Monday, September 23, 2013

World's Finest Comics #9 (Spring 1943)

"Crime of the Month"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Jerry Robinson
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis:  The top crime bosses in Gotham are all invited to a "literary tea" at Mystery Castle, the home of best-selling crime novelist  Bramwell B. Bramwell (wanna bet the middle initial stands for Bramwell?). For some reason despite being experienced criminals they all decide to go (I wonder myself how Bramwell got their addresses).

Arriving at Bramwell's Castle (I bet Stephen King wishes he lived in a Castle) Bramwell explains that for years he's been writing crime novels in which criminals outwit the police and he thinks he's so good at it that he himself can commit crimes with impunity. The criminals (rightfully) laugh at him, but Bramwell proposes a contest -- whomever can pull off the "smoothest" theft shall be declared the Crime of the Month, and win the loot from all the jobs!
For some reason the crooks agree to go along with this instead of just shooting Bramwell or walking away laughing, and so Gotham experiences a new spree of overly elaborate robberies (such as a gang that robs a bank under the guise of exterminators dealing with a rat problem -- that they caused!). Somehow Bruce, by listening to accounts of the thefts on the radio, deduces the entire "Crime of the Month" contest and which gangs are involved and thus that they must follow "Slim" Ryan's gang next.
In the Batplane, they tail the gang to a wooden bridge where the gang is setting up dynamite to blow the bridge and capture an amored car. Batman and Robin foil the attempt, butt Ryan escapes. Batman follows Ryan's car in the Batplane and leaves Robin to turn the rest of the gang to the police.
Of course Ryan drives back to Bramwell's castle and so Batman enters in, deducing that Bramwell is "obviously connected with the Crime of the Month in some way!" But Bramwell immediately drops Batman into a fiendish deathtrap (because of course the best-selling author's castle has built-in deathtraps). Batman is locked in a sealed room with an induction furnace, which melts his utility belt and it's gadgets -- luckily Batman has no metal fillings in his teeth or "they'd heat up to 3000 degrees and cook my brain!" I admit this is so far one of the most impressive death-traps I've seen.
Robin figures Batman must be in trouble because he hasn't checked in on the radio, and drives to Bramwell's castle in the Batmobile -- only to be immediately locked in his own death trap room where a dynamo is building up a ten million volt charge in a metal rod which will eventually strike Robin with a bolt of artificial lightning!
Batman has no way out of the furnace room, where he will slowly suffocate, until he pulls a suction cup out of his utility belt (wait - I thought the belt and it's gadgets melted??) and uses that to pull the door open. He hears Robin's cries for help and saves him by smashing the dynamo.
Bramwell escapes, but not before gloating that his Crime of the Month will be the "social event of the year" and involve the "most tedious movie ever made!"
So of course from those two vague phrases Batman figures out that Bramwell is planning to rob a War Relief Drive being put on by high society by hypnotizing the audience with an experimental hypnosis film (which honestly just looks like the kind of Stan Brakhage/Andy Warhol/Michael Snow films I had to watch in my Bachelor's program). 
Just before Bramwell robs the transfixed audience, Batman switches the film with some Batman & Robin newsreel footage which snaps the audience out of it because that shit is dope and then captures Bramwell in between panels because we've only got three of them left.
Turns out Batman had read the phrase "most tedious movie ever made" in a book of Bramwell's where a crook pulled off this exact same crime and figured the author was just egotistical enough to plagiarize himself. 
In jail, the crooks tease Bramwell by remarking that he ought to be used to pens. 
My Thoughts: There's not much to say about this story except that I really like the deathtraps. They're very clever and deadly and a cut above what we've seen so far in the strip. Too bad Batman gets out of his through bad writing.
The Art: It's an interesting combo. Robinson's style shines through here, with his superior grasp of anatomy and slightly more realistic style than Kane's simplistic cartooning, but unlike in Detective #74 he's got Roussos inking him, which settles his linework down a bit and stabilizes things to look less "sketchy" and the faces look more on-model with Kane's style. It's still good art though, even if he can't decide from panel to panel whether Bramwell has glasses or not.
The Story: Safe to say I've missed Bill Finger -- we haven't seen a script of his since Detective #71 instead Don Cameron seems to have taken over the lion's share of Batman writing. Finger's story for this issue is very simplistic -- it follows his formula of coming up with a simple gimmick and then using that mostly as a wraparound springboard for over-the-top action scenes and setpieces. That being said, at least this time he sticks with the gimmick all the way through to the end, and man does he do deathtraps and action better than anyone else writing this book. I mean it's really fantastic the imagination he applies to this stuff. Unfortunately, Batman gets out of the trap by Finger just conveniently forgetting the melted utility belt from a couple of pages ago -- which I have to blame Whitney Ellsworth for as well since an editor's job is to catch shit like that. A bad point in an otherwise good story. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Detective Comics #74 (April, 1943)

