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Are you worthy?

by  in Comic News Comment
Are you worthy?

In case you hadn’t noticed, the sequel to the greatest collection of comics ever … collected, I guess, came out a few weeks ago.  If you do not have these two volumes, I don’t even know if you can be considered a comic book fan.  The question is, Are you worthy to own them?  Are you worthy?

Yes, it’s The Batman Chronicles Volume 2, collecting every Batman story in chronological order.  DC is taking its sweet old time releasing these, so it’s been well over a year since the first volume came out. I had a grand old time ripping it, but that doesn’t change a couple of facts: these comics are wildly fun, and they’re pretty important.  And since I had such a ball reviewing the first one (even if people said I shouldn’t take it seriously, but I would argue that DC wants us to take them seriously, so we should) and I’m going to review the second one in the same way, except with panels from the actual books!  So strap yourself in, because these are wacky and wild and all kinds of fun and this is a really long post, so just deal with it!  And even if I make fun, I do it with love.  These are seminal comics, after all, and essential reading!

All credits are Bill Finger, writer, and Bob Kane, penciller.  The inkers vary.  And, of course, SPOILERS ABOUND!  These comics are 66 years old, after all – you have only yourself to blame if you don’t know what happens in them!

Detective #39, May 1940: On the cover, Batman is punching some evil-doer off a scaffold high above the street.  “No killing,” my Aunt Fanny!  Batman in the early days killed with relative impunity!  This story is called “The Horde of the Green Dragon,” and if you’re already thinking “Chinese embassy on line 1!” you’re not far wrong.  Interestingly enough, in this story and in the final story of the book, Finger and Kane are remarkably restrained in using racial stereotypes.  It’s kind of cool for 1940.  Bad guys kidnap millionaires and kill people with hatchets.  Bruce Wayne says “there’s only one kind of people that kill with a hatchet …”  Really, Bruce?  American Indians?  Woodcutters?  Vikings?  Do tell!  Of course, it’s the Chinese!  Batman visits Wong, the unofficial mayor of Chinatown (and a recurring character, and one who’s portrayed favorably!), who tells him a new tong calling itself the Green Dragon has arisen selling opium to the people in Chinatown.  Before he can help him further, the Horde kills Wong.  Batman and Robin find the Master of the Green Dragon, who giggles a lot (okay, so maybe it’s not so enlightened – of course, maybe he’s just strung out on opium!).  Mayhem ensues!  Batman calls the Master “Fatty!”  Batman rescues the millionaires!  Why they were kidnapped in the first place isn’t really clear.  How dare you question the plot, fools!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  Not this time!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                             

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  Yes.  He and Wong’s killer fall out a window and the man dies.  Later he shoves an enormous idol (with smoke coming out of its ears) onto the Green Dragon thugs, killing them.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  Of course!
  • Best Batman witticism: A hatchet guy misses him and our hero says, “You should wear glasses, fella!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Sadly, no.  An unfortunate oversight that Finger and Kane would correct often in later issues.

Awesomest panel in the issue:

Batman cracks wise!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 7.  It’s a fine story, but I doubt if Batman even broke a sweat taking down the Horde of the Green Dragon.

Detective #40, June 1940: The first appearance of Basil Karlo, the first Clayface!  Old Basil wasn’t seen again (I think) until Detective #604-607, when he tussled with Bats and Looker and gathered the other Clayfaces together.  Here he’s just a bitter old actor who’s angry that a studio is remaking his greatest movie, so he kills the stars.  Julie Madison, Bruce’s main squeeze, is starring in the movie, which is why Bruce goes to the set and meets the principals of the drama, including the star, Lorna Dane.  Wait!  What the hell is Polaris doing there?  Couldn’t she stop the killer with her magnetic powers?  Robin, dense as ever, climbs up a tower on the set and actually says, “Gosh!  What a spot for a murder!”  He never thinks the murder might be … his own!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  Come on, Gordon, get with it!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                             

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  He’s going soft!
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  Holy crap, he doesn’t!  What the hell?
  • Best Batman witticism: As he beats on a gangster, he says, “The stars aren’t out tonight – but they will be!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Sadly, again, no.  But he does kick a gangster in the ass!

Awesomest panel in the issue:

That’s the first time we see Clayface – pretty cool.

Awesomeness (out of 10): 10.  This is a great story.  It’s creepy, it’s thrilling, it features a cool villain, it has some spooky panels of Clayface.  Excellent stuff!

