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.

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