Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Detective Comics #79 (September, 1943)

"Destiny's Auction"
Writer: Don Cameron
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Judy O'Casson is an aspiring young actress who hopes to break into broadway. She visits a gypsy fortune teller named Madame Calagra who tells her that her name shall be written large for all to see and she will move from humble lodgings to a great palace. Judy thinks this means she's gonna get her big break, but actually it means she's behind on her rent and getting evicted. The landlady won't even let her into the room to get her trunk until she pays what's owed! That's cold.
Tremaine Wentworth is an over-the-hill character actor who visits Madame Calagra and is told that he will take on a new role in which his past will be overshadowed. So Tremaine walks home thinking he's gonna have a big comeback, glad he hung on to his trunk full of momentos of his stardom days, and gets hit by a car and wakes up in hospital without any memory of who he was. Truly, Madame Calagra is from the douchey ironic school of fortune telling.
Diamond Pete Ransome is a diamond thief (don't say?) who visits Calagra and is told that strong fighters will follow him and help him enter a heavily guarded place. Ransome figures this means his hoods will help him break into a jewelry shop and steal some diamonds. The goons are still shook up because they had to kill a night watchman on their last job and haven't even been able to fence the diamonds from it yet because they're too hot, so they're stored in Ransome's hidden trunk. But Ransome's confident because, after all, he got a fortune told by a gypsy
Anyways, turns out the strong fighters who follow him are actually Batman and Robin, and after they beat up him and his mean they help him enter a heavily guarded place, which is to say - jail! So now we've got three people, and three trunks. We can all see where this is going, yeah?
A whole year passes, and Ransome's getting released from prison. Bruce and Dick decide to check up on him and follow him from the prison to see if he leads them to the still missing diamonds from the earlier heist. Ransome drives back to his old digs, but of course his trunk is gone, after being unclaimed for a year it's been turned over to be offered up for public auction!
As it turns out, Judy has just returned to Gotham with the money to buy her trunk back from that landlady - but the landlady has also turned the unclaimed trunk over for auction!
And golly, what a coincedence, but Tremaine Wentworth has undergone an insulin shock treatment that's restored his memory! And he's also got a trunk he needs to get that's up for auction!
Well, I think we can see where this is going. 
Judy shows up first and wins the auction on the first trunk, with Wentworth getting the second and Pete the third. Of course, they all get the wrong trunks. Batman and Robin have been following Pete and bust in for a quick fight before it turns out they have Wentworth's trunk full of old costumes and disguises.
Things get hilarious when the Dynamic Duo realizes they have no grounds for arresting or harassing Pete - technically, they're breaking and entering, and Pete purchased the trunk and its contents legally! So they have to leave him alone!
But they figure if Pete has Wentworth's trunk, maybe he has the one with the stolen diamonds. So they hightail it to his place, but all Wentworth got in his trunk was the typescript of a hitherto unknown play by a master playwright - which is cool, but not stolen blood diamonds, y'know? They realize the real trunk therefore MUST be with Judy, and head off to get her - but they've been unknowingly eavesdropped upon by Pete and his goons who've used Wentworth's old stuff to disguise themselves.
Pete makes it to Judy first, but just as he's about to straight up just throw her out a window to her death Batman spots her in time and swoops down on a bat-line and rescues her. Hot damn! Wentworth recognizes the disguises and Batman puts two and two together and we get our climatic fight scene. 
Turns out the famous dead playwright wrote his greatest play just for Judy, but could never find anyone to produce it (maybe it's not so great then?) and then died. She carried the script around to everyone in town but no one would bite (maybe it's... not so great then?) So Batman offers to get BRUCE WAYNE to put up the dough!
The play opens with Judy starring and Wentworth in a supporting role! It's a hit, she becomes a star and Wentworth's career is reignited! And with Pete in jail, about to get the electric chair for murder, it looks like all those old gypsy prophecies came true after all!
Curious, Bruce and Dick visit the fortuneteller, who tells them all she sees is a swirling mist and a bony finger pointed in warning -- for they are the hand of fate! 
They are understandably freaked out by this.
Thoughts and Review: So this is another entry into what I've started thinking of as the "literary" genre of Golden Age Batman. These stories try to be about "real" people, try to present a cast of various characters all pulled into the "drama", try to talk about social issues or perhaps just be a bit more sophisticated in their storytelling. They try to be more complex and clever than the standard bank-robbers-with-a-gimmick plot. They're cool - sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes thirteen pages is too little to try to write in a "novelistic" manner, sometimes they're too few to drag a weak plot across.
But they always seem like they're trying to hard. Like a writer trying to prove he's better than the series he's writing for. 
I don't know where I stand on this one. I love the art, but the story's a big bag of meh.
The Art: It's all Jerry Robinson, so of course it's gorgeous. I mean, I love this guy's unique blend of cartooning, realism, light, shadow, detail, grit, grime and bravura. The thin line work isn't always very well reproduced in modern reprints, but it's still some really fantastic stuff. I've compared it to the work of George Freeman on Captain Canuck before, and that's still what it reminds me of, except of course that here's Robinson doing it forty years earlier. The art saves this story. It's great.
The Story: The story itself, thinks too highly of itself and is based entirely on one forced dramatic contrivance after another. It's all coincedences and happenstance masquerading as plot. Of course, it also suffers the number one problem of these "literary" stories. Without fail, they're always based around some new random characters we've never met, investing them with character development and pathos and all that, and we're never going to meet them again. Batman and Robin become observers and guest stars in their own feature. They can never get character development, they must remain static, two-dimensional, cardboard cutouts to facillitate more stories. 
It's not that I don't like the writing or I don't appreciate these kinds of stories, but I've seen Bill Finger write better and I know better is possible - if maybe not on the kind of demanding schedule Batman demanded of approximately forty-five stories per year. Granted, I think Batman appears in just as many if not far more comics at once nowadays - but I also feel quantity over quality wins the day now, just as it did then.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BATMAN Chapter 7 (August 27, 1943)