Detective #41, July 1940: Oh dear.  Problems at a boys’ school.  That happens to be near an insane asylum (which we’ll just assume is Arkham, even though it wasn’t named until years later; remember, at this point Batman is operating in New York, even though the city is never named in this volume).  Because that’s where you always put fashionable boys’ schools, right?  Zoning laws were lax in 1940!  Dick Grayson enrolls to find out who kidnapped young Ted Spencer.  In one of the funniest panels in the book, as he and Bruce are meeting the headmaster, one of the teachers barges in and asks if it’s true he’s getting fired.  The headmaster says, completely seriously, “Yes, Mr. Greer, it is!  I can’t have any of my teachers failing a pupil because he muddled a test.”  Yes, even in 1940 the rich got preferential treatment!  At night, Robin does all the leg work (like Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles) and reads Ted’s diary, which the police had been looking for.  Robin finds the diary on Ted’s desk, and says, “No wonder the police missed it – it was covered like his other school books!  And lying amongst them!”  Somewhere, the CSI guys are writhing in agony at the ineptitude of Gordon’s police force!  He reads in the diary of a “masked man,” who suddenly appears and steals the diary!  He comes across an escaped inmate who is killing groundskeepers because he thinks they’re asylum attendants (he also giggles a lot – giggling is the purview of villains, Asians, and nuts, apparently).  The headmaster is murdered, and there’s no shortage of suspects!  Robin, again doing all the work, finds the bad guys’ secret lair, and then Batman swoops in to steal all the glory!  Isn’t that just like Batman?

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  Sheesh.  But with the police incompetence in finding the diary, it’s almost as good!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                     

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  He’s barely in the damned issue!  So no.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  It’s back and badder than ever!
  • Best Batman witticism: He doesn’t make any wisecracks!  What’s up, Bats?
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Again, no.  He comes close, though – he punches one thug into another, presumably knocking him out as well.

Awesomest panel in the issue:

Robin uses “thusly” twice!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 6.  It’s not bad, but it’s kind of a lame issue.  When Robin can defeat you almost single-handedly, you’re not much of a bad guy.

Batman #2, Summer 1940 (first story): Four stories of Batman goodness for a dime.  Good times.  The Joker returns in the first one.  When Batman finds out he’s alive, he plans to abduct him from the hospital (he’s near death) and take him to a “famous brain specialist” who will, I don’t know, mindwipe him? so he becomes a valuable citizen.  Where’s Zatanna when you really need her?  And what the hell was Bruce getting all high-and-mighty about when the JLA came up with that plan?  Anyway, the members of Crime Syndicate, Inc. decide to kidnap the Joker and make him their leader.  Yes, the criminals have incorporated!  Is that so they don’t get sued?  The bad guys actually come up with a good plan – one of them dresses up like Batman to lure the cops away, and the rest take the Joker out of there!  The guy dressed like Batman is killed by the police, but the plan works perfectly!  Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Batman grabs the Cat - who is also interested in what the Joker is up to, because he’s planning to steal some Egyptian jewels.  We’ve seen the Cat before, and I’m still not entirely sure it’s Selina Kyle.  We never learn her name, obviously, but I guess we’ll find out in later volumes.  Joker double-crosses his gang, and both he and the Cat try to steal the jewels, but our heroes show up.  They get the Joker, but the Cat escapes.  It’s the second time in as many appearances that she’s gotten away from Batman.  It couldn’t be that Batman is sweet on her, could it?

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  But he does send the entire force after the faux Batman, ensuring that no one is guarding the Joker when the gang brings him out.  So, good job, Gordon!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  No.
  • Does Batman kill anyone?  The fake Batman kills a bunch of cops!  But the real one doesn’t kill anyone.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  No.
  • Best Batman witticism: He throws a punk at other punks and says, “In bowling they call this a strike!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Hell yeah he does!  Whoo-hoo!

Awesomest panel in the book:

It’s creepy stalker Batman!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8.  Early on, whenever the Joker showed up it was pretty cool, and the inclusion of the Cat is also nice.  It’s good to see the Joker double-crossing everyone and killing people to commit a crime.  These days he just kills because he’s crazy, and that’s no fun.

