I know, I know. It's been over a year since the last post. And I know I've promised no long breaks between posts before. Guess I shouldn't make promises I can't keep. But here we are again, in Fall of 1943. I am excited to be back, hope you'll join me again for Golden Age Batman goodness, because this one is excellent.
"A Thief in Time!"
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciller: Jerry Robinson
Inker: Fred Ray
Synopsis: Our story begins in the Gotham City of the late 21st century! Yes, it's the future, complete with rocketships and Flash Gordon looking fashion. A laboratory worker named (no shit) Rob Callender comes out of a Batman Museum, wishing he was in Batman's time, because then he could be a millionaire!
And then he's so absent minded about that at work, he accidentally mixes some chemicals and BOOM, space-time warp to 1943! It's just that easy.
He realizes he's in Batman times, and promptly sets about getting some new old clothes, then "borrowing" (read: stealing) some vacuum tubes and other equipment to start assembling some future technology! Good thing he has the knowhow. If you sent me back to 1916 and told me to make an iPod with shit lying around, I'd have to just shrug.
Anyways, he manages to make a gun that shoots a light absorbing ray that creates an area of total darkness ahead of him, and with the aid of infrared goggles, he's totally ready to just straight up rob a bank. But, oddly, he makes a point of saying that if he's taken more money than he needs, he'll return the rest to the bank by mail... Weird.
Using the money he's stolen, he hires a bunch of criminal thugs, but makes a big point of there being absolutely no violence. They then proceed to dark-ray rob an elementary school for a third grade reader book, and an obscure woodworker for a random table lamp. The thug are understandably perplexed, but as long as he's paying, who cares right?
About this time Batman and Robin take an interest, because this weird shit is definitely up their alley. Luckily, Batman already has infrared goggles (he's used them before in the comic), so they're well prepared to fight these guys.
My favourite moment in this comic has to be when they head out in the Batplane, and two dudes spot them overhead and say "Here's where some gangsters get what's coming to them!" It's a great little moment showing normal people reacting to living in Gotham City.
Anyways, the crooks are robbing an unknown author who lives in a waterfront shack (jesus, I guess things could be worse for me), and steal an entire manuscriot from him.
Batmn and Robin show up for the fight scene, while Rob Callender exclaims "Dear, dear! This is so unnecessary and painful!"
Rob shoots the Dynamic Duo with a goddamn paralysis ray he whipped up somehow, but he won't kill them. Instead, he tosses them in a rowboat, rows them out to a derelict ship beached on a reef that heknew was here then dumped them in the hold, where the paralysis ray will wear off once the crooks are safely away. After all, he can't let anyone be killed... but he can leave clues, dude knows from going to a Batman musem how to be Batman villain afterall, and taunts the Dark Knight with a reference to "art in a textile mill".
However, once he's left, water begins pouring into the hold -- when the tide rises the ship goes under and fills with water through holes in the hull, ironically putting Batman and Robin in an unintentional death trap!
Batman figures how to get free of course -- the walls of the hold are covered in barnacles which they use to cut through the ropes -- but then the question is how to get back to shore! Luckily, the ship is a light ship, with it's own light tower! They light up the beacon, with Batman sticking a Bat symbol on the glass to form a makeshift Bat signal, which alerts the harbor police to come and rescue them.
Back on dry land, they ask the robbed author about the manuscript, who tells them it wasn't valuable, and in fact he was super dissatisfied with it and wanted to tear it up. The two look for clues, but all Robin finds is a penny... a penny minted in 2043!! (Goddamn it, America, you're really gonna hold on to pennies that long??)
The two hop back in the Batplane and head to the textile mill, where the night watchmen paints in his spare time, and of course Callender is there to steal the painting. Batman figures out that he's from the future, stealing seemingly worthless items that only become famous in a hundred years, after the unknown craftsmen become famous after their deaths.
Callender reveals he got the idea from seeing all of the items in a collection of Batman's trophies in the Batman Museum, which is certainly a weird place to see them unless...
And then SWISH! The space-time warp closes, and Callender is back... to the FUTURE!
And then Batman and Robin are like "well, shit, what do we do with all this stuff?" None of the people who it was stolen from want it (despite now having certifiable knowledge it will be valuable one day?) So Batman and Robin put it in their growing trophy collection...
...and thus Rob Callender sees it in the Batman Museum over a hundred years in the future!
My Thoughts: I love time travel stories, especially when they are simple enough not to be aggravating, but clever enough to actually make sense. I am delighted this is a Bill Finger time travel story. I'm sure I've mentioned this, but Finger was always collecting weird story ideas from stuff he'd read -- odd facts, interesting gimmicks, and this is a story that seems fueled by those. But the mention of stuff like "space/time warp" and the pretty good looped time travel logic really makes this a surprisingly good time travel story for a 1943 comic! Very enjoyable. Also, I just love that Callender refers to the 1940s as "Batman times". Like, fuck World War II, Batman is the thing about the 40s that will be most remembered.
The Art: It's Jerry Robinson. This is the good stuff, but Fred Ray's inking makes it even better, just solidifying the work a little more so it looses some of Robinson's loose scratchiness and looks nice and polished. But it's top notch Golden Age Batman, just a joy to be looking at again. The best single panel is on the first page, with Callender shaking his fist in triumph in an utterly classic villain pose.
The Story: The fact that Callender won't let anyone be killed (he's not such a bad guy, and it would cause paradoxes), the trick of everything he's stealing not being worth anything in the present, the little clever details like the waterline in the hold alerting Batman to danger, using the barnacles to get out, and figuring out how to light the DIY Bat signal, these are all great clever details you expect from a class act Bill Finger script -- but the bit about how the reason those items are in the Batman museum for Callender to get the idea to go back in time and steal them is because they are from the case where he goes back in time to steal them? That's some A+ classic time travel storytelling there. Love it.
Up next on Bat to the Beginning? It's time to keep on with the Batman serial, guys!