Saturday, September 05, 2009

Out of the Vault- Batman #246

So I figured I would stop beating up on independent small-press comics for a while and beat up on one of the big boys. We have long heard of Batman's reputation as the World's Greatest Detective(TM), so here is a story in which Batman has to solve a typical mystery. The story is from Batman #246, cover dated Dec. 1972 (note the creases on the cover--your hallmark of authenticity!). You be the judge of his skills.

The story, "How Many Ways Can a Robin Die," was a fill-in issue. This was published in the middle of Denny O'Neil's heralded run on Batman in the early 70's. A few issues before, Batman had wrapped up his legendary battle against the master villain Ra's al Ghul, finishing up in epic style in a Neal Adams-illustrated sword duel between Ra's and the Batman, shirtless but still hooded. A few issues after this one came the equally legendary O'Neil-Adams story, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge."

But they can't all be classics. For this issue, neither O'Neil nor Adams took part (except for the cover which looks as if it were penciled by Adams). The story was written by Frank Robbins (usually an artist, but he occasionally wrote as well) and illustrated capably enough by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano (who was Adams's inker on Batman as well).

The story opens as Batman swings high above Gotham, trying to track down the source of a rogue Bat-Signal. Someone is shining the iconic spotlight from a location other than police headquarters, and Batman is determined to find out what it means. When he gets there, he sees Robin standing atop the tallest building in Gotham. Robin doesn't speak to him, so Batman climbs up to see what's wrong. Before he gets there, though, Robin is struck by an arrow and falls to a ledge below.

Batman rushes to his ward's side and discovers...

Batman searches for Robin the next day, but he is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Batman figures out that the taunting note means that the arrow is a clue. Obviously, Robin's next death will take place at the Striped Arrow Country Club (seriously).

Batman goes there the next night and witnesses a stage magician do the old "swords through the box" routine with his pretty female assistant. When the box is opened again, however, a dead "Robin" falls out with a sword through his back. Batman tries to stop the magician, but his opponent escapes with the aid of some smoke bombs.

Batman rushes back to check on Robin, but it is another dummy (a suspiciously realistic dummy, I must say). A taunting note stuck to the sword blade (which mysteriously appears after the magician has vanished) tells Batman that this is another clue to the next "death," which could be the real Robin.

From this, Batman figures out that it must mean Sword-Fish Pier at Cape Fear. Because the villain, whoever he is, knew that Batman would think about "fishing for the right word a fearful idiot." Even as a 10-year-old, I thought this was lame. In fact, I was sure that he had figured out the clue wrong and would end up waiting at the wrong place until he had a last-second flash of insight.

But no, the next night at the pier, he sees Robin drop into the ocean with a concrete block tied to his legs. Batman dives after him and...

That's right. Without confirming that this Robin is really a dummy, Batman takes the note's word for it and swims away, leaving Robin to sink. Luckily, he's dealing with an honest killer, and that really was a dummy.

The next night, having figured out that Robin's "watery grave" was a clue to St. Elmo's Graveyard (St. Elmo being patron saint of the sea), Batman finds a hanged Robin dummy inside a crypt. But the killer PROMISED it would be the real one this time. A metal gate clangs shut, and Batman is trapped, " an unseen executioner I can't even touch!"

Batman reviews the clues. "Four killings in a row...a row of death...'Death-Row' the 'prison' I'm in!" (Robbins loves ellipses and quotation marks). He busts out of the crypt and rushes to a pay phone, where he calls the warden of Gotham State Prison, where he sent up five murderers. Four of them had killed their victims by arrow, sword, drowning and hanging. But he can't remember the fifth.

The warden tells him that the fifth was "released a week ago...on an 'inadmissible-evidence" reversal! Your 'conviction," Batman...Emil Ravek!" (What did I tell you about ellipses and quotations?)

His memory jogged (or should I say 'jogged'), Batman rushes to the site of Ravek's last slaying, the Waxworks Murder Museum (oh, you think maybe that's where Ravek came up with all those realistic dummies?), where he finds the real Robin drugged with his head in a guillotine. Batman grabs a metal platter from the Salome display and stops the guillotine blade, then fights Ravek, throwing him across the room to land on the scales of Justice, defeated.

So to recap: Batman, the World's Greatest Detective(TM), confronted with a series of Robin dummies "executed" (now I'm doing it) in different ways, ignores all the real evidence he is presented with, such as the Robin dummies or the weapons used to kill them. He doesn't interview any witnesses, say, the magician's assistant (who disappears from the box and is never thought of again) or maybe the people at the country club who hired him. He doesn't do any forensics, such as checking for fingerprints.

Instead, he plays word-association games that just happen to put him one step behind the killer for the entire issue, until the final scene.

All told, the issue isn't horrible. It's pretty standard for the Batman of the day, and was mostly acceptable to me as a kid.

But seriously, World's Greatest Detective(TM), my ass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Crapped my pants over this.