Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Detective Comics #67 (September, 1942)

Here we have the first cover appearance of The Penguin, advertising this issue's featured story, which is in no way a follow-up to last month's nail-biting Two-Face cliffhanger.

And yes, it is perfectly reasonable to be upset about a bizarre publishing decision from seventy years ago.

"Crime's Early Bird"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Chinese showman Sing Hi Lo (oh, Jesus) has a troupe of "educated" performing birds. The parrot can do sums, the jackdaws can manipulate fine objects, etc. So of course the Penguin attacks the theatre, steals the birds, and despite an attempt by Batman and Robin the crooks make off with the... birds. Sing complains that the Dynamic Duo let the "lobbers" escape, because what's the 1940s without offensive ethnic caricatures?
The Penguin, in the hilarious obvious guise of "Mr. Waddle", opens up a pet shop in a fashionable neighbourhood. He sells the parrot to a jewel collector named Mr. Gemly (c'mon, seriously?) along with some special parrot food and when Gemly is opening his safe at home the parrot overhears the combination and begins repeating it (as parrots do). The food ends up getting the parrot sick and "Mr. Waddle" is called in to look at the bird. The parrot squawks out the combination, and once he's heard it Penguin gasses the whole room, killing Gemly and the bird! Then he uses a homing pigeon to take the bag of swag back to the lair. Because the gas was designed to imitate the effects of psittacosis (parrot fever), the deaths of Gemly and the bird aren't even pinned on him!
Bruce reads about the murder/robbery in the paper and instantly suspects Penguin. The next day he and Dick follow the crook around town (seriously, he's a wanted criminal, how is he not being arrested on sight? He's pretty damn distinctive looking). They follow him into a jewelry shop, but he doesn't steal anything. Turns out he released some jackdaws surreptiously into the store, which steal all the gems, returning them to the Penguin!
Batman and Robin burst in on Penguin's lair and beat up the crooks, but the main bird makes off riding an ostrich! Batman and Robin recover the goods from a pelican's beak (this is seriously getting to some Flintstones level insanity) and Batman very loudly drops clues about Bruce Wayne's jewel collection as the crooks run off. Because it's a trap, see.
When Penguin steals Wayne's jewels (we don't actually see this happen), Batman and Robin follow his homing pigeons in the Batplane back to his penthouse apartment! The box of loot is full of bats when Penguin opens it, but when the heroes try to take advantage of the situation the Penguin gasses them with sneeze powder and ties them up, leaving an actual penguin to stand guard (!!) while he "finishes up" an "experiment in the laboratory". And Batman manages to escape by getting the penguin to fetch him The Penguin's cigarette lighter to burn through the ropes!!
To avoid iminent capture, Penguin flings himself out of a window, and of course Batman and Robin chase after, surviving even when Penguin cuts their line! They end up fighting in a belltower, with the flying bats Batman brought disorienting the Penguin. However, with a whistle he calls in his trained fighting eagles, and while the Dynamic Duo are battling them, he escapes and runs off. The End. Because I guess we ran out of pages?
My Thoughts: This is, more or less, THE Penguin story. I mean, it absolutely establishes the formula for all future lazy Penguin stories. It's the character's fourth appearance, but this is the default. Pet shop lair, crazy collection of trained crime birds, jewel thievery, this is classic Penguin here.
On the other hand, it's also classic Batman. I mean, this thing reads like the Adam West show done straight. The goofy names and aliases, the goofier crimes, traps and escapes. I mean this is, absolutely, a "default Batman comic" -- it's what you imagine when you think of an "average Batman adventure". With seventy years of hindsight that ends up making it kind've an average, almost dull, and kind've ridiculous comic to read. But that hindsight also means that this thing should be regarded as brilliant in the way it totally sets the mold for basically every Penguin/Batman story to come until the character finally lost his way in the Post-Crisis world where aside from a few good turns here and there it seems no one knows what to do with him.

It also represents an unfortunate turning point in Batman villains that the Joker is also going through in stories from this time -- now that these villains are established and constantly recurring, the focus has fallen far more on their gimmicks and patterns rather than anything interesting about their characters and how they relate to Batman and his world. It's gonna get pretty repetitive from here on out, until the Bronze Age renaissance way off in 1969.
The Art: I have mentioned this before, but I love the way Bob Kane draws Penguin. I think it's best design for the character, because it merges Penguin caricature and deformity with the idea and notion that he considers himself a dapper gentleman criminal. The way the nose is always held up high, etc. Most of the fights and action here are well done too, but in large part also suffer from Kane's stiff cardboard layouts and his tendency to cram too many figures into way too small panels.
The Story: As stated earlier, Finger has hit upon a gimmick for the Penguin that will last a long time -- using crazy birds to commit crazier crimes. That image of Penguin riding an ostrich, for example, we'll be seeing iterations of that for years to come. I like the notion of Penguin being a clever crook, however, interested in heists and interested in jewels. It's not a personal battle like with the Joker -- Penguin sees Batman and Robin as nuisances. He's just not clever enough to shoot them with he has a chance (like many comic book villains). Some of the incidents and escapes are a little bit contrived and ridiculous and the character names had me rolling my eyes, but it's a comic book for kids from 1942. I don't expect sophistication, and I'll take this over the stupidity of stories like "The North Pole Crimes" any day. My only complaint is really the ending, where Batman chases Penguin, then he gets away, he chases him again, he gets away again, and then it ends. Why not continue the chase? Oh, cuz we're on page 13. While it makes Penguin a neat villain in a way because so far Batman's never caught him, it's also starting to get repetitive and undermine Batman as a hero, similar to the repetitive "is he dead this time?" endings of many Joker stories.
Notes and Trivia: First time Penguin uses trained birds to commit crimes, first Penguin cover appearance
Penguin Body Count: 3

World's Finest Comics #7 (Fall, 1942)

Robin looks pretty pleased with himself on this cover, which is fair I suppose with a cover that is in-no-way-phallic as this one is. I mean it's just three superheroes pointing their big guns right at you, y'know?

"The North Pole Crimes"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Gotham City gangster "Angles" Bigbee decides he's sick of the cops and the Batman always messing up his business, and moves his gang somewhere they can operate unhindered: the Arctic circle. Hoo, boy.
So yes, they move all the way up north to begin attacking "company trading posts" in Alaska, Greenland, Baffin Island, etc. They fly in to one of these small settlements that trade "skins and furs with the Eskimos", steal all the money, and leave behind a snowman as a calling card, earning the name "The Snowman Bandits". They establish an extremely elaborate (like, Bond villain lair elaborate) base in a hollowed-out glacier of all things (which I don't think is physically possible even if stealing from fur traders would give you enough money for such an engineering feat). 
Meanwhile, back in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon sends Batman and Robin to go deal with this criminals (isn't this a little bit out of everyone's jurisdiction??) because apparently the FBI is too busy dealing with spies and saboteurs to stop crooks in Alaska (what about the RCMP??)
Batman creates special cold-weather outfits for himself and Robin that work like electric blankets with wires running through the fabric to keep them warm rather than just wear parkas or something and while that kind've makes sense for Batman the fact is that it really shouldn't do anything for Robin considering his arms and legs are still bare. Either way they head up north by Batplane, arriving at a settlement just as the bandits strike.
After the customary two-page fight scene, the crooks get away in their plane. Afterwards, the Dynamic Duo meets Ray, a local photographer, and Cal Daly, a prospector. Cal plays checkers every night with his partner Curly over shortwave radio, but tonight Curly goes mysteriously silent midway through the game. Batman, Robin, Ray and Cal all hop in the Batplane to fly to Curly's and investigate, but of course the old-timer is found dead -- murdered!
However, Batman finds that the checkers on Curly's board are arranged oddly -- and by matching the number of the square to letters of the alphabet finds it spells... BIKOU! (Erm, okay Batman, great hunch...) However it turns out that Bikou is the name of a glacier in these parts. Batman figures Curly inadvertantly found the crooks' hideout and was killed for it. Ray offers to take the Dynamic Duo to the glacier, as he's familiar with these parts, and they set off in a dogsled (the Batplane's motor might warn the crooks of their approach, you see).
But then Ray turns out to be a crook (what a twist) and knocks out Batman and Robin, leaving them to die in the snow. When they awake, they're stranded and their only hope is to hike through the snow (I remind you Robin is dressed in a t-shirt and short-shorts). So naturally Robin begins to succumb to the cold first -- feeling warm and sleepy. Batman's method of saving his partner? He smacks him upside the head and calls him yellow! (See Batman #12 for more of Batman's dickery in this line) Anyways, it's just a blow to get Robin riled up and not succumb to the cold.
But as the sun rises, the light reflecting off the snow makes the heroes snow blind, and they're almost killed by a polar bear but they're saved by the crack shot of Cal Daly. The group returns to town, where Batman convinces the local population to fight the bandits. They get the Batplane ready for take off, and the gas fumes from the motor melts one of the snowmen left behind by the bandits. Inside, Batman finds a box of money -- yes the mystery of the snowmen is they contained Ray's payments, Ray who would scout out the towns, take pictures and report back to "Angles" when furs come in. Batman beats up Ray, he confesses.
Batman's "army" approaches the Bikou glacier by an ice boat fleet, and both heroes have dyed their suits white so they're harder to spot in the ice -- the first time the Dynamic Duo use special alternate costumes! (additionally Robin's hair is dyed white too, which is hilarious).
After a two-page battle, Batman has "Angles" cornered. They battle on the ice, when it cracks and swallows up "Angles" (and then the crack closes after he falls through it, which I am pretty sure is not how that works). Batman jokes that it's one angle he never counted on, then the Dynamic Duo plant a US flag at the North Pole (oh for cryin' out loud), and finally fly home.