"The Phoney Doctor"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer

Last Time: Alfred disguised himself as Colton in order to head off an attempted by Daka to steal Colton's radium mine - he meets Daka's men in a smelting plant, there's a fight, Batman and Robin swing into action, but a chemical accident causes the building to explode, burying Batman under a pile of rubble.
Synopsis: Luckily, the rubble fell in such a way as to form a convenient arch that actually protected Batman from any harm. 
They phone Colton to let him know that it wasn't actually Martin who wanted to meet him, but the claim jumpers. Bruce tells Colton not to admit anyone to his room at any cost. Luckily, Colton's ready for them - he has a revolver stuffed down his pants, and a derringer used as a sleeve gun that he calls his "little Black Widow". Unluckily, Colton's stupid - he admits Fletcher to his room, who is disguised as a doctor (the disguise consisting of a medical bag and a monocle!) and claims to have been sent to check on Colton by Linda.
Meanwhile, Bruce and Dick are actually reporting the attempts on Colton's life to the police! Captain Arnold shows them a photo array, and Dick picks Fletcher out of it, reiterating as a former civil engineer who served time. Arnold puts an APB out on Fletcher. 
Meanwhile "Dr." Fletcher does a check-up on Colton which allows him to get close enough to chloroform the guy and then have him removed from the hospital on a stretcher and into an ambulance to be taken back to Daka's hideout. 
When Bruce and Dick arrive at Colton's hotel they find him gone, but Bruce smells the chloroform in the air and Dick finds the discarded hankerchief used to gag Colton with it.
In the crime lab, Bruce uses a "new black light process" to look over the handkerchief for clues. Standard procedure on CSI, but pretty new stuff in 1943, black lights having been invented in 1935. They find a Japanese laundry mark on the cloth, causing Dick to racistly remark "Never heard of a Japanese laundry", but Bruce knows of an abandoned one in the warehouse district.

Fletcher brings Colton to Daka, who offers him the ol' "join me or be a zombie" offer. Colton of course refuses and Daka shows him what happens to people who refuse -- showing him Zombie Martin Warren. But Colton uses his black widow to get the jump on Daka. He holds Daka hostage, moving to escape the lair through the door into the Cave of Horrors ride, but FINALLY the greased up immoving "not-actually-a-statue" dude gets something to do, and clubs Colton over the back of the head.
A bunch of Daka's men show up at the "Nakina Laundry" to pick up some supplies Daka has stashed there for the trip to Colton's mine. Because of course the only Japanese laundry in town is a front for the Japanese spy ring in town, because patrioic jingoist racism.
Anyways the Batman and Robin meet them up on the top floor, and it's fistfight time! During the fight, Batman gets overpowered by a bunch of them and they toss him down the loading elevator shaft! The suuuuper fake dummy playing Batman hits the ground hard enough that if it were actually a dude he'd probably be dead anyway, but the crooks then hit the elevator switch anyway to crush him with the loading elevator! Will Batman make it out of this alive? Find out Next Time: Daka puts the zombie machine on Colton! Linda and Alfred are at Colton's cabin, and even the narrator doesn't know what the fuck is going on! Guess you'll have to watch next week's episode to find out!
Thoughts and Review: The best bit in this whole episode is seeing Bruce and Dick do some detective work, sniffing out the chloroform and then analyzing it with some pretty cool and real forensic science. Stuff like that really feels like the comics when they were throwing in some educational bits about science and criminology. Otherwise this is a move from point A to point B episode - Daka captures Colton, that's about the gist of it. That dummy they throw wearing a Batman costume gets me every time, as does the narrator's hilarious promo for next week, where it just seems like he's talking over the footage without actually knowing what's up. I also really like the scene between Bruce and Dick and Captain Arnold - Arnold's a great character in this serial, with a lot of fun character dialogue that feels almost improvisational and gives a very appropriately cynical view of the effectiveness of the police in Gotham, he comes across very world-weary and wry. Too bad he gets so very little to do over all these chapters. On the whole this one was a plot necessary, but otherwise unremarkable episode.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

BATMAN, Chapter 6 (August 20, 1943)

"Poison Peril"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer

Last Time: Daka's spies steal a new secret airplane, but Batman's stowed aboard! He fights Daka's men, but the ever-vigilant US army spots the stolen plane and shoots it down with artillery fire! It crashes and explodes with Batman inside, inevitably he must surely be dead?
Synopsis: Nope. The fiery wreckage is completely nonfatal to Batman, who simply walks away from the crash after pulling both of Daka's men to safety - the second really disappointing cliffhanger "escape" of this serial thus far.
While pulling the men out, he discovers Daka's mind control caps, removes them and takes them for evidence. 

