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.