Author: Bob Kane
[Tonight's extra post brought to you by the generous Brenton.]
From lumberjacks to the legal system. Is there nothing Batman can't punch?
This one starts off with a poorly told, confusing opening sequence, so, yay. Batman is eavesdropping on a couple of gangsters, one of whom is named Horatio, discussing a "poultry racket." Yes. Chicken crime. We're already off to a bad start.
Even Batman is off his game. First the criminals see the shadow of his cowl peering in through the window in the door; then he stands in the doorway, more interested in posing and quipping than in, you know, not getting shot.
What the...? That's not even a good quip! Although I do like how the poultry racketeer is making chicken noises.
Then after two boneheaded mistakes in a row, Batman lunges forward, punching the brown-suited thug, at which time he has the gall to compliment himself on how well he has used the element of surprise. You've gotta be kidding me. Batman! You were not surprising today! You were not surprising when you punched that guy! Your picture is in the dictionary next to "this guy punches people all the time, look out for his fists."
To make a long story short, the thugs turn off the lights, fire their guns in Batman's general direction (but they miss, obviously), and escape. The police arrive ridiculously quickly, in time to see Batman dive off the fire escape.
Pretty normal, right? Boring, run of the mill, everyday non-adventures. And yet, the narration blares:
Ooo, is he finally going to meet the mother?
What actually happen is, the gangsters and their gangster buddies use Batman's intrusion as an excuse to start killing each other. Horatio tells Freddie Hill and Weasel Venner that Batman knows that the second man present at the earlier meeting, Delmar, is the head of the racket. Chicken crime in Gotham City is about to have a new leader: Freddie Hill, who has a plan that'll allow Weasel to bump off Delmar without getting caught.
Meanwhile, Batman is LOOK OUT BRUCE IT'S EATING YOUR FACE
"I'll just be your normal, everyday millionaire, nonchalantly buying some black-market chickens. What could be suspicious about that?"
The next day, there is a yet another confluence of coincidences. Specifically, Bruce Wayne happens to be in the office, talking to Delmar (who fronts as a tax lawyer or something?) at the same time that Weasel picks to carry out his dastardly plan. Weasel bursts into the room, shoots Delmar, puts a bullet through his own hat while shouting, "Drop that gun, Mr. Wayne!" and then disposes of the evidence:
A fool-proof plan?
The narration informs us helpfully that people will tend to catch stuff if you throw stuff to them, no matter what it is--a football, razor blades, battery acid, etc. Try it out on your friends!
Anyway things just go downhill from there.
Odds on Weasel surviving the issue before he punched Batman? Much, much higher.
Soon Commissioner Gordon has arrived to review the evidence.
Bruce: "This rat here did it and threw the gun at me! He framed me!"
Weasel: "He's lying! Look at the bullet hole in my hat!"
Random female witness: "I heard him shout 'Drop that gun Mr. Wayne!' and then when I got in Bruce had the gun in his hand! There's no way any of that could have been fabricated!"
Faced with overwhelming he-said/he-said evidence, Gordon has no choice but to arrest his friend. So much for the rich and wealthy getting preferential treatment! What the hell is this city coming to?
Bruce in his cell is all, this is so damned ironic! Batman, who never kills anybody, framed for murder! I don't belong in a jail cell like a common criminal! I belong out there on the streets, dispensing vigilante justice as I see fit! Oh, the irony!
Anyway, with Batman sidelined in a holding cell, it's up to Robin to save the day. Woo. Dick's initial reaction is literally, "Bruce! Bruce! Golly!" which isn't helpful, but it's funny. His next notion is a bit more practical: go beat the truth out of Weasel. I doubt that'll hold up in court, but at least the boy's resorting to some proper violence.
Coincidentally, "Robin Takes On a Man-Sized Job" is also the name of my fanfic.
Robin just happens to show up at Weasel's address (it was in the paper) in time to hear the killer's gangster compatriots deciding on a double-cross:
"See, we're gonna hold Father O'Malley at gunpoint and force him to give you absolution. Sound good?"
This new development puts Robin in the interesting position of being forced to act to save Weasel's life, so that his testimony can clear Bruce's name. The Boy Wonder dives in, tossing punches right and left, but Weasel takes the opportunity to get the hell out of there, and the gangsters follow.
Reading the next page is giving me plot whiplash. In short order, Weasel (and Bruce's chances of getting out of jail) is run over by the gangsters in their car, and seemingly killed; is revealed to be alive, but in a coma; and is targeted for death by the gangsters, who are worried he'll come-to and talk. And then there's this:
If I was a criminal, and I had a Batman costume, I would go around beating up other criminals and stealing their money, not this. You know what's good for sneaking into a hospital? A doctor's outfit. Morons.
And given these morons in the driver's seat, it goes about as well as you'd expect:
"Who--? What the hell is a nurse doing in a hospital room? What kind of crazy shit is that?!"
The assassination is a total failure, Hill (in the costume) fleeing from the police, but there's a silver lining: he's made Batman look guilty now too. To Robin's... well, I was going to say "consternation" but his expression suggests joy and excitement:
Three days and thousands of dollars worth of property damage to Wayne Manor later, Robin decided that maybe prostitution was a risky business, after all.
Meanwhile in jail, Bruce is going quietly insane. He hasn't had a drink or said something smarmy in days, his hair is slightly askew, and there aren't any capes in jail, NOT A SINGLE CAPE! Did you hear that? It sounded like a clown! Like a clown laughing at me! I'll punch him! I'll find him and I'll punch him until his clown brains come out all over--hey, what's that noise?
