Publication date: February, 1940
Author: Bob Kane
On his nightly prowl, the Batman is witness to a crime: a man leaps from a speeding car, which slows down just long enough to shoot the man before fleeing the scene. Batman tries to question the wounded individual, but the only information he gets are ravings about a “strange fog.” The man dies in his arms. Batman is searching the body for clues when he is seen by the laziest cops ever.
“What about arresting, trying, convicting, and lawfully executing him?”
“There’s no time!”
Note that in that last panel, they’ve been foiled by the ingenious combination of night and dark clothing. It’s a good thing Batman really didn’t kill that guy, because justice in this town isn’t just blind, it’s also nearsighted.
Anyway, back at the manor, Bruce is mulling over the man’s death. He comes to the conclusion that the man wasn’t talking about a “strange fog”, he was talking about a fog and “strange”–as in, Professor Hugo Strange, the “most dangerous man in the world”, according to Bruce. Strange is described basically like Professor Moriarty, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. It’s interesting that we haven’t seen him before in the comic, but Batman knows about him.
The other clue is that the dead man’s notebook reveals him to be an FBI agent. The plot thickens, and Bruce vows to bring Strange to justice, clearing his own name in the process.
Meanwhile, the Professor receives the news of the G-man’s death from his underling. There are a couple of interesting things going on here. Take a look at this panel:
First, this is the result of a trick played with perspective in the earlier panels–given the Professor’s moniker, reputation as criminal genius, and glasses, and given the way the previous panels showed him, we assumed Strange was a shrimp. Yet when confronting his henchman, Strange towers over him, as formidable in size as he is in intellect. Nice.
No props, however, for the confusing dialogue layout. Comics (at least Western ones) should always be read left to right and top to bottom. It’s the artist’s job to ensure that the two directions are not confused–that the audience reads left to right on top, then left to right on the bottom, and so on. In this case, however, we’re meant to read left to right regardless of where the dialogue is on the vertical axis–“I pulled away fast” is meant to come before “You cowardly fool!” even though it’s below the latter bubble. This tends to happen on a semi-regular basis in these old comics, and I’m honestly not sure if it’s bad comic-ing or just an issue which existed before the aforementioned convention was in place. Either way, it’s terribly annoying.
Anyway, Strange decides to go ahead with his plan and hope for the best. Cheery gent, that Professor.
It turns out that Strange has also noticed that this city has the laziest police force ever, and knowing that they’ll take any excuse to go home and watch television instead of catching crooks, he blankets the town with a thick fog. The Commissioner yells and bangs his fist on his desk, but the cops protest they “aren’t used to the fog,” and night after night, Strange’s henchmen rob banks with impunity.
Batman, however, has a plan. He realizes that the FBI agent’s notebook contains a list of Strange’s targets, and lies in wait at the next one. When the crooks arrive, well, see for yourself:
The crooks are apprehended! Strange is furious and vows to set a trap for Batman at the next target on the list. When the Batman arrives, over a dozen men are waiting for him. Despite a valiant fight, Batman succumbs to a whack on the head with a blackjack, as usual. He wakes up in Strange’s lair.
The furious Professor actually hangs Batman from his wrists and lashes him with a whip, until Batman breaks the ropes with pure strength of awesome (or muscle, if you believe the narration), gasses the room, and tackles Strange. He kicks Strange’s ass handily with the well-timed application of some jujitsu, ties Strange up, and goes looking for the fog machine. And boy, does he find it.
I just think that looks really cool. Crazy mad scientist lairs with giant doomsday machines and electricity zapping around for the win.
With the help of a scientist Strange had kidnapped, Batman shuts off the fog machine, thereby saving the city from lazy, lazy cops. The last three panels offer a lovely triptych of story beats. A radio reports that Batman has saved the city, while a kid talks to his dad:
“Who is the Batman, daddy?”
“A great man, son, a great man!”
Then Bruce Wayne relaxes at home listening to the same broadcast declare that Professor Strange will be locked up for a long time… but Wayne wonders…
And finally, we see Strange in the state pen, declaring that no jail can hold him, and that when he escapes, he’ll spend the rest of his life avenging himself on the Batman.
Tune in next week for Detective Comics #37 as Baturdays continues.