Our confusion of where the fuck this serial takes place continues when Batman wanders over to the highway to check out a road sign and figure out where he's crashed. Despite early episodes establishing the serial as using Batman's comic book home of Gotham City, last week's chapter had us in LA - perhaps because the real world Lockheed factories where in California? Anyway, the road sign has nearby places as Edgeworth (a town in Pennsylvania), Edenville (in Michigan), and Garden City (there are several) so we're apparently back on the East Coast.
Losing contact with his men, Daka realizes Batman must have overpowered them. He contacts the submarine and tells it of the failure of the mission. The sub believes that rather than wait for the Americans to build another prototype, it will be better to secure the blueprint of the plane rather than the plane itself. But this plotline is rendered irrelevant when the sub is spotted by American destroyers and sunk in a combination of newsreel footage and stock footage from other war movies.
Linda stops by Wayne Manor to pay a visit, informing Bruce that Ken Colton, an old friend of her Uncle Martin, is back in town wanting to get in touch with Martin. Ken has struck it rich with a mining prospect and wants to register the claim in both names. Linda hasn't yet told Ken of her uncle's mysterious disappearance. Bruce agrees to come meet Ken with her at her apartment.
Daka finally comes to the realization that he's never gonna get anywhere in life unless he kills the Batman. His men spitball that Batman seems to always hang around Linda Page, and that Page is seeing Bruce Wayne, so maybe Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same guy? Daka dismisses the idea as "that simpering idiot could never be the Batman!" But he does agree that Linda Page is the key - so they bug her apartment to see what they can find out.
Colton meets up with Linda, Bruce and Dick at her apartment. Turns out Colton has a found a rich radium mine (of course) - and Daka hears all about it thanks to the bug! Luckily, Dick notices the hidden microphone and pulls it out just before Colton reveals the location!
Hoping to take advantage of this opportunity before it disappears, Daka sends Preston and some men to Colton's hotel room to search it for clues to the location of the map.
Bruce and Dick drop Colton off at the hotel, and Dick reports about the bug to Bruce. They decide to switch to Batman and Robin and keep an eye on Colton.
The prospector arrives at his room while Daka's men are still searching it, and a fistfight breaks out. Batman and Robin burst through the window and fight the intruders off, but they escape. The duo switch back to their civillian identities and check on Colton, who reveals that the "claim jumpers" didn't find anything, which means they're liable to try again. 

The next day, Colton calls Bruce to let him know that Martin Warren has contacted him, wanting to meet him at the Atlas smelting plant (the explanation being that he's gotten some work there for the Defense Department). Bruce thinks it sounds fishy, and asks Colton to wait, that Bruce will go to meet this person and if it really is Martin then he'll call Colton down there. Colton agrees to be cautious.
Bruce's real plan is a little bit more tricky - he pressgangs Alfred into service, using his make-up kit to transform his butler into the facsimile of Colton. Alfred-in-disguise heads down to the smelting plant, and is met by Fletcher and some other goons of Daka's.
Alfred won't give them the location of the mine (since he doesn't know it anyway), so they decide to rough him up, and discover in the process that he's not really Colton. At that moment, Batman and Robin swing in on their ropes from the plant's high windows, and the usual fistfight breaks out. Its pretty fierce, with Alfred and Robin both getting punched into another room, and then a goon locking them in there behind a big metal door. 
An electrical box gets smashed and a wire gets loose, so of course the vats containing the acidic smelting chemicals get shot and starts leaking, and so then of course it's just a matter of time before the chemicals reach the live wire, so the crooks high tail it out of there, the wire hits the spill, the whole place goes ablaze in flame, and the building EXPLODES with Batman inside it!
Next Time: Fletcher poses as a doctor to get at Colton to find the location of the mine, while Robin (maybe) faces off with Daka!
Thoughts and Review: Chapter 6 feels a lot like Chapter 3, in the way that it deals with the fallout from Chapter 5, and then starts into a whole new storyline. It's certainly the biggest step forward in the storyline of the serial since we started, since it introduces a major new character and plotline in the story of Ken Colton and his radium mine.
So, when it comes to old school serials, I know most people know them through imitation rather than firsthand experience. You watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones and understand that they are evoking this older style, or you see parodies or what have you. When I was a kid the biggest straight-up serial parody I was exposed to was Six-Gun Justice which was a segment on the utterly brilliant Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV. It was a western style serial, with a hero, his sidekick, his love interest, and her father figure who was a prospector with a mine that the villains wanted to steal. Real cliche stuff, which added to the parody. But SCTV, being brilliant, added an entire hilariously surreal wartime propaganda element as well, in that the mine was a radium mine, and the bad guys were working for Tojo. It made no sense in the western context, but it introduced me to the idea of serials as wartime propaganda obsessed with radium mines.
So when I finally saw Batman, and it also weirdly shoehorned in Japanese spies and radium mines into a series that should've been about an urban vigilante fighting gangsters, well, let's say I was prepared by Six-Gun Justice. But I was also surprised at how accurate the parody was!
Anyways, Ken Colton may be one of the weirdest characters in the serial, but I love how Alfred gets drawn into it. William Austin really is fantastically funny as Alfred and I can see why his performance became so iconic as to inform the comic book version. 
The final battle scene in the smelting plant is also one of the serial's best, as is the cliffhanger. But one question... what does the "poison peril" of the title refer to? The chemicals in the plant are gonna explode Batman to death, not poison him...

BATMAN, Chapter 5 (August 13, 1943)

"The Living Corpse"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Last Time: Daka and his men are off in an armored car to steal a shipment of radium - Batman blasts his way into the car with the radium gun, but in the ensuing scuffle the car drives over a cliff, dooming Batman to an inevitable death!

Synopsis: Or not. In a shot that wasn't included in this footage last week, Batman is seen to dive out of the truck and roll onto the ground before the truck goes over the cliff, surviving the crash completely. Robin rushes over to check on Batman, who then goes down to retrieve the radium gun. Daka's men perished in the crash.
Daka's pretty pissed about this, but soon receives a shortwave radio message from a Japanese submarine, delivering a "large package" for Daka to be picked up at "Smugglers' Rock", which Daka instructs Fletcher to pick up by "renting a hearse."
Down in the crime lab of the Bat's Cave, Alfred delivers the afternoon mail to Bruce and Dick, which Bruce is able to identify as a coded envelope sent to him from Washington by the way the stamps are arranged - in a close up shot we can see that it is addressed to "Mr Bruce Wayne, 1918 Hill Road, Los Angeles, Calif" despite the serial being explicitly stated to be in Gotham City by the narrator of the first chapter!
Anyways, this is our reminder that Batman and Robin are deputized G-Men working for Washington to sniff out Jap spies, despite having secret identities and an antagonistic relationship with the GCPD. Also, this envelope from Washington means that Batman's secret identity is known to the FBI! Apparently all this was included in the serial because the Production Code had a problem with Batman being a vigilante operating outside the law.

