As a bit of a departure, I'll be covering a character I doubt many of you have heard of. He called himself the Bat-Man and three were a few comics about him back iin period of the late 1930's-early 1940's. I wonder whatever happened to him, as I though he perhaps had some staying power in the right hands.

I'll be covering Detective Comics #27, #29-38 and Batman #1. These stories seem to be the primary genesis of the character and some of his exterior trappings.

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I think there was definitely an effort to make Robin more of a junior partner than a sidekick from the beginning. I think it worked pretty well too--inconsistencies about his age notwithstanding.

Batman #1 - " The Joker Returns!"
Published: Spring 1940
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Having been jailed by Batman, the Joker plans his revenge on Batman and Robin. But first, he has to escape from jail. Removing two false teeth containing chemicals to make an explosive, the Joker blows a hole in the wall of the cell, escaping to freedom.

Bruce and Dick overhear news of the Joker's escape over the radio. They're both on their guard as they know the Joker is a difficult opponent.

The Joker has a hideout under a cemetery (I wonder if Denny Colt is his neighbor). He's also got a lab down there as well.

A message goes out over the radio, and the joker plans to kill Chief of Police Chalmers at 10pm. That night, Chalmers is surrounded by police when the phone rings. When Chalmers answers, he drops dead and his face curls into a grin. Upon further inspection, there was a poison dart in the phone activated by a loud noise, and that's how the Joker killed him.

Over the next couple of days, the Joker goes on a crime spree. He steals a famous painting, then steals a jewel, leaving it's owner dead with a smile on his face.

The next morning, the Joker threatens to steal the Cleopatra necklace from the Drake museum that night at 8pm. Bruce overhears and plans to be there.

Police surround the necklace. At 8pm,. a sarcophagus opens and the Joker steps out, spewing venom. He kills the police and is about to steal the necklace when he's interrupted by Batman. Joker attempts to use his venom gun, but Batman moves too quickly and knocks it out of his hand. They fight, and the Joker surprises Batman with his ferocity, knocking him down. Joker grabs an axe from the wall of the museum and swings it at Batman, who rolls out of the way at the last minute.

The Joker overhears more police preparing to enter the room, and decides to make his escape, leaving Batman on the floor. The police enter to find the Joker gone, their fellow police officers dead and Batman unconscious on the floor. One of them attempts to unmask Batman, but Batman wakes up and escapes.

Shortly thereafter, a busybody named Edgar Martin, disgusted at the failure of the police to capture the Joker, tries to rally support from the people to do it themselves. However, the Joker gets wind of this and decides that Martin needs to be removed from the scene. He sends out a message stating that he'll kill Martin at 9pm the next evening.

The next night, the police surround Martin. One of the officers notices a deck of cards on a table and suggests Martin play some solitaire to calm his nerves. As martin shuffles the cards, he gets a paper cut from the deck. He then notices that all of the cards in the deck are Jokers, then dies, poisoned by the cards.

Bruce Wayne goes to visit Commissioner Gordon the next day. Gordon complains that they'll want to replace his police force with Batman if things don't improve. Bruce tells him that he has an idea on how to get the Joker. Since he likes jewels so much, why not use one to trap him? Gordon agrees, and plans to use the famous Fire Ruby as bait. He has the newspapers play up it's existence in the city.

The Joker sees the stories in the newspaper, but realizes it may be a trap. However, he also wants to steal the ruby. He decides to go ahead and risk the trap, and announces that he will steal it the next night at 9pm.

The next night,the Joker breaks into the penthouse where the ruby is kept, only to be surprised by a number of police wearing gas masks. However, the Joker is ready for the trap and shoots them with regular bullets--apparently the Joker is quite a shot. He attempts to escape via the roof, but Robin the boy wonder is there. As the Joker leaps from rooftop to rooftop, Robin pursues him. The Joker catches him mid-leap and knocks him off balance, causing him to fall, but a nearby flagpole saves him.

The Joker descends to the ground, musing that he never heard Robin's body hit the ground. He sees Robin dangling from the flagpole and raises his gun to shoot, but he's interrupted by Batman. He draws the Joker's attention. Suddenly the flagploe breaks, and Robin drops down, hitting an awning, and uses his momentum to land on the shoulders of the Joker and disarm him.