My Thoughts:  I'm from Canada, and I gotta say I found the idea that Batman and Robin, even in heated suits, could be going around fighting guys at a location near the North Pole is bullshit. It's also kind've bullshit that Canada itself is never mentioned, despite a shoutout to Baffin Island. There's an implication that this is all more or less happening in Alaska, but largely everything in the North (Alaska, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Greenland) seems to have been conflated in this story into a similar area, easily traveled, and near enough to the North Pole. In reality of course these places are miles upon desolate miles distant, and even the northernmost settlement on Earth is 817km from the North Pole, which is of course not on land but in fact just water covered over with ice.
While Americans Frederick Cook, Robert Peary, and Richard Byrd all claimed to have reached the Pole (in 1908, 1909 and 1926 respectively), the fact of the matter is that all three were likely lying out of their asses, and the first credible over land attainment of the pole was in 1937 by the Soviet Union. There would not be a succesful US landing until 1952. 
The Art: Standard quality level from the Kane Studio. The art depicts the north much the way some East coast city slicker who would never have seen it other than in a movie would depict it. Everyone looks like an old-timey prospector, there's polar bears side by side with penguins (that's SOUTH POLE, guys! SOUTH!), and it's all perpetual winter. However, the snow-white costumes of Batman and Robin are distinctive, even if Robin's white hair is just hilarious (seriously, the goofy things this kid is up for in the name of crime-fighting).
The Story: I've never been one for stories that take Batman out of Gotham City, unless they have a good justification. And this story does not. Things are tough in Gotham so you decide to become an ice bandit in the Arctic Circle? That's fucking crazy. They have a hollowed-out glacier hideout? That's cool, but also fucking crazy. Batman and Robin leave Gotham to stop ice bandits in the Arctic Circle because the FBI is too busy? This is a fucking crazy comic book. Ultimately, it's just another "Batman and Robin in setting X" story, but I hate those stories and this one is pretty weak. And that ending? Ugh.
Notes and Trivia: Batman and Robin attain the North Pole (sheesh), first appearance of customized Batsuits (snowsuits in this occasion)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Batman #12 (August/September 1942)

Another patriotic wartime cover, although I'm wondering what anniversary this "Anniversary Issue" is celebrating. Yeah, it's the twelfth issue, but this series isn't monthly so that means nothing. The series started in spring and this is an August/September issue, so what's the deal? Oh well.

"Brothers in Crime!"
Writer: Don Cameron
Art: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: So we open with a significant milestone in Batman history -- the introduction of Batman's Trophy Room! Yes, the Batman is a bit of a hoarder, as it turns out, keeping all kinds of knick-knacks from his past cases in a room in Wayne Manor locked up by a dial combination in a six-inch thick steel door! Cuz that ain't suspicious.
Trophies already collected include a stuffed penguin and gas umbrella from Detective #58, what looks like the Joker's mantlepiece from his early lair in Batman #1, the Joker's decoy duck from Batman #9,  and Bruce Wayne's portrait from Detective #42.
Batman draws Robin's attention to trophy from a story we've never heard: a bullet proof vest used by Peter Rafferty in June, 1939. He was one of three brothers who tried to protect themselves with such vests and all ended up dead.

We then flashback to May, 1939, when Peter Rafferty was being released from a stint in prison. He's eager to go straight, but his brothers Steve and Mike draw him right back into their criminal schemes. They kill a gas attendant rather than pay for gas, steal the station's money, and implicate Pete in the crime. Stuck with them, the three brothers go into business painting the town red, believing themselves protected by their iron bullet proof vests.
They start a spree of robberies which are accompanied by an equal amount of unnecessary murdering that has Pete on edge. They soon attract the attention of the Batman and his youthful aide Robin, the Boy.... wait a second! Robin didn't join the show until April, 1940 -- I call bullshit.
Anyways the Dynamic Duo end up fighting the gang at a scrap metal yard, and by a contrivance Steve Rafferty finds his iron vest getting picked up by the big yard magnet, and leading to his death in the scrap pile. 
Batman and Robin find a note directing them to the next target, the wealthy Gotham Yacht Club. When the Duo shows up to break up the heist, Peter Rafferty takes off in his car while Mike and the gang try to escape by water. Fighting the Batman ends up sending their boat out of control and they all fall into the water. Then Batman, floating there with the rest of the crooks, just kinda watches as Mike Rafferty sinks and drowns due to his vest. Wait, what? That's cold, Batman. I mean, it's in like with genuine 1939 Batman, but continuity's sorta broken what with Robin being here.
Pete tries to get out of the gang, but they don't take so kindly to that and begin hunting him, so Batman decides to get Pete before they do. A storm breaks out and Pete seeks shelter in a suburban home. Turns out it's the home of two kindly old people who's grandson was being operated on for his appendix by a doctor upstairs when the storm took out the power. The doc can't operate by candelight, so Pete decides to redeem himself by saving the kid by using his iron vest as a conductor. It works and the kid is saved, but the gang catches up to Pete and shoots him while he's not wearing the vest. Batman knocks out the gang. 
In 1942, Batman and Robin remark on the irony that the live-saving vest saved the life of the boy, but lead to the death of the three Rafferty brothers.
My Thoughts: The trophy room is such a mainstay of the Batcave that I'm sorta surprised that it's first appearance predates it. We've now got Bruce keeping his costume in a secret trunk, his crime lab in a secret room, and his trophies in another secret room in Wayne Manor. Meanwhile the Batmobile and Batplane are in that abandoned barn reachable by underground tunnel from Wayne Manor. Good thing it's a big house and they never have guests over.
Still, it's an element of the Bat-canon that's just going to get bigger and bigger, and the "tell you a story about something in the trophy room" is going to become a dependable framing story schtick over the years as well.
But while the continuity of the current trophies is well done, the gaffe of Robin with Batman in 1939 is nigh-unforgivable, especially since Joe Greene just did a story set in 1937 with the correct, solo Batman. I'd blame it on Don Cameron being a new writer, if it wasn't for the good continuity with the trophies showing he at least knew the series' history to some extent.
The Art: Holy smokes if there's a reason to read this story it's the art. Jerry Robinson has clearly, clearly surpassed Bob Kane as a solo artist. The detail in this art is fantastic, the character art is extraordinary, and holy crap there's actual effort put into the backgrounds! They aren't just non-descript shapes and shadows, the action is actually taking place in defined spaces. Robinson also uses different panel sizes, angles, and layouts than Kane, whose work is often based on repetitive poses and images he can reuse over and over. Robinson's art has great detail in it, looking far more realistic than Kane's carboard cut-outs. It's not quite as good as Jack Burnley, but it's quite amazingly good compared to Kane with Robinson's inks, even.
The Story: As much as I get the use of the framing device with the trophy to build interest, why the heck is this story set in 1939? The time setting isn't used at all. Is there some reason it needs to be pre-war? If so, set it in 1940 or 41 so at least using Robin isn't a total anachronism. I mean the tale is set in the strip's earliest months but otherwise the story is completely contemporary in style.
Other than that snafu, I must say it's a well plotted story. It's pacing is excellent and it's relatively consistent. It feels a bit standard as it were, but the art more than makes up for it. Writer Don Cameron was probably the oldest member of the Batman creative team when he came onboard. He'd been a crime writer for several US and Canadian newspapers in the 1920s, then tried to make it as a pulp fiction writer in the 1930s. By the 40s he'd hit hard times and turned to DC comics work to make ends meet. As such, we're seeing a writer nearing the end of his career, but with a lot of experience both in pulps and non-fiction crime writing, which serve him very well as a writer on Batman. I'm looking forward to more Don Cameron stories.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Batman's Trophy Room

