Author: Bob Kane
Oh, this should be good.
As our story opens, Bruce and Dick hear a presumably city-wide radio transmission summoning Batman and Robin to Washington DC, on behalf of the head of the FBI,
So it's off to DC!
That falling banner is not regulation ticker-tape size.
This is a very fascinating story to be taking place when it does. This is the 1941 Dec/Jan issue of Batman, for those of you who skip past the headers (I know I do). There was almost certainly enough lead time in the production of the comic that it arrived on newsstands around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but was written before. I suspect that as we continue into 1942, we're going to start seeing a wartime Batman. For now, though, to see the Dark Knight in a ticker-tape parade with G. Henry, hailed as a national hero... it's more than a little strange. But that's a boy's adventure story for you.
In another issue, perhaps just next month, Batman and Robin would be summoned to DC under the public pretext of the parade and given a secret mission, fighting Nazis or uncovering spies or recovering those blackmail photos of FDR having a jog. But this is peacetime, and only one man qualifies as a national nightmare:
Note: Joker is standing on the panel border.
Joker did indeed miss Batman--but he hit Mover, head of the FBI, wounding him terribly. Immediately people are calling for Joker's head, and--well, I'll let this extraordinary page take it away:
Look at that page! The Joker stands astride the national police apparatus in sheer triumph and joy at mobilizing so many forces against him, like a boy who's just poured water on an anthill. And not to get bogged down in analysis, but here you have all levels of contemporary law enforcement efforts--the time-honored wanted poster, the radio-car coordination, and the interstate information sharing through the national telecommunications infrastructure--and of course The Batman in his fast, sleek, and very well-drawn Batmobile. Can a man as odd and brazen as the Joker last long against the machinations of the national police apparatus and a determined Batman?
Days later, Batman and Robin, who have apparently been driving around aimlessly hoping to stumble onto a clue, catches a major break in the case when the Joker hands them a clue. He breaks into a small radio station nearby to lure Batman in with his gloating. (Which, by the way, amusingly never mentions Robin.)
"How could he be gone? I was expecting him to just turn himself in!"
The "clue" is a Joker playing card with a state drawn on it and the words "
MEANWHILE or well I guess a little later, technically
"It's a good thing I decided to eavesdrop here, because up until now I had absolutely no plan and no reason to be in New Jersey."
In yet another coincidence, Batman and Robin find themselves in the same small town on the same night and decide to take in the same exact play to distract themselves from all the strenuous not-even-hunting-a-little-bit that they've been so busy with lately. In a twist that this comic has done at least six times already, somebody in the play isn't really acting!!!! oh noes
...so is the hat, like, part of the mask or something? Is it half a hat?
Robin, on the other hand, is blown the fuck away:
"Look? I was already watching the play, twerp."
Oh no! He's stealing jewelry! Also he SHOT the director of the FBI, remember that? You were right there!
The subsequent confrontation is a bunch of silliness. Rather than machine-gun Batman and Robin, the Joker goes for the much more difficult maneuver of shooting their swinging ropes, which sends Batman and Robin into the fetal position:
It's a somer-assault!
Sorry, that was terrible. Here, have some BONK:
Joker takes Robin hostage so he can exit, stage left:
"Yeah, thanks for the advice. I never would have thought of that. Did you come up with that from your extensive experience playing the base guitar?"
Joker shoves Robin into Batman and makes his escape:
Even Batman knows that's a terrible comeback, which is why he didn't say it out loud.
Luckily he drops a clue!
Whatever could it mean?!
Later, in Ohio, Joker meets up with a couple of thieves he used to know; they've got a target in mind, and Joker's the man with the plan. The target: a bus to a jeweler's convention, guarded by cops, but containing a million dollars worth of jewelry. (I think they may be exaggerating, though, as that's about 14.5 million in today's dollars...)
"I don't always smoke cigars..."