"Tweedledum and Tweedledee!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Late at night a truck pulls up at a fur warehouse and a gang of crooks begins raiding the expensive furs. Their leader? An extremely creepy looking rotund man in a bowler hat and suit. Batman and Robin spot the robbery and show up to foil it, but during the fight they are caught in wolf traps (ouch!) and so the crooks get away.
After freeing themselves, the Dynamic Duo are back in the Batmobile when the police dispatch reports another robbery lead by a fat man at a jewelry store fifteen minutes away. How could the guy have gotten there so fast?
Once again they confront a batch of crooks, and this time the fat man is wearing a top hat and suit, but otherwise is identical. He zaps them with an electrified walking stick, and by the time Batman and Robin are up they've gotten away with the diamonds.
The next day, Bruce and Dick look into the identity of the fat man by visiting the "Fat Man's Emporium", the only fat clothing store of its kind in Gotham City (how times have changed!) and questions them about whether they have any fat twins as customers. Well, there are the Meeker brothers, but they hate each other (one's a Republican, the other a Democrat) but that's about it -- oh, there is the Tweed brothers: cousins who look so alike they are often mistaken for twins. They always have plenty of money!
Bruce and Dick canvas the Tweed household and after seeing the cousins Dumfree and Deever decide these are indeed their crooks, deciding to raid the place after dark. However the cousins have figured that Batman and Robin will be playing a visit, and rigged their house with deathtraps!
The Dynamic Duo burst through the skylight, as is their custom, only to find themselves ensnared in a net and facing Tweedledum and Tweedledee, accompanied by henchmen in March Hare and Mad Hatter costumes (with the Hatter also portrayed as a rabbit for some reason, looking much more like the White Rabbit character). 
The Tweeds are able to keep the heroes subdued by firing an "electron gun" at them which paralyzes them! The crooks head off to the "Grand March", leaving the heroes frozen and alone.
Luckily, through sheer strength of will, Batman breaks free of the paralysis enough to toss his utility belt at the electron gun, "short circuiting" it and allowing them to break free.
The Grand March is a high society masquerade ball which the Tweeds hope to rob. However Batman and Robin surprise them there and trap them, taking down the gang and the cousins -- who can't even fit in a regular paddy wagon!
My Thoughts: Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a pair of B-list Batman villains whom I've been aware of, but never really read a story about. I've read stories where they've appeared as cameo characters at Arkham Asylum or as henchmen to other villains (usually Joker or Mad Hatter, sometimes Two-Face) but I've never actually read a comic featuring them as primary adversaries until now. Interesting that they're so obscure and yet they debuted in the same period as many of the A-list rogues gallery. They're fairly creepy and effective in this opening story, but as with other interesting characters like Professor Radium or Scarecrow, it's less important how you debut and more about whether anyone's interested in you after that.
The Art: Jerry Robinson's pencils here are half of this story's effectiveness. Tweedledum and Tweedledee's designs are of course based on Tenniel's Through the Looking Glass illustrations, but they are much much creepier here. They are often drawn underlit, with bulbous noses, gleaming smiles and wide eyes that just make them very unsettling characters to look at, desite all the jokes about their size. Unfortunately Robinson's art here is very, very rough -- it looks like he just quickly inked his own rough pencils and then sent it in without really cleaning things up all that much. DC Database and The Batman Chronicles trade paperbacks give Bob Kane credit for pencils on this issue, and I usually trust their credits to sort out who did what in an era when the only official credit on the issue is Kane's signature, but none of the art in this story looks anything like Kane's style -- whereas Robinson's is all over it.
The Story: Cameron writes a very effective script -- it's very moody and dark in tone despite the potential silliness of the two new villains. The Tweeds are depicted as being very smart, mastermind style villains, and Cameron gives them really unsettling and creepy dialogue to match Robinson's art. It's very clear Cameron wanted to create a pair of recurring villains, given the ending where they are sent to prison and Robin wonders if they've seen the last of them. And in a way, he did -- while the Tweeds have never achieved the prominence of The Joker or Two-Face, they've still managed to stick around for quite a while simply on the strength of their visual I think.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detective Comics #73 (March, 1943)