"The Wizard of Words!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson and George Roussos
Synopsis: So, inspired by something one of his henchman says, that crazy-ass Joker decides to start a series of crimes based on taking turns-of-phrase literally. So he sends a message to a banker saying he'll cover him with dough (give him lots of money) -- but then literally dumps dough on his head. He sends a message to the D.A. (drawn to look like Nolan from last issue, so this story probably takes place sometime before Detective #66,) saying he'll frame him, and then literally ties him up in a picture frame. He sends a letter to the Mayor (drawn to look like La Guardia) saying he'll see fireworks, then actually lights fireworks in his office. 
Everyone in Gotham is sorta thinking, "WTF?", including Bruce and Dick, although Bruce is sure he's up to something. The Joker sends another note to Commissioner Gordon promising to "paint the town red", and sure enough his goons are out coating the town in red paint, including a plane just spraying that shit from the air.
Bruce notices one of the buildings hit with red paint is a bank, and decides that all these pranks are designed as random chaos to cover the Joker's real crime. And so! As Batman and Robin they take a secret elevator down to an underground hangar beneath Wayne Manor where the Batplanes, Batmobiles and a repair workshop are held! In the Batplane, they are pulled up an incline by a winch into the old abandoned barn, where they now take off! (Holy Almost-Batcave, loyal blog readers!)
Anyways, turns out there's an acid mixed in with the paint that allows Joker and his men to bust in through the bank ceiling and into the vault. Cue the fight scene, the police show up and the Joker gets away again. Back at his lair, one of Joker's henchmen complains about Joker not letting him shoot the Batman during the fight, but Joker explains that only he may be allowed to kill the Batman, and it must be a death worthy of his brilliance.
The next clue Joker sends is that he's going to make "hot news" by "setting the world on fire". Bruce deduces this means Joker's going to burn down the printing plant of the Gotham City World newspaper. Batman heads out to stop them, gets knocked out by the Joker, who is going to "send him for a spin" and  ties him to a huge gyroscope (they have huge gyroscopes in printing plants?) Joker intends the spinning to send the blood to Batman's head and kill him, but halfway through the process decides this death isn't good enough, changes his mind and decides to send Batman on "the road to success." In this case, that means a narrow wooden board placed over a high space in the burning factory. If Batman, in his extremely dizzyed state, can cross the board he'll live, but if he falls, he'll die. Batman can barely walk, and he nearly falls crossing but then Robin swoops down and rescues him.
So then the Joker escapes AGAIN, and for his next crime he hears that a large amount of gold is being brought to Gotham by train by a passenger in a large plain satchel. He sends a message to the company that "Money Talks", and the company men notify the Batman. Joker sneaks on the train in make-up and uses a metal detector to find the passenger with the gold. He then gets off the train and makes off in a handcar, but the Batmobile shows up. Batman and the Joker start fighting on the handcar, then he chases him into an army base, Joker steals a barrage ballon (basically a small zeppelin shaped thing) and they fight on top of THAT until Batman punches him off into the river.
Is he dead? Who knows, but Robin makes a joke about the criminal "drowning his sorrows." Ugh, Robin.

My Thoughts: And so we've comfortably settled into the "post-murderous" phase of the Joker's career, where the focus is entirely on crazy patterned crime schemes meant to confound the Batman. A neat detail here is Joker's insistance on killing Batman himself, and his inability to decide on the best means of doing so.
The Art: The art is good -- Kane/Robinson/Roussos do a great story with a lot of colour and shadow and action and movement. Sometimes figures are drawn too small or indistinct in the panel and facial features are mushed together, but this is a common problem with Kane's artwork. Overall this is all right stuff -- although Joker's eyebrows seem to be getting bushier with every story.
Probably the most significant thing in the art is the panel that gives us a cross-section of Wayne Manor's new underground hangars -- this is going to be become a recurring visual motif for depictions of what will soon be the Batcave.

The Story: So Joker's pun-based crime spree starts all right, but this is a story that runs out of steam really fast. The burning newspaper plant was the natural climax, but Finger has Joker escape AGAIN, which leads to a series of set-pieces that are just going through the motions of over-the-top comic book escapades, from the train to a fight on top of a zeppelin that just screams out to be trying too hard. Ultimately the Joker formula, while applied well here, is just too shallow to draw out for too long, and the back-end of the tale just loses energy.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of "underground hangars" beneath Wayne Manor

"They Thrill to Conquer!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Jack Burnley
Synopsis: Everyone is gathered to watch the stunt man "Fearless Ford" perform a human fly act crawling up a skyscraper to promote war bonds. Bruce and Dick watch from a skyscraper across the street and think they spot a man with a gun in a window just above Ford. They dash across into the room as Batman and Robin, and Robin is shot in the face with the gun -- which shoots ammonia at him instead of bullets. The gangsters run off and they pull Fearless Ford into the room.
Ford explains that the mob has been muscling in on stunt men for protection money (okaaay) and that several stunt men have been killed during their stunts in ways that could be written off as tragic accidents. In this case, Ford was going to get the ammonia to the face, so that he'd fall to his death.
Turns out Ford was once a circus performer in a family of acrobats but his son was injured in a fall (lucky they didn't all DIE! thinks Robin, I'm sure) and now Ford needs to pay for a costly operation on his son's spine, which is why he's taking all kinds of extra dangerous stunt jobs and also why he won't pay the mob.
Batman figures they'll try again at Ford's next performance for a circus at Gotham Garden, the Dynamic Duo check up on Ford in his dressing room. Turns out Ford is afraid he'll be killed and doesn't want to go on with the act. So of course our hero gives him a rousing speech at convinces him to go on, or perhaps he remembers he's a millionaire and gives Ford the money he needs for Tommy's operation so this'll all be over? No, Batman declares Ford a coward who's lost his nerve, revokes his man card, and socks him in the face, because it's 1942 and even heroes were kind've assholes back then.
So it's last-minute substitution time, and even though Batman takes to the stage in full-on Batman regalia, and he's announced to the crowd as Batman, the crooks still try to make an attempt on his life even though he's not the one who owes them money. Robin stops them, of course, seemingly unharmed from the faceful of ammonia he got last time, but Batman ends up falling into the lion's den (literally) anyways. Luckily, his lion taming skills keep him alive in time for Robin to swoop in and save him.
Dick wonders how the pair can help Ford if he refuses to make more appearances, so Bruce goes to Ford's booking agent Joe Kirk and offers to pay Ford $500 to appear at a charity event at Wayne Manor. Bruce! Why not just GIVE Ford the money he needs?? Anyways, Kirk books Ford, but he once again refuses to appear, as he's "lost the nerve". So Bruce (this time disguised as Ford) agrees to do the stunt, which is a car stunt this time. Once again, a murderous attempt is made, but Bruce gets out of it because he's awesome. Right away Kirk offers Bruce/Ford another gig, a high dive at the fairgrounds, and Bruce agrees.
Batman and Robin examine the fairgrounds before the stunt, and find evidence of tampering. Bruce/Ford does the high dive, but the tank explodes when he hits it! Ford's family are convinced he's dead, while Robin follows the trail back to... Joe Kirk! Kirk beats it in a plane, while it turns out that it was a dummy that did the high dive and Batman's alive and well. 
Batman uses the cannon for the human cannonball act to propel himself into the air and catch Kirk's plane, and they begin fighting. Robin heads to the Batplane, hidden in a nearby hangar just in case, to head after them but finds he's been beaten to it by Ford! Ford wants to get Kirk for his treachery, and heads up in the Batplane, diving out of it to get onto the other plane. He misses, but Batman saves him. The Dark Knight had already dealt with Kirk, but congratulates Ford on getting his nerve back and becoming a man again.
My Thoughts:  So I guess the moral is supposed to be about having courage and being a man, and given that this is a wartime comic that seems admirable, but I just can't get behind this one. Batman comes off as a showboating asshole, Ford is never really redeemed, and there are just too many plotholes. It was sort've a wasted opportunity with Robin given his tragic history with the circus, and ultimately the whole thing feels more like an excuse to let Jack Burnley draw Batman in some fantastic situations.
The Art: Speaking of which Burnley's art is great, as always. He really does well with human figures and faces, drawing them far, far more three-dimensionally than Kane or Robinson, about as "photo-real" as you can get in Golden Age style art -- although his Batman and Robin retain some 2D-ness to remain on model -- after all, every Batman story was simply labeled "by Bob Kane" so to the reading public it still had to look similar. I will say, however, that Burnley seems to be weaker on backgrounds -- they're often the kind've blank abstractions you see in Kane's art and a lot of other Golden Age work but that we just saw Robinson do a lot of good detail in.
The Story: Ugh. This might be one of the worst Batman stories I've read so far. I mean, start with the ludicrous idea that a stunt man talent agent is using the mob to hit his talent up for protection money (isn't he gonna run out of clients doing this), which is a contrived scenario even for a Batman comic. Then Batman, who could easily solves Ford's problems with a donation of cash, instead forces the man to perform when his life is in jeopardy, then beats him up and takes his place when he's unwilling to do it. Finally, when Ford does "man up", he doesn't even save the day. Batman saves him, and has already beat the crook. It really makes Batman look like an ass, and the moral that you're only worth a damn if you're willing to do crazy stunts for little money while the mob is trying to kill you is just bullshit. Finally -- what happened with Tommy? Did Ford ever get enough to pay for that operation? We'll never know, because this story sucks. (Also, what the hell is that title supposed to mean??)

