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.

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