Author: Bob Kane
[Meta-note: Today's post is extra, and is bought and paid for via the generous donations of Martin, Steven, and Brenton! Thanks for your support!
And now, your irregularly scheduled post.]
Today's issue features the most generic and boring lead-in I could possibly imagine. This applies to every single Batman story I've covered to date. Check it out:
"Once again the mighty Batman and his laughing young aide Robin go forth on a chance trail and cross the path of a master criminal. Out of a strange medley of adventures, the Batman and Robin find the proof of an ugly and vicious racket that involves innocent men and women! With their usual disregard of danger to themselves, the Dynamic Duo ferrets out this evil crime-master and brings an end to the strange tale of 'The Trouble Trap!'"
And so, in my hedonistic search for entertainment within the pages of this ancient comic book, like the wealthy courtesans of old, I turn to innovation in an attempt to make the old new again.
So today we begin at the end!
We've already got a moral! And interesting questions. Is that nurse Batman's girlfriend, Linda? Did homework and respect really save the day, or was punching involved? Let's find out!
Earlier, Gordon apprehends the villain's henchmen, still tied up, presumably from an earlier battle, and explains what's been going on: apparently the villain has been hypnotizing people, asking them to reveal their secrets, and recording the results, to use as blackmail against the victims. The villain, by the way, is distinguished solely by his headgear, a turban, and his name, Granda, which I keep reading as Grandpa. Do we ever find out about Bruce's grandparents? Who's to say his grandfather isn't a vaguely Middle Eastern-looking evil hypnotist?
Anyway, what I want to know is, if Granda is blackmailing people for money, why doesn't he just hypnotize them and ask for their banking information? Hopefully we'll find an answer.
Like most Batman villains, Granda is taken out with one punch, following a car chase that is nicely drawn:
Lovely panel. Batman's car is tiny within the frame, but centered and pointed to by the symmetry of all the other elements--the bridge, the trees, the clouds, all drawing your eye to the center. Making this a "wide shot" means your eye takes longer to look through the picture, which in turn elongates the moment of weightlessness.
Since Batman takes Granda out easily once he catches up to him (diving through the window, fist-first? It's a little unclear), Granda must have had some way of slowing him down. What could it have been?
Part of the answer is readily apparent--once again, Batman declines to use the Batmobile, instead jumping into a green police car. Since all GCPD cars are required by city law to be slower than popular getaway vehicles (the Give Crooks a Fair Chance Act of 1935), it's no wonder the chase takes them all the way to the edge of town, where there is apparently a river or something. Gotham geography is still really loose at this point, and I'm not sure when (if ever) DC bothers to pin it down. I'm sure there's a map somewhere.
Anyway, the chase is set off when Granda, cornered, throws himself out a window:
"Not yet, you haven't!"
Batman, moments earlier: "Hah! I bet Robin you'd never throw yourself out of a window, and I've won!"
Silly Granda! No use escaping, your capture is pre-ordained! We've seen it!
Just prior to that, a tense stand-off. Gordon's men arrive to rescue Batman from Granda, whose thug has our hero at gunpoint. "Stand where you are, Batman! A bullet will end your life!" Oh, no shit.
Granda appears to have the upper hand, even though his giant sumo-wrestler-shaped henchman was just defeated by a small boy wearing no pants.
David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Batman Almighty, the God of the armies of Gotham, whom you have defied."
The big guy actually did have a sword, but dropped it when Robin used the crystal ball to reflect a bright light into his eyes. It just goes to show you, always do your homework and respect others! No, wait, that's nonsense.
Apparently there were two "Hindu giants" armed with swords, summoned when a cornered Granda pressed the secret "summon the two Hindu giants" button on the floor. Does Hinduism allow for stabbing Batmen and small children? Or working for somebody who is clearly an evil hypnotist? Either way I am amused by Granda holding them back in reserve. Were they just doing yoga in the other room? Did Granda really expect to have a good chance of taking out Batman, and so told his giant henchman to hang back, he's got this? I thought evil hypnotists were supposed to be smart!
