn't.
The Art: Good stuff here from the Kane Studio. Having George Roussos back to help Jerry Robinson means that essentially Kane's linework gets double the amount of detail as usual and returns to a very good level of quality. There's not a lot of Roussos normal shadow background, leaving the story with a lighter, more colourful feel, but character faces and expressions are very well done.
The Story: This is pretty lackluster, I must admit. Batman's just a total ass to Robin at the start of the story, and then acts surprised that Robin is leaving at the very end. And really, it's because a gangster threatened him that he decided to lie to his best friend? You guys are heroes, you face this shit head on. Batman wouldn't have a second thought about fighting a two-bit hood with Robin if he hadn't recieved that threat -- I mean, c'mon, they following mass serial killer The Joker all around America, and fought monsters and witches and all kinds of horrifically dangerous crazy shit. So really, The Thumb is too dangerous for Robin to come along on? 
Notes and Trivia: First "break-up" of the Batman and Robin team. 

"Comedy of Tears!"
Writer: Jack Schiff
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: The Joker is loose again, and this time he wants Gothamites to see a different side of him. So he sends his goons out to run a serious marketing campaign promoting himself as the world's greatest tragedian as well as comedian, because "Tragedy is but the other face of Comedy". Yes, the Joker's new goal is to make people cry, and his first target is a little boy named John Blake whose straight-A report card the Joker steals - his first victory in making people cry! Yes, Joker steals a kid's report card, a scene which was later adapted into a colouring book page in the 1960s from whence it became a popular internet meme (not to mention the apparent source of Joseph Gordon Levitt's character name in Dark Knight Rises!)
The Joker also steals a petition to remove the city's park commissioner -- the gathering of which would've earned old Joe Brady his first honest paycheck in a year! Next he steals the reference letters a young chauffeur needs to get a job with the wealthy Mr. Van Gild!
Joker's crimes succeeded in making people cry, but Batman is convinced there is something more to the scheme than just random mischief, and hurries to Commissioner Gordon's office to try and foil him in time!
Turns out, Joker wanted the documents for the signatures on them -- the report card, the petition and the references are all signed by some of Gotham's finest and wealthiest citizens! J.P. Blake's forged signature gets them a pass onto the lot of Colossal Studios, where a "gala crowd has gathered to celebrate the filming of the final scenes of a great epic" which may be the most unlikely thing ever to have happened in a Batman comics -- from the idea of a movie studio lot on the East Coast to the idea that they'd let rich people in opera clothes gather around the shooting of complex, key sequences.
While Joker's men loot the star's dressing rooms, Batman is still in Gordon's office explaining the scheme, when an officer bursts in to report Joker's hold-up (even with Batman on the team, the GCPD is still the world's most bumbling police force). On the movie set (which appears to be a big boat or something?), Joker's men collects everyone's valuables in a big potato sack when Batman and Robin swing in and start fighting people while spouting movie-appropriate puns and wisecracks.
The fight ends up with Joker and Batman battling on top of a Tower set, and Batman dangling over the edge -- Joker threatens Batman's life unless Robin gives him the sack of jewels, and Robin almost does it, but Batman lets go of the precipice to fall to his death rather than allow Joker the victory (after all "those are not our jewels to bargain with!") Robin is shocked, Joker, escapes, but of course Batman is fine because it's a movie set and there are safety nets and shit!
The Joker's next scheme is to have a notorious criminal pardoned from the electric chair at the last minute by forging the governor's signature! The crooks get away with their fugitive, but the Batmobile is hot on their trail thanks to a clue (a newspaper clipping) one of Joker's men accidentally left behind at the movie set. So they follow them to the exclusive Surf... Beach... Club... where they chase continues on... sand sailboats... Even Batman remarks that of all his chases with the Joker, this one is certainly unique. Anyways, the boats end up crashing into the water, Batman comes up for air, Joker doesn't, is he dead or isn't he, standard Joker story ending.
