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 #27 - "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate!"
Published: May 1939
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Bob Kane

A young socialite named Bruce Wayne is visiting his friend Police Commissioner Gordon at his home. Gordon tells Wayne he's curious about some fellow called the Bat-Man. Before he can elucidate, he's interrupted by a phone call--A Mr. Lambert, aka the chemical king, has been stabbed to death, and his son's prints are on the knife handle. Gordon promises to come right over. He asks Wayne if he wants to come, and Wayne agrees(because back then it was good form to invite civilians to crime scenes).

Arriving at Lambert's mansion, Gordon goes to work right away on the crime scene. After he's done, he decides to talk to Lambert's son, who says he didn't do it. Gordon asks him to explain, and he tells the Commissioner that he had returned home earlier that day. He heard a groan from the library, and found his father there with a knife sticking out of his back. He also says that the window was opened and that his father's safe had been opened. He went to pull the knife out of his father's back, and with his dying breath, his father spoke the word "contract". He tells the Commissioner that's how he got his hands on the knife. The Commissioner asks him if his father had any enemies or knew of other people with an interest in his father's business. Lambert tells him the only men he can think of are three of his father's former business partners--Steven Crane, Paul Rogers and Alfred Stryker.

At this point, a uniformed officer informs the Commissioner that a man named Rogers wanted to speak to Lambert, but that when he found out Lambert was dead he wanted to talk to the Commissioner (over the phone).   The Commissioner takes the call, and Rogers tells him that Lambert had received a threat on his life the day before, and now he's received one as well. The Commissioner tells him to wait at home and not to allow anyone in to the house, as he would be right over. At the point, Bruce Wayne excuses himself.

Meanwhile, Steven Crane is shot to death in his home. The killer opens his safe and steals a paper. The killer climbs to the rooftops where he's got an accomplice waiting who asks if he got the paper. The two men make to leave when they're interrupted by--a guy dressed up like a bat(yeah, like that's going to be intimidating).  One of the men recognizes this character as the Bat-Man and pulls a pistol. However, the Bat-Man is too quick for him and manages to lay him out with a punch before he can get his weapon free of his clothes. He then judo flips the other criminal off of the roof (presumably to his death) before taking the paper that they'd stolen. The police arrive and attempt to prevent the Bat-Man from fleeing but he gets away pretty easily.

Crane's butler informs the police what happened, and Commissioner Gordon correctly assumes that the other two partners are also in danger. He tells his men to hurry to Rogers. Meanwhile, the Bat-Man reads the paper he took from the criminals and heads off to destinations unknown in his bright red car(a "Bat-Mobile" perhaps?).

Meanwhile, Rogers has heard of Crane's death from the radio and goes to see Stryker. He tells Stryker's man Jennings that he's there to see Stryker, but then hits him from behind with a sap. Stryker then hauls Rogers down to the basement and ties him up, thinking that he'll soon have control of everything (holy cow--the butler is doing it!). He lowers a heavy glass chamber over Rogers and tells him that it's a gas chamber he uses to kill guinea pigs, but now he plans to use it on Rogers.

Jennings leaves the room to turn the gas on and the Bat-Man enters the scene. Noticing the chamber lowering over Rogers, he grabs a heavy wrench and runs to his side, then uses the wrench to smash open the chamber. Jennings returns to see what's happened but the Bat-Man manages to stop him before he can pull a gun (hmm, this Bat-Man fellow's all right. Might have some staying power).

Stryker enters the scene and asks Rogers what's happened. Rogers tells him that Jennings tried to kill him, then Stryker pulls a knife, planning to finish the job. He'll dispose of the body in the handy acid tank he has available. The Bat-Man intervenes, disarming Stryker.

The Bat-Man explains that Stryker used to be business partners in a chemical syndicate with the others and wanted to buy them out. He'd made an arrangement to pay over time, but had decided that if he murdered his debtors he could own the company outright without having to pay the money.

