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! 


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