Publication date: August/September, 1941
Author: Bob Kane
“The Clock Maker,” or, Time Does Not Pay.
We begin with Bruce Wayne actually doing a little business.
I don’t wish to post this whole page, but it does an excellent job of setting things up for the action to come in a very natural way. Classic narrative technique–send the character on a seemingly banal errand which just happens to introduce many of the characters and settings that the main story’s conflict will involve. Here, we meet:
-The Hobbs Clock Building, one of those bell-tower-and-clock buildings. Might even be the same one Batman where killed the Three Devils. This is where the stockholders’ meeting is held. On his way up, Bruce remarks that the clock serves as a reminder to all of the size and power of the Hobbs Clock Company. A “good stunt,” he calls it, no stranger to such effects himself. If nobody ends up hanging for dear life from one of the giant hands of this clock tower, I’ll eat my proverbial hat.
-The stockholders, who you can only tell aren’t gangsters because their ugly suits aren’t as colorful. They are uniformly wealthy, bored people. They barely pay attention to the meeting, but afterwards, being I guess in a timepiece kind of mood, they decide to go buy some clocks. From the Hobbs Clock Company? No, of course not! That would be absurd. They go to the shop of our third set-up:
-The clock maker. I’ll let Generic Shareholder #3 describe him:
Bruce, being a satirically empty shell of a man with neither personality nor desires, has no choice but to follow along.
Elias Brock, the clock maker, turns out to be a very strange man indeed, particularly his penchant for calling his wares “my friends”. But the suits decide to browse around anyway.
Brock, it seems, agrees with me about these guys. He starts screaming about how they don’t just kill time, they MURDER it, wasting precious moments that could be used for doing something.
The suits leave, a bit shaken but trying to brush it off as nothing. None of them get what Brock, through his delusions, is actually saying: that they’re all wasting their lives, doing nothing of usefulness to anybody. Boredom is violence against the infinite universe.
The next day (or as the narration box puts it, “exactly one day later,” as if Brock waited for precisely 24 hours before unleashing his vengeance, and hey, maybe he did, the nutter), Bruce receives a call from Keating (the man being menaced in the panel above). Keating is worried; he’s seen prowlers around his house and he fears for his life. Bruce is skeptical, telling Keating, “Go back to bed! You’ve just got the jitters.”
Batman and Robin rush over to Keating’s home. Hearing a cry for help, they race in and find Keating being menaced by three armed thugs. They toss two of the thugs outdoors. You know, rather than knocking them unconscious, disarming them, and taking them to the police. But, whatever, I’m sure that won’t come back to bite them in the–
They give Keating some medical attention and head home. Bruce has another one of his “psychic” hunches: maybe somebody wanted to kill Keating and make it look like a robbery, so they sent thugs. Hm.
Meanwhile, the thugs return home to a house which, mysteriously, has a lot of clocks in it. How mysterious! The comic even pulls the old “bad guy’s identity hidden because he’s sitting in a high-backed chair” trick.
Apparently the clocks are least good for inspiration, as Mr. Secret Bad Guy Dude sends his thugs a few days later to sneak into Keating’s house and replace one clock with another identical clock. …yeah, I don’t know either. Maybe the new one is filled with poison gas on loan from the Joker.
That night, Keating is sitting up reading–well, it looks like a book, anyway. But he’s an empty suit, not the kind of person you’d picture reading for pleasure. Perhaps it’s upside down, more of an accessory meant to make him look smart, like his ridiculous Sherlock Holmes meerschaum pipe. Anyway, he’s sitting up “reading” when the clock on the mantelpiece chimes the midnight hour. Plus one. And on the thirteenth stroke…
Hey, I was right! Chock full o’ death gas.
As luck would have it, Keating’s body isn’t examined by the Commish and his friend Wayne until noon the next day. The thirteenth chime clues Bruce in to the strangeness of the clock. Which begs the question, why put the extra chime in there in the first place? Why not just have the gas go off at twelve? Does thirteen make it any scarier?
Bad Guy: “Well, it’s one scarier, isn’t it? It’s not twelve. You see, most blokes, you know, will be scared at twelve. You’re on twelve here, all the way up, all the way up. Where can you go from there? Where?”
“I don’t know.”
BG: “Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra bit of fear, you know what we do?”
“Put it up to thirteen.”
BG: “Thirteen. Exactly. One scarier.”
“Why don’t you just make twelve scarier with more poison gas and make twelve be the last chime and make that a little scarier?”
BG: “…. These go to thirteen.”
Also, why the hell did the comic choose to reveal him now, but conceal him before? It’s not as though we received any new information in the interim. Nor is this a dramatic reveal; and it isn’t happening when some other character discovers him, either. There’s no reason for it. Dumb.