The letter in the envelope is written in invisible ink, but after some "science" of the smoky beaker and test tupe variety, is rendered legible by Bruce. Anyways, turns out that the Japs have learned of a new airplane motor being developed at Lockwood, and are going to try to steal the prototype plane, with Batman and Robin being ordered to prevent such a theft. (Obviously Lockwood is a fictionalized version of aircraft manufacturer Lockheed)
Meanwhile, at Daka's lair, Fletcher and his men bring a casket into Daka's laboratory. Daka opens it, revealing a Japanese officer in a state of "animated suspension" as Daka puts it. Using a bunch of electrical mad scientist equipment, Daka is able to bring the officer to life just long enough to pass his message along to Daka - which is that Lockwood has a new plane and Daka should try to steal it - before he dies. Daka explains the man was glad to die in service to his country this way.
Daka is able to get his men into the Lockwood factory by the most convenient means possible - a couple of Lockwood mechanics show up at the ride of horrors that masks the entrace to Daka's lair! Daka himself appears to them in full kimono (the mechanics get a good crack in about how his make-up is topnotch but his accent's a little off!) and has them knocked out by a couple of his zombies!
In the lab, he turns them into zombies himself, meaning they can now infiltrate the factory without suspicion and steal the plane. It occurs to me that this plan would never work in a decade where men didn't wear huge hats all the time, as the 1940s fedoras cover up the mind control devices the zombies wear on their heads.
At Lockwood, Bruce has Dick watch the factory while Bruce stows away aboard the plane in case someone tries something. Dick spots the zombies by their odd behaviour and tries to stop the hijacking of the plane - but the zombies overpower not only the proper pilots but Dick as well. They take over the plane and take off, but Dick radios Bruce to warn him, and so the Batman emerges from the back of the plane to confront the thieves in the cockpit!
A fist fight between the three men breaks out on the plane, leaving one to wonder who's flying the damn thing. Meanwhile, on the ground below, an army scout notices the stolen plane flying over his post and radios it in. 

An army captain receives the call and orders a battery commander to shot down the stolen plane. They bring it down with artillery fire, and it crashes and explodes... with Batman inside!!
Next Time: An old-timey style prospector has discovered a radium mine, which Daka is determined to steal, can Robin defeat him alone? (Since Batman is clearly dead)

Thoughts and Review: There are some cool elements to this chapter, but it's largely a disappointment. For one thing, let's start with the title element. This chapter is called "The Living Corpse", which implies some cool macabre undead action in this episode. But alas, its all a complete tease. The title is "justified" by the silly sequence of the army officer in the casket. And I say justified because the whole thing feels written solely so they could use the cool title. I mean, why else does any of it happen? Why would the submarine captain not just tell Daka his orders over the radio? Why send an officer, in suspended animation, in a casket no less, who will die after delivering his simple message? It's a really silly idea. 
Furthermore, structurally it seems odd that Bruce learns the enemy is after the Lockwood motor before the villain even does! I guess it makes the FBI look on top of things? I may have written about this briefly before, but the idea that Batman's an FBI agent is a really weird and stupid one. Why does he dress up in a silly costume and have a kid sidekick then? Why the antagonistic relationship with the police?
One of Dick's lines tells us that this plane assignment is Batman's first special assignment from Washington, which implies that Batman has been active as the vigilante we know from the comics for some time and only recently drafted by the FBI. But it's still weird that they know he's Bruce Wayne. If the intention was to make our hero technically not a criminal himself, then it's odd that they ignored Commissioner Gordon and the fact that Batman was a duly deputized honorary member of the GCPD in the comics at this point.
While the hijacking of the plane and the fight aboard it is cool, the whole sequence is somewhat marred by the obvious use of stock sources for the related footage. The plane changes from a model to stock footage constantly and also shifts its design completely depending on where the footage is sourced from, while the artillery fire is clearly very old stock footage as well.
This episode also has one of the cheapest cliffhanger saves of the serial - where we simply get a shot of Batman ducking out of danger that we didn't see last week. Yes, the hero comes out on top not because of his wits, luck, or skill, but thanks to an editing trick.

On the whole, the entire exercise of having Daka go after this plane feels like a weird detour from the radium based plot we've had so far - and it is. In the next episode we're back to issues of Linda Page, her uncle, the gun, and radium - revealing this episode to have been the complete and utter filler that it was. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

BATMAN, Chapter 4 (August 6, 1943)

"Slaves of the Rising Sun" 
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Last Time: When we last left Batman, which was a longer time ago than I'd like to admit, the goon squad of Dr. Daka were primed to blow up a railway bridge to destroy a shipment for the US army. Batman and Robin show up to stop them - they foil the plot, but Batman gets knocked out on the bridge -- just as the train is about to run him over, causing his inevitable death!!

