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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Detective Comics #30 - "The Return of Doctor Death
Published: August 1939
Writer: Gardner F. Fox
Artist: Bob Kane

Bruce Wayne is reading the morning newspaper when he runs across an article explaining that a number of people are dying and turning purple. Of course, the first person he thinks of is Doctor Death (because he was working on hat turning people purple poison just last issue...oh no, wait, he wasn't) despite the fact that Doctor Death is dead.

Disguising himself as a reporter, he goes to the home of the latest victim. he talks to the man's widow, who confirms the receipt of a threatening letter from Doctor Death. She then explains that they didn't have any money (hence the maid) as her husband had lost it during the Depression, but that they still had some diamonds. Bruce advises her to move the diamonds to a safe place as he takes his leave.

That night, Wayne once again assumes his Batman identity, once again preparing with some gas capsules. He drives his bright red custom automobile (I still like "bat-mobile" as a name, but perhaps "ferocious flivver" would also be good). In a bit of needless page filler exposition, he informs the reader that he's parking the vehicle a block away. He then enters the mansion of the victim. Using his skills as a second story man, he goes through a second floor window and locates the safe, which he then cracks.

Meanwhile, a heavily bandaged Doctor Death is monologuing giving his new man Mikhail instructions. Apparently he didn't die because of a secret trap door that the Batman missed (60 points for Slytherin). he tells Mikhail to break into the house and steal the jewels, then take them to the fence, Herd in the Bowery.

Mikhail interrupts the Batman while he's looting the safe. Batman hides, and decides to follow Mikhail. However, Mikhail is intercepted accidentally by the widow. He's about to shoot her when Batman tackles him from behind. He knocks Mikhail unconscious and tosses him out the window, then puts the jewels in a bag and tosses them to Mikhail so they can split the booty later--actually, he still plans to follow Mikhail. The widow has fainted, and the Batman considerately puts her back into bed.

Mikhail wakes up, not sure what's happened but seeing as he still has the jewels, it's okay by him. He takes the jewels to the fence, Ivan Herd. The Batman watches all of this, and continues to trail Mikhail. He follows him to Doctor Death's new hideout--well, to be fair he's living in a flophouse. Batman decides on an aerial approach and heads for the upper floors again.

Entering the apartment, he sees Mikhail sleeping. A gas capsule makes sure he stays that way. He searches the place, but can't find anything useful--apparently Doctor Death does not live there. He's interrupted by Mikhail, who's recovered from the gas much more quickly than expected.

Mikhail shoots at the Batman, but he ducks out the window. Mikhail rushes to the window to shoot at him some more but Batman swings back and kills him out with a mighty kick (BTW, Batman had a handy rope right outside the window). He actually shows a little remorse for Mikhail's death, mainly because it wasn't Doctor Death's...death.

Batman calls the police and tips them off that Herd has the diamonds as evidence, then goes to see herd, demanding the diamonds (???). Herd resists and attempts to make a break for it, but the Batman catches him and removes his wig and face mask, revealing Doctor Death underneath. he ties up Death for the police and leaves them a card, taking the diamonds back to the widow himself.

My rating: 6/10

I assume they went back to Doctor Death so quickly because of positive response, and now that his face is burned off, he very much resembles one of Chester Gould's villains.

Once again, no mystery here as it's all pretty straightforward. I'm starting where all of this "World's Greatest Detective" hullaballoo is coming from. I will say that this is the first I can recall Batman showing remorse for killing someone.

The pacing is a little better on the art, but there's still a fair amount of padding with showing things like Batman climbing his rope--twice. Still, it's not bad and the action sequence where Batman unfortunately kills Mikhail is pretty nice.

The high number of fatalities in early Golden Age comics is, of course, a trait from their pulp and comic strip forefathers. 

The Shadow as Batman's inspiration is a common held belief but there is a lot of Dick Tracy as well.

And Bruce is a rather heavy smoker, don't you think?

It's interesting the things we notice and that we don't. I was unable to sleep last night and ended up watching a couple of episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. In one of them, Laura lights up a cigarette. Back when the show was airing regularly, I wouldn't have noticed it because it was such a common thing, but now it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Philip Portelli said:

And Bruce is a rather heavy smoker, don't you think?

Gardner Fox's script for the story from #30 survives. Images of the pages can currently be found at Heritage Auctions, here.

We recently binge-watched the entire run of the Dick Van Dyke show. We watched it with our parents during the original run but there were many episodes we'd never seen. Both Rob and Laura smoked quite a bit on the show. Now we've been watching the first few seasons of the original Bob Newhart show. As soon as Bob or someone else walks in the door whiskey is offered. As you say, these thingsjump out at you.