Batman attacks the Joker. They fight, and this time Batman gets the upper hand. Joker pulls a knife, but Batman keeps him from stabbing him. The Joker stumbles into a nearby building, stabbing himself. The Joker starts laughing hysterically, then falls down and dies.

The police arrive, and Batman and Robin skulk away. As the ambulance arrives to take the Joker's body away, the ambulance driver realizes that the Joker isn't really dead.

My rating: 8/10

Reading this, I'm hard pressed to say which Joker story I like more--the classic opening one from this issue, or this one.  They really pulled out all the stops on the Joker, making him one of the most dangerous villains in fiction. I love that he was prepared for his possible incarceration, and his intelligence and ruthlessness make him a great match for Batman. This is also the second time he's gotten the better of Batman in a fight, which is also quite interesting.

Robin acquits himself reasonably well here, although the police don't come off well. Still, it's hard to blame the police for not being able to deal with the Joker.

The art is decent--actually, throughout this comic it seems as if the artwork got a little looser with each story. It's not glaring, but it is somewhat noticeable.

The murders of Chalmers and Martin are both imaginative sequences.

The Joker's "death scene" is also good. According to the GCD it was originally intended that he'd die here, and the editors said he was too good a villain to waste.

The cover of Detective Comics #40 is another version of the image from the splash panel.

This issue also had a pin-up of Batman and Robin on the back cover. The fillers included one of Kane's "Ginger Snap" stories, about a calculating little girl.

The image of Batman in the splash panel of the reprint of the origin was taken from the splash panel of the story in Detective Comics #34.

Detective Comics #38 - "Robin the Boy Wonder!"
Published: April 1940
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

The Haly circus has set up in a suburb of "the big city" (still not calling it Gotham yet) and the Flying Graysons--an acrobatic family composed of father, mother and son Dick--rehearse.

Later as Dick is wandering around, he overhears an argument coming from Haly's room. A group of gangsters is attempting to pull a protection racket on the circus, but Haly is having none of it. He tosses the gangsters out, and they threaten that accidents will happen.

That evening, Bruce Wayne takes in the circus. At the end of their act, Dick heads to the ground while his parents perform their death-defying triple spin maneuver on the trapeze. However, as they do their act, their trapeze breaks, and they fall to their deaths. Dick is comforted by Bruce Wayne.

That night, the gangsters return, hinting that they caused the accident that killed the Grayson's. Haly decides to pay up to ensure that none of his other people are killed. However, Dick overhears the conversation. he decides to go to the police but he's stopped by a lunatic dressed up like a giant bat--er, Batman. He tells Dick that he wants to capture those criminals as he knows they put acid on the trapeze ropes (no one in the circus noticed strange men monkeying with the trapeze?) but that they can't go to the police yet. He tells Dick to come with him and he'll tell why.

Dick goes with Batman, who explains that the town where the circus is set up is run by one "Boss" Zucco, and that if Dick went to the police, he'd be dead within an hour. He tells Dick he's going to hide him in his house a while.

Batman then tells Dick what happened to his parents and that he's dedicated his life to exterminating criminals. Dick begs to join him, and Batman agrees to take him under his wing. Dick takes an oath and begins training (at some point Bruce takes off his costume, but there's not a scene of the reveal). Finally, Dick is deemed ready and given a new code name--Robin, the boy wonder.

In a few months, they're ready to put their plan into action. Dick returns to the suburb and gets a job as a newsboy. His second day, he's approached by a couple of toughs who tell him he has to pay protection to keep selling his papers. Dick agrees, pretending to be scared of them. He then reports this information to Bruce.

After the toughs visit Dick the next day, he pays up, then follows them to an old house. Inside the house is "Boss" Zucco--his men are delivering the week's take, but Zucco is unhappy that it isn't enough. He tells his men to apply more pressure and squeeze their clientele dry. This includes the newsboys, and he tells his men to reconvene the next night. Dick tells Bruce.

The next night, Zucco's men are out in force, but they keep running into interference in the form of Batman. Batman tells the men to tell Zucco that he was there. Batman also smashes up one of Zucco's illegal gambling dens.

Later that night, Zucco is fuming (and doing his best Edward G. Robinson impression) about Batman. One of his men tells him he has a package. When Zucco opens it, a bat flies out (I wonder how long the bat had to be in that box). There's also a note, telling Zucco to get out of town, and in particular to stay away from a certain building where Zucco is attempting to get protection. Zucco takes his men and heads to the building. Meanwhile, Robin is riding one of the cars on the rear tire rack, noting that Batman has Zucco so angry he's going to personally handle him.