I think we all know where this is going. Literally.
Uh-oh. This doesn't bode well. So far Granda's decisions have been questionable at best, and apparently he's about to get dumber...
Earlier, Batman was in another one of his ridiculously perfect disguises. Usually they strain credulity, because I can buy makeup, but a wig hiding Batman's pointy cowl is a stretch too far. This issue addresses my concerns nicely--not only did Batman turn the lights out in order to change (so I can pretend he had his whole costume folded up really really tiny inside his pocket), but in his disguise, "Joe", he wears a hat:
"On the one hand, it's going to be really awkward if I have to keep holding my girlfriend while this dude stabs her to death. On the other hand, my ninja thespian training demands that I not break character. Rock and a hard place!"
Why haven't the police arrived yet? For no discernable reason, they get into a huge head-on collision with a random other car. Without even checking on the occupants of the other car, Gordon and his cops dust themselves off and get going. Yet another narrative contrivance to ensure that this easy-to-defeat villain gets the deck stacked in his favor long enough for a fist fight and a car chase.
Meanwhile, while Granda threatens to stab Linda Page with his pointy, pointy beard--
Look at that thing! It's dangerous and majestic, like a lion with a gun.
--Robin is calling Gordon for help on what are clearly two fake phones connected by string:
Robin: "Commissioner! Granda's kidnapped Linda Page! And the treehouse is almost out of Oreos!"
Gordon: "Son of a bitch!"
How did our heroes let this kidnapping come to pass? As it turns out (or whatever the backwards version of that phrase is--as it were?), this was all part of their plan. Having captured the two of Granda's goons on their way to deliver the captive Linda, Batman decides to use makeup to impersonate one of them and sneak right in under Granda's nose. That part of the plan? That makes sense to me. The part where, instead of punching, he was going to sit back and wait for the police to arrive? Yeah, what? Since when does Batman need the police to do his crime fighting? I mean, we're talking about a man who strikes fear into the hearts of all criminals, which brings us to the best panel I've found in a long time:
Try not to think about this the next time you're driving alone at night.
So why do they have Linda Page in the first place? Apparently Granda has noticed what Linda's been totally blind to: that she bumps into Batman way too often for coincidence. Convinced she knows something he can use to get back at the Bat (who I'm assuming has already interfered with his master plan to hypnotize fashion icons and convince them that turbans are nouveau chique), Granda sends Joe to kidnap Ms. Page.
(His plan once he gets her, by the way, is "Twist her arms until she decides to talk." Dude! You're a hypnotist! As villains go, this guy sucks. He's not strong. He's not smart. He has one power, and he doesn't use it to his advantage. Other than the beard-blade, he's not even visually interesting. What a gyp.)
Earlier, Batman overhears Granda's kidnapping plan:
Note that Batman is actually leaning on a word bubble for support.
Wait a minute, who's "this mugg"? He's a generic crook in a brown suit and fedora, asking Granda the Mystic to look into his crystal ball and determine how to get rid of the Batman--or so it seems. In actuality, he is Batman, once again using makeup to disguise himself. Now I understand why Batman is reluctant to punch Granda--he's not interested in bringing the man to justice at all! He just wants to screw with him, becoming more and more fake people until Granda realizes he's living "The Truman Show." I'm pretty sure the sensation that you're being watched and that everyone you know is secretly Batman is in the DSM-IV. What a nightmare.
This wasn't Batman's first idea; he started off with a different plan, resulting in Commissioner Gordon showing up to Granda's place, looking for evidence of blackmail (he doesn't find any). Batman is apparently operating on behalf of this guy:
"If I wanted to do that, Batman, I would have had my butler call them myself!"
Dwyer, the man in the panel above, explains: He was at a society party, watching the Maid Races, like any other night, when somebody suggested that they all visit Granda the Mystic:
"What do you see there, in the crystal?"
"I see... I see... Aha! It's some douchebag in a blue suit."
