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.

1 comment:

  1. "And Batman and World's Finest are real comics within the world of Batman??!"

    So it seems the somewhat unsettling cover of Batman #8 wasn't merely figurative! Perhaps this Batman universe contains an infinite recursion of Batman and Robins, each with their own fictional comic containing yet another Batman and Robin, and so on and so on.

    I think I may've stumbled on something here, it's all gone a bit Philip K Dick. The Batman In The High Castle.