 Synopsis: Luckily for Batman and moviegoers everywhere, Robin isn't stupid, and rushes onto the bridge, pushing Batman's unconscious body off the track and into the river below, before jumping in after him. Meanwhile, Daka's goons are afraid to report back given that they failed to blow up the train, but Foster is confident that killing Batman will be enough good news to offset their other failures (it's implied Foster's getting tired of Daka's shit anyway). Emerging from the river, Batman and Robin vow to find out who those guys were working for.
At his lair, Daka is feeding the pet alligators who live under a trap door in the main room. When there's no more chicken to feed them, he considers feeding them Zombie Martin, but is interrupted by the arrival of the other members of the League of the New Order - I guess its impolite to murder people in front of your business partners.
Foster shows up to report, and stoically informs Daka that the radium gun wasn't recovered, the train wasn't wrecked, but Batman is probably dead. Daka tells Foster he can be replaced and Foster pulls a classic "you can't fire me, I quit!" maneuver, since he's decided that he may be a criminal, but he's still a patriot. After throwing a bunch of patriotic racist slogans in Daka's face, Daka summons some zombies to kill Foster. Foster shoots one, but before he has to shoot Martin Warren, he turns the gun on Daka who calls off Warren. Daka backs down and agrees to let Foster leave, leading to Foster uttering the immortally racist line "That's the kind of answer that fits the colour of your skin," Yikes!
But, of course, Daka gets the last laugh, as Foster falls into the trapdoor pit of Chekov's alligators on his way out the door and is eaten alive, providing ample motivation for the rest of the men to never betray Daka.
Daka then gets a report of a radium shipment coming to the Gotham Foundation, which Linda Page is authorized received. Meanwhile, Bruce and Dick have examining the radium gun in their crime lab, discovering that it works on radium and thus that Linda might be endangered if the gang tries to hijack the radium shipment. Linda calls just then, saying that she's been instructed to meet with a fortuneteller in a bad part of town to get information on Uncle Martin, which is the shadiest thing ever. She asks Bruce and Dick to accompany her, but Bruce brushes her off with like a huge dick, and then goes to head her off at the swami's place.

Not expecting anyone but Linda, the swami is sucker punched by Bruce. The duo find a microphone headset in the swami's turbin, allowing him to receive instructions from Daka. Bruce decides to dress up like the swami, and then sends Dick outside to watch for Linda and tail her when she leaves. This, to me, seems like a terrible plan - why not just wait outside the whole time and when the swami tells her where to go, follow her?
Anyways, Bruce turns off all the lights so its dark when Linda arrives and then tells Linda she's in great danger and must leave. But on her way out, she's grabbed through a hidden door by one of Daka's thugs!
Baffled by Linda's disappearance, Bruce and Dick search the building, and it's Dick who discovers the hidden door. They find Linda tied up and gagged not far beyond, but with the delivery order papers taken from her.
Daka's crooks take off in a stolen armored car, and so Batman and Robin make chase in the Batmo-Cadillac, leading to a thrilling car chase in the winding Hollywood Hills of Gotham City lol. Since the crooks have an armored car, it's got portholes for rifles and so the crooks start shooting. Batman pulls one of the all time classic serial manuevers by climbing out of his car, having Robin pull alongside, and then jumping across to the other vehicle.

Climbing onto the roof, he blasts his way in with the stolen radium gun in one of the coolest moments in the entire serial. The two men in the back are knocked out, so Batman heads to the front to try and knock out the driver and get control. In the ensuing struggle, however, they end up heading over a cliff and the car explodes!!
Next Time: Daka's planning something with a Japanese submarine, they've got someone in a coffin, and Robin is left to carry on the fight alone (since Batman's dead, of course!) 

Thoughts and Review: Chapter 4 contains some classic serial moments - the trapdoor alligators and the car chase chief among them. I really like the final scenes especially - seeing Batman leap from one car to the next and then blasting inside with a radium gun is awesome. 

Foster's attempted betrayal of Daka results in some of the most malicious anti-Japanese dialogue in the serial, but it's a cool character beat and one that reminds me of the ending of The Rocketeer, where the gangsters turn on the Nazis because y'know, they may be crooks but they ain't traitors! Of course, Foster gets eaten on the way out, in a sequence that's pretty familiar in structure to anyone who's watched a James Bond film (the fate of Mr. Solo in Goldfinger comes to mind). 
That said, the middle section of this chapter, in the Swami's place, is pretty lame. I don't really see what Bruce thought he would accomplish by taking the Swami's place, and it makes Linda seem really dumb to be willing to see a fortuneteller for information on her missing uncle. It achieves its objective in a Point A to Point B kind of way, but feels very pointless. And kind've casually racist, but at this point casual racism feels almost like a relief compared to the rest of the serial.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Batman #18 (August/September, 1943)

Another patriotic cover, this time courtesy of artist Dick Sprang - who we've yet to see any interior work from, but who's time will come soon enough (and I couldn't be more excited for!)