At the building, where construction seems to be at the sixth or seventh floor, Zucco and his men go up with some dynamite in order to persuade the owner of the building to pay up. One of Zucco's men is left to stand guard, but Robin takes him out. He then rides up the elevator after Zucco and his men.

When Robin leaves the elevator, Zucco's men notice him and open fire. They miss, but Robin pulls out a sling and uses it to knock out one of Zucco's men (who presumably falls to his death).  He then jumps on a crane pulley to attack the others. He's giving a really nice account of himself when he slips (see, he should have worn sneakers instead of those pixie boots-- better traction). He manages to catch himself on a girder but one of Zucco's men comes out to get him. A back flip sends the gangster hurtling to his death, and that's two men that Robin has killed this evening.

Zucco pulls a gun and is ready to shoot Robin when Batman finally intervenes. He beats up Zucco. One of Zucco's men, Blade, tries to make a break for it, but Batman lassos him around the neck and suspends him from a girder. Batman then pulls a vial from his belt and shows it to Blade, telling him the vial contains the same acid that was used to weaken the trapeze the Graysons were using.  He then tells Blade that he'll use the acid on the rope holding Blade if Blade doesn't sign a confession. Blade agrees and writes up a confession, blaming Zucco. Zucco charges and pushes Blade off of the building to his death, and Robin captures it on film.

Batman then takes Zucco in, telling him he's got enough evidence now that he has photos of Zucco pushing Blade to his death. Along with Blade's confession, he tells Zucco it will be enough to send him to the chair (not the comfy chair either).

A few days later, it's announced that Zucco is on death row and that the Governor plans to clean up the politics in the city (seriously, justice moved really quickly back then). Bruce asks Dick if he's going back to the circus now that the murder of his parents has been avenged, but Dick has other ideas, telling Bruce he wants to continue being Robin.

My rating: 5/10

I'm really conflicted about this story.

Robin is easily one of my all time favorite comics characters, quite possibly my favorite, and I'm really happy to see him introduced here, and to acquit himself well in his first adventure.

That being said, this story has a lot of holes. I'm still trying to figure out how Blade got into the circus to tamper with the trapeze wires--seriously, nobody noticed a strange guy cling to the top of the tent to fiddle with the trapeze wires, especially since those mean life and death? It just seems farfetched. Of course, now we'd see an entire issue of Blade getting hired as a temp worker and applying the acid while the trapeze was on the ground, but given there's no explanation here, I think it weakens the story.

I'm also confused by Bruce's motivations here. He could easily have taken Dick in to hide him without trusting him with his secret identity and training him to be his new partner. I suppose the story's mechanics called for this to happen so it had to happen, but I don't think it helped anything.

All in all, it's an origin story, and many of those have plot inconsistencies. I guess I should just be happy that we have Robin now.


Robin's origin got more....complicated later on.

Randy Jackson said:

In a few months, they're ready to put their plan into action.

I’ve read a reprint of this story before but I think I missed the fact that Dick had a few months to train in addition to his acrobatic abilities.

Well sure, Bruce wouldn't just toss an untrained 12 year old out there now, would he?

Richard Willis said:

I’ve read a reprint of this story before but I think I missed the fact that Dick had a few months to train in addition to his acrobatic abilities.

Batman #213  (Au'69) featured an all-new retelling of Robin's origin incorporating other stories and even showing Bruce being given actual custody of Dick by an actual judge! It fills in a lot of blanks!

I wonder how many fans of the TV show even knew Robin's origin?

Also look at all those great reprints!

I know that on the TV show Adam West said his parents were murdered by "dastardly criminals." I don't think they ever said anything about Robin's parents.

...I recall a story - during the 80s? pre-Crisis? post-? Steve Englehart? - that had Bruce giving a " why I made you my ward rather than adopting you " explanation to Dick. Anyone else?

Doug Moench did a Batman storyline where Nocturna won custody and adopted Jason Todd. (This was the first Jason, pre-Crisis.) Tales of the Teen Titans #50 - the big wedding issue - had a scene where Bruce and Dick talk about his and Dick asks Bruce why he didn't adopt him. Bruce says he was preoccupied with being Batman and before he knew it Dick had grown up.

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