famous first detective
The obvious follow-up to DC’s first FAMOUS 1ST EDITION–which presented the best facsimile edition of ACTION COMICS No. 1–was a comparable reproduction of DETECTIVE COMICS No. 27, available circa March 7th, 1974.
Despite the number, ‘TEC 27 had the right to be a famous first as it published The Case of the Chemical Syndicate–the Bat-Man’s first case. At a mere 6 pages, this introduction to the Darknight Detective is not a great plot. The actual mystery isn’t really the Case of the Chemical Syndicate–a whodunnit that none of the other detectives in ‘TEC 27 would’ve broke a sweat in solving.
In fact, the Caped Crimefighter botches the case, as he fails to bring the murderer to justice, allowing him to drop to his death before he’s made a full confession to the police.
Rather, the real mystery in this yarn is the Bat-Man himself–a strange vigilante who has caught the attention of Commissioner Gordon.
Gordon, as police commissioners are wont to do, allows one of his socialite friends to accompany him on this case. That socialite is named Bruce Wayne–and what a shock when it turns out at the very end of this brief case that this society scion is in fact the very Bat-Man that has puzzled Gordon’s wit. It turns out this whole case has simply been to set up that enigma–what answers will the next issue hold?
Well not many, as it turns out. The next 6 pager is a routine crime case and fails to bring any attention to Commissioner Gordon or Bruce Wayne. A misstep on Bill Finger’s part, I think. Rather than wasting time on the minor plot for No. 28, he ought to have cut to the big mystery–that of the Bat-Man himself. But with this issue, he’s missed his chance and might never have another.
the case of the chemical synthesis
Here’s a truth about the early Batman–and it might also be said for the early Superman–had Batman been better, he wouldn’t have been as good. It’s where Bill Finger and Bob Kane falter in their attempts to create a slick detective yarn that the true inventiveness of their Dark Knight emerges.
Finger has yet to develop the plotting skills that would soon distinguish him as a great comic book writer. His replacement–as of issue No. 29–Gardner Fox is already a little more practiced, but still a neophyte. Fox’s great disadvantage is that he didn’t create this character and has to make something out of the mystery man he’s been given.
I think it’s fair to say that Gardner Fox would not have created the Bat-Man if left to his own devices, but once given the chore he brings to the character as many innovations as he can conjure.
Bob Kane is not an adventure strip artist. His talents are best suited to big foot humour. Even with his swipe file brimming full of Alex Raymond panels, Bob is challenged to make the Bat-Man look like other adventure strip characters.
It’s in all this blind stumbling in the dark that the creative talents find the Batman. They take bits and pieces from various other characters–in fact all the other detectives in DETECTIVE COMICS have qualities that the Batman can borrow. Finger, Fox, Kane and Kane’s assistants are not squeamish about appropriating whatever they can turn to their advantage, regardless of the original source. And it’s this synthesis of elements that defines the Batman, ultimately.
In fact, because Superman and Batman survive the great culling of pulp and comic book heroes in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, it’s through those two DC giants that many elements of now defunct characters survive. Few may remember Doc Savage, Captain Future, the Black Bat or the Gladiator–yet their legacy lives on in the Action Ace and the Darknight Detective.
Because Bill Finger only contributes two 6 page stories, before the editor, Vin Sullivan, brings in Gardner Fox–it’s hard to know what direction the Bat-Man would have gone. Sullivan, of course, didn’t know that Finger had written those two stories and that Bill essentially created most of what made the Bat-Man so special, since Bob Kane was the one who submitted the scripts and the art.
Perhaps, Sullivan believed Gardner Fox could bring more to the feature. Being friends with Vin since childhood, Gardner Fox–a lawyer by training–came into the comic book industry on the strength of that friendship. Sullivan’s confidence in Fox was well-placed and he’s easily one of the best writers from the early days of comics. So putting Fox on the Bat-Man was a vote of confidence in the feature.
And Gardner wastes no time in bringing a special flavour to this Batman. The appearance of a man that looks like a giant bat draws Fox in a gothic direction, with surrealist and German expressionist overtones to boot. Yet the cases hardly test the Dark Knight’s detective skills.
Aside from these weird elements in the Gardner Fox stories, the writer’s main contribution is Julie Madison and all those bat-toys. Both of which are not hinted at in Bill Finger’s first two tales. Batman does use a rope on the cover of No. 27 and in the story for No. 28, but that’s fairly routine when compared with the Baterang and the Batgyro in Gardner’s plots. As well, the Fox Batman employs other devices such as suction-cups to climb up the outside of a sky-scraper or special glass vials of gas concealed in his belt.