Stryker breaks free and pulls a gun. However, before he shoot, the Bat-Man punches him and watches him fall to his death in that handy acid vat. The Bat-Man says it's a fitting end for his kind.  He leaves before Rogers can thank him.

The next day, Bruce Wayne once again visits the Commissioner, who gives him all the details of the case. Wayne calls it a fairy tale and makes his leave. Gordon muses that Wayne seems disinterested in everything, but then we discover that Bruce Wayne is none other than--the Bat-Man! (I did not see that coming).

My rating: 7/10

Well, it's really not that much of a mystery. Stryker wants the company and has the other partners murdered for it. Simple and straightforward.

This Bat-Man fellow is intriguing however--pretending to be a bored socialite when actually being a man of mystery and action. With a little tweaking, he could be quite popular.

The art is pretty standard for 1939. Assuming he actually did the art, Kane's pencils aren't spectacular, but they work well enough.  The story isn't much to write home about, but it works just fine.

The Bat-Man, you say?  Sounds like he had potential.  Too bad he didn't pan out.


I agree, not much of a mystery - neither the murders nor the last page reveal.  An OK story at best.  It's going to take a few more issues to flesh out the Bat-Man in this pre-Joker, pre-Robin, pre-Alfred period.  I think once his tragic origin was revealed - a brilliant piece of writing, especially for the time period - he took off in popularity, and spawned several imitators to boot, including a few in-house.

Kane probably did draw the first story or two, but without Bill Finger's input he would have looked liked this:

Bill Finger said he based the story on a Shadow story. Dial B for Blog has an article about this here.

Nice find Luke. Thanks.

Luke Blanchard said:

Bill Finger said he based the story on a Shadow story. Dial B for Blog has an article about this here.

Bad enough that Detective Comics has a Green Hornet type with the Crimson Avenger, now we get a Shadow ripoff!!! I'll be spending my dime elsewhere! Good day, sir!

Bob Kane did a lot of swiping, too!

Richard Willis said:

Kane probably did draw the first story or two, but without Bill Finger's input he would have looked liked this:

IIRC, "Bat-Man" was signed by "Rob't Kane". Never saw Robert shortened like before or since!

Philip Portelli said:

IIRC, "Bat-Man" was signed by "Rob't Kane". Never saw Robert shortened like before or since!

When I was a youngster, one still saw first names abbreviated, almost always in places where space was at a premium, such as listings in telephone books or the banners of newspaper articles.

I saw "Robt." for Robert quite often, along with "Thos." for Thomas and "Geo." for George.  There was also "Jos." for Joseph, and "Jas." for James.

The one oddball that I saw occasionally, I can only assume that there was a reason for its peculiarity; that was "Jno." for John.

Detective Comics #29 - "The Batman Meets Doctor Death
Published: July 1939
Writer: Gardner F. Fox
Artist: Bob Kane

Dr. Karl Hellfern--soon to be known as Doctor Death--calls his assistant Jabah. He tells Jabah that he's perfected a deadly pollen extract and that he plans to use it to demand tribute from the world. However, he's worried about this "Bat-Man" character he's read about in the newspapers, and feels as if he needs to deal with him before he can enact his master plan. Since he doesn't know who the Bat-Man is, he wonders if he could set up a trap for him through the newspaper Personals section.

The next day, bored socialite Bruce Wayne (who is secretly this "Bat-Man" that seems to be all the rage at the time) reads the newspaper and spots Doctor Death's advertisement. It instructs him to go to the post office and ask for a letter addressed to John Jones (that's not a common name at all, no way it could possibly be confused with another letter for another man, right?) which will hold information of vital importance. Bruce Wayne goes and gets the letter, which contains a challenge to the Bat-Man, telling him that a murder will be committed that evening and challenging him to stop him without the aid of the police.

Wayne goes home to change into the Bat-Man. He also prepares by adding some choking gas pellets to his arsenal, as well as some suction gloves and knee pads, as the night will require a bit of climbing. He then heads out to the designated murder scene. He hides his car in a nearby construction site, then begins his climb to the 14th floor (one does wonder why he doesn't take the satairs or an elevator, although since the sequence of him climbing takes a full page, I guess it does take up some page space).

