Baturdays: Batman #1, [untitled – 3]

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Publication date: Spring 1940

Author: Bob Kane

This issue fails at in medias res. The point of the literary technique is to take a story which works like this:

[long, slow set-up …. AWESOME CLIMAX!]

And chop the awesome climax in half, thereby creating a story which works like this:

[AWESOME … long, slow set-up… CLIMAX!]

This prevents the reader from picking up the issue, looking at the beginning of the story, and getting bored around page 4 of the main character trying on socks, which is a shame because they’ll never see the really exciting bit (“Ragnasock”) where everybody dies in brutal, yet poetic displays of violence worthy of Woo in his Hong Kong period, if John Woo had made movies about socks.

If done appropriately, the glimpse of AWESOME the reader gets at the beginning of the story not only makes them want to read the end, but also the middle, because they have all sorts of interesting questions (“How did the socks get irradiated, and what role did the trickster wolf play?”) about how the characters arrived at their climactic predicament.

This issue of Batman does it badly, because the awesome it shows isn’t awesome, and the questions it raises aren’t interesting to anybody–they boil down to, “Why is Robin on this boat, and why is he wearing a little suit?” and to be honest, nobody wants to know the answer to those questions.

So instead of showing you their conception of in medias res, I’m going to let you in on the actual AWESOME and then fill in the gaps from there.

Our reorder, reimagined issue begins here:

No, wait, that’s just disturbingly homoerotic. This is harder than it looks. I mean–okay, moving on to the real panel.

Ah, now there’s a better panel. At least, it provides us with some interesting questions. What is this costume party? Who is wearing Batman’s costume? If it’s Batman himself, why is he cheating in order to win the prize? And most importantly, what does all this have to do with Robin’s little suit?

Ahh, you will get answers to most of these riddles, but first journey back with me, back in time…

…to Bruce Wayne, reading an advertisement in the newspaper. I’ve never read a society column in my life, so I have no idea if it’s normal for a story about Mrs. Travers’ plans for an awesome yacht trip to include a note about the fact that she’s taking her enormous, expensive emerald necklace with her. Maybe it is, maybe that’s a thing. But it seems to be a rather foolish thing to do, since it’s waving a red flag in front of any thieves.

Bruce agrees with me, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s a priority.

Next in the swiftly growing category of “things you don’t want to know”: what ‘job’ Bruce is talking about.

The result of this mysterious other obligation is that Bruce wants Robin to investigate this case on his own. Robin is eager; Bruce is proud; Child Services would be very concerned, but they’re not in the room.

Bruce’s plan for Robin is to get him a job as a steward on the yacht for the party, and I’m just gonna stop with the gay jokes here or we’ll be here all night. And so!

Aw, look at his little suit, and the slicked back hair. It’s like picture day at the orphanage!

Unfortunately, so far Robin’s eavesdropping has picked up stuff like this:

“Of course I mind. Throw her over the railing or I’ll have her hanged from the yardarm.”

I can’t post every panel, and I already promised I would stop with the gay jokes, but I can’t let this narration box go:

Anyways, the other steward tells Dick that everyone he’s watching around Mrs. Travers, including her doctor, is scheming for her money. And later Dick overhears Travers’ brother asking for cash, too. Apparently she invited a bunch of deadbeats to her yacht party. I thought that was illegal. Why else do we have a class system? Perhaps she doesn’t have any other friends.

We’ve been set up for another mystery story here, complete with suspects (the nephew, the old lady, the doctor, the brother). The nephew looks pretty good for it, since the last clue in the puzzle has him disposing of a note off the ship’s deck; the note, intercepted by Dick, reads: “Keep your aunt away from room! Will try then! -The Cat”. Curiouser and curiouser.

But before Robin can warn Mrs. Travers, she cries out that her necklace has already been stolen. If Batman were here, he would have gotten there sooner and stopped the criminal in the act. And if this were an Agatha Christie novel (hell, even an episode of Murder, She Wrote), Travers would have drummed up the publicity, faked the robbery for the insurance money, and framed her rotten nephew. But none of those things are true, mostly because punching a rich old lady just isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Instead, we get a rather delightful twist. No sooner has the news of the theft spread than a boat hails the yacht party. The Coast Guard is coming aboard! Thank God, says Mrs. Travers, they’ll find the necklace.