Batman #2 (second story): The splash page shows a mild-mannered wimp looking in a mirror and seeing en evil-doer stare back.  They just don’t do splash pages like they used to!  A private museum owner leaves at night “for his mansion” and says goodnight to the custodian, Adam Lamb (ooohh – significant name!) who is reading a book called The Crime Master.  On the next page, he falls down the stairs, hits his head, sees a picture of a bat, and sees the book he was reading - all while the clock strikes midnight!  The next night, at midnight, he physically changes into a creepy-looking dude, who is, the narration assures us, “a snarling, cunning beast!”  He pounces on some late-night stroller, kills him, and has no memory of it in the morning!  Each night he turns like this, and gathers a mob around him – and becomes a Master of Crime!  One night, as Batman and Robin stop a heist, Robin is almost run down by a green car with a “queer dent in the fender.”  (Batman uses the word “queer” a lot, which adds to the book’s charm, because it’s fun now that it means something different.  Whenever he uses it, we’re reminded how old these comics really are.)  Bruce happens to stop by the museum where Adam Lamb works, and he sees the car.  They fight the bad guys, who escape.  The next night, Bruce somehow cracks the mystery – he realizes that the crimes of the Crime Master match the ones in the book.  How did he get the book?  Are you questioning Finger and Kane?  Hush!  He and Robin rush to the museum, where Lamb suddenly turns into Crime Master and attacks his boss.  Batman and Robin crash through the window and save the day, and when Lamb sees Batman, he remembers the picture he saw and is freaked out a bit (Batman muses that a “queer expression” came over his face).  Lamb falls down the stairs, cracks his head, and dies.  He was, as Batman puts it, a “psychological Jekyll and Hyde.”  Wasn’t the “real” Jekyll and Hyde a psychological Jekyll and Hyde?  Just wondering.

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No Gordon at all in the issue.  Even when the Crime Master runs rampant through the city!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                           

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  Technically, yes.  He punches Lamb, which sends him down the stairs to his ultimate demise. 
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  No.  I want my dime back!
  • Best Batman witticism: Robin actually gets this one.  He hits a thug and says, “What you boys need is more spinach!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  No.  Stupid Batman!  Robin, however, pulls the old “punch one bad guy into another” trick, and it works to perfection.

Awesomest panel in the book:

Robin thought he was dead.  Silly Robin!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 9.  It’s a very neat story, and pretty spooky.  Batman gets lucky twice in solving the case, however – once when he randomly goes to the museum, and again when he’s randomly reading The Crime Master.  A little detecting, please, Bruce, and less gadding about town!

Batman #2 (third story): It’s time for “The Case of the Clubfoot Murders!”  Batman spots a murderer (a “queer fish”) with a clubfoot and a hook hand!  The Clubfoot Guy gets away, and Batman has to run because the cops show up.  The victim is Harley Storme, a millionaire, and Bruce gets to go along to his mansion the next day because … Gordon invites him!  Yay, Gordon!  Gordon seems a bit … enthusiastic about Bruce accompanying him.  Maybe Dr. Wertham was focusing on the wrong couple!  Luckily for all concerned, Storme once knew a man whose name is Clubfoot, who hated him because Storme cheated him out of a share in a gold mine.  What luck!  The relatives who are at the mansion for the reading of the will are of course all dissolute, and Storme leaves his fortune to charity and a piece of “gold” with the inscription “United we stand – divided we fall” to each of his heirs (I use quotation marks because the gold is white).  The heirs, of course, are quite grumpy about this.  The lawyer says they are related to a letter that he has to read at the end of the month.  That night, Storme’s brother, Abel, is killed.  Batman decides to find out more about the will, and that night, at the lawyer’s house, two punks (wearing bowties?) are rifling the den.  One of the heirs, Storme’s nephew, had gambling debts, and Warrick, to whom he owed the money, snatched the lawyer to find out what was in the letter.  Batman and Robin bust in, naturally, and rescue the lawyer.  Batman goes to get the letter, because he realizes how important it is, and he sends Robin to find Storme’s son, but he arrives … too late!  Clubfoot is there, but he manages to escape.  Batman discovers the man whose name is Clubfoot, chained in the lawyer’s basement.  Yes, the lawyer is the killer (you can’t trust those lawyers!).  He was eliminating all the heirs so he could inherit, and pinning it all on Clubfoot.  Even though, you know, Clubfoot didn’t have a motive to kill anyone but Harley, and the lawyer had a HUGE motive.  Logic?  Bah!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!  Gordon is awesome.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                      

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  Confound him! 
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  Two stories in a row without the slingshot?  What the hell?
  • Best Batman witticism: He kicks an ottoman into the knee of a thug and says, “I’ve got a bone to ‘kick’ with you … the funny bone!  Ha!  Ha!”  Yes, the chuckles are in the text.
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  You bet.  He swings the dude by the foot.  By the foot!

Awesomest panel in the book:

Batman is quite the comedian!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 9.  Another good story.  There’s murder, there’s mystery, there’s the generalization that the deformed are evil, but then Finger and Kane pull the rug out from under us and make us aware that you can’t judge people by their appearances, and there’s all-out action in the Might Marvel Man … Um, I mean, like DC does it.  You know.  With Batman using thugs as weapons!