Anyway, Brock’s “little bugler” does indeed blow–but a poison blow-dart, instead of a tune. Death strikes at thirteen, again.
The next day, the police are once more investigating the scene of a murder around noon. What, does the Daily Corpse Search happen at 11:30am every day? The GCPD are mystified, as usual, until Bruce hears another clock chime thirteen. He concludes that the bugler was the killer, and proves it with the magic of geometry.
Bruce: “Gentlemen, arrest this tiny wooden bugler!”
Gordon: “Don’t be ridiculous. Find me a couple of priests, we must perform an exorcism on this possessed clock!”
While Bruce and Jim ramble on about nonsense (how could the killer have known about his reading habit? not that a blow-dart needs to hit the neck in order to work anyway), Brock prepares–GASP–another murder!
And this time the clock is for Bruce Wayne!
I’m sure they’ll be fine, though. It’s not like Batman and Robin sit around at night reading books, for God’s sake.
Just in time, Bruce races in, picks up the clock, and throws it out the window. Luckily it explodes out there, where the poor people are. Just think if anybody important had been hurt! Or the furniture!
Later, Batman breaks into the Hobbs Clock Company to determine that both of the dead men were stockholders in the company. I can only assume that he found his stockholder meeting to be so incredibly boring that he actually forgot it ever happened. He calls one of the remaining stockholders, Peter Selby, but Selby seems fine. For now…
Well, it would appear that I must now eat my words. Apparently the crazy clock maker is just the hit man for the real power here, the power behind the tall-backed chair. Dang.
Before Mr. Bad Guy can send Brock on his crazy, crazy way, however, Batman shows up, recognizing–Atkins!
…yeah, I don’t remember either. *checks* He had literally one line, at the shareholders’ meeting, where he shushed Keating for talking during the presentation. He didn’t even go to the clock shop with them. He is literally just some dude who owns stock in the company. How dramatic.
Batman is immediately attacked by Brock wielding a scythe that is literally three times his size, and figuratively the size of an elephant.
Brock skedaddles, while Atkins confesses his plan. Since Hobbs, the previous owner of the company, willed his stock to the remaining shareholders, killing one of them meant redistribution. Eventually he’d have it all. And that totally wouldn’t look suspicious, I’m sure. Uh-huh.
As a side note, why is it bad guys confess to Batman so easily? Is it just because he could beat them up? I think it’s because they know Batman’s never going to be able to testify about any of it.
Or I guess it could be because they think he’s about to be dead. After all, Atkins’ next move is to try and shoot him. Batman tackles Atkins, the gun goes off, and Brock is hit! Oh…no? Wait, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Batman, caught off guard, is knocked over the head by Atkins, who apparently was foolish enough to bring a gun with only one bullet in it. He ties Batman up and plans to toss both him and Brock in the river. But Brock begs to differ…
As Batman regains consciousness, he hears Brock raving on about HIS plan–to go up to the Hobbs Clock Company bell tower and blow it, himself, and probably Batman to smithereens, using a bottle of nitroglycerin triggered by the thirteenth chime of the giant bell. I predict this will all end in tears, or at least explosions.
Robin arrives to untie him, and they speed off to the clock tower in the Batmobile. Bruce explains, either because he’s psychic or he’s read the script already, that he knows Brock will set off his bomb at ten, not midnight. It makes sense, though, if you think about it–Brock would consider waiting to be a waste of time. Anyway, by the time they get to the tower, the first BONG has already bonged.
The comic does something really interesting here… The narration boxes, one every panel, describe each clang of the bell, numbering them as they go. But as time passes–and as Batman gets closer to the bell itself, and the compositions get tighter and tighter–each number is larger and bolder. It’s a nice way of conveying volume and tension in a soundless medium.
Batman goes up in the elevator to the top, and punches Brock right in his crazy, crazy face. But the clock maker fights with the strength of a mad man! Reeling from a blow, Batman stumbles off the ledge, barely grabbing onto the hour hand of the clock. Brock pops out of the clock face like a deranged cuckoo (okay, maybe that’s redundant), waving Atkins’ gun around. Robin makes a desperate leap to join the fray.
Robin manages to climb his way over to Brock and give him a good yank. Brock falls to his death, the twelfth BONG in his ears. Batman returns to the belfry, surveys the situation, and decides the only way to stop the bomb is to wrap his entire body around the bell’s clapper, dampening the vibrations, until Robin figures out how to turn the mechanism off. Gotham is saved!
And now, even better, Bruce is one of two remaining stockholders in the Hobbs Clock Company! Yay!
With all this action, there’s barely room for an end-of-adventure Reflection.
Fittingly, the cramped nature of the last panel probably reflects the author’s realization that maybe he should have spent more time on the theme and less time on pictures of clocks. Oh well.
Tune in next week as Baturdays continues!