"The Scarecrow Returns"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Linda Page is taking Bruce Wayne on a date to a "hat show" because Bruce is always making fun of her ridiculous hats (to be fair, 1940s women's hat styles are really silly and Linda is always drawn wearing particularly awful ones).
But then the Scarecrow shows up to rob the place of all the... valuable... hats... Yes, the Scarecrow has escaped from prison and decided to rob a hat show because he wants Gothamites to be terrified of... small... words...
Anyways Bruce can't change into Batman with Linda around (secret identity and all that) -- so he stumbles around bumping into the Scarecrow's men and accidentally knocking them out. Eventually the Scarecrow pistol whips him and makes off with the goods, leaving a clue of a blackboard slate with the words "HAT" and "MAT" written on it in chalk.
Obviously the "HAT" refers to the most recent crime, and Bruce thinks that the "MAT" refers to an upcoming charity wrestling bout for which the proceeds are going to (what else) war bonds.
So Batman and Robin show up to guard the bout, and it turns out that Scarecrow's goons are actually both the wrestlers in the bout, and pull guns on the audience while Scarecrow steals from the cashiers. Everyone's incensed that Scarecrow would "steal from Uncle Sam", and the Dynamic Duo fights the wrestling goons and even save the money, but Scarecrow himself gets away again.
Another slate is left behind, and this time the clue is "VAT" and somehow Batman immediately deduces that this refers to the vats that clothes dyers use and also considers this so obvious a clue that it must be a trap laid by the Scarecrow. Well, considering that he's intentionally leaving you these clues, Batman, yeah I think that's a good bet.
So because it's that point in the story, when the Dynamic Duo shows up they're captured by the Scarecrow's men, tied up, and thrown in the vats while they are slowly filled with water, but not before Scarecrow tells them the next clue is "YAT" -- why are you giving him the next clue if your intent is for him to die? (And why not wait to make sure he drowns, or just shoot him, or...)
Anyways, turns out the "YAT" is Yat Sing, who runs a Chinese art store in Chinatown and is of course a big racial stereotype. Batman and Robin show up because OF COURSE they got out of the death-trap and OF COURSE they solved the clue (Yat Sing is the only Yat in the phonebook worth stealing from, you see).
So the Dynamic Duo beat up all Scarecrow's men and the Scarecrow himself and he's back to jail and THAT'S THAT. (Groan)
My Thoughts: When I reviewed the first appearance of the Scarecrow, I remember being impressed by how unique the story was and the attention to detail and characterization that Bill Finger gave to developing and motivating this new villain in such a way that was psychologically convincing and felt new and fresh. I enjoyed that story, but I also knew intellectually that there was only one more appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age before he'd disappear for two decades before resurfacing in the Silver Age. And I had wondered why that happened. 
I don't, anymore.
The issue of creators' rights and corporate comics is a sticky one, and there are pros and cons to each side. On the one hand it's true that Batman would be a far weaker and far less known  character today if the endless hordes of immensely talented writers and artists who worked on him hadn't have been able to. On the other hand, sometimes a writer picks up a character they did not create, and they clearly have no idea how to handle them.
And that can ruin a character.
The Art: Bob Kane and his studio handle things well enough. The Scarecrow looks like the Scarecrow, his unique appearance both in costume and out are retained as well as his gangly way of moving about. In many panels the characters are rendered very small in a large background space and Robinson's detailed inks become hard to discern. It's an overall trait of Kane's pencils and layouts.
The Story: The cover proclaims that the Scarecrow is back by "popular demand", and while I tend to believe that since it's been two years since he first showed up, I wonder why DC didn't wait for Finger to be ready to script Scarecrow's return himself, why they pawned it off on Don Cameron who clearly has no idea what to do with the character. In fact, Finger hasn't done a lot of scripts lately, last appearing in Detective two months ago, and another script of his won't appear in the book until July. My research hasn't turned up any explanation, but I conjecture that now that the Batman was a fairly established character and DC had a good number of other writers working on it, they didn't have to rely on Finger as much, who was notoriously bad at working to deadline.
But I wish they had. Cameron plops the Scarecrow into a dreadfully boring formula script. It reads like the formula from the Adam West TV show done straight. Nothing about it at all says Scarecrow, or retains anything about the character's methods and motivations. There are some token references to causing fear and terror in the character's dialogue, but it would just be the same fear and terror any criminal causes -- all he's doing is robbing stuff. And then leaving clues for Batman to find on purpose. Like the Joker does, like the Riddler will do, like every villain on that 60s TV show will do regardless of whether it's their MO or not. 
Professor Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow's true identity, is not forgotten, but other than a few token lines referencing "psychological reactions" and "nervous breakdowns" his intellect seems to have dropped from college professor to grade school teacher. Chalkboard slates and crimes based around rhyming three letter words? Is this Batman or Blue's Clues?
This is a terrible story, nothing of note happens in it at all, and I'm convinced that it's complete misuse of the Scarecrow character, making him as boringly generic as any random gangster villain, was responsible for him falling by the wayside for twenty-four years.
Boy, I hated this story.
Notes and Trivia: Last appearance of the Scarecrow in the Golden Age of Comics.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Batman #15 (February/March, 1943)

"The Batman never carries or kills with a gun." - Editor Whitney Ellsworth, Batman #4

"Unless he's fighting Nazis! Blast those Krauts to hell!" - Cover Artist Jack Burnley, Batman #15, assumedly.