Randy Jackson said:

It's interesting the things we notice and that we don't. I was unable to sleep last night and ended up watching a couple of episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. In one of them, Laura lights up a cigarette. Back when the show was airing regularly, I wouldn't have noticed it because it was such a common thing, but now it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Philip Portelli said:

And Bruce is a rather heavy smoker, don't you think?

Detective Comics #31 - "Batman vs. the Vampire, Part 1!"
Published: September 1939
Writer: Gardner F. Fox
Artist: Bob Kane & Sheldon Moldoff

Batman is wandering around town looking for someone when he spots an entranced woman about to attack a man. The woman says she was sent by the Mad Monk. Batman captures the man with a rope and pulls him to safety. He then drops tot he ground to deal with the entranced woman and is surprised to find out that it's Bruce Wayne's fiancé, Julie Madison. He shakes her, and she comes out of her trance. He then drives her home, refusing to speak to her or answer any of her questions as to how he knows where she lives. Having taken her home, he leaves, telling her to tell her fiancé Bruce Wayne all about it.

The next day, Julie does tell Bruce Wayne about her encounter with Batman, and he takes her to see Dr. Trent (not sure if he's an MD or a psychiatrist). The doctor tells her she was obviously hypnotized and suggests that she take an ocean voyage. He also suggests that she travel to Hungary afterwards--he even uses the words "the land of history and werewolves!" It's made obvious by the narrative caption that the doctor is himself hypnotized. Still, Bruce buys her a ticket and puts her on a ship to Paris (he only buys one ticket and it makes one wonder just how engaged the two of them actually were).

Bacl at his mansion, Bruce changes to Batman as he does intend to accompany Julie on her trip, just in his alter ego. He uses his "batgyro" to get to the ship and also breaks out a new weapon--an Australian boomerang (I wonder if he's going to eventually call it a "batarang"--no, that would be silly). As he flies off in his "batgyro" many people on the street are frightened by it's silhouette (almost as if the idea behind the bat-motif was to scare people). Julie even mistakes it for a giant bat as it flies over the ship. However, it soon makes it's usefulness known as it hovers over the ship, allowing Batman to board the ship.

As the Batman greets Julie, she sees a masked and robed figure sneaking up behind them. She warns Batman as the man attempts to hypnotize him. He's able to resist and tosses his boomerang at the figure. However, the man ducks. Batman boards his "batgyro" and continues along to Paris.

Batman wanders around Paris, scaring people for reasons that aren't quite clear. I guess he's searching for Julie, but can't find her for a few days (okay, if Bruce bought her ticket, one would think it's highly likely he also paid for her hotel room, so shouldn't he know where to go?). He enters Julie's room, but is then attacked by a gorilla (for one panel--so many panels of him skulking around rooftops, we finally get something interesting, and it's one panel). Anyway, the Batman manages to evade the ape but then falls into a trap through a sliding door. He falls into a giant net and is caught.

Batman is now face to face with the Mad Monk, the man who tried to hypnotize him before The Monk talks a little trash while suspending Batman over a pit full of poisonous snakes. Undaunted, Batman whips out his "baterang" (see? silly) and throws it in an expert arc, flipping the lever that was lowering him into the pit and smashing a light bulb so he'd have something sharp to help him cut his way out of the net.

The Batman goes in pursuit of the Mad Monk, but the Monk drops a barred gate in front of him, trapping him with the gorilla. As he attempts to escape the gorilla (who is literally three times Batman's size) he tosses his "baterang" again, knocking out a heretofore unseen assistant of the Mad Monk who was going to shoot at him. He then escapes the house, finding his "batgyro" waiting for him just outside. He then pursues an escaping car, using the "batgyro" to get close enough so he can get into the car.

Batman tosses a gas pellet into the car, causing it to crash into a tree. He notices the Monk isn't one of the passengers, but he does retrieve Julie (who I guess somehow he knew she was in the car or just knew the impact of the car crash wouldn't kill her) and flies the "batgyro" to Hungary (no customs?).

To be continued...

My rating: 5/10

This is a classic Batman story, particularly as the first multi-part Batman story. However, there are a ton of holes in the story.  

I know no one really likes exposition, but this story really needed some. We start with Batman skulking around rooftops for seemingly no reason, and when he does stop Julie from killing the man, there's little to suggest that that's her goal. she isn't carrying a weapon. I'm not saying she couldn't kill him, just that it doesn't seem likely.

There are any number of similar holes all throughout this story. Why didn't Batman know where Julie was staying, or at least why didn't' have have a better method of finding her? Where the hell did the giant gorilla come from? Why is he referred to as the Mad Monk when he's never introduced?

In addition, while the artwork is pretty much what you'd expect, it's all quite padded. Lots of filler, way too much of Batman skulking about or running through corridors or what have you.Either this was very early in Gardner Fox's career, or Kane was really meddling with his scripts, as this is just a bit of a mess.

Too bad they didn't put the gorilla on the cover!

