Baturdays: Detective Comics #28, [untitled]

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Date of Publication: June 1939

Author: Bob Kane (or “Rob’t Kane” as he calls himself here)

The next Batman story begins with a brief introduction, just like the last one did. This one reads:

The “Bat-Man”, a mysterious and adventurous figure, fighting for righteousness and apprehending the menaces of society in his lone battle against the evil. His identity remains unknown.

This is followed by (in what strikes me as a hilarious deadpan):

(He is one Bruce Wayne, bored young socialite.)

Something about the way the note acknowledges both the public and private sides of Batman is interesting. Here is a mythic figure, it says; but you, and only you, know who he is and what he’s about. The escapist elements in Batman are always two-fold–you imagine being him, yes, but you also imagine knowing him. Both sides help each other; the more you see Batman as awesome, the more glad you are that you have an intimate perspective on his adventures, and the better and more involved your perspective, the more awesome he will appear.

That said, however, this new story continues to draw suspense from the Bat-Man himself. Why, when fighting off a pair of jewel thieves, does he pick up the goods, wait for the police to spot him, and then drop them? Naturally they conclude that he’s part of the criminal gang–but why would he want that? What is he planning? We find out a few panels later that he wants to set the gang at ease (they know if the police are after Batman, the cops won’t be watching out for them).

I believe this marks the first instance of combat banter. At any rate it offers a primer on how the series will continue to use this:

The rhythm goes, set-up (delivered by a criminal targeted by Batman), action beat (Batman whacks him or something), punchline (Batman delivers either a witty retort, or, more likely, a cornball pun). We’ll see how later issues will eliminate the middle silent action beat to make more room for Robin’s puns. I’m honestly not sure of the provenance for these silly jokes. Do they hearken back to the very idea of “comics” as funnybooks? Was comic relief deemed necessary in the middle of a dark action/mystery story? Perhaps the temptation to include literal punchlines was too great. Whatever the reason, these jokes form the beginnings of an actual personality for Batman, one which is not unlike Spiderman’s. Batman cracks wise, enjoys his work… there’s a sense of play, not just a grim mission against crime. It may be ridiculous, but it’s also characterization. For a long time Batman will be the kind of guy to revel in dumb jokes even as he beats criminals to a pulp.

This issue basically has no plot to speak of–I’m guessing it’s untitled because there’s really nothing to call it (“The case of… the jewel thieves?”). Instead, it’s mostly about watching Batman do awesome things. (Not to say these things aren’t morally questionable. That’s part of the escapism.)

Awesome things Batman does in this issue:

1. Impersonates the Commissioner’s voice and interrogates a police informant over the phone.

2. Pretends to be a criminal just to get the real bad guys.

3. Casually throws a dude off a roof. (…they kinda cracked down on that stuff after a while, I guess.)

4. Leaves an entire roomful of unconscious crooks for the cops to find.

5. He–well, just look:

6. Hits the lead thief (“Frenchy”) so hard that after one punch the fight goes out of him (“Don’t hit me like that again, please don’t hit me, don’t…”

7. Deposits the thief, the jewels, and the (forced) confession, neatly wrapped on the steps of police headquarters, complete with a polite note cordially signed with a bat symbol.

Yes, that’s most of the comic. But this establishes a lot of awesome things that Batman is going to do very often. Several of these things are so awesome that they are still awesome 70 years later in the Nolan movies. That’s some good writing. I guess some kinds of bad-ass never really change. …except the puns.

Tune in next week for Detective Comics #29 as Baturdays continues.