Except... the story keeps going! Predictably, Joker is still alive, as the Dynamic Duo discovers when he pulls another series of jobs -- getting into rich people's homes using forged servant's references! So Batman decides to bait a trap for Joker with a news story of a "champion autograph hunter" collecting famous autographs of people in Gotham City, whom the Joker will be unable to resist stealing from. This person is of course Robin in "disguise", ie. wandering around looking exactly like millionaire Bruce Wayne's ward Dick Grayson but for plot reasons no one recognizes him as such. He collects signatures from famous real NYC personages Joe DiMaggio, Jerry Siegel (acknowledged as the creator of Superman - so the Man of Steel is a fictional character in the Batman universe at this point), and finally a signature from some guy named Mr. Bigby, and since he's the only fictional one, we know who Joker is gonna rob.
Because it's a trap, Batman and Robin are there to fight Joker and his men, but during the fight Joker manages to nab Robin and threatens to stab him with a pair of scissors (?) unless Batman lets him go and Bigby gives him $100,000 (over a million in today's money). Batman gives his word Bigby will pay, Joker lets Robin go and Batman hands Joker the money in an envelope (and for some reason lets him go). When he gets back to his hideout, Joker finds that the money is in fact a certified check in his name ("The Joker") and that he'd never be able to go to a bank to cash it without being arrested!
Batman and Robin have a good laugh at Joker's expense.
My Thoughts: If I were to draw the dividing line anywhere, I think now would be the place to put up the definitive "The Joker is no longer dangerous" sign. His plan here is basically mischief and thievery, and he's so harmless that Batman doesn't even put him in jail at the end -- just knowing he's pulled a fast one on him is victory enough. It's just about the game, the scheme and the gimmicks now. What'll make a story memorable from here on out is how clever the plot can be.
The Art: Serviceable stuff from the Kane Studio -- facial caricatures are really good for Joker, our heroes, and some of the celebrity cameos and the action/chase stuff is well done -- but backgrounds and other details are often lacking and the sense of geography and physical space is usually neglected.
The Story: There's a lot of fun stuff in here, in general it's an enjoyable read, but I gotta knock Schiff down a peg here for his story's structure. I mean, it follows what is growing to be a Joker formula -- bizarre minor crimes at the start that actually presage a larger more elaborate crime, interspersed with chase and action scenes -- but this formula can be abused and mishandled and it totally is here. The story is called "Comedy of Tears" but ultimately Joker's "make 'em cry" campaign lasts about two pages and the majority of what he is doing is based around signatures and autographs. And ultimately the structure we get is a bunch of minor crimes, leading to two bigger crimes with action/chase scenes, and then a whole other third act section based on the bait and switch. It leaves everything feeling very disjointed and randomized, like Schiff's just throwing in ideas from the pile and struggling to fit them into the story. He does a good sleight of hand to make it all seem coherent, but it could have been much stronger.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of John Blake!

"The Story of the Seventeen Stones"
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Jack Burnley
Synopsis: Okay, so this convict named Rocky Grimes is set free after twenty years hammering rocks (1) in the slammer. He's claimed innocence all this time, in fact he's claimed he can't remember anything of his life before prison, but it was the 20s so they locked him up anyway. Now he's out, but when he's hit on the head by a loose cobblestone (2) kicked up by a passing car (did shit like that ever actually happen?) his memory comes back to him in a flood.
Turns out he totally was a bigshot crook, but when his gang held up a bank and he shot a guard, he was dumb enough to blab his name to everyone in earshot. His gang is worried about being caught, but Rocky tells them if they squeal on him, he'll squeal on them. They get pissed and one of them hurls a stone from a fireplace (3) at his head, which knocks him out and gives him amnesia. They drop him at a police station, he takes the fall for the crime since all the prints match up and shit, and they give him 20 years instead of the chair because of his mental deficiency.
Now that his memory is back, Rocky thinks that since he spent twenty years pounding stones, twenty years bookended by getting hit in the head with a stone, he should get revenge on all the members of his gang -- with STONES AS HIS SYMBOL! Hooray for trademark Gotham criminal themed insanity!