"Your Face is Your Fortune!"
Writer: Jack Schiff
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Elva Barr is a young woman in Gotham City, working at a beauty salon, living in an apartment, taking the subway, just like a normal person -- except that she's also the Catwoman! But why is the Catwoman masquerading as an ordinary citizen?
Elva takes part in a beauty contest for beauty salon workers (?) where one of the judges is millionaire Bruce Wayne. Elva wins the contest, but Bruce recognizes her as the Catwoman (since Batman has seen Catwoman without her mask many times), and can't believe she could have gone straight.
Linda Page reads about Bruce pronouncing Elva the winner in the paper the next day and is jealous, while Elva/Catwoman finds herself falling in love with the handsome playboy.
Anyways, turns out she's working at the beauty salon so she can make molds of her wealthy clients faces under the pretext of giving them facials, so she can make lifelike masks and get into places to commit robberies.
The Dynamic Duo follow Elva to find out her game, and witness her sneaking a message to a crook named Jim Jones. They follow Jones to a bowling alley, beat him up, and find out Catwoman plans to strike at the Maypoint Wedding.
It's a rich society wedding of the Maypoint heiress to a US Navy Captain, and Catwoman manages to get in under the guise of the society editor of the Gotham Globe. Once inside with her men (disguised as photographers) she changes into her Catwoman costume and they begin their theft -- but Batman and Robin are ready and waiting for them! Batman catches Catwoman, removing her mask, but she pleads with Batman to let her go -- saying she'll go straight if only she could date Bruce Wayne!! Well, this puts Batman in a quite a bind and so naturally he does the moral thing and... let's her go! Because screw your hard moral code when you've got other hard things to worry about!
And so over the next few days Bruce Wayne courts Elva Barr in a whirlwind romance, and announces his engagement to her! To which Dick pleads "What's gotten into you? What about Linda? What about... us??" On that suggestive note, Bruce tells Dick he's too young to understand, while Catwoman tells her men that's she's quitting crime and going straight for Bruce Wayne. But her men tell her that Wayne is sweet on Linda Page, "everybody knows that!"  Meanwhile Linda herself is crying herself to sleep, bewildered and hurt.
Catwoman decides she has to know Bruce's intentions for sure, so when Linda Page shows up at Elva Barr's beauty salon to get a look at her, Elva makes a mold of Linda's face for a mask, and meets Bruce disguised as Linda to ask him if he really loves Elva! Bruce tells "Linda" that he's only doing this as a favour to the Batman, and that the engagement is only temporary! "Linda" storms out, and when Bruce gets home, he learns that the real Linda had stopped by to talk to Dick and wish Bruce good luck on his engagement -- d'oh!
The heart-broken Catwoman returns to crime, while the identity of Elva Barr as completely disappeared! With no leads, Bruce doesn't know what to do. But Dick has been scoping out the bowling alley and trailing Jim Jones, and learned that Catwoman plans to hit the Fairview Pet Show. He's a little smarmy about sharing this knowledge with Bruce ("you might be too old to understand") and almost gets a spanking (!) but soon Batman and Robin are off to stop Catwoman from stealing the prize-winning pedigreed animals. 
At the end of the battle, Batman finally captures Catwoman and finally  arrests her and takes her to jail, hoping she'll "go straight in prison!" At home, Bruce wonders if Linda will ever forgive him -- Dick says she will, but will the Catwoman?
My Thoughts: It's been five issues since we last saw the Catwoman, when Jack Schiff pulled her out from obscurity and revitalized her as a villainess. Schiff writes this script too, and once again it's a great use of the character and really cements Schiff as a great member of the current Batman writing team. In that previous Cat-story Schiff has Catwoman operating under the alias Marguerite Tone, here he has her as Elva Barr. In both cases it's unclear if this is meant to be Catwoman's real name, but is heavily implied it's just an alias used for this particular job.
The Art: Good stuff from Kane and Robinson, with fun and dynamic fight scenes. Catwoman's cat head mask costume returns and still looks awful, but when she's out of costume as "Elva Barr" Kane and Robinson give her a kind of severe beauty that really suits the character. It reminds me of the young Joan Crawford. It's good stuff, although Linda Page looks a little different than she's usually portrayed -- a strawberry blonde instead of auburn haired.
The Story: One quality of this story that I really like is that Schiff writes a classic Batman tale and also brings in Bruce Wayne -- giving something to Bruce's personal life and romances and concerns, which have been ignored in the strip for some time. It really makes everything feel far more rounded. A kid in 1943 would've probably been bored by it, but oh my god does it make for more interesting and engaging reading for an adult seventy years later! Schiff really nails the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, and also begins a relationship between "Elva Barr" and Bruce Wayne, thus laying the seeds for a complex romance square that has been going on for seventy years hence! Schiff also moves the relationship forward in both cases -- Bruce proposes to Elva, something he hasn't even done with Linda yet, while at the end of the story Batman FINALLY actually puts Catwoman in jail instead of letting his boner get the better of him. And it's for a great reason -- so she can reform and get out and perhaps he can romance her on moral terms, which is far better than letting her go because she's pretty. Of course, the comic makes no pretense that she'll reform -- the story ends by teasing the reader not with if the Catwoman will return, but when.
Notes and Trivia:  Catwoman captured and arrested by Batman for the first time, using identity Elva Barr but her real identity still unknown.