"Around the Clock with Batman"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: It's been named "Batman Day" in Gotham City, and the Dynamic Duo are thrown a parade! A statue is built of them in the city park! The Mayor (not-LaGuardia) reads out a list of their accomplishments (120 arrests, 118 convictions, 70 confessions, defeated the Joker six times, etc. and I can tell you that at least that last one is incorrect). Everyone is Gotham is amazed -- how can one man and one boy manage to do all this? Well, we flashback to sometime in May and a story of a day in the life of Batman.
Bruce and Dick get up in the morning and exercise in the gym. They perform tests on the Batplane, and this is followed by a healthy breakfast and then experiments in the crime laboratory, proving a crook named Maroni guilty. Dick notifies the commissioner, then tests Bruce's photographic memory with files from their casebook. Then they head out in costume to appear at an event to promote the sale of war bonds. They get home and Dick works on his homework (from what school? Is he home-schooled?) while Bruce works on a book he's writing (as Batman, I think) called "Observations on Crime". Unfortunately he can't think of what to write for the final chapter and the publisher's deadline is on Monday.
The Duo heads out in the Batplane for an evening patrol and spot a jewelry robbery in progress. They try to stop the crooks but they get away, so they follow them to an art gallery. Once inside, all they can find is a normal legitimate art gallery (if such things where filled with massive sculptures), until Batman notices the eyes in one large bust seeming to sparkle with their own life. He deduces the jewels are hid inside, they fight the crooks and round them up. The gallery owner begs the police to keep the story out of the papers to save the reputation of his gallery, and likewise Batman can't use it for his book.
Then Batman and Robin head to a children's hospital to appear for children with infantile paralysis and support the March of Dimes. Resuming their patrol, they spot a woman trying to commit suicide by jumping from a building. There's a large crowd and police trying to talk her down. Batman rescues her, and then they hear from the cops that "Heist" Andrews robbed a bank downtown while the police were busy with the suicide (man, the GCPD sure is undermanned). Batman follows a hunch by following the girl, who leads them right to Andews' hide-out. They beat up the crooks, round them up and take them to jail.
Batman decides to write the final chapter as a day in the life entitled "Around the Clock with Batman" and then the two go to bed (they sleep in the same room, but in seperate beds).
My Thoughts:  "Day in the Life" stories can either be really interesting or really banal, and this one straddles the line. But it's a cool concept, although it's always weird seeing a Batman who gets parades thrown for him and the like. Mostly the story just comes across as saying "aren't these great, swell guys who work 24/7 to fight crime and be heroes?" which does seem a little bit ridiculous and heavy-handed at times. I mean, I know Batman and Robin are swell guys -- but the volunteering for war bonds and the March of Dimes strikes me as a little much, especially when Dick apparently never goes to school or plays and Bruce Wayne has no life of his own. The impression you get is that their whole lives is being Batman and Robin, and if that's the case why have secret identities? Heck, now that they're honorary policemen and all and the city loves them, why not just join the police force? Or donate money to it at least? It seems kind've cowardly compared to the regular cops.
The Art: Decent, serviceable stuff here. Standard scenes and action we've seen before. Perhaps the best stuff is the opening four pages before the jewelry heist, which look to my eyes to have been heavily redrawn by Jerry Robinson, as they look much better than Bob Kane's standard work. The fight in the art gallery is cool though, it's sort've an early version of the classic Bill Finger trope of battles with giant props, but a lot of the other action is of a fairly standard type.
The Story: While the concept is decent, it does suffer from the fact that we don't see Linda Page or Commissioner Gordon or really get any sense that Bruce and Dick have a life outside being Batman and Robin. Because the whole point of the story is that it must be so difficult to be them and do all these amazing things -- but when they can devote their ENTIRE day to being superheroes, then it's really not as impressive. It's almost like "of course they can do all that, they don't have to worry about going to work or going to school or having a social life, etc etc"
Finally, I also feel that neat concept aside, this story really comes across as basically a couple of half-baked ideas (the jewelry heist and the bank robbery), with a bunch of pages of filler to round it out. I mean, ultimately, what does the "Batman Day" opening sequence contribute?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Detective Comics #66 (August 1942)

Even though this cover has nothing to do with this month's story (aside from the caption), the image of Robin hanging off the face of a clock tower is one that, while not iconic in this iteration, will become a recurring image in Batman comics, eventually even becoming associated with Two-Face.

Oh, by the way, this is the first appearance of Two-Face.

"The Crimes of Two-Face!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: We begin our tale by meeting Harvey Kent (yes, Kent), the new D.A. of Gotham City. He has it all. He's handsome (the press nicknames him "Apollo"), he's popular, and he has a beautiful fianceé, Gilda the sculptress. 
Flash forward and Kent is prosecuting mob boss Moroni, for the murder of "Bookie" Benson. Harvey calls the Batman to the stand (because the costumed vigilante with no legal identity can totally testify, after all -- he's an honorary policeman!), and the Dark Knight testifies that he did indeed see Moroni shoot Benson. And the clincher? Moroni's lucky two-headed silver dollar was left at the scene with Moroni's fingerprints on it. Moroni freaks and hurls a vial at Harvey Kent. Batman leaps to the defense and tries to deflect it, and so it only strikes Kent on his left side.
It was a vial of vitriol (sulphuric acid), and so Kent is rushed to a doctor and pandemonium breaks out in the courthouse. A month later the bandages come off, but Harvey is horribly scarred along the left side of his face (for the curious, such burns would probably really look something like this -- not for the feint of heart obviously). Kent is quite broken up about this, and the doctors admit it would take a miracle of plastic surgery to repair. Unfortunately, the greatest plastic surgeon in Gotham is Dr. Ekhart (who previously appeared in Batman #3!) -- who went to visit his brother in Germany before the war started and is now in a concentration camp! 
So with things gone from bad to worse, Harvey returns home to his fianceé (while getting stares from every passerby the on street, of course), and when he arrives he's pretty much already convinced himself she'll reject him. With one side of his face hideously scarred (the colourist has decided it's green, although a more realistic colour would be red), his hair burnt, his mouth twisted in a snarl, and based on Kane's art I'd guess he's blind in the left eye as well -- Harvey is no longer the paragon of beauty that Gilda once sculpted busts of.
Harvey goes on a bit of a tear and smashes up all her sculptures, before settling down later that night into a villainous monologue at his mirror.
See if YOU can follow Crazy Harvey's train of thought: Since his face is divided into beauty and ugliness, Harvey himself must be divided into good and evil! Jekyll and Hyde at the same time! Moroni's lucky silver dollar was the cause of all of this (was it, Harvey?) so Harvey takes a scalpel to one side so that it too shall have one scarred side just like him! Since Harvey is shunned now by everyone (I'd argue he shunned Gilda rather than the other way around) he's like a criminal (okay...) and it would only take a twist of fate to make him one. Harvey decides therefore to place his fate in a flip of the coin -- the coin responsible for all the trouble! If it comes up scarred, he'll become a criminal, if it comes up good, he'll wait until Dr. Ekhart is freed!