First up, Lefty Slade, who waits to meet someone for a tip on a job under a stone archway -- but when a wire pulls the keystone (4) out, the whole thing collapses on him and he dies. The keystone bears the words "I finally remembered" etched into it.
Fin Gonzy is now a loanshark, and so Rocky goes in disguise to his shop to try and pawn a gold watch. Fin begins to use a touchstone (5) to test the purity of the gold, when Rocky throws off his disguise and stabs Fin to death with the touchstone, now also bearing the legend "I finally remembered."
The next day, Mayor Not-LaGuardia has invited Batman and Robin to help dedicate building of the new orphanage designed by famed convict-turned-architect Mason (*groan*). As the cornerstone (6) is being placed, the cable holding it from the crane breaks loose and Batman is barely able to push Mason out of the way in time! The cornerstone reads... "I finally remembered."
Robin spots Rocky getting away and they follow him down to the waterfront -- however Rocky loses them when he spills oil on the water and lights it aflame, leaving the Dynamic Duo unable to pursue. Batman realizes the killings are all connected by stones (ah, ya think?) and Robin figures if they look up the records of the victims, they may find what connects all of them.
So our heroes head to police headquarters only to be told by Gordon that a masked man walked in, threatened the cops with a tommy gun, and then burned some files from the criminal records! GCPD, you are truly the worst.
However, Batman announces he can still read the info off the charred cards using SCIENCE! He sprays the cards with a chemical dye, then takes an infrared photo of the cards, and the result is a black image where the paper absorbed the dye, and white writing because the ink did not, thus restoring the information on the cards! Holy forensics, Batman! I have no idea if this actually works but it's a really cool scene anyway for establishing Batman's scientific knowledge and giving a nice forensic procedural.
Anyways, the team figure out what we already know, and realize the last two members of the gang are Parks, who went out west to work in the petrified forest, and Brenner who became a diamond-cutter. So of course he's scheduled to cut the "famous Onkers Diamond" at the House of Jewels exhibit tonight! 
Meanwhile, Rocky has obtained a heliotrope, or "bloodstone" (7) which he has had cut into the shape of a bullet and the standard message written upon it. He'll use it to shoot Brenner at the exhibition. This being Gotham City, the House of Jewels exhibit is just ridiculously over the top -- including a bejeweled miniature Taj Mahal and a physical rainbow sculpted of gemstones that leads to a gold pot filled with topazes, which is just the most overly extravagant thing I've ever heard of, especially for a major American city during World War II!
Anyways, Brenner is about to cut the diamond (8) when Rocky shows up to shoot him, but is foiled by a swift kick to the face by Robin. A fight with Batman results in a ton of precious stones being dropped to the floor, and the crowd goes wild, giving Rocky a chance to flee.
Chasing after him, we're suddenly at an abandoned old stone quarry, which, okay... sure, it fits the theme. The Dynamic Duo burst into the shack Rocky's hiding it, and run smack into a huge slab of stone (9). Rocky ties Robin up and throws him into the water flooded quarry with a rock (10) tied to him so that he'll have to tread water to stay alive (which he cannot do indefinitely of course). Meanwhile, Rocky has Batman tied to a chair in a room where he is burning sulfur, aka brimstone (11)! So of course he leaves the two to die, unsupervised.
Batman gets free by cutting his bonds against a grindstone (12) that was left behind, and then saves Robin by pulling him up out of the quarry using a boulder (13) as a counterbalance. 
They follow Rocky to the petrified forest where he is set to go after Parks (Finger doesn't hesitate to remind us that in a petrified forest the wood has turned to stone), and is about to beat him to death with a piece of petrified wood (14) when Batman and Robin show up.
Batman chases Rocky onto a stone log bridge (15) and the two grapple, when a sudden storm of hailstones (16) comes down, knocking Rocky off the bridge and to his death -- now he lies under a tombstone (17).