Batman #2, fourth story: Dare you read about “The Case of the Missing Link”?  A train hurtles through the darkness!  A caped man – a crusader, you might call him – leaps upon it!  He is chased by … “African pygmies.”  Oh dear.  Small black men wearing what can only be called diapers are firing arrows at Batman.  They’re not after him, however, they’re after Professor Drake, who is on the train carrying some precious cargo.  Actually, they’re after the cargo – a prehistoric man who is the “missing link” between ape and human.  Batman chases the pygmies off and asks Drake to tell his tale.  Drake says he was in “Mabonga” in Africa (is that near Wakanda?) when he heard of a “giant white savage.”  (Yes, the missing link is at least twelve feet tall and dressed, well, like Fred Flintstone.  Would I lie to you?).  The pygmies worshipped him like a god, and were none too pleased with Drake and his group taking him away.  Batman realizes that the Link is tame, and Drake explains he tamed him and he plans to “civilize” him – teach him English, put him in a giant tuxedo (again, would I lie?), show him how cool war is – you know, “civilize” him!  A couple of circus owners decide to steal him after Drake kicks them out, so they kill Drake and fake a suicide note, in which the Link is left to them.  While they exhibit him, the Link recognizes them as the guys who killed his “master” (I guess being civilized doesn’t mean he’s not a slave) and he goes nuts.  Batman and Robin have to take him down … and take him down hard.  Batman leaves us with this nugget of philosophical wisdom: “Professor Drake wanted to civilize Goliath … make a beast into a man … but he didn’t remember there are men who are beasts … like Hackett and Snead!”  Wow, Bruce, that’s deeeeeeeep!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  More than once in one issue might cause readers’ brains to explode with coolness.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                   

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  Does killing the Link count? 
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  You bet.  And his target is even nicknamed “Goliath”!
  • Best Batman witticism: He ducks on top of the train because there’s a bridge coming up, and the pygmies get swept away.  He says, “They were short, but not quite short enough.”  Oh, Batman, you crazy man!
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  No.  I’m surprised Finger and Kane didn’t have him fling the pygmies into each other.

Awesomest panel in the book:

Did you ever think Batman even knew the word “cute”?

Awesomeness (out of 10): 7.  It’s okay, but a bit goofy.  The Link is just such a silly thing, and would a professor of (I presume) anthropology really allow the circus folk to take him?  After he commits suicide?  I know logic doesn’t enter into these stories too often, but this is stretching it.

New York World’s Fair Comics, 1940 issue: Batman and Robin visit the World’s Fair!  This is a weird story, as it has very little to do with the World’s Fair – I suppose Finger and Kane, like Mark Millar today, just paid lip service to the powers-that-be and then did whatever the hell they wanted.  They were rebels even back then!  This is a standard “mad scientist” story, as Dr. Hugo Vreekill comes up with a machine that displaces the atoms of steel and disintegrate it.  He uses this device to melt steel bridges and blackmail the builders into paying him.  Why he couldn’t just patent the product and sell it to make his boatload of money is discreetly avoided.  That wouldn’t be cool, man!  Batman and Robin fight thugs and defeat the doctor, who kills himself rather than face the shame of a public trial.  Oh, the shame!  This story has one of the weird tics of these old books – at one point, Batman’s words are inside a thought balloon when it’s pretty clear they are spoken out loud.  It’s kind of neat to see these things messed up in the early days – it shows how people were making it up as they went along.

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No.  However, when Bruce Wayne, “wastrel playboy” (as Bruce refers to himself) visits Gordon, the Commish tells him all about the case and shows him the ransom note.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                                  

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  The villain dies, though, even if Batman didn’t do it. 
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  Yes.  The narration says, “Robin’s skill with the sling has been proven once more …”
  • Best Batman witticism: He kicks three thugs at once and says, “Looks like somebody left the rat-trap open, eh, Robin?”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Does a bear poop in the woods?  He uses one thug … as a bowling ball to knock down three others.  Batman rocks.

Awesomest panel in the book:

Robin threw that guy at Batman, by the way.

Awesomeness (out of 10): 5.  It’s an okay story, but when even Bruce Wayne says, “It was only a minor disturbance anyway!” (two bridges collapsed in the story, and that’s what Batman calls a “minor disturbance,” because he’s hard core) you know it’s not terribly memorable.  And Dick and Bruce shill for the World’s Fair in the last panel.  World’s Fairs were cool once.  We need another one!