"The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: From an alleyway, a mysterious figure watches Batman and Robin beat the tar out of the gang of "Knuckles" Conger. The men are easily defeated and the Dynamic Duo disappear into the night. Of course it is Knuckles himself who is watching, who decides he needs to change his methods if he is to ever defeat Batman and Robin.
His conclusion? That he needs a kid sidekick! So he picks a homeless orphan shoeshine boy named Bobby from off the streets, tells him he's a crimefighter like Batman and how would he like to be like Robin -- the kid's answer being the same as every boy in America's: an emphatic yes!
Knuckles trains the kid in an old barn in acrobatics, boxing, fencing, judo, etc. drawing upon his experience in a lifetime of crime. They soon begin pulling a multitude of jobs -- robbing jewelers that Knuckles tells the kid are crooked fences, etc. They soon begin getting attention from newspapers and police, with Knuckles telling the kid that the police are just confused and only think they are thieves because they don't know them as well as they know Batman. However Bobby is beginning to get suspicious.
At their next job, Batman and Robin show up and Knuckles and Bobby attempt to flee. However the Batmobile is a damned powerful vehicle (it does ninety miles an hour!) so they catch up and there's a fight and Bobby finally realizes Knuckles is a crook. Knuckles threatens to give Bobby up to the police if he betrays him, but the kid fights back anyway. Knuckles flees up the side of the building, pursued by the Batman. 
The two battle on the ledge, but Knuckles slips off and almost falls to his death -- when Batman catches him, Knuckles promises to make a full confession so long as Batman saves him.
Commissioner Gordon takes pity on Bobby, understanding that he was only a dupe. Bruce Wayne sponsors the boy to go to a prestigious military academy where he does very well and looks to have a bright future.
My Thoughts: This is another story in the "moral allegory"/"crime does not pay" genre, as well as another story involving a down-on-his luck kid. These are standard Bill Finger tropes, but Don Cameron does a neat thing by having us never lose sympathy for this kid who's taken in by the "slickest crook in Gotham". It's handled just differently enough for it to feel worthwhile.
The Art: The absolute number one reason to look at this story is the art. It is phenomenal, perhaps the best art seen in Batman so far. The Burnley brothers really knock it out of the park, especially with the artwork of Knuckles early on. The first four pages are on a whole different level. Knuckles is drowned in dramatic film noir shadows at almost all times. The lighting is amazing, the figures are exact and expressive, the action scenes dramatic and epic. It's an artistic triumph.
The Story: The idea of the underworld hiring their own kid sidekick is fun, although it's rendered a little less interesting because the kid is truly a good natured boy who's being tricked, so we know how things will play out once he realizes he's been played for a sap. Knuckles is believably clever with his ruse, however, and Cameron paces the story very very well -- it doesn't overstay it's welcome, everything develops very naturally. My only nitpick would be -- why doesn't Bruce adopt Bobby? Wouldn't two Robins be better than one?
Oh well, we can't change the status quo now, can we?

"The Two Futures"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis: Batman and Robin head to Gotham University because Batman wants to ask renowned historian Professor Ranier to predict the future of America after the war. Ugh, you guys realize that's not what historians do, right? It's almost the opposite of what historians do.
However, the Dynamic Duo are in luck, as it turns out Ranier has been debating just this very problem with his colleagues Professors Proe and Conn (oh, brother).
The future that the Professors present is one in which the Axis has WON the War, and the Nazi flag flies over the United States! Gothamites are rounded up and shot if they don't kowtow to the new regime, and enemies of the state are placed in horrorifc concentration camps!
Young Bobby Logan tries to slip his mother and baby brother some stolen food through the barbed wire fence and is caught by the Nazis and placed in the camp.
But somehow Batman and Robin are still out and about in Gotham, and spot Bobby being beaten by the Nazis guards and decide to stop it if it's the last thing they do. They put up a good fight, but are eventually both captured and thrown in a cell -- the only reason they're still alive is that the Nazis want to make a show of executing them.
Somehow Bobby manages to sneak past the guards and helps the Dynamic Duo break out -- they overpower some guards and steal a truck to free the prisoners and make a break for it. They fill up the truck but many die in the escape attempt. Breaking through the fence they head out on the open road with many Nazis in pursuit.
In order to give the freed prisoners the time they need, Batman and Robin jump off and attack the Nazis to divert them. They are shot down, tied up, and finally executed by firing squad, although defiant to the last.
Well, back in the real world our heroes are none too happy with this prediction -- but Ranier insists that this is merely a vision of the future if people are indifferent and don't pull their full weight in the war. "It could happen here! It happened in Poland, Holland, France! It happened in Shanghai, Singapore, Java!" So, the people of France and Poland were indifferent?
Yes, only if every American fights for victory will the Allies prevail and give a good future, one in which Batman and Robin fly around in the Batplane knocking out Axis spy rings, where they discover the Axis fleets are launching a last-ditch desperate attack on Gotham City (what? why?) But the USAF gets amble warning thanks to the Dynamic Duo and soon the Batplane joins the squadron of fighter planes that utterly destroy the Axis fleet! Soon, the war is over, with Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini "jailed". The powers of evil utterly defeated forever, there is never war ever again and America's great industries are turned towards building a GOLDEN CITY of skyscrapers that rise into the clouds.
But this future will only happen if we ALL contribute to the war effort, by buying war bonds and stamps and recycling paper and metal and rubber and so on! Yes, it's all up to YOU to do YOUR part!
My Thoughts: Holy crap. This is the most extreme propaganda story we've gotten in any Batman comic ever. We actually haven't gotten many stories about World War II in Batman, despite many patriotic covers and mentions of war bonds, probably because (like this one) they tend to beg the question "Why isn't Bruce Wayne over there fighting?" I guess someone's gotta look after Dick. This particular bit of story is pure propaganda, though, a fear piece designed solely to scare you into buying war bonds. In truth, neither Imperial Japan nor Nazi Germany ever had the resources or capability to invade the United States, and once the US was in the war the situation was never so dire as to present the possibility given in this comic. It wasn't a question of "if we don't all pull together, the Nazis will win" because neither the Nazis or Japanese had the manpower to accomplish this feat, especially with the Germans getting their asses handed to them by the Soviets.
By late 1942 the Battle of Midway had already occurred, turning the tide in the Pacific theater. Rommel was cornered in Tunisia and the German army surrounded in Stalingrad. Things were turning around for the Allies. Americans were fighting mostly for revenge in the Pacific, while the European theater for Americans was mostly a rescue operation -- the goal being the eventual liberation of Europe from Nazi control. It was never really about defeating the American mainland.
That being said, there was still another two and a half hard years of fighting to go when this comic was published, and for many Americans the Nazis did seem unstoppable. Stories like this one were useful propaganda to remind Americans why it was important to fight -- the possibility of Americans in concentration camps is stronger motivation for a people made up largely of isolationists than scenes of Europeans in said camps.
The Art: It's a Burnley bros. joint, but it's not up to the quality of their last story. It's never bad but it's just about standard -- I could see the Kane Studio doing about the same job of this story. One thing that stands out though is the excellent rendering of vehicles: the jeeps, the trucks, the planes and ships in the final climatic battle. It's overall all right. Worth noting that the Japanese soldiers are drawn as the standard glasses wearing, hair slicked back, buck-toothed stereotypes that were common to this era.
The Story: So, yeah, it's cardboard propaganda. The very idea of asking historians their predictions on the future is laughable, especially Batman's line that Professor Ranier's predictions are usually accurate. Since neither of these two futures came to pass (why would the Axis fleet launch a desperate attack on Gotham? What would that gain them?) I hope all three professors were fired -- oh, wait, tenure. 
Both futures are total propaganda, but the "bad future" is I suppose at least an accurate view of what a Nazi-occupied America would look like, even if there was never a chance in hell of that happening. The comic doesn't shy away from firing squads, concentration camps, and even has a very downbeat ending with Batman and Robin being executed by Nazis. Granted, it totally ignores the Nazis' anti-Jewish racial policies, but I'm not sure whether you were even allowed to mention Jews in a comic in the 40s. (America had it's own weird racial issues at the time).
The "good" future is just as ridiculous, ending with America's industrial might basically turning the country into a post-war utopia because the historians assume that industrial production would stay at wartime levels, but be given over to peaceful ends. And of course there's the old rub about there never being any other wars after this one. That worked out so well, didn't it?