"His name is Joey, he goes to my school and he's kinda slow. I told him I'd give him a cookie if he followed me, do you have any cookies?"
Robin explains that he looked through some old town maps and discovered that Bruce's cell happens to be over an old sewer system. He's brought Batman's costume, too, and soon our heroes are bounding heroically through the old smelly tunnels to freedom. It's not exactly disappearing through Raquel Welch but it'll do.
Once outside, Batman and Robin don't waste time, heading for Delmar's apartment to look for evidence that could clear Bruce's name. When they get there, the place isn't empty....
Iconic and awesome. Love the shadow on the wall, the fear on the goon's faces, and most of all Batman's "screw the quips, I am going to mess you up" look.
Batman and Robin take out the goons in some glorious splash panel action, and finally discover the missing evidence hidden in the leg of a table that Batman breaks by throwing a thug at it. The festivities come to a swift end, however, when Hill does something kinda smart for a change.
Batman, you are the worst negotiator.
He's such a bad negotiator that this is literally the very next panel:
"And Robin too I guess!"
Now that our heroes have been tossed into Gotham City's Whipped Cream Reserves, it's anybody's guess how they'll manage to escape. In the sense that anybody can guess and they'll all get it right. While the other plot threads are progressing elsewhere--Weasel wakes up and makes a run for it, Gordon discovers Wayne's absence--Batman is doing what he always does when the bad guys tie him up with rope and put him in a dangerous situation: finding a convenient sharp edge to cut his bonds. But how, you ask, will he find such a thing at the bottom of the river?
"Who could have left this here? That God in the Machine fellow one hears so much about? And how can I be talking underwaglubglub"
Batman manages to free his hands, and then untie Robin. Thanks, pollution!
You know, I was reading this and trying to think about why this scene, which we see again and again in Batman stories, is so profoundly unsatisfying. And I thought about Justified, this show I'm watching right now, which features this same sort of situation from time to time--the bad guys the drop on our hero, and hold him at gunpoint, and how is going to get out of it this time. Batman usually does it with coincidence (he found a tin can), or rarely with some kind of toy off his utility belt. Raylan Givens, the main character on Justified, usually talks his way out of trouble. I think that's much more entertaining, and I wish Batman would solve his problems with clever communication sometimes, instead of just relying on physical strength and good luck.
Anyway, once B&R climb back up to the dock, they find Hill and his buddies there, burning the incriminating records. Batman has but one response:
Strangest. Catchphrase. Ever.
Our heroes give the gangsters a good thrashing, and I assume Hill would pull a gun again and do the whole thing over, but there's no time for that because the comic's almost over! Quickly, boys!
Batman rushes over to the courthouse, where the overzealous DA (aren't they all?) is trying Bruce Wayne in absentia, and winning quite handily thanks to the whole "broke out of jail" thing. Batman presents Hill, loudly proclaiming that Hill knows who killed Delmar. This is pretty unorthodox but at least it's waking the jury up.
Batman still doesn't have any actual proof, and the roomful of citizens apparently makes Hill feel safe enough to deny everything Batman is saying:
"Yes, easy," said Daniel, looking warily out through the mask. It was working. They were buying it.
The DA, enraged, points a finger at Batman and accuses him of everything short of killing JFK, including "aiding and abetting Bruce Wayne to escape jail" (okay, that one's true), and obstructing justice (yep) with "infernal meddling" (sure) and "absurd crime theories" (sounds about right). Okay, maybe he's not overzealous. Maybe Batman does deserve to go to jail. He is a vigilante after all.
An unlikely person rises to Batman's defense, though--Police Commissioner Gordon! True, these proceedings no longer even resemble a trial, but Gordon makes a compelling case, which boils down to, "Okay, Batman breaks the law, but only against evil people." Here it is in its enjoyable entirety--ask yourself, would you acquit?
"I speak for the Batman--the friend of the people! Yes--he works 'outside the law,' as you call it, but the legal devices that hamper us are hurdled by this crime-fighter so he may bring these men of evil to justice. The eminent District Attorney calls him a meddler with a theory--Washington, the Wright Brothers, Lincoln, Edison and others, they were 'meddlers' too--who proved their theories. They made sacrifices so that we might enjoy the security and comfort we do. The Batman has done that, too!
This man who has saved a nation's gold reserve, fought Fifth Columnists and saboteurs, beaten the Joker, the Puppet Master, and other crime geniuses. This man who daily risks his life to save others--who never carries a gun--who is aided by his young friend, Robin. Fights crime with the courage and zeal born of love for his fellow man. This is--The Batman!"
If you didn't just wipe a tear from your eye and hear the Star-Spangled Banner swell within your heart, you sir are made of stone. Like most effective speeches, Gordon's is kind of nonsensical and ridiculously one-sided (Batman = Lincoln?), but it makes some compelling emotional appeals to the sort of American individualism that gave success to Batman comics in the first place--the notion that the best among us should have the freedom to act as they see fit, no matter what the laws are for the lesser people. Intellectually this is ridiculous, but hey, this is just an old comic book, so let's go with it.
See, it's continuity like this that really rewards what I'm doing. There is a progression to these comics, even if there isn't an overarching narrative. It'll be interesting to see how this changes Batman's work in the future. Or, you know, if it keeps Gordon from getting re-elected. And hey, I guess that narration from the beginning of the story was right--this really was a momentous issue, and not just because of the soap opera "Bruce Wayne on trial!" gimmick. But will it all be ruined by the missing evidence?
Happily for everyone involved, Weasel bursts in and recants his story with his dying breath, which really ruins Freddie Hill's day, lemme tell you. Hill goes to jail, and all is right with the world.
Gordon: "...who are you talking to?"