Publication date: December, 1940
Author: Bob Kane
Batman fights off a gang of thieves at a warehouse, a protracted battle distinguished mostly by the fact that this time, the artist actually drew some boxes and not just a sign that said “warehouse.” He beats them all up so badly that the last one will do anything to avoid being Batman’s final punching bag. First he tries the “I’m just a kid!” defense.
Batman is stern in the face of youth. The kid next tries the old, “But Batman, it’d kill my poor old sick mother to find out!”
Finally, the kid turns to the last resort of any terrified criminal: bargaining with information.
Batman accepts this offer, and the kid spills his guts. Turns out a racketeering boss named Carstairs is planning a huge job, millions of dollars in loot. He’s working with some professor, who has concocted something that’ll neutralize the cops and the public during the crime. Whatever it is, the crooks will all be immune, thanks to a few pills, which the kid has on him. Batman confiscates a few for his own purposes, and asks about the gang’s next meeting. Tonight, apparently… so rather than turn in the crooks he beat up, he’s going to let them all go to the meeting.
Later, the men wake up with splitting headaches. That does not quite excuse them from failing to ask questions like “Why aren’t we in jail?” and “Hey, did that kid go unpunched?” But instead of exercising a little intellectual curiosity, they high-tail it to Carstairs’ meeting. Carstairs then introduces the professor…
Yes, Hugo Strange, a man so evil his goatee penetrates panel borders, a man so diabolically brilliant that he once defeated the local police force with fog, a man so apparently deathless that even getting punched off a cliff couldn’t keep him from making an encore. (Told ya so.) There’s no question of how Professor Strange got tenure: diabolically. He’s so smart, he’s foiled Batman without even knowing it. Batman’s teenaged stool pigeon was told to spill his guts at midnight tomorrow, but Strange’s plan will go into effect 12 hours earlier. And indeed, that’s exactly what happens:
No ordinary gunmen, these; for they carry no ordinary guns. Instead of firing bullets these weapons spew a toxic gas which engenders illogical, overwhelming terror in those who breathe it, a gas reminiscent of Scarecrow’s–wait. Scarecrow hasn’t happened yet. A gas… Preminiscent? Sure, let’s go with that. A gas preminiscent of Scarecrow’s own fear gas. And now… cue the extended montage of the city in the grip of an unstoppable crime wave!
“Hey, Bob. We’re a couple of pages over on this month’s script. What do you think you could cut?” “Well, what if I replaced this montage with some colorful circles and the word fear written several times in big letters?” “Yeah, that’s just as good. Go with that.”
Later that day, the thugs deposit the loot, and Strange gloats over the success of his “fear dust.” But he’s not too ebullient to notice that something’s up with the kid from the warehouse heist. Strange sets a few thugs to tail him after the delivery. The thugs see the kid meeting with Batman, sneak up behind him, and, well, you know where this is going.
Batman wakes face to face with his old nemesis, Professor Strange. The prof is happy to see him; time for a little vengeance. Two thugs hold Batman down, while the rest of them give him a terrible beating. Finally he falls unconscious (their hands were getting tired) and they dump him in the next room. When he wakes up, he overhears Strange discussing his plan for spraying his fear dust all over the country…
Batman is too weak to just rush out into the next room and foil their plans; he has to wait until the men are gone. But he miscalculates badly:
Oh no, how will Batman defeat three men in his severely wounded state?!
Oh, he was only pretending. Awesome. As the narration boxes explain that Batman’s athletic prowess enabled him to shrug off a beating which would have killed a lesser man (ie., all other men), he demonstrates his good health by picking up guys over his head and throwing them, knocking two men off their feet with one blow, etc. Then he calls Robin.
Now begins a desperate race against time to stop Strange’s henchmen from releasing the fear gas. Batman is moving so fast that he’s dropped the puns entirely.
[brief punching omitted]
Meanwhile, Robin has an assignment of his own–stopping Strange’s men from dumping the fear toxin into the city reservoir.
After another short battle, Robin quickly moves on to the local cinema:
I really like this panel. It’s got the all-important giant dramatic shadow, a feat of derring-do, a fake movie– *checks IMDB* –a fake movie, and best of all, that gravity-defying hat. Is that meant to comically indicate surprise, or has the hat flown off in the wake of Robin’s acrobatics? Perhaps both.
Anyway, once Robin has punched out the guy on top of the marquee (with an oddly gratifying battle cry of “Comb this out of your whiskers!”), it’s all over but the final match: Batman v. Strange.
Batman confronts Strange at his hangar, where the Professor has been trying to fix his plane. Whirling around, Strange gives him a good whack on the shoulder with a hammer, but Batman is undaunted. The two men grapple in a conveniently dangerous area.
But Strange can’t hold his own for long. As soon as he gives Batman an opening, the vigilante takes it, popping him strong right on the jaw.
In the end, it seems that it wasn’t Strange’s evil brilliance, his arrogance, his thirst for power, or even Batman’s valor which brought him down. It was gravity.
…I make no apologies!
Anyways, there’s nothing left to do except wrap the plot up. Batman and Robin rescue the kid informant from Strange’s house. Hopefully he’s learned his lesson: if you’re going to commit crimes, keep your mouth shut. And the people who inhaled the fear gas will hopefully be cured by scientists analyzing the contents of the antidote pills. (Or maybe not! I doubt an antidote is still around when Professor Crane makes his first appearance…)
Blah blah blah. This issue is over. This last panel, however, is fantastically creepy, and must be preserved here that it may frighten future generations:
oh god it’s looking right at me
Tune in next time as Baturdays continues!