Sunday, August 10, 2014

Detective Comics #78 (August, 1943)

Oooh, boy. Prepare for patriotism and propaganda!

"The Bond Wagon"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Jack Burnley
Inks: George Roussos
Synopsis: Dick is reading book on American History, presumably for school, and the thought strikes him that World War II is a revolutionary war for freedom in the same way as the War of Independence! Bruce totally agrees, and Dick thinks that if only modern Americans could remember the heroes of the American Revolution then they'd be inspired to buy more war bonds!
Bruce agrees again, and decides to cast for doubles of American founding patriots for a "Bond Wagon" to sell war bonds by restaging famous moments from the Revolutionary War. For some reason, he decides to do this in his Batman identity, instead of just as millionaire Bruce Wayne.
Sure enough, a bunch of patriotic Americans show up to volunteer to play George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Sam Adams, and Betsy Ross and Molly Pitcher because after all "women served then just as today!" (I have to admit, as a Canadian I only recognize five of those names off hand...)
One of the applicants is a former merchant marine captain who's ship was destroyed by the German Navy. He can't get another command because he suffers from "gunshock" (PTSD to us modern folk). Batman understands and casts him as Captain John Paul Jones of the Bonhomme Richard.
Then there's Pete Arnold, a college football player accused of betraying his team and throwing the Rose Bowl Game to cover his gambling debts. Now everyone calls him "Benedict" Arnold. He tells Batman the reason the team lost was because he was sick. Batman believes him and casts him as Nathan Hale.
The Bond Wagon is a huge success and generates a great deal of sales for war bonds and war stamps. Naturally this means it attracts the attention of Nazi spies operating in America, who decide to sabotage the bond wagon to destroy American morale.
Apparently the best way to do this is take the place of the actors playing the Hessian soldiers in the reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware. Batman was over on the Washington side of the river while Robin had been stationed with the Hessian actors in a cabin on the other side. When the Nazis burst in and replace the Hessians, they capture Robin. But the Boy Wonder puts some logs on the fireplace because it's "cold", and the Nazis inexplicably allow him to do this, making fun of how weak Americans are.
Naturally, Robin is sending smoke signals from the chimney. Batman sees them, and knows there is trouble. He crosses the river and throws gas pellets into the cabin so the Nazis can't fire on the American actors. 
The battle is joined, and of course our heroes beat up all the Nazis and arrest them. But these were simply the small fry - we still don't know who's leading the spy ring.
Next up we have the re-enactment of the Bonhomme Richard, which ends up being attacked by a Nazi submarine! Captain PTSD gets all freaked out, but Batman shakes him out of it and cures his PTSD by yelling patriotic slogans at him, because THIS COMIC IS PROPAGANDA IN CASE YOU DIDN'T NOTICE. 
Then despite the fact that it's a wooden schooner with 18th century cannons versus a modern Nazi submarine, the schooner wins -- largely because Batman and Robin sneak onboard the deck, take over the guns, and point them at the Nazis. Another victory, with the US Coast Guard NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. Gosh, they really do need those bonds!
Finally, the leader of the Nazi spy ring decides that if Pete Arnold was willing to betray his school in a football game, he'll be willing to betray his country in wartime! 
So the Nazis meet up with Arnold, and take him to meet the head of the spy ring. Robin is following Arnold and sees what's going down. But he can't find a car to drive out and warn Batman because of gas rationing (seriously, was it normal for ten-thirteen year olds to drive in the 40s?), and so Robin hops on a horse (so much more common) and we get the Midnight Ride of Boy Robin (instead of Paul Revere, yeah?)
So the Dynamic Duo head back to Nazi Spy HQ and punch all the Nazis till they fall down. They find Arnold shot in a back room, and take him to hospital. When he recovers he reveals that he didn't betray Batman, he was playing along to find out the identity of the leader and they shot him when he asked too many questions. 

After a re-enactment of the signing of the Declaration of Independance, Batman makes a speech about signing a new Declaration of Independance, independance from the slavery of "Schikelgruber" (Hitler's maternal grandmother's name), and asks "Fellow Americans - Which is it to be? Bondage, or War Bonds?" 
My Thoughts: How do you even judge this? I mean, it's really just wartime propaganda. I was surprised there wasn't a "paid for by the War Department" message at the end of it! 
We see so much of these "Buy War Bonds" propaganda pieces in old pieces of popular culture from this period, from comics covers to Bugs Bunny cartoons, that I'm often very curious as to how many people were buying bonds. These pieces always make it seem like the American public wasn't very invested in the war and needed to be woken up to the dangers of the Third Reich and really pressured into patriotic spending -- but from what I understand war bonds sold really well in the US in WWII and the campaigns were usually a huge success? Apparently over the course of the war $185 billion was raised by 85 million Americans, approximately two-thirds of the population.
For those who don't know, cuz I really didn't either, the way the bonds worked was you bought a bond at a rate of say, 0.75 of a dollar - so a $25 bond for $18.75, and then ten years after you bought it the government would pay you back for the whole amount. I think. Someone with a better knowledge of finances and/or US history can correct me.
The Art: It's Jack Burnley art, so it looks great. Makes me think that this was maybe considered a prestige story, a "pull out the stops" kind of effort. Or maybe it was just another assignment. Oddly he's paired with George Roussos instead of his brother, so the ink line is a little thicker than usual. It works in most places but in some panels with more figures and details Roussos's line overwhelms a little and obscures things - like in the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" panel. 
The Story: How do you even judge a story like this? It's pure propaganda. Aside from that, it's the kind of plot that feels natural in Captain America or Wonder Woman but doesn't work for me in Batman - fighting Nazi spies with hidden submarines and sabotage plans. I mean, I know we're in the thick of the war, but it just feels alien to Batman. Granted, ignoring the war is even weirder - the comics still haven't explained why Bruce Wayne isn't fighting overseas lol - but it still feels strange for Batman and Robin to be fighting Nazis. And as a Canadian I have to say the overwhelming American patriotism here doesn't really do anything for me. Who's Nathan Hale? Who's John Paul Jones? Also -- World War II is a modern War of Independance? Maybe for France! For America? A bit of an exaggeration.
I dunno, it's hard to criticize this thing - it's a propaganda story to stir up patriotism and sell war bonds. Whether it's good or not depends on whether it succeeds at that goal -- is evoking the Founding Fathers something that effectively gets Americans stirred up to fund foreign wars? I guess it is.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Holy Flash Forward, Batman!

I'm pleased to announce that in addition to my ongoing look at the Golden Age Batman in Bat to the Beginning, which recently started looking at the influential but problematic Batman serial, and my series of Silver Age Iron Man reviews at All Jets Ablaze!, I will be launching a new series of reviews and analyses!

Focused on the "New Look" era of Batman comics from 1964-1969, Holy Retro Reviews, Batman! will examine the wonderful Silver Age era of Batman comics when editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino restored the character's popularity after years of shoddy sci-fi storytelling. These energetic, stylish and modern tales eventually served as the primary inspiration for the classic 1966-1968 Batman television series starring Adam West and all of its resultant spin-offs.

It's a very cool, exciting era in Batman history and I hope you'll enjoy looking back on it with me as much as I do. So watch out for new reviews of Batman, Detective Comics, World's Finest, and The Brave and the Bold in the Silver Age, along with reviews of the Adam West show as well, at this new site.