Bob Kane, especially once he’s assisted by Sheldon Moldoff, provides artwork to match the weirdness in the Gardner Fox scripts. In addition to plundering gothic novels, pulp fiction and syndicated newspaper strips–the Batman creative collective must have been watching lots of movies–not just Hollywood films, but the works of the German Expressionists like F. W. Murnau and Robert Wien and the surrealists like Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel.
It’s now well known that Kane relied on the contributions of his friend, Bill Finger, in developing the concept of the Bat-Man.
Kane had already co-created the adventure strips Rusty and His Pals and Clip Carson with ghost-writer Finger; however, humour art was clearly Bob’s metier, as seen in funnies like Ginger Snap and Professor Doolittle.
His primary motivation in pumping out the adventure work must’ve been money, although it taxed Kane’s abilities to produce such work. Which is why Bob had to rely both on swipes and on assistants in meeting his deadlines.
Nevertheless, there is something about Kane’s Batman art which is entirely original. It’s as if, in forcing adventure aesthetics through his humourist filter, Bob discovered something other-worldly.
And the scripts from Gardner Fox now allow Bob Kane to throw away all pretense of realism and dive right into the bizarre and the strange.
Bob Kane eventually informed Sullivan that Bill Finger was the original scripter for the Batman, at which point Bill returns to the Caped Crimefighter.
The order of the stories is mixed up here, probably to allow Finger’s origin for the Batman to get in print as soon as possible. It’s only about a page and a third, but this legend–also reprinted in BATMAN No. 1 (Spring ’40)–does a lot to explain Bruce Wayne’s motivations.
Of course, that Bruce Wayne is bent on vengeance for his family has all the earmarks of pulp fiction. It’s quite clear in inventing the Batman that Bill Finger was borrowing from those dime novels.
And once he returns full time to the Batman, Finger gets right back into the swing of things, building on Bruce Wayne’s double identity, his relationship with the police (through Gordon) and his methods of investigation.
Julie Madison is forgotten for the moment. Her engagement to Bruce Wayne will soon be dismissed. However, more girl friends will come out of the woodwork.
At the same time, Finger and Kane will create even more toys for the Batman, building on what Fox has already established.
The other thing about Finger’s Batman, as opposed to Fox’s, is that he’s not as grim. Despite his macabre appearance, the Batman going forward is a much brighter character under Bill Finger’s direction.
This Caped Crusader seems to enjoy fighting thugs and henchmen, offering the odd quip even as he pummels another opponent. He may be out for vengeance, but Bruce Wayne is surely having fun while doing so.
no more lonely knight
Abruptly–in fact so abruptly that the Hugo Strange story teased for issue No. 38 will have to be inventoried and used a few months later in BATMAN No. 1–the Batman feature in DETECTIVE COMICS veers in a new direction, with the introduction of a certain Boy Wonder. Although, I would argue it’s a direction that Bill Finger was already tending toward.
Some sidekick was needed–sidekicks proved their worth in other DETECTIVE features like Slam Bradley with Shorty Morgan or the Crimson Avenger with Wing–just in giving the hero someone to talk to, which helps with exposition among other things. However, making the sidekick a little boy was the great surprise.
No doubt, Robin better suited the talents of Bob Kane, who was practiced in drawing kids in his other features like Rusty and His Pals, as well as Bob’s new, young assistant, Jerry Robinson (still a teen himself). But the presence of a little kid tends to temper the Batman’s darker moods.
And the arrival of the Laughing Daredevil puts an end to Batman as a lone vigilante. Those first days are gone yet not forgotten. Fans and pros will return to those days, making more of them than maybe what was actually there in the first place.
For a full run-down of these first issues see My Checklist:
√ 11 Elementary Darknight Detectives
And to learn more about the Batman’s original editor, see the extra page:
Begin the Begin, Vin Sullivan
and coming up in the new year . . .
Researched using information provided on Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, the Grand Comics Database and in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COMIC BOOK HEROES: Vol. 1–BATMAN by Michael L. Fleisher, as well as other resources.
THE COMIC BOOK GUIDE For Artist/Writer/Letterer (Charlton Publications, Inc., 1973).
In my continuing effort to sort through my packrat accumulation of stuff, I came across this that I completely forgot that I had, socked away in amongst a bunch of papers–still in the envelope that it was first delivered to me from Charlton Comics in the early ’70s.
In the ’70s, I subscribed to a number of different publications but Charlton’s subscription department was the best for service–in hind-sight, I should have subscribed to more from that publisher. Unlike DC’s regular comics in shoddy wrappers, the Charltons arrived in proper envelopes and thus in perfect condition.
This half-size comic book format (36 pages including cover) primer on everything you need to know to work in the comic book industry was proably provided free of charge with my subscription to E-MAN.
No doubt, I will be thumbing the pages of this guide for future use on other blogs to come. Stay tuned.