Baturdays: Detective Comics #32, [untitled]

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Publication Date: October, 1939

Author: Bob Kane

We open in darkest Hungary, land of werewolves and Universal horror pictures. The Batman lies in wait for his prey, the Monk who just last issue kidnapped Bruce Wayne’s fiancee, Julie, via hypnosis. Batman got her back, but now he wants revenge, and here comes the Monk in a rustic horse-drawn carriage.

Batman springs into action! Actually, the action is remarkably like the last issue’s climax, only without the plane–Batman subdues a moving vehicle by leaping on top of it, throwing a pellet of knock-out gas inside, and jumping off again. After getting rid of the driver, he pulls the occupant out of the carriage… only to find that it’s a mysterious woman, not the Monk. Oops. He takes her into the bat-plane and back to his hotel, a castle in the “Carlathan Mountains” (a reference to the Carpathian Mountains, no doubt).

What’s interesting about this opening is its inversion of a very traditional gothic set-up. We’re deep in the woods in Eastern Europe; the moon is full; a woman in a cloak rides in a horse-drawn carriage down a winding dirt road. Suddenly, she’s attacked by a giant bat-like creature, her driver killed or driven off, and she’s abducted by the monster and taken back to his lair. The only difference here is that our perspective (and identification) is the giant bat’s, not the helpless woman’s. This isn’t coincidence, nor is it merely the result of inserting Batman into classic Gothic literary tropes–the fact is that Batman fits best in the part of the (apparent) villain. This is the same concept we saw applied in his first few crime stories. Criminals are scary, violent people who break the law; so is Batman. The only difference is that Batman is ultimately a force for (perhaps not unqualified) Good, a fact which is often the point but occasionally an excuse to make the interesting spectacle of a ruthless, rule-breaking sociopath into socially acceptable entertainment (something we’ll see way way down the line, possibly beginning in the 80s with Frank Miller’s influence). The point being that what worked for crime works for Gothic fiction: Batman’s enemy is scary and bizarre and abducts women; the same goes for Batman.

The woman, we learn, is named Dala. Batman sits up that night outside the hotel room, watching over Julie and Dala… until Dala leaves, in a hypnotist victim walk–you know, eyes closed, arms held out in front, lips covered in blood… Wait, what? He goes to stop her, she bashes him on the head with a convenient statue, and then she runs off. Batman enters the hotel room to find Julie with vampiric bite marks on her neck!

Batman flies out after Dala on his rope and confronts her, pretty incoherently.

Whoah, slow down there, Glenn Beck.

Dala confesses that she’s afraid of the Monk, and offers to show Batman the way to him if Batman agrees to kill him. “I’ll be the judge of that,” says Batman. They take the bat-plane… until it gets caught in a giant net(!) that drags it to the ground, where the sinister Monk greets them.

I’d like to point out here that the Monk has absolutely no reason to believe Batman would be dead. He expected Dala to survive the plane-meets-net scenario, expected her to bring Batman alive, and the last time the Monk saw him, Batman was pulling Julie out of the Monk’s car. So I’m going to assume “So you are still alive” is simply a local Hungarian saying which expresses joy upon meeting. “Hey, Dave, long time no see!” “John, so you are still alive! Awesome!”

The Monk proceeds to hypnotize Batman. They walk him docilely up to the castle. Dala tells the Monk that the perfect revenge would be to recapture Julia and hurt her with Batman watching (man, what a witch). He extends his hypnotic power to Julia, and calls her forth; shortly she arrives to find Batman paralyzed, watching her in anguish. The Monk reveals his intentions: Julie will be turned into a werewolf (“like us”) and Batman will be killed by wolves. The Monk then transforms…

…that is a ferret. You are a were-ferret.

The Monk howls, summoning the other wolves of the forest, and then shoves Batman into the pit. The fall revives Batman’s senses, and he holds off the ravenous beasts with his diminishing supply of gas pellets. Finally he gets the bright idea to tie his rope to his batarang, thereby inventing a primitive form of the grappling hook he’ll start using eventually. The device manages to hook around a pillar and the Batman climbs out of the wolf pit.

He checks on Julie first to make sure she’s safe. Then:

Seriously, make up your mind! Are they werewolves or vampires?! It’s a confusing mess (and a pet peeve of mine). Sure, vampires can classically (ie., in Stoker’s Dracula) turn into wolves, sleep during the daytime (as the Monk and Dala are doing now), hypnotize people (as the Monk does), and suck blood from the neck (as Dala did from Julie). But they can’t be killed with silver bullets. Werewolves, of course, are the ones associated with silver bullets, but they don’t have any of the other powers or restrictions I just outlined as being associated with vampires.

Ah, well. These mythical conundrums don’t interest Batman; he finds the sleeping evildoers and ends them, along with their plotline.

In many ways this is the most bizarre image in the comic. It’s weird to shoot a vampire with a gun like that; it’s also weird to see Batman firing a gun at anything. Batman fits moderately well with Gothic literature, and also well within crime fiction, but crime and Gothicism don’t mix. Anyways, it’s a happy ending all around, except of course for the monsters who got shot.

The cut from lovers embracing to their method of transportation reminds me of the famous ending of North by Northwest. It’s precisely for these moments that the Bat-Plane has autopilot.

I would like to point out that we still have no goddamn clue what the Monk’s master plan was or how all the events fit into it or why he attacked Julie or what the giant apes have to do with anything. You lied to me, Next Time on Batman Narration Box! How can I trust you anymore? I’ll believe next month’s story is intriguing when I see it, liar!

Tune in next week for Detective Comics #33 as Baturdays continues.