Author: Bob Kane
It's been a genre trope ever since the dawn of noir: the slow-acting poison. The dead man walking. And even before that, perhaps going back to the days of myth, when god and human alike were born with a foretold death sentence. We've all thought about it--what would we do if we knew that we were going to die, not years from now, but a month, a week, a day? From Ikiru to The Ring, from DOA to Crank, the idea of the death sentence has always fascinated both writers and audiences... perhaps because what we wish we would do in that situation is become truly free--from laws, from rules, from caution and restraint.
What would we say to those we care about? What would we do to those we hate? "You'll be dead tomorrow" is a blank check to whomever hears it, and whatever they spend that on will reveal who they are--or who they've always wanted to be.
Based on his actions, Jasper Sneed has always wanted to be an asshole.
"Damn you, disembodied voice!"
Sneed goes to his doctor, who tells him he's been dosed with enough Oriental poison to take down Gengis Khan. There's no cure, no pain, and he'll be dead in twenty-four hours, give or take the time Sneed spent reading old issues of Look Magazine in the waiting room.
Does he go to the police? Does he vow revenge on the man who killed him? Does he spend a last happy day at the amusement park?
No, he decides to fuck with his family for his own entertainment.
The butler's face betrayed no hint of emotion, but inside his heart fell; for years he had grown fonder of Mr. Sneed, and now he had made his move, putting all his love into three words. They had been so cruelly misinterpreted... "Yes sir," he said softly, putting on a brave face.
One by one the family is assembled, each of them the very epitome of spoiled, selfish hangers-on just waiting for Sneed to die so they can get a hold of his money. And they still come off better than him; they're just greedy, but Sneed's a sadist.
There's Sneed's sister, a dowager in a fur coat with a permanent sneer on her face; her well-dressed slut of a son (Sneed's nephew); and Sneed's niece, who dreams of singing in the opera.
Then there's Sneed's business partner, John Harvey, and Harvey's cousin (who bears the delightfully baroque name of Mosmer Clay), an undertaker. One fat and short, one tall and thin, they're like a nursery rhyme that's gone sour.
All five of them assemble in the living room, wondering what's going on. Jasper doesn't keep them in suspense for long. Admirably brief, given his short time left on this earth, Sneed tells them that one of them has poisoned him, and that he will have his revenge. Also, all of them will be getting some money.
What we have here is a variation on a plot structure we haven't seen in a while--the beloved murder mystery! ...with the victim still walking around, of course. And pissed.
Might all be victims by the time Sneed gets done with them. Who needs Batman? I'm gonna go get some popcorn.
Note that the bank manager is so shocked his bifocals are hovering in mid-air.
One million dollars in 1941, by the way, is about 14.6 million today, so maybe Stuttering Stanley there is just wondering how all that will fit in one little brown briefcase.
Armed with enough cash to buy a small country, Sneed decides to go shopping (but sadly, not at Tiny Nation Emporium, where if you buy Luxembourg today, they'll throw in Estonia for free!). He buys a car, a saw, and a screwdriver.
"What kind of shoddy workmanship is this? Serves me right for buying American."
Sneed pulls off the steering wheel, tossing it out of the car with barely-contained glee. Mosmer realizes there are no doorknobs on the doors... just in time to see Sneed jump out of the car and slam his own door shut. The deranged little man gives the car a good shove, laughing at how he was able to turn a car into a deathtrap with nothing but a saw and a few hours. The doors won't open, the car can't stop or turn, the windows are unbreakable, and the bright yellow vehicle runs right off the nearby pier and into the water, becoming a bright yellow tomb for the undertaker.
As Jasper crows over his victory, there are still eighteen hours remaining.
The dying man next sets his sights on his business partner, John Harvey. He visits "the hangout of a notorious criminal", which he knows about for some reason, and buys the man's goons away with a thousand dollar bill. Then he goes into the back room and pays the "notorious criminal" 100 grand to kill the partner--half now, half when it's done. Literally. He cuts the bills in half. What a dick.
"Well, uh, sure Mac, that's oddly specific but I'll do my best!
Hey Mac did you know your eye's gonna come out?"
Meanwhile, Lucille Sneed (the niece who wants to sing in the opera) is meeting with her good friend Linda Page and her boyfriend, Bruce Wayne, looking even more bored than usual. Which is hard to believe because Lucille's story boils down to "So my crazy uncle is dying and homicidal and probably crazy," which, I mean, it's no killer clown, but it beats the hell out of daytime TV.
Later, however, Batman rushes out to see if John Harvey knows anything about his business partner's newfound derangement. He arrives too late to catch Harvey, but not too late to scare the ever-loving shit out of some poor clerk:
"Let's go, Robin--I mean, uh, Santa's Helpful Elf... boy... uh... Oh, fuck it. I'm Batman. Look at the cape, moron."
Wow, I was so amused by the whole "I need a secret identity to protect my secret identity" thing that I completely missed Batman saying, "Let's go, Robin--I've got a hunch we're going to see some action." Let's see how the next scene plays with that in mind.