My Thoughts: A decent enough story that straddles the line in it's anatagonist between a normal "gangster" style villain and a more colourful "themed" villain. I mean, if this was a Silver Age story you can bet Rocky would've had a rock themed costume and a silly moniker like "The Stone-Cutter" or something like that, but as it is he's just a (relatively) normal guy in a suit who happens to become obsessed with rocks. It's an interesting middle of the road approach.
The Art: The number one reason to read this story is Jack Burnley's art - the story is basically just a showcase for it. Burnley's rendering of Rocky Grimes and his madness is absolutely superb, with an excellent use of black shadows and dynamic facial expression. The compositions and framing are excellent throughout. Truly, Burnley is a step or two above the Kane Studio in his draftsmanship.
The Story: It's all right. The gimmick of the stones is fun and it's nice to see that it remains consistent throughout, instead of forgotten early on like some of Finger's gimmick based stories. In some ways it's like watching a 1980s slasher movie, with the gimmicky murderer hunting down victims one at a time and killing them in a creative fashion -- only instead of Donald Pleasance our hero is Batman, which makes it infinitely better, really. The best and most chilling aspect of the whole story are the frames of Rocky's dead victims accompanied by the "I finally remembered" stones -- it's a really fantastic image. I also notice the subtle touch that Rocky actually succeeds in killing his victims who are still criminals, while the ones Batman happens to save are all reformed. The story doesn't draw any attention to this, it simply does it, and it's a really good way of maintaining a consistent morality to the Batman stories without making a big deal about it. Story choices like that get a lot of points from me.

"Destination Unknown!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: We open in Gotham Central Station as the secretary of Mr. Clayborn boards The Comet, a luxury train travelling non-stop to California. Clyde Clayborn is a collector of oddities, the "Tricky-But-True" man, and is in need of a new oddity for his feature (and if you're scratching your head, realize he's basically a thinly veiled Robert Ripley of Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not, which was near the height of it's popularity at this point). He sends the conductor on a mission to find him one on the train, but the old man insists that nothing interesting ever happens on trains.
Also on the train is a team of doctors accompanying Mr. Fortesque, a man in an iron lung who must get to a California specialist as soon as possible. Then there's John Keyes, an escapee from a California prison who is being sent back to get the death sentence (although he pleads innocence), and Detective Guffey, the overblown police officer who caught him. Finally there's a hobo hitching a ride. 
So of course a mysterious shadowy figure knocks out the engineer and sends the train hurtling forward at full throttle. It accelerates from forty up to ninety, whipping through Jamestown and heading towards the dangerous Travers Trestle at a speed so high that it won't be able to make the turn.
News of the wild Comet reaches Gotham, and so Gotham City Police Commissioner decides to light the Bat-Signal and call in Batman and Robin, since they have so much experience in runaway trains 400 miles away from the city...? Turns out Bruce and Dick are out in a rowboat in a park lake when they spot the signal -- they quickly change into their outfits and head to Police HQ, learn of the sitch, and then head out to meet the Comet in the Batplane. 
So - wait... the Comet is doing ninety heading out of Jamestown, 405 miles away from "Gotham City", and it takes an hour and a half to get to Police HQ from the Lake on foot, and then forty minutes to get up to Wayne Manor, by which time the Comet is now 600 miles away. Assuming the Batplane travels as fast as the fastest single propeller aircraft of 1942, then it will take the Batplane an hour and forty minutes to catch up to the Comet (by which point it will now be 750 miles away from it's starting position, or 345 miles away from Jamestown when the problem was recognized), and almost FOUR HOURS has past since Gordon first shined the Bat-Signal and in this time NO ONE ON THE TRAIN JUST THOUGHT TO GO TO THE FRONT CABIN AND DECELERATE THE FUCKING TRAIN???