Nope! It’s not the Coast Guard, but a bunch of crooks (complete with tommy guns), here to steal the emerald necklace, and just a hair too late. Depressed, the criminals decide to rob everybody else instead (if nothing else, it’s theraputic).

Finally Dick decides to intervene. Foolishly taking on the crooks without a costume, he punches a couple of them, and then dives off the boat into the ocean to get out of range of their guns. The criminals conclude that, whether he’s dead or alive, the time’s come to shove off. They collect what jewels they can, get in their boat, and motor on out of there… only to be intercepted by Batman!

“Robin! What are you doing here? And why aren’t you wearing the suit? We are going to have a talk when we get home, young man.”

Batman is basically like, “Look, I’m really bored. So instead of just taking these crooks to jail, I’m going to untie them, and see if you can beat them all up by yourself. And later, hobo knife fights.” I only made up that last sentence, I swear.

Robin beats up four men so badly they cry uncle, and so easily that the other tied-up men refuse to try the experiment. Not bad, kid. I take back some of the things I’ve said about you.

Batman ostensibly has some kind of point, here:

I maintain that he was just bored.

Oh, and telling children to fight criminals (even unarmed criminals) is just irresponsible. Robin was successful because, in no particular order:

-He’s a comic book character.

-He’s a trained crime fighter and acrobat.

-It’s easier to fight in his little short shorts. Keep in mind that no self-respecting child would wear those in their everyday lives.

Anyway, Batman and Robin speed back in their motorboat with the stolen jewels, discussing who has the necklace. They agree the nephew is involved, but Robin’s not sure whether “the Cat” is actually Travers’ doctor or brother.

Meanwhile, crime or no crime, the yacht party is in full swing, having moved to the masquerade ball portion of the evening. Batman arrives, in his “costume”, and wins the contest for best prize…

(and now we rejoin our story in medias res)

…and reveals that he is the real Batman by filling the prize cup with the recovered jewels. His dramatic flair is overshadowed, however, by a fire alarm. The group panics, fleeing for the life-boats–including a suspiciously spry Miss Peggs–until this man stops them:

It’s not his words, narration box. It’s his beautiful, manly mustache which commands their attention. Ahh, to be young again, and a steward on the Captain’s yacht…

…I’m sorry, I got distracted. The point is, the ruse has uncovered the real culprit, and now Robin gets to tackle her, hilariously.

It’s the look on the old woman’s face that really sells this.

Batman swiftly removes her wig and makeup, revealing… A sexy woman! And she’s got the necklace, too. As soon as this is revealed, Denny (Mrs. Travers’ nephew, and “Miss Peggs”‘s partner in crime) bursts in with a gun. Batman decks him without hesitation. Equally fast, this slippery eel of a thief turns on her unconscious partner:

“Besides, I already have a sidekick, and he wears even less clothing than you do.”

Denying her offer, Batman gives the necklace back to Mrs. Travers and sets off with Robin in his motor-boat, taking the Cat with him. On the way back, she suddenly jumps overboard.

Must… resist… Urge to joke… rising….

And when Robin accuses Batman of letting her get away, he denies it half-heartedly. Then he actually moons:

This is all well and good, but who’s driving the boat?

So there you have it. An attempt at narrative experimentation, adventure on the high seas, more of the good ol’ “the upper class is actually full of indebted jerks pretending to be rich” social commentary (which I kinda skipped over, since we’ve seen it before and will again), a bizarre public service announcement interlude, and more innuendo than you can shake a cigar at…

And to top it off, a nice, out of left field introduction to another enduring Batman off-again, on-again villain, Catwoman (so far just called “The Cat”). At this stage of the game, the Joker is more fun, but the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is by far the most dynamic and interesting. It not only engages with a level of maturity higher than we’ve seen before, characterized by romance superseding the boy’s adventure code of justice, but it also introduces a real female character to the story. Batman’s fiancee has so far just been a damsel in distress (in both the Monk and Clayface stories), but “The Cat” is smart, goal-driven, and knows precisely how to push Batman’s buttons. Look at her playing him here, when he looks for the emeralds under her bandage:

She knows exactly what she’s doing. And Batman, in return, lets her escape. (I don’t blame him, those are nice legs.) These two may be on opposites of the law, but they’ve got a real Cary Grant/Grace Kelly thing going on, and I hope it continues in future issues.

Tune in next week as Baturdays continues with the last of four stories in Batman #1, the very first issue of the Caped Crusader’s first standalone comic.