Baturdays: Detective Comics #29, “The Batman Meets Doctor Death”

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Date of Publication: July 1939

Author: Bob Kane

This issue marks the first appearance of Doctor Death: Batman’s arch-nemesis, an enduring portrait of evil, and ultimately his most famous…


Okay, so Doctor Death is long forgotten, and might not ever return (although the ending is clearly a “The end… OR IS IT?! duhn duhn DUHN” thing). Still, DC29 has a lot of firsts in it for Batman.

This issue starts with the villain, and for once he actually has something a personality, or at least a persona. To go with his colorful nom de crime, the Doc sports a goatee, a monocle, and either a white lab coat (while he mixes chemicals in a sinister fashion) or a fancy suit (for scheming). Not only is Dr. Death the first real Batman villain (ie., not just a common criminal), but he’s also the first one to deliberately set out to kill Batman first so that his real plan will see no interference. Clearly Batman’s reputation has spread quite well in just a short period of time.

Also, the evil Doctor (of what, I wonder–he appears to be into both chemistry and biology, although I suppose could just have a masters in Murderonomy or something) has several henchmen, including a massive Indian named Jabah. Luckily we haven’t yet gotten to the racism; this is more of your garden-variety exoticism, so far.

Anyway, this first page concludes with probably the funniest thing I’ve seen yet–Dr. Death is like, “How will I get in touch with Batman in order to trap and kill him? Hm… perhaps a personals ad.” The punchline is that in the next panel, Wayne is indeed reading the personals and sees the ad. Bruce is lonely. In fact, both these guys must be lonely. Jabah doesn’t seem like a great conversationalist. And Wayne is knocking around that giant mansion all by himself. Perhaps in some strange way, they need each other. There is a love sometimes between vigilante and criminal which dare not speak its name…

I kid.

The plot thickens as the personals ad leads to a letter, which tells Batman that at a particular time and place, Dr. Death will kill somebody, unless Batman stops him. Wayne responds to this obvious trap by… taking it at face value. Good work, master detective. He goes to suit up.

Batman’s costume is just in a chest in his room. Not very safe. You’re gonna get robbed, Batman!

I also find it funny that, a little later, Batman makes sure that his car is in a safe place before he walks into the Doc’s trap. In later issues he will simply abandon it wherever he feels like and it is assumed that nobody messes with it, that it doesn’t block traffic or get tickets, or whatever.

The Batman eventually finds his way into the penthouse where the trap has been set. This issue makes a big deal of Batman’s toys, including suction cups to help him climb the outsides of buildings. And he needs another gadget to deal with this fight. Not with the two normal henchmen–they’re easily defeated. But Jabah manages to shoot Batman (just as Bats was once again trying to interrogate somebody by threatening to kill them), and our hero only escapes by using a pellet of “deadly gas” from off of his utility belt (also new in this issue). Luckily no henchmen were actually hurt by the poison. Not that Batman would have given a crap, at this point in his career.

Later, Bruce Wayne goes to his family doctor to get the bullet wound taken care of. There’s a (intentionally) hilarious exchange here:

Just how dumb does he think this doctor is?

Clearly not as dumb as Doctor Death, who has concocted an elaborate poisonous pollen which he will use to murder somebody–instead of, you know, his hired gunmen. Anyway, Batman foils the attempted murder, and follows the assassin back to Doctor Death’s lab. Batman literally chases Death in a circle:

Until Doctor Death breathes his last (apparently) when he succumbs to a lab fire with which he tried to kill Batman. Like all the best villains, he dies laughing maniacally and calling Batman a fool. Let’s have a moment of silence for this ridiculous, ridiculous man.

Anyway, Batman gets the last laugh. “Death… to Doctor Death!” ahaha, it’s funny, see, because now the killer has been killed. That’s like ra-i-ain on your wedding day, that is.

Tune in next week for Detective Comics #30 as Baturdays continues.