Of course it comes up bad, otherwise we'd be at the end of the story. And so Harvey Kent becomes Two-Face, and decides to base all his decisions on the flip of a coin.
One month later and Two-Face has become a known figure in the Gotham crime world. He's found a tailor willing to make him crazy split suits (right side, orange, left side, purple plaid!) and he's even got a hideout whose interior decorating is split into 'good' and 'evil' sides! His crime spree is determined by the coin: bad side, his gang robs a bank; good side, they steal from a rival mobster and give the money to charity! The public is split in their opinion -- is he a gangster or a Robin Hood?
Their next "bad" job is robbing a bonds company messenger while he's on the bus. The job would have gone fine but Batman and Robin spot it on a patrol. Swinging onto the double-decker bus, the fight breaks out. Batman tries to convince Harvey to give up the life of crime, return to his fianceé, his job. Two-Face threatens to shoot him, but Batman can't believe Harvey would ever kill his friend. In the commotion of the fight, the bus driver is killed. Two-Face's goons bail from the runaway bus, which Robin manages to stop just before it crashes.
Back at his lair, Two-Face is agonizing over betraying his friends and loved ones. He gazes at himself in a mirror, before remembering that he ordered no mirrors be placed in his room! He freaks out, smashes the mirror, and yells at one of his henchmen. Turns out it's the same guy who accidentally shot the bus driver. Two-Face flips his coin to decide his fate -- it comes up bad and so he kills the guy, stating that when he was the D.A. he would've sent the crook to the chair anyway, so justice still prevails. 
Their next job is planned to be a robbery of a double feature movie theatre. Two-Face realizes he just robbed a double-decker and decides to start basing all his crimes around the number two. Meanwhile, back at the bus, Batman and Robin find a clue -- a map of the theatre Two-Face plans to rob. It's the Bijou Theatre on Park Avenure, frequented by the very rich. 
That evening, an episode of the Fleischer Studios Superman animated series (perhaps "The Magnetic Telescope"?) is interrupted by a new film -- Two-Face! His hideous visage in close-up on the screen commanding the patrons to give over their money and valuables to his men in the aisles. But the Dynamic Duo show up! Robin captures the projection booth and shines a spotlight on the Batman as he swings from a box seat and onto the stage to battle Two-Face, while the film plays on and holy cats is this dramatic!
Two-Face makes his getaway, but Batman manages to follow him to his hide-out. Two-Face threatens to kill Batman, while the Dark Knight once again pleads with Harvey to turn himself in. With his record as DA, Batman argues, the courts will be lenient and judge this an episode of temporary insanity. Batman promises to speak in his friend's favour, guaranteeing Harvey a light sentence, and perhaps once it's complete Dr. Ekhart will be freed? (Keep dreaming on that one). As with all things, Harvey decides to make his choice by the coin! He flips it, and...
It lands in the crack in the floor between the good and bad side, standing on its edge!! Batman asks Harvey to flip again, but he refuses -- Two-Face never flips twice on the same decision! Fate must decide -- where shall the coin fall?? We'll find out... in October's issue of Detective Comics!
My Thoughts: October's issue! I gotta wait two months for the second part?? Crazy enough that Two-Face's first appearance is a two-partner, given how rare multi-part stories were in the Golden Age, but it's a two-part story with a filler issue in between? That's nuts -- especially since the filler issue is still a Finger/Kane issue. Bizarre. 
Anyways, this issue is amazing for several remarkable reasons. I mean, it's the debut of Two-Face, one of the greatest villains in the Batman rogues gallery and certainly the most tragic. I mean, he's pretty much the definitive "tragic Batman anti-villain" character type. And as depicted by Finger and Kane he's got a lot of interesting aspects that have been lost in modern stories. First and foremost there's the idea that when the coin comes up clean he commits an act of good. He donates to charity, for example. This original Two-Face truly is Jekyll and Hyde at the same time, rather than a Jekyll who became a Hyde. When the modern Two-Face's coin comes up clean, all it usually means is avoiding an act of evil. It's "I'll rob the bank or I won't", instead of "I'll rob a bank or attack a gangster!" Even though this is a Golden Age comic, I actually find this version of Two-Face more interesting and complex.
As I said earlier, multi-part stories were very rare in Golden Age comics. We had seen the first one ourselves in Detective #31-32, and the first multi-issue arc in comics wouldn't begin until March 1943's Captain Marvel Adventures #22. So the unconcluded cliffhanger ending seen here is fantastically suspenseful.
And finally, I must remark on how dark and adult this story is. Harvey Kent is horribly scarred, his life ruined. This is a tale of a good man gone horribly wrong. Yet Two-Face isn't a cackling monster either. He has regrets over his actions, he feels bad about what he's done. But he can't stop. There's psychology in this story, primitive as it may be. And what with references to Nazi concentration camps, well, the whole thing comes off very mature, in the best way possible.
Finally, I must remark on Two-Face's name. Yes, it was originally Harvey Kent -- it would eventually be changed to the more familiar Harvey Dent to avoid association with DC's other famous Kent. Personally, I prefer the change -- the name "Dent" works on a great thematic level with the character.
The Art: Kane is really firing away on all cylinders here. Apparently the artist came up with the idea for Two-Face from the visual from the poster for the 1941 Jekyll & Hyde movie starring Spencer Tracy. Of course from there it's a short leap to the idea of a character who is Jekyll and Hide simultaneously. This continues the Kane/Finger tradition of getting their villain ideas from popular horror movies. Two-Face even flips a coin like George Raft famously did in the original 1931 Scarface, the difference is that Two-Face has a reason to do so.
Kane draws the acid scars well -- they're ragged and gruesome but not as over the top as many modern artists tend to go with the character. Although one thing I've never understood is why his left hand is coloured green like the left side of his face. I mean, Harvey lifted up a hand to shield himself when the acid hit, but that was his right hand, shielding the right side of his face. Maybe it's just a colouring goof, assuming that he's scarred all along that side of his body, but it's something that I see over and over in comics and has never made sense to me. That being said, this story also has a lot of great dramatic flourishes in the art, especially the fight in the cinema. I mean, this is just great stuff all around.

The Story: What's amazing to me here is how much Bill Finger gets into one 13 page story without things feeling rushed. The pacing is just really handled well, with ample time to develop the villain's character. Granted, making it a two-part story must have helped. In terms of story structure, this feels like a far more successful version of what Finger was trying to do in the Professor Radium story from Batman #8. Two-Face really is a remarkable, original character, and immediately feels like he belongs with Joker, Catwoman, and the Penguin as a new top-tier member of Batman's rogues gallery.
What strikes me is how much effective symbolism Finger works into the tale. Harvey's fianceé is a sculptress, she works to create works of beautiful art, so Harvey feels rejected by her when he becomes hideous. Moroni throws sulphuric acid at Harvey, aka vitriol, and another use of the word vitriol is for a kind of burning hatred. The double-headed "lucky" coin is of course the most obvious bit of symbolism, but even that has another ("second") layer -- anyone reading the comic would know that Moroni's 1922 silver dollar would be what is called a "Peace" Dollar, minted after WWII, and so peace is defaced into something evil, much as the Harvey's good has been defaced and much as the Peace of WWI lead to the evil of WWII, which directly impacts the story in a unique way by taking away Harvey's hope of salvation, Dr. Ekhart. And Holy Continuity, Batman! Ekhart had already appeared in these comics, established by Finger as a great plastic surgeon way back in "The Ugliest Man in the World" in Batman #3!
To have a character who begins as Batman's friend, and becomes his enemy, and who even as a villain Batman is sympathetic towards, is trying desperately to redeem, is fantastic. Two-Face is just a great tragic figure, rife with storytelling possibilities. If I had to have a caveat about the tale, it would only be that it would have been more powerful if Harvey had been a pre-existing recurring character before this story, like Gordon, as opposed to the other DA's we've seen before now (one of whom was corrupt, and another of whom resigned to run for governor right before this story). But that would probably be asking too much of Golden Age comics storytelling.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Harvey 'Kent'/Two-Face, Gilda 'Kent', Mob Boss 'Moroni', storyline to be concluded in Detective Comics #68. Special thanks to "About Faces", a fantastic LiveJournal blog run by John Hefner. It's the number one place for fans of Two-Face! 
Two-Face Body Count: 2 (hee hee!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Detective Comics #65 (July 1942)

Here's a special treat -- cover art by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon! One of the few times The King ever drew Batman,  although the focus of the cover is welcoming Kirby's own feature "Boy Commandos"  to Detective Comics. As it stands, there's not much of Kirby's style, even Golden Age Kirby, in tis Batman and Robin -- there seems to have been a concious effort to keep them "on-model" , as it were.

 "The Cop Who Hated Batman"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: Our story opens in 1937, before Batman took on Robin, before he was officially recognized by the police, hell -- before "Case of the Chemical Syndicate!" Two crooks, Mike Nolan and Nick Rocco, are holed up in their hide-out, surrounded by cops. The Batman bursts in on them, knocking out Rocco. Nolan decides to turn himself in and confess everything -- he never really wanted to be a part of this anyway, but Rocco gets up and shoots him dead. As the cops rush in, the Batman must flee since he's an outlaw, and the police believe that perhaps the Batman killed Nolan (which would fit with the Dark Knight's early history of lethal measures).
Five years later, the Bat-Signal once again lights up the night sky, calling the Dynamic Duo to the office of Police Commissioner Gordon. However, Gordon has no horrific crime for them, but rather an invitation to join him on his holiday! (I'm sure Gordon's family loves that he chose to be accompanied by two identityless masked vigilantes rather than them). And hilariously enough, Batman accepts, and they all drive up to a "northern state in the mountains" together!
Gordon has accepted an invitation to stay at the barracks of the state troopers of this unidentified northern state and thought Batman would be interested seeing them in action, which is a pretty darn contrived premise if you ask me, but hey, here we are.
Anyways, the Staties all love Batman, all except one -- Tom Bolton, who utterly hates Batman without giving a reason. He's a good cop, one of the best according to his fellow troopers, so this is a mystery which Batman declares the strangest he's ever come up against. I dunno, Batman, that seems like quite the exaggeration.
That night, Batman is so shaken by Bolton's hatred that he has nightmares -- his first since childhood!! (Kinda flies in the face of modern writers who write him as haunted by his parent's death every night. Also -- Batman sleeps in his costume). The next morning, the dam bursts from the pressure of the spring thaw and there's a flood!
So of course Batman and Robin save a ton of people, but when Batman spots some looters he rushes off to fight them. He bites off more than he can chew, however, and gets kocked into the raging flood waters. And who should save him but Tom Bolton! Batman's confused, but Bolton says that it's his duty as an officer to save lives, and then refuses to shake Batman's hand.
See, turns out that Tom Bolton is Mike Nolan's son. He changed his name when his dad turned to crime so he could still join the police academy. And to this day he believes the Batman killed his father.
The next day, contrived circumstances get Bolton and Batman into a full on fisticuffs brawl. One of the officers points out that since Batman is a deputy, technically Bolton is assaulting a fellow officer, but Batman says he'll let it go and fight Bolton if this gets things out of his system. Bolton does all right, but eventually goes down.
Later he's on jail guard duty, and one of the inmates who saw his fight with Batman through the window asks him why he hates the Dark Knight so much. Bolton explains, and tells him he wishes Rocco would just tell the world what happened so everyone could see the Batman as the murderous coward he is. But the crooks explains he knows Rocco! Yeah, he used to run with his old gang! He can lead Bolton straight to him!
Anyways, as they set off, turns out Robin was eavesdropping. He reports to Batman and they take off on skis after the pair. Bolton arrives at an old cabin, and of course it was all a trap. They get the drop on Bolton, but Batman shows up for the rescue and explains the truth to him. Rocco admits to it -- Nolan only got into crime to pay for Tom's college tuition! The crooks tie up Batman and Bolton and make off on skis (killing them would bring too hot a manhunt on their heads). But the heroes escape and begin their pursuit!
One exciting ski chase later (including a cool bit where Batman and Robin use their capes as sails in order to catch enough wind to clear a jump), and they catch up with the crooks and Tom delivers good old fashioned fist justice to Rocco's face. Tom and Batman shake hands, everyone's happy.