"...but when I do, I prefer cigars laced with Joker brand nerve toxin. Stay smiling, my friends."
More ridiculousness is in the offing. How do you take down a bus? Run it off the road with a truck? Use automatic weaponry?
"I'll get you this time, Roadrunner!"
Hilariously, the conversation on the bus right now is about how, at night, bus drivers just follow the white line, paying no attention to obstacles, other cars, cliffs, etc. Really! Also the driver was probably texting or something. You know how dangerous that is.
That's not really a joke, but who's going to tell him that? Not me.
Also, if I were the Joker, I would also be surprised and annoyed that Batman was able to narrow my location down from "Ohio" to "this exact highway at this exact time". And I would also Joker gas Robin in the face, but that's just because I'm a bad person.
BONK--wait. Uh... HISS? I don't really have a "poison gas" sound. I'll come back to this.
That's twice now Joker's refused to kill Robin when he had the chance. Obviously the writer's hands were tied--you can't exactly sell this to a kid if they murder Robin in cold blood--but it does seem strange. I think eventually the solution to this is the whole "I don't want to kill you, you complete me" thing. But for now we haven't really established that.
Anyway, Batman and the Joker have a pretty boring fight on a mountain monorail car (that they pretty much just teleported to between panels). Joker escapes again easily, and drops another clue. This time he's going to Kansas! Yawn.
What do you think is on Batman's road trip mixtape? "I Am the Night"? Smooth jazz? Or just this on endless repeat?
So it's become clear that this story is pretty terrible. It's another one of those Joker episodic stories they've done before and which I can't be bothered to link to right now. I much prefer the ones where he plots and executes a complicated Xanatos Gambit, or even just holds the city in the grip of terror. Against a national backdrop, the Joker's crimes seem petty--stealing jewels, crashing buses--and although we've gotten a few lovely haunting panels like the one above, we're really missing the sense of anger and frustration that should be driving Batman's quest toward a more personalized vendetta against the arch-nemesis who just won't die. It doesn't help that Batman's mostly just been driving around, waiting for Joker or the radio to tell him where to go next. Speaking of which:
I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your grammar work there, Narrator.
Unfortunately, all Batman and Robin find there is an electrified Joker dummy, which, although painful, will make a splendidly baroque addition to the decorations in the Batcave. Oh, and the last clue, Delaware.
Must there, Batman? Maybe Joker's just a dick.
Luckily Batman is able to figure out the puzzle, using SCIENCE! Allow me to demonstrate:
An acrostic? You may have murdered people before, Joker, but now you've gone too far.
Also, the writer clearly came up with this plot point before realizing that there are no US states that start with J or E, and just had to fudge it.
To make things worse, Batman gets Joker with Joker's own stupid trick (remember "Rekoj"?):
"WHAT! You aren't housekeeping!"
It's actually pretty sad that the Joker didn't see through this, especially given that Batman's idea of laying a trap was to put an ad in the paper saying "I, Namtab, will be at this hotel on this date with a big ass diamond, come and steal it from me". You know, like people normally do when traveling. Something something Joker's arrogance? I dunno, I'm rapidly losing interest.
BONK! Ahaha! All is forgiven.
I have no idea how they got up there, and neither does the narrator. But the art is pretty.
From there, Joker leaps onto the roof of a passing car, with Batman close behind. One cross-traffic tackle and it's all over.
Ivory skin, long limbs, graceful movements--as the combat raged, they knew him as one of their own. This night, the Goose Lord would feed.
I don't actually know why they're honking. "Look Batman! You're punching the Joker!" Either that or these guys are blocking traffic, which, come on, it's Rhode Island. Wait ten minutes and you'll be in the next state anyway.
Anyway, Batman sends Joker to Alcatraz, dragging him all the way there by the scruff of his neck like a kitten that's done wrong. Joker is completely unfazed. "There's no jail made that can hold The Joker!" Sheesh, if he's going to be in stories this boring, let him stay there.