The Mad Monk was Batman's first "super" villain and his supernatural origins are linked to the films Dracula and Rasputin. 

The Bat-Gyro (his first customized vehicle) had great range though it was hardly inconspicuous.

Julie Madison was Batman's first love interest but she was clearly no Lois Lane or even Joan Williams. She was soon dropped from the feature.

I'm one of those people that has the unpopular opinion that Batman doesn't need a love interest. I just don't feel he's that sort of character.

Philip Portelli said:

Julie Madison was Batman's first love interest but she was clearly no Lois Lane or even Joan Williams. She was soon dropped from the feature.

Yes but dropping ANY love interest led to the whole Wertham thing about Batman and Robin!

Detective Comics #32 - "Batman vs. the Vampire, Part 2!"
Published: October 1939
Writer: Gardner F. Fox
Artist: Bob Kane & Sheldon Moldoff

Batman tracks and then boards a horse-drawn carriage. He then tosses one of his gas-filled pellets inside, then picks the driver up over his head and disposes of him (I get the feeling that he killed the ugy, but you can't really tell).

Apparently, Batman expected to find the Monk inside the carriage, but instead it's a woman. Batman kidnaps her and carries her off to his "batplane" (I thought it was a "batgyro"). He takes her back to his hotel--or rather Julie's hotel. The woman regains consciousness, introduces herself as Dala and then tells Julie that Batman kidnapped her (which he did).

Julie and Dala go to sleep, and Batman guards the door. In the middle of the night, Batman hears a disturbance. Dala comes out of the hotel room sleepwalking, with blood on her lips. He goes back into the room to check on Julie, and Dala hits him on the back of the head with a statuette, knocking him briefly unconscious.

Batman (who has only been lightly stunned) checks on Julie and finds two small gashes on her throat--the sign of a vampire! He pursues Dala and catches her in the hotel courtyard. he interrogates Dala, accusing her of being in league with the Monk and both of them being vampires. She tells him that she fears the Monk and that she'll tell him where he is if he'll kill the Monk. Batman tells her he'll decide whether or not to kill the Monk if she tells him where he is. She promises to take him to the Monk.

Batman goes back to Julie and gives her money to protect her from the Monk (because that's going to work). She tells him that she's terrified without him.

Batman and Dala fly to the Monk's stronghold in the "batplane" (honestly, I preferred "batgyro", as it was more unusual and more descriptive of what the aircraft actually is) The "batplane" is suddenly ensnared in a gigantic silver net and forced to land. Dala talks trash to Batman.

The Monk appears and hypnotizes Batman. He then greets Dala. They go into his castle. Dala tells the Monk he needs to do something about Batman, and the Monk suggests the werewolf den. Dala suggests that he bring Julie there as well, and using his mental powers, the Monk does so.

A couple of hours later (I have to make this assumption as Julie is on foot and they did take the "batplane" to get to the Monk's castle) Julie arrives. The Monk brags to a still hypnotized Batman that soon Julie will be a werewolf just like himself and Dala (wait, I thought they were vampires). Julie notices that Batman has been hypnotized.

The Monk transforms into a wolf and calls out for his brethren to come. He then shoves Batman into a pit where the wolves shall congregate and kill him.

As he falls into the pit, Batman comes out of his trance. he grabs his rope and tries to lasso a nearby pipe, but misses. The wolves are ready to attack, but he pulls a gas pellet from his belt to keep them away. However, it's only a temporary solution, as his pellets will only last for so long. He tries to throw his rope again but misses. He then gets the idea to tie the rope to his "baterang", which acts as a grapple, allowing him to escape the pit.

He locates Julie and finds her asleep. He then finds a silver statuette and melts it down, using the sliver to make two bullets. he then locates the tomb where the vampires sleep (seriously, are they vampires or werewolves?) and shoots Dala and the Monk. Julie is very grateful and seems to forget she has a fiancé momentarily, then Batman flies away in his "batplane".

My rating: 5/10

Well, this chapter of the story more coherent than the last. It's perhaps a tad more focused and there's perhaps a little less filler, but it still could have used some exposition. Batman seems to attack Dala's carriage for no reason (which could easily have been explained with a narrative caption), Dala seems to be the product of "we need to have another girl here" thinking, there's the whole vampire/werewolf thing, and it's all just a bit of a jumbled mess.  I'm still trying to figure out where Batman got he bullet mold from.

I think this is the first time we see Batman without the hyphen.

Richard Willis said:

I think this is the first time we see Batman without the hyphen.

No, the hyphen-less delineation became standard much sooner than that.  In fact, it was on its way out by Detective Comics # 29 (Jul., 1939).  Only the logos on the first and last panels of "The Batman Meets Doctor Death" use the "Bat-Man" version.  In the title and whenever Batman appears in the story, it is spelt without the hyphen.

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