"The Loneliest Men in the World!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: It's Christmas, and Bruce and Dick are out buying presents when they happen to notice that not everyone is filthy stinking rich and can afford piles of gifts for themselves on Christmas. 
Back at Wayne Manor, Dick proposes the idea of bringing cheer and joy to the "loneliest men in the world", and Bruce was thinking the same thing so they suit up as Batman and Robin, dress up the Batplane with sled runners, sleigh bells, and a Christmas tree and head out to deliver presents to the three loneliest men in Gotham!
On their way out, they stop buy to wish season's greetings to Commissioner Gordon, who is in a meeting with Dirk Dagner, a gangster whom Gordon is letting go because they have no evidence to hold him! Batman and Robin swing through the window and tell Gordon all about their plans to bring Christmas to Ben Botts (doorman at a swanky club), Link Chesney (famous radio humourist) and Tom Wick the lighthouse keeper -- however they somehow don't notice Dirk listening in to the whole plan! Dirk heads back to his hideout and announces his plan to his men to attack Batman on his Christmas itinery.
First stop, is doorman Ben Botts, who has been working at the Crane Club for twenty-five years but never allowed inside. So of course Batman and Robin take him in to show him that the club's rich snobby patrons actually do appreciate and love him after all, and they start throwing him a party and his boss gives him a raise and so on -- but without Botts watching the door, Dirk Dagner and his men get in!
There's a fight, Botts is afraid he'll lose his job, but luckily Batman and Robin fight the crooks enough for them to... leave, I guess, and for no real reason Batman tells Robin not to pursue them (Batman must know there's six pages left in the comic).