My Thoughts: "The Cop Who Hated Batman". What an interesting premise. Especially starting with a flashback to the Bat's earlier dark vigilante days. Maybe it's about the jealousy that a cop can feel for a superhero, especially one who gets to have the best of both worlds. After all, Batman can operate outside the strict law like a vigilante, but is still free from reprisals like a cop. He has it all, and no one even knows his name. His face isn't out there like a cop's is. There's a lot of room for resentment there.
Or, it could be a contrived situation regarding mistaken identity and a murdered relation where it turns out neither the cop nor Batman are really at fault. That could work too, I suppose.
The Art: The art here is by Jack Burnley, who we've previously seen only do covers, and it's gorgeous. DC had hired him themselves, not the Kane Studio, and he's clearly a cut above the other draftsmen workin on this strip. I mean this is just gorgeous stuff compared to what's been the norm lately. It's like an entire comic strip done just like pulp cover art, albeit without the painted colour but definitely in that style. The figure work especially, the faces and whatnot. The only disappointment is Batman and Robin themselves, oddly enough. Inker George Roussos (making a triumphant return!) keeps everything drenched in noir shadows gorgeously, but I also suspect he did some work keeping the Dynamic Duo on model, because while everyone else in the strip looks a cut above, the heroes don't appear all too differently than they usually do. It also would have been cool if Batman had been drawn in the old Bob Kane style for the 1937 flashback, but obviously this is way before there were fanboys caring about such things. Still, it's all great stuff, with very good layouts and very, very good pacing, which I appreciated.
The Story: This is the first script from Joe Greene in a while that hasn't sucked outright. While it doesn't live up to my expectations for the premise, it's still a good story well told. The contrivance of getting Batman and Robin out to the mountains is a bit of a stretch, and not even really necessary for the tale -- it all could have been told in Gotham City, but I'll admit the new locale makes for a nice change of pace. While I can't say this tale does anything especially memorable, it was interesting, entertaining and well-told, which makes it I think the best script Joe Greene has done for the strip so far. Good stuff.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

World's Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942)

Another patriotic wartime cover from Fred Ray. Since it's only 1942, it's pretty innocuous.

"The Secret of Bruce Wayne"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Okay so we start with Batman smashing another crime ring but turns out it's actually a re-creation for a TV show! Yes, a TV show, which apparently is simulcast for radio as well, called "Racket-Smashers!" It's very popular (one viewer wonders why Batman doesn't have his own radio show, like Superman, another hint from the creative team which fell on deaf ears -- he was actually depicted as having one in previous issues in another such hint. The Caped Crusader would never have his own radio program).
Meanwhile, the editor of "View" magazine gives his top reporter Scoop Scanlon the assignment of finding out the true identity of Batman, promising Scoop a raise which he needs to get married. Meanwhile, an out of work actor named Loring asks the director of "Racket-Smashers", Mr. Rand, for a job but is turned down. Scoop asks Batman if he can accompany him and Robin on patrols to promote their works in a series of articles and Batman agrees. 
Batman and Robin chase down some bank robbers who manage to escape. Batman questions the bank guard and finds out that the robbers managed to commit the crime successfully by avoiding a mistake the criminals in the "Racket-Smashers" show made. Perhaps it's a conincedence? Meanwhile, a shadowy figure bursts into the "View" editor's office and begins making demands.
Scoop tells the editor that revealing Batman's identity would ruin his ability to fight crime effectively, but the editor keeps pushing, promising Scoop "help". Using the Bat-Signal, Scoop lures Batman into a trap in an old abandoned mill, but when the thugs have Batman down and out and Scoop wants him unmasked, the gangsters instead decide to kill him (why not do both? It's seriously no effort). Scoop objects, so they decide to kill him too. And of course rather than just shoot them they tie them up in the grinding millstones. But Robin shows up to rescue them, of course. 
Batman questions one of the thugs who says their boss shook down the editor and made him hire them. So Batman questions the editor who confirms this but says the mystery guy was masked. Scoop basically says no hard feelings and that he'll keep trying to find Batman's identity and the Dark Knight wishes him good luck (I thought Scoop didn't want to find it and only was motivated by his editor's pushing??)
Mystery dude gives a "new script" to some other shadowy figures and tells them to watch out for Batman. Another episode of "Racket-Smashers" airs where the crooks are found out by a mistake they made, then another crime is committed without said mistake. Batman questions the writer who says he gets his ideas from case files from a source in the police department. Batman then questions the director who says the scripts are written a week in advance because TV actors can't read the scripts live like radio actors. Then Loring shows up to beg for a job again, doesn't get one, and Batman takes pity and gives him a wad of dough. Loring promises to return the favour.

Scoop meanwhile, is examing the case files at the police department of crimes Batman solved and notes that society playboy Bruce Wayne is always hanging around crime scenes and that is really suspicious behaviour for a society playboy. (True, except Commissioner Gordon is always the one inviting him and a better question maybe why the police commissioner is always inviting civillian friends to crime scenes, and a better question than that is why the police commissioner keeps visiting crime scenes personally, which is totally bizarre.) Anyways, from this Scoop concludes that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same dude, which, while true, is a bit of a stretch.
Batman shows up and gives Mr. Rand a script for this week's show, insisting that they do his story, at the end of which Batman will reveal the identity of the criminal -- an ending not printed in the script -- and that he'll play himself. For some reason he allows this to be publicized in the paper and mystery dude sees it. 
When the show begins, however, Scoop rushes in (how did he get on the set? They're live!) and proclaims Bruce Wayne and Batman to be one and the same on (not-really-national-at-all) live TV! Batman promises to reveal the truth at the end of the episode.
At the end of the episode, a bunch of gangsters show up to try and kill Batman for real, but Loring shows up out of fucking NOWHERE and takes a bullet meant for Batman. Batman reveals that the mystery criminal is... Graves, the announcer! (What.) See, Graves had been losing heavily in the stock market, yet could afford to live beyond his means (since... when?) and while Batman suspected him, he had no definite proof until now (What?). Graves is taken into police custody and the broadcast ends (notably with no resolution to the Batman identity question).
Scoop demands Batman answer, and then Robin faints "from the excitement." Batman takes him into a back room, where of course it's reveal Robin faked it to stall for time. Then Loring comes in, still bleeding out (wouldn't the police who took Graves have taken Loring to a hospital?) -- apparently Loring came there to die alone. Batman offers him "the role of a lifetime". Batman walks out of the back room hand in hand with Bruce Wayne, proving to Scoop they're different people (wouldn't Scoop notice that Batman and Loring went in, and Batman and Bruce Wayne came out??).
Anyways, it's Loring in the Batman outfit, and he dies. Bruce remarks that he played the greatest role of all... a man! (What??) And Robin basically says that dying to protect Batman's secret is a noble death (what... the... ?) The End.