Detective #42, August 1940: On the first page, Dick says to Bruce, “Boy, you sure are putting on the dog tonight!”  WTF?  I love that hep 1940s slang!  This means that Bruce is putting on a natty outfit, but, as we’ve seen, Bruce always dresses nattily!  He’s off to the mansion of the “socially eminent Mr. Wylie” (on the next page he calls someone the “socially eminent Mr. Drake” – what kind of weird code does “socially eminent” connote in 1940?), who has brought a famous portrait painter to America with him.  However, anyone who gets their portrait painted by Antal ends up … dead!  Talk about “compressed” storytelling – the first two victims, killed on two different days, die within the space of three panels.  Now that’s getting to the action!  After another corpse shows up (and the cops catch Batman with the body, leading to more accusations against him, even though one cop, who must be sweet on Bats, thinks to himself that he can’t believe Batman would commit murder), Robin meets the killer, who wears a green skull mask and a beret.  A beret?????  Yeah, that’s scary.  Robin saves the life of the next victim, leading Bruce Wayne to come up the brilliant idea of getting his own portrait painted.  When the beret-wearing killer comes to shoot Bruce Wayne, Batman leaps out and captures him!  What????  Yes, it’s sleight-of-hand from the Bruce and Dick team.  In a Scooby-Doo moment, the bad guy actually says, “I would have made a fortune if it hadn’t been for you!”  Oh, those wacky bad guys!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No, but Bruce and Gordon, presumably after a day in the steam bath, are sitting around “chatting” when various people connected with the case come in, telling Gordon all about it.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  Do I even need to ask anymore?  He’s putting on the dog, for crying out loud!

                   

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  Not even because the bad guy commits a crime against fashion with that beret!
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  He knocks an arrow off its path with it.  Robin is awesome.
  • Best Batman witticism: When he punches the killer, he says, “My card, sir!”  When businessmen exchange cards, they should punch each other and say that.
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  No, but he knocks a bunch of cops over with a giant vase.

Awesomest panel in the book:

Shouldn’t that guy be drinking tiny cups of coffee, smoking Gaulois cigarettes, and chatting about existentialism?

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8.  This is a fine story, with plenty of corpses, Batman fighting cops, and a weird villain, even if his choice of hat is bizarre.  And Bruce Wayne gets to be a tool – when he looks at his finished portrait, he tells Antal, “Never realized how handsome I am!  I shall have to hang it in a prominent place!”

Detective #43, September 1940: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson take a vacation, in order to get away from “gangsters and nutty scientists who want to rule the world.”  However, if you thought this issue wouldn’t feature ass-kicking, you’re not paying attention!  Bruce and Dick stumble into a town where the cops beat innocent citizens on the street (no, it’s not Los Angeles) and the mayor is in cahoots with “number 1 racketeer” “Bugs” Norton!  Batman gets in some light thug-smashing before coming up with a plan to show the townspeople that the thugs are just bullies who will cave if they stand up to them.  Does the plan work?  Is there latent homosexuality in Bruce and Dick’s relationship?  At the end, we find out that somewhere in America, there is a town with what appears to be solid silver statues of Batman and Robin.  I’d like to visit that town!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Gordon, not surprisingly, is absent from the issue altogether.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  He’s wearing his traveling clothes, so of course he does!

                         

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  And there were so many thugs to choose from!
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  No.  Maybe he left it at home.  He does lasso two bad guys, though.
  • Best Batman witticism: Check the panel below.
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  This may be the most triumphant example in the whole collection, as he grabs a bad guy by both feet and whirls him around, taking out four punks in one swoop!

Awesomest panel in the book:

This might be the greatest panel in the history of comic books.

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8. The set-up is somewhat goofy, as I wonder why absolutely no one has gone to the governor and complained, but it’s a good issue, as Batman and Robin get the townspeople to finally grow some backbones and stand up to the bad guys.  And, of course, there’s a lot of thug-smashing.