Okay, so the thugs get Harvey into the steel mill and immediately decide to tie him up. (Hm.) And apparently one of the gangsters is named Silky. (hmmmm) And they're going shove Harvey deep into this furnace, when suddenly:
"Like... in a good way?"
Surely they must be talking about shooting Batman with their guns--something nobody, gay or straight, could possibly want done to them.
The next words out of Batman's mouth are, I kid you not, "Ah! Very satisfying--very satisfying, indeed!" I give the hell up.
Anyway, after the... uh... "fight"... is over... Harvey, uh, wipes the sweat off his face and--okay skipping ahead some more. Some part of this story has to stop with the innuendos...
dammit comic! I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt!
Sneed does this bizarre "seduction" process where first he gives the Amazingly-Still Man ten grand to "play a joke" for him, pretending to be a statue. Then he covers the ASM in bronze paint, so he'll really look like a statue, because the woman in question (Sneed's sister) collects statues. Then he's like, "So I'll give you another 50 grand if you kill her for me."
"Wink," added the human statue, his eyes glued open by the paint. "Salacious wink."
Mrs. Biggs receives her statue, and while Batman and Robin decide to go ask her about Sneed, she returns to her gallery to admire her present once again.
"As a man who seldom moves, I actually have very weak muscles, so it's going to take me like forever to beat you to death."
Luckily Robin bursts in and beats the ASM down. Meanwhile, Sneed is already on to other plans, throwing money around like it was paper or something. Oh well. Can't take it with you, can't leave it to a bunch of corpses, screw charity, let's go hire some more gangsters. Also he buys a golf course just to make sure it's empty that afternoon.
"I'd wait until tomorrow, but, you know, he'll be dead by then, so..."
Mrs. Biggs tries to warn her son, but the boy has perfected the art of not listening to her crap and so hangs up. Batman rushes off to save him.
Ten says it's the old "exploding golf ball" trick.
Before Stanley can give it a big ol' whack of a drive, Batman's silk rope pulls the club out of his hands. ("Comes in handy as a whip, too!" says Batman. Really.)
The thugs posing as club members descend on Batman and Robin and are defeated in comically easy fashion. Then Batman tosses the suspect golf ball onto the green to see what will happen (without even yelling "Fore!" Bad form, Batman):
Hah! You owe me ten bucks!
Batman's seen Sneed's goons try to throw his business partner in the furnace, club his sister to death, and blow up his nephew. Sneed is a dangerous man with a lot of money and nothing to lose. What should be done?
"And with that, my work here is done."
Sneed, nearing the end of his rope, is hounded at every turn by police cars. They've found the undertaker's body, they've got his description out over the radio ("wildeyed man carrying a bag full of money"), and now he can't even finish his vengeance by giving Lucille a throat spray full of acid. So not fair.
"Part of the black shadows?" Please. Batman's costume was designed with stealth in mind. Robin's, on the other hand, was designed to be visible by the cheap seats at the circus.
Batman and Robin wait all night long for Sneed to arrive, and then follow him upstairs to see where he's going. Sneed opens a door, enters... and confronts his killer!
Really? The butler did it? Really?
Batman stops Sneed before Jasper can put a bullet in the butler, and the last thing the poor, unfortunate, evil son of a bitch feels before he succumbs to the poison is Batman's fist in his face. Serves him right!
As it turns out, the "butler" is actually Jasper's twin brother, Richard. They were both in love with the same woman, but she married Jasper (maybe he was less evil back then?) When Jasper ran a poor person down with his car and drove off (okay so maybe he wasn't less evil back then), Richard took his place and the terrible responsibility, to avoid disgracing the Jasper's wife, the woman he still loved. It was all for nothing, however--the wife died, there were allegations of abuse, and an upset Richard decided to get revenge. He tattooed love on the fingers of one hand and hate on the other, lifted some weights, and then broke out of jail to come poison Jasper, because, uh, I dunno. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Nothing, though, and I mean nothing fazes Batman. His response to this ridiculously convoluted backstory is literally "I suspected as much!" God damn.
One gets the sense that Batman doesn't really give a crap about Jasper, and even sympathizes with and admires Richard, but the law is the law is the law is the law, so Richard will be getting the chair for this.
Batman and Robin shrugged.
"Go for some ice cream?"
What a dark and twisted story this was. Probably the grimmest, gloomiest one yet. Batman saved some lives, sure, but otherwise he sort of just wandered through a maze of hate, deceit, and murderous intentions. I don't think this era's Batman is cut out to deal with this level of banal human evil.
I mean, look at them. At the dark (yet elegant) conclusion to this little tale of woe, Batman and Robin are just staring at each other in dumbfoundedness. They don't even know what to do with a criminal who sets out to commit murder, succeeds, and then kills himself in despair. There's no room for a goofy pair of two-fisted crimefighters in that scenario, no room at all.
This was a good and interesting story, but I think I need to go take a shower now. Maybe next week's will be lighter fare.
*checks* Oh hell yeah, it's about the Penguin! Awesome. Now I feel better. Tune in next time, boys and girls!