My Thoughts: First up, the TV thing legitimately threw me for a loop. I had no idea there were real, programmed TV broadcasts in 1942. Turns out there were about 5,000 sets in the US at the time, mostly owned by rich people on the east coast. There were no networks or anything, just individual stations. However, in 1942 TV production was halted by government order because of the war, those resources being needed for less frivolous shit, and didn't pick up again until after the war, with no real broadcasts in that time, hence why we mostly think of TV as a post-war thing. Still, threw me for a loop. The comic's presentation of TV production is... questionable at best of course. I'm sure the creative team had never seen a TV studio, TV being produced, or probably even a TV broadcast themselves, so I'll let it go. Still, it's a cool sign of how rich Bruce Wayne is that he's depicted as having one. Probably would have looked something like this. That's a nine-inch screen, by the way. 
Anyways, this comic really demonstrates the limitations of the 13-page Golden Age story. It's crazy how rushed it all is, with whole scenes either being one-panel long or taking place between panels. It happens so fast, with so many new characters and plot twists coming in all the time that you really get whiplash reading it. Maybe it seemed exciting and action-packed to a kid in 1942, but to a modern reader it really seems shallow and slipshod, the whole thing is spread so thin.
The Art: First up, I think it's hilarious that Scoop is drawn like a skinny, older, Dick Tracy, complete with yellow fedora and overcoat. I wonder if that was on purpose, since Tracy was such an obvious inspiration for the Batman comics and their crazy rogues gallery. The art, technically, is okay, but with so much happening in so few panels on every page, you really lose narrative clarity. Especially because a lot of pages are wasted on fight scenes. In my summaries I almost never give details on fight scenes, because they're very rote. Batman and Robin using props in the room to knock out bad guys while making puns. And you can tell from my synopsis how much shit goes down in the story, even though I tried to simplify as much as possible. But to give you an idea, chasing the bank robbers is two pages, the rescue from the mill is a page and a half, and the final fight is a page. There's also an entire half-page near the start on people listening/watching "Racket Smashers". And everything else is squeezed into the remaining eight pages. It's fucking crazy. Bang for your dime, I guess. And I will say that Jerry Robinson, on his own, does a really good job. You don't miss Bob Kane at all.
The Story: This shit is fucking ridiculous. I give Greene props for doing something new, although this "reporter tries to uncover Batman's identity" plot is gonna get real old real fast once Vicki Vale shows up. There are so many leaps of logic here that it feels really "DC Silver Age" in style. I mean, the reveal of the mystery crook is probably the worst part. Oh, it's a minor previously unnamed character who we knew NOTHING about and had no clues?? That's the worst kind of mystery writing, making something an "unexpected" plot twist by making it impossible for the audience to recognize it beforehand. And wait -- radio announcer loses money on the stock market so he becomes a gang lord? And why was he pressuring "View" to reveal Batman's identity/kill him? Yeah it gets him out of the way, but until they moved on him Batman didn't even suspect anything -- and wouldn't defeating Batman get rid of material for the scripts? Scoop's character changes motivations halfway through the story for no reason. Loring is in there for no reason other than to provide an out for Bruce -- and I'm sorry but getting shot for Batman and then dying to save his secret identity is a really lame ending for a character who really only appears in like two panels before that. And even if Scoop recanted his views in an article, the idea that Bruce and Batman are the same has been planted in public imagination anyway. It's just... really the issue is that Greene tried to pack what would be like a six-issue arc in today's comics into 13 measly pages. As you can perhaps tell from my synopsis, a lot of shit happens way too fast without a lot of details. It really shows the weakness of the Golden Age form. The thing is a total mess, but it could've been better with space to breath. As it is it's a bunch of events in a row that rush by way too fast and don't make a lot of sense if you put any thought into them. But then, maybe the 5-10 year olds reading didn't put a lot of thought into it either, but that, to my mind, doesn't excuse the 28 year old writing it -- Greene gets an "A" for ambition and a "D" for execution.
Notes and Trivia: Batman's true identity is reveal to a TV/radio audience, but recanted. Loring becomes the third (I think?) person to learn Batman's true identity, but he dies. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Batman #11 (June/July, 1942)

Another classic cover from artist Fred Ray.

"The Joker's Advertising Campaign" 
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis:  The Joker is once again free from prison, and to advertise his return to Batman, he appears as himself at an amateur comedy night doing an impression of himself. Bruce and Dick hear the news on the radio while doing some practice sparring, while Joker decides to base his entire crime spree this time around on the idea of advertising his crimes (doesn't he always do that?)
And so the  Joker pays for an ad in the Gotham Gazette (hey, it's publicity! - the editor) informing Batman to check the Want Ads section every day for clues to his upcoming crimes. 
Bruce can spot nothing suspicious in the section, but Batman and Robin go on patrol anyway hoping to stumble across something, which they do of course. An entire street clogged with hansom cabs, horse-drawn carriages, old automobiles and other slow-moving vehicles of the early part of the century! Nearby, the Joker robs a jewelry store, the police can't make chase because of the traffic jam of ancient, slow vehicles! As the Joker takes off in a horse-drawn carriage, Batman and Robin commandeer a tandem bicycle and make chase, but after a clever pursuit the Joker escapes in a subway car. 
Examining the Want Ads in retrospect, Batman discovers a fake ad the Joker had planted for owners of antique vehicles to show up at that address to audition for a "gay 90s" motion picture. Again, they don't notice anything strange in the next day's ads, but a want ad for extra police to protect a show of Presto the Magician is actually a plant of the Joker's! Bruce goes to the show, invites Linda Page, and instructs Dick to come and relay any message to him if Linda phones (yeesh, I know they didn't have cell phones, but there isn't a telephone in the lobby or something? Dick has to go all the way from Wayne Manor into downtown Gotham to relay a message?)
When Dick arrives at the theatre, he overhears that Presto's publicity agent wasn't the one to place the ad, and begins to suspect the Joker. While Bruce, watching the show, hears Presto's laugh when he's about the perform a trick and decides that Presto is the Joker himself and jumps on stage in costume as Batman! Following Presto/Joker into the Magician's cabinet, Batman falls down a trapdoor and is captured along with the rea magician while Joker makes off with... jewelry... from... someone? Why not kill the Batman? Joker finds the game of wits between them too amusing to end it.
However Robin manages to follow the Joker and his goons into the hidden system of catacombs and aqueducts under the theatre, because Bill Finger thinks every theatrehouse is built like the Opéra de Paris. While Joker and his men take a gondola because that's what Lon Chaney did, while Robin swims behind using an old pipe to breath. However, despite his best efforts, Robin is captured as well, with the Joker announcing that he has always considered the Boy Wonder an annoyance and is now going to kill him.
However he chooses a remarkably roundabout way of doing so -- tying Robin up in a room with some piles of sulphur, setting the sulphur aflame, and leaving Robin to suffocate. It's so roundabout in fact that the Boy Wonder manages to contact Batman via radio, explain his situation, and be successfully rescued. 
However sulphur inhalation, even if it isn't fatal, doesn't do wonders for you, and do Dick is laid up in bed and Bruce is right pissed at the Joker's assault. He figures out the Joker's next Want Ad clue (asking for two painters to work on a billboard by another jewelry store), and shows up at the right location to just beat the crap out of the Joker.
Later, a police report on the radio explains that the badly beatened Joker was found lying unconscious on the court steps and taken to a prison hospital, while Bruce and Dick laugh about the awesomeness of unnecessary force.

My Thoughts: Continuing the evolution of the Joker from Detective #64, although not meshing well with continuity, we see the Joker's schemes focusing more and more on the battle of wits with Batman. The actual goals here, stealing some jewels, are pretty petty and low-grade and the Harlequin of Hate doesn't cause much mayhem either -- no the real point is now testing his criminal mind against the Bat's. This is further emphasized by the fact that he lets Batman live when he has him cornered, but decides to kill Robin -- because two's company, three's a crowd after all. The idea that Joker sees the battle as between him and the Dark Knight alone, with the sidekicks as simply interference, is one that has continued until the present day in Scott Snyder's recent Death of the Family storyline.
The Art: Good stuff, particularly the Joker character art and the catacombs sequences. Excellent and clever chases and action scenes as well. At this point Kane/Robinson have settled into a comfortable professionalism that only bears remarking upon in unusual cases.
The Story: While Joker's scheme is pretty low-key, what makes Finger's script interesting is the character interaction. We open with Bruce and Dick boxing, practicing their skills, always a good way to show that being the Dynamic Duo takes work and effort. We get a sense of their relationship and friendship, especially Bruce's anger over Dick's near death experience (although if you don't want Robin to die, perhaps don't take a ten-year-old crimefighting?). We also get a new sense of how Joker regards his foes.Learning how the characters feel about each other makes a fairly standard "set of three crimes, chases in between, nab him at the end" structure feel like it has something newer and more interesting to offer.
Joker Body Count: 45