Detective #44, October 1940: “The Land Behind the Light” is not a good Batman story.  In fact, it’s not a good anything story.  It has kind of a doofusey charm, but it’s really just lousy.  There are a couple of random fun things, however.  Dick sits at home one night, reading, when the clock strikes midnight.  Dick looks at the clock and says, “Getting late!  I wish the Batman would get back soon!”  Remember the days when Batman didn’t stay out all night, getting into all kinds of mischief and avoiding that awkward “I made this casserole for two, and now it’s ruined!” snit that Dick would throw now and again?  Good times.  Batman returns and tells Dick he’s going back out to visit Dr. Marco, and Robin goes along.  Dr. Marco claims to have discovered “the secret of the fourth dimension,” which isn’t time, but another world.  He turns on his machine and literally walks into another dimension, his body disappearing as he strolls away.  So what do Batman and Robin do?  Well, has Dr. Marc(k)o (it’s spelled both ways in the story) committed a crime?  It doesn’t appear that way.  Aren’t there thugs out committing murders and robbing little old ladies?  Well, yes.  But Batman and Robin follow him into the fourth dimension anyway!  Where they meet giants who live in castles and tiny little people who are fighting some kind of rebellion against the giants, and it’s all very stupid, and then Dick wakes up.  Yes, it’s all a dream, which anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of, say, English, could have figured out on the second page of the story.  Boo, Finger and Kane!  The only excuse I can give is they might have stumbled across a secret stash of wacky tobaccy and wrote this story while trolling lower Manhattan for snacks.  It’s certainly possible!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Dick doesn’t dream about Gordon.  That makes the Commish sad.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You wouldn’t think so, with this being a dream and all, but he has to put on nice Dick-waking clothing at the end!

                            

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  Technically, he doesn’t even fight anyone!
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  He’s fighting giants!  Of course he does!
  • Best Batman witticism: He leaps up and kicks a giant in the nose and says (inevitably), “That’s what you get for being too nosy!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  No.  That might have saved the issue a bit.

Awesomest panel in the book:

“Uh, Mr. Finger?  Mr. Kane?  There’s a Gloria Steinem on hold for you.”

Awesomeness (out of 10): 2.  And that’s only because of the panel above.  It’s best just to forget this issue ever existed.

Batman #3, Fall 1940 (first story): This story, interestingly enough, gives us that iconic picture of Batman on his tip-toes, bent forward awkwardly, his cape billowing behind him.  Neat.  Anyway, Batman spots some Cossacks who are accosting a man on the street (and what did Finger and Kane have against Cossacks, anyway?).  The man is Dr. Craig, who has developed a “formula for atomic energy,” which, as Batman muses, “many a foreign power would like to own that secret!”  The Cossacks work for Dmitri, the Puppet Master, who has a puppet show in a downtown theater.  Dmitri’s flunkies scratched Dr. Craig with a serum that allows Dmitri to hypnotize people across long distances, and that night, he orders Craig to give the formula to the Cossacks.  But Batman intervenes!  The next night, Dmitri hypnotizes a bunch of thugs who have been injected with the serum, and they try to steal a secret army gun, but are thwarted again by the Dynamic Duo!  One of the punks scratches Batman with a serum-dipped needle, however, and Dmitri works his masterful wiles on our hero!  Batman steals some jewels and then hits Robin, who looks like he’s about to cry, but then he realizes Batman has been hypnotized, and he actually punches out Batman!  They break the spell and break the Puppet Master’s jaw, and all is well.  Go, Batman and Robin!  Kick the shit out of those Commies!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Gordon doesn’t show up in the story.  He’s slacking, that Gordon!
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                                    

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  It’s a tough call.  Both he and Robin kick thugs off a moving train, so possibly.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  No, not even when he has to take Batman down!
  • Best Batman witticism: He punches one Cossack into another one and says, “A double-header!”  Their heads clonk together, you see.
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Indeed he does.  He actually bonks one Cossack on the head with another Cossack’s head.  That’s quality thug-bashing!

Awesomest panel in the book:

Haven’t we all wanted to do this to Robin once or twice?

Awesomeness (out of 10): 7.  It’s a pretty good story, and although there’s no reason for Dmitri to actually make puppets of the people he’s controlling, he does it anyway, and it’s kind of creepy.  And whenever Cossacks get smashed, you know the awesomeness factor is going to go up a notch or two!

Batman #3 (second story): This story introduces us to Detective McGonigle, a bumbling portly cop with a Hitler moustache who always is about to arrest Batman, but always (naturally) allows him to escape because he’s, well, so bumbling.  He’ll be back.  Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne, “society idler,” visits Harvey Dodge, and he, Dodge, and Larry Larrimore have dinner and chat.  Suddenly, Dodge’s face changes before their eyes – “his features become bloated, moronic … his eyes become watery … his nose grows thick, with wide nostrils.”  Yes, he’s gone ugly on us!  Very weird.  But then it keeps happening, and the ugly people around the city are on a crusade to destroy beautiful things!  Their leader, “the ugliest man in the world,” wants to strike back at a world that shuns them because of their ugliness!  When a doctor discovers a cure, Batman and Robin know the gang will try to kill him, and they’re right, as they arrive just in time to save the doc.  Batman follows the thugs, but they get the drop on him and take him to their leader, who is really Larrimore!  It turns out he was injected with a crazy mixture of drugs during a fraternity hazing and became ugly.  He figured out the formula and started injecting people for revenge.  Before he can uglify the man who injected him in the first place and the woman who rejected him, Robin saves Batman and the day!  As the story ends, Bruce and Dick not only explain how Larrimore was able to uglify people, but they also reflect on a society that shuns the ugly and glorifies the beautiful.  All in two panels!  Holy cow, they knew how to pack in the info back then!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  No, but while he and Bruce are chatting, McGonigle comes in and tells Gordon some important information.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                                 