"The Secret of Hunter's Inn!"
Writer: Joe Samachson
Artist: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Bruce and Dick are off on one of those sporadic vacations they take whenever the writers feel like putting them in a new locale. They have been driven to a little inn in the woods called The Hunter's Inn by Alfred (still looking ever much like Arthur Treacher's Jeeves than like William Austin's Alfred) in their limousine.
Bruce has an ulterior motive for this visit though - the Hunter's Inn has recently been the scene of a serious of disturbing robberies of its wealthy patrons, and the rural police haven't got a clue. Upon arrival, the boys are greeted by a cheerful looking fat man in a ridiculous wax moustache and goatee combo. And Bruce Wayne isn't the only millionaire staying there, there's also John Gottorox. Nobody else, though....
Strangely, the inn's famous Hunter's Stew is awful, the rooms are shit, but there's still no sign of wrongdoing anywhere -- well, until Bruce and Dick hear a call for help from one of the other rooms. So, transformed into Batman and Robin, they burst through a window into Gottorox's room, where he's being accosted by some "rough men".
They fight off the men, but the fat man from the front desk appears again and toss a bomb made of bees at them, to whose bite he's immune!! Batman and Robin run from the room, down the hall, but bump into another identical fat man! Quickly our heroes deduce that they must be dealing with the Tweed Brothers - Tweedledum and Tweedledee - recently escaped from jail. The Tweed gases them with poisonous coal gas and trots off to get Gottorox's money.
And it's Alfred who comes to our heroes' rescue, having heard the commotion in the hall he finds their prone forms and takes them out to the car and departs quickly. 
Batman and Robin wake up in the car the next morning, Alfred having driven them out to the woods to hide. They thank him for his assistance, then head back to the inn to investigate.
There they meet Soup McConell, an ex-con. Batman accuses him of working for the Tweeds, but McConell denies it, claiming he has only hired a few other ex-cons to keep them out of trouble - he's gone straight, running the Inn himself. Batman is also confused by the large number of guests at the Inn who weren't there last night, but McConell claims they've been there for a long time.
However, Batman spots two of the thugs they fought the night before, so he and Robin attack them. McConell's men, very confused, try to stop the Dark Knight and Boy Wonder from assaulting random people in the inn, which is full of guests. Soon, Batman and Robin are outnumbered by employees, and kicked out! Soup says he doesn't want any trouble, but if the heroes bother him or his guests again, he'll call the cops!
Batman and Robin walk back off into the woods, very confused, until Batman notices that the hotel entrance faces south... and last night it faced west!
Walking through the woods, they come across another Hunter's Inn, identical except it's in a different place, facing a different direction! And so they ener the other inn to investigate, finding a copy of the Hunter's Inn reservation book!
Robin figures out that the scheme is that the Tweeds steal the real Inn's reservation info, and then when a particularly wealthy guest is arriving, somehow lure them to the fake inn and steal their money - then, when the police investigate all they find is the real inn and no evidence!
Having figured this out, they soon fall into a trap - cornered by Tweedledum and Tweedledee! But Batman buys some time with a smoke bomb and he and Robin beat feet to the elevator. Inside, they find a switch whereby the Tweeds could control a set of fake trees to be placed over the road to the Hunter's Inn, revealing a second road to their own Inn, thus luring in their victims and keeping away the cops!
Batman flicks the switch to lead to the Tweed's Inn, and the police headed to answer to Gottorox's report of the previous night find the Tweeds and surround them. They're arrested, and Bruce and Dick head back to Gotham with Alfred.
My Thoughts: This is a fantastic Golden Age Tweedledee & Tweedledum story, and like their first appearance, it really helps me understand these villains and their place in Batman's Rogues Gallery in a way their modern day appearances (mostly cameos) don't  manage to. It's a creepy tale, one that is truly unnerving in the way it makes no sense at the start, but comes together in a way that really reinforces the themes of doubling and duality present in the twin villains, which of course also reinforces those themes in the character himself. It's very smart and well done.
The Art: Jerry Robinson must've had an affinity for the Tweeds. He drew them in a delightfully creepy manner in their first story and does an equally effective job here. They're an unnerving pair, and Robinson gives all the scenes an effective, almost expressionistic touch, while still keeping everything in his usual fine realistic style, with his unique "scratchy" light linework. Really great stuff here.
The Story: Samachson delivers a really smart mystery plot here. As said before, it reinforces the themes of the characters, but it's also just really smartly done. Seeing Batman a step behind for a part of the story is really cool, and Alfred is also used in a very effective and competent manner. The detail that the crooks running the real hotel really have gone straight is great too, to see that not all of Batman's enemies remain criminals is a great way to speak to the character's effectiveness as a crimefighter.

"Robin Studies His Lessons!"

Writer: Joe Samachson
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Dick comes home and tries to sneak past Bruce to his room without saying hello. Bruce picks up that something's wrong and confronts the boy. Turns out Dick is flunking his subjects in school, despite promising Bruce he'd study. It's probably because he's out every night being a crimefighter, Bruce. Bruce comes to the same conclusion, and places Dick on temporary suspension - Batman's a solo act until Dick passes his classes!