The Bat-Man arrives at the penthouse of the building, and assorted criminals are waiting for him with guns. As he enters the apartment, the lights come on and the men reveal themselves. However, the Bat-Man grabs a nearby statue bust and uses it as a makeshift club, laying out the nearest gunmen. A quick fight and he's got them all tied up. He asks who sent them, but they won't tell him. He threatens to kill them if they won't talk (he took one of their guns after tying them up) when Jabah appears. He tells the Bat-Man "Greetings from Doctor Death" and shoots, striking the Bat-Man in the shoulder.  The Bat-Man pulls a pellet from his (utility) belt and throws it Jabah, who begins choking. The Bat-Man smashes through a window and manages to escape. Returning to his car, he patches up his wound, then calls the newspaper and places a personal ad stating that he accepts Doctor Death's challenge. He then goes to his doctor, who removes the bullet and accepts Bruce's explanations.

The next day, Doctor Death chews out Jabah and his men for their failure the previous night. He then sends out Jabah to murder one John P. Smith who has refused to pay tribute to Doctor Death. As Jabah walks along the streets, Bruce Wayne spots him and decides to follow him.

Smith leaves his club and Jabah blows the deadly pollen at him, then runs away. However, Bruce Wayne is there with a handkerchief and instructions for Smith not to breathe. Having saved Smith, he goes in pursuit of Jabah.

That evening, having put on his Bat-Man costume, he returns to Doctor Death's home. He breaks in, musing about their upcoming showdown.

He locates Doctor Death and Jabah in the laboratory. He uses a lasso to ensnare Jabah, then faces off against Doctor Death. Death pulls a lever opening a trap door and jumps in, pursued by the Bat-Man. The Bat-Man chases Death back to his laboratory where Death decides to make a stand. he's about to fling a test tube full of a chemical at the Bat-Man, but the hero grabs a fire extinguisher and throws it at Doctor Death, knocking the tube out of his hands. It breaks on the floor, and immediately the area around Doctor Death is engulfed in flames. The Doctor laughs at the Bat-Man and calls him a fool as the flames and smoke overcome him. The Bat-Man watches as Doctor Death dies in a grisly manner.

My rating: 5/10

The first thing I noticed here is the pacing of this story--it seems tremendously padded, as it seems there's a lot of time devoted to things like Bat-Man climbing the side of the building, breaking into Doctor Death's home, etc. I think 3-4 pages easily could have been cut from this story and it still would have made sense.

Once again, no real mystery here. Doctor Death is pretty much a Marvel-type villain who, via some sort of technological advancement he creates, thinks he now has what it takes to TAKE OVER THE WORLD! After all, this makes him unstoppable, right? There's little tension in the story, and I'm guessing that a much better trap could have been set had Death sent the Bat-Man to say, a dark cellar without any light where the crooks could have just shot him as soon as he turned on any sort of light.

The art is once again, serviceable. Assuming Kane actually drew it, it's presentable.

This was the first appearance of the Bat-Man's utility belt, although it's not called such.

Evil beard, sinister monocle and pointy ears! Not much subtlety here, is there?

Bruce is pretty much a cipher in these early stories!

The GCD records Kane as having initially inked the feature himself, and this is also the view of DC Comics Artists. The page Bob Kane Part 1 at the link has examples of his pre-Batman work.

Kane's first assistant on the feature was Sheldon Moldoff. The GCD says he did pencil backgrounds and letters from #30-#35. DC Comics Artists says he inked and did letters, which is quite different. 

DC Comics Artists says Kane hired Moldoff when the page count went up from 10 to 12 pages. But that was in #33 or #35. It went up from 6 to 10 in #29, which fits with when the GCD says Moldoff started. The increase in the page count implies DC had decided the feature was a winner. That was also when DC brought in Gardner Fox to do the writing, not knowing about Bill Finger.

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