As you can see, Granda's hypnotic abilities aren't spiritual in nature; they're probably not even due to him. Clearly it's his "incense", aka hallucinogens. No surprise, then, that Dwyer goes under and blabs about some embarrassing escapade he had in college. "It was a harmless prank then. Newspapers would play it up if they heard of it!" Yeah, right. Nothing harmless happens at college. It's all date rape, coke, and frat parties.
Anyway, Granda shows up later with a record (that's like an album--like a big black CD, with grooves--I mean, it's like if you took an iPod and... oh, never mind), a recording of the hypnotized Dwyer spilling his dirty, shameful secret. (I bet he was in an 'a capella' group.) Granda demands money in exchange for the recording. At his wits end, Dwyer turns to--the bottle. And that's where Batman finds him.
Batman, meanwhile, is hips-deep in a mystery. What connection could there be, he wonders, between "a swami, a hoodlum, a murdered man, two giant Hindus and Carl Dwyer?" (Answer: "I think I know, Brain, but where are we going to find a llama at such short notice?") We already know the connection; but I want to know how Batman came into contact with all these people.
Before Batman talks to Dwyer, he follows a hoodlum from Dwyer's place to Granda's. Earlier, Batman observed Dwyer paying the hoodlum off for a record. But why was he watching Dwyer's house in the first place?
God, that's pretty. Minimalist Batman, and framed nicely too by the doors. Has there ever been a Batman comic in this sort of style?
The clock ticks back from eight at night to that morning, when Bruce visits his old friend, Dwyer. Carl is worried, and it's easy to guess why: he's visited while Bruce is there by a thug, coming to collect. Dwyer begs off until eight that night. Meanwhile, Bruce recognizes the thug as a killer he ran into the previous night, and so vows to return, caped and cowled, to Dwyer's home to watch the payoff.
Finally we get around to explaining the moral of this story. Turns out the moral isn't actually "do your homework"; that was just Bruce being a dick. Before he heads out to visit Dwyer that morning:
Bruce Wayne: Model Parent.
The previous night, Bruce and Robin flee the scene of a murder. A man named Henry Abbot lies face down in the street. Bruce checks his pockets and finds evidence that Abbot's been withdrawing large sums of money at regular intervals lately. (Plus twenty bucks. What? It's not like the dead guy needs it.) Our heroes hightail it out of there to avoid coming into contact with the police. Yes, the police that both of them will separately call into the case. Those police.
Before the real killers make their getaway in a big ol' truck, Batman and Robin tussle with the two giant Hindus. The giants choke our heroes half to death before Batman is able to toss off some gas pellets. It's funny how Batman never uses gas in modern stories, leaving that to be iconically identified with several of his major villains--Joker's toxic gas, Scarecrow's fear gas, and so on. In fact, overall, these first few years have very few Bat-gadgets at all. Most of it's chemistry, punching, and puns. I think a few gadgets would have helped Batman's self-esteem in moments like this:
"Holy cats!" cries Robin. "That is one ugly-ass awning!"
Batman and Robin meet the giants while beating up two gunmen, who have shot and killed a man. And here we are at the beginning:
They watch--and act! Not, you know, fast enough to save the guy. Can't win 'em all, I guess.
Well, that was a fascinating experiment. Sometimes looking at something backwards can show you it in an entirely new light. (Why yes, I am reading "Time's Arrow" right now. Why do you ask?) I found a lot of interesting ideas, particularly the inexplicably missed connections, like the fact that Batman has two random entries into the case, when the second one (Dwyer) is the main plot and would have sufficed. I assume the opening is in there just to conform to the "every story has to start with an action sequence" rule. And I suppose it makes Granda slightly more of a threat, so that he's not just a blackmailer.
There were also a lot of setups that didn't payoff, which I might not have noticed had I read this front to back. Granda not using his hypnosis, Batman and Robin calling the cops in for no good reason, the dead guy from the beginning only getting mentioned again in passing at the end, when Gordon tells Batman that Granda's men confessed to the murder of the victim, who was another blackmailed client about to spill the beans.
And then of course there was the fun of reading the entire story, wondering how "doing your homework" was going to get Batman and Robin out of this one. Well played, Mr. Wayne. Well played.