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.  He’s getting really soft.  McGonigle kills two people, however.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  You bet!  And then Batman says, “That sling shot of yours is always coming through at the right time!”  Always stating the obvious, that Batman!
  • Best Batman witticism: He punches two guys in the head at once and says … “A double-header!”  Oh dear, Batman.  You’re recycling gags?  Really?
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  You bet.  On the second page of the story, to boot!

Awesomest panel in the book:

Batman is the Terrell Owens of superheroes!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8.  Another solid story, with sufficiently weird villains, some good action, and a socially conscious message.  All in 13 pages!

Batman #3 (third story): We need more purple prose in comics.  The narration on the splash page of this story is: “Wherever criminals meet, sooner or later a deadly hush stills their talk as they speak furtively of a dread figure of night – a figure that seems to materialize out of darkness like a fantastic demon: the Batman!  Then a man will curse and whisper of another smaller figure, a sturdy, lithe figure with a dare-devil grin on his young face – Robin, the boy wonder!  For there are the two who are the arch-foes of crime.”  If that doesn’t get you pumped for “The Crime School for Boys,” then you have a cold, black heart.  Yes, a guy is running a school for boys that teaches them how to be criminals.  Dick Grayson, naturally, infiltrates this school and shows these plucky youngsters that fair play is cool and all criminals are cowards.  At the end, when the crooks pull guns on Batman even though he’s fighting fair, the boys say stuff like, “Looks ta me like Big Boy was yaller!” because they’re right out of Central Casting.  These days, all the boys would be strapped and gun down Batman in the back.  The 1940s were so much more charming!

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Gordon does not appear, which is strange considering the crime wave that has hit the city.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  He’s rockin’ the fedora:

                               

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  He kicks a guy off a roof, so I’m going to say yes.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  He’s undercover the whole time, so the patented Robin Slingshotâ„¢ is stowed away somewhere!
  • Best Batman witticism: He gives a thug an uppercut and says, “You needed your face lifted anyway!”
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  No.  He does duck under two thugs, causing them to punch each other out.  Now that’s efficiency!

Awesomest panel in the book:

He trapped three guys with a ladder and then knocked them out with one punch.  Chuck Norris gets the towels for Batman when he’s at the gym!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 6.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s certainly not the greatest one,either.  The idea of a school for boys who want to be criminals is good in a goofy way, but the actual boys, who stepped off the set of “The Little Rascals,” are a bit much too take.

Batman #3 (fourth story): Here’s where the whole “Cat-or-Catwoman” thing gets a bit tricky.  In the story, she’s called the Cat every time, but the story is titled “The Batman vs. The Cat-Woman!”  It’s probably called that because she wears a cat mask.  Yes, it’s as goofy and silly as it sounds.  In one panel she is even lounging around the house wearing it!  McGonigle returns and actually gets handcuffs on Batman, who still escapes.  The scheme with the Cat and a diamond syndicate is quite complex, actually, and although it appears to be just a thievery plot, there’s still room for murder and thug-bashing!  If you don’t know how the Cat escapes, then you haven’t been paying attention to Batman’s Kryptonite: hot dames in evening wear!  Yes, she gives him a kiss, distracting him long enough to flee!  Oh, that vexatious vixen!  Batman and Robin are, as usual, torn by the fact that a girl is a crook: Robin says, “But it’s too bad a crook like that has to get away, even if she is a girl!”  Batman replies, “Yes, and it’s too bad she has to be a crook!”  Then he says, “What a night!  A night for romance, eh, Robin?”  Robin, of course, is having none of this: “Romance?  Bah …” he retorts.  “Unless it’s with you, Bruce!” he doesn’t say.

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  You bet.  Bruce Wayne, wastrel playboy, is awfully interested in crime.  Does Gordon ever wonder why?
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  It looks like a hunting jacket, but it still works:

                             

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  No.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  No.  It’s very distressing!
  • Best Batman witticism: One of the bad guys pulls a gun, and Batman slaps it away, saying, “I’m sort of touchy about people pointing guns at me!  Drop it!”  That’s right, he doesn’t even punch him, he just slaps the gun away.  That’s contempt!
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Sadly, no.  But he takes out two bad guys with one punch, sending the second thug, when the punch’s kinetic energy should be almost gone, literally flying through the air!

