Baturdays: Batman #1, [untitled – 2]

In All, Books and Comics by Kyu

Publication Date: Spring 1940

Author: Bob Kane

From psychopathic clowns to giant monster-men, in the same issue. That’s Batman for ya.

From this point on, you realize, there are two kinds of Batman stories. Those with the Joker–aka, awesome ones–and those without him, aka, the boring ones. But let’s see if we can’t find some entertainment value here, even so.

Certainly this issue begins with some beloved continuity! Yes, Hugo Strange, who we last saw making a mockery of the police by proving they couldn’t fight crime on foggy nights, is now making an equal mockery of the penal system by escaping handily during a prison riot. (Why a gang of criminals have decided to follow a little bald man without question is left to our imagination. Maybe birds suddenly appear every time Strange is near.)

Strange’s first act upon springing himself and a few friends is to pull the same stunt at the insane asylum. Bruce doesn’t know what this means, but he knows he doesn’t like it.

*puff puff* “I’d do something about it… but my pipe is especially tasty today.” *puff puff*

We find out what Strange has been up to soon enough, however. Not a month has gone by before this inconveniences dozens of downtown shoppers:

“Generic dialog indicating concern!”

The cops fire bullets at the monster, to no avail; the gunfire just pisses the thing off. It roams around, tossing cops through plate glass windows, batting them around with a street lamp, and basically acting like Batman without the puns. Then the monster gets bored and heads for a truck. The police zoom after it in their cars–why, I don’t know, since bullets have already failed to work. What we need is a brilliant scientist–perhaps Peter Graves–not more Keystone Kops.

Unfortunately, the monster gets inside the truck and gets away, but not before tossing a bomb at the approaching cop car, ‘sploding it real good. Say goodbye to psychological thriller or classic murder mystery, folks–this episode is goofy fantastic boy’s adventure at its finest. This about sums it up:

That dude needs to chill out. Also, I love the tiny, impotent “bang bang”s in the background.

This time, however, Batman is prepared. He follows the monster’s getaway truck from overhead, in the Bat-Plane, eventually setting down near a deserted barn. When he gets there, the doors swing open, revealing a shadowy interior. Batman assumes this is a trap, shrugs, and walks in anyway. He’s right, of course, and before he knows it, two monsters have got him by the arms, holding him for an audience with Dr. Strange.

Batman of course gets Strange monologuing, which to be fair is kind of expected when you’re the type of doctor to grow your own goons. Strange spells out his evil plan. First he took the lunatics from the asylum, then he injected them with growth hormones…

‘Monster’? Is that a technical term, doctor? Where exactly did you go to school, and did you pay the tuition in cereal box tops?

Anyway, Strange’s absolutely ludicrous and overly circuitous plan basically boils down to:

  1. Create giant monster men.
  2. Set giant monster men loose (in bullet-proof clothing).
  3. Police are distracted.
  4. Meanwhile, rob banks the old-fashioned way.
  5. Profit.

It occurs to me that the easier, safer, more lucrative plan goes like this:

  1. Create giant monster men.
  2. Sell formula to the army for military use.
  3. Profit (legally).

“Clever, isn’t it?” asks Strange. “You know, at times I’m amazed by my own genius!”

“No, it isn’t clever. It’s retarded.” … is what Batman should have said. Instead he goes with “An evil genius, Strange!”

Strange’s response is to inject Batman with the growth hormone, because clearly Batman isn’t scary enough, he also needs to be 15 feet tall. Nice plan, Strange.

Strange says the serum takes 18 hours to take effect; this led me to believe we were going to get a tense race against the clock.

Right now, terrorists are planning to use monsters to rob banks. I’ve been injected with monster serum… and a bald man is making fun of me. The following takes place between six pm and seven pm. Events happen in real time.

Instead, Batman is punched so hard he blacks out for 17 and a half hours.

He wakes to find that Strange took his utility belt, but luckily not his boots (or, hey, his mask or anything, nice going there Strange), where Batman has secreted explosive chemicals. (That’s some Achilles heel! *rimshot*)

Batman blows a hole in his cell wall, shocking Strange so bad he can only sputter, “What…you… out?!”, to which Batman replies, PUNCH.

Strange gets knocked out the window of the barn and off the cliff behind it. Hilariously, this is the first time we’ve seen the cliff. Ten’ll get you ten we haven’t seen the last of Strange, though.

But Batman’s not out of problems. The serum’s about to take effect, and the monsters have shambled back in, looking for sandwiches with the crust cut off, just the way Uncle Strange makes ’em. Batman counters their silent need with a pole in the face.

Jeez, Batman, there’s no need to be a dick about it.

Seriously, Batman spends the entire next page kicking the crap out of monsters who only react with fear and confusion. (Remember, these are mentally ill people who have been experimented on, not criminals.) Then he tricks them into falling into each other, and they decide to fight amongst themselves.

Then Batman sits down and, in four minutes with Strange’s chemistry set, hurriedly concocts an antidote. Rather than give this antidote to the monsters, he notes with pleasure that they’ve managed to murder each other.

Batman’s next step in what has become a crusade of pointless cruelty is to go kill the two monsters still alive, already on their way to distract the cops. Meanwhile, the crooks driving the van share a conversation…

“Then I’ll be able to put my daughter through law school!” “And I can finally retire to focus on my prize-winning begonias!”

But Batman’s plane is bearing down on them, and we are treated to this wonderful sight:

Nothing I might say could possibly improve this. Just look at it.

I thought the Joker comic was good because I could post panels without really needing to add commentary, but holy shit, this just keeps getting better. After Batman’s bullets crash the truck, killing the criminals inside, the monster jumps out and starts running. Batman dangles a steel cable noose from the bottom of his plane, dips it around the monster’s neck, and pulls up sharply.

Jesus. This poor mentally ill man, now the victim of two maniacs. This wouldn’t make such an impression on me if not for the fact that Batman is clearly enjoying this (just look at his eyes firing those machine guns) and verbally being such a dick about it.

He doesn’t even bother to land to lay the poor monster’s body to rest, just cuts the rope loose, letting the giant fall to the earth. Then he jets off to finish his murder spree.

The last monster, seeing the Bat-Plane, and realizing that the man inside is a jerk and wants to kill him, decides he has to fight back. He climbs the top of a skyscraper in order to get within punching range…

The beast takes a few swings at Batman; Batman shoots round after round at him, to no avail. On his next pass, our “hero” throws out gas pellets, and choking, waving his fist at the bastard who killed him, the “monster” falls to the earth. Batman barely even takes notice.

Here we see the true cost of these men’s obsessions–Strange’s greed, Batman’s drive for vengeance, and both men’s need to validate their arrogance before the world. Are either of them any better than the Joker? It’s not the monsters’ fault they were cruelly abducted and altered. And it was wrong of Batman to assume killing them was the only solution. Even Strange didn’t do that. Yes, in the final analysis the deaths of these “monsters” cannot be put to Dr. Strange, or his henchmen, or even the ineffectual city police.

No, ’twas Batman killed the beast.

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