Monday, May 23, 2016

A Bird, a Card, and a Cat (Detective #38 & Batman #1)

Detective Comics (1937) #38 Page 3 Panel 9: The announcement of Dick Grayson's new identity as Robin.
Detective Comics #38 and Batman #1 appear to have been released in the same month in 1940, and they introduce three major players to the Batman Universe: Robin (Dick Grayson), The Joker, and Catwoman.

The story introducing Robin in Detective Comics is but 12 pages of the mag (which has several other noirish stories in it). Issue #1 of Batman, on the other hand, has four complete Batman stories, two starring The Joker, one with Hugo Strange (a villain who has appeared in Detective Comics in an issue I don't own), and one with The Cat (Catwoman).

Most Amusing Panel Prize:
Somehow, the Batman gets The Joker to stab himself?
Batman (1940) #1 Page 52 Panel 5: Batman manages to make The Joker stab himself somehow.

Detective Comics (1937) #38 Page 3 Panel 3: Batman invites Dick Grayson to fight crime with him as they have both lost parents to criminals.Constructing a parallel origin story for Batman's first sidekick, Dick Grayson, was a masterful choice. Many excellent questions about the nature of grief and vengeance and heroism have come from young Robin joining Batman on his mission to fight criminals like those responsible for the deaths of both sets of their parents.

(However, "exterminating them" may be a bit heavy-handed in its approach.) (Also, the English teacher in me is dismayed that Batman uses the exact same language as the narrator in this panel.)

Batman (1940) #1 Page 12 Panel 3: Batman puns as he strikes The Joker.
Surprising Details:

What surprised me most about the introduction of the Joker is how punny Batman is in these early issues. I thought bad puns were a vestige of the 1960's TV show, but apparently they make their appearance way earlier in the history of Batman.

In this issue, both Batman and The Joker deal pun after pun related to a deck of cards (the signature of The Joker's imagery).

Batman (1940) #1 Page 20 Panel 5: Batman gets Hugo to monologue about his nefarious plans.
Criminal monologue-ing has also had a lengthy history in comics, it seems, as Batman invites his first recurring villain, Dr. Hugo Strange, to explain his crazy plan (which Hugo is more than happy to do).

(His crazy plan involves turning escaped lunatics into giant monsters whom he intends to let loose on the public as a distraction so his men can "loot the banks.")

Batman (1940) #1 Page 39 Panel 1: Batman is a creepy sexist when he reveals The Cat by wiping off her disguise.
Horribly sexist and tacky, Batman's first encounter with Catwoman (in which he wipes off her disguise as an old woman) simply creeps me out: "Quiet or Papa Spank!" UGH.

Plus, she employs her notoriously stereotypical "feminine wiles" to try to enlist Batman into becoming her partner. Who's surprised?

In fact, the only redeeming quality in the pair of panels below is the humor created by the juxtaposition of Robin's dialogue with his obliviousness to the interchange between Batman and "The Cat."

Batman (1940) #1 Page 40 Panels 1 & 2: The Cat tries to persuade Batman to switch sides. He refuses.

Batman (1940) #1 Page 24 Panel 8: Batman "hate[s] to take human life" unless it is necessary.In the first issue of his self-titled mag, Batman also expresses (for the first time in my comic collection) a reluctance to kill, even though he asserts he will kill if "necessary."

I find the concept of the sacredness of life (typically phrased as "human life," but all life fits, too) to be central to my understanding of superhero-ing.

What typically separates the "good guys" from the "bad guys" is the moral culpability they feel at the loss of life caused by their efforts to attain their goals.

Final Notions:

It is cool to know that the fundamentals I have picked up about these characters in the Batman Universe (from modern renditions and pop culture) can actually be found in the source texts themselves.

Regardless, these early issues are a bit of a chore to slough through. I may have to hit warp speed so I can get to some material that will make for better reading (especially for those earnest enough to read my blog).

Detective Comics (1937) #38 CoverSeries: Detective Comics (1937)

Issue #: 038

Copyright: DC Comics

Cover Date: April 1940

Cover Price: 10¢

Page Count: 59 pages

Print Release: 21-February-1940

Digital Release: 17-August-2012

DC Comics Logo
None Listed
Cover Art:
Source Links:
Story Title:
“Robin the Boy Wonder”

Batman (1940) #1 Cover
Series: Batman (1940)

Issue #: 001

Copyright: DC Comics

Cover Date: Spring 1940

Cover Price: 10¢

Page Count: 54 pages

Print Release: 28-February-1940

Digital Release: 25-May-2011

DC Comics Logo
None Listed
Cover Art:
Source Links:
Story Titles:
“The Joker”; “The Giants of Hugo Strange”; “The Cat”; “The Joker Returns”

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