Awesomest panel in the book:

“Oh, Batman!”  “Oh, Commiss – uh, Cat-woman!”  The ladies, as usual, love the Bat!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8.  It’s nice to see the femme fatale again, and it’s a pretty interesting diamond-stealing scheme.  And any story that adds to the idea that Bruce and Robin were getting it on is appreciated.

Detective #45, October 1940: The last story in the trade is a Joker story.  Yes, even back then they went to well a lot, but remember – the last time the Joker had shown up was in the summer issue of Batman, so it had been a good three months or so since we had seen him.  We need our Joker fix!  The Joker has a weird scheme that involves him disguising himself as a music store proprietor named A. Rekoj (get it? get it?) and first killing the district attorney, then robbing people at a society ball, and finally getting on a ship carrying a jade Buddha worth $500,000, which he plans to steal.  Interestingly enough, when he races out on deck carrying the Buddha with Batman chasing him, the Chinese delegation thinks Batman is the crook and the Joker is trying to save the statue.  I suppose Batman’s fame hadn’t reached China yet!  Or maybe they had bigger things to worry about in 1940, like not getting killed by the Japanese.  Of course the Joker “escapes” in that way he does – seemingly getting killed, but not really – and the Chinese learn the error of their ways and tell him how wonderful he is.  In a weird nod to the real-life situation in Asia, Batman tells them to sell the Buddha to get money for their war-stricken people.  Sure, they need money, but is selling cultural artifacts the way to go?

Awesomeness facts:

  • Does Commissioner Gordon invite noted lazy socialite Bruce Wayne along on a case, in complete defiance of police protocol?  Gordon is absent from the book.  The Joker isn’t that important, I guess.
  • Does Bruce Wayne wear a natty outfit?  You be the judge:

                           

  • Does Batman kill anyone?  He kicks a statue that is at least 15 feet tall onto three hoods, so maybe.  The narration just says the “sculpture plunges down to pin the fleeing men,” so they’re probably alive.  But they might have died.
  • Does Robin use his slingshot?  If anyone deserves a pellet in the head, it’s the Joker, but Robin does not oblige.
  • Best Batman witticism: He smashes the hats of two bad guys down on their heads and says, “Next time take off your hats when you’ve got company!”  It’s etiquette humor!
  • Does Batman use one thug as a weapon to beat up another?  Unfortunately, no.  At one point he is, however, “a veritable human tornado of action!”

Awesomest panel in the book:

Bruce Wayne: All-American!

Awesomeness (out of 10): 8.  We get a clever murder, a well done Joker, and Batman letting us know that he pole vaulted and played football in college.  He’s a Renaissance man!  And, again, it’s nice to see the Joker with a purpose to his madness rather than just killing for the sake of it.

Let’s check out the final stats:

  • Number of stories: 16.
  • Number of times Commissioner Gordon asks Bruce Wayne if he’d like to come along on a case: Only 2, but he discusses many more cases with him without leaving his office. 
  • Number of times Batman kills someone: He kills people in 4 (possibly 6 stories), although it’s only explicitly mentioned that his victim dies in two of them.  The others are conjecture on my part, but I think it’s fair to say the bad guys die.
  • Number of times Robin uses the Robin Slingshotâ„¢: 7.  He’s quite accurate with it, too.
  • Number of times Batman uses one thug as a weapon to beat up another: 6.  Glorious, glorious panels, I’ll tell you that much.

Final Awesomeness tally (out of 160): 116.  That means this collection is 72.5% AWESOME.  Tell me where you can find a trade paperback with that much awesome.  You cannot!

You’ll notice I didn’t include the panels of Batman actually using one thug as a weapon to beat up another, except with the greatest panel in comic book history.  That’s because Chris Sims already posted a bunch of them – check them out!  I didn’t want to repeat what he did!

All of this awesomeness can be yours for 15 measly dollars.  The question becomes, of course, do you have the cajones to read such ass-kicking comics?  You must look deep, deep down in your soul, late one night after watching My Name is Earl, with a package of Oreos and some Yoo-Hoo, and consider whether Batman himself would think you are worthy of reading these comics, or whether he would he would say something like this:

             

That’s right, punks!  And, remember, before you think Batman is just a hard-ass, he can have fun too:

                

That may be the most disturbing panel in the book!

Enjoy The Batman Chronicles … if you dare!

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