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.

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