Anyways, as the train approaches the curve of Travers Trestle, the Mysterious Villain prepares to parachute off the train, when Batman lands on top of it. The villain fires at him, but Batman swoops down into the train and pulls the brakes. He deduces the man with the gun and the parachute was the culprit (no shit!) and instructs Robin to meet him at the next station. By the time the Comet pulls into the station Batman is nowhere to be seen -- who sent the train wild and who saved them is a total mystery to everyone aboard. 
With the train stopped, the hobo tries to hide among the freights, but is spotted by Batman and instantly suspected since, y'know, he's poor and without a ticket. The hobo pleads innocence and Batman believes him -- but ties him up and sticks him in a baggage car just to be sure of his whereabouts.
And so, with the train stopped, Bruce Wayne buys a ticket and boards the Comet, while Dick Grayson buys a ton of comic books and boards the train. Clayborn's secretary, meanwhile, finds the tied up hobo while she's looking through Clayborn's things, and is persuaded to untie him, not realizing til he's gone that he could have been the attempted train-wrecker.
Dick is trying to sell copies of World's Finest, and when the conductor catches him Bruce offers to pay his fare, so Dick rewards him with a copy of Batman, and WAIT -- why couldn't Bruce just pay his way to begin with? What purpose did the ruse with selling comics serve? And Batman and World's Finest are real comics within the world of Batman??!
Anyways, going from car to car trying to sell comics, Dick finds out that the hobo was untied by Miss Hibbs, Detective Guffey was knocked out and his prisoner is free, and the docs with the iron lung patient are reclusive dicks who won't talk to anyone. 
Based on this info, they change into Batman and Robin and immediately investigate the iron lung patient's cabin to find that the docs are gone and he's being pumped full of poison gas instead of oxygen! Batman saves his life and then heads up onto the roof where he finds the two atop the racing train -- and is shot for his troubles! Robin swings onto one of the attackers using a semaphore signal -- but doing so causes the train to switch onto an eastbound track and head straight for another train coming right at them!
Despite having been shot, Batman makes his way to the front of the train and informs the engineer who hits the brakes -- but the track is curved and the other train doesn't see them to know to stop! So Batman rips the bat-logo off the front of his outfit and attaches it to the train's headlight, creating a Bat-Signal in the sky so the other train knows the slow down. 
Anyways, get this: Turns out the Docs were never Docs to begin with -- the iron lung contained a dummy -- but they were the guys who committed the murder that Keyes was accused of, and tried to kill him in the iron lung with the gas and wreck the train -- because Keyes had escaped and headed east so that he could find evidence to prove his innocence and they didn't want that evidence getting out in a new trial. 
Meanwhile, Miss Hibbs is gonna marry the hobo, who turns out to be Ken Thorne, President of the Railroad, masquerading, and the "Tricky-But-True" man has enough oddities to ensure his radio program's continued success -- while the bored conductor still insists nothing ever happens.
My Thoughts: I'm not really sure where to place this story, genre-wise. It feels most like a screwball farce, what with the large cast of characters and the fact that nothing really seriously bad happens. It's also one of those Batman stories where Batman is barely in it -- he comes in about a third of the way through and barely does much of anything -- in fact he doesn't even solve the mystery or catch the bad guys! We simply cut from him having saved the train to an epilogue/wrap-up sequence that explains everything!
The Art: Pretty good Kane Studio quality. Most everything is quite well rendered, dramatically framed and lit, and only Batman and Robin look particularly "cardboard flat", probably because they're required to stay on-model with Kane's artstyle while everything else can be more or less redrafted to Robinson and Roussos' content.
The Story: Don Cameron's second script disappoints me. While there's a good number of colourful characters and pulse-pounding events, all of them are pretty cliché and rote from pulp adventures and serials (especially by 1942 standards) and the way it's all put together is really slapdash. For example, the way Batman and Robin are introduced into the story -- why not just have Bruce and Dick be passengers on the train to begin with? And then there's the ending -- another mystery where none of the clues and connections are given to the audience until the denouement, and the wrap-up and explanations themselves are just the final page of the story. All in all it's very messy story construction and leaves it all feeling rushed, disconnected, and sloppy.