Publication date: Summer 1940
Author: Bob Kane
This story may have the best opening of any of them yet, purely from an action point of view: we start with Batman leaping onto a speeding train in the night, and racing along its roofs. Then all of a sudden, he–
You just had to do it, didn’t you. You had to take a perfectly good action opening and muck it up with the racisms. Here we go again.
Batman fights with the “AFRICAN PYGMIES!!,” avoiding their arrows and spears and stuff. Eventually, however, he drops flat on the roof of the train, watching as the pygmies are killed by a low bridge. As Batman puts it, their race was their biggest weakness:
The old white dude (Professor Drake) Batman has just rescued from the pygmies then reveals why he was under attack in the first place:
The Professor then tells Batman that this is the missing link, the only surviving prehistoric man. Apparently, he encountered the being in Africa, where the pygmies worshiped the giant as a god. The professor and his expedition abducted the giant, shooting many of the pygmies in the process, and his transportation has been harried ever since by men desperate to retrieve their deity. Serves him bloody right.
Perhaps the most obnoxious part of this scientific imperialism is that the professor claims to have tamed the giant, and to have named him “Goliath”. By doing so he has declared ultimate victory over a native religion by re-contextualizing the subject of their worship in terms of his own holy book. I have to say, for the first time ever, I feel Batman’s fists are aimed at the wrong side of this conflict. It’s a sad day in Gotham when the caped crusader fights to protect what amounts to a kidnapper and a thief.
Of course, as with any other stolen goods, any thief’s success will attract others of his kind. A pair of miscreant circus owners (with the lovely, Roald Dahl-ian names of Hackett and Snead) take it into their heads that exhibiting the missing link would be an incredibly lucrative venture. Their proposal of this to Professor Drake does not go over well:
Take a moment and look at that panel. Professor, you’re not studying this giant. You’re keeping him as a fucking pet, dressed in a tuxedo, so you can pretend he’s your prehistoric butler, God knows why. (Perhaps every once in a while, he puts on a pink dress and a blonde wig and imagines “Goliath” is Max to his Darla Dimple.)
Professor, you’ve not only committed a monstrous crime in ripping this giant man from his home half a world away, you’ve done it for no fucking reason. It would be better if you intended to make money off of him, even.
Anyway, Hackett and Snead come away disappointed but not discouraged; their vile hearts are already calculating ways to murder Drake and take the giant for their circus. Drake is rightly concerned, and luckily Batman pays a visit.
Goddammit, if this is all just a shaggy dog story to get to another Robin/David fights “Goliath” biblical pun, I will be even more pissed than I already am at this story.
The thugs break into the professor’s house, shoot him in the head, and stage it as a suicide. As they’re leaving, they get spotted by Robin, just reporting for duty. He should really stop hanging around at arcades when he’s supposed to be guarding endangered men. Anyway, a fight naturally breaks out, and one of the thugs is about to shoot Robin in the back, when he’s interrupted by “Goliath”, in over-sized green pajamas, no less. The giant marks Grimes’ face in his memory, and then goes back into the house to discover his “master’s” dead body.
Despite the interventions of Batman and Robin, for a while everything goes according to plan. The fake suicide story is swallowed by the public, and Hackett and Snead begin exhibiting the giant in a cage at their circus. The prehistoric man has been in a daze ever since he discovered the professor’s body, and he only comes out of it when a mob of news reporters anger him with flashbulbs and wait that’s a movie.
No, he comes out of it when he sees Grimes at the circus. Enraged, the giant breaks free of his cage, bashes Grimes to death against a pole, and goes on a kill-crazy rampage through the circus. Enter the dynamic duo, of course.
They deal with a couple of animals the giant has inadvertently set loose, and then tackle the prehistoric man himself. I don’t mean that literally, of course, he’s huge, they’d bounce right off.
The giant picks up Robin and throws him into the air, where he manages to swing safely onto a girder. Infuriated, the giant climbs up after him. As he stalks toward Robin, Batman tries to tie him up…
How will they get out of this one? Surely there’s some new, creative solution to–
Robin wangs him in the head with a pellet, throwing the giant off-balance and sending both “Goliath” and Batman tumbling off the girder. Batman snags a trapeze, but the giant is killed when he hits the ground.
The giant is dead, the professor is dead, Grimes is dead, and Hackett and Snead are arrested for murder.
Sum it all up for us, Bruce.
You know, if I can step outside of this story for a moment, it’s hard to tell how to respond to stories like this. On the one hand, it may not be fair to hold Batman to the standards of today; we’ve come a long way in 70 years. And certainly Batman comics are not the worst offenders of their time (see my earlier post on this here). On the other hand, I feel it makes an equally terrible statement today to skip over these elements without comment or condemnation.
On the third hand, this feature is first and foremost a matter of entertainment, and my increasingly strident protests against racism is only going to get more and more boring for you readers.
And yet, I can’t just skip over it, even if I was comfortable with the moral issue, because the other goal of Baturdays is interpretation and analysis, and these racist elements can be part and parcel with the meaning of the story.
Case in point, Batman gets the moral of this tale completely wrong.
It’s Drake who mistook tuxedos for civilization; a truly cognizant human being would have understood that it’s better not to fuck with a man in his natural environment, let alone bring him to America and try to turn him into a butler. Not to mention murdering all those African–
Hey, wait. What happened to the pygmies? I guess they all gave up. Just what you’d expect from short people: lazy gits, the whole lot of ’em.