Publication date: Summer 1940
Author: Bob Kane
Clubfoot murders? Really? Really, Batman writers? Are you out of ideas already? Alright, I guess we’ll give it a shot.
We open with… a clubfoot murder, naturally. A mysterious, bearded man with a club foot and a hook for a hand has just killed someone on a rooftop, and Batman immediately descends upon him in retaliation. All is not well for the Caped Crusader, however–it appears that a club foot is his greatest weakness!
Then Batman gets kicked in the head with the club foot, and the assailant limps off, gloating over vengeance achieved and vengeance to come. Batman flees as the police arrive. The cops find the dead man–recognizing him as the millionaire, Harley Storme (best 80s rock star name ever, by the way), and finding a card in his pocket:
Aha! My disappointment is foolish, for what we have here is another mystery. Bruce Wayne accompanies his friend Commissioner Gordon to the Storme Mansion, to get to the bottom of this. In the classiest of acts, they get there just in time for the late Storme’s will to be read to his grieving (greedy) family and friends.
Well, I guess that’s solved. Wayne and Gordon could go home now, if they didn’t want to see the high society people expressing vile, vile hatred over the divvying up of Storme’s worldly possessions. You have to remember that back then, they had no reality TV, so crashing will-readings was really the only way to get this form of schadenfreudian entertainment.
We’re not sure yet whether these are suspects or victims, so I guess for now they’re just characters. Soon they’ll be doomed or complicit (or both!), but right now they’re just a bunch of whiny upper-class bastards.
Bastard #1: The purple-dressed Portia, the dead man’s niece (in the panel above). She’s doing the introductions.
Bastards #2 and #3: Abel and Carl, the dead man’s brothers. Not too shy about speaking ill of the dead, either:
Bastards #4 and #5: Roger, the dead man’s son, and Tommy, Portia’s brother, seen here being petty:
The family lawyer, Ward, then reads the will. As it turns out, they’re all boned, Brewster’s Millions style, and like all rich men, Storme has decided to use his vast wealth to play a practical joke on his greedy greedy family from beyond the grave.
First, he gives all his money and stuff to charity.
Then, he gives each of the Bastards (and the lawyer) an envelope. Each envelope contains a piece of gold with the inscription, “United we stand–divided we fall.”
The family is not pleased. They’re about to start chucking their gold pieces out the window when Ward tells them he is to read another letter in 30 days, so they all have to keep their pieces. Confronted with this puzzle, Bruce maintains he thinks nothing about it or anything else, because “thinking is too laborious,” but Batman’s mind is hard at work. You can almost see the Bat-gears turning.
That night, however, the results of the late Storme’s will are already being put into motion. Tommy, the blonde with the gambling debt, explains to Varrick, a snide-faced gangster, why his dead uncle’s ridiculously circuitous lesson means he won’t be paying his debt anytime soon. Varrick decides to snatch the lawyer and steal the sealed letter, to see if there’s any way he can get any money out of this.
And that night, Clubfoot strikes again, murdering Abel. And then there were four…
In response, Batman also decides to go to the lawyer and see what’s up with the will. Has everyone read the script but me?
Anyway, this puts him in conflict with the gangsters, who have abducted the lawyer and left two goons wandering around searching the place for the sealed letter.
Batman and Robin joke their way through another beating, Alex DeLarge style. (The oddest probably being Batman punching a guy on the chin and noting, “Hmm… You didn’t shave today!” As if they do this dance of fists every once in a while, and Batman is concerned that he isn’t taking care of himself.) This is followed by one of Batman’s awesome interrogation techniques:
Batman and Robin rush over to the pier, where the crooks are literally giving Ward a hotfoot (burning matches between his toes). I’m convinced this is only to set up some fire puns (“Next time you play with fire, Varrick–” PUNCH “–watch out you don’t get burnt!”) as Batman and Robin start beating the crap out of at least a dozen guys. See these awesome splash panels:
I’d also like to point out that, while Batman and Robin eschew weapons, they appear to have no qualms picking up criminals and using them as weapons with which to beat other criminals.
Finally, they rescue Ward, and recap what we already know: No, the lawyer hasn’t opened the envelope. Yes, the pieces probably mean something, given the odd markings on them and the message, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Later, at home, presumably after a few whacks in the head with the Clue Hammer, Batman realizes what it means. The broken shards are a metaphor for his divided, hateful family, and if all of them collaborate and put the pieces together, something cool will happen. The something cool will be described in the letter.
Batman reiterates his desire to seek out the sealed letter; meanwhile, he sends Robin over to Roger Storme’s house to protect him in case Clubfoot shows up. Nobody but me questions Robin’s ability to take down a villain who already beat down Batman and left him unconscious on a rooftop.
Robin gets there only to find his job is moot. Murderously moot.
On his way back, Robin encounters the fleeing Clubfoot, who ultimately gets away. So Robin is a failure on both counts, but still does better than Batman, because he doesn’t actually get hurt.
Meanwhile, Batman solves the mystery! Back at the lawyer’s house, he hears a sound coming from the basement, and goes down the steps to find… Clubfoot!
Clubfoot explains that he was lured to the lawyer’s house with promise of a payoff, then clubbed (get it? get it?) and chained up in the basement. Then Ward impersonated him and went around killing everybody, presumably to keep the inheritance to himself.
Clearly the dead Storme’s moral lesson has backfired. Instead of encouraging these hateful people to cooperate, he’s inspired them to become even more evil. This just goes to show you, you should do double-blind clinical trials of all your bizarre last-will-and-testament-puzzles, or at least check with a game theorist before implementing them.
Anyway, the innocent Clubfoot has just finished explaining things when the killer Clubfoot shows up.
What he should have said: “Fuck you.” *BLAM*
What he actually says: “My pleasure!”
In the course of monologuing, Ward explains that when put together, the shards reveal the name of a goldmine which was to be divided among Storme’s heirs, however many were alive. By killing most of them off, Ward increased the value of his own share. But before he can silence Batman forever, Robin sneaks up behind him and attacks.
And that, boys and girls, is why you should always shoot first, monologue later.
Ironically, a fleeing Ward is unable to get up the stairs due to his false club foot, and Batman punches the story to a satisfying conclusion. Batman and Robin triumphantly sum up the moral of the piece:
For a comic obsessed with dramatic irony, it’s rather silly that Batman doesn’t realize that he and Robin have both broken away from the law and order in their vigilantism. Just sayin’.
I suppose this issue wasn’t that bad. It recovered with an interesting plot at the end. My only regret is that never I found a way to work in a joke about a “schadenfreudian slip”.
Tune in next week for the final story in Batman #2 as Baturdays continues.