Saturday, March 22, 2014

World's Finest Comics #10 (Summer, 1943)

An interesting cover here, with the different characters featured drawn by different artists rather than one unified penciller. Superman is by Fred Ray the Boy Commandos by Joe Simon, Green Arrow and the Star Spangled Kid are by Hal Sherman, and Batman and Robin are by an artist we will be seeing a lot more of in the future... the legendary Dick Sprang!
Sprang's art has yet to appear in this feature, for a variety of reasons, but once it does it's gonna change the whole ballgame.

"The Man With the Camera Eyes"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Jerry Robinson
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: Oliver Hunt is a man with a photographic memory (an eidetiker, which is something that probably doesn't exist). He works a vaudeville routine called "The Man with the Camera Eyes" where audience members pick a letter from the phone book and Hunt recites it all from memory (although how would they know his accuracy?)
Bruce and Dick are at the show, and Dick thinks the whole thing must be a fake. Bruce, however, vouches for Hunt's legitimacy, as he's been famous for his memory since he was a boy. Hunt instantly memorizes anything he reads, and scientists verified his abilities. Bruce claims Hunt left college with "every possible kind of degree", which shows a) a vast misunderstanding of how long it takes to get a degree, fantastic memory or no and b) the common misunderstanding of memorization of facts as being intelligence - just because Hunt can memorize a book doesn't necessarily means he can understand it. Either way, it does beg the question as to what the man is doing in a vaudeville show when he should be able to make a better living doing, like, anything else.
And it just so happens that the gangster Dude Fay (which is just might be the gayest name for a gangster possible in the 1940s) has realized this as well, and offers Hunt a job working for him. Hunt himself wishes to devote himself to psychological research, but can't afford it with the money from his vaudeville shows (again, if he has all of the degrees why can't he work for a university?). 
Anyways, Hunt is confused as to what use he'd be to criminals when his only skill is remembering things, but it turns out that Fay has hit on the brilliant idea of the value of intellectual property theft fifty-six years before Sean Parker ever did. 
So Fay's gang creates distractions and heists that allow Hunt to do things like get into the record rooms of music publishers and memorize the sheets for hit songs before they are recorded, then sell them to rival publishers. And there's no way to prove any theft because the "loot" is all in Hunt's mind. Soon the gang is "stealing" prosecutor's records and book manuscripts, making a killing selling them to the competitions. 
So of course one day Bruce and Dick happen to see the "Man with the Camera Eyes" coming out of a publisher's office and Bruce realizes that the connection in the recent rash of crimes is that what was stolen was ideas and then they see Hunt get into a car with Dude Fay's men and so on the next page we find Batman and Robin have swung into action and followed Dude's men to their hideout at a... carpenter's workshop? Huh. Guess all the good hideouts were taken. 
Anyways, fight scene time, but a page and a half later the crooks have gotten away, however the Dynamic Duo knows the name of their next target - a patent attorney named Arthur Medwick.
Sure enough the gang is at the patent office with Hunt memorizing blueprints for patents currently under review. Batman and Robin swoop in and try to reason with Hunt about how what he's doing is wrong and that stealing ideas violates individual rights and is the same if not worse than stealing property but Hunt takes them about as seriously as the average user of PirateBay. So Batman punches Hunt in the face and the heroes take him captive in the Batplane. Does anyone reading along not see where this is going?
So Hunt Vulcan Neck Pinches the Dynamic Duo (because he read an anatomy book once) then lands the Batplane and memorizes it's every detail of design (he read an aeronautics book once).
Returning to his criminal cohorts, Hunt gives them the plans to build their own Batplane, explaining that he did not kill the heroes because despite all the intellectual property theft he's still firmly against violence. Once the plane is built, the crooks are off to steal dress designs from Henri Longvieux (props to Finger for the faux-French name there).
What Hunt doesn't know is that Dude has made one alteration to the Batplane's design -- the addition of mounted machine guns to blast the real Batplane out of the sky when it comes after them. The crooks intentionally set off the burglar alarm to draw Batman and Robin into the trap, and soon the two Batplanes are engaged in an epic dogfight over Gotham!
In a somewhat confusing panel layout, the OG Batplane realises a smokescreen but the Faux-Batplane scores a few hits. Batman dives intentionally to trick the crooks into thinking they've finished them off, then pulls up and follows them to their next target.

It's a government weather station and Dude wants Hunt to memorize government weather reports so he can sell them to enemy U-boat commanders. Hunt refuses to participate in treason, and runs off when the Batman and Robin burst in and start pun-fighting the villains. They try to escape but Hunt has cut the feed line and set fire to the gas. Dude shoots Hunt and leaves him in the plane to die, but Batman rescues him just as it explodes.
Hunt believes he can never make up for his crimes against his country, but Batman offers him a chance at redemption by joining Military Intelligence! Yes, apparently a masked vigilante's word is good enough reference for Uncle Sam, and soon Hunt is helping the war effort stealing Nazi secrets!
My Thoughts: Pretty clearly this another story from Bill Finger's Fact Files - which is to say that Finger probably read an article somewhere about photographic memory and figured it would make a unique ability for a villain. Finger was right, and the idea of stealing intellectual property rather than just jewels or money gives the story a unique flavour that is quite refereshing. Of course, while popular science and pop culture love discussing photographic memories and the possession of one is often an attribute of brilliant fictional detectives on TV, actual science posesses very minimal evidence that such a thing even exists.
The Art: Decent stuff from Robinson and Roussos this ish, with good facial caricatures on the various characters, but the standout sequence in terms of penmanship is the one-page dogfight between the Batplanes, which is gloriously dark and moody and atmospheric -- unfortunately it's just a chore to read because the panel layouts are hard to follow -- any time you're reading a Golden Age comic and the panels have to be numbered and feature arrows to guide you, the penciller has just flat-out failed at his job.
The Story: Despite some leaps of logic and some plot contrivances, I quite liked this one. I liked Hunt's attempt to straddle morality by agreeing to steal IP (since that's not really stealing, right Internet?) but refusing to do violence, murder or treason. It's great because the idea that intellectual property theft isn't a real crime and doesn't hurt anyone is one that has continued to this day and spread quite a bit, there are so many people who believe it's their right to steal from artists and creators because, after all, they're rich enough already right? However Hunt finds out that corruption is absolute - he can't just "sort've" be evil, once you've corrupted some principles you've corrupted them all, theft is theft and you can't just ignore the consequences of it. The redemption ending is predictable but still well done, and I liked it better than Hunt just simply dying to save Batman.


  1. This story has what may be my all-time favourite mis-communication between writer and artist. During the fight-out at Cabinet Makers Inc, Batman and Robin fight the crooks by hurling woodworking tools (and relevant puns) at them. I'm sure Finger's script for panel 5 said something like "Robin throws a plane at one of the gang, shaving his scalp" – but instead of the carpenter's plane that would make sense in the situation, Robinson's drawn Robin skimming a toy airplane at him!

  2. That definitely makes a lot more sense now. I must admit I occasionally skim the fight scenes more than I should because they're really just the same kinds of things over and over with different bad puns and props, but occasionally there's a diamond in the rough. Or in this case, a great non sequitur.