Baturdays: Detective Comics #31, [untitled]

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Publication date: September, 1939.

Author: Bob Kane

Can I just say this is a really cool-looking cover? It could be the front of any classic of Gothic literature or penny dreadful (although this is a 10-Cent Adventure), except of course for The Bat-Man looming dramatically over it all.

As the cover announces, this issue marks the appearance of another creative villain, The Monk! One of the best and most interesting aspects of Batman throughout his appearances has always been the bad guys, many of whom are introduced in these first few years. It’s a tribute to their basic appeal that they’ve continued to grow in interesting directions for decades.

Of course, like Doctor Death, the Monk isn’t really a major villain, so maybe they hadn’t gotten the formula right yet. The comic characterizes him as: “A strange creature, cowled like a monk, but possessing the powers of a Satan! A man whose powers are uncanny, whose brain is the product of years of intense study and seclusion!” So apparently the secret to his evil really is the monastery lifestyle.

We open with Batman on the prowl, searching for an unnamed “quarry”. Incidentally, this comic also tells us Batman is patrolling New York City. Eventually that’ll change to Gotham City, an exaggerated version of the Big Apple. Anyways, Batman finally spots the man he’s looking for–currently being approached by a strange woman who tells the man, “I have been sent to you by the Master Monk!”

Batman gets the man out of the way, and confronts the woman, whom Batman recognizes as his fiancee (!), Julie Madison. She’s pretty zombified, but when he talks to her, she snaps out of it, not knowing where she is or what’s going on. He takes her home:

Somehow I sense this panel is a metaphor for 1930s gender politics.

Batman tells her to talk to Bruce, and leaves; the next day she tells Bruce what happened, and he suggests they go see the doctor.

Take a look at these two panels here. I like the symmetry, the placement of figures such that Bruce/Batman is facing left, and Julie is facing right. It highlights both the two alter-ego’s similarities and their differences. Bruce has bright colors on, Batman dark; Batman’s shirt is plain, Bruce’s is patterned (Bruce being the more complicated human figure compared to the mythic crimefighter)… And yet the darkness of Bruce’s hair matches Batman’s cowl, and they’ve both got blue on, and there’s even a visual echo of Batman’s logo in Bruce’s tie. And of course, they both have their accessories–Batman’s pointed ears and Bruce’s pointed pipe.  I want to stress that this comparison isn’t just narrative, but set up visually. Bruce Wayne and Batman may have changed places during the gutter between the panels, the hidden one coming forward and the forward one hiding, but these two compositions make it clear that they’re two sides of the same coin (who interact in similar fashion towards Julie, as well).

So they go to the doctor (a new doctor; presumably the other one got sick of taking bullets out of Bruce and getting cock and bull stories in return), who tells them Julie has clearly been the victim of a hypnotist (suggesting that Julie take an ocean voyage to relax). I was about to call bullshit on that, and then I turned the page:

No, that’s not ominous at all.

Despite his suspicions, Batman sees her off on a voyage. Then he heads home to contemplate how strange it is that his fiancee isn’t privy to his secret life. For about a minute. Then he goes and plays with some new toys–a batarang (modeled on the boomerang–as I recall from my childhood, these are made of magic, because they either go straight or swoop around like a boomerang, depending on what Batman needs them to do at any particular moment)… and a bat-gyro, which is actually a bat-shaped plane, lifted by helicopter rotors. He takes off, his craft silhouetted against the moon…

The townspeople below, by the way, go nuts. Some seem to think it’s a giant bat, one crazy old man is screaming about a Martian attack (after all, Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast was only a year ago). Batman just gives them a look.

“Seriously? Come on, people.”

Batman flies out to sea to visit Julie, and climbs down from his hovering bat-gyro on a rope ladder. No sooner has Julie explained to him why she’s here than the Monk attacks! A “gaunt figure” with burning eyes, dressed in a striking red hood and robe, tries to hypnotize Batman. He manages to break the Monk’s concentration by throwing a batarang at the figure. Then he escapes via rope ladder, and leaving Julie to the Monk’s power (?) and follows the ship safely in his plane until it reaches Paris.

Batman searches the city (whose denizens are quite disturbed to see a costumed “devil” flying around at night) until he finds Julie. But it’s a trap! A giant ape (and I mean easily twice as tall as Batman, probably a good 10 feet) attacks. I can’t help but wonder if this is a reference to Poe’s classic detective story (to which Batman owes a debt, as do all literary detectives), “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.

Anyways, while diving away from the great beast, Batman falls right into a net and is caught. The Monk wastes little time on conversation, only delivering two maniacal “heh!”s before pulling a lever, activating a dramatically slow death-trap in which Batman is to be lowered into a snake pit. Batman tosses his batarang out, which not only flips up the level but shatters a chandelier, allowing him to catch a few pieces of glass with which to cut the rope. Nice shot.

(This, by the way, is the first instance of what is to become a hallmark of the series’ early years: Batman is tied up, and must find a clever way to cut the rope. It’s ingenious how many variations they spin on that.)

The Monk flees before the caped crusader, but Batman is stopped by a wall of bars. “Die here, you fool,” hisses the Monk, “while I send the girl Julie on to my castle in Hungary to feed my werewolves!”

Okay, time out here. None of this makes any goddamn sense. What precisely is this villain’s master plan? He hypnotized Julie in NYC to get her to kill some guy, why? And then when she went to the doctor, he hypnotized the doc to get her onto a boat to Paris. Then he hypnotized her again and brought her to his castle-y stronghold (I suppose they have castles in Paris, I’ll grant that one)… And now he’s trying to kill Batman, but just because Batman happened to blunder into his house. He went to vast amounts of trouble to get Julie… and now he’s just going to feed her to the werewolves?


And where did that giant gorilla come from? I should just stop questioning these things, Batman certainly doesn’t seem to as the gorilla is lowered into the barred room. I should just shut off my brain and CAGE MATCH!

In this corner, a giant gorilla! In this corner… Hey, where’d he go? Oh, right, instead of trying to fight the monster, Batman just jumped for the rope it came down on, climbed up to the roof of the building, and got back in his plane. Finally, something that makes sense.

Back in his plane, Batman has control of the situation. He flies directly over the Monk’s car, on its way to Hungary and presumably Castle Dracula, where the Mad Monk has a timeshare. There’s a nice shot of Batman’s plane’s shadow on the car, like a hawk’s over a running mouse. Sure enough, Batman makes short work of things, tossing a gas pellet into the car, and collecting Julie from the wreckage.

Now that he’s got her, Batman vows vengeance, and turns his plane towards Hungary. The last panel promises that next month, the story will continue. And it also says that the Monk’s plans for Julie will be revealed. I’ll believe it when I see it. But mostly I’m in it for the punching. Oh, yes. It is on. It is on like Bat…mon.

Tune in next week for Detective Comics #32 as Baturdays continues.