The Batplane flies off to its next engagement with Link Chesney, who is a famous radio humourist in Gotham but also a notorious grouch who hates everyone and thinks everyone hates him. When the Dynamic Duo show up Batman points out that Link Chesney must have some humanity to bring such laughter into the world -- Chesney reveals that he buys old joke from other comedians and keeps them in a "gag file" and brings them out when he needs them on air (so... he's a fraud?) 
That's when Dirk Dagner shows up to steal the gag file, and since it's the second act it's time for Batman and Robin to be captured and placed into a death trap! It's pretty elaborate -- the gangsters tied Batman and Robin to the raditor, tied a noose around their necks, then tie the end of the noose to Link Chesney who is then tied up and standing on tiptoes on a stool. The gag is that Chesney will eventually fall off the stool and thus hang Batman and Robin.
Batman gets them out of it by lifting up the stool with his legs enough for the rope to loosen and the three of them to escape. The crooks have already left to the lighthouse because I guess they didn't have much faith Batman would bite the dust either, but before going after them the Dynamic Duo reveal Chesney's Christmas gift -- all of his fans from across the country calling him at once through a national hook-up to wish him a Merry Christmas! Chesney fels appreciated and beloved (as he should, he's famous, after all!) and Batman and Robin leave in the Batplane.
The gangsters have knocked out lighthouse operater Tom Wick hoping to cause a vessel bringing in valuable war materiel will crash and they can loot it (who the hell do they think they can fence guns and ammunition to?). Batman and Robin appear, capture Dirk and his men, and celebrate Christmas Eve with Tom in the lighthouse.
Gordon's Christmas present is Dirk Dagner wrapped in a bow (literally) while Dick remarks that none of the men they helped were really lonely -- they all had friends, they just didn't know it. Bruce reveals that the true loneliest man is Dirk Dagner, who will never have a friend because he's "a wild beast to be kept caged"! Even on Christmas, Bruce Wayne is one cold sumbitch.
My Thoughts: It's the second Christmas themed tale in Batman after last year's story in Batman #9. It's hard to know what to say about a story reviewed by Senior Batmanologist Chris Sims himself, but I will say I think it's a better Christmas tale than the last one. Both are of course overly saccharine but at least this one isn't a complete Dickens rip-off.
The Art: It's decent stuff, pretty standard layouts and character work from Kane, with Robinson clearly adding the extra detailing. It's a very busy style that fills the panels with a lot of lines, as opposed to the clean look of the Burnleys.
The Story: Can I take this opportunity to say... Dirk Dagner? I think that's the most over-the-top "villain" name any Batman gangster has recieved, and they've had some good ones. It feels like it should exist in the same breath as Dick Dastardly, Snidely Whiplash and Dan Backslide.
Anyways, the structure of the story is all right, with a good three act structure and so on, although the fact that Batman lets the villains go in act one so that they'll have someone to fight in the rest of the story is a glaring flaw. Of course, if this story were done today the writer would try to posit Batman himself as one of the loneliest men in the world on Christmas -- Don Cameron doesn't even bring it up since Batman is a millionaire with a ward, a best friend, and a girlfriend - his life's great! 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Detective Comics #72 (February, 1943)

"License for Larceny"
Writer: Joe Samachson
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: J. Spencer Larson of Larson Inc. claims he can double your money in six months on a single investment. Bruce and Dick thinks this sounds fishy, so Bruce purchases shares with Larson to see what happens.
Unbeknownst to Bruce and Dick (but knownst to us), Larson is known in the criminal underworld as "Larry the Judge", notorious czar of crime!
He's been embezzling the money people have been investing for weeks, and using it to hire his own private army. Arriving at a popular gangster hideout, the Judge sics his men on the crooks and announces his position as the new crime kingpin. He points out to the crooks that they often commit robberies that net them very little gains because they don't know enough about who they're stealing from. From now on, all future robberies committed are going to be decided upon by the Judge, who will grant licences to rob to any who wish to pilfer - if crimes are committed without a licence, they answer to the judge and his stormtroopers.
And so this new form of crime takes hold of Gotham -- only licenced larceny takes place, and it's all very successful, with the Judge taking his cut of course. Those who step out of line are arrested by the Judge's goons, tried by the Judge himself and fined double the amount they looted!
Gas-Pipe Grogan wants a licence to rob a house, and the Judge sends him after Commissioner Gordon's place because "nobody'd imagine a crook would have the nerve to rob him!" Grogan's men arrive at Gordon's place and easily assault the old man, going after his wife's pearls. Luckily, Gordon had summoned Batman and Robin to his house to discuss the recent spat of robberies, and the Dynamic Duo shows up and thwarts Grogan's robbery in their usual violent fashion.
The three crimefighters discover one of the Judge's licences on Grogan, and Batman interrogates the men to try and discover what's going on, but none of them will talk. The next day, Bruce is called into Larson's office to collect his dividends -- Bruce is amazed he actually doubled his money in less than the allotted time! Bruce asks Larson how he does it, but the man is vague -- but in his identity as Larry the Judge he will now give a licence to his men to rob Bruce Wayne's house!
Arriving home late, Bruce and Dick are attacked by a crook named Iron-Jaw and his gang. To preserve their secret identities they allow themselves to be knocked out and the money stolen, but then soon are in hot pursuit in the Batplane. After catching up with the crooks and taking them down, they discover the licence to rob Bruce Wayne on Iron-Jaw's person, but still aren't sure how the crimes fit together.
Batman's interference has gone on long enough, so the Judge writes a licence out for murder... the murder of Batman! By committing a string of seemingly pointless break-ins where nothing is stolen, the Judge's men draw Batman out to investigate... it's a trap! Soon Batman and Robin are captured and tied up in the backseat of the Judge's car.
As they drive along the highway, however, they are stopped by the police! The crooks are arrested and the Dynamic Duo saved! Robin wonders how Batman alerted them, and it turns out during the earlier fight the Dark Knight tied his cloak over the back licence plate, obscuring it. And so the crook who handed out licences is stopped because he wasn't showing his.
As Larry is arrested, Batman recognizes him as J. Spencer Larson, and realizes that he raised his army with money from the investments, then gave crooks licences to steal the dividends, which is how he always knew which people to rob!
All of Larson Inc's ill-gotten gains are confiscated and given to charity.
My Thoughts: A good one-off story with a unique gimmick and a structure that is fresh enough from the normal formula to be enjoyable. A good crime thriller that manages to be creative without going over-the-top.
The Art: Kane and Robinson deliver high-quality art here, with a very unique caricatured face for Larry the Judge. This story feels like an equal blend of their talents, with a dark shadowy mood that's perfect for the street crime based story.
The Story: This is Joe Samachson's first script for Batman. He'd been writing for DC for a year by this point, freelance, and before that had been a science fiction pulp magazine writer since 1938. Before that he was actually a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois since 1929. In 1955 he'd cement himself in comic book history as the co-creator of the Martian Manhunter. So a highly educated man who became a writer of sci-fi and superheroes! Imagine that! 
Either way, Samachson delivers a very good, very intelligent script here. Larry the Judge's scheme feels unique and original and also very clever, even if we've seen variations of it in other places. It actually seems like a great way to control the crime rate, although since the robberies are actually more successful you can see why it bothers the police so much. Seeing Batman and Robin work to uncover what's going on instead of easily figuring it out is a nice change of pace, as is Batman not being able to put all the pieces together until the very end, as opposed to the standard Bill Finger method of Batman having some clue up his ass that the reader never knew about. I enjoy his writing and hope we'll see more Samachson in the future.
Notes and Trivia: First mention of Commissioner Gordon having a wife, first time it's mentioned that Bruce Wayne donates considerable funds to charities.