"Payment in Full"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Batman and Robin drop in on the hideout of wanted gangster, Joe Dolan. After a two-page fight scene he's nabbed and the heroes take him to the police. But Dolan keeps rambling that he'll be fine because he has an in with the District Attorney. Turns out he's right - DA Benson knew Dolan when they were kids and Dolan saved Benson's life! Benson feels in debted to Dolan and says he'd rather resign than prosecute! But Batman strongarms him into staying on as DA and gives him the night to think over prosecuting Dolan -- but the Dark Knight is confident Benson will do the right thing and send his friend up river.
In a flashback, we learn that Benson was a bookworm as a kid and Dolan the tough athletic type and that one day Dolan saved Benson from being run over by a truck. Bneson swore to pay him back and from that day on they were friends, with Dolan standing up to the bullies who would pick on Benson. However as they grew up they grew apart -- Dolan becoming a thug and a bank robber and Benson studying hard and becoming a sucessful lawyer. 
In the present day, Dolan breaks out from jail and goes on the lam. Batman confronts Bneson, who promises to prosecute if Batman brings Dolan in. Benson believes Dolan may be hiding out in their old neighbourhood and offers to lead the Dynamic Duo to him. Thanks to Benson,  they find Dolan's hideout, but Dolan is in full Paul-Muni-at-the-end-of-Scarface mode and shoots his way out with dual pistols. Benson is shot, but insists on chasing after Dolan with Batman and Robin.
The hunters and their prey both commandeer cars and begin a chase through the streets of Gotham. Desperate and cornered, Dolan jumps off a bridge into the river, but he can't swim. Benson still feels in debted to Dolan from when they were kids and jumps in to rescue him. But even then Dolan, who is just red hot crazy now, tries to kill Benson only to be stopped by Batman.
Dolan goes to state prison, while Benson is nominated to run for governor! After some platitudes about two people and the road not taken, we get our moral about how crime rots good people from within. 
My Thoughts:  Another entry in Finger's Urban Crime Gangster Morality Play genre, with similarities to Scarface and Public Enemy  and all those other great Pre-Code gangster movies that Finger loves to rip-off. These stories also fel a lot like the 1940s Warner Bros urban crime dramas that inspired a lot of the tone of the1992 Batman animated series. Speaking of which, this story reminded me a lot of the episode "It's Never Too Late"  which explored a mobster and his brother, a priest. It's a good story, well, told, despite it's derivative nature.
The Art: Kane and Robinson do really good character work here.  Benson and Dolan are both distinct characters, not just generic figures. The best work is when Dolan goes mad with paranoia, his lips and eyes going red with hate. It really successfully evokes the charged madness of Paul Muni in Scarface. Good stuff.
The Story: By this point, I must admit, the Finger Crime Morality Play is getting pretty rote. But it's important to remember that comic book readership, for a long time, was considered to have a five-year turnover rate, meaning that after five years you had a completely different audience than the one you started with. Granted, the Batman stories have only been at this for three years. Anyways, Finger still does a good job with this one, with the two men nicely contrasted and the theme of what can make a decent kid turn out bad nicely explored. Even if Finger has told this story before, he still tells it well. It's also worth nothing that this is another one of those stories where Batman and Robin are more or less deuterotagonists, witnesses to someone else's story.

"Bandits in Toyland" 
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Pencils: Bob Kane

Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick are reading news headlines about a rash of crimes in which toys have been stolen from children, possibly by big time gangster "Muscles" Malone. But why? No time for that, because Bruce Wayne gets a jury duty summons! Dick volunteers to check out the toy robberies, but Bruce tells him not to because he has to study for an exam (Dick still goes to school? Cripes!). Hey, who wants to bet the two unrelated stories become the same story by the end?
In court, the case Bruce is serving on is of one Tom Willard who is accused of stealing $200,000 of jewels from his employers, Thompson's Luxury Shop. However Bruce is convinced Tom didn't do it because he's handsome and has a nice wife, and besides it would take a crack team of jewel thieves to pull off something like that! And then Bruce spots some members f Muscle Malone's crew in the audience, so that cinches for Bruce that Willard has been framed. 

So now Bruce is playing the Henry Fonda role in 12 Angry Men, hanging the jury and trapping them in a hotel over night. But of course Bruce isn't one for proper procedure and sneaks out as Batman to investigate the crime.
Meanwhile Robin has been tailing Malone's men himself, and bursts in on them stealing another toy from another rich kid. He's quickly Boy Hostage'd, but before Malone's men can do much with him Batman bursts in, as he was also following Malone's men. Batman frees Robin but the crooks get the toy and get away. 
They follow them to the next target, which is the house of an old woman who collects a ton of toys, and while they get away, Batman confirms a hunch when the old woman tells him she bought the toy at Thompson's. Next house is the toy collection of a really aggravating spoiled rich kid with a huge toy collection. Finger has some fun with a two page fight scene using all the toys as props.
Finally Batman cracks the case -- Henry Burton, store manager, stole the gems and then hid them in toys that Malone's men were to buy off him. But they bought the wrong ones and so had to go around restealing the gems in the toys. Willard was framed of course. Which only kinda makes sense by whatever. 
Anyways, Willard is cleared of all charges and reunited with his pretty wife, leaving Bruce to remark that Justice may be blindfolded, but she isn't blind! Which is a terrible moral.
My Thoughts: This story was written by Edmond Hamilton, one of the great early pulp sci-fi writers. He was a regular contributor to Weird Tales in the 1920's and 30's, and one of the primary developers of the space opera genre. But by the 1940s he had fallen on hard times financially, and so here we find him slumming for DC. And frankly from a guy with his resume, this is some pretty weak stuff.
The Art: Decent stuff from the team, you can tell they're having fun with all the props the story is giving them. But nothing particularly special going on here. Not bad, but standard.
The Story: Yeesh, it's just so rote. From the innocent man framed unjustly, to the smuggling plot. The toys are kinda interesting, but that smacks of a writer saying "I'm writing for kids... what do kids care about? Toys!" It's just not very well put together. Very disappointing.

"Four Birds of a Feather"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson

Synopsis: So it's Winter in Gotham city (isn't this a summer issue??), and the Penguin is still on the run from his last appearance in Detective #59, and he bumps into three other crooks who are also on the run from the law and headed down south to Florida to get in on the gambling racket. They are all bird themed as well, with the inexplicably green skinned Crow, the Buzzard and a femme fatale called Canary. So Penguin joins them and they head south to stay out of the range of Batman. An oh man, this is really contrived already isn't it?
So of course Bruce and Dick decide to take a vacation to Hawaii. On their yacht, Bruce spots a young woman being attacked by an octopus. Which... okay... sure. So he changes into Batman and then dives off the yacht into the water to save her. I'm sorry, but you know you don't need to be in costume to help people, right Bruce? Would probably have been better for your secret identity to dive off Bruce Wayne's yacht as Bruce, not Batman.
Anyways, the girl he saves turns out to be Canary, who alerts Buzzard and Penguin to the danger. Penguin decides to press ahead anyways and so their gambling establishment The Bird House opens! The catch is that it's a totally honest establishment, no crookery and or cheating -- except that big winners tend to get robbed. Which... how does that make sense as a scheme? Anyways, of course Bruce ends up there and wins big, and Buzzard asks him for his address fo their "records"  but Bruce recognizes all four crooks and phones Dick at the hotel to warn himt hat they probably plan to rob them. 

So Batman and Robin ambush the crooks, they fight, they escapse, and the Dynamic Duo follow them back to the Bird House and listen in to Penguin's new scheme (??) to fix a speedboat race. So Batman does his usual thing and chokes out Penguin's racer and replaces him, wearing full Batman outfit, and wins the race, which... I don't think...
Anyways, Batman and Robin chase after Penguin's car with Batman still driving the speedboat (!) and Robin riding a surfboard being pulled behind, and then... somehow... Robin... falls off or something and Penguin... captures him between panels?? Or something?
Batman starts beating up Buzzard at the Bird House to reveal where Penguin has taken Robin, and he squeals but then Canary tells Batman it's a trap, so Buzzard shoots Batman twice, but he shrugs it off and runs off to rescue Robin.
And now it's like the finale of Key Largo because hurricanes are the one Florida stereotype we haven't done yet and Batman has to brave the winds to make it to the hideout, where he beats up Crow and rescues Robin but the Penguin beats feet again. The hurricane winds pick up and so to survive Batman ties himself and Robin to a tree all night and did I mention the guy has two bullets in him?
Canary picks them up and since all the hospitals are busy with hurricane casualties (not to mention Batman being a vigilante with no legal identity), Canary performs the surgery to get the bullets out herself! Robin breaks in on Penguin at the Bird House, where he's gathering his money to fly the coop. Robin beats him up and takes him to Batman, who has made a full recovery thanks to Canary, who is gonna quit the rackets and become a nurse just like Florence (groan) Nightingale! 

Then Penguin manages to slip away and escape the heroes AGAIN, and we end with a pun about how Robin is a bird too.
My Thoughts: Ugh. This thing is a mess. It's basically the Joker's story from Batman #5, with the Penguin instead. Same deal with the group of crooks all named on a theme, the gambling scheme, and the girl who starts a crook but falls for Batman and reforms. But that story was really good, where as this is just a mess. And while it's nice to see Penguin quickly joining the small ranks of recurring Batman villains (Joker every damn month is starting to get tiresome, variety is nice), copying a Joker story for the Penguin just isn't the way to do it.
The Art: Oh man, it's OK, but jeez it's lazy. Joe Crow looks like Jonathan Crane with green skin -- and WHY DOES HE HAVE GREEN SKIN??? It's totally never addressed. No one even remarks on it. Some sequences are okay, but then the entire Boy Hostage even in this one is lost in the cracks between panels. It's totally confusing and not well done at all. I mean the quality of the art is standard Kane/Robinson, but their storytelling with the art just plain sucks here.
The Story: Finger is really lazy here too. What elements aren't outright stolen from the previous story are haphazard, nonsensical, and just plain don't work. It's winter, yet it's hurricane season. The octopus scene and the speedboating scene are here just for action scenes and stick out like sore thumbs from the "story". Penguin's scheme is completely lame. And then there are the other three crooks who come into the story as if we should recognize them from past appearances, but other than Penguin they're all new. The entire plot is built on conveniences and happenstance. And why set it in Florida at all? Other than to use all these cliches, it really doesn't add anything to the story. I mean, it's not like Batman even manages to track the crooks down there, he just ahppens to be there too at the same time. It's all just very... contrived.