Dick's all upset, but what can you do? Batman goes out alone, and quickly ends up fighting some robbers. After a two page fight scene, they bop Batman on the head and scam. After running a ways, they realize Batman was alone, and that perhaps that now that he's without his partner, perhaps he'd be easier to bump off! They make a plan to trap Batman!
Batman trails after them, and finds a clue that they'll be hitting the treasurer's office of Consolidated Fisheries next. Thing is - it's a planted clue! 
He shows up, and finds some weird blocks on the ceiling. No time to figure out the clue, so he heads inside, and sets off some odd noisemakers somehow accidentally. Odd, but he heads into the next room, and is plunged into darkness. His hands are glowing though, and in the darkness the crooks pistol whip him over the head. Turns out the blocks on the ceiling were coated in phosphorescent paint, and the noises were caused by unstable chemicals left on the floor. The lead crook used to work in a lab, where he learned this stuff.
Meanwhile, Dick's feeling sad and lonely at home, so he uses his belt radio to contact Batman just to see what's up. Batman's tied up at the crook's hideout at the "Consolidated Fisheries" building, and the crooks tell Rbin to come alone and try to rescue him (figuring they can take out both of them). Batman warns Robin to "stay home and study!" but Robin disobeys.
Robin figures out the phosphorescent blocks, and figures Batman fell into a trap. He doesn't go intothe next room and instead finds a big electric refrigerator and smashes the coils with a hammer. The fumes fill the building, but Robin avoids them because he recognizes the gas is sulphur dioxide and thus heavier than air, so if he stays up high he won't breathe it in.
The gas gets to the crooks, allowing Batman to escape, but despite the handicap the criminals manage to beat feet. Although Batman is happy Robin saved his life and is pretty impressed with the refrigerator trick given Dick is flunking chemistry, he believes in discipline and thus tells the Boy Wonder to go back home and get back to studying.
A tearful Robin decides to go after the crooks himself to show Batman up, and figures out they'll have phosphorescent paint on their shoes from those blocks. He follows the gang and throws the blocks at them when he finds them. 
Batman follows Robin, finding the Boy Wonder engaged in battle with the crooks. The moon moves behind a cloud and it gets very dark on the rooftop but Batman can see them fine thanks to Robin throwing the blocks at them. 
After they're beat up, Robin explains he threw the blocks at them so he could identify them, but Batman one-ups him by explaining that the sulphur dioxide gas would've acted as a bleach on their clothes that would've identified them. But them Robin outgeeks Batman explaining that "well, actually..." the effects of sulphur dioxide disappear very quickly.
After the thugs are turned over to the police, Bruce goes to Dick's school to investigate, because how is this kid flunking school? Turns out it's not because he's up all night every night getting knocked over the head, it's because his report card was mixed up with some dumbass named Richard E. Grayson instead of our Dick (who's Richard John Grayson, for the record!) 
My Thoughts: A fun little "focus on Robin" story that's obviously supposed to be relatable for kids who feel their parents are too hard on them for telling them to do their homework. I do feel sorry for that kid who had a really good report card for like a day before the mistake was discovered!
The Art: The art's a good serviceable job from Kane/Robinson, in particular a lot of the fight scenes in the dark are cool, and there are a lot of great silouhetted "Dark Knight" evocative images of Batman that surface in the "solo" sequences, images that we haven't really seen that much in the series since the early days.
The Story: Joe Samachson was clearly reading a book of chemistry trivia or something the day before this story was due. Oh, phosphorescent paint glows in the dark? Fridges use sulphur dioxide gas, which isn't good to breathe, and can bleach things? Cool, what kind of story can I base around these little facts? A very Bill Finger way of working.

"The Good Samaritan Cops"
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Jack Burnley
Synopsis: Bill Finger's decided to do a series of stories spotlighting the true-to-life work of real police services, in which Batman and Robin will meet various types of police officers. The first story will be about the "men in the green trucks", the "police emergency squads". These guys don't really exist today the way they did then -- this old Popular Science article kind've explains the idea though, and I think nowadays they've evolved into these guys.
Anyhow, one day Batman and Robin decide to head down to police headquarters to basically do some ride alongs to learn more about the police department of which they are honorary members. They decide to start with the Emergency Squad because they are "hand-picked and specially trained" and "roll only when the regular force is stumped".
Sergeant Mead introduces the Dynamic Duo to his squad - Bressler, who's obsessed with pics of his kid (if this was a movie, he'd be marked for death; Brannigan and Flannigan, a couple of Irish stereotypes always arguing over a girl; and Richards, the rookie who's looking for some action. Of course, there's also their truck - Suzie. 
A call comes in, and they roll out! They rescue a cat from a telephone, and then rescue a man stuck in a quagmire. But Sergeant Mead is going to retire and is sad about it - age limits, he can't even serve in the army! Retirement after a lifetime of service is truly the worst thing.
Then an ammonia pipe bursts in a refrigerating room at a meat packing plant, so off they go! They put on gas masks and head into the plant to rescue the workers, but Batman and Robin find some gangsters in the refrigerating room - they burst the pipe on purpose so they could steal the meat for the black market! (Food rationing, wartime, all that). 
The next call is a hostage situation - a madman has a pretty girl and a gun in a high rise apartment. Flannigan gets shot trying to save her, but the Dynamic Duo manage it cuz after all they're names are on the strip. Brannigan is all upset about Flannigan, but it turns out the bullet ricocheted off his badge and he's fine (that happens so often in fiction, ever in real life?) and soon the two are back to arguing.
The next call comes through, and it turns out the cops have "kill-crazy Two-Gun Foley and his mob" bottled up in a building but can't smoke him out! So in comes the emergency squad to storm the place with tear gas! 
After the successful raid, the rookie apologizes for complaining about the lack of action, and Commissioner Gordon decides to defer Mead's retirement because too many young officers are going into the army -- hooray, more high tension risky physical work into old age!
Batman and Robin finish their ridealong, and before they can even say goodbye, the emergency squad is off again on another call!

My Thoughts: So, obviously this is another Bill Finger Public Service Announcement type story. It basically lays that all out in the splash page. It's also probably a "Bill Finger was reading about this in a magazine or newspaper and filed it away in the idea drawer" type story as well. Ultimately, it's also really not a Batman story. It's a "day in the life" tale, with our heroes as witness-proxies for the audience. And what a weird little snapshot of time it is!
I guess modern SWAT teams and the currently heavily militarized police of the US have kind've evolved from these sorts of squads, but the whole sight of these men in blue hanging off a green truck that basically looks like an old school fire truck and just jetting around on call seems so strange to me. Then again, I've lived my life in a large Canadian metropolis that nevertheless has a population about a seventh of that of NYC. So, y'know, my relationship to and awareness of police is a little bit different. But from my perspective, this whole thing seems weird and quaint.