Friday, September 6, 2013

World's Finest Comics #8 (Winter, 1943)

"Sink the Japanazis"? Did people really use the word Japanazi? Holy war propaganda, Batman. Yes, it's another gloriously jingoistic World's Finest cover courtesy of Jack Burnley.

"Brothers in Law!"
Writer: Jack Schiff
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: Ray Burnley
Synopsis:  FBI agent John O'Brien is shot dead while pursuing "Little Nap" Boyd (aka the Little Corporal, the Corporal of Crime, Crime's General, the Little General, etc).
His two sons, Tim and Nick, mourn his death and swear vengeance on Boyd. Tim is a state trooper and Nick a private detective, but they refuse to work together because they are in a fight over a girl.
Tim gets a leave of absence from the Staties to go after Boyd (despite this he wears his uniform for the rest of the story while off-duty, which might be illegal?) and Nick closes down his agency for the same reason.
Meanwhile, "Little Nap" has planned his next robbery ("just like a general planning a campaign!" - he also has a painting of Napoleon on the wall in case we really didn't get it). 
Tim hears the police bulletin about a jewelry store robbery on the radio and heads to get Boyd - he joins a police chase already in progress that also includes the Batmobile! 
Boyd's men use a truck to block the roads and deter pursuers, but Tim's on a motorcycle so he's able to slip past and jump onto the car -- where he is promptly knocked out and captured. Turns out the jewelry store robbery was a decoy and Boyd is elsewhere!
However Nick figured that out and tracked Boyd to where he... oh, wait, he's been kidnapped to. Nevermind.
Batman threatens to beat the truck driver, who reveals Boyd's hiding place at the waterfront. The Dynamic Duo busts in and rescues the two brothers, but Boyd and his men escape (by a cunning plan of shutting the lights off and then running!) 
The brothers again refuse to work with each other, so Batman teams up with Tim and sends Robin off with Nick. Because one of Boyd's men mentioned retreating to the "trail of the lonesome pine" in the fight, Tim somehow realizes this is a reference to a trailer park along his old state trooper beat route as opposed to a reference to the John Fox novel or any of its film adaptations. 
Nick realizes the same thing by hassling one of his underworld contacts, and soon they all meet at the camp for a big fight. Unforunately park officials think our heroes are aggressors harassing innocent patrons and restrain them, allowing Boyd to escape again -- this despite Tim being a state trooper, in uniform, who would be known around here and Batman and Robin being nationally famous honourary policemen.
The foursome chase Boyd into the forest, where he uses a variety of diversions, traps and natural hazards to try and elude capture, but is finally brought down by both Nick and Tim in a moving display of brotherly teamwork.
With Boyd in jail (awaiting death by electric chair) and the brothers reconciled, our story comes to a close. (What about the girl they were fighting over?)
My Thoughts: A pretty good story, even if it falls into the category of "Batman story that Batman is just a spectator", a category I've never really liked even if it comprises a lot of classic Bat-stories. My biggest annoyance with the story is the villain, who clearly has a "Napoleon" gimmick in his name and physical appearance, but is otherwise just a normal gangster -- Schiff can't even pick a consistent nickname, going from "the Little Corporal" to "Crime's General" to "Corporal of Crime" and more multiple times in the same paragraph. And why is he called this? Because he plans his crimes like a general? Then why Napoleon? Why "Corporal of Crime" when corporals take orders, they don't give them? It's annoying and a little dumb.
The Art: It's a Burnley bros. story so of course the art is excellent. Jack draws his heroes, the O'Brien brothers, like classic square-jawed men from the cover of a pulp men's magazine. The shadows rendered by Ray are deep and defining, the whole thing looks fantastic. The action scenes are very cool and creative. It elevates the story above it's own level into something more entertaining and stylish.
The Story: Nothing really special, although at least it's got a new gimmick to add to the "chase a crook around for 13 pages" formula. Although I do wonder why, when Boyd has killed an FBI agent, the feds aren't hounding him relentlessly and his capture is left up to two honourary municipal police, an off-duty state trooper and a private dick on sabbatical. Ah well, it makes for a good yarn.