The Art: Very very polished looking art, but then of course it is! It's Jack Burnley for cryin' out loud! Very slick inking and an all around excellent looking story, with many elements clearly taken from photo reference. Now, Burnley always turns in good art, but I wonder if perhaps he was selected for this assignment because Finger clearly had high hopes for this "series" or if he was just up in the rotation. It is hard to know the ways of Whitney Ellsworth.
The Story: It is what it is. It's a day-in-the-life PSA piece about police in which we see the emergency squad do a wide variety of tasks in a single day, do them all well, and make it home safe. What semblance of story there is revolves around the group of stereotypes who make up the squad - the two guys who argue but really care about each other, the rookie who grows up, and the sergeant who doesn't have to retire. They all have one personality trait causing one conflict which is easily solved by story's end. It's not a bad thing - it's all done so painlessly and smoothly that you don't really mind - but it's hard to really call it a story.

"The Crime Surgeon!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencils: Bob Kane
Inks: Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: An escape attempt leaves a prison warden shot and the prison doctor unskilled enough to operate. And so a convict is called in! It's Doctor Matthew Thorne... the Crime Doctor! He operates, but uses ether to gas the guards and make his escape!

Soon enough, he's right back to his old tricks, operating a "crime clinic" to assist crooks in planning and executing their schemes, for a percentage of the loot. But this time, the crime clinic is moving across country!
Batman and Robin analyze the pattern, and find the doc is moving in a straight east-to-west line, stopping along the major cities. So the crime-fighters head to the next logical city, and Robin adopts a cover as a street urchin shoeshine boy. He overhears some crooks and confirms Thorne is there.
The heist involves disguising the thieves as a construction crew working on a sewage system, using the dynamite blasts to cover the dynamite blast used to get into the bank vault. But Batman and Robin dive in right before the blast, and we get to have a cool dynamic two-page fight scene in a construction site before the doc makes his getaway to the next city.
In the next city, Thorne sends his accomplice to drum up business, and he meets a crook who needs a job planned. The crook is blindfolded on the drive to the doc's hideout, and we get five panels of nothing but blackness and sound effects: the sounds of a train, clanging and bonging, rumbling, cows, and then roaring water. 
But after they arrive, Robin is discovered following the car and the crook is revealed as a disguised Batman (doing that weird human face make-up over cowl over real face thing that I always find suuuuper weird). 
In the ensuing fight scene, Robin is shot and the doc freaks out ("You're working for a doctor, not a killer!") He's not dead, but Thorne will need to operate -- and so once again Batman finds himself assisting Thorne in an operation, this time on Robin!
The two enemies call a truce, and after the operation, Thorne allows Batman to leave and take Robin to a hospital. Because the boy's unconscious, Batman still doesn't know where Thorne's hideout is -- but it doesn't matter. Batman counted his pulses and thus was able to time his journey with the sounds he heard, which were a train junction, a blacksmith's, a wooden bridge, a farm, and a waterfall.
But there's nothing there! Just some extra wide tire tracks... then Batman realizes that the Doc took his practice on the road by operating out of a trailer! Luckily, the trailer back into a mud bank and left a perfect impression of the license plate (ha!) and so Batman has an APB put out on it.
They spot it by a gold field in California, which allows for a suitably dramatic industrial area to have a climatic battle in. Thorne plans to steal the gold from the mine... but then the wife of one of his goons gets sick and needs an operation! The doc intends to help, Hippocratic Oath and all, but then the timetable for the gold job gets moved up and he has to choose... crime or medicine!
Thorne chooses crime, and so on the day he's one goon short since the guy has stayed home with his sick wife. Batman busts in, and takes off after Thorne, who leads him on a chase through the mine, of course ending up on a high platform where things are most dramatic.
Thorne's about to stab Batman with a scalpel, but SUDDENLY! He's shot! Yes, it's Mocco the goon with the sick wife, all pissed off and vengeful because she died! And so Doctor Matthew Thorne dies in Batman's arms, and finally seems to achieve a sort of peace in death which he never had in life.
My Thoughts: This story is so strange on so many levels. On the one hand, it's strange to see the story of a Golden Age villain end. Heck, it's strange to see a Modern Age comics character get an ending, unless he's a "created just for the arc" type, and even then. I mean, the Crime Doctor was locked up and sent to jail in his last appearance, which is generally code for "will be a returning villain", and yet here he is, dying. And we know it's a real death because it's all dramatically appropriate and such.
And speaking of drama, wow is this story all over the place with it in just twelve pages! It has the kind of noirish feel that the best Bill Finger dramas do, evoking both the Warner crime dramas of the period and also previsioning the tone of some of the best stories of the seminal 90s Batman animated series. It's really unique and well done and definitely my favourite story in this issue.

The Art: Robinson and Kane bring the dark drama in this one. Noirish shadows, dramatic poses, expressive lighting, it's really all quite well done, starting with the amazing splash page which draws you to Thorne's crazed eyes. Many panels are mostly darkness, with a hint of a figure. It's really cool and well done in the dramatic moments, even if the panels of Batman driving around figuring out what noises he was hearing are super bland filler.
The Story: Finger was obviously fascinated by the duality of the Crime Doctor character. Like Two-Face before him, the Crime Doctor is a villain who is not fully evil. He has compulsion to do evil, as explored in his last story, but he also feels compelled to do good, as we see here. Ultimately, evil wins out and so Thorne pays the ultimate price in dramatic terms. Yet in death his soul is reconciled, no longer tormented by his split moral code. It's interesting and deep stuff for a 1943 comic for children, and the examination of Thorne's character is what makes this top notch stuff, not the ins and outs of the robberies.
Notes and Trivia: The death of the Crime Doctor.

P.S. - If you're wondering where I've been since August, I've mostly just been very busy with work - both film/television work and otherwise, but in terms of reading comics I sucked myself into reading all of Jack Kirby's work and from September til now made it from his earliest Golden Age work on Blue Bolt through to now being fifteen issues in to Fantastic Four. Considered blogging about it, but that would've slowed down the progress immensely and besides the internet doesn't need